Thursday, September 27, 2012

City's First-Ever Stuffed Waffle Sandwich Shop Should Be A Hit In River North This Fall

Bel 50's slow-roasted, all-natural BBQ pulled pork with smashed avocado, prosciutto, Brie, caramelized onions and fig chutney. (Photo: Bel 50)

Last year, everyone went wild over Waffles, the slick South Loop spot featuring the crispy treat in various flavors from green tea to Red Velvet.

Now comes Bel 50, which takes the concept a step further when it opens in October. Owned by restaurateur Tim Jandovitz and consulted by San Francisco-based chef Joey Altman, the River North eatery will specialize in gourmet waffle sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

According to Chef Altman, the secret weapon will be the actual waffle, which is "light, crisp and airy on the outside and soft on the inside" and "not sweet, but instead taste similar to textured country bread." Additionally, each waffle is 220 calories (also 27 grams of carbs, and 4 grams of sugar), and will also be available gluten free.

Here's a sample of what will be on the menu:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Paul Virant Set To Open 'Restaurant Within A Restaurant' Concept in 2013: Radler & D.A.S.

Chef Virant photo via Time Out.

Following a successful year and a half with his second restaurant, Perennial Virant, famed chef Paul Virant is on the move again. This time he's partnering with Vie Chef de Cuisine Nathan Sears and Adam Herbert for an awesome "restaurant within a restaurant" concept.

Radlerwhich plans to open in late spring/early summer 2013 in either Lincoln Park or Logan Square—pays homage to Sears' rich German heritage and Herbert's extensive travels to Germany. Radler will offer a Bavarian beer hall with German pub fare, and the more exclusive D.A.S. will be tucked inside. D.A.S. will also have a fine-dining chef's table with seating for eight to 10 guests.

How did the names come into play?!

Alain's Reopens Monday, Oct. 1 Following Recent Eviction Notice

Chef Alain Njike of Alain's Restaurant in the South Loop. (Photo: 312 Dining Diva)

Looks like it's business as usual for the Cameroonian-focused Alain's, the South Loop restaurant that was recently served with an eviction notice by its landlord.

According to Chicago magazine's Dish on the restaurant that's co-owned by Bears star Israel Idonije and former Charlie Trotter's alum Alain Njike:

This City Winery Review Is Just Cold Blooded

City Winery interior via Time Out.

Nothing could possibly end well for this City Winery review when it begins like this:

"This is not a review; it's an intervention. City Winery: You have to get it together. You’ve been open a month—five weeks by the time this goes to press. From the safe distance of my computer, I've watched you struggle. ..."

Ouch, Time Out.

How About Some Humpday Hot Cakes Today?!


That's right, Sept. 26 is National Pancake Day, and to get you in the mood, I've rounded up a few of my favorites:

Bongo Room: The strawberry-banana hot cakes are topped with banana whipped cream and powdered sugar. There are two additional locations in Andersonville and the South Loop.

Eggy's: Lucky for you, you'll get to order these all day: Melissa's candy pancakes with crunch bar chocolate and M&Ms.

Raise The Curtain on These Pre- and Post-Theater Dining Options

Lincoln Park's Boka is a favorite when seeing a show at Steppenwolf or the Royal George Theater. (Photo: Boka)

It's that time of year when Chicago's theater scene is bursting at the seams. But where do you go to eat and drink before/after the theater?

From the creative, contemporary American fare at the newly renovated Boka to underrated hand-tossed pizzas at Anna Maria Pasteria, you'll find a number of top options right here.

Monday, September 24, 2012

And Now For Some Cocktail News . . .

Sable mixologist Alex Renshaw at Untitled on Sunday after his big Cointreau win. (Photos: Jeff Schear/Wire Image)

Remy Cointreau had its regional finals in Chicago Sunday to select one mixologist to go to New York to compete in the first-ever The Audition Event. The winner will serve as Cointreau Ambassador of Libations at Cannes Film Festival in 2013.

Held at speakeasy-style restaurant and lounge Untitled, the contest featured five Chicago-based bartenders and one from Michigan. The event was twofold: Earlier in the evening, guests and judges did a walk-around tasting of the contestants' Saint-Tropez-themed cocktails, followed by an "Iron Chef"-style competition where bartenders were challenged to create a cocktail using a secret ingredient.

So fitting was the secret ingredient "honey" as September just happens to be National Honey Month! Sable Kitchen & Bar 'tender Alex Renshaw was the judges' overall favorite, so he's on his way to the Big Apple. Ada Street's Joseph Haggard was named "fan favorite."

Friday, September 21, 2012

Official 'Purple After Jam' Set For Three Big Nights


Didn't get tickets for any of the three sold-out Prince residency shows next week at United Center?! You may get a few more chances to see The Purple One Monday night at an after-hours concert at the House of Blues.

UPDATE: Here is more information and tickets go on sale at NOON Friday, Sept. 21. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the doors open at 10pm and tix are $75 and $150 (for a seat in the Foundation Room).

There are also special late-night shows Sept. 25 and Sept. 26.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

First-Ever 'Craft Spirits Week' Debuts in October

(Photo: Koval Distilleries)

This is insanely cool and finally an opportunity to showcase some of the best!

As the Independent Spirits Expo hits Chicago for the second year in a row in early October, the first-ever Chicago Craft Spirits Week will debut as well.

Spearheaded by local distillers FEW, Koval and North Shore, the week-long festivities will include a number of tasting events, seminars and dinners that will showcase craft distilleries in the Midwest, country and beyond. The week culminates with open houses at each of the distilleries.

Just a taste of what you'll get:

There's Nothing Wrong With Sticky Fingers: 'Rib-a-Que' Returns To Wicker Park


It's supposed to be chilly, windy and rainy Saturday, but I found something to warm you down to the bones: the fifth-annual Rib-a-Que Smoke-Out, going down at Moonshine in Wicker Park.

It's the spectacular competition where amateur cooks go up against seasoned pros for the title of Smoke-out Champion and the coveted Gilded Grill trophy.

For $25 ($35 at the door), you'll get to sample ribs from all 16 contestants, which includes the likes of Joe's on Weed Street, Boundary, Moonshine and Ja' Grill. SmallBar and Socca return to defend their titles (they won the people's choice and judges' vote, respectively, in 2011).

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Top Chicago Chefs Kick Off Music Exhibition With 'Rock Your Palate' Pop-Up Dinners

Spiaggia's Sarah Grueneberg and Boka/GT Fish & Oyster's Giuseppe Tentori (center). (Photos: Caroline Dixey)

So, this was pretty cool.

To kick off a celebration of Chicago's music heritage through December, MasterCard recently hosted a couple of Rock your Palate pop-up dinners featuring chefs Sarah Grueneberg (Spiaggia), Giuseppe Tentori (Boka/GT Fish & Oyster) and Dirk Flanigan (The Gage/Henri) at Lincoln Park's Floating World Gallery.

Behold The First Look at the Scorsese-Themed Menu at iNG

Here is the 10-course "Directors" menu for iNG's Scorsese theme. There is also a six-course menu available. (Photo: 312 Dining Diva)

The Scorcese-themed menu finally debuted Tuesday at iNG.

Available through November, the six- and 10-course menus at the edgy, Warehouse District eatery have been inspired by director/producer Martin Scorcese's most famous films.

What also sets the mood are the staffers dressed up in gangster-era gear, intense scenes projected on one wall (from "Gangs of New York" to "Goodfellas") and familiar music from Scorcese soundtracks pumping through the dining room.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Did Rockit Partner Really Neglect To Tell Partners He 'Bought Another Bar'?!


Rockit partner Billy Dec apparently purchased a new venue in River North, but his business partner Arturo Gomez claims on Twitter he had no clue.

Could this be a hoax?! I just don't believe this would happen.

Andrew Brochu is OUT at Graham Elliot

Andrew Brochu (Photo via

312DD broke the story Monday that something was going down over at Graham Elliot.

Now, Eater Chicago details the full story, including a statement from owner/chef Graham Elliot himself.

This is too bad because only in late January—Elliot announced excitedly this about Brochu coming aboard on Feb. 1:

INVITE: Swanky Cointreau Cocktails & A Party You Don't Want To Miss


What are you doing this Sunday?!

I've got five pairs of tickets to a swanky little soiree at Untitled that I'm dying to give away.

Hosted by Michigan Avenue magazine, The Audition Event will send one lucky local mixologist to the Cannes Film Festival in 2013 where he/she will compete for the title of Cointreau Ambassador of Libations.

Now, here's where you come in:

Monday, September 17, 2012

What Is Going On Over At Graham Elliot's?!


Just last month, Phil Vettel awarded Graham Elliot three stars in a Chicago Tribune review, so what's up with the turmoil behind the scenes?!

An Ultimate Insider tells 312DD that on Sunday afternoon some pretty intense disagreements between front of house and back of house had a few staffers walking out before service. They were so heated, in fact, that top management was called in to get matters back under control.

Charlie Trotter's, NoMI Alum Brings a Taste of Cameroon to the South Loop

Chef Alain Njike of Alain's Restaurant in the South Loop. (Photos: 312 Dining Diva)

So, 2012 is turning out to be quite a stellar one for Charlie Trotter's alums.

Former Trotter's Executive Chef Matthias Merges opened Yusho in the winter. Bill Kim debuted his third restaurant, belly Q, in late August. Graham Elliot opened G.E.B. also in the summer, and Curtis Duffy is set to open Grace later this fall.

Also tossing his hat into the ring of rock star spots is Alain Njike, who opened Alain's Restaurant in the South Loop in early August. But what sets Njike apart from the others is that he's bringing a cuisine to Chicago that's never been done before—particularly on an upscale level. His contemporary American menu is highly influenced by flavors from his homeland on Africa's West Coast.

Moto's Homaro Cantu Offers a Solution to the Chicago Teachers' Strike


Homaro Cantu (iNG/Moto) expressed his frustrations of the latest news on Chicago's striking teachers on Facebook Sunday.

But unlike most critics, the award-winning chef didn't just complain, he offered a number of viable solutions that he wants to put into action immediately.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Full Schedule For Chicago Gourmet Now Online

ABC-7's Steve Dolinsky and celebrity chef Rick Bayless at "Chicago Gourmet" in 2011. (Photo: Illinois Restaurant Association)

Check out all the details, including live demonstrations, seminars, tastings, booksignings, etc. for Bon Appetit's annual Chicago Gourmet right here. It occurs Sept. 28-30.

Some highlights of what's new this year:

For Sure, THIS is the Best Tweet of the Week!


Ha ha!

This is hilarious.

If You're Not Going To Tip, Try Not To Be A COMPLETE Douchebag About It.


So, this happened Wednesday night at a popular Wicker Park watering hole.

NOT cool.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Back Room Takes Over Le Passage Privet Space; A Few More Key Details


I wasn't too shocked to hear the news that Privet closed last weekend because it pretty much looked like the photo above every time I paid a visit.

But when word came down that the venerable Back Room was set to take over the vacated space on Oct. 4, I got pretty excited.

The legendary jazz-and-blues club is less than a block away from its new home, and will officially close on Sept. 24. This new home in the old Privet is particularly awesome because that venue carries a late-night license, which means new owners Three Headed Productions (The Drawing Room, Evil Olive, Salud) will have the option to stay open until 4am (5am on Saturdays!). Hopefully, they'll also keep the alley-only entrance because, you know, that just feels right when it comes to after-hours jazz and blues clubs (UPDATE: A press release states that a deejay will spin after 1am on weekends).

Here are even more reasons to get excited about this:

Some Very Rad Happenings Around Town

iNG owner/chef Homaro Cantu (center) with chefs Hugo Guadarrama (left) and Vince Griffith. (Photo: iNG)

Remember when I was gushing about that upcoming Scorsese-themed menu at iNG?! Well, it's finally here.

Sept. 18 marks the "premiere," and yes, that includes lights, cameras and a RED CARPET. Look for the menu to play off the food scenes from "Goodfellas," including this first course:

Sleeping With The Fishes: two-part course "Fish & Chips" of rock shrimp chips with dry aioli and smoked rock shrimp roulade, white truffle garlic aioli and gremolata seaweed

According to chef/owner Homaro Cantu, the menu will run about six weeks. It will include six courses for $80 and 10 courses for $100; both will be paired with beverages and include "flavor tripping."

"It is, by far, the most twisted thing I have ever done," Cantu says about the menu. "It will be a delicious experience."

To get a visual of what he's talking about, here's video of one of the dishes, the 9mm Tagellio, and also details on how you can win dinner for two for free.

Here are more rad happenings around town:

Monday, September 10, 2012

Elate Restaurant Has A 'Phantom' Tweeting Its Posts; It's Been Closed For Weeks!


So, check this out.

Elate, which was located on the first level of Hotel Felix in River North, closed a month ago.

It didn't even close quietly, as there was much buzz from local media outlets about its replacement, LM Bistro, which is owned by the same people behind Brasserie by LM and Troquet. But for some reason, Elate's twitter account continues to crank out specials every day to its 1,090 followers.

For example . . .

Get Ready: Green Tie Ball is Saturday

Photo via the Chicago Tribune.

It's one of the biggest affairs of the Chicago social season and it's happening this weekend.

Green Tie Ball goes down Sept. 15 at A. Finkl & Sons (2011 N. Southport Ave.). Put on by Gateway Green Chicago, the event celebrates its 20th year with an Alice in Wonderland theme.

Tiny Ramen Lounge in River North is Next Project For Sodikoff Restaurant Group


This news comes from an Ultimate Insider early on a Monday morning:

The hot restaurant group that's behind such winners as Au Cheval, Gilt Bar and Maude's Liquor Bar apparently is going Asian.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Vera's Fall Paella of Duck & Chorizo Should Be On Your Plate Right Now

Look for Vera's new fall paella of crispy duck and spicy chorizo on the menu right now. (Photo: Vera)

Even though we're still feeling the heat of summer, most restaurants are in the process of releasing their fall menus for cuisine and cocktails.

One such menu we're looking forward to is from the Spanish-wine-and-food-focused Vera, whose paella filled with chunks of crispy duck and spicy chorizo caught my eye.

But what to drink with such a decadent dish?! I asked owner/wine director Elizabeth Mendez for recommendations:

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Bristol's Upcoming 'Chef Series' Spotlights the Talents of Celina Tio, Thomas Keller


They've conveniently left out the price of how much it's going to cost for The Bristol's October Chef Series dinner with famed toque Thomas Keller (The French Laundry, Per Se), but if you get tickets to next week's special event, at least you'll be first in line. (Owner John Ross tells 312DD: "Unfortunately we don't have a price as we don't have a menu. We'd rather create menu and then price it. Not handcuff ourselves.")

That Chef Series goes down Sept. 12 and features Top Chef Master and James Beard award winner Celina Tio of Julian restaurant in Kansas City. She'll share the kitchen with Bristol exec chef Chris Pandel, and highlights of the five-course feast include chilled terrine of quail with foie gras, cherries, hazelnut butter and toast; house-smoked sausage with red cabbage, potato and caraway; and Madagascar bourbon hot chocolate with candied ginger cake doughnut. The dessert is paired with a Kentucky sour cocktail and Celina's Bourbon Sipper—the chef's personal bourbon.

Hard-Hat Tour of The Boarding House Uncovers Some Real Gems

The Boarding House's Pork Tots & BBQ sauce, with pulled pork inside. (Photos: The Boarding House)

"I swear we weren't drinking when we came up with them!" exclaimed Alpana Singh about the much buzzed-about Pork Tots & BBQ sauce that's certain to be a hit when The Boarding House opens in mid-October.

She was talking to a roomful of food media types who had come out for a hard-hat tour Wednesday of the four-level venue focusing on global small plates, charcuterie, wine and craft cocktails.

Before the master sommelier/partner led the tour, she first gave us a little history about the building. Apparently it was an actual boarding house operated by women when it was built a couple of years after the Great Chicago Fire.

Here are several more interesting facts to note:

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

More Than $700k Raised for The Aviary's Porthole In Less Than One Month

The Porthole by Martin Kastner of Crucial Detail. (Photo: Crucial Detail)

How do I achieve balance with all the crazy, off-the-chart goings-on in today's dining scene?!

I tell my mother everything.

When I first told her that The Aviary designer Martin Kastner had raised more than $20,000 in less than 15 minutes for a Kickstarter campaign for mass production of an infusion vessel called the Porthole, she thought people had gone mad.

"What if this guy can't finish those things in time?" she asked, with much doubt in her voice. "People are not going to be very happy!"

Celebrate Mexican Independence Day With Latin Dishes & More at Annual 'Buen Provecho! Pilsen'

Crave-worthy mussels with chipotle truffle tomato broth from May Street Cafe, which is participating in the annual "Buen Provecho! Pilsen." (Photo: May Street Cafe)

If you haven't checked out Pilsen's vibrant dining scene lately, here's your chance to get a bountiful taste . . . in one day.

The Historic Pilsen Community hosts its annual Buen Provecho! Pilsen 2-7pm Sept. 16 to commemorate Mexican Independence Day. They'll showcase more than 26 of the area's restaurants, and participants will get to sample signature dishes and desserts from the restaurants, cafes and bakeries along the 18th Street strip.

Critical Observation: Reviewers Should 'Avoid Woman-Shaming In Restaurants'


Chicagoist food editor Anthony Todd makes this interesting observation about restaurant critics attempting to inject humor in their reviews at women's expense:

"Just once, I'd like to see a major restaurant critic entirely avoid woman-shaming in restaurants. Prostitution references seem to be an unavoidable fallback. From today's NYT, on Nougatine: 'There are women whose dresses and heels make you wonder exactly how long ago they met their dates.'"

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Local Dining Community, Foodies Come Out Strong For Battered MANA Food Bar Line Cook

Ashley Pruneau (Photo: Facebook)

Here's an update on Ashley Pruneau, the MANA Food Bar line cook who was brutally attacked in her home by a stranger in early July.

If you recall, the assailant beat her around the head so badly with a hammer that she required emergency surgery. She is set to have another one on Sept. 13. Add to that the mounting hospital bills, and she's in dire need of some assistance.

Elizabeth's Wine Director Scott Noorman An Unsung Hero in the Restaurant Business


People like Scott Noorman send goosebumps down my back.

He's one of those guys who's in the restaurant business for the sheer love of it all. Not for the lights or the cameras. Not for the awards. And most certainly not for the $$$.

As wine director at the farm-to-table-focused Elizabeth, Noorman lights up as he describes the exciting beverage program he'll unveil when the Lincoln Square-based restaurant opens Sept. 19. During an exclusive sneak preview, he gleefully rolls out an impressive vintage champagne cart, which he and owner/chef Iliana Regan affectionately call the "drunk trunk."

"This will fit into what we're doing over here," he says, as he proudly points to the interior of the empty cart. "It'll mostly carry select wines and sparkling wines, but I will also leave room so I can focus on a few locally sourced spirits to make classic cocktails."

Noorman continues, going on and on about the possibility of using offbeat bitters and tinctures, seeking out stemwear, and the endless choices of vino. He then talks about how he can go to a tasting of more than 300 wines and effortlessly remember what he liked without taking notes.

His knowledge of spirits and wine is vast and impressive, so it's hard to imagine that he learned absolutely everything through experience and no formal training. Yet, after getting to know him, it's not hard to see why Alinea's Grant Achatz "to this day still calls me one of his generals; he mentions me in his book, Life on the Line."