Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lite Bites: What Your Favorite Chefs & Mixologists Are Up To Around Town This Week

Chowdah Fest participants in 2012. (Photo: Ari Bendersky)

Everyone's hustlin', hustlin', hustlin' . . .

Chowdah Fest returns, but I so wish it was today with this wack weather we're experiencing. But anyway, the fierce competition is back at the Columbia Yacht Club (111 N. Lake Shore Dr.) 6:30-9pm Monday, March 11. If you're able to snag a ticket (the venue only holds 250), you'll be treated to chowder prepared by some of the best in the biz, including chefs Matt Troost (Three Aces), Kevin Hickey (Allium), Ryan McCaskey (Acadia), Homaro Cantu (iNG/Moto) and last year's winner Giuseppe Tentori (BOKA/GT Fish & Oyster). There will be celebrity guest judges, but you'll get a vote to pick the people's choice. $40 in advance; $50 at the door. Get tickets right here.

• Fans of the West Loop resto scene should be thrilled about the second-annual Divine, Dine & Wine taking place 6-9pm Thursday, Feb. 28 at Venue One (1044 W. Randolph St.). Participants include the likes of City Winery, Sepia, Vera and Vivo. Get the $95 tickets ($125 VIP) right here.

Your First-Ever Look At Gilt Bar's Sophisticated New Lower-Level 'Library'

giltlibrary(Photos: Gilt Bar)

For now, the snazzy little ramen bar planned for the Sodikoff Restaurant Group has been put on hold, Brendan Sodikoff tells 312DD.

In its place is something that he's dubbed the Library, which will serve as a "social conversation room" when it opens to the public underneath Gilt Bar Wednesday, March 6.

The low-lit space is filled with hundreds of leather-bound vintage books that Sodikoff's team snapped up from stores in Chicago, London, New York and Paris. Sodikoff boasts that the collection is comprised of the greatest books of all time, so he's hoping that visitors respect them.

Downstairs diners will be able to order Gilt Bar's entire food and drink menu, which includes the yummy Gunthrop roasted chicken, coal-fired ribeye steak and diner-style pies. Sodikoff promises that though it's the same menu, guests will have an entirely different experience in the Library.

Here are more photos of the new space:

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Scofflaw Reopens Thursday After A Few Minor Renovations

Photo courtesy of Scofflaw

OK, so I panicked for a minute Monday when I got this message from a loyal reader:

"Any idea what happened to Scofflaw?!! Just drove past and boarding is going up. Sign is down. Liquor going into boxes."

Well, here are the facts, which come directly from Scofflaw:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

To Escape The Cold, These Restaurants Transport You Somewhere Else . . . For One Night Only


To fight off Monday's frost, two red-hot events are happening that you don't want to miss:

Red Door hosts a tiki-themed event benefiting the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

They've gathered some of the biggest names in local mixology—Charles Joly (The Aviary), Lynn House (Blackbird), Josh Pearson (Sepia), Jay Schroeder (Red Door)—to shake up Polynesian-inspired drinks to complement food by Freddy Nonaj and Graham Stein of avec.

Admission is a suggested donation of $25, which includes four drink tickets and food. That happens 8pm-midnight.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Chicago Travel Launches On With Dining, Drinking, Shopping, Theater-going & More

Naniwa's ultra fresh sashimi offering. (Photo: Naniwa)

My latest venture, Chicago Travel at, launched earlier this week.

I'm most excited about editing this new visitor's guide because it reminds me of the old days when I passionately wrote about all the cool goings-on in Chicago, including our vibrant theater and dining scenes, unique cultural offerings and offbeat shopping districts.

I've grown a lot more since those days and taken time to explore our city to the fullest, and I'm thrilled to get the rich opportunity to show it off to visitors.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

It's Time To Book Reservations For 'Chicago Chef Week,' Happening March 17-22

Matthias Merges (from left) photo via; Ryan McCaskey (Photo: Acadia); Andrew Zimmerman photo via Splash Chicago

Chicago Restaurant Week is a thing of the past. It's now time for Chicago Chef Week, in its fifth year and happening March 17-22. To entice you to participate, more than 70 chef-driven restaurants will be offering three-course, prix-fixe deals for lunch ($22 where served) and dinner ($44).

I'm telling you this so far in advance because for some of these spots you might want to book as soon as possible. For example, this year's event boasts three of the biggest winners of the recent Banchet Awards: Chef of the Year Matthias Merges (Yusho), Best Restaurant recipient Andrew Zimmerman (Sepia) and Best New Restaurant winner Ryan McCaskey (Acadia, with Jason Prah winning for Best Sommelier).

Senza Introduces All-Gluten Free Bakery . . . And The Items Look Tasty!

Senza's new gluten-free muffins are offered daily at the bakery. (Photo: Senza)

Susan McMillian and Amelia Fonti are accomplished bakers who also happen to own the critically acclaimed, gluten-free Senza restaurant in Lakeview. And now that the spot's gotten into its groove, it's time for them to do what they do best.

They recently launched a bakery inside the tiny space that's only open during the day. It's open 9am-noon Tuesday through Friday and the lineup includes:

Lite Bites: What Your Favorite Chefs & Mixologists Are Up To Around Town This Week

Sola's Carol Wallack with her Hanger steak in chocolate demi. (Photo: Sola)

Sweet sensations . . .

• Valentine's Day may be long over, but Sola's Carol Wallack is still celebrating with a chocolate prix-fixe menu that's available throughout the month, Monday through Wednesday. Highlights include the cocoa nib-balsamic salad and Hanger steak with mashed sweet potatoes, Chinese broccoli and chocolate demi. It's $30.

• Here are the locals who made the cut for the James Beard semi=finalists. Those who made it to the finals will be announced in March. Good luck to all!

Cheers—the only beverage business publication devoted to full-service restaurants, bars and hotels—recently honored the Tippling Bros. (Little Market Brasserie, Mercadito, Tavernita) with the Beverage Industry Innovator of the Year Award. That's mostly for the duo's creative kegged cocktail system at Tavernita.

Are Carrots The New Fois Gras?!


According to Grant Achatz (Alinea, Next) in his twitter they are.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Brilliant 'Bond Brunch,' Plus More Festive Oscar-Themed Parties Set For Sunday


Les Misérables. Life of Pi. And 50 years of Bond.

With all the exciting movie themes set to play out at this year's Academy Awards ceremony, why is it that Kit Kat Lounge and Supper Club is the only spot in town cashing in on the fun?!

For the occasion on Sunday, Feb. 24, the Lakeview restaurant plans to throw a brilliant Bond Brunch that's followed by the Life of Pi Oscar Party. These bashes sound like a blast with the brunch highlighting the iconic 007 series by showing many of the films on seven HD projection screens.

There will be live performances as Diva Madam X sings some of the series most notable theme songs, including "Die Another Day" and "Skyfall." Of course there will be cocktail specials (shaken, not stirred!) and staffers will be decked out in Bond Girl and villain costumes. A $10 drink package includes mimosas, sangria and a special Octopussy cocktail. The brunch is 11am-3pm and the regular menu will be served.

If you're still standing, hang tight for Kit Kat's annual Oscar party, which starts at 5:30pm. The restaurant and lounge will be transformed into a glowing island of meerkats, and the staff will dress as zoo animals. There will be more live performances, plus half-price cocktails. Guests are encouraged to dress in black-tie attire or Life of Pi-inspired costume.

Additional parties happening around town:

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Chicago's Culinary Heavyhitters Share Thoughts & Recipes During Black History Month

Brian Duncan of BIN 36. (Photo: BIN 36)

"Black History Month is a brilliant opportunity for us to share the monumental accomplishments of so many past and present with our children," says Brian Duncan, partner/wine director at BIN 36.

He is one of several accomplished local African Americans in the culinary industry I spoke to recently on their thoughts about the significance of Black History Month.

Find out what others had to say, including chefs Erick Williams (MK) and Trevor Hoyte (IPO) as well as sommelier Wanda Cole (Dining Room at Kendall College).

They also share recipes, including one for Powdered Doughnut Beignets with Apple Rum Sauce from Frontier chef Brian Jupiter.


Friday, February 15, 2013

Seafood With Sass . . . For Lenten Season

Ryan McCaskey brings back his famed lobster "pot pie" for winter at Acadia. (Photo: Acadia)

OK, so you've given up meat for Lent. Or you just need a break from all that heavy wild game and want to delve into something different.

Don't even think about consuming one of those super-dry fish sandwiches at the "golden arches." It's time to upgrade. And Acadia executive chef/partner Ryan McCaskey should certainly be able to make you happy with one of his most famous seafood dishes.

McCaskey's lobster "pot pie" first appeared on the now-shuttered Rushmore's menu when he was executive chef (now Vera). In its new life, it's more refined with locally sourced ingredients, which help the flavors pop. The Stonington lobster is surrounded by pommes Dauphine, arancini, black trumpet mushrooms and Thumbelina carrots in a rich bisque. The dish is crowned with a house-made sour cream pastry—which serves as the crust. It's $38.

If the price is a bit steep for you, McCaskey also uses the Stonington lobster in his lobster roll ($16). For ultra-freshness, the rolls are flown in daily from Maine. It comes with house-made salt/vinegar chips.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lite Bites: What Your Favorite Chefs & Mixologists Are Up To Around Town This Week

Teriyaki chicken-stuffed bao from Wow Bao. (Photo: Wow Bao)

Some shining stars on a sunny day . . .

• These guys are always on to the next thing. Wow Bao managing partner Geoff Alexander and chef/partner Marc Bernard (also exec chef at Big Bowl) have created new self-order kiosks that allow customers to custom design baos to satisfy dietary needs, including vegetarian, nut free, soy free, dairy free and gluten free. Sounds good to me, as long as they are never taste free.

• The latest on Baconfest highlights the day's entire schedule so that you can ensure you're there for the chefs you want to see. Be certain to get a swig of swine-infused sippers from Mike Ryan (Sable Kitchen & Bar) and Stephen Cole (Barrelhouse Flat). The event happens April 20.

• Speaking of swine, pork-obsessed chef Charlie McKenna (Lillie's Q) teams up with Cleetus Friedman (formerly of City Provisions Delicatessen) for a Dark Horse Brewing Co. beer launch at the restaurant. I'll Have More sounds like the perfect nightcap! It's a chocolate, caramel and toasted rice stout that's based off Nestle's 100 Grand candy bar. It debuts on draft for $7 during the launch party happening 6-8pm Feb. 20.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pastry Chef Shuffles: Amanda Rockman Joins LEYE; NYC's Michael Laiskonis Heads To L2O

Amanda Rockman photo via Time Out Chicago; Michael Laiskonis' image via

Only one day after Amanda Rockman announced her departure from Balena/Bristol as executive pastry chef comes word of her next move.

312DD has learned exclusively that the former Top Chef Desserts contestant is going to serve as Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises' corporate pastry chef.

Also coming aboard LEYE is noted New York pastry chef Michael Laiskonis, formerly of Le Bernardin. Here's his bio on He boasts a 2007 James Beard Foundation Outstanding Pastry Chef award, and he was twice named one of the 10 Best Pastry Chefs in America by Pastry Art and Design magazine.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Amanda Rockman Resigns As Executive Pastry Chef Of Bristol, Balena

Amanda Rockman of The Bristol. (Photo: Stronghold Photography)

Here's the deal on this afternoon shocker, which just dropped into my mailbox:

"Effective Saturday, February 23, Amanda Rockman will leave her position as executive pastry chef of The Bristol and Balena.

"'After an incredible three years with The Bristol and most recently the BOKA group, I have made the decision to pursue other culinary opportunities. I will miss the amazing individuals I had the opportunity to work with on a daily basis," Rockman said.

The 23-Layer Chocolate Cake Or 5-Course Terlato Wine Dinner?! How You Can Celebrate Michael Jordan Turning The Big 5-0 . . .

His Airness chilling via USA Today.

Michael Jordan turns 50 on Feb. 17.

Now, while there's no word on where His Airness will be spending his special day, we've got the 411 on how all the Michael Jordan's Steak Houses will be celebrating, including the Chicago outpost on the Mag Mile.

They're each hosting a five-course Terlato wine dinner that pays homage to the basketball legend's life and career with dishes such as shrimp cocktail with 23-spice cocktail sauce, "Maxwell Street"-style Duroc pork tenderloin and a 50-day dry-aged Wagyu ribeye steak. That's $125 per person.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Chicago Restaurant Week Extended—For Several Spots Around Town

Chicago q chef/partner Lee Ann Whippen (Photo: Chicago q)

If you thought Chicago Restaurant Week ended Feb. 10, think again. As with each year, it's so successful at so many spots that they've decided to extend an extra few days.

The deal, of course, is prix-fixe; $22 for lunch or $33/$44 for dinner.

Here's who is participating thus far:

And The Winners Are . . . Jean Banchet Awardees Revealed!

Acadia chef/owner Ryan McCaskey at the annual Banchet awards. (Photo: 312 Dining Diva)

The Jean Banchet awards—the highlight of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation's annual Grand Chefs Gala—happened Friday. That's the most glorious time of the year for Chicago's culinary community as they honor the best in the biz.

Here are the winners (indicated by asterisk):

Friday, February 8, 2013

Blackbird's Donnie Madia Sounds Off On His Favorite Things In GQ's '10 Essentials'

Donnie Madia via GQ.

The dapper Donnie Madia—one of the principals at One Off Hospitality (avec, Big Star, Blackbird, Publican, Publican Quality Meats, Violet Hour)—gets a bit of shine in GQ's 10 Essentials feature.

His favorite spots for "date night" with his wife, Estelle: Saigon Sisters, Riccardo Trattoria and the late Great Lake pizza.

Spice Up Your Valentine's Day With These Fab Dining & Drinking Recs Around Town


There's no need to feel pressure about where to go on Valentine's Day. I've gathered some great choices, from a number of chocolatey goodness from the Frontera Grill restaurants to Hearty's dual celebration of Fat Tuesday and Valentine's Day.

Enjoy it!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Get A Sneak Preview of Kuma's Too

One of Kuma's signature burgers via The New York Times.

Here is how you can get a free taste before the Lincoln Park outpost officially opens on Feb. 13.

Good luck!

Lite Bites: What Your Favorite Chefs & Mixologists Are Up To Around Town This Week

Rick Gresh of David Burke's Primehouse (Photo: David Burke's Primehouse)

Let's get rollin' . . .

• The Chicago Auto Show's First Look For Charity happens Feb. 8, and for the second year in a row Rick Gresh (David Burke's Primehouse) is one of the headlining chefs for the black-tie event. Also serving up bites will be Jeff Shapiro (Real Urban Barbecue) and Chef Chao (Union Sushi). Get ready for spicy BBQ duck breast, braised boneless short ribs, Garrett popcorn and "red neck" tacos.

• Former BIN 36 chef John Caputo has settled into his new role as executive chef at City Tavern, and he's finally released a new menu. Of note are the split pea and smoked ham hock chowder; wild boar and short rib meatloaf that comes with macaroni and cheese gratin; and beer-battered skate "fingers" served with a tabasco-lime aioli and onion rings.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Tony Potempa Is Out As GM/Executive Bar Chef At The Boarding House


This is a bummer.

Tony Potempa, who's been with The Boarding House since opening as general manager and executive bar chef, is no longer with the restaurant. He curated a promising cocktail menu before leaving, which included the delicious Red Wine Margarita made with Olmeca reposado tequila.

Here is what he had to say about his departure:

These Top Intriguing Picks of Chicago Restaurant Week Will Have Your Mouth Watering

Frontier's antelope meatballs with smoked tomato, gnocchi and sage chimichurri. (Photo: Frontier)

Have you made reservations yet for Chicago Restaurant Week?!

Everybody has their favorites of where they're planning to go, but I am always curious to see which restaurants are doing the most offbeat offerings.

From antelope meatballs to rather tasty gluten-free Tagliatelle with chanterelle and truffle, here are the Top 5 most intriguing menus you'll find around town.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

What Exactly Happened To The Tortoise Club Over The Weekend?!

Tortoise Club exterior (Photo: Tortoise Club)

A loyal reader who lives in Marina City—located right off the Chicago River—took note of some frantic fixing up of the first-floor Tortoise Club early Sunday morning: