Blackbird, Chicago

A few weeks ago G surprised me with a night in the city. We started with a drink at our hotel and then we headed out to Blackbird for dinner. The space is small but relaxed and comfortable. The closely packed tables are covered with white linens and have dark wooden chairs. The back of the restaurant is an open kitchen with a beautiful wooden counter. I did notice that the lighting was fantastic; it offered a lovely glow without being too dim to see the menu or food. Very nicely done!

We were seated near the open kitchen which was nice and a bit quiet from the din of the room. We read over the lovely menu and debated whether to go for go for the tasting menu. We decided that we would just order off of the menu as the tasting menus are always just too much food. Our waitress was friendly, helpful and informative with a nice relaxed style as we debated the various dishes.

I started with the lobster appetizer special with dill, green onions, and rye bread. I was terribly confused by the inclusion of rye bread but it was fantastic! The buttery lobster was nicely complemented by the earthy crunch of the small toasted pieces of rye. G started his meal with the crispy suckling pig with celeriac risotto, granny smith apple, hazelnut, and black truffle. Again it was a wonderful dish with an amazing combination of flavors.

For the main course G had the miso-cured pork belly with salsify, black trumpet mushrooms, buckwheat, and grapefruit. The pork belly was delicious with the just the right amount of fat for it to melt in your mouth. The mushrooms added a wonderful earthiness which was highlighted by the sweet tang of the grapefruit. A great dish! For my main dish I had the grilled wagyu flatiron with charred cabbage, crispy onion, and roasted beef cream. The wagyu was perfectly rare and just melt in your mouth. It was covered with crispy onions which added the ideal crunch. And who would have guessed that charred cabbage could be so incredible. The char has just the perfect bitterness against the sweetness of the beef and onions. It was a truly amazing dish!!

For dessert we shared the warm bittersweet chocolate crémeux, medjool date sherbet, sticky rice, urfa biber, sesame. Again, as was the theme with the appetizers and entrees, it was a wonderful combination of flavors and textures. The sticky rice had a nice creamy texture in combination with the sweetness added by the date. It was a lovely ending to the meal.

I really enjoyed how each dish was an amazing combination of flavors and textures. Overall, it was an amazing meal in a simple, elegant, comfortable space.

619 W Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60661

Perennial Virant, Chicago

A few weeks ago we met up with some friends for drinks and dinner. I was lucky enough to get a gift certificate to Perennial Virant from my colleagues in Chapel Hill as a going away gift so we decided to check it out. It is located in the Hotel Lincoln and we started the evening by meeting at the J. Parker, the rooftop bar. The space is neat and modern and the drink menu had some really nice options. The view of the city is fantastic but, next time we will certainly have to go back in the summer to properly enjoy the view on the vast outdoor patio.

After drinks, we headed downstairs to Perennial Virant. The space is warm and inviting, yet formal; as though you are in the formal dining room at someone’s home. Our reservation was early so the space was not full when we arrived. However, as the evening wore on, it filled up and was actually quite loud. I noticed that most of the tables were groups rather than couples.

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Pizzeria Neo, Naperville

Looking for a local, kid friendly, dinner out we decided we would try Pizzaria Neo. Located downtown Naperville and getting a lot of positive buzz we figured it would be good for an early dinner with the little guy. We got there early, at 5:15pm, on a Friday evening and were surprised to see how hip it was and wondered if it was appropriate to have a 14 month old there. We asked the hostess and she immediately said she would bring us a high chair. The décor and ambiance is like a lounge; dimly lit with low techno music in the background and the option to sit at couches, a bar with a wood fired oven, or tables. Since we were quite early we were given the option to sit anywhere. We opted for a table towards the back to stay away from the cold winter air.

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L2O, Chicago

Tuna Tartare

Every year when the Michelin stars are announced there is plenty of controversy on whether they are awarded for food alone or overall dining experience. Can establishments without four wait staff for each table ever get a star? Will restaurants not based in French cooking tradition ever get a star? I don’t want to get caught up in the controversy, but I do know that some occasions just call for not only amazing food but also amazing attention to detail and service. Dining at a two-star Michelin restaurant, you can be sure that you will find both amazing food and wonderful service. For my sister’s birthday we were looking for just such a place and found ourselves at L2O.

Having dropped off all the kids at the grandparents we headed out for an elegant evening. The restaurant itself is on the first floor of a residential apartment building so it is a little awkward to find. Walking in the main door, we were immediately greeted by someone who took our coats and were directed to the restaurant. The space inside is elegant and understated. The walls are done in a light bamboo wood which is matched in the beige leather chairs while the tables are offset in a darker wood tone. The decor is minimal with vases of artistically arranged branches and simple flowers. We were seated and brought the menus. At the top of our menus it said ‘Happy Birthday’ with my sister’s name. What a lovely touch! We all proceeded to order drinks and chat as we perused the menu. The tasting menu seemed a bit more indulgent then we were up for so we all decided on the prix-fixe menu, mind you this is still 5 courses. While not completely a seafood restaurant, the menu does focus on and highlight seafood. They wait staff was very helpful and guided us through the options as we had a few dietary restrictions at the table. For the wine, we selected a Cabernet Sauvignon reserve blend from Snowden Winery in Napa.  Continue reading

Sushi+ Rotary Sushi Bar, Aurora

Sushi+ is in the same plaza as Naf Naf Grill so given its proximity we decided we had to try it. It is a rotary sushi bar with a conveyor belt that winds its way through the dining room so those seated at booths and bar seats are able to select from it. The plates on the belt include a variety of premade sushi options, a seaweed salad and a couple of dessert options. The plates are color coded and from $1.50-$6.50. They also have a menu from which you can select a variety of items including appetizers, yakitori, and additional sushi options.

In our few visits we have focused on the conveyor belt options. The rolls are quite well prepared and the quality of the fish is good. They are not the most creative but they were good. There seemed to be a fair turnover so we weren’t worried that the fish has been sitting out. We have also ordered the shumai which was tasty. One option on the conveyor was called a sushi sandwich, which was clever with the ‘bread’ made out of rice. It is interesting but actually a bit too dense. On our first visit, we only selected items from the belt, and we were done eating in about 15 minutes.

The space is nice, neat and simple with a black bar and white seats. The wall painted a bright contrasting orange. On our few visits, the service has been very attentive and pleasant. Overall, it is a good option for a quick serviceable meal.

Sushi+ Rotary Sushi Bar
4430 Fox Valley Center Dr., Ste 106
Aurora, IL 60504

Purple Pig, Chicago

Deviled Egg with Arugula and Capers

We moved here in early August and since the weather was still very pleasant we made several visits to the city and did ‘touristy’ things in those early weeks. On one of our visits we came across The Purple Pig when we were wandering on the Magnificent Mile. Given the name and our love of pork we were curious. At ~2pm on a Monday afternoon the wait was 2 hours! So, we didn’t wait but put it on our list of places to check out.

On a random Friday in September we decided to check it out for lunch. Rather than deal with a wait (they don’t take reservations) we got there when they opened at 11:30am and were the third party in line. Well, as you can imagine, given all of this hype The Purple Pig really had to impress!

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The Turf Room, Aurora

One of our first dates after moving was a night out to The Turf Room. We wanted a simple night out and didn’t want to take the time to go into the city. The Turf Room seemed to be the place to go out here in the far western suburbs so we headed there. Not only is the Turf Room a nice restaurant, but more importantly for some, it is also an off-track betting venue. The restaurant decor is influenced by the off-track betting with an equestrian theme, horseshoes, lassos, etc. The rather large building is divided up into a few separate dining areas. The Main Lounge which has a bar type feel, the Main Dining Room which is somewhat formal, the Track Room which is where you can place your bets, the Wine Room which has an elegant yet casual feel and the Outdoor Dining area which is nicely done up with wood burning fireplaces. They all serve the same menu however, the wine room has an additional menu of small bites which are meant to accompany the wine list. We opted to sit in the Wine Room which was a good idea as the other rooms were very loud when we walked through. Additionally, this room offers some fun wine options such as flights. Given the considerable wine list, we decided to each try a wine flight since it is always a fun way to try several wines.

The menu is extensive with appetizers, pizzas, pastas, entrees, steaks and chops. As usual, we tried a few different items and shared them all. The appetizers in particular were unique twists on traditional fare such as Lobster Corn Dogs, Escargot Eggrolls, and Southwestern Smoked Salmon Wonton. We started with the special of the day which were pork perogies. They were lovely; small and delicate with a nice rich flavor. We also tried the calamari which was lightly battered and fried and served with smoked tomato marinara, green olives, and lemon. I really liked the brininess of the olives contrasting the slightly sweet calamari. For the entree we shared the meatloaf flight which included three types of meatloaf: the kobe beef served with roasted vegetables, and fingerling potato; the asian pork and water chestnut with rice pilaf and cilantro; and the southwestern turkey with corn relish and roast corn cream. It was a really fun entree with fun flavor combinations. The pork meatloaf had the most complex and interesting flavors.

We ended with the cannoli bread pudding which is chocolate chip bread pudding, whipped white chocolate ricotta mousse, with white and dark chocolate sauces. It was much lighter and more elegant than it sounds. The ricotta mousse had just the right amount of sweetness and air to lighten up the bread pudding. A very nice ending to a fun meal!

The Turf Room is a really nice option for good food in whatever atmosphere you are desiring out here in the burbs!

The Turf Room
1033 Kilbery Ln
North Aurora, IL 60542