The Gage, Chicago

Typically, restaurants in touristy areas are overpriced with average, at best, food. But, we have been pleasantly surprised here in Chicago. The Gage is another, with a location directly across from Millennium Park, which was wonderful!

We made a last minute date to see a matinee nearby and decided to check out The Gage for an early dinner so that we could just walk over from the play. The Gage is an upscale tavern with kicked up comfort food. We met some friends prior to dinner for drinks at the bar. The bar menu is fun with a variety of sprits, in particular whisky (if you are a whisky drinker!), beers, and wines. The bar is beautiful with oak wood shelving and leather riveted barstools.

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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.

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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
rotarysushi.com
4430 Fox Valley Center Dr., Ste 106
Aurora, IL 60504
630-820-1666

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
theturfroomrestaurant.com
1033 Kilbery Ln
North Aurora, IL 60542
630-906-9300

Kai Zan, Chicago

Summer Salad

You know that you are in a big city when you can find amazing food in local neighborhoods and not just downtown. That is most certainly the case in Chicago! About a month ago we headed into the city to see Book of Mormon (side note: absolutely hilarious, if not completely inappropriate!), after the show we went to Kai Zan for dinner. It is a small, 22-seat, Japanese restaurant in Humboldt Park/Ukrainian Village located by a car garage and a tattoo parlor. The small space is simple and elegantly Japanese making for a warm, comfortable environment. The space is separated into intimate spaces with a light, bright wood. The sushi bar and open kitchen is in the center of the restaurant dividing the two lines of booths. The booths are separated by a beautiful wave pattern which is carved out of wood. We had an early reservation and the place was already bustling. We were seated at the sushi bar which allowed us to watch all the action.

The menu includes sushi, noodle dishes, teppan yaki grill dishes (dishes prepared on an iron grill), and kushi-lava rock char-boil (skewered bite-sized dishes). They offer a flexible omakase menu in which you can set your price and the chefs create a tasting menu of the dishes on the menu. After talking to our waiter we opted to select our own dishes from the a la carte menu.

We tried several dishes but I’ll highlight just a few. We started with a special that evening called the “Summer Salad”. It is not a salad in the traditional sense as it was made primarily of raw fish. It was a mixture of tuna, salmon, capers, scallions, shiso, and dressed with a light citrus based dressing. It was a wonderful introduction to the complexity and balance of flavors we would experience in the dishes to come. The salad was an elegant mix of clean, delicate flavors.

The Maguro Pearls was an amazing dish! The small rice spheres are topped with fresh tuna, which is lightly seared, a creamy wasabi sauce and scallions. The tuna is prepared in a mixture of soy sauce, spicy mayo, and chili oil. It results in a beautifully well balanced and flavorful bite of tuna. This may have been my favorite dish of the night.

The Enoki  Bacon is a dish from the kushi-lava rock char boil menu. The lovely golden needle shaped mushrooms are rolled in bacon and quickly grilled. The earthy flavor of the mushrooms was nicely complimented by the salty, smokiness of the bacon. A small bite of incredible flavors!

The Tonkatsu Shiso Age is breaded pork wrapped with shiso leaves. The breading was light and the pork was nicely fried without any greasiness. The light breading nicely brought out the sweetness of the pork. It was served with a homemade tonkatsu sauce that had the traditional salty, sweet combination. It was a wonderful dish but didn’t have the complexity of flavor of the other dishes.

We also tried some sashimi which were masterfully cut and served at the perfect temperature such that the fish simply melt in your mouth. I have come to realize that the temperature at which the fish are served is a critical component in the preparation of sushi and sashimi. We also tried a couple of maki rolls to round out our meal.

We were comfortably full and unsure whether to order dessert, but we opted to share the mango pudding. It was delicious concentrated mango flavor in a smooth, light, creamy pudding. A perfect light ending!

Another wonderful aspect of dining in Chicago is that there are several restaurants which are BYOB (bring your own beverage). Kai Zan is one of these and for a $5 corkage fee you can bring your own wine. So, we were able to bring a bottle of wine from home which we knew we would enjoy and didn’t have to overpay for. The ability to enjoy our own wine was just an added bonus to the wonderful food and flavors offered at Kai Zan. We can’t wait to explore more neighborhood joints with food of this caliber!

Kai Zan
http://www.eatatkaizan.com
2557 W Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
773-278-5776

Naf Naf Grill, Aurora

We have found a favorite option for quick Middle Eastern food very close to us. Naf Naf Grill is a quick service, local chain with 7 locations in Chicagoland. The space is simple and clean, think Chipotle but with Middle Eastern food. The menu is also simple with a few meats which are offered as a platter with the option of a couple of sides or as a pita sandwich. They also offer a few salads, hummus and falafel. Everything we have tried has been fresh and delicious. The chicken shawarma is nicely seasoned and very tasty. The small pieces of chicken are also very tender, moist and not at all dry. The beef kifta kabab is also delicious with just the right amount of spice and seasoning. But, to be honest, the standouts are not the meats but the other offerings. First, the pita bread is absolutely heavenly!! It is pillow-y soft and light with just the right amount of chewiness. I could honestly eat just that! The hummus is smooth, creamy, and rich. The other highlight is the falafel; I have honestly never tasted falafel that is so crisp and light! Finally, the baklava is a nice slightly sweet ending to the wonderful meal. I know we will be back several times especially while we are living so close!

Naf Naf Grill
http://www.nafnafgrill.com
4430 Fox Valley Center Dr., Suite 101
Aurora, IL 60504
630-499-1700