Alinea, Chicago

Ever since reading an excellent New Yorker piece on Grant Achatz, well maybe even before, I have dreamed of trying Alinea. But travel to Chicago, reservations, and the ticket price made it just that – a dream. Now that we live in the area it has been a real possibility but we needed a proper occasion to celebrate. Lucky for me, I am celebrating a major birthday this month and G surprised me with a reservation!

You arrive to an unmarked doorway and walk down a darkened hall, just as you begin to wonder where you are going a door opens to your left and you are greeted by a host. The man in a dark suit welcomed us rather and wished me a ‘Happy Birthday!’ I was distracted watching the flurry of activity in the kitchen, which is to the right as you enter. There were about 30 people working in the pristine and sparkling glass walled area. We were seated upstairs in a space for about 12 people. The restaurant was larger than expected but nicely divided up into smaller rooms with a small army of people staffing each room and waiting on guests hand and foot!

The décor is modern, sleek, minimalist, and dark. The bare black wooden tables are paired with ivory leather chairs. The room is back lit with lighting coming from behind the black banquet seating. The artwork and decorations are similarly clean lined and minimalist.

We sat for a minute or two taking in the ambience and décor before our waiter came by to greet us. He explained that they wanted to surprise us with each dish of the 18 course tasting menu so we would only receive a list of courses at the end of the meal. He also mentioned that the offer wine pairings, a regular and reserve option, and, off course, a complete wine list. We opted to go for the regular pairings so that we didn’t have to bother making any decisions and were completely in the hands of the Alinea staff.

The sommelier came over and said we would start with champagne and asked if that would be ok with us, if it wasn’t, he joked, we might not enjoy the rest of our meal! I appreciated his comfortable, jovial tone. We started with a Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs Bouzy NV. As we sipped, our first course of osetra caviar garnished with brioche foam, egg custard, and a clear aspic of capers and onions arrived. It was such a wonderful sensory experience with the smell and taste of brioche and the creamy texture of the custard.

Continue reading

Girl and the Goat, Chicago

When a restaurant has 4.5 stars with over 3500 reviews on Yelp (a discussion for another day) and the chef is a Bravo’s Top Chef winner you really have to find out what it is all about! Girl and the Goat books up way in advance so we had a 4:45pm reservation on a Friday night, which worked out perfectly.

The surprisingly large space is rustic and warm with lots of wood and neutral colors. We were seated at a small two-top facing the open kitchen. The menu is a small plates concept divided into vegetarian, fish, meats, breads, oysters, and goat categories. We started with cocktails and I had one which I still dream about. It was called ‘The Earhart’ and was made with ceres vodka, yellow chartreuse, maraschino, lemon, and lavender bitters. The herbal undertones of the yellow chartreuse were enhanced by the lemon and aromatics of the lavender bitters. It was perfect!

Continue reading

Oak Park Food Truck Rally

Chicago Cupcake

We love food trucks! The casual atmosphere and the great food just make them so much fun. We have wanted to check out the food truck scene in Chicago but unfortunately, not living and working in the city makes it a bit difficult. So when we heard about a food truck festival in Oak Park on a weekend we had to check it out. We managed to check out several trucks. Here are my thoughts, in the order we tried them:

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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!

Continue reading

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