Girls on Food

Chicago

Staying At The St. Jane Hotel And Dining At Free Rein In Chicago

My annual summer trip to Chicago was met with a big first for me – it would be the first trip with my 4-month-old daughter Marie! Usually, on my trips, I freely roam the city, restaurant to restaurant doing whatever I please. There was one time I went with all my girlfriends and we had a blast! We got mini bus rental chicago so we didn’t have to worry about keeping together on public transport and it made everything a lot easier… those days are over.

Now that we’re traveling as a family, I have a lot to consider when looking for a hotel. I wanted to make sure my stay was comfortable for baby Marie, charming to the eye for my husband and food-centric for myself. I was a little nervous about staying at a boutique hotel because I wasn’t sure how baby friendly it would be. Many boutiques I’ve stayed in, tend to be a smaller in bedroom size, with more sophisticated furnishings – great for adults but I need to consider the little one.

We decided to book a junior suite at the St. Jane Hotel, which opened in July, and it delivered on all 3 counts.

This boutique hotel is located in the 37-story Carbide and Carbon Building, built in 1929. The outside maintains an art deco flair with its black granite and gold accents and the moment you walk in, it feels half Great Gatsby half Lana Del Rey – Jazz age meets hipster chic.

Carbide and Carbon Building
Baby Marie loves the art deco style!

The Premiere Junior Suite is a bit of splurge, but it’s so perfectly spacious that it’s worth it or a family vacation. The astonishing views of the city, a roomy shower (that also has a beautiful city view!) and a big comfy bed are worth the upgrade. Bonus: the toiletries are products by Mason Margiela’s ‘Replica’ Jazz Club line, my all time favorite perfume!

A view from our room at night

St. Jane Hotel’s key restaurant is Free Rein, a modern French brasserie led by chef Aaron Lirette, who obtained a Michelin star for GreenRiver. Free Rein serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, offers a coffee shop, full bar and provides the hotel room service. Here’s how I savored the hotel with an ultimate epicurean stay.

I started the bright and early at their café, which is separated from the main dining room. The coffee is provided by Chicago fan-favorite Dark Matter and pastries by fellow Michelin star collector, pastry chef Evan Sheridan of Sixteen.

The Ham and Cheese Croissant, although not shaped in the classic crescent style, the Ham and Raclette is still flaky, buttery and I loved the addition of mustard on top. I loved my Dark Matter lattes every morning too, but with the time changes and general baby exhaustion, I did fuel up on their Nitro Cold Brews as well.

Ham and Raclette Croissant
Latte

Later on, Chicago Girls on Food blogger Hilary met up with me for lunch, where I was able to get a little break from the family and do what I love to do the most – explore a new restaurant. Highlights from this lunch included:

Sweet Corn Soup– corn, scallion, and coconut

I always love a presentation of soup pouring!

Kanpachi Crudo– English peas, heart of palm, citrus, caviar

Soft Shell Crab BLT– Bacon, gem lettuce, Old Bay aioli

Saffron Spaghetti – tomato, fine herbs, parmesan

I loved all of Chef Lirette’s artful takes on American classics for lunch. If I had to choose tops spots, my number 1 was definitely the Soft Shell Crab BLT. This succulent sandwich is paired perfectly with the crispy Old Bay seasoned fries. The Kanpachi Crudo is a close second, it felt like a spot-on execution of “summer on a plate”. For lunch, I recommend washing it all down with a glass of Virtue’s Rosé Cider, it’s crisp, lightly floral but pairs perfectly with any of the dishes above.

Virtue Rosé Cider

For dinner, the lights dim down and it feels a little fancier at Free Rein. The menu expands out to a number of new options, including large format items, intended for sharing.

I started with a glass of Clos des Papes “Le Petit Vin d’Avril” a rich, Rhône blend to pair with decadent dishes. The absolute favorite item was the Foie Gras Tourchon with black truffle, Marcona almonds, cherry compote and summer berries. This item will be available on the Fall menu, so make sure you pop in there soon!

Foie Gras Tourchon

My other favorites included the Tomato Salad, with black garlic, cucumber and sourdough and the large format Dry-Aged Slagel Farms Ribeye with chanterelle mushrooms, potato puree, and beef jus.

Tomato Salad
Dry-Aged Slagel Farms Ribeye

Staying in a very touristy part of town and relying on the hotel to have extraordinary food sets a bar very high and sometimes isn’t realistic, but Free Rein and the St. Jane Hotel exceeded my expectations.

GOF Tip: The room service menu offers some items from the Free Rein menu – go for the Smoked Whitefish Toast. Since I was watching Marie, it’s nice to have an easy-to-eat but still gourmet meal around!

Baby Marie admiring the gold elevator doors

Although the lunch portion was provided by Free Rein, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

Chicago Media Tasting: bellyQ

Before I moved back to Chicago, I lived in Koreatown in Los Angeles, and loved it! One of the things I knew I’d miss was KBBQ. Since moving back, I’ve been looking for a restaurant to fill that craving and bellyQ definitely satisfied it.

bellyQ
1400 W. Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60607
http://www.bellyqchicago.com/

When I sat down at my table, I had the opportunity to look around the restaurant and admired the industrial look paired with greenery and different accents throughout the restaurant. bellyQ, owned by Chef Bill Kim, is located that the end of Randolph St. in the West Loop, and it has been making a big name for itself since 2012- this year it earned a Michelin Bib Gourmand distinction for Inspectors’ favorites for good value!

To start off this tasting, I had the Charlie (named as an homage to Charlie Trotter, who Chef Bill had the opportunity to work for twice at Charlie Trotter’s); bourbon, blackberry drinking vinegar, cocchi, and lemon. This drink paired perfectly with everything I ate. This was my first time sipping on a bourbon cocktail and I couldn’t even tell there was liquor in the drink- that’s a sign of a good cocktail!

 

The first dish I tried was the Lamb Potsticker, and it was amazing! I love lamb, so having it in a potsticker was perfect for me. This dish has napa, cucumber, onion spiced yogurt, and mama Kim’s dipping sauce. Mama Kim’s dipping sauce paired perfectly with the lamb potsticker, and this is definitely a dish I’ll have to get the next time I go to bellyQ.


The next dish I sampled was the Tea Smoked Duck “Bolo.” This is an Asian and Italian fusion dish, and it was amazing. This dish has duck, biang biang noodles, napa cabbage, and cilantro. I would never have thought of transforming these ingredients into a Bolognese, but the way Chef Kim created the mix was perfection.


Shortly after the Tea Smoked Duck “Bolo” arrived, so did the Savory Scallion Pancakes. The Scallion Pancake comes with three accompaniments, and they are:

  • Seasonal Pickles with mixed mushrooms
  • Hummus with eggplant, black beans, and sesame
  • BBQ Pork pulled shoulder with hoisin bbq

When eating the scallion pancake you’re supposed to put a little of all of the accompaniments on the piece of pancake. I would never have thought about pairing some of these flavors and ingredients, but they paired beautifully, and I couldn’t stop eating it!

The next dish I tried was the BQ Alfredo, which is another Asian and Italian fusion dish. This dish has rice cakes, wrinkled beans, bok choy, mushrooms, and oregano. Substituting noodles with rice cakes worked incredibly well and I loved all of the vegetables!

The final dish I enjoyed, was the Lemongrass Salmon. This dish has white corn grits, brussels sprouts, and pesto giardiniera. I loved the grits and brussels sprouts- definitely recommend this!

To top off this excellent meal, I had the PB & J dessert and a Vietnamese Coffee. The PB & J has coconut soft serve that’s flavored with vanilla, blueberry compote, and peanut butter. I am a HUGE fan of a classic PB & J, so this dessert paired with coffee was a incredible way to end this tasty meal at bellyQ.

I want to thank Chef Bill Kim and Elizabeth (operations manager) for putting together the perfect meal, and a huge thank you to all of the staff at bellyQ for an amazing dining experience. Also, if you want to try some of Chef Bill’s creations but aren’t in Chicago, make sure to get a copy of his cookbook, Korean BBQ: Master Your Grill in Seven Sauces– I can’t wait to recreate some of the recipes at home!

Thank you to Kinship for setting up this tasting. Although this dinner was comped, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. 

Chicago Media Tasting: Arami

One of my favorite things is discovering hidden foodie gems in unexpected neighborhoods, and Arami is one of those gems located in West Town. Arami, a repeat Michelin Bib Gourmand-awarded izakaya, offers some of the best sushi that I have ever had.

Arami
1829 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL 60622
http://www.aramichicago.com/

I loved how natural-feeling all the bamboo decor is. The plants and skylight make the atmosphere create a sense of calm, making the dining experience very relaxed. I definitely want to come back on a sunny day, to experience the skylight and see how it lights up the dining area.

For this tasting, we started off with cocktails, and they were refreshing and delicious. We ordered the St. Dorothy, Shiso Kiri, and Bohemian Grove; I had the Bohemian Grove and I loved how nicely it paired with all of the food we tried.

(Left) Shiso Kiri, (Top) St. Dorothy, and (Right) Bohemian Grove

To start off we enjoyed the Tako Kani Salad, which has octopus, king crab, shrimp, cucumber, yuzu, ponzu, and micro shiso. I am a HUGE fan of ponzu and yuzu, so I loved this dish. It was light but flavorful, and the cucumbers made is very refreshing.

Tako Kani Salad

Then we moved onto the Hamachi sashimi, which was divine. I loved the presentation and the buttery fish with a tangy finish.

Hamachi

Next, we had the Zuke Sake Hotate (spicy Hokkaido scallop wrapped with marinated salmon and taro) and Zuke Maguro Kani, which were amazing (spicy Alaskan King Crab wrapped with marinated tuna and taro). Both specialties had the right balance of spice, rice, fish, and garnish. I had never tried a tokubetsu (a specialty nigiri) like these before, but I loved them. I was a little nervous about the level of spiciness, but I was pleasantly surprised that everything balanced the spice out.

Zuke Maguro Kani and Zuke Sake Hotate

While we were enjoying the tokubetsu, we were served the Cornchizu. This has corn, queso fresco, shiso, cilantro, miso garlic sauce, and togarashi. Initially I was really surprised that there was a corn cheese dish on the menu because I had only seen dishes similar to this at Korean restaurants. However, when we asked about the inspiration behind the dish we were told that there’s a Korean restaurant down the street that the staff of Arami enjoys and they like the corn cheese dish, which made perfect sense to me. This dish has a bold blend of flavors, and I would highly recommend it if you like the Korean corn cheese.

Cornchizu

The Poke was the next dish we devoured, and it was the most unique take on poke that I have ever had. Immediately, I noticed that the colors were more muted than most poke bowls that I’ve had, but once it started eating it, then I noticed how different the flavors were. The fish had a smokier flavor, but that was balanced out by the onion, seaweed, and cucumber. The Macadamia nuts were a nice touch too.

Poke

Once we finished the Poke, we were presented with a beautiful flight of nigiri. We started eating it left to right, which meant eating the Hirame (Japanese flounder), then Aji (horse mackerel), and ending with the Sake (salmon). Each fish had more and more flavor, but I loved the ponzu on the Aji.

Then we moved onto the Pipikaula Steak, which was phenomenal. It consists of koji dry-aged domestic wagyu short rib, shoyu mango, and poi. The short rib was amazing, but I really loved the way the shoyu mango complemented the steak.

Pipikaula Steak

After the steak, we had the Unagi Spicy Maguro. Unagi is one of my favorites, so I was excited to try this roll. The spicy tuna wasn’t too spicy and the cucumber, sweet soy, and negi definitely helped balance the flavors and spice levels in the roll. Even though, this has spicy tuna, I still found this roll to be very light and refreshing.

Unagi Spicy Maguro

Our final dish was the Hotate-Su, which has Hokkaido scallop, Hawaiian hot pepper water, coconut lime sauce, hearts of palm, Thai basil, and passionfruit. This dish is super light and I loved how all of the different flavors mixed.

Hotate-Su

I loved all of the dishes that we had at Arami. I love the twists they’ve put on some dishes like Poke and the Korean Corn and Cheese dish. Additionally, I also appreciated that they notate on their menu which items are safe for people who are gluten free/have celiac, shellfish free, vegetarian and vegan, and which items have octopus. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this before at a Japanese restaurant, but I appreciate it because I know that I have a place I can bring friends who have dietary restrictions. If you love sushi and are in Chicago, then I definitely recommend Arami!

Thank you to Isabelli Media Relations for setting up this tasting. Although this dinner was comped, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. 

Chicago Media Tasting: Baobing By Duck Duck Goat Launch Party

One of my favorite parts of Chicago is the West Loop, because it’s the foodie hub of the city. Chef Stephanie Izard has strategically opened up all of her restaurants there. Every restaurant she’s opened has unique twists on a variety of cuisines that inspire her and Baobing is her latest masterpiece.

Baobing Takeout Window

BaoBing by Duck Duck Goat
857 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607
http://duckduckgoatchicago.com/

Baobing is a takeout window located on the Peoria St. side of Duck Duck Goat. Baobing is traditionally Taiwanese shaved ice, which the takeout window has, and it also has options for savory food items.

To start off the tasting, we had the Taiwanese Fried Chicken and the Fried Tofu. The Taiwanese Fried Chicken is delicious, and I love how the pickle relish helps balance the spice in the hot mustard aioli. The Fried Tofu sounds simple, but don’t be fooled. The vinaigrette, chili oil, and scallions give it plenty of flavor and I love the way they mix — this was probably my favorite dish!

Taiwanese Fried Chicken
Fried Tofu

We also tried the Beef and the Crispy Chicken Wraps, which were delectable. They are wrapped in Stephanie’s scallion pancake, a staple at Duck Duck Goat, and they are filled with different herbs. The Crispy Chicken Wrap has the same pickles as the Fried Chicken meal.

Beef Wrap
Crispy Chicken Wrap

Once we finished the savory dishes, then we moved onto the sweet ones. This was what I was most excited for — the Taiwanese-inspired shaved ice. We first tried the Rainbow Mountain which has soft ice cream, mango, blueberry, and cucumber snow ice; it has a great combination of flavors and is very refreshing. Then we moved onto the more savory dessert, the Sesame Sundae, which has a more unique pairing of flavors, but was a perfect balance of sweet and savory — definitely a favorite.

Rainbow Mountain
Sesame Sundae

The Mango Cloud City has a great mixture of fruit and who doesn’t love the flavor of mango in the summer heat?! I also loved that it has dragon fruit. The final shaved ice we had was the Blue Blue Lemon, and they definitely saved the best for last. I enjoyed how balanced the dessert is between the blueberry and lemon flavors- it is an art to accomplish this as seamlessly as Stephanie has. We ended with a savory dessert, the Jian Bing Thing, and it is possibly the most unique dessert I have ever tried. I would never have thought to pair soft ice cream with caramel, cilantro, crepes, wontons, and crunchy chili oil; however, the way this dessert is designed, all of the flavors work.

Mango Cloud City
Blue Blue Lemon
Jian Bing Thing

They open in the late afternoon during the week and mid-morning on the weekends, so you can enjoy great eats on the patio. If you’re looking for some great food in the West Loop at a great price, then I highly recommend Baobing!

Renzell: The Perfect App For Fine Dining Lovers

The world of foodie apps is like the wild west right now. Developers are striving to become the next big thing, but few apps offer anything unique to stand out from just being a local restaurant directory. I thought I had seen it all with these apps, until GOF blogger Marcie told me to check out an app called Renzell and it has since become my go-to restaurant directory app.

Cocktail from Redbird in LA, a restaurant you can survey on Renzell

Why Renzell?

It’s for those with impeccable taste –  What separates Renzell out from the other apps is a restaurant directory that is specifically hand-picked by Renzell staff of fine dining establishments in major metropolitan cities. This app isn’t here to help you find a new coffee shop, it’s to help you find the perfect special occasion spot. Think Marea in NYC, Redbird in LA and Alinea in Chicago.

Be undercover –  Members can rate restaurants anonymously through their surveys, which are scored based off overall numbers, no long write-ups required. Their surveys are broken down into categories like ambiance, service, food and cocktails. What I love about this so much is that it’s not public what scores users gave, so I can quietly and candidly score spots. See full list of restaurants here.

Prove it – There is also more accountability in the scores than other review apps. Members are encouraged to show proof of dining by providing a receipt from their visit. This makes me feel better when I read the scores, cause it’s lessening the likelihood of fake reviews.

Get rewarded! – The more you survey and/or provide proof of receipt, the more goodies you can get! Recent rewards include Starbucks gift cards, SoulCycle classes, a month of free Spotify premium and so much more.

With membership benefits, secure anonymity and consistent app functionality, I will consider myself a “lifer” Renzell member.

  • Featured image – Strozzapreti from Marea in New York, a restaurant you can survey on Renzell

Eat Purely: Healthy Nomz Delivered Straight to Your Chicago Door!

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Eat Purely
http://www.eatpurely.com

If you’re in the Chicago area and would like to give Eat Purely a try, you can use the promo code GIRLSONFOOD for a $20 credit on your first order!

Eat Purely is an app (Apple, Android, also available on their site) that delivers healthy, organic meals to your door in the Chicago area. This is great because I live in Chicago, I like healthy meals, and my schedule has become so hectic lately that I don’t really have time to cook. (Explanation: I’m too tired and lazy to make frozen pizza AGAIN.) I have just started looking for a tennis coach in Chicago to help keep the weight off at the recommendation of a friend, so combined with Eat Purely, I should keep the weight off and enjoy healthy meals!

(Addendum: Even though I succumbed to frozen pizza tonight and am actually eating it as I write this. Anyway…)
I agreed to try Eat Purely because I like trying new things and because of my busy schedule, and I became pretty hooked. The food is yummy and I like that there are different options each night, along with a description about each choice so you know a little more about it:

One you make a selection, you choose a time frame (i.e 6-7pm) for the meal to be delivered and enter your address. The option to tip is also included, so you don’t have to worry about having cash on hand. I do wish they would be able to provide a tighter window frame, maybe in half hour blocks for example, although I noticed the app does give you a notification when your driver is about fifteen minutes out.

During on demand hours (4pm – 9 pm), you can see an ETA in the app (usually about 20 minutes). Eat Purely also offers on demand for lunch (only in the Loop, West Loop, and River North for now) from 11am – 2pm.

So, on to the food reviews! My first order was Asian BBQ Steak with Garlic Rice and Peanut Noodles with Tofu. It arrives like this:

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First time customers will also receive a cute little note — and a little piece of dessert comes with each order as well!

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One heads up: If you order a warm dish, you will have to heat it up in the microwave or oven on your own. Heat times and instructions are provided so it’s not that big of a deal, but just know that if you’re TRULY on the go, it’s probably best to order a salad or something cold. (Like my noodles!)

My favorite of the two was the BBQ Steak with Rice, which was really good. The noodles were okay, but I found them lacking texture a bit. I ended up sprinkling some pepper flakes on them and they were pretty tasty after that.

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For my next Eat Purely adventure, my friends and I ordered in to kick off a girls’ night. I got Lamb Meatballs with curry rice, pistachio honey yogurt, and quinoa tabouleh. My friends ordered shrimp, watermelon, and tomato salad + grilled steak salad. Here is what our table looked like:

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I really enjoyed my lamb meatballs. I liked the rice and chickpea salad, although I thought the tomatoes in the tabbouleh tasted a little stale. The tomatoes in my friend shrimp salad tasted pretty good however, and I liked the watermelon + celery combination in it. We all agreed that the portions at Eat Purely are pretty generous, and were full from one main and two salads.

Feeling hungry but wanting something light the next time around, I tried the Arugula and Goat Cheese Salad with pickled squash and candied pepitas:

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I took the time to plate it a little nicer this time around. BTW, if you take the time to make your food look pretty on a plate and upload it to Instagram, tag @eatpurely and hashtag #IEatPurely for a chance to win $100! They have this contest every month. I even got fancy and added some sliced lemons — I’m a food stylist in the making, I swear!

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This salad was my favorite of all the orders. I love arugula and goat cheese so I was already a little biased, but the pickled squash was a wonderful and refreshing addition. The candied pepitas added a fun crunch, and the dressing was flavorful but light. All in all, this was a great healthy, lighter salad. I definitely plan on ordering this when they offer it again!!

My final order from Eat Purely was Moroccan Chicken with currant cous cous and grilled veggies. I also ordered the beet salad.

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Man, both of these were amazing! I will admit compared to everything else I’ve ordered the beet salad seemed a little plain, but it was also only $7. The chicken was DELICIOUS! I loved it. The cous cous was so, so good and the grilled veggies were perfect for fall. This is another dish I definitely recommend trying out if they have it again.

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Overall, I’d say that Eat Purely is a great option if you have a busy schedule and no time to cook. The options are tasty, and you can tell they really put a lot of love into their company. I’m thinking of having dinner delivered to my work next time, and they just recently started doing LUNCH too, so that’s a perfect option!

If you’re in the Chicago area and would like to give Eat Purely a try, you can use the promo code GIRLSONFOOD for a $20 credit on your first order!

Blue Door Kitchen & Garden: Southern Bites In Chicago

IMG_0852Chef Art Smith, former personal chef to Oprah (swoon), recently revitalized his highly successful, Chicago restaurant TABLE fifty-two and has turned it into Blue Door Kitchen & Garden. Art has always had a farm-to-table mindset and has kept that as a theme for this new spot.

I don’t have a reference for what TABLE fifty-two was all about as sadly, I never made it in (give me a break, I live in LA!). I was able to make it into his reconstructed new restaurant for Southern bites in a rustic atmosphere.

Blue Door Kitchen & Garden
52 W. Elm Street, Chicago, IL 60610
http://bluedoorkitchenchicago.com

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IMG_0853The ambiance aims to be laid-back and have a southern comfort feel to it. Being from LA, I’m used to dining out in jeans and a shirt, even in finer dining. I felt a little out of place here. Maybe Chicago just hasn’t caught up to the casual West Coast wardrobe mindset?  Maybe I was slightly out of place but for good food, I can deal. IMG_0854To start, you are given complimentary Sweet Potato Chips and Hummus. Such an upgrade from bread and butter and great one at that.

I started with a glass of one of the best rosés I’ve ever had, Angels & Cowboys, a Grenache blend from Sonoma County. This pale pink wine is dry and has a very faint fruitless to it. This glass paired perfectly with all of my food. Fans of  cult favorite Whispering Angel would love this rosé.

 

IMG_0855IMG_0858We started with a couple of great bites. The Little Farm on the Prairie Deviled Eggs (left) vary daily. The batch we had were topped with broccolini, almonds and a lovely soy based glaze. Then we had the Charred Eggplant Pierogis, which were crispy with a creme fraiche sauce underneath. I loved the smoky, savory eggplant on the inside. Yum!

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The Brussels & Kale Salad was one of this table’s favorite. The sweet and garlicky maple tahini vinaigrette works well with the kale and brussels, and the bacon provides a meaty punch.

IMG_0857Aren’t these bad boys pretty? This is the Purple Potato Gnocchi with Parmesan, peas, pickled carrots, tarragon and mint. Loved the presentation and the gnocchi was deceptively filling. This is a great side to go with my next item…

 

 

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The Buttermilk Fried Chicken is an item that Art Smith kept on the menu from TABLE fifty-two and I’m thankful he did. The battered skin is crisp to perfection, the meat is plump and juicy, this is hands down dome of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. The flaky batter to meat ratio was on point.

IMG_0861Then we decided to cool off with the Raspberry Rosé Vacherin. It starts at the bottom with a Vacherin cheese meringue crisp, topped with a raspberry rosé granita, then topped with more meringue, bee pollen, tarragon and candied ginger. I was a little worried the meringue would get soggy, but it actually held a hard shell through the melting granita. These flavors all played beautifully together. I especially loved the tarragon pop in there. Even though we left in a rush to catch a movie, I had the server bring me a little container for the meringues on top that I couldn’t get to. I was not going to let those go to waste.

All of the items ordered tasted fresh off the farm. The great flavors, filing portions and Southern charm will have me coming back for more (especially since I need to try that Chicago Cut Ribeye). If you’re in Chicago, be sure to check out Blue Door Kitchen & Garden.

Beautiful BBQ: Melissa Eats With The Smoke Daddy in Chicago

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Ahh! I LOVE BBQ! Smoke Daddy is located in Wicker Park, and, just as with every great BBQ joint, I can definitely smell my upcoming happiness before I can see it! They have two outdoor eating spaces, live music every night, and smoke all of their meats and vegetables in-house daily. They are also dog-friendly, with water bowls for your pooch and even smoked Pig Ear chews available for sale! Does anyone have a dog I can borrow for next time? Haha.

The Smoke Daddy
1804 W Division St, Chicago IL 60622
http://www.thesmokedaddy.com

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I started off with one of the Bloody Marys. In my observation, most people either love Bloody Marys or hate them. I fall into the first category, and so I am happy to see three different options to choose. It comes with olives, pickles, and wrapped brisket. It’s delicious, especially after I squeeze in some lime juice. It also comes with a pony bottle of beer, which goes great with BBQ. I bet the other options are just as great.

First up is The Daddy-O sandwich and small plate of the KC Style Burnt Ends. I try the Burnt Ends first, and it turns out to be my favorite of the night! The pieces melt in your mouth, with a nice, slightly crispy texture to the meat. I loved it. Seriously, you need to get this when you go! My favorite part of the Daddy-O was the onion rings. I have a soft spot in my heart for onion rings, and these were super good! They use a Sam Adams Angry Orchard beer batter, and the taste shines. The onion rings complimented the brisket and smoked provolone cheese in the sandwich perfectly. The sliced brisket is delicious, soft and holds up to the sauces I smother on very well.

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Smoke Daddy has a few BBQ sauces and one house made, spicy sauce. Original is an apple cider vinegar base which gives it a definite tangy kick, while Mustard has a Carolina mustard base with a nice, strong mustard flavor. The Sweet ‘n’ Smoky is molasses sweet, and the most popular flavor. It was also my personal favorite, and I ended up pouring it onto everything, even some of the collards just because I liked it so much!

The in-house, chipotle pepper based hot sauce has a feisty kick, it’s spicy! I love spicy things, so I also put this on almost everything.

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Next up were smoked BBQ wings. These are marinated in a teriyaki base overnight, then slowly smoked for about 1.5 hours and then grilled. The smoke gives them a richer mouthfeel and even though I like the sweeter sauce best, I think these go well with the tangy, apple-cider-based original. They do come with a dipping sauce, but I preferred the BBQ 🙂

Next up was the Chicken + Ribs platter. Heaven! So, so good. The ribs were perfect, full of flavor with the meat coming easily off the bone. In fact, my mouth is drooling as I write this a day later! When it comes to BBQ, I feel that good ribs are simply good ribs, and these fit the bill. The chicken was also amazing, with the same delicious smoked flavor, juicy and tender.

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The wings/ribs also came with Collard Greens and Smoked Pit Beans. I am a huge vegetable lover, and so I was happy to see the same attention to their meats applied to the vegetables. I think the beans here might be the best I’ve ever had: smokey, sweet, and rich. They are not shy in adding in pieces of meat to the beans, and my tablemate and I fought for the last bite. Interestingly there is no pork or meat added to the collards, just garlic. With your first taste, the garlic hits you immediately, and I squeezed in a little bit of lemon juice to balance the flavor. I ended up eating the whole portion. 

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They also offer desserts and brunch, and I’ll be back to try them! The Monkey Bread and Pulled Pork Benedict sounds especially good. Or the Brisket Breakfast Skillet. Or Iron Skillet Blueberry Cornbread. Oh gosh, looks like I might be back sooner than later!

If you’re in the mood for BBQ, definitely give Smoke Daddy a try! Everything was fantastic. This food will immediately make you sigh and put a smile on your face. Thank you, Megan, from Smoke Daddy and Girls on Food for having me!

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Brunching in the Windy City: Cochon Volant Brasserie

Cochon VolantChicago is one of my all time favorite cities to visit; the city offers so many different activities and great places to eat.

When I go to Chicago, you can find me hopping from place to place stuffing my face. A friend’s wedding brought me to Chicago a few weeks ago, and you’d better believe once I got that invite I was restaurant planning.
A Saturday pre-wedding brunch was on my list, and our place of choice was Cochon Volant Brasserie. Cochon Volant is a French bakery, brasserie, and bar in the loop. The menu features a number of French specialties.

Cochon Volant Brasserie
100 W Monroe St, Chicago, IL, 60603
http://www.cochonvolantchicago.com/

 

 

We were seated outside among the flowers and watched the city wake up around us. It’s one of my favorite parts about traveling; sitting at a restaurant and taking in the sights and sounds of a new city.

My go to brunch cocktail is a Bloody Mary.  I always ask for mine spicy; I just cannot have it any other way. The server brought our drinks and warned me that they might have gone a bit overboard with spice level… but I thought they were perfect, just the kick I was looking for!

Cochon Bloody Mary

For my entrée, I had to have the Cochon Benedict Reserve. Eggs Benedict rules my brunch world, and I can hardly stray from ordering it.

Eggs Benedict

The Cochon Benedict Reserve is precisely how Eggs Benedict should be. This hollandaise was perfect, the eggs were perfect, I’m wondering how many times I can use perfect to describe this dish. ….

My dining partner had the Croque Madame.

Cochon Madam

At first, it came without the egg however that was quickly remedied.

Madam with Egg

Just look at the beautiful pile of ham and cheese. It is a comfort, love and the necessary cure for a Friday night. I couldn’t stop dipping into the aioli… Beware of your aioli when dining with me 🙂

Next time you’re in Chicago check out Cochon Volant. I need to go back for the dinner menu!

Roister in Chicago: Southern Girl on Food Approved!

Roister
951 West Fulton Market Place, Chicago, Illinois 60607
http://www.roisterrestaurant.com

When the Alinea Group announced in 2015 that they were introducing a casual dining concept, people were waiting with bated breath to see what would develop, myself included. Well known for its innovative and provocative spin on food, the group boasts quite the list of high-caliber restaurants and bars within the Chicago area.  Roister was no exception.

The definition of the word roister is enjoying oneself or celebrating in a loud or boisterous way.   As soon as you enter the restaurant, you feel a sense of revelry and can immediately tell that this place is going to live up to its name.

As we were escorted downstairs, “Girls just wanna have fun” was blaring through the speakers. It set the tone for the evening.   I was already singing along and dancing in my seat.   To start, the chef presented us with Aged Cheddar Rillettes.  Such amazing cheesy goodness.  Typically, rillettes are a meaty pate made of pork, but this was a melt in your mouth cheddar cheese combination served over hearth roasted sourdough bread topped with cauliflower and onion.  Knead I say more?!?  Cheesy, I get it.   🙂

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IMG_6351Following that little palate teaser, we had the “choose your own adventure” course: green tomato gazpacho. Normally, I am not one for cold soup. I have nothing against it, but not my go to. Chef presented us with our bowl of gazpacho along with three different toppings to make it our own: charred avocados, green tomato salsa, and a creamy Greek yogurt. Holy Flavor Batman.   The creaminess of the Greek yogurt combined with the acidity of the gazpacho created this perfectly textured soup. Delish!

 

 

While I could go course by course, I will cut to the chase and get to what this southern girl had been reading about for weeks, the Whole Chicken and Chamomile.  Literally, the week before, I read an article about Roister having the best fried chicken in Chicago.  Sure, I thought. It may be the best in Chicago, but can it withstand some of the mouthwatering chicken produced in my hometown?   I had been watching the chefs make this dish all night long.  The anticipation was killing me.  Finally, chef presented us with this heaping pile of fried chicken garnished with these dainty little daisies.   On the side were two different sauces:  chicken gravy and a sunchoke Habanero hot sauce.   I eagerly tried both sauces.  I chose to keep it classic and went with the chicken gravy.  As I pulled over one of the pieces of chicken to my plate, I drizzled the white gravy on top and began to feast.   The flavor was NOTHING like I had ever experienced in my life. I couldn’t put my finger on it, so I called the chef over for a little help.  I asked “what is this flavor? It’s ridiculous!”  Chef replied that it was the chamomile tea and buttermilk marinade. The chicken was melting in my mouth. The perfect combination of sweet and savory.  While I was drowning in this sea of deliciousness, “Some Kind of Wonderful” started playing.  How apropos. Needless to say, even the smallest crumb was gone from the plate, and I joked with the chefs asking if I could get some of the chicken gravy to bring back to Nashville.

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The Alinea Group has knocked it out of the park, yet again. Roister is a seamless transition from kitchen to dining room encouraging guests to interact with the chefs as dishes are prepared and revel in the dining experience.

Just for fun, some of the other dishes that were served.  Enjoy!

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Top: Strawberries and Milk: Mint cake, Kosher salt with Strawberry jam and Strawberry pearls
Middle: Whole Chicken and Chamomile
Bottom: Smoked Island Creek Oysters with Parmesan, Yuzu and Horseradish on top of a bed of seaweed and wood chips.

Winded: Julianne’s Chicago Trip Part 3

Wow. It took an embarrassingly long time for me to get the final part of my trip to Chicago up, but here it is! This post is all about my favorite classic American treat, the cheeseburger, as well as a couple of treats I also savored.

Tried my best to imitate the statue a la "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" at Art Institute of Chicago
Tried my best to imitate the statue a la “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” at Art Institute of Chicago

Billy Goat 1

Billy Goat Tavern 
430 N. Michigan Ave at Lower Level, Chicago, IL 60611
http://billygoattavern.com

Billy Goat 4
Fresh off the grill and into your mouth

Lower Whacker Drive is one of those major streets that seems very familiar but you can’t quite put your finger on it. Then you realize you recognize the double-decked streets as shooting locations for “The Blues Brothers” and “The Dark Knight.” It’s also famous because of a certain burger joint that delivers attitude along with a burger. I would be a foodie disgrace if I didn’t check out Billy Goat Tavern, a restaurant that inspired a famous SNL sketch, watch the clip here. There’s a whole lot of history you can read about here as well. But let’s get eating!

Cheeseburger with pickles
“Cheezeborger” with pickles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I loved that the staff performed as the SNL characters for us. It’s not a “cheeseburger” I ordered, it’s a “cheezeborger.” Billy Goat Tavern has an old fashioned, American diner feel and (bonus points) a full bar. The burgers come out fresh off the grill, not served on a plate, just on a sheet of wax paper. This is clearly not a joint for the fancy. I got the double cheezeborger and added pickles to it. The burger patties were thin, so I’m glad I got double because their bun is pretty thick and it would’ve overshadowed the patty if it was only a single. The pickles really were the treat for me. They were so fresh, crisp and crunchy. As a dill pickle lover, I was blown away with them, and that alone will have me visiting Chicago more often.

DMK 1

DMK Burger Bar
2954 N. Sheffield Ave, Chicago, IL 60657
http://dmkburgerbar.com

DMK is very well-known among locals for their burgers but they also have fantastic cocktails. As you can see, I appreciate the bar and burger vibe.

 

Watching "The Breakfast Club" and sipping on a "Some Candy Talking" cocktail.
Watching “The Breakfast Club” and sipping on a “Some Candy Talking” cocktail.

DMK 7I ordered the “Some Candy Talking” cocktail, mostly cause it’s named after a great song by The Jesus and Mary Chain. It’s Jim Beam Bonded, Campari, rhubarb and lemon. It was like an elevated whiskey sour; I loved the bitterness of the Campari in there too.

 

 

 

 

 

DMK 4

I always aim for the best, so I chose the number 1. This burger was topped with aged cheddar, smoked bacon, charred balsamic red onion and Rufus Teague’s BBQ sauce. I’m usually not a big BBQ sauce on my burger kind of person, but it worked so well with the onions that I may have been converted. The patty was thick, bloody and the bun perfectly soaks up all the flavors.

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My boyfriend ordered the number 2, with chili-rubbed onion strings, Amish blue cheese, and spicy chipotle ketchup. This one had a spicy kick to it, which he loved. Onion strings on a burger were also never really my thing, so I would’ve ordered them on the side, but my boyfriend loved them on it.

DMK 5These friends were heaven. We got the fries with parmesan and truffle cream. They were beautifully crisp, and the truffle cream wasn’t overwhelming, like others I’ve had in the past. Perfect pairing with the fries. Then we decided to nosh at a traditional Illinois ice cream spot.

 

 

 

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Oberweis Dairy Ice Cream & Dairy Store
3055 N. Sheffield, Chicago, IL 60657
http://oberweis.com

oberweis 2I may lose some serious foodie street cred with this one, but I honestly never knew about Oberweis Dairy before this trip. Oberweis has been delivering fresh milk in the mid-west since 1927 and has since expanded into many ice cream shops. I got their popular summer flavor (sorry, I know I’m really late with this one) Cherry Pie and a pint of milk. Being someone who switched to almond milk early this year, the milk was a lot for me to take in. I think it’s probably the creamiest milk I’ve ever experienced. It’s so decadent; I really didn’t need two creamy items, but when in Chicago, right? The cherry pie swirled ice cream was also very rich but so worth it.

 

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Tequila Talkin’: Tapalpa in Elk Grove Village, IL

I tell my co-workers that I’m searching for a family-owned joint for my first Girls On Food review, and their eyes grow wide. “Tapalpa!” cried Linda. “Tapalpa.” Tanja agreed, nodding with such solemnity that I knew I must be in for a treat. “Tuh-pul – what?” I furrowed my brow in confusion. Over the next five minutes my co-workers extolled the virtues of this cozy Mexican restaurant tucked inconspicuously into the northwest suburbs of Chicago. It was, they assured me, a hidden gem. They were right.

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Tapalpa Mexican Restaurant
770 S. Arlington Heights Road
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007
(847) 956-9411
http://www.tapalpa.com

For coupons, notifications on upcoming events, and daily drink & meal specials, text TAPALPA to 22828

I’m always on the hunt for good quality, authentic Mexican food. Since moving out of the bustling city and into the ‘burbs, it has become a more difficult task – but, as Tapalpa proved, not an impossible one.

When my fiancé (hereafter known as The Babe) and I first pulled up to the restaurant, I had my reservations – not a table for two, but rather, curiosity as to whether or not this would live up to expectations. Immediately upon being seated, it is clear that it would. Tapalpa’s interior is warm and welcoming, dotted with beautiful bright tablecloths and whimsical saloon doors. The walls are packed with photos of patrons, who seem to be happily enjoying weekly dinners with friends, New Year’s Eve parties, and other special occasions. You can make no mistake – this is a neighborhood place through and through. The bar is outfitted with regulars, who have just clocked out of work and jonesing for their first margarita of the evening. Speaking of margaritas, they are something of a specialty at Tapalpa. The menu boasts an impressive array of flavors, including mango (The Babe’s favorite) and, interestingly, amaretto (who knew?). But perhaps most impressive is their weekday (Mon – Thurs) margarita special: $2.25 for an 8-ounce traditional margarita on the rocks. If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that traditional margaritas are my drink of choice. It doesn’t matter where I am – an American steakhouse, the country-western bar we hit up for live music and dancing, even our favorite sushi bar – if there’s tequila to be had, I’m ordering a margarita. Needless to say, I took Tapalpa up on their special and was very impressed! The margarita was perfectly mixed and hit just the right balance of sweet and salt. It was even extra-cold, just the way I prefer it! The Babe opted for a blended mango margarita, which was pleasantly fruity without being overpowering or syrupy.

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Tapalpa’s 8 oz traditional margarita, their weekday drink special.

When we moved on to appetizers, I wanted to try everything. From guacamole to queso fundido to jalapeño poppers, it all looked delicious! Luckily for us, the menu offers a combination plate called the Supreme Botana, which arrives laden with nachos, quesadillas, jalapeño poppers, guacamole, and miniature tamales verdes complimented by a healthy scoop of sour cream.

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The Supreme Botana appetizer platter in all its glory.

The nachos were particularly excellent, due in part to their construction; this was no haphazard slab of tortilla chips spottily dressed with that DayGlo-orange melted cheese you find at ballparks and movie theaters. Instead, each chip was paid individual attention, so that all of the toppings were distributed equally. Cheese, beans, sour cream and guacamole in perfect proportion composed some of the best nachos I’ve had. Quesadillas came melted to perfection and lightly grilled, so the flour tortilla remained simultaneously soft and slightly crunchy. The guacamole was superb, the perfect ratio of chunky (tomato and avocado) to funky (trademark cilantro, onion, and a hint of garlic). The jalapeño poppers had The Babe and I swooning – who doesn’t love a mildly spicy chile stuffed with cheese and deep fried? They were worthy of a meal in and of themselves – we could have eaten a whole plate. The tamales verde stuffed with shredded chicken and covered in a welcome piquant green salsa, were delicious little bites that just beg to be eaten with your hands. Food always tastes better when it’s a little messy, doesn’t it? Personally, I felt that the corn masa was a little thick for my tastes, but that didn’t stop me from mowing down two or three.

For entrées, my choice was simple – a coworker had raved about the carne chihuahua, a flank steak that arrives covered in green peppers, mushrooms, onion, and melted chihuahua cheese. The Babe, as is his custom, ordered two entrées: the shrimp tacos and the pollito relleno, a smaller portion of Tapalpa’s chicken breast-wrapped, cheese-stuffed poblanos which are then baked and served with a mole-esque guajillo and wine butter sauce.

IMG_9341The carne chihuahua, served with a side of Spanish rice and refried beans.

My steak did not disappoint, though let’s be honest – who doesn’t love meat and cheese? The cut of meat was perfectly cooked to medium-rare, and the vegetables topping it were fresh and full of flavor. When was the last time you had a hot dish with green peppers that actually still had crunch? Exactly. Tapalpa has dedication to fresh, authentic flavors down to a science.

IMG_9344Shrimp tacos, accompanied by Spanish rice and refried beans.

The Babe loves shrimp tacos with a religious fervor, so I waited anxiously as he took his first bite into the cabbage and pico de gallo laden tacos. He chewed slowly, with intent, and then silently held the taco out to me. “Put this in your mouth immediately.” He said. How do you say no to a command like that? And as soon as I took a bite, I could see why he was of so few words – the tacos speak for themselves. Beer battered shrimp maintain crunch and flavor beneath a blanket of tasty toppings fit for a late night food truck run south of the border.

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Pollito relleno, a smaller version of pollo relleno.

His other entrée, pollito relleno, is a must-order. The ideal sized portion for someone who wants a taste of the town of Tapalpa, Mexico (without having to put on those pants they only break out for Thanksgiving dinner), the poblano pepper is served to you stuffed with cheese (think a grown-up jalapeño popper), wrapped in a moist, broiled chicken breast, and smothered in a complex sauce that reminded me of a mole. It’s not the prettiest dish – the lump of pimped-out pepper glistening beneath the maroonish-brown sauce astride the token side of rice and beans – but the flavors are solid. The sauce is sweet, smoky, and spicy all at once, without being too bitter or overwhelming with smoke aftertaste. According to their menu, this is a dish specific to the town of Tapalpa, where the owners called home. Seeing as it is a unique meal from a little-known town in Jalisco, and delicious to boot, I would absolutely recommend it as a first-time meal at Tapalpa.

Stuffed to the brim, we couldn’t bring ourselves to order dessert – which is a testament to just how good our meal was, as The Babe and I both are suckers for sweet treats – but after the check, our waiter brought over two shot glasses filled with a creamy liquor and topped with a truly decadent amount of whipped cream. Instinctively, I knocked back the entire contents of the tiny glass and was greeted with a pleasant surprise – Kahlua! The blend of tequila, Kahlua, and strong brewed coffee is called Mexican coffee on the menu, and it was the perfect sweet (and boozy!) end to our meal.

The highly anticipated Tapalpa exceeded my expectations and tantalized my tastebuds from start to finish. The food was well executed, fresh, and bursting with flavor, and the service was friendly and unobtrusive. A family-owned staple in Elk Grove Village since 1992, I recommend a visit to Tapalpa to anyone who loves quality Mexican fare in a welcoming environment. Although it is a bit of a hike from the Magnificent Mile, situated squarely in the suburbs, it is worth the drive, particularly if you are native to the Chicagoland area, or perhaps heading out to take in the wildlife in the Village or indulge in the spectacular shopping at Woodfield Mall, only a short drive away.

With the taste of coffee and tequila (my two favorite beverages) still lingering on my tongue, and the memory of our well-executed, tasty dinner dancing away in my mind, I think it suffices to say that Tapalpa is a journey to a lesser-known part of Mexico that I’d like to take again and again.

For coupons, notifications on upcoming events, and daily drink & meal specials, text TAPALPA to 22828