Seefood Diet at The Fish Guy Market

The Fish Guy Market

Several weeks ago, I was on a hunt for boutique restaurants that sell some of the best lobster rolls that you can find in and around Chicago. Since then, I have seen Instagram photos and Facebook posts showcasing lobster rolls. I have also received email notes inquiring if I would like to sample lobster rolls from various restaurants. I had no idea that these lovely little seafood sandwiches were so popular. Needless to say, I found another seafood restaurant that doubles as a seafood market named The Fish Guy Market at 4423 N. Elston Street in Chicago’s Albany Park.

Gazpcho

Gazpcho

I started with a nice cool bowl of Andaluzian gazpacho. This soup of puréed tomatoes, a dash of vinegar, olive oil, and garlic was well received by my outrageous appetite. With it being warm and humid outside, having something cool was not a bad option. Considering most enjoy their soups at temperatures that require blowing on it to cool it off before sipping, the gazpacho makes for a great summer soup.

Lobster Ceviche

Lobster Ceviche

Next was a lobster ceviche. Anyone who has had ceviche has had it with shrimp and they already know that it is an appetizing start to most Central and South American meals. Well, imagine plump lobster added and the usual bloom of flavours from the citrus spices. Served with crunchy tortilla chips, this ceviche is one menu item to order and devour during any visits to The Fish Guy Market.

Fruit De Mer

Fruit De Mer

While talking to the guy behind the counter about cameras and how long The Fish Guy Market has been in business, I had not noticed that he was chopping up some baby octopus and doctoring it up in olive oil with a few extra ingredients and spices. It wasn’t until he placed it in front of me that I realized I was getting a sampling of some fruit de mer. Even without having been grilled, the octopus was tender, and not tough. The olive oil gave it an Italian influence, but that was just fine. I gobbled it regardless.

Lobster Roll

Lobster Roll

By now I was ready to address my main reason for going to The Fish Guy Market. One of the individuals behind the counter was preparing my lobster roll and instead of it being done out of view in some kitchen or out of sight, I got to see the magic from my seat. There was a hearty amount of lobster added to the rolls, seasoned, and ready for my teeth. Served with potato chips and slaw, the plating was certainly appealing to the appetite. Unlike most lobster rolls that have some doctored mayonnaise, there didn’t seem to be any on the lobster roll at The Fish Guy. Instead, the natural juices of the lobster and the seasoning appeared to be what made the roll. Then again, there may have been some mayonnaise on the sandwich, but very faint. I took my time and completed the task before me.

Skipjack Tuna

Skipjack Tuna

Another small l’amuse that I got to sample was skipjack tuna. Lightly seared on the outside, this was a meaty interlude that made me love tuna even more than I loved it already. I scanned the menu to see if it was one of the items that the restaurant serves and didn’t see it. I must admit that it would be a divine menu item to add because anyone who gets to have a go of it will want more and more of it.

The Fish Guy Maket Collage

The restaurant offerings are outstanding. The fresh seafood selection certainly was an attention grabber. With the restaurant and market area being bright and incredibly clean, I will definitely return to The Fish Guy Market to purchase any seafood that I plan to cook. Being a stickler for good customer service, it’s apparent that the market aces that aspect of business because there was a steady flow of repeat customers coming in and out. I understand fully why they return. They have a seefood diet, no doubt. Yes, I wrote seefood.

Fishguy Market on Urbanspoon

Feeling French, Craving Crepes, Crepe Bistro

Crepe Bistro

Now that Icosium Kafe in Lincoln Park and its sister location in Andersonville closed their doors to business, the creperies in Chicago that I loved had dwindled down to Crepe Town in Uptown. There are several crepe shops in Chicago, but rude and dismissive service kill the appetite. Having been to Crepe Town recently, I wanted to try another creperie in the city that I hadn’t visited before. And while roaming around in the Loop, I happened upon Crepe Bistro at 186 N. Well Street. Serendipity.

Upon entry, there are a few tables in the front area and a full bar to the immediate left. I looked like around the corner and saw that there were some lounge chairs and a sofa, very much the atmosphere of coffeehouses before they became classrooms for Internet access. I opted to sit outside since the weather was fantastic. After a quick glance at the menu, I was ready for action once the server approached.

Bellini. Coconut shrimp. Tomato basil soup. Kathmandu crepe. Banana nutella crepe. Coffee with cream.

The Bellini was exactly what I needed after a long week of Murphy’s Law at work making me want a hammer to the back of the head. When initially brought the table, it looked like a fanciful liquid parfait. And the bartender, who was also my server, deserves an encore for mixing the Bellini in such a fashion that it was smooth and easy on the way down. The coconut shrimp was delicious, although the accompanying sauce made the appetizer mildly sweeter. I gobbled the rest sans the sauce. The tomato basil soup didn’t taste like anything from a can, or doctored up from a can, so I was pleased with each spoonful.

Crepe Bistro Collage

Kathmandu Crepe. Coconut Shrimp. Tomato Basil Soup. Bellini. Banana Nutella Crepe.

The Kathmandu crepe was a winner. Stuffed with chicken, mushrooms, and mozzarella, and topped with a curry sauce and mango chutney, I was glad to have been hanging out in the Loop and hankering for crepes. Unlike minimalist crepes I have had at other creperies in Chicago and very much like Crepe Town in Uptown, the Kathmandu crepe was loaded. Per the server’s recommendation, I had the banana nutella crepe that ranks up there with my favourite bananas foster crepe. Again, here was another crepe that was stuffed instead of flat and cute for presentation. Along with the banana nutella crepe, I decided to take coffee with cream. If I have said it once, I have said it a million times: the biggest indicator of a quality coffee is being able to drink it without any sweeteners. Yes, I used the milk, but milk is not excessively sweet enough to overpower bitter coffee and the coffee at Crepe Bistro was anything but bitter.

I went during the late morning on a Saturday, so it wasn’t crowded the way I figure it gets later in the day or through the week. It may have been my luck to get the bartender for my server because not only was she good with suggestions, but also quite conversational: a trait in good bartenders. While observing the outdoor menu that was on a placard, I was curious as to whether Crepe Bistro was pandering to Russian, French, or some fusion of the two. During conversation with the bartender, she mentioned that the owner was Russian. Ah, that explained borscht on the placard. However, Crepe Bistro indeed honours French cuisine along the lines of crepes.

So, now Crepe Town and Crepe Bistro are my two favourite creperies in the city. I may have to search for a few other creperies that I may find myself fancying regularly. Well, that is provided the servers aren’t serving attitude with my orders.


Crepe Bistro on Urbanspoon

Ristorante, Trattoria, Osteria Langhe

Osteria Langhe

A friend told me that all I post on my Facebook page are photos of food. If he were following me on Instagram, he would keep a constant appetite after looking at all of the photos of food that I post there. And speaking of Instagram, someone who is on my friends list on that social media outlet had been posting photos of food at a new restaurant that opened in Logan Square. After seeing way too many photos of appetizing compositions, I made a prompt reservation for a visit. Osteria Langhe, at 2824 W. Armitage, was where all the magic happened. Yes, this is where I made four courses disappear.

Grilled Octopus

Grilled Octopus

Salad

Salad

Osteria Langhe serves Italian cuisine that is more customary in the Piedmont region. With me being in one of my experimental moods, I didn’t bother looking at the menu. I gave the server my boilerplate disclaimer — I love seafood and while I have no food allergies, I hate nuts, and as to something to drink, simply tell the bartender whatever you plan to send to the table and have him or her mix something along the lines of a cocktail accordingly.

Libations

Libations

Paloma

Paloma

Amaro

Amaro

For my first course, I had polipo. This dish of grilled octopus, heirloom tomatoes, basil, capers, saffron oil, and grilled bread was a fantastic starter. The octopus did not have a rubbery texture to it. The tenderness of it made cutting into it feel almost like slicing through very tender chicken. Although the salad of tomatoes and mini greens came without much of a vinaigrette, there was enough to accompany the salad while letting the octopus have the stage as the star.

The bartender had mixed some libation that I never captured because I was engaged in lively conversation with the owner. However, it was quite refreshing and had a vodka base. Thanks to me not getting the name of the drink, I now have a reason to return, for sure, and to order the drink again. I will show a photo of the libation since that will be the only cue I will have as to what it was.

The second course was a salad of spicy mixed greens, kohlrabi, green peas, parmesan, and croutons of fried veal brains. Not having pork in my diet, I had forgotten to say that I am a pescatarian so that the fried veal brains would have been omitted, but the “sweetbread” croutons were actually flavourful. They were like fried cotton candy — if you can imagine that. Nevertheless, after waving my magic wand, that being my fork, I made the salad vanish.

Shrimp and Scallop Risotto

Shrimp and Scallop Risotto

Soft Shell Crab, Insalata Russa

Soft Shell Crab, Insalata Russa

The third course of risotto with shrimp and scallop was where I thought that I had reached the apex of my dining experience. The risotto comes as a different variety per day and I was fortunate that I got the seafood version. A very, very creamy base to it, the risotto reminded me of French cooking. This dish, however, was Italian cooking at its finest. I savoured the risotto at great length because such a dish should not be devoured as if rushing thereafter is a necessity.

With the third course, and as a continuation into the fourth course, I had a Paloma. This was another summer drink made with grapefruit, lime sugar, tequila, and Filbert’s grapefruit soda. Those in Chicago may have, or may not have, ventured down into the 3400 block of South Ashland Avenue and quenched your thirst on a Filbert’s soda. Their grapefruit soda in the Paloma was definitely a divine ingredient.

The fourth course was the dish that solidified my decision to become a regular at Osteria Langhe. This plate of soft shell crab and insalata russa is one that everyone should try, especially those who think that they know where the best Italian food is served. The soft shell crab had an egg batter that made it very light and there was so much meat in the crab that each bite was an explosion. The insalata russa, which is a combination of potato salad and tuna salad, was a dream. Not a salad that one finds on Italian menus, it was an ideal choice for this dish and a great introduction to something authentically Italian that is not served in America-side Italian eateries.

Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta

The fifth course was the finale. Nothing spectacular like a tiramisu, tartufo, biscotti, or cannoli, but creamy and outstanding for a wrap-up, I had a panna cotta served with mixed berries. Along with that came a small glass of Amaro liqueur. Having a dessert like this prepared at the restaurant means it comes without artificial ingredients. All you get is greatness in taste.

One may say that there is a such thing as too many Italian restaurants. However, there is never a bad thing when it comes to discovering more to Italian dining than pasta and pizza. The introduction to Piedmont cuisine was absolutely luscious and a draw for what will be a constant return for me. The service is out of this world, from the owner who is fully engaging in conversation the way restaurant owners are in Italy to servers who can offer tempting recommendations to the bar service that mixes liquid satisfaction without any disappointment. Osteria Langhe has a “Make yourself at home” feel to it and regular customers — like I have decided to become — will attest that another Italian restaurant on the Logan Square landscape is a dream come true.

Osteria Langhe on Urbanspoon

Turquoise Café, A Little Turkish Spice

Turquoise Café

Middle of the week and I was reviewing the listing of ethnic restaurants that I have blogged so far. I realized that Thai, Indian, Italian, Latin American, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern food are abundant in Chicago. And I wondered what I had possibly missed. Then I realized that not far from where I live is a swanky stretch of boutique shops that has some culinary surprises. And what should I find while wandering around after work but a Turkish restaurant. Turquoise Café at 2147 W. Roscoe Street is one that was new to me, although it has served Roscoe Village for several years, so the intent of the experience was to enjoy it as a brand new discovery.

Arriving well before sunset, I sat outside to enjoy the nice weather. Warm bread and a spread of eggplant, red peppers, and olive oil came to the table. Turquoise Café has a neon sign in the window that says, WE BAKE OUR OWN BREAD. They do a superb job and the light smokiness of the spread was a nice start. Where I knew the dining experience was going to be top was with the diver sea scallops served with lettuce leaves shaped to hold mini tomato salads and situated atop dollops of creamed avocado wasabi. I have had tender scallops at numerous restaurants. However, cutting through the scallops at Turquoise Café was like slicing through a cloud. You would not think something so cloud-like would burst with flavour either, the way those seasoned scallops tasted. My next starter was a bowl of creamy lentil soup. If I sound like a broken record when I say that Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurants serve the best lentil soup, I apologize, but anyone who slurps a bowl of the lentil soup will corroborate my statement.

Turquoise Café, Collage

Turquoise Café, Collage

Having spent the July 4th weekend feasting with African and Caribbean friends, I did not partake of the American favourites like barbecue ribs, hamburgers, hot dogs,  macaroni and cheese, corn on the cob, and Miller Genuine Draft beer. Coming down from my high of curry chicken, jerk fish, red snapper, rice and beans, waakye, jolloff rice, and homemade ginger beer, I was in a rare mood to deviate from my pescatarian diet, as if I haven’t done that enough. I ordered lamb chops over a medley of vegetables consisting of potatoes, brussel sprouts, broccoli, mushrooms, and asparagus tips. Greeks are not the only ones to prepare lamb worthy of wanting a second dish and Turquoise Café produces a plate of tender lamb even when it has been requested to be cooked well. After delighting myself completely with the succulent chops, I told the server that I would have dessert and coffee, but required some time to pause. When the wait was over, I had kazandibi with Turkish coffee. Leave baklava for the non-adventurers. The creamy custard of the kazandibi topped with a light caramelized sugar crust and further topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and then garnished with berries is a “must” dessert option.

Turquoise Café has a nice interior, for those who brim with happiness over ambience. For those who are aware that Chicago has eight months of winter that require most dining experiences to occur inside, take advantage of the outdoor seating in the midst of Roscoe Village and indulge yourself to satisfaction on some delectable Turkish menu items. One thing to be aware of is that food is placed to order. While many may think that some items should arrive at the table post haste, they don’t, and you may want to have restaurants you visit in the future take their time preparing your dishes. For my dining experience, I was expecting a bill somewhat bloated considering all that I ordered. I was pleasantly  surprised. So, for lip-smacking food, top service, and a reasonable price, I left sated and with intentions to return in the future. I could use a little Turkish spice in my life.

Turquoise on Urbanspoon

Lobster Roll Craze, Starting in Chicago

At times I go through craving spurts. As of late, seafood has been my constant addiction and I am the last person to say that I tire of it, especially with so many options to please the palate. However, my thoughts have been more focused on lobster rolls. I blame part of that on having read a prior post I had written about Devon Seafood Restaurant and remembering the lobster roll I had there. So, I wondered if there were any small restaurants that had lobster rolls on their menus. Yes, there are and I made entries on my calendars to check out three that were not far from where I live.

Note: If you sample from any of the restaurants I mention in this post or from any seafood restaurants in your area, and you get a lobster roll in your grasp, indeed show the restaurant some love. For those on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, hashtag lobsterrollcraze (#lobsterrollcraze) and give the restaurant’s name.

New England Seafood Company

My first seafood excursion was at New England Seafood Company at 3341 N. Lincoln Avenue. It was late afternoon and before the after-five crowd, and it was even more surprising to see a constant flow of individuals coming in and out. I ordered a bowl of lobster bisque and a bowl of clam chowder for starters. I had fasted for 20 hours for a doctor’s appointment and so I was very close to having a Suarez moment. (Anyone who has been following World Cup will get the reference.) The bisque was a lobster bisque addict’s bowl of heaven. It wasn’t smooth like the usual bisque because it was full of shredded lobster. The clam chowder had chased away my final Suarez craving and left me wanting more, but I had to save room for my main reason for coming to the restaurant.

New England Seafood Company Collage

The lobster roll was so wrong, so very, very wrong because nothing as good as the lobster roll I had should be released to customers. Stuffed to the point where lobster was falling out of the bread, I tell you no lie when I say that I dragged out working on that lobster roll and homemade chips to an epic 45 minutes. I didn’t want it to end. When I was done, I sat looking pensively until the server offered a chocolate chip cannoli and coffee, of which I accepted. After a good report from my doctor, I deserved it.

Da Lobsta

At 12 E. Cedar Street in Chicago’s Gold Coast is Da Lobsta. Several times I have gone to the location in the French Market, which is in the adjacent depot station to Ogilvie Centre. At the French Market location, I had been going so much that the staff working there knows me by face and that means I get rated-10 lobster rolls while everyone else gets rated-8. Okay, that’s not proper and I should be ashamed of myself. (Laugh track) For a blog write-up, I decided to go to the Gold Coast location and I was quite happy I did.

Da Lobsta Collage

The lobster bisque at Da Lobsta is smooth and creamy when initially set in front of you. Don’t be fooled, for after you stir it, you see chunks of lobster swimming around in it. If you are like me, you’ll smile before scooping it up and trying not to dribble it across the front of your shirt. It’s New England lobster bisque, for sure. And the clam chowder, albeit not thick in a creamy way, is definitely worthy ordering a cup. But their lobster roll is where you’ll develop a constant yearning. There is a combination of shredded lobster and chunks. You’ll understand why you get a fork with the sandwich and if you think you’re in a dream while indulging one of the lobster rolls, you will not want to wake up. If you get there when the staff is handing out samples of lobster mac and cheese, do not decline. Take the sample. You’ll probably order some for take-away.

Fish Bar

My third excursion was at Fish Bar. At 2956 N. Sheffield Avenue, this boutique seafood restaurant has the look of a bar, but it’s all about seafood and a good selection of wet bar offerings. The beauty of this restaurant is that the staff is upfront and personal — not as in being in your personal space, but as in being like great friends. They don’t just tell you their names as a courtesy, but they ask for your name and address you accordingly while you’re there. One would have to be anti on a personal level to not fall in love with that kind of service. But you’ll be blown away with the food regardless.

Fish Bar Collage

I had a cup of clam chowder that if I had some bread with it, I would have sopped the remaining chowder without pause or complaint. The gumbo had a roux base that I favour because there was no skimping on the okra. The person responsible for the recipe had to have gone to some restaurant shacks in the eastern parts of New Orleans because they got it correct. Where I had to pause and smile my usual stupid smile when food is good was with the lobster roll. There were chunks of lobster in the lobster roll, although they will cut the lobster up more if requested. But you really know you’re indulging a delicacy when the lobster bursts when your teeth pierce the chunks. And with them adding cumin to the homemade mayonnaise, I sat and pondered ordering another one for take-away. I waited for an hour and had a crabby patty — crab cake slider with a dusting of bread crumbs covering a serious clump of meaty crab — instead. However, I am still thinking about the lobster roll and how I felt some kind of way after it was all gone.

Some may inquire about a ranking and it would be unfair. Each restaurant prepares the lobster rolls differently, which gives each their individual charm. Now that I have put them out there, perhaps you can post back letting it be known how you’d rank them. I gave three boutique seafood restaurants. There are some big box restaurants that prepare some lobster rolls worthy of telling your Facebook and Twitter friends. I bet there are also some walk-ups and small seafood cafes doing the same. Get your lobster rolls craze on.

New England Seafood Company Fish Market on Urbanspoon Da Lobsta on Urbanspoon Fish Bar on Urbanspoon

Paprika Soul With Chutney on the Side

Paprika

One would think that for a man who loves to eat a lot, he would cook his own food most of the time. I use the eyes on my stove to boil water for my tea and the conventional oven to heat food. But to actually pull together some ingredients, concoct a dish, and then cook is something I haven’t done in quite some time. So, I either pick up food to-go on the way home from work or I order delivery from GrubHub. One of my most recent GrubHub orders came from an Indian restaurant that was out of my delivery range, which meant I had to drive to the location to get the food. Well, it was so blooming delicious that I decided to go in for a proper sit-down to blog.

Mango Lassi

Mango Lassi

Papadam and Chutneys

Papadam and Chutneys

Paprika, at 2547 W. Lawrence Avenue, sits in a small strip of stores. It’s a quaint restaurant with a seating area that looks like the repurposed family room in a house. And that whole look and feel create an atmosphere of being at someone’s home, even before the owner welcomes you and tells you to make yourself at home. Having been in business for fifteen years in the Devon Avenue stretch, Paprika moved to Lawrence Avenue a few years ago in the Albany Park neighbourhood that abuts Lincoln Square. At this new location is where they are providing great service and lip-smacking fare.

Samosas

Samosas

As usual, I had a ravenous appetite. There were complimentary papadam and three sauces — tamarind chutney, cilantro chutney, and a spicy paprika sauce — that came to the table. Knowing that I was going to have my dishes spicy, I ordered a mango lassi, which was refreshingly outstanding. For a starter, I ordered vegetable samosas. Mild in flavouring, that was fine since I knew that the entrées I had planned to sample would compensate for the tempered spices in the samosas. I couldn’t quite place if the samosas were baked or if they were lightly deep-fried. Slightly crispy, they had the texture of French beignets — that being crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. I mashed them up, added the sauces, and gobbled them.

Coconut Curry Chicken

Coconut Curry Chicken

There was no buffet, so ordering was indeed off the menu. There were two entrées that I wanted to sample. After waffling between whether to order the butter chicken or the coconut curry chicken, I accepted the owner’s recommendation and ordered the latter. I was expecting the base to be of coconut milk. However, it was curry gravy with shaved coconut. I immediately fell in love with the dish after the first swallow. Unexpected is good when it comes to Indian food.

Rice

Rice

The second entrée was chana aloo. Served with naan, I should have ordered bhatura or poori instead of the naan. Because I had requested to have the chana aloo spicy, I got it the way I love it. I could taste the cumin and cloves. The basmati rice that came with both main dishes also brimmed with a hint of saffron and cloves. Scooped with the chana aloo and scooped with the coconut curry chicken, I was thoroughly pleased that I had made Paprika my lunch spot.

Chana Aloo

Chana Aloo

Well, with a meal consisting of a satisfying appetizer and two entrées well worth writing about, I sat and talked to the owner at length. We chatted about the plethora of Indian restaurants in London, the authenticity of traditional meals in Toronto, and how street food in the alleys of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Calcutta is hands down the best. And somehow conversation segued into what we thought was some of the best dessert to be found. That was when I had some kheer placed in front of me. When people say, “It’s the best [fill in the blank with choice dessert] ever,” there is a tendency to hide giving side eyes and saying to yourself, “Yeah, right.” The kheer at Paprika was so incredible that I would have body slammed a rugby player if he were to have messed with my kheer. Anyone can mix rice, milk, sugar, saffron, cinnamon, raisins, pistachio, and almonds. Not everyone can “get it right” the way Paprika does.

Kheer

Kheer

What many in Chicago are starting to recognize is that like Middle Eastern food, Indian food is gaining a larger presence. Much of that is because of the great taste in the food and the other factor is, well, it simply taste so blooming fantastic. Because of the popularity of Indian dining, there are more restaurants opening their doors in locations away from Devon Avenue. Not that there weren’t choices from which to pick on Devon, but now there are locations opening quite possibly very close to you. If you love Indian fare and going to restaurants where you are made to feel at home, Paprika is definitely one eatery to add to your list. When the owners greets you with, “Swatgatum,” simply respond with, “Shurkria,” take your seat and prepare to ka some mind-blowing Indian goodness.

Paprika on Urbanspoon

In Chicago’s Second Tallest Building — Rebar

From the Terrace at Trump Tower

Lagoon

Lagoon

Chicago is my favourite city in North America — in the USA — second to Toronto, Ontario. Chicago is a bastion of culture, theatre, arts, restaurants, food, architecture, cafés, music, corrupt politicians, bizarre temperatures, and constant news about shooting gallery activities in small sections of the city. Well, the latter three do not make for splendid press. However, the abundance of food and great places where you can get your fill of satisfaction are main attractions that have kept me in this fair city for nineteen years. When I had moved to Chicago from New York City, I did not initially find the place fast enough, hip enough, or current enough. In some regions of the city, people had Jheri curls. Drivers stopped on green lights and went when the lights turned red — simply backwards. Pedestrians meandered as if they had been converted into zombies, of which I discovered were tourists in total awe of the city’s splendor. Fast forward to the present and Chicago has quickly risen to New York City standards as a hub of cultural activities. Downtown has expanded and seems to be continuing to grow by leaps and bounds. Nightlife is available until the wee hours of the morning and that also means being able to go to any restaurant at any time of night rather than rambling through an empty refrigerator for a late night snack. And with the reverse migration of those who had fled to the suburbs years ago, Chicago proper has indeed become a centre for a lot of entertainment despite eight month of winter.

Shrimp Tempura

Shrimp Tempura

With the growth spurt of Chicago taking off, the skyline is seeing the addition of more skyscrapers. One such skyscraper that has resulted in Chicago boasting three of the tallest buildings in North America is Trump Tower. Walking distance from Michigan Avenue and State Street, this Tower of Babel reaches high towards the blue, grey steel reflecting more blue which gives the building an ethereal look. To me, the things that make Trump Tower so appealing are the restaurants — Rebar and The Terrace. Several friends and I usually gather for a bit of communion after work at any local haunt. Having been to Rebar and loving it, we wanted to return to Trump Tower to go to the sixteenth floor to sample the bill of fare at The Terrace. The vista from The Terrace is magnificent with so much old architecture staring back at you while you ponder menu items that make you gasp. We all had drinks, which were the most reasonably priced items on the menu. The appetizers were Wow! and the entrées were on the up of triple digits in price. One friend had a glass of red wine because her husband told her to behave. Another had a beer since she is more of a connoisseur of ales. One other friend had water so that he would not teeter about on the bus ride home. A fourth had a mixed drink called a lagoon because she is experimental with mixed drinks. I had a Glenlivit scotch to maintain my snobbery. While all of the drinks are pretty much commonplace, the lagoon was a sight to behold. This green drink contained light rum, dark rum, grenadine, pineapple juice, some other flavoured liquor, and a sniffer full of smiles in it. We were all quite happy. We got to say that we went to The Terrace and had drinks.

Flight of Mojitos

Flight of Mojitos

Electric Lemonade

Electric Lemonade

Because we are not of the ilk that can compete with the average college jock and sorority girl in binge drinking, and making complete fools of ourselves is way beneath our station, we wanted some food so that we would not stagger about downtown like bumbling pratts. So it was down to the second floor we went to Rebar. Ah, happiness abounded as we ordered more drinks and our share of Japanese food. I can imagine some chef doing his thing with rice, eel, avocado, wasabi sauce, ginger, and his imagination. For drinks, we had more wine, an electric lemonade, beer, a flight of mojitos, and water. Okay, so the electric lemonade was not a concoction from a carton with garnish and a lemon wedge. It was a bit reminiscent of a cross between a mojito and Mike’s Hard Lemonade, ever so refreshing, oh so delightful, and oh so much of it. The winner was the flight of mojitos — cucumber, blackberry, vanilla, and strawberry basil.

The bartender must be an oracle when it comes to making drinks because he or she did not prepare any of the mixed drinks such that the first skosh nipped at the back of the jaw. The alcohol was hidden well; that is until you stood to walk. With the complementary olives and spiced nuts, we had edamame, tempura shrimp, a garden roll with tempura asparagus, crunchy shrimp roll, and California roll. I am sure that if any of the others were like me when they got home, they went to bed promptly and slept like they had been anesthetized. I dreamed that teddy bears at their picnics cursed my name because I had so much fun at Trump Tower — but it was mostly because I was laughing at their empty picnic baskets.

Crunchy Shrimp

Crunchy Shrimp

Donald Trump may be a bit of a laughable individual, but good on him for Trump Tower — and his public quibbling with the mayor about the TRUMP sign being on display well above eye level. When I am in my chi-chi mood and want to perpetrate like I am more than just a statistician, I will ride the lift to the sixteenth floor and sit outside watching the beauty of downtown while sipping a scotch — keeping in mind that a scotch will no doubt be all I order. But when I want something of substance and within my budget, I shall retreat to Rebar and work my chopsticks on some sushi while delighting myself on some liquid love from the bar. Ambience, great service, and fantastic food, what more could one want? The answer would be a ridiculous wealth of money so that you could at least fake once like I have enough to pay for a $200 entrée at The Terrace. Okay, so I’ve paid more at a few restaurants and not whined.

Go to New York City if you want to see a play, have a truly good brunch, or live in what can feel like a prison cell with a lease price of no less than $2000. Go to Los Angeles if you want to rehearse how to be a plastic actor or actress. But come to Chicago if you want great real estate, arts, entertainment, and fine cuisine — brought to us thanks to the maneuvering of corrupt politicians. And if you are a manager and have to fire an employee — You’re fired! — you can make yourself feel good afterwards by going to Rebar and having some sushi, a lagoon, and wrapping up with a goblet of electric lemonade. Then you will know all the good things that make Chicago so wonderful.

Garden Roll

Garden Roll

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La Notte Cafe & Bar

La Notte Cafe & Bar

It dawned on me that although I have blogged a lot of restaurants in and around the metropolitan Chicago area, there are more that I have visited and not blogged. I don’t always have my camera with me and because I often leave my cellphone at home intentionally, I then don’t have anything to record spoken annotations of certain dining experiences. Fortunately, there are some restaurants that are still in business and their first visits were so memorable that I have since returned. La Notte Cafe & Bar at 6822 Windsor Avenue in Berwyn, Illinois, is an example of one of those restaurants where I went well over a year ago without a camera for capturing the impressions of all the good food.

Nottetini

Nottetini

Sidecar

Sidecar

A great friend and I returned for a second visit. Figuring that there would be a large dining crowd for the fantastic Saturday that it was, we arrive for a 4:00 PM seating. To make things even better, we sat outside on their patio and quenched our thirsts with a nottetini and a sidecar. The nottetini was truly a glass of Italy, a mixture of limoncello and vodka. James Bond would enjoy this one without having to mention wanting it shaken instead of stirred. I requested the sidecar with a slight modification. I wanted it mixed with whiskey for the base as opposed to a sour liqueur. Bravo!

Zuppe del Giorno

Zuppe del Giorno

We were in our usual mode of wanting a degustation. The beauty of going to small and family owned restaurants like La Notte is that you can order accordingly. And the menu may be adjusted to taste or ordering desires. This means nothing is thawed, popped into a microwave or conventional oven, arranged on a plate, and then brought to the table with a declaration of “Voila!” So, in keeping with our degustation, we started with the zuppe del giorno. This cup of love had a New England clam chowder base with smoked gouda cheese, shredded tilapia, fresh shrimp, a purée of shiitake mushroom, and finished with shallots, cognac, and a splash of tabasco sauce. Assolutamente deliziosa.

Soft Shell Crab Over Salad

Soft Shell Crab Over Salad

A lot of my recent restaurant outings have reintroduced chicken and some beef into my diet. The result of that, and I really shouldn’t put the blame on indulging meat, is that I have gained a few inches in my waistline. That is quite fine, except for me having a hard time zipping and buttoning some tailor-made pants that cost a mint. In addition to my new gym membership, I need to get back to a regimented pescatarian diet. The great thing about La Notte is that the seafood selection is splendid. So, we ordered soft shell crab. The soft shell crab came with a balsamic glaze and honey mustard over a mixed greens and cherry tomatoes. Very simple, yet savoury.

Risotto with Shrimp and Scallops

Risotto with Shrimp and Scallops

Italian dining does not always have to include pasta. And anyone who has had risotto worth using as a trump card in discussion about who has had the best dish ever will agree that Italian cuisine has some versatility that will make you forget about penne, spaghetti, fettuccine, and angel hair pasta. The risotto we ordered came with a cheese base blooming with great taste, giant shrimp, tender scallops, and chopped asparagus. Served family style, the dish was substantial. The chef left disappointment out of the recipe completely. Grazie a dio per questo.

Sea Bass and Vegetables

Sea Bass and Vegetables

With the platter of sea bass and mixed, grill vegetables of squash, zucchini, red onions, bell peppers, and cherry tomatoes, we got a tableside presentation in deboning the bass. Watching the owner work his magic with only a fork and spoon, and then applying a garlic drizzle to the dish, you have to appreciate the art involved in filleting the fish. But the burst of gusto in each bite had me almost forgetting about the side pasta that had come with the dish. And given that there is quite a bit of the sea bass and vegetables, the dish is still light.

Limoncello

Limoncello

Tulip

Tulip

There exists an atmosphere very much like that of the “old country.” There is no rush. My friend and I sat to let the soup, appetizer, and entrées settle. After some time, we decided that we would indulge dessert, which is another vice that I need to control. We had some homemade limoncello — my friend because she was not driving and me as a disclaimer to null the discomfort from a pulled muscle. The son at La Notte explained that his grandmother sends lemons from Phoenix, Arizona, and that is what they use to make the limoncello. Good on them because it is worthy of savouring from a sniffer.

Tartufo

Tartufo

There was a chocolate tulip, filled with chocolate sorbet and topped with chocolate. Be forewarned if you order the tulip, it is rich. And if the tulip isn’t enough, the tartufo is another option for catering to the monster. A small ball of vanilla ice cream encased in a bigger ball of chocolate ice cream and then dusted with cocoa powder and hazelnuts. Served with strawberries and whipped cream, all you have to do is add the clinking of a spoon on your plate and a scream afterwards.

Cappuccino

Cappuccino

For our finale, my friend had coffee with cream and I had a cappuccino. My indicator for good coffee is when you can take it without any sweeteners. The cappuccino surpassed the test and reminded me of the cups of cappuccino I had during visits to Milan.

Berwyn is slowly becoming a nearby Chicago suburb whose focus is primarily on authentic dining. What many will find are family owned and small restaurants that boast dishes that you will indeed find during visits abroad. La Notte Cafe & Bar is not simply an establishment borrowing Italian charm. The father and son not only retained the Italian customs in the recipes, but also make sure that the dishes that come to the table reflect the same quality that they enjoy in their own homes. The service during my first visit was well past the high mark of 10. The service during the second visit was even better. For what I would consider fine dining, the prices are extremely reasonable. If you want the feel of going to someone’s home and having a meal without being rushed, I highly recommend La Notte Cafe & Bar. I know it won’t take me a whole year for a return visit.

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Papaspiros Agora, Trying the New

Papaspiros Greek Taverna

A few years ago when I was on assignment in West Suburbs, I had made Oak Park, Illinois, a stopping ground for dinner on Friday evenings. Traffic was always aggravating and driving a manual shift car never made matters any better. Oak Park has a nice selection of ethnic restaurants and one that I had not tried was Papaspiros Greek Taverna at 733 Lake Street. It was an outstanding dining experience and by the time I had decided to return for a repeat excursion, the restaurant had closed. Well, it has since reopened in a new location across the street at 728 Lake Street.

Cranberry Juice and Water

Cranberry Juice and Water

Hummus

Hummus

Sesame Seed Bread

Sesame Seed Bread

Saganaki

Saganaki

With it being a perfect Saturday afternoon, I had an outdoor seat and prepared myself to savour some Greek dishes. I started with hummus. These creamed chickpeas, served with slices of tomato and cucumber and accented with olive oil, were quite nice and delectable. There was no pita served along with the hummus, so I used the complimentary sesame seed bread instead. That was fine until I was running out. I had ordered saganaki and good saganaki can have a spreadable consistency. The saganaki was also tasty. And usually, saganaki is set aflame at the table and then doused with lemon juice. The saganaki simply came to the table already bubbling in the small skillet.

Shrimp Souvlaki

Shrimp Souvlaki

Slowly I am starting to work myself back into my pescatarian diet. Blogging has a tendency for me to have chicken every once in a while and an occasional slice of beef. However, having had an appetizing seafood entree at another Greek restaurant recently, I thought that it would be a good idea to sample some seafood options from Papaspiros. The shrimp souvlaki was a perfect choice. Plump shrimp marinated in herbs and skewered with onions and bell peppers, each bite was worthy of a want to return. The garden salad and rice pilaf that came covered in a red tomato sauce along with halved potatoes were quite a lip-smacking accompaniments.

Arni Kokkinisto

Arni Kokkinisto

During my visit to Papaspiros at its former location, the first entrée I indulged was arni kokkinist — tender braised lamb, flavoured with fresh herbs, spices, and white wine, and served with green beans in light tomato sauce. Being a pescatarian at the time, eating lamb was a stretch, but it was not going to cause immediate ruin. With lamb meat falling off the bone and exploding with great taste along with fantastically seasoned green beans, the arni kokkinist deserved an encore.

Sea Bass

Sea Bass

For the second round, I had sea bass with rice pilaf and steamed mixed vegetables of potatoes, carrots, zucchini, and cabbage. I ordered the sea bass complete with bones and with the head intact and t I took my time savouring each bite. Well, I should put that in context. I took my time so that I was not swallowing the small bones in the fish. The rice pilaf and the mixed vegetables were perfect companions to the dish and my server smiles wider every time she passed by and saw me nodding my head in appreciation for the offerings that she had suggested.

Grecian Riganati Chicken

Grecian Riganati Chicken

After sitting for awhile, I was ready for a third entrée. I had Grecian riganati chicken. Oven roasted chicken marinated with olive oil, lemon sauce, and oregano, and served with rice pilaf was a perfect wrap-up entrée. The server had told me in advance that it would take half an hour for the preparation and it had come to the table in perfect timing. Each bite was succulent. The meat was moist and I kept working my knife and fork slowly until I could not finish all of it. The server was rather impressed with my feasting talents.

Galaktoboureko

Galaktoboureko

I should have stopped, but what is a splendid meal without a proper dessert? I had coffee and galaktoboureko. Semolina-based custard flavoured with lemon in phyllo, drizzled, and sprinkled with cinnamon with honey was enough to fly me to the moon. I think the patrons who were sitting next to me wanted me to stop humming, for I was exhibiting too much bliss. If you have some awesome food sitting before you and you are enjoying it, there is nothing wrong with letting it be known accordingly.

In 2012, I had the complete package of satisfaction: great service, outstanding food, and reasonable price. On this recent visit, the service I received from my server was top. The rest of the staff had a distant disposition that was kind of rattling. The food has not suffered as a result of the move, and the price is still sweet to the wallet. If Papaspiros draws crowds on Friday and Saturday nights the way I recalled during the stint at the former location, it may be a good idea to go during the afternoon on weekends. Certainly if the weather is pleasant enough for outdoor seating, take advantage of the restaurant’s authentic Greek menu items. Just don’t scream, “Opa!” The staff may think you’re ready to start throwing dishes on the ground.

Papaspiros on Urbanspoon

Chara, Opa!

Two years ago a friend had told me about a Greek restaurant in Oak Park, Illinois, named Papaspiro’s. I went. I ate. I made a calendar notice to return. And the restaurant was closed. I have to take responsibility for procrastinating and not returning immediately after my first meal. Needless to say, Papispiro’s moved across the street, as a new restaurant named Chara moved in to take its place. I am making a calendar entry to return to the new location in a few days and I won’t put off for later this time.

Sesame Seed Bread

Sesame Seed Bread

The new restaurant, Chara, is a welcomed surprise on the Oak Park landscape. At 733 Lake Street, the restaurant boasts a large dining area, patio seating out front, and a menu full of authentic Greek delights. I arrived at Chara early to get a window seat so that I had enough natural light to photograph my dishes. With everyone taking advantage of the outdoor seating, I had an uninterrupted corner spot — until a couple came in and sat at the table immediately next to me. My sister, who joined me around the time I was indulging dessert, can attest to that.

Pita

Pita

Melitzanosalata

Melitzanosalata

In addition to the homemade, complimentary sesame seed bread, I started with a melitzanosalata. This spread of smoked eggplant, potatoes, garlic, and olive oil served with a black olive, slice of tomato, and slice of cucumber was a fantastic appetizer. Along with the melitzanosalata came pita slices that I used to scoop and devour the dip. The melitzanosalata is the kind of spread that I would serve at parties instead of the usual dips many purchase for gatherings.

Shrimp Saganaki with Feta

Shrimp Saganaki with Feta

For my second course, I ordered shrimp saganaki with feta. Plump shrimp served with roasted bell peppers and onions, and topped with feta, I was all done with it before I realized that it was not the same as regular saganaki — the cheese that is brought to the table and set aflame. Although the shrimp saganaki with feta was more like a salad, the portion was enough to be an entrée.

Bakalo

Bakalo

White Wine

White Wine

Because I was hankering for some seafood, I was quite happy to find bakalo on the menu. The pan-fried cod was mild in flavouring and the seasoning was faint. However, there was still enough pop in each forkful to make the dish appetizing. And not having a fishy taste to the cod made it that more enjoyable. Adding to that the side of skordalia and the rice pilaf covered in a tomato based gravy made this my favourite Greek entrée. The mashed potatoes of the skordalia was actually a nice spread for the fish. But the rice pilaf with potatoes, carrots, and zucchini balanced out the mildness in the cod.

With the seafood dish, I wanted a glass of wine. I had told my server that I wanted a white wine, which is fitting with seafood and poultry, and he mentioned that he would bring a nice wine for me. I had not given any specifics (e.g., a dry white wine or a sweeter white wine) and I was thoroughly satisfied after my first sip. There was a combination of fruity highlights and floral notes. As I am sure that there could have been any selection of wines to accompany the cod, the glass of nectar that I had simply could not be surpassed with any other choice.

Galaktoboureko

Galaktoboureko

By the time I had finished my entrée, my sister had sent a text message to me to say that she was nearby. So, I waited and let my food settle some. Once she arrived and ordered, I opted for a dessert. There was baklava on the menu and having had that to excess as of late, I inquired about a certain Greek dessert that I think would be a sin to miss having at a Greek restaurant. I was curious as to whether there was galaktoboureko on the menu. To me, galaktoboureko is truly a slice of heaven, not just custard with a phyllo crust drizzled with a honey glaze. I enjoyed it very, very slowly along with a pot of peppermint tea.

With change, there is not always the guarantee of improvement. I only had one dining experience at Chara’s predecessor, Papaspiro’s, so I never got the opportunity to develop an attachment to the restaurant. I will admit that after only this one meal at Chara, I have developed an attachment to their fare. Part of it was the friendly service, which actually sets the tone for how great one will enjoy a meal. It also helped that the food was superbly appetizing. It was a package that I could not deny spiked my appetite. And if I were of lesser scruples, I would have stood at the end of my experience, grabbed a plate, smashed it against the floor and yelled, Opa!!!!!

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