Enter the French Vault, La Voûte

February is tootling right along and it occurred to me that I had not written a blog review since summer of 2018. Last year came with a lot of change and I had been riding the wave of “peace of mind” since. And I have been cooking at home more. Nevertheless, a friend had recommended a French restaurant in Homewood, Illinois, from having passed it often on her way to catch the train into downtown Chicago. Not having much French restaurant representation from the suburbs on the blog, I agreed to meet her for dinner so we could sample their offerings.

Homemade Bread

In the business district at 2034 Ridge Road in Homewood, Illinois, is La Voûte Bistro and Bar. Co-joined with Banque Hotel, it’s a very nice escape from the congestion of Chicago for a bit of French authenticity. Spacious on the inside with a mix of tables, booths, and an airy bar setting, one can enjoy a nice variety of dishes with a bit of a provincial French influence.

Stuffed Mushrooms

Not wanting to order the exact same dishes that one finds on menus at just about every French restaurant outside of France, we did a bit of switching up so that we could try different dishes. We started with a plate of stuffed mushrooms. It may be that I have not had mushrooms for quite some time because these that were stuffed with spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, and mascarpone, and topped with a hollandaise sauce were addictive from the very first bite. It helps that you taste all of the ingredients individually, which meant no competition on the palate.

Escargot

The escargot came with minced crudité. They were not as garlicky and buttery as I prefer, but they were just as tender. This was perhaps the first indication that the preparation of some of the dishes were indeed provincial. Served with the escargot were two strips of pastry that were outstanding as a standalone.

Lobster Cigar

Where it was clear that there is lot of love to come out of the kitchen was with the lobster cigar. Clumps of lobster were stuffed inside of a delicately, flaky pastry and served atop a lobster sauce. There were no other fillers inside of the cigar, just fresh lobster and lots of flavor. This was perhaps the only dish we ordered that had a creamy base.

Baked Potato Soup

It seemed that most patrons had ordered the mushroom bisque. So, we were unfortunate that they had run out by the time we ordered. As a contingency, we ordered baked potato soup. Extremely tasty and peppery that way that I like soup during the winter, we forgot that loaded baked potato anything comes with bacon in it. It wasn’t overpowering and given the bacon was rather fine, it all went down nicely.

French Onion Soup

There was also a cup of French onion soup that was quite satisfying and filling. Topped with cheese, but not to the point of making the soup a chore to eat, this was certainly one serving that I actually liked because of it not being heavy handed with the cheese topping.

Chilean Sea Bass

For the first entrée, there was Chilean sea bass with a Mediterranean preparation. The bass had been fileted and seared to give the skin a crisp while retaining a lot of succulent meat. Along with the sea bass came a mélange of grilled vegetables: potatoes, zucchini, red bell peppers, green bell peppers, and cherry tomatoes. Any seafood lover would approve.

Lamb Shank

Another winner was the lamb shank served with ratatouille and couscous. The flavor of the lamb was reminiscent of beef tagine that I found rather addictive in Morocco. And to make the dish that more delicious, the lamb came off the bone with no effort. Clearly the lamb had been slow cooked to perfection, tenderness and flavor at each bite being all the indication needed.

Passion Fruit Sorbet

For desserts, we ordered light options. There was passion fruit sorbet with blueberries and a sliver of strawberry. There was also a lemon tart meringue accompanied with strawberry and whipped cream. Both were of the summer dessert variety in that they were citrusy. Neither excessively sugary nor tart to the point of biting at the back of the jaw, I recommend either, or, or both if you devour as much as we had prior to indulging the desserts. And for our finish, we had café au lait, something I definitely needed to wake up from the onset of food comatose.

Lemon Tart

La Voûte is indeed a vault of delicious, decadent, and lip-smacking dishes. For those in Chicago proper, North Suburbs, and West Suburbs, it’s worth the drive. For those in the South Suburbs, there is no reason why this should not be on your list. Per my friend, the restaurant is constantly filled. That’s a sign that they’re doing something correct. From what we had on our visit, they certainly got our dishes correct enough that we are already contemplating a return. For more offerings from La Voûte, I will make that long drive again.

Café au Lait

La Vôute Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Angry Crab, Happy Customers

Important: If you are visiting family or friends in Chicago, do NOT go for Chicago hotdogs, deep dish pizza, or any famous popcorn. I repeat. Do NOT go for any of the tourist trap what-what. Tell them you want to go to The Angry Crab. Again, I repeat, tell them that The Angry Crab is what’s going to happen.

We now resume our regularly scheduled review … of The Angry Crab.

Cajun Fries with Garlic

Cajun Fries with Garlic

April is my birth month and for my birthday, a great friend had recommended several chic restaurants. Of course, I could offer a suggestion. I wanted something casual, something that would make me be okay with hitting my late 40’s. I told her that The Angry Crab at 5665 N. Lincoln Avenue in West Ridge was where I wanted to go.

We arrived around 7:00 PM on a Tuesday evening to a crammed restaurant. We knew immediately that no restaurant packs out like that if the food isn’t good. After a nice little wait, we got our seat, menus, and bibs. We ordered some Cajun fries heaped with garlic. Ummm, umph! Neither one of us has an aversion to garlic and there was a liberal amount on the fries. You could become addicted those these lovelies quickly.

Lobster Claws, Shrimp, Corn, Andouille Sausage

Lobster Claws, Shrimp, Corn, Andouille Sausage

For the nitty-gritty, my friend ordered two pounds of crab legs in a spicy sauce. These were not cutesy crab legs. They were long and full of meat. I ordered a two-pound bag of lobster claws and shrimp with corn and andouille sausage in a spicier sauce. Seeing other people finishing with lots of sauce in the bottom of their bags, we ordered some bread so that we could sop up ours. There is absolutely no reason for any of that sauce to go to waste.

Ready for Action

Ready for Action

I attribute my interest in going to The Angry Crab to following the restaurant on Instagram. The photos always make the food look inviting. Once you get your teeth into the seafood, those photos don’t do justice. There can never be an argument as to why there is a constant crowd at the restaurant. And with a BYOB policy, you can bring your own libations to go with the “bliss in the bags.” I have had a seafood boil at two restaurants in Chicago now and I love both. The problem is trying to decide which one I’m going to go to this weekend. Arrrggghhhhhh!!!! This is what’s going to happen.

The Angry Crab Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

See Gino, See Gino Eat, C Chicago

C Chicago

Earlier this year a great friend and I went to a popular seafood restaurant in Chicago’s River North neighbourhood. The name showed up in countless reviews as being one of the best in the city. My friend and I enjoyed the presentation and the atmosphere. The food was comme ci, comme ça. When my friend mentioned a seafood restaurant that opened recently in River North I thought of our experience at the “hyped up” restaurant. Well, C Chicago at 20 W. Kinzie Street did not fail us.

Lobsterscargot

Lobsterscargot

We started with a dish that you can share — lobstercargot. This was C Chicago’s take on escargot, but with lobster instead. It had been prepared lumache style. Brought to the table and polated atop crostinis, you could smell the garlic. There were six morsels that set the tone for the rest of the evening.

King Crab Bisque

King Crab Bisque

My friend and I are fans of bisques at seafood restaurants. Much like me, she loves it more when there is no bacon in the recipe. C Chicago again excels by not going below the Mason-Dixon Line with the king crab bisque. The servers bring a bowl to the table with charred corn, peppers, and croutons in the shape of cut calamari. And there at the table, they pour the bisque. The presentation pales in comparison to the delicious flavour.

King Crab Claw

King Crab Claw

My friend loves king crab. With it being in season, she ordered a claw. Much of the claw had been cracked while there was still a little work to be done at the table. From what I could see, there was quite a bit of meat inside. My friend’s expressions of food bliss were all I needed to know that this was a splendid culinary option.

Dover Sole

As to the main dishes, C Chicago tilts the scale well beyond a 10 out of 10. The dover sole is filleted at the table, leaving you with some extremely meaty fish that is then accented with a brown butter drizzle. The saucepan of brown butter is left in case you wish to add more. Honestly, the fish was delectable without the brown butter.

Salmon

The salmon, which is usually prepared rare, but medium well during our visit, was indescribably mouth-watering. Accompanied with salmon roe and a verjus vinaigrette, the only thing missing was a slice of bread to go around the plate afterwards. From the seafood options that we had, it was evident that C Chicago is vying to have its name on the list of top seafood restaurants in Chicago.

Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie

Chocolate Ganache Cake

Chocolate Ganache Cake

With there being no rush, we waited before having dessert. There was key lime pie, which came as a dome atop a graham cracker crust. There was no “surprise bite” at the back of the jaw and the pie was not sweet in the excessive sense. There was a proper balance that actually made it possible to taste lime, not lime flavouring. The decadent dessert for the evening was a chocolate ganache cake. This looked like the dainty chocolate cakes I’ve had at several bakeries, cakes with cornbread texture. The chocolate ganache cake at C Chicago was “moyse” — yes, I spelled that incorrectly. Served with strawberries, a raspberry sauce, and a white chocolate sauce, we enjoyed this thoroughly with coffee.

Those who have been in Chicago for many years may remember Keefer’s Steakhouse that was at the corner of Kinzie Street and Dearborn Street. Well, Keefer’s had closed in 2014 and C Chicago since replaced the restaurant. I cannot speak for the menu offerings that the predecessor had, but I can attest that the successor was a thoroughly satisfying experience. I have a witness, my great friend, who can also tell you how the food at that certain restaurant I mentioned earlier had made us start questioning seafood restaurants in the River North area that received way too much press on atmosphere and not necessarily on the food.

C Chicago Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Brown Bag Seafood Co — See Food Disappear

Brown Bag Seafood Company

When coming off of the long winters that we experience, it is nice to get outside to see what’s new. When I say that, there is a very strong possibility that some new building has gone up on the landscape in a part of downtown that you may not frequent, some old establishment you may have gone to in the past has closed, and there may be  new businesses opened. While wandering through the new Maggie Daley Park and exiting to East Randolph Street, I noticed a set of new skyscrapers and a certain restaurant marker for a restaurant named Brown Bag Seafood Company. At 340 E. Randolph Street, I had to see what offerings this new restaurant had on the menu.

Spritzers: Ginger with Lemon and Cucumber Mint

Spritzers: Ginger with Lemon and Cucumber Mint

There was the popular Chipotle way of ordering — pick a sandwich, taco, salad, or some other options, and then pick the kind of seafood you want, yada-yada-yada, dabba, dabba, dabba. What caught my eye most was the lobster roll, so I pulled myself out of Chipotle mode and placed my order. After finishing, I sat on the patio and had a refreshing ginger lemon spritzer while I waited for my first order, which was a cup of grilled brussel sprouts and pickled onions. I like brussel sprouts. I love grilled brussel sprouts, especially if they are as appetizing as those at Brown Bag Seafood Company.

Grilled Brussel Sprouts, Pickled Onions

Grilled Brussel Sprouts, Pickled Onions

Going to a seafood company and not ordering a cup or bowl of clam chowder or bisque is a crime. There was clam chowdah — note the misspelling — on the menu and I had to have it. After the first spoonful, it had become apparent that I should have ordered a bowl of it rather than a cup. Or I should have ordered two cups instead. There was no fancy modification to the recipe, rendering the soup unrecognizable to the palate the way I have had it at some restaurant. Loaded with potatoes and clams, this made my Best Clam Chowder in Chicago list.

Clam Chowder

Clam Chowder

Now, clutch your pearls, your pocketbook, your smartphone, your martini. I can’t speak for anyone else, however, I can say definitively that I have now had the best lobster roll ever. The lobster was a chunks, which was a winner from the looks of things. Seasoned well and in a slightly spicy mayonnaise, not just regular mayonnaise with a hint of some herb along with salt and pepper, I declared loudly on the patio, “Oh my God!!!” I had not an iota of shame. Hello, Best Lobster Roll in Chicago. To make matters even more worthy of loud declarations, the tater tots that came with it were accented with truffle parmesan. By now I had a jar of cucumber mint with gin. And there was a remarkable sunset behind the skyscrapers to the West.

Lobster Roll with Tater Tots

Lobster Roll with Tater Tots

The one disappointing thing about Brown Bag Seafood Company is that there is no location in Logan Square. Yes, I know that sounds self-serving, but there needs to be a location along Milwaukee Avenue between the roundabout and Diversey Avenue. The new spot can have booths and tables inside, as well as outdoor seating like the E. Randolph Street restaurant. The menu looks like there are several options for those with a love of seafood and I shall have to return to try some of the other menu items. In the meantime, I think I shall have to see if there are any other new eateries that have popped up in some part of the city where I have not been in the past year. Brown Bag Seafood Company has won me over, for true.

Brown Bag Seafood Co. on Urbanspoon

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

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

I See Food at Devon Seafood Grill

Devon Seafood Grill

Recently, I bit down hard and started a Chicago Alphabet Soup page on Facebook. For all the kicking and screaming I did as far as delving into social media, it was a good idea. There is still something of a human touch missing. Friends had told me to add Twitter, Tumblr, and a few other brand name social media outlets to my repertoire. I will slowly add them. One avenue that I thought would be good would be to actually engage people outside of my inner circle for advice, feedback, and recommendations. So, I found myself on the Meetup.com site searching for some foodist-photographer groups. There was one that stood out since it seemed to focus on the photography aspect of being a foodist. As much as I would love to claim major photography skills, there is a lot that I need to learn still. I figured I would recalibrate myself to hone my still shot skills and then indulge Twitter and other social media after a bit of more polishing. All of that research had left me with an appetite.

X-Rated Martini

X-Rated Martini

Sidecar

Sidecar

I called a great friend and mentioned that I was considering going to Devon Seafood Grill at 39 E. Chicago Avenue for my favourite American culinary fare — seafood. It was early in the afternoon and I knew that going before 6:00 PM would mean getting there before all the nouveau laissez faire parents arrived with their little wicked Damians and Rhodas to make a complete mess of the whole dining experience. Ah, but we opted to sit upstairs in the bar area, which solved the problem of witnessing bad little kids doing God knows what all it takes to get their parents’ attention. My great friend and I knew we would have no disturbances while she enjoyed her X-rated martini and I enjoyed my flight of whiskey cocktails.

Tuna Tartar

Tuna Tartar

Unlike some people we have heard ordering chicken fingers at ethnic eateries that don’t even have fancy baked chicken on their menu, we started with tuna tartar. Served over cucumbers and accented with a wasabi sauce, ginger, and wafers, we were rather glad that we had braved the bite of the wind coming off Lake Michigan. The cucumbers had a faint flavouring of ginger, although not atop the ginger. The wasabi drizzle did wonders on clearing our heads. Of course, there was sipping — my friend enjoying her X-rated martini flavoured with raspberry and lemonade and me mouthing off at how much I was enjoying my whiskey cocktail flight. Having started this whole thing with ordering flights of cocktails at restaurants, knowing that flights are not on the menu, our server lit up like the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza. Turns out she was not only a server, but she was also a bartender. And her talents are top. The Maker’s Market basil and lemon whiskey cocktail, the twist on a mint julep, and the twist on a sidecar left me speechless for the greater part of ten minutes. My friend and I acknowledged that we will request her when we return. If she’s not there, then we’ll come back when she is.

Biscuit and Butter

Biscuit and Butter

Shrimp Tempura Sushi Roll

Shrimp Tempura Sushi Roll

Lobster Tamale

Lobster Tamale

Lobster  Roll

Lobster Roll

Now, I had mentioned that I had an appetite earlier. That was no lie. The warm biscuits that came to the table with the dollop of honey butter put Southern biscuits to shame. There was a shrimp tempura sushi roll that rivalled the same sushi rolls I have had at countless top-notch Japanese sushi bars. When Devon Seafood Grill says that they get their seafood in fresh daily, the wow factor in their sushi is an indication that they are not lying. Another rather substantial appetizer that we ordered was the lobster tamale. This was nothing short of bliss in a creamy gravy and we all but picked up the plate and licked it after we had finished. Still, I must admit that one of my main reasons for wanting to go to Devon Seafood Grill was for their lobster roll. I rolled my eyes with each bite, and I don’t mean as in being cheeky. Add to that my habit of humming when food is good.

Lemon Basil Manhattan

Lemon Basil Manhattan

Mint Julep

Mint Julep

Sidebar

Sidecar

But now a good hour had passed and we were ready for more, yet something light. And then came a bowl of mussels to the table with garlic bread. People on self-imposed diets are wishing they had a thread of our hair for their voodoo dolls that they would torture relentlessly. I’m bald, by the way, however, my friend isn’t. There is almost a guarantee to get a batch of mussels full of sand in them. That was not the case with the batch we had. The sauce that they were swimming in was perfect for sopping. With a few more pieces of toast at hand, we made the sauce disappear.

Mussels

Mussels

By now, my friend had finished her martini and I had downed my flight of cocktails and a few glasses of water. My friend had a sip of my sidecar and was so pleasantly pleased that she ordered one of her own. I ordered another one. These were a few notches past ideal with the mixed platter and the plate of halibut. The mixed platter came with sea bass over mashed potatoes, haricot verdes, scallops, shrimp, and crab cakes. For those of you who are based in or around Maryland, Devon Seafood Grill prepares crab cakes the way that they are supposed to be done — with lump crab and a few crumbs to hold the crabs together, not as a cake with essence of crab. The halibut, flaky and wonderful, came with a lobster risotto and mashed potatoes. This was also a few notches past satisfying and all of it went bye-bye in appreciation of its great taste.

Mixed Platter

Mixed Platter

Halibut, Lobster Risotto, Mashed Potatoes

Halibut, Lobster Risotto, Mashed Potatoes

Devon Seafood Grill is one of the incredibly good seafood restaurants in Chicago proper. Yes, there are a lot of seafood restaurants that tout divine food, but quite a few have service that doesn’t balance the output from the kitchen properly, and that often detracts from an enjoyable experience. Devon Seafood Grill does an outstanding job of making sure that patrons’ dining experiences are worthy of return visits. Well, for disclosure, my experiences have warranted repeat visits — barring the episode where a little Rhoda threw her knife, fork, pen, and sticky pad at me in a fit of solidarity against her hands-off parents. One thing I shall note is that the price is not cheap. It is not exorbitant either. For those who go and want to enjoy your meal, I highly recommend sitting upstairs in the bar area. You still get great service. Yet there is an adult atmosphere upstairs where you can also enjoy some great bar service and conversation without yelling if you’re on a date. And if you want to take a chance on getting a flight of some beverage, request a flight of whiskey cocktails. Take your spacesuit because you will shoot straight for the stars thereafter.

Devon Seafood Grill on Urbanspoon Devon Seafood Grill - Chicago on Foodio54

Je suis en amour avec Oceanique

Oceanique

Earlier in February, Chicago hosted what has become the annual Restaurant Week. Many restaurants participated, all pandering to a wide range of tastes: American, comfort, ethnic, barbecue, street, exotic, and more. Thanks to frigid temperatures and work-related travel, I was only to take in about three restaurants. And even then, I opted to have my degustation from their menus rather than partaking of the offering from the Restaurant Week menu. I was not dissatisfied, to say the least. Now, one of the restaurants on the list was Oceanique at 505 Main Street in Evanston, Illinois. Seafood with a French influence, something more to the liking of Southern France along the coast. With an outstanding selection of seafood for the pescatarian in me, I paired the menu choices with a flight of mojitos. Flights are not on their menu, so Oceanique got big ups from me when the bartender complied and came up with a flight that won me over tenfold. Not having my camera then, it was necessary for me to return for a proper blog.

L'amuse Bouche: Icelandic Arctic Char

L’amuse Bouche: Icelandic Arctic Char

Much to my surprise, Chicago was in the throes of Chef’s Week during my return. I was in a mood to be truly experimental, so I had made up my mind that I was going to have another degustation and entrust the server and bartender to create an experience that would make my visit worthier than the first visit. Having secured a seat in the dining area across from the bar, taken the white balance for my photos and video, and happy that I was seated nowhere near anyone, I started with a l’amuse of Icelandic Arctic char ceviche wrapped in leek with a cilantro oil essence. It was served with cucumber, fresh seaweed, and crispy potato. By the time I had finished the l’amuse, a couple arrived and rather than sitting in the main dining area, they chose to sit at the table IMMEDIATELY NEXT TO ME.

Blood Orange Old Fashion

Blood Orange Old Fashion

Wild Maine Lobster Consomme

Wild Maine Lobster Consomme

For my first course, I had wild Maine lobster consomme. At most seafood restaurants, there is almost a guarantee of having a chowder or some bisque served. Oceanique deviates from the norm with ravioli of chantarelles, chunks of lobster, cilantro, and chopped carrots in a clear broth. Outstanding! Because I was being daring for what I wanted in my beverage selection, I had requested a flight of whiskey cocktails for my refined palate. The first, which was served with the consomme, was a slight twist on the old-fashioned — a blood orange old-fashioned. Blood orange, cherries, rye whiskey, and Angostura Bitters make for a rather refreshing whiskey cocktail, one that has made the plain old-fashioned fade from my request list.

L'amuse Bouche: Ravioli

L’amuse Bouche: Ravioli

A few minutes passed and then there was a second l’amuse to come to the table. This one was a butternut ravioli prosciutto with parmesan, and crispy sage, served in a brown butter reduction. Considering this was only a palate cleanser interlude, I was in my Food Magazine mode capturing the sight of it before devouring it slowly. Only in my dining experiences abroad have I had a l’amuse interspersed throughout dinner. Even at many of the high-end restaurants in Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, there may be one given at the onset of the meal. Oceanique again smashes the norm. Then again, it may have been because I was creative with ordering a flight of whiskey cocktails and the chef did not want me stumbling about after departing the restaurant.

Beet Salad

Beet Salad

Chartreuse Sazerac

Chartreuse Sazerac

The second course was a salad. One thing I have noticed in my restaurant excursions is that many are fans of beets. Oceanique has a beet salad in a mild vinaigrette that comes to life with a dollop of goat cheese. If ever I were to resort to a diet of rabbit food only, recipes like the one in the beet salad creation would become a staple in my salad recipes. Anyone who favours Thousand Island, ranch, or blue cheese dressing on their salad, should try the beet salad at Oceanique. And the whiskey cocktail that accompanied the salad was a Chartreuse Sazerac. This was another masterpiece, one of whiskey, Peychaud Bitters, and simple syrup with a lemon twist. The second course was absolute tops.

L'amuse Bouche: Wild Skate

L’amuse Bouche: Wild Skate

By the time I had completed the second course, another couple had come in and sat at the table on the other side of me. Plenty of room in the main dining area and lots of tables in the room where I was sitting and they needed to sit near and call some friends, who I gathered was supposed to join them. I sighed and after looking at some of the photos and video that I had captured, the third l’amuse arrived. This was wild Maine skate with leeks and carrots in a white wine reduction. Skate has a texture that is reminiscent of sea bass but slightly silkier. It may be different to some palates, but the flavour overpowers the feel of sinking your teeth through a flavoured cloud. If I could describe how love tastes, the wild Maine skate would be my example.

Evanstonian

Evanstonian

Atlantic Char

Atlantic Char

Up to this point, everything had been a winner. The third course is where I began to wonder why Oceanique was not on the candidate list for a Michelin star. Atlantic char served over mushrooms and puréed split green peas in a savoury reduction were all I needed to start my petition to Michelin to do the correct thing by Oceanique. I had forgotten to mention that I am not a fan of pork in my diet, so the dish came with a few bacon pieces that I moved to the side. However, the bloom in the taste was a true winner for the seafood lover in me. I had not enough compliments for the chef for such a divine course. And to the bartender, the Evanstonian that he mixed has now become my favourite whiskey cocktail. Made with Few white whiskey from an Evanston-based distillery, orange bitters, sweet vermouth, and a splash of Creole Shrubb rum, this cocktail was silky on the tongue and without a bite at the back of the throat. It was this third course that will certainly have Oceanique at the top of my list for the Top 10 restaurant excursions for 2014. And I may have to create a list of Top 10 bartender stations for the year also and add Oceanique to the number one spot in advance.

L'amuse Bouche: Berry Pineapple Sorbet

L’amuse Bouche: Berry Pineapple Sorbet

Allowing time to let the food and cocktails settle, I reviewed more of my photos and video so that I could get an advanced idea of what editing I would do later. Soon the final l’amuse came to the table, appropriately in the form of a berry pineapple sorbet, topped with blackberry and a dash of fresh mint. Having recently become an avid fan of sorbet, I was mumbling “Wow” with each mini scoop. After I had finished the last scoop, the second couple that came in and commenced to place phone calls was joined by two others who spoke in jovial and loud tones. Their need for loud banter became quiet when the bartender approached my table for the dessert course and the chef had come to the table to shake my hand. It had become evident that one of the women was from the South because when she saw the dessert offerings, she rattled off, “I do declare.”

Pot de Creme

Pot de Creme

Whiskey Chocolate Martini

Whiskey Chocolate Martini

The dessert course was for the chocolate fanatic in me — and in all the chocolate lovers who were not at Oceanique with me. The pot de creme is already a part of every chocoholic’s fever dream. This delight was served with blackberries, raspberries, passionfruit, and shavings of Godiva chocolate. You have to enjoy this dessert slowly. To gorge it down quickly would be a crime. Because I was supposed to abstain from desserts until my birthday in April, I initially had a bit of guilt. But I have been good in fending off my dessert desires, so I allowed myself a moment of weakness. To make matters even more wicked, the whiskey chocolate martini was enough for me to be okay with burning in hell. Journeyman wheat whiskey, Godiva white liqueur, half and half, and a splash of Kahlua, and the second woman at the table next to me was clutching her “invisible” pearls and mumbling, “Oh my,” while the men were in a trance.

Ravenswood Rye Whiskey Few White Whiskey Buggy Whip Wheat Whiskey

One thing that my return visit to Oceanique has taught me is that it would be cliché and erroneous to say that if you have gone to one seafood restaurant, you have gone to all of them. The quality of the output from the kitchen is simply divine. Some of the offerings are to be appreciated by a finer palate, though. The term mixologist has been bandied about rather frequently as of late and having discovered that it’s used to reference bartenders, not disc jockeys and emcees, the mixologist at Oceanique deserves an award. The restaurant is not in the immediate downtown section of Evanston, which may make some express surprise when they discover where it is located. The prices are high, as the restaurant caters to high-end and fine dining. With there being a French influence, anything that purports to be French and comes at a cheap price should warrant a rapid dash towards the hills. And as my taxi driver woke me from my snoring on my way home from the restaurant, I paid my fare and spoke in a mock Southern accent: I am in love with Oceanique, I do declare.

Oceanique on Urbanspoon Oceanique Restaurant on Foodio54

Seafood Bonanza, Shaw’s Crab House

Cranberry Juice

Cranberry Juice

For those of you reading this, I hope that you are at home or at some location where the temperatures are not as hateful as the temperatures in Chicago. As much as 2014 promised to be a good year, the Arctic temperatures have been prohibitive for going outside. By now, I would have gone to at least four restaurants and blogged them, but by the time I pack up to leave work during the week, my focus is on going home to get into my sweats and fuzzy bear claws. Yes, I have a pair of those. And the weekends seem to be candidates for sub-zero temperatures and mini blizzards. However, I simply cannot sit inside all the time. During one of my “escape from the cabin” moments, I went to a nearby coffeehouse to edit some photos. After a few hours of productivity, I received a text from a great friend who asked if I was interested in partaking of Chicago’s Restaurant Week at one of my favourite seafood restaurants. Well, with food being a factor, my text response was YES — I typed it in all caps. Knowing that there would be a crowd the closer it got to 7:00 PM, we made reservations for 5:15 at Shaw’s Crab House at 21 E. Hubbard Street in the River North section of downtown.

Bread and Wafers

Bread and Wafers

While perusing the menu for any ala carte options, we gnashed away on cheddar rolls and wafers. Um, um, good. Sure, this comes complimentary with the meal, but is still worth mentioning because the bread must be baked on the premises. You cannot find cheddar rolls like these in the market in the bakery section, on the aisles with aging loaves of bread, or in the frozen food section. Our server gave use a grand explanation of the restaurant week menu. Let’s just say that Shaw’s Crab House knows how to lure its customers back for repeat visits. There was clam chowder for the soup. For the entrées, the choices were king crab legs and Maine lobster. Dessert options were key lime pie, which you can never go wrong with, and a raspberry walnut cobbler. Far be it from us to be dining prudes, we ordered a dungeness crab claw for an appetizer. We also added potatoes au gratin and creamed spinach to our entrée orders.

Crab Claw

Crab Claw

Clam Chowder

Clam Chowder

The crab claw came to the table pre-cracked. It would have been a chore, quite possibly with things flying about the table. The claw was full of meat, bursting with flavour. Now, granted it wasn’t a substantial appetizer, it was certainly worth the order. For when the clam chowder arrived at the table, it was evident that the remainder of the evening would be based on complete culinary satisfaction. Thank God for restaurants that don’t feel the need to accentuate clam chowder with pork. There must have been complaints from some pork eaters about a few seafood restaurants that left the oink factor out of their clam chowder recipe because, sure enough, it shows up in the bowl at some eateries. Shaw’s Crab House has not fallen victim to that recipe blackmail.

Crab Legs

Crab Legs

Potatoes Au Gratin

Potatoes Au Gratin

Maine Lobster

Maine Lobster

Creamed Spinach

Creamed Spinach

The entrées were divine. The crab legs were full of meat. With melted butter for dipping, that was all we needed to forget that the temperatures in Chicago were in the single digits. It was all about concentrating on cracking the legs, digging out the succulent meat, and devouring it like seafood lovers. The Maine lobster came to the table steamed. Each bite exploded. No tough texture, no unsavoury aftertaste, only bliss. And not being one to let lobster go to waste, when I got to the head, there was a voice in my head that screamed, FINISH HIM!!! I complied. The mushy texture from the head is not something that appeals to a lot of people. It’s a bit reminiscent of marrow, for those of you who have chewed chicken bones to splinters and partaken of the tasty insides of the bones. It may be better used to season some soups or other recipes. For me, if I paid for it, it’s good as gone — unless I become so bitter that I feel the need to throw the plate against the wall. The potatoes au gratin were delicious beyond words. They did not come from a Betty Crocker box. And the creamed spinach reminded me of the spinach artichoke dip that a restaurant named Houston’s used to prepare — before that restaurant closed permanently for business.

Coffee

Coffee

As part of the Restaurant Week menu option for desserts, there were key lime pie and raspberry walnut cobbler. My main New Year’s Absolution was to remove desserts from my diet except for my birthday. So far I have been faithful, with the exception of having a panna cotta at one restaurant. My nutritionist and doctor said that I could indulge sorbet, fruit, and light cream desserts. To keep from possibly getting out of hand, I passed on the dessert and let my great friend take mine home with her. So, she had the pie and the cobbler. I settled on coffee laced with Bailey’s Irish creme. My friend had a regular coffee with cream. Talk about a great wrap-up to a fantastic meal.

Coffee with Bailey's Irish Creme

Coffee with Bailey’s Irish Creme

For years I had gone to Shaw’s during lunch when I worked about two blocks way from the restaurant. Even when I changed jobs, I was always confident that my palate would find satisfaction in all that the menu had to offer. Because Shaw’s is not ethnic, per se, I never blogged it. This time I felt that it was worthy of inclusion on Chicago Alphabet Soup. Now that I am being more serious about sticking to a strict seafood and vegetarian diet, there may be more seafood restaurants showing up on the blog. The service at Shaw’s Crab House was way past outstanding. Any time a server takes time to explain things in a great detail and offer recommendations without a scowl or a need to rush away from the table, the experience is usually a hit thereafter. Not once have I had a meal that I was not pleased with and the most recent dining experience was such a highlight that I was talking to my food and singing. And looking back on all of this, going out in the cold wasn’t such a bad idea. I got my usual food bonanza in the process.

Shaw's Crab House on Urbanspoon Shaw's Crab House on Foodio54

Pasta D’Arte, Arrabbiata Gino

Pasta D'Arte

For the record, I am not angry. While adding more Italian into my vocabulary, I learned that arrabbiata is Italian meaning angry. And there is a story to me actually finding out what the word meant. A few years ago, an individual who had designed the website for three restaurants I had written about, left a comment on a page. I think I still have a big head from the positive feedback he had given. But what stuck out most were the recommendations for a few hidden gems. Before leaving for personal holiday — that was clipped a few days thanks to catching a bad cold in Houston, of all places — I went back to the comment section of my food journal and found the recommendations. Needing to round out the real Italian eateries unbeknownst to those in the know, I saw the suggestion for Pasta D’Arte at 6311 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago’s Norwood Park. That became my destination.

Cranberry Juice

Cranberry Juice

With the weather being nice, there was no reason to stay inside and miss the sunlight. Now that we are getting closer to autumn, the sun is dropping below the horizon faster in the evenings. So, I had a table on the front patio while watching an orange sun slowly climb down from a blue sky. What better way to refresh my palate than with a glass of cranberry juice. Had I not been driving and most definitely if I had no intentions of devouring more than necessary, I would have opted for a glass — or a bottle — of wine. I thought quick of being too far from home behind the wheel and decided that I would default to prude status and enjoy the cranberry juice instead. Aahhhhh!

Italian Bread

Italian Bread

First to the table was a loaf of Italian bread, grated Parmesan cheese, and mixed, pickled vegetables. The bread was not yanked from the ice box, thawed, and put in a bread basket with clean linen before brought to the table. It was nice and crusty on the outside, light and airy on the inside, quite a great start as I dipped it in olive oil accented with the Parmesan cheese. It was clear that with the complementary menu items coming out with high satisfaction marks, nothing could be unappealing on the menu.

Insalata Caprese

Insalata Caprese

Then the caprese insalata came to the table for my first course and I forgot rather quickly how tasty the bread was. In case I may not have written this in any of my blog posts, I am addicted to tomatoes. These were cut into slices, not into halves the way they are in most caprese salads. Fresh mozzarella, black olives, and a dollop of pesto in the middle left me with one word for the server when he asked me how everything was — Bravo!!! Most of the time the salad is accented with a balsamic vinaigrette. I must admit that the pesto was not only a pleasant surprise but it was a better touch.

Sopa

Sopa

The second course was a soup — jokingly referred to as a garbage soup. Where many think of minestrone as a potpourri of soup ingredients, the soup that I had a Pasta D’Arte now ranks up there with soups that fit my Rant and Rave category like New England clam chowder, lobster bisque, and pumpkin bisque. Prepared with a vegetable broth and plum tomatoes, it had sage, white beans, barley, onion, and garlic. This was an ideal soup for my low salt diet and flavoured such that you really don’t miss the added sodium. Reminding myself that I was sitting outside one the front patio, I did not take any slices of the Italian bread and go around the inside of the bowl of soup in the manner of an unpolished embarrassment. Correction — I waited until all was clear. I may have my prude tendencies, but they’re conditional, and indulging this soup was not one of those times to be prim.

Penne all' Arrabbiata

Penne all’ Arrabbiata

The third course was where I got my language lesson. I had been waffling between ordering a penne all’ arrabbiata or a ravioli di arragosta. The server told me that at Pasta D’Arte they make the pasta angry — or arrabbiata — by adding red pepper, black pepper, garlic, and onions. And after eating it, I was very, very angry in a very, very good way. I love spicy food and Italian restaurants that temper their recipes for a palate that won’t give bad reviews lighten the “kick” to the dish that makes it what it is. From the first bite, all I kept saying was, “Thank God the chef prefers that you have the dish as it was indeed intended to be prepared.” I was reminded very much why the restaurants that you have to go over the river and through the woods — to Grandmother’s house we go — to find are so much better than anything you will find on a main stretch.

Ravioli di Arragosta

Ravioli di Arragosta

The fourth dish was the ravioli di arragosta. Waffling is a good thing because if you can’t make up your mind between two dishes, having both is an option that is never a bad idea. The ravioli di arragosta was a plate of ravioli stuffed with lobster and I don’t mean with a hint of lobster. It was served in a cream sauce with tomatoes and shredded lettuce. I do believe I had made a conscious decision to forego red sauces after having this dish. It was, of course, a rather quick thought because I remembered the penne all’ arrabbiata, which is prepared in a red sauce. It was mandatory that I ordered some ravioli di arragosta for to go.

Flight of Sorbet

Flight of Sorbet

I sat for a while and enjoy more of the nice temperatures and let the food settle some before having a dolci. It was warm and a nice way to cool off was to have a flight of sorbet. There were cups of lemon, raspberry, and blood orange. Recently, I had tried my hand at making pineapple sorbet and the sorbet at Pasta D’Arte gave me some ideas for some more sorbet recipes to attempt. As much as I have searched for sorbet in the frozen section at the market, nothing that I have ever found close to the bloom of flavour that the lemon, raspberry, and blood orange sorbets gave. Since I have decided to wean myself from coffee, I did not indulge a cappuccino, espresso, or regular coffee. Instead, I had another cranberry juice, which was a nice accompaniment to the sorbets.

All in all, the visit to Pasta D’Arte may have been long awaited, but good things come to those who wait. The service was absolutely top, and it is crystal clear that service at authentic Italian restaurants set a high bar in customer service. Add to that high quality food and the trip out to the fringes of the far Northwest Side of Chicago becomes a highlight in your culinary landscape. I am shocked to have taken so long to follow up on the recommendations sent to me via a comment on a previous post. However, I’m glad I did and whenever I am  not angry enough, I know a certain penne all’ arrabbiata that will help.

Trattoria Pasta D'Arte on Urbanspoon Pasta D'Arte Trattoria on Foodio54