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Everything posted by Pugman

  1. "Hank" Adaniya is one of the coolest dudes in the biz. I can't wait to try his dogs in a few days (my Hawaiian vacation is timed just perfectly). I hope he gets a lot of press...what a great story to tell. KHON's website has a 4 1/2 minute segment featuring Hank and his authentic Chicago dog...this Chicagoan says it definitely looks like the real deal. Also, if his twice-fried fries are as good in Hawaii as they were at his restaurant in Illinois, you're in for a real treat.
  2. I've been to Napa Rose 6 or 7 times in the past 12 months (and numerous times prior). I live in Chicago, but go to OC often and I always try to eat at NR at least once per trip. (I was also a fan of Chef Sutton when he was at Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley.) Other than Bluefin by Abe in Crystal Cove, Napa Rose is my favorite high-end place in OC. The food is creative without being prententious and the ingredients seem to be top-notch. The sweetbread appetizer was in my top 5 dishes of 2006--and I eat out every day. The wine list is quite good, with interesting and plentiful (but expensive) options by the glass. Service has been the only variable and has ranged from flawless to spotty. In all my times eating there, however, only one meal had serious service problems (with clueless runners and absentee busboys, mostly). I ate there last month and it was perfect. I think the apps are generally better than the entrees, so I'll often create my own tasting menu from the smaller courses. They do have a tasting menu that changes weekly (?) and is available with wine pairings.
  3. I just had this dessert a few minutes ago and, as I told my server, it was "ridiculously, obscenely good." The last time I had sticky toffee pudding was in Atlantic City last year and it was horrible. In the legendary Trio's early days, Gale Gand had it on the menu and it was, of course, quite wonderful. But Aigre Doux's rendition is not only the best I've ever tasted, it's one of the best desserts I've ever eaten in Chicago (and as my waistline will attest...I eat A LOT of desserts). My savory courses--a roasted beet salad and shortribs--were also excellent. My short list of first-rate non-steakhouse, non-chain downtown restaurants that serve lunch--which includes Custom House, Crofton on Wells, Naha, Topolobampo, and Coco Pazzo--just grew by one. Aigre Doux is THAT good. Granted, this is based on only one meal. But I've already decided to go back tomorrow.
  4. Then they must be serving real caviar - as in sturgeon/paddlefish, instead of tobiko and trout roe. ← It is now an all-sturgeon assortment, apparently. Rick's caviar staircases are also being featured at their new RT Lounge at the Westin North Shore in Wheeling (including less expensive options with flavored roe). I think the price range is $65-$125. The sushi chef said caviar service should start this week (they opened just a few days ago). BTW, the RT Lounge is excellent: no fake wasabi powder; a good balance of trendy and traditional sashimi, nigiri and maki; and the home of my new favorite dessert (a "dreamsicle" of mandarin orange gelle and vanilla panna cotta, topped with pomegranite seeds and a bit of shiso).
  5. I've been to all except Seasons, and unless something at Arun's has changed dramatically for the better in the last couple years (especially from a service standpoint), it does seem to be a questionable selection, especially considering some other places that were not awarded the highest marks (Carlos' and Spiaggia come to mind immediately).
  6. I've been to Osteria di Tramonto 5 times already. It has quickly become my favorite close-to-home restaurant. Everything I've tried has been good or even exceptional...I've had the wild mushroom risotto twice and it has been perfect. Boneless beef shortribs atop parsnip puree was pure melt-in-your mouth comfort food. I've also enjoyed their salumi, some of which is house-cured (apparently more and more of it will be). The all-Italian wine program, headed by Belinda Chang (ex-Trotter's, ex-Fifth Floor) is stunning...absolutely brilliant, with great things at EVERY price point (as in $4/glass, $22/bottle stuff that is actually good...all the way up to legendary and rare bottlings with 3- and 4-digit prices). The way the wine list is organized is just terrific, with all sorts of category breakdowns (not just by color, region and price, but some cool things like women winemakers, eco-friendly wineries, etc.). OK, to prove I'm not a shill for them, there are kinks to work out. And a place like this, with such a high profile needs to iron things out right away. The service is definitely a work in progress (wrong food being delivered, dirty utensils removed but not replaced for next course, etc.). And someone needs to tell the busboys how to pour water without giving patrons a bath. We were also asked 4 different times if we were done with one of our dishes...they kept trying to whisk it away, despite having told the first person to leave it on the table. The waiters themselves have a lot to learn about the dishes, several seemed rather clueless about ingredients and preparation. I'm sure the service issues will be worked out in short order. It's certainly not enough to keep me from returning. In fact, I want to work my way through the entire menu.
  7. Two places with great meat dishes and inventive veggies--and outstanding desserts--are Custom House and Naha. CH's roasted quail with parsnips appetizer and the shortrib entree with horseradish cream puffs are ridiculously good. Custom House's pastry chef, Elissa Narow, previously worked at Trio and Blackbird. At CH the desserts are on the "comforting" side rather than really edgy but her execution is meticulous--real dedication to perfection. Her hot pumpkin doughnuts and maple ice cream is my current addiction. Simple and amazing. I just had lunch at Naha today and it must be the season for pumpkin and maple; in this case warm pumpkin pudding alongside a scoop of bourbon/maple ice cream garnished with pomegranite. Great fall flavors and a really stellar dessert. Eleven bucks for dessert at lunchtime is a bit steep, but this was worth every penny! Naha has been around for a number of years, so it doesn't generate all that much buzz, but it is definitely in that group of really great places that split the difference between full-blown, jackets-required 4-star spots and the more "neighborhoody" 3-star places--fine-dining definitely, but less formal. Chicago has some other real winners in this category: Blackbird, Spring, North Pond and Kevin, just to name a few.
  8. Lots of really good suggestions, but many of these places aren't downtown, so it could be something of a hassle (and added expense) if they're staying in Mag Mile, River North, or Loop. I second Star of Siam. It's pretty good and super cheap for being in the high-rent district. My only criticism is that the preparation of the dishes isn't always consistent. It great about 80% of the time and really "off" other times. The low prices and generally excellent food make it worth the (minor) risk, however. I've eaten there many, many times. Quartino (an enoteca at State and Ontario) would be a great choice, too. The most I've ever spent on food for two is about $45 and often much less. The wine is cheap and decent and the menu has an extensive selection of small plates. It is really noisy at dinner time, so I usually go there for lunch (about once a week...today, in fact). The Morton's of Chicago on Wacker Drive (east of Michigan Ave) has really good happy hour food specials in the bar (weeknights only). Good-quality stuff for way less than normal appetizer prices. Their desserts, although very traditional, are quite good too (perfect creme brulee and chocolate cake). Kan Zaman, a Lebanese place in River North on Wells Street is also decent and not too expensive. If they'll be in Chicago during the week, several high-end places offer mid-week specials for tremendous deals (usually on Tuesdays or Wednesdays). Opera (high-style Chinese) has a $25 three-course deal and Le Lan (Vietnamese/French) has a prix-fixe 3-course for about $10 more.
  9. YUM!!! I can't wait to try it. A "TRU" friend has been saying wonderful things about Chef Gras's new contributions. Our dining scene just keeps getting better and better.
  10. Did anyone else watch this episode? SPOILERS BELOW I thought Rick and Gale represented well, but wasn't surprised that Batali won - the judges seemed to prefer his big flavors to the more subtle ones they presented. But 7 dishes was pretty impressive, and Gale's caramel spring was oh-so-cool. One of the only things I like about Iron Chef America vs Iron Chef Japan is that I can or have actually eaten at the challengers restaurants. So it was cool to see them serving risotto in a little copper pot, cause I've eaten risotto out of a little copper pot at Tru. And the betta fish bowl - isn't that a Tru classic as well? ← Yes, I watched the episode and have enjoyed Rick and Gale's food at Trio, the short-lived Brasserie T and TRU many times. I've only had the pleasure of dining at Babbo once, but it still "reigns supreme" as the best Italian dinner I've experienced. Given the fact that Mario played up the theme ingredient to a fuller extent, I have to agree with the judges. (I sure would have loved to be on the judging panel!) I watched the episode with my decidely "non-foodie" mother and I don't think she grasped why it was so exciting for me to watch the competition. She was mostly concerned for the Betta fish's fate, but I explained that he wasn't going to be live sashimi. Although, at least one of TRU's decorative fish has ended up in a diner's stomach...much to the dismay of the serving staff. (Which resulted, I'm told, in a hefty add-on charge to their dinner tab.) Those fish are treated like pets and the ill-fated one had been "on staff" for quite some time. Poor little guy. Does anyone know when the Morimoto v. Cantu (Moto) battle will be aired?
  11. Based on my two experiences, this is surprising. u.e. ← Based on my experiences at Alinea, it isn't surprising at all. =R= ← Agreed. My service at Alinea has been superb.
  12. I've heard reports that the full tour can be done in under four hours (but probably not by much). You can do the standard wine pairing and just ask them to upgrade one or two of the selections if they seem appealing. I've never been disappointed with any of the wine pairings...their "standards" are high. My advice is to go for the early seating... the heavier dishes won't appear until more of a "normal" dinner hour and you'll be finishing up dessert around 9:00-9:30.
  13. Similar to Ronnie's... Alinea All 3 shawn McClain Places (Spring/Green Zebra/Custom House) Le Francais Tru Topolobampo
  14. I really like Quartino, too. I go there at least once a week. On Friday 3 of us had wonderful fried smelt, tricolore salad, caponata, duck prosciutto, a sausage pizza, gnocchi, arugala and orange salad, 2 glasses of wine and an ice tea. With tax and tip it was less than $25/person! Of my numeorus visits, there have only been a few misses: one really bad risotto (tasted of sausage grease and was way too soupy), one overcooked/oversalted pasta and one time the caponata was also way oversalted. The rest of the time (representing dozens of indiviual dishes), the food has been really good. Their salad greens have always been ultra-fresh and perfect...best $5 salads in town! Since they opened, I haven't been back to Osteria via Stato.
  15. Less than 2 weeks until Trio's farwell reception...very sad, but it sounds like they're going out in style. Based on some firsthand and near-firsthand info, it looks like most--but not all--of Trio's superstar chefs past and present will be participating, representing every phase of Trio. It will be a walkaround reception and should be a lively event (if bittersweet for many). I purposefully didn't ask who was preparing what, because I want to be surprised. I have it on good authority that "Trio 2" (the Shawn McClain iteration) will be represented by his signature scallops and oxtail. What about ChefG's legendary Black Tuffle Explosion? I'm not holding my breath on that one, but my fingers are crossed so tightly that it's hard to type. But whatever Grant serves will be amazing. I wonder what Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand will prepare? Gale's root beer floats seem an obvious choice and I'd love to see something involving foie gras from Rick (if only just to re-ignite Charlie Trotter's gas). [i'm kidding; let's not get back into the foie gras debate for new.]
  16. I ate at Green Zebra on Saturday (first time since October) and my friend and I agreed that it was by far the best meal we've eaten there (we went there a lot during their first year). Three dishes in particluar were amazing: parsnip panna cotta (why aren't parsnips more popular?), Creamy cauliflower agnolotti with black truffles (a dish worthy of any 4-star restaurant) and butternut squash gnocchi. The skate wing was also delicious. I think GZ is definitely on the must-visit list for out-of-towners. I also had another excellent lunch at Custom House last week. I really like their "haute comfort food" vibe. Delicious oysters (Malpeques and Kumamotos) and perfect crispy skinned bass. My co-worker craves their shortrib raviolis. They will start serving breakfast soon, too.
  17. Have you been? Alinea is far more than hocus-pocus. It is great food presented extremely well in a very fine atmosphere. It also has a lot of humor, which is something I think a lot of people do not understand. You are correct, though Robyn, a lot of people share that opinion - mostly those who haven't been. The same is true for El Bulli. Of course there are those who have been who fel that it isn't worth the hype. If people are not into having an open mind with the food that is served they will not like either place. if people are into creativity and willing to explore with an open mind, it is my strong opinion that they will love either restaurant. As for the criticism that people leave Alinea hungry - tell that to my wife (this is not directed at you, Robyn). She would beg to differ and has almost kept me from the tour because there is so much food. Besides these restaurants are not about quantity. they are all about quality and creativity and leaving feeling comfortable and not super-saturated. ← Well said, Doc. The humor in the Alinea experience seems totally lost on some people and yet it is one of the reasons that I'm hopelessly addicted. (And the mind-boggling tastes and sights, perfect service, best-ever wine pairings and supreme comfort a'int too shabby, either!) And since GM Joe Catterson has figured out who "Pugman" is, if I ever do have any criticism, I'll have to make up a new alias! BTW: I'm 6'2" and 200 lbs and I've never left Alinea feeling hungry. Last visit a few weeks ago (12-course), I left VERY full because my size 0 companion couldn't finish some of the final courses and I greedily mopped up every last molecule! The only place where I've felt that the portions were too small was at Avenues (tiny courses and an incongruously large dessert). That was some time ago and may not represent the current experience.
  18. It's always sad to see a landmark close or morph into something else (a la Marshall Field's), but the I don't think the food at The Berghoff is all that good. When I ate there a few months back, the food seemed devoid of any passion whatsoever; almost like what I would expect at an Epcot "German-Themed" restaurant. As with the Walnut Room, I think the memories are probably better than the current realities. Sorry if I'm cold and unsentimental; perhaps I'd have a different take if I didn't grow up elsewhere. I also think the media coverage of this "closure" is way overblown, especially since it seems as though part of the restaurant will live on (what a PR coup). I do feel very bad for The Berghoff's employees, many of whom have been there for a loooooooong time and may not have the easiest time finding work. Perhaps The Berghoff is one of those Chicago institutions I just don't "get," like deep-dish pizza and Billy Goat Tavern's burgers. OK, bring on the attacks...I can take it!
  19. My Wish List for Chicagoland: 1. In N Out Burger (multple locations) 2. In lieu of the above, a Paradise Pup that's open evenings and Sundays. 3. Upscale-ish authentic Chinese food (but not $$$$ like Shanghai Terrace). 4. "Babbo Chicago"--a New York transplant that we'd love. Instead we got Bluewater Grill and China Grill. Ugh. 5. Vietnamese food in the N/NW suburbs. (This might be my number one wish.) 6. Upscale/contemporary Scandanavian restaurant like Gustav Anders in SoCal or Aquavit in NYC. Maybe a fine-dining place on one side of the restaurant and an authentic smorgasbord on the other (a Nordic Topolo/Frontera, if you will). 7. Reeeeeeally good dim sum served in a clean environment with acceptable service. Heck, I'd even settle for bad service and sticky tables if the dim sum was first-rate. The best we have is just "good." 8. River North/Loop branches of Joy Yee's, Aloha Grill and Hot Doug's so I'll have some more affordable-but-good lunch options near the office. 9. An Isabella's (Geneva) in Chicago or the N/NW burbs. 10. "Grant Achatz' To Go"...a deli with no sign, impeccable counter service, unbelievably complex reheating/serving instructions, disposable anti-plates and scented pillows, and dozens and dozens of little cartons.
  20. My 2006 top 10 dining wish list: 1. Winter: Alinea; to fight the cold-weather blues 2. Spring: Alinea; dining goddess' birthday 3. Summer: Alinea; my birthday 4. Fall: Alinea; early Christmas present 5. Moto because for some reason I haven't been yet 6. Schwa because people I trust have said great things about it 7. Carlos', a 4-star place that I've somehow skipped over 8. Omakase at Meiji 9. TRU because it's been far too long since my last meal there 10. Charlie Trotter's because Della Gossett's desserts are rapturous. 2005 best meal of the year: last week at Alinea; 12-course (actually 15) plus upgraded wine pairing. Perfection in any form is a stupendous achievement, and I had two completely perfect meals at Alinea in 2005 (and three others that were *this* close). Favorite dish of the year: Dungeness crab with young coconut and raw parsnip on Alinea's opening menu. Biggest surprises: Matsumoto for the wonderful world-class food and warm service. And Matsumoto for using paper napkins and el-cheapo chopsticks for a $100+/person meal. But I'll definitely return. (mmmm...salty squid guts)
  21. It's "Do It Yourself," because there's no actual listed truffle menu. HERO? I feel like the father from "The Incredibles" when he was trying to squeeze into his superhero costume. My pug was oinking at me yesterday. I thought he was having a respiratory attack, but I think it was just his commentary on dad's December gluttony. Maybe I should go to a really cheap sushi bar for some tapeworm maki. Or just eat less. Yeah, right.
  22. OK, we're not talking about a bunch of Alba truffles shaved over your food, but I had a perfectly delightful meal at Trio Atelier on Saturday which turned out to have truffles in almost every course: the killer white truffle chiffon that's been on the menu since Atelier began; a 6-mushroom risotto with black truffle; truffled gnocchi with oxtail (too good); and a "honey" dessert trio which featured baklava with truffled honey. We also had a Kobe-style skirt steak and the must-have french fries with wasabi caviar dip. And some other desserts, and...(well, you get the pig-chur). If I lived closer to Evanston, I'd eat there at least once or twice a week. The food keeps getting better and better on each visit. I hadn't been in a couple months and everything just seemed particulary delicious. The "conceptual art" decor that some found off-putting (never bothered me) has been softened. I've been on a Chicago restaurant roll lately, dining out every day without one dud meal...Custom House (twice), Ruth's Chris, Wildfish, Topolobampo, Alinea (fifth visit and probably my best restaurant dinner ever), Fulton's on the River, Extra Virgin, Trio Atelier and Osteria via Stato (lunch today). We're so lucky to have so many great places to eat in Chicago! Moderator Note: I've merged this post by Pugman (and a few others which followed it) into this already existing thread about Trio Atelier. However, it was the "4-Course DIY Truffle Menu Less than $60" which inspired Pugman to post and I don't want that fact to get lost in the shuffle. Carry on =R=
  23. Ditto on Ron's picks, plus Custom House (newest from acclaimed Green Zebra/Spring chef/owner, Shawn McClain). It's my new favorite lunch spot! I went yesterday and am going back today. Also, Naha in River North--$$$$ fine dining in the evening, but serves an amazing burger at lunch (perfect fries, too). An absolute steal for $10.
  24. The Berkshire pork at Mitsuwa is excellent; nothing better for Tonkatsu! And the price seems very reasonable. Thanks for letting us know about their butcher. I wanted to order some larger Wagyu steaks (the ones in the meat case are always sized for healthy Japanese meals), but I never asked. But now I will!
  25. A co-worker and I had a really terrific lunch at Custom House today. We had lentil/ham soup with mini gnocchi, striped bass bedded on a bit of potato puree and served w/ a truffle emulsion (IIRC), smoky bacon/brie tartine, and a side of escarole. Everything was very good, but the bass was stellar; simply prepared with very crispy skin and moist inside. Perfect--and a steal for $13. Gimmick-free, delicious food made with top-notch ingredients. What's better than that? Lunch prices are reasonable, especially for such a swanky place; with 2 iced teas, the bill was $43. Next time, I will need to leave room for dessert...I had no room for the killer coconut parfait. The menu features many of the starters from the dinner menu, a number of salads (small and large), and a variety of sandwiches/entrees. Excellent service--and not just the main waiters. The busboys at all of their restaurants--here, Spring and Green Zebra--are so attentive and professional. After having a dinner literally ruined by terrible service at another well-known restaurant the other night, I'm reminded of how refreshing it is to dine somehwhere that really "gets it." Go there before word gets out about lunch...I think they're gonna be mobbed.
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