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Everything posted by Pugman

  1. The Trib review is spot-on regarding the experience at Mastumoto, but I think two stars is a bit harsh for a place that is serving 4-star food with paper napkins and cheapo chopsticks. It's certainly a 3-star experience (especially considering the number of rather poor restaurants that get awarded 3 stars by Mr. Vittel). In fact, other than Alinea, Matsumoto is my best meal of the year so far (in a year filled with A LOT of great meals). For lovers of Japanese cuisine, it is an experience not to be missed. I wasn't as disturbed by the decor as Mr. Vittel. Some of the finest Japanese restaurants in the country aren't much to look at and some of the pretty ones serve rather awful food. But they definitely do need to get rid of the bad chopsticks. They're not even the semi-nice ones used by chain places like Stir Crazy and PF Changs--they are the splintery, porous ones that taste strongly of wood. My dining Japanese-American dining companion was actually rather insulted that they would offer such lowly utensils for a $100+/person meal. So, consider it a BYOCS restaurant. Still, I would go back in a heartbeat. For the price, you are served a very large quantity of food; so it actually isn't more expensive than pigging out at a place like Katsu or Mirai. Maybe I'll go to Mitsuwa and buy them a bunch of chopsticks!
  2. Since you're staying in Wilmette, I think Trio Atelier in Evanston would be an ideal choice. They have quite a few vegetarian options, including an absolutely delicious white truffle chiffon (a very light truffle-flavored egg custard), decadent French-style gnocchi (sometimes served with meat, which they could omit), and onion/chevre tart--among numerous other options. Mary McMahon's desserts are top-notch, too. Price and style is exactly in the range you're seeking. The general format is "create your own 4-course tasting menu," but we usually end up ordering a bunch of things from all over the menu and pass them around. What's great is that you can devise whatever type of meal you want--just snacks and dessert or a multicourse extravaganza. They do offer a nightly tasting menu (with wine pairings) and I'm sure they could put together a vegetarian version if you let them know ahead of time. I really love Chef Dale's hearty Central/Eastern European touches he incorporates into many of the dishes--"haute comfort food." Killer pommes frites, too (with wasabi tobiko caviar dip)...these fries that are truly worth paying $7 an order.
  3. I had the pleasure of attending a shakedown dinner at Custom House last week. First off, the space is absolutely gorgeous: dark wood and stone, extremely comfortable seating, and an overall aura of sleek elegance (and much warmer than the Zen-inspired style of Spring or Green Zebra). The kitchen is sealed off from the dining room, but has a large vieiwing window, so you can see the action but not hear it. The menu is fairly extensive and definitely focuses on meat, although there are some fish entrees. A standout among salads and starters was a succulent quail appetizer. Most entrees are in the mid-high $20 range (similar to Spring), but they do have a prime dry-aged strip steak for $38. This steak was served pre-sliced and paired with a demitasse cup of spinach cream. Steakhouse purists may not like having their meat served sliced and fanned out, but I didn't have a problem with it. I thought the steak was fine, but lacked that certain "oomph" that differentiates a good steak from a great one. Maybe it wasn't aged quite enough...it didn't have that almost-gone-bad tang that I look for in a big-bucks steak. A B+. The duck, however, was excellent and very "autumnal"--served with apples and pumpkin (?). A la carte side dishes are extensive; ranging from unusual veggies (salsify) to roasted fingerlings to a large short-rib-filled ravioili. Chef McClain scored a major coup by recruiting former Blackbird pastry chef (and old Trio co-worker), Elissa Narow. She's one of the best in the city and we thought the desserts at Custom House were flawless. The platings were attractive but not over the top and seemed to really coordinate visually with the overall style of the room. Overall, it looks like another hit, although not in the segment-redefining way of Spring or, especially, Green Zebra. They need to make sure that Custom House is perceived as "meat-focused fine dining" and not "Shawn McClain's Steakhouse." The steakhouse crowd will expect giant sharing portions of appetizers and sides, and desserts that should have their own zip codes. The food here is served in appropriate individual portions (which the Maggiano's doggie-bag crowd will certainly describe erroneously as "miniscule" on Metromix). Our two apps, two entrees, two sides, two desserts, bottled water, coffee and tea (no wine, because it was a pre-opening BYO) was about $200; about average for fancy hotel dining. They also have a fairly large bar area, which I expect to become super-hot in no time. They are also slated to start serving lunch in the near future, and as a Loop worker, I can't wait!
  4. Wow...Night-N-Gale is doing the FOAM thing? Maybe they're hipper than I thought! Seriously, though, how does a place like this stay in business? And there's always tons of cars in the lot. I lived in neighboring Highland Park and Lake Forest for 8 years after moving from California and tried Night-N-Gale exactly once. I was hoping that it would be one of those so-unitentionally-retro-that-it's-hip kind of places. Instead it was just really terrible food, at high-ish prices, in a worn-out space populated by clueless North Shore oldsters and oldsters-at-heart. That was 13 years ago and it sounds like nothing has changed (not even the "vintage" pepper on the tables). But I know people who eat (and drink and drink) there at least once a week. A friend who has lived and worked in the immediate area for 30+ years says that most of their diners are either drunk, heavily medicated, senile or "D," all of the above. It just kills me that these kind of places continue to thrive while countless other good spots never make a go of it.
  5. There are also quite a few good/inexpensive Vietnamese restaurants in Minneapolis. I've eaten at several and never been disappointed with the food.
  6. Congrats to everyone at Alinea for the 4-star review in the Chicago Tribune! Now maybe you'll finally get some customers in the place I'm already having withdrawals, since it's been three weeks since my last "ChefG fix". Guess I better make a res.
  7. Last Saturday, I did the same Tour as Ronnie. This was my fourth meal at Alinea, but the first time doing the entire Tour with wine pairings (3 of us did wine pairngs, one person is a non-drinker and one person just had a few half-glasses). Six hours and 17 or so wines later, I was feeling no pain (a testament to the supremely comfortable seating...and to the miracle of fermentation). Frankly, I was initially worried about the length of the meal-to-come. I've had several 4-hour dinners at various restaurants that left my butt, back and legs cramped and uncomfortable for a few days. And while a 6-hour meal is looooong by anyone's standards, the time really zoomed by. I enjoyed the fact that many of the single-bite dishes had very assertive flavors (strong herbal and even minerally/medicinal flavors)--as did two of my dinng companions. The other two didn't care for the more in-your-face flavors. In fact, I'd say the "not for everyone" factor seemed to be notched up a bit compared to the opening menu...which is fine by me and not intended as any sort of criticism. Having said that, I do miss some of the May/June dishes more than I like some of the new ones...especially the dungeness crab/raw parsnip/young coconut dish and the orange-sassafras cream dessert. But I was glad to see the beef with flavors of A1 still on the menu...it's incredible. I can't wait to go back...but I think we'll stick to the 8- or 12-course menu (at least until the next milestone birthday.) Time to go harvest some milkweed pods. Or not.
  8. NEW MENU COMING: Went to Alinea for the third time a few nghts ago (yes, I know it's an addiction but I will destroy anyone who tries to have an intervention). Anyway, they debuted a number of new dishes and indicated that the menu will be substantially changed very soon. I was sad to see my favorite Dungeness crab/raw parsnip/coconut dish go on hiatus, but it was replaced by AMAZING butter-poached lobster served with "raviolis"...wrapper made of carrot and filled with powdered coconut milk. The powdered milk liquifies in your mouth and the overall effect is classic ChefG. What continues to impress me the most about Alinea (besides ChefG's food, of course) is just how great the overall vibe is. The staff is just so genuinely nice and you can tell how excited they are to be part of this phenomenon. Seasoned fine diners shoud be very pleased with the unpretentious professionalism; but I also think that younger people and/or other fine-dining novices shouldn't feel weird about dining at Alinea. Yes, the atmosphere is rather formal and quiet; yes, they do have a dress code (thankfully); but, NO, it's not stuffy or intimidating. In other words, for those who have never dined at such a high level, I can think of no better place to do it.
  9. I had an extremely positive experience at Scylla a number of weeks back...which reminds me that I'm overdue for another visit. A nice bridge between a neighborhood joint and a destination restaurant. If the sweetbreads are still on the menu, make sure you order them. YUM! I really liked the vibe of this place and the staff was wonderful. Very smart and fun wines by the glass...a lot of thought went into every aspect of this place.
  10. Le Francais is not too far from Rosemont (just up the tollway a few minutes); definitley the best food within 20 minutes of Rosemont. Very formal and hushed, so maybe that's not what you want. Cab fare wouldn't be too bad. However, I agree with the Ronnie's recommendation of Trio in Evanston (although there is no convenient car-less way to get there from Rosemont). My dinner on Saturday was really excellent. Trio has a long track record of finding and developing young chefs who are just amazing (Rick Tramonto, Gale Gand, Shawn McClain, Della Gossett, and of course, Grant Achatz--to name just a few powerhouses that graced Trio's kitchen). The current chef, Dale Levitski, is just hitting his stride--I've noticed a quantum leap in his food recently. Mary McMahon, pastry chef, just won a major local award, too. Plus, it's a fun place to eat and not noisy (but also not stuffy). The recs in Chicago: Spring, Naha, Blackbird, etc., are good ones, too. Happy Birthday!
  11. We had an incredible dinner at Trio Atelier on Saturday. They have changed their menu extensively and modified their dining format somewhat. There are still three categories of savory dishes plus dessert, but are now presented as a 4-course DIY Tasting Menu, rather than the previous and somewhat vague "petite, medium and large" tapas-esque format. Lots of new dishes on the menu, but favorites such as veal cheeks, white truffle "quiche" (formerly called "chiffon"), and rabbit virtini remain. Biggest change is that the large dishes (which were really too large for one person before if you wanted a selection of other tastes) have been replaced by smaller entrees. There are a lot more entree choice, too--with lower prices (because of portion size ) and more luxe ingredients. Roasted quail Veronique and truffled french gnocchi were outstanding among our third course selections. Desserts are now all presented as "trios" of tastes; for instance, three different lemon desserts on one plate, three profiteroles with three sauces, etc. Our party of four had lemon, strawberry, chocolate and profiteroles. It's easy to see why the pastry chef won the Jean Banchet Award. YUM! The restaurant was full, which was nice to see and the service was excellent. Overall, the food and platings are much more upscale than TA's opening format--definitely back to more of a fine-dining style in the platings and ingredients. Prices, however, are still reasonable for this style: you could do 4 courses for as low as mid-$30s and top out at around $60 if you selected the most expensive choices (foie gras, tuna tartare, filet mignon and dessert). Average would be approx. $45--a solid value IMHO. The chef really seems to have hit his stride with the new menu--I tried more than 16 dishes (4 courses/4people, plus a couple gratis add-ons) and there was not a dud among them. Neighboring diners must have thought we were crazy with all of our plate-passing and dissection of ingredients!
  12. [The last 2 were filled with prune and pumpernickle puree respectively. I'm sorry but I cannot remember the toppings/garnishes for either of those 2 at the moment. =R= ←
  13. Where did you hear this? I'm pretty sure they only just opened the reservation book for July last week. ← Last night, GM Joe Catterson said they will take reservations up to three months in advance. Which tells me that they're not even taking September reservations yet. Whatever the case...book a table now, because it's only going to get crazier.
  14. Last night's meal at Alinea was as good a meal as I've ever had in Chicago--or any other city for that matter. We did the 12-course menu "one" (although they treated us to a couple extras from the tour menu, so I think it was 14 courses). Highlights? Uhh...everything! The dungeness crab/raw parsnip/cashew/etc. dish was one of the best things I've ever tasted--an instant classic on par with ChefG's famous (and, sadly, retired) black truffle explosion from Trio. The frog leg/morel/nasturtium/paprikka/etc. dish was also just stunning and beyond words. Our meal was exactly three hours--the pacing was perfect. I can see why several people have commented on the chairs; they are amazingly comfortable and I wouldn't have any qualms about tackling the 30-course tour. It sounds trite to refer to something as "indescribably good"...but that's my verdict and I'm stickin' with it.
  15. WOW!!!!! Thanks. I thought about NOT looking at the photos, so I'd be more surprised when I eat there. But, like a kid trying to find where mon stashed the Christmas gifts before the big day, I couldn't wait. I'm going on Sunday and the wait has been killing me. ChefG already has two spots on my personal "Top 10 Restaurant Meals of All Time" and I have a feeling a third is coming.
  16. Three of the five nominees for best service (a national category) are in Chicago: TRU, Topolobampo and Spiaggia. NICE! TRU, particularly, has a knockout service team. A bit surprised that Green Zebra didn't get a nomination as best new restaurant, especially considering that Vongerichten's Spice Market did. Spice Market is a beautiful space, but the food is somewhat derivative (good, however). I went right after they opened, so maybe it's a lot better now. But Green Zebra is way more innovative.
  17. Shawn McClain comes to mind immediately. Green Zebra has gotten national (even international) attention and has been one of the hottest spots in town since opening a little more than a year ago. The food at Spring is better than ever, as well. But Tony Mantuano has been nominated for the last three years, so maybe it's his turn (or maybe he'll become the Susan Lucci of the Beard Awards). Sandro Gamba also seems to be a strong contender. I think Grant Achatz's time will be next year and if he doesn't win then, we can all scream "he was robbed." Avenue's Graham Elliot Bowles would be a good local choice for Rising Star Chef. I would love to see Chicago's Della Gossett (Charlie Trotter's and previously at NYC's Atlas after a long stint at Trio) get a nomination as Best Pastry Chef. She is a phenomenal talent.
  18. I went to LF for dinner on Saturday...fabulous! We were surprised at how large some of the dishes were. We each ordered an appetizer, soup, entree and dessert and couldn't finish our entrees (much to the delight of my friend's very spoiled canine gourmand). What did us in was the chestnut "cappuccino" soup with black truffle. We were expecting a demitasse (a la TRU or Les Nomades), but it was a huge bowl; and so incredibly good that we had to eat every drop...which pretty much filled us up (although our "dessert compartments" found room for the incredible hazelnut souffles). Our entrees were plate-filling combos (a duo of veal and ribeye and a trio of quail, squab and vennison)--something of a steal at $35, considering what many lesser places are charging these days. All of the food was utterly perfect. Only a few minor service problems kept it from being a flawless meal (given a knife with dessert instead of a spoon, a captain that seemed to vanish at the meal's end and busboys that repeatedly asked "Are you finished?" when plates/bowls were empty and utensils had been placed in the "we're finished" position). Minor nitpicking, perhaps, but perfect service is an attainable goal (TRU, for instance). It's great to have chef Liccioni back "home"! We'll be back often.
  19. I believe they opened to the public last night (Aug 18th).
  20. I don't have time right now to do a full report, but I went to a pre-opening dinner at Henry Adaniya's "reborn" Trio last night (now called Trio Atelier) and was very impressed. Fine-dining-level service, moderate prices (honest!), interesting thought-provoking decor, and very good food. My advice: go there with an open mind, avoid all comparisons to the old Trio (save that until the no-doubt-dazzling Alinea opens next year), and just have FUN. Not-to-miss dishes: foie gras mousse with diced peaches on black pepper shortbread, white truffle "chiffon" (a light custard on top of puff pastry and served with some greens and mushrooms), French-style gnocchi in browned butter with almonds and baby veggies. Those three savories AND a dessert would set you back only about $50--and this would be a large meal (too large, really). A decent-sized meal here should be in the $25-$45 range (plus drinks). Wine comes in 3 oz and 6 oz pours and similarly well-priced. And, yes, cocktails are back at Trio. In fact, the former salon/waiting area has been transformed into a bar area with two communal tables for enjoying drinks and small dishes. Don't worry about "new restaurant syndrome." These folks are pros--go there before people are lined up outside the door; which may happen very soon. The Chicagoland dining scene just keeps getting better and better! Are we lucky or what?!
  21. OK, I hate to diss a new restaurant and maybe it wasn't fair to go to Le Lan (Sunday) as the same weekend as Trio (Saturday), so I won't make any comparisons to the two meals. However, as a casual fine-dining experience, I'm afraid that Le Lan was something of "Le Letdown." Especially being powered by Arun (Arun's) and Roland (Les Nomades). I think I would be less critical if it didn't have the backing of these two 4-star masters. I just wasn't dazzled by anything we tried--there were 4 of us, so we tried a lot; including a dual round of desserts. (Hey, it was my birthday weekend!) The chilled pea soup with summer truffle and tuna sashimi was very good, as was the sweet corn soup with oyster. My own "Chef Roland's Garden" was good, but a companion's was poorly prepared (burnt shrimp wonton and not plated well). The Roquefort Sorbet that so delighted Tarka (for which I had very high hopes) was good--not great--and the experience was marred by the fact that I never received a requested wine pairing until I was done eating it. The salad of hearts of palm in brown butter was really drowning in it--too greasy. We tried three entrees--steak, bass and squab. Nothing was as bad as reported in the Tribune article, but there was a distinct lack of our usual "ohmygodthisisgood" outbursts at out table. I love Vietnamese food. I love French food. I didn't love this attempted marriage of the two. In this city, I think Spring and Kevin still rule the Asian-fusion universe. Le Lan really needs to sharpen its focus and execution if it's going to make it. Biggest letdown: Hazelnut Souffle. The one served at Les Nomades is one of my favorite things in all of food-dom. I was thrilled to see it on the menu at Le Lan. But it was bland and somewhat "flabby." It didn't have the vibrant hazelnut flavor that Les Nomades' version does (and I've eaten at least a couple of waistsize's-worth of these at L.N. over the years). The coconut panna cotta was also very small; more like what you'd get as part of a multi-dessert course at CT's, Trio or Tru. For 8 or 9 bucks it was not a good value. Come to think of it, my friend's cherry clafouti was tiny, too. There was only room for about 4 cherries in it! Another gripe: sparkling water was only offered in small individual bottles, which made for a somewhat hefty overall water tab for our table. The per-person tab for our table of four non-drinkers (I had the only glass of wine at the table) was $95 (only three entrees, mind you). For casual fine dining, that's just too close to fine-fine dining.
  22. Naha (on Clark Street in River North) serves an amazing cheeseburger at lunch: half-pound of very high-quality beef, cheese (I like it with blue cheese), a perfect bun, and some of the best fries I've had this side of Brussels. For ten bucks, it's an absolute steal--especially considering where you're eating it. I've yet to find a really great fast-food burger in Chicagoland--nothing that compares to the West's In-N-Out Burgers. Unfortunately, fears of food-borne germs force most places to cook the hell out of their burgers. Like they do at Steak and Shake...UGH!! The State Street Marshall Field's Seventh-Floor food court actually serves a good, old-fashioned burger. Half-pound (what's with these giant burgers!), with decent fries and a bit of slaw for only $6.50. Nearly fast-food prices, but served on a real plate and your fountain drink is in an actual glass. They also have a decent buffalo burger for a buck or so more. BTW, the absolute worst burger in recent memory was also the most expensive: the $20-ish "Kobe" (Wagyu) beef burger at Yoshi's. Maybe it was an "off" day, but it was horrible: no flavor, cooked well beyond what I ordered, and served with unripe tomatoes, over-the-hill baby lettuce, a stale bun, and greasy/limp fries. And the scary/bad waiter rounded out the whole "experience." Have to agree w/ Ronnie about Beinlich's and Hackney's. I still like Beinlich's because it's such a fun time-warp joint, but the burgers aren't worthy of legendary status.
  23. OK, I may have to get on GZ's public relations payroll, but their food is reward enough. Here are some answers: Yes, quite a few options for you "pesky" vegans . And they can adapt some, too, I'm sure (e.g., leave the cheese off of the asparagus/truffle essence dish and set it aside for when I come in). I think the orgasmically good sweet potato dumplings are vegan too. The only dish that conforms to the raw food guidelines currently is a green papaya napolean. I would imagine that they'll add more (especially when farmer's market season hits full-force). If they get more raw food requests, I'm sure they'll add more, but just don't expect raw to become their concept. Oh yeah, they do a serving of three different vegetable "teas" that are vegan and delightful. Pure extracted flavors of vegetables and herbs. and leaves plenty of room for heavier things like the gnochhi and the non-vegan-but-killer gorgonzola dolce souffle with verjus. OK, my Chilpancingo lunch has worn off because I'm making myself hungry. For those of you that are willing to eat cheese, their list is fun in that it is all domestic/artisan/organic. Please order a cheese course, so they'll keep adding to the list. I have a feeling that they're going to wish they had opened a bigger place--it is much smaller than Spring. (So only tell your really nicest friends about this place or we'll never be able to get a table.)
  24. I'm hooked. I've been there three times already and have sampled quite a bit of the opening menu. Almost all hits, with only a few less-than-terrific dishes, including a few that are completely crave-worthy. Hard to pick an overall fave, but the avocado panna cotta with tomato gelee and the sweet potato-ginger dumplings are phenomenal. The dumplings are made with purple Okinawan sweet potatoes and are served in a wonderful (mushroom-based?) broth. White and green asparagus with melted Camenbert and truffle essence also hits all the right notes for me, but one friend tought it was "too truffly." OK, I'll finish it then!! Gnocchi with fresh wild ramps is simple and perfect. The only better gnocchi I've had was when GZ exec-chef/owner McClain was at Trio (black truffle gnocchi if memory serves). The only land critter served is an organic chicken breast served with a crispy, fatless, lacquered square of the best chicken skin I've ever tasted. Awesome (and I'm not sharing it with my companions next time). The other non-veg entree currently is halibut. It's good, but not as good as any of the countless fish dishes I've had at their other place, Spring. They are still working out the pacing issues, so your meal may require some patience. They are trying to course out the meal, which is thoughtful but can lead to looooong waits. Frankly, I think they should just bring out the dishes in whatever order they're ready, Tapas-style. Otherwise, I can't imagine them being able to keep the prices down ($6-$14 per plate). Co-owner/wine goddess, Sue Kim-Drohomyrecky, has a real knack for finding lesser-known, quirky wines that match the cuisine perfectly. The list at GZ is also a bit more budget-friendly than at Spring. I was very happy to see that she has Crios Torrontes a food-friendly white from Argentina (here priced in the $30 range). If you're not a wine geek, many of the selections will be unfamiliar. Just ask Sue for help--she's one of Chicago's best. Her vivid descriptions of wines (with accompanying hand gestures and facial expressions) are wonderful. We love her. If you're a fussy diner, give them a month or so to get the minor kinks worked out. Otherwise, go with the flow and enjoy a really great meal unlike anything else around. Just remember, if your idea of ideal vegetarian cuisine is highly spiced Thai/Korean/Indian food, then this may not be a good fit for you. Also, if you're a bad kid and don't like your veggies, you won't be happy here, either. If you measure value by leaving totally stuffed (and with doggie bags), then GZ isn't your place. For the rest of us, the great restaurant city of Chicago just got even better. Bravo! I'll be back (and back and back...).
  25. The wait is finally over! Shawn McClain and Peter and Sue Drohomyrecky's new mostly-vegetarian fine-dining spot is set to open next week (Tuesday) in Chicago's West Town neighborhood. Considering their talents, you know Green Zebra is going to be a terrific addition to the Chicago dining scene. I've heard they imported some of their best front and kitchen talent from Spring; which is a good thing because, like Spring, they will probably be booked solid from the get-go. Yum! I can't wait to eat there.
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