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Everything posted by mlarue

  1. Chicago is FULL of pizza restaurants -- many of which make a very good, thin-crust pizza similar to those served in New York. It would be helpful if you posted the area of Chicago you'd prefer for recommendations. On the north side of the city, I like Pat's Pizza (2679 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago) but others abound. Many may annoy you because Chicago pizza restaurants often cut theirs into squares rather than triangular slices, but I'll bet most will accommodate you if you ask for triangular cuts.
  2. Try Kuma's Corner at 2900 W Belmont Ave (unique, very well reviewed, but not close to an El) and DMK Burger Bar at 2954 N Sheffield Ave (outstanding and a few steps from the Wellington El stop on the Brown line and/or Purple line). While at DMK, check out the Fish Bar next door for a quick change of pace. Both outstanding.
  3. mlarue


    Most all of the above recommendations will give you a taste (pun somewhat intended) of Chicago BUT you've now found yourself in the midst of the great Italian Beef controversy. Generally speaking, you'll find three beef stands with devoted camps of followers: Mr. Beef on Orleans (just under 1 mile west of your hotel; Al's #1 Beef (1 block from Mr. Beef; and Johnny's (in Elmwood Park - about 10 miles west. I'm a proponent of Mr. Beef on Orleans. Order it hot (hot giardinara) and juicy (dipped). The beef gravy is my favorite. I'd add Orange as a potential breakfast venue. They have a location in the south loop. But many Greek-owned coffee shops can make you a Greek-style omlette with spinach, feta and possibly bacon and tomato bits. While not uniquely Chicago, I happen to love it.
  4. I've come to know Carlos (Nieto) a bit over the past four years or so and one overriding characteristic is his desire to please customers -- far more than slavish adherence to arbitrary "rules". My suggestion is that you simply ask for what you want or don't want and it is highly likely that they will bend over backwards to assist.
  5. I've heard Farmer's Fresh is no more. I'd call to double-check before heading out.
  6. Great report -- certainly more than enough to make me want to try it!
  7. It almost hurts to say it, but Buca di Beppo (River North, Lombard, Wheeling, Orland Park) is certainly not subtle. I suppose you could ask most any accomodating restaurant could be persuaded to burn the shit out of some meat, too. Buca (as I recall) doesn't go overboard with garlic but has huge servings and a fun (almost campy) casual vibe. Better Italian food (including spagheti & meatballs) in a homey, old-school neighborhood-feeling environment can be found at La Scarola on Grand near Halsted. Very good food in a genuinely Italian-family kind of environment.
  8. One can only hope that Hot Doug's takes this opportunity to goose (pun fully intended) Joe Moore by hosing something like a week-long foie-dog exraviganza.
  9. "I can understand small restaurants like Sarah's charging for bread." I can _understand_ it, but I can't agree with it. As a customer, I suppose I'd tell the owner/manager that I felt it was similar to charging for water, or butter, or au jus. Logic tells me it's not much different than charging for a salad, but custom and sensibility tells me that it's a nickel & dime move that pisses me off. Maybe they should consider table rental in view of rising commercial rents, or a surcharge for warm food given the trends in energy costs. the descriptive latin phrase is (I believe) chickenshit.
  10. A newer entrant in the "quality Italian" field is Osteria di Tramonto in north suburban Wheeling (www.cenitare.com). It's a concept run by the highly regarded chef team of Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand. My two visits have been quite satisfying. Or, for a more neighborhoody feel I highly recommend La Scarola on Grand Avenue just northwest of the Loop. Excellent, authentic-tasting Italian specialties, affordable pricing and a genuine Italian neighborhood feel that brings me back time and again. (Edited to correct spelling)
  11. It gives me pause to wonder: Is it possible for a suburb to secede from its urb? That is, could Highland Park become a suburb of Milwaukee rather than a suburb of Chicago? It would be less embarrasing...
  12. Independents (in most lines of retail) are a fragile breed. When the big-box retail phenomenan gained traction about 15 years ago I used to joke that the only small retail concept still safe was the neighborhood pet store -- but that was before Petsmart and Petco. Bobaks nearly vanished largely due to intra-family warfare. The same nearly happened to Treasure Island a decade ago. But occasionally others pop up to take their place. Caputo's Fresh Market has been expanding aggressively; Cermak is expanding; and Sunset (on the north shore) is adding yet another unit. In the increasingly complex (and capital-intensive) field of retailing, the independent is increasingly at a disadvantage. But really creative independents -- those who build a better mousetrap -- can still carve out a niche for themselves.
  13. What a great posting! Makes me salivate just to look at it. I may use the restaurant list as an entry in the book of Things I Must Do Before I'm Dead.
  14. It's possible that you're remembering Bennison's Bakery (1000 Davis Street) -- a long-time Evanston institution often lauded for its breads and croissants. Their website is www.bennisonscakes.com.
  15. mlarue


    I took the family there on Mother's Day and everyone had a great meal. My son re-visited about a month ago and once again thought it quite good. I'm not a huge fan of whitefish but thier whitefish entree made me rethink that position.
  16. I think you've correctly identified the high-end leader (Spiaggia) and I expect you'll have a wonderful meal if that's your choice. For a more casual (and less expensive) experience with outstanding food and a great vibe, take a look at La Scarola (www.lascarola.com) just a few minutes northwest of the river north area, or Francesca's Forno (www.miafrancesca.com/restaurants/forno) a few minutes west of there in Wicker Park. La Scarola feels like an authentic Italian neighborhood restaurant (probably because it is) in the best possible sense of the phrase. Francesca's Forno has a little more trendy vibe reflective of its younger neighborhood. Both are great restaurants serving absolutely wonderful food.
  17. I ate there about three weeks ago. Superb. It was quite good under the previous chef; even better now. Highly recommended.
  18. I'm wondering about the disconnect between the "coldness" Kai feels from pictures of Alinea and the friendliness and comfortability-factor many others (myself included) felt while at Alinea. One possible reason is simply a personal-taste reaction to contemporary vs. traditional surroundings. Alinea's architecture and decor is contemporary and relatively minimalist which may be seen as cool by some. Yet the color pallette and use of wood (as opposed to sythetic surfaces) gives the room a sophisitiacted but warm feel to me. Similarly, the clothing worn by employees is sleekly styled from a high-end Italian design house. That said, the warmth and charm of all of the employees with whom I interacted was simply outstanding. But that, too, was delivered with a degree of sophistication. Warm but not "folksy". It's tough to describe, but I'd certainly not shy way from trying it -- and not just for the food but for the entire package.
  19. I'm fond of Custom House in the south Loop (500 S. Dearborn, Chicago). Open Mondays, small private dining area, and outstanding food in a wonderful contemporary environment run by an acclaimed chef. Check their website: http://www.customhouse.cc/. There is very little immediatly adjacent to McCormick Place but the south Loop area is only a 15 block cab ride.
  20. I'm fond of the Custom House in the south loop. It's a short cab ride but their lunch begins at 11:30 also. http://www.customhouse.cc/
  21. But wait, (as they say on TV) there's more! The relatively affluent suburbs mentioned are usually the places with the newest buildings. And new construction equals much higher rent (or purchase price) which, in turn, makes opening a restaurant highly capital-intensive. Chains have access to that capital. Yet another influence is concentration of customer subgroups. If a restaurant is planning to appeal to a particular ethnic group, or to young people, or to people with a taste for something unique, there are usually neighborhoods where a sufficient number of those potential customers exist to form a base -- and that base allows them to get started and develop a reputation which would pull customers from greater distances. That's awfully hard in most homogeneous, high-rent, suburban communities. Top that off with the fact that the suburbs are filled with newer families with kids who primarily eat at home and look for McDonald's or Pizza Hut when they do go out. At the end of the day, I'm surprised there are as any interesting suburban restaurant at all.
  22. I expect you'll get a ton of replies. Chicago is the self-proclaimed "city of neighborhoods" -- and rightly so. One of the easiest ways to begin is to discuss ethnic orientation. You'll find wonderful asian selections in Chinatown (22nd Street just west of the Dan Ryan Expressway) or on Argyle Street (in the Uptown area near Arglye east of Broadway); great Italian food in Little Italy (centered on Taylor Street east of Ashland Ave) or the near-northwest side area along Grand Avenue both sides of Halsted; Greek and middle-eastern food in Greektown (Halsted north of Jackson); Hispanic in the near-southwest side neighborhood of Pilsen (roughly west of the Dan Ryan Expressway and north of Cermak Rd) and along the Archer Avenue corridor. There is a huge selection of (mostly) mid- and higher-end restaurants along Randolph Street just west of the Loop (west of the Kennedy Expressway); a great range of trendy restaurants in the Bucktown (near northwest side roughly along Milwaukee Ave between Ashland & Damen) -- and (I'm sure) many, many others that will be recommended. You'll never run out of interesting neighborhoods to explore.
  23. While it tends more toward the expense-account crowd, one of the best dining establishments on the west edge of Milwaukee is Ristorante Bartolotta at 7616 W. State Street in Wauwatosa. It's just a few miles east of Brookfield. One member of the Bartolotta family (which also operates Lake Park Bistro as well as a steak house in Milwaukee) is Paul Bartolotta who was the initial driving force behind the excellence of Chicago's Spiaggia and who opened a fine dining restaurant at the Wynn in Las Vegas. His brother appears equally talented. More info is available at (414) 771-7910 or www.bartolottaristorante.com (menu, etc. is online). I'm not aware of their policy regarding BYOB (they have a wine large selection in house), but it's worth a call to find out. As you can guess, I rather like the place. The three times I've been there I've had excellent food and outstanding service. It is pricey (which seems counter to your request) but you may find it worth the splurge.
  24. Bravo, Ronnie. That's a great list. I fully agree with those you've recommended that I've visited and fully intend to try those I've not visited. This may turn out to be the most-used resource of the year!
  25. I'd give consideration to Custom House for lunch, Sunday brunch or dinner -- a place where I recently had an outstanding dining experience. Top-notch fresh ingredients; nicely layered flavors; some very nice in-house-created drinks; flawless service all in a contemporary but warm room. The creator (Shawn McLain) won the James Beard 2006 Best Chef Midwest. Another spot consistently raved-about worth your serious consideration is Blackbird. It, too, is available for lunch or dinner and Chef Kahan is also a Beard Award winner (2004). High-quality food; great service; and a contemporary, cool room. You can't go wrong with either choice.
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