Posts Tagged ‘restaurant reviews’

The Girl and the Goat: Worth the Wait

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

As you’ve probably noticed if you’ve been following the blog at all, if I have a favorite celebrity chef, it’s got to be Stephanie Izard. She won season 4 of Bravo’s Top Chef to become the first (and so far only!) female Top Chef. She’s from Chicago. And ever since she won “$100,000 to help make her culinary dreams a reality, furnished by the Glad family of products,” I’ve been waiting impatiently for her restaurant to open.

If you remember, we got the chance to meet Stephanie at a little get together at her house, thanks to a contest in the RedEye. And you may or may not know that David and I traipsed all over the city trying to get our hands on tiny little goat buttons, hoping to win tickets to a premiere party for the new restaurant. The whole goat button thing didn’t really work out for us, but David was kind enough to make us reservations after the restaurant opened a couple of weeks ago.

Here’s my rundown:

The decor

The restaurant has high ceilings, and a kind of rustic decor. The kitchen is open, and you can see Stephanie hard at work with the whole kitchen staff. We sat in the center of the floor, so had a good view of the kitchen and the bar. The kitchen is dominated by huge wood-burning ovens–the better to wood-fire some pizzas, my dear. Overall, the restaurant has a comfortable feel. The servers were dressed in jeans and sneakers, which is fine by me, but the patrons were fairly over-dressed for the decor, on the whole. Probably because of the whole new-and-trendy aspect.

The linens were minimal, and in keeping with the rustic feel of the space. Water is served in re-purposed wine bottles, which looked cool, but didn’t exactly keep the water cold.

P.S. We had a decent view of the kitchen, but the restaurant layout has two two-seater tables actually IN the kitchen, so if you want to spend your date that close to the fire, try to reserve one of those spots! I tried not to geek out about seeing Stephanie at work in the kitchen, but we saw that at least one women went up and got her menu autographed, so I guess she’s used to the attention by now.

The drinks

I really should let David tell you about this, since he was the one to order a drink. The bar menu was loaded with great wine selections, by the bottle or the glass, something like 30 different craft beer options, and some very meticulously designed mixed drinks. David ordered something called a “Smoking Jacket,” which featured smoked bourbon or something of the sort. I didn’t taste any, but he enjoyed it. His only “objection” is that it was probably the first pink-colored drink he’s ever ordered in public. We didn’t expect it to come out pink!

The food

This, of course, is what we came for.

Everything is served as small plates, and they recommend two to three plates per person. The menu is sorted into Veggie, Fish, and Meat sections, though as our server warned us, those aren’t strict categories. He offered to make accommodations if we were vegetarians, but as a couple of carnivores, we weren’t too worried. We skipped the oyster selections (we felt brave, but not that brave) and started instead with the “veggie” version of the bread, which was a fresh-baked loaf served with chimichurri and sweet onion butter. All delicious.

From the Veggie plates section, we chose a salad made with fresh mozzarella, yellow cherry tomatoes, and yellow plums. These were served over greens with a vinaigrette and a cilantro-herb paste. Very tasty. And our server told us that that particular dish made the menu that day because Stephanie had been inspired by the cheese and tomatoes at the Green City Market that morning, which was a nice touch.

From the Fish section, I ordered seared scallops, served with braised veal and caponata over marcona almond butter. It was awesome. David’s not a seafood fan, so I didn’t even have to share, but I did get him to try a bite. Even he agreed it was kind of tasty. The scallops were seared perfectly, with an awesome crust on each side. Nestled between the scallops was a very flavorful tender veal. I would order the veal on it’s own any day. The saltiness of the veal, the creaminess of the almond butter, and the subtle sweetness of the scallop melded together perfectly. Can we go back yet? I want this dish again! (If you’re not familiar, caponata is a kind of vegetable salad. Don’t worry, I had to look it up, too. I’m not sure exactly what was in Stephanie’s, but it was very tasty, and definitely added to the dish texturally).

From the Meat section, we ordered two plates: ham frites, with swiss cheese dipping sauce and a sun-dried tomato aioli for dipping, and a skirt steak with pickles, beets, carrots, and cilantro over a salted goat’s milk caramel sauce. The ham frites were basically bacon french fries, and they were as delicious as that sounds. Yes, they were glorified cheese fries, and yes, every bite was delicious. The skirt steak was cooked perfectly (for David–I’m one to over-cook my meat, but I know he was pleased). I enjoyed the pickles so much more than I expected, and the carrots were crunchy and sweet, but my favorite part was the caramel sauce. It was an unexpected sweetness, but a great contrast to all of the other flavors.

Then came dessert. On the one hand, we were stuffed. On the other hand, we were intrigued by most of the selections on the menu. We ended up ordering something called a fudgecicle. It was aptly name, as the foundation of the dessert was frozen chocolate mousse that tasted like a fudgecicle, but with so much more depth. The fudge mousse was topped with a sweet wafer, which was in turn topped with…Olive Oil Gelato. A couple of spoonfuls of a warm sauce made of Dragon’s Milk stout and other goodies softened the frozen bits around the edges and brought all of the flavors together perfectly. And I’m not a beer fan, by any stretch.

P.S. About that gelato: David and I were amazed by the flavor. I can’t describe it to you except to say that it tastes exactly like it sounds, really, but also, so much better than it sounds. Sweet, creamy, with a clean, clear taste of olive oil. I might not have predicted beforehand that I’d like such a thing, but I can tell you now that it was delicious. I’d absolutely order the dessert again.

The conclusion

Can you tell I was pleased? We both were. I don’t think we were disappointed by anything we tried, and we saw a lot of tasty-looking dishes being served to our neighbors as well. Much of what was on the menu was outside of our comfort zone, but in the end, I think that’s what made it fun. I feel like I expanded my culinary horizons, and had an excellent meal. Our server was knowledgeable and attentive. The atmosphere was welcoming. The food, obviously, was excellent. And we were pleasantly surprised at the tab—-after a drink, a starter, two plates each, and a shared dessert, we managed to spend less than $100, including tip. That’s more than we spend on most Wednesday nights, sure, but well worth it. Considering I’ve been psyched for this meal for about 6 months now, as I followed Stephanie on Twitter and waited for the restaurant to open, I’d say our meal was definitely a success. I had high hopes, and I wasn’t disappointed.

And even though I would order any of these dishes again the next time we go back, I’m excited to know that the menu will change often, and that the next trip could be a completely different meal. That’ll be worth the wait, too.

The details

Girl and the Goat; 809 W Randolph St, Chicago IL; Cost: Varies, menu is small plates, two to three plates per person are recommended, and range in price from $6-$17/plate.

Restaurant Review: Wow Bao

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

I’ve had these tasty little dumplings in my mind for a long time. Last year, Dave, Leah, and I sampled some bao from Wow Bao at the taste of Chicago, and I’ve thought about them often ever since.

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If you’ve never tried them before, Baozi, or simply Bao, are chinese bread dumplings. They’re light and doughy, with a vegetable or meat filling. Steaming them gives them a soft, slightly sticky texture. They come in about a million forms and flavors, and while I’m anxious to try my hand at them at home, so far, I’ve only had them from Wow Bao. A few weeks ago, Leah and I stopped by Water Tower Place to do a little shopping, and stopped and had lunch at Wow Bao.

We shared a six-pack of Bao, and had the chance to try the BBQ Pork, Chicken Teriyaki, Spicy Mongolian Beef, and Thai Curry Chicken. They were all delicious. My favorite was the Chicken Teriyaki, while Leah enjoyed the Thai Curry Chicken the most. The Mongolian Beef was tasty, but a little too spicy for me. The BBQ Pork was good, but that was the one we happened to try at the Taste the year before. Leah also had a super-tasty pomegranate ginger ale. (I stuck with Diet Cokie. Shocking, I know).  I’d like to try one of the sweet varieties next time–they have Coconut Custard and Apple Cinnamon dessert flavored Bao as well as a whole menu of noodles and potstickers and soup and salad.

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They were an awesome shopping snack, but if you aren’t close enough to one of their three Chicago locations, you can apparently have frozen bao or potstickers shipped from their website right to your home to make yourself.

Restaurant Review: Rockafeller’s Virginia Beach

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

I’m travelling for work. And though I don’t normally do this, I thought that my dinner tonight was worth mentioning. After a long day of meetings, my coworkers and I set out to find dinner on the beach, or as close to it as possible. We got some recommendations from the locals, and made the short drive to the shore, where we stopped first at Mahi Mah’s. It looked okay, and came highly recommended, plus it had an awesome patio overlooking the ocean–but it was a little loud for what we were looking for tonight (In large part due to the live band).

So we drove a bit further (about half a mile) to our second recommendation, Rockfeller’s. The place was super casual, but a bit more low key than Mahi Mah’s, so we decided to stay. The restaurant is nothing fancy, but it’s certainly not trying to be, either. The decor reminded me of Red Lobster, but in a good way–like Red Lobster was copying this place. The smallish restaurant overlooking the inlet full of fishing boats is decked out in nautical gear. As it should be.

The menu wasn’t expansive, especially if you wanted to avoid seafood. Luckily, we were there to eat seafood. 😉 For an appetizer, we split a pound of steamed shrimp. The shrimp were perfectly cooked, spiced with old bay seasoning, and very tasty. Though they did have to be peeled, and I’m not a huge fan of peeling my own food, we were all happy with the appetizer. The fresh french bread was passable, but the cornbread was awesome: warm and sweet and crumbly.

For my entree, I ordered a platter with fried shrimp, scallops, fish, and crab cakes. The sides were simple, but tasty: steamed red potatoes and green beans. But the seafood was the star. The scallops were the best I’ve had in recent memory. Sweet, tender but meaty, and the size of a half-dollar. The crab cake was excellent. The fish and the shrimp were good, though not fantastic. All in all, I was impressed with my dinner.

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And for dessert, we all shared a sampler platter, which was a nice option for a group. It came with a small piece of Key Lime Pie, a slice of coconut cake, a thick, rich chocolate mousse, and a small Jamaican rum cake. Out of the bunch, the rum cake was my favorite. For one, I don’t have rum cake that often, and this was very, very tasty. The cake was rich and moist with a delicious rum glaze. I’d forgotten how much I liked real rum cake. The key lime pie was alright, though I feel that mine is better, by far. The crust was fine, but the filling was too sweet, not tart, and it was just barely chilled. I’m going to be a jerk and say that my coconut cake was better, too. This was moist, and it was pretty good, but the coconut cake that I make uses real coconut, not the shredded, sweetened kind–and for the first time, I really noticed the difference in flavor. The real coconut is a much more subtle taste–the processed, sweetened kind is cloyingly sweet. It almost tastes too much like coconut. The chocolate mousse was good, but it was my fourth taste on the plate, and so, so rich for a last bite. It made me wish for a glass of milk!

All in all, we really enjoyed our dinner. The food was all good–some of it great–and our server was awesome. If I was a local, I think Rockafeller’s would be a place to frequent.

Restaurant Review: Homemade Pizza Company

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

We picked up a pizza from Homemade Pizza Company again tonight. There’s one close to our place in Chicago (they have a few storefronts scattered throughout the city), and a couple of weeks ago, after a long Sunday afternoon spent cleaning this place, we decided that we deserved pizza for dinner and tried it out.

And tonight, we went back again.

Homemade Pizza does “Take and Bake” pizzas, a concept that I was never quite sold on before. Basically they roll out a pizza crust, load it with your choice of toppings, and then you take it home and bake it in your own oven. I always wondered why, really, you’d want to bother baking your own pizza. And I thought that your home oven never quite managed to make pizza as well as a big restaurant pizza oven. Homemade Pizza has me convinced though.

I love their ingredients. They use all-natural, high-quality stuff to make their pizzas, and offer a huge variety of toppings while they’re at it. We ordered a pizza with Asiago cheese in addition to the mozzarella that’s traditional, and topped it with sausage and canadian bacon. It was delicious. The Asiago cheese is a little saltier and a little more tangy than the bland mozzarella most pizza places toss on their pizzas. The sausage had a good flavor, and they use whole slices of canadian bacon, which I had never seen before, but approve of completely. The crust wasn’t too thick or too thin and baked up very nicely.

They boast the #1 cheese pizza in town with their Four Cheese special and I’m certainly excited to try it sometime: Asiago, Fontinella, Wisconsin Mozzarella, and Ricotta. Yum!

The menu also includes a several tasty looking salads and even take-and-bake cookie dough, to bake up a hot, fresh cookie at home.

Check out the menu yourself. Most of their combinations sound delicious, actually, even when they contain ingredients that I’m not that crazy about.

Their prices seemed pretty reasonable as well. A large pizza will run you about $18, so it’s more expensive than frozen pizza, but in line with any decent pizza restaurant that will deliver to you. And they don’t charge for delivery (obviously, since you pick it up yourself!). 😉 They seem to make coupons available fairly often, and have a club card program that allows you to earn a free pizza after so many purchases.

Bottom Line: I expect we’ll take advantage of this place being so close fairly often. Since it’s close by, it’s actually faster than getting a deep dish pizza delivered, and will be a nice weeknight option, for those nights when you just don’t want to cook a meal from scratch.