Thursday, July 24, 2014

July Restaurant Reviews!

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This has been a busy month of checking out new spots to eat around town! Rather than doing separate posts, it seemed to make more sense to do a run down of all the places at once so they're easier to find. I've got a couple more spots to review between now and the end of the month, which I'll be highlighting for August. So in the meantime, here are some places where you can find great eats!

Hashbrowns Cafe

This is a great addition to the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago. The original restaurant is on Maxwell St., a historic part of Chicago where many entrepreneurs got their start. Ronnie Ruffalo, the owner who we had a chance to meet during our visit, was welcoming and warm. It was evident how passionate he is about Hashbrowns, considering all the menu items were created by him. We had a light breakfast and took the recommendations of our server, Joe, who was extremely knowledgeable of the menu. Coffee was a must and we were happy to learn Lavazza Italian coffee was brewing... and served in oversized mugs. The menu offers both breakfast and lunch anytime. Interesting to note is that the omelettes could be made into an egg burrito or burger and vice versa. Even better is that the names remained the same (just as the ingredients do so you can have the same flavor profiles for lunch and dinner!) 

We had thOak Street Omelette; an open faced egg white omelette with sliced mozzarella, basil, roasted marinated tomatoes, drizzled with a homemade balsamic glaze. It was plenty big to share between 2 people and it was light, fresh and perfect. To accompany our omelette, we had their 'Killer Hashbrowns.' Shredded potatoes, cheddar, onions, and sour cream is made into a casserole and topped with crushed corn flakes, then  baked until bubbly. It was so good and rich, I could have had that alone and been happy! It was also a potato dish I could see being served for lunch or dinner too. Lastly, we also had a taste of Duck Bacon. Yes... you read correctly. It was meaty, flavorful and healthier than traditional bacon. I could have easily more but alas, I had to pace myself. From this restaurant, I left with a great place to go for brunch and lunch when in the area. I also left with some inspiration to try and recreate some of their dishes, such as the Oak Street Omelette and Killer Hashbrowns. Later on the day, I even spotted some duck bacon while shopping at a neighborhood deli... and well, this made me quite the happy foodie.

LYFE Kitchen

Back in 2009, I worked with The Nest Magazine on a 4 page recipe layout. While doing that project, I had the pleasure of working with Jeremy Bringardner. Now, five years later, Jeremy won as a competitor on Food Network's Chopped! show and is in California as an executive chef of LYFE Kitchen. I visited LYFE Kitchen for lunch and wow. I am so in love with this restaurant and its concept. LYFE Kitchen is about making you feel good and making food really work for you, deliciously. During my visit, I learned a lot from General Manager, Brinker Wolf. He really gave me a thorough understanding of what they do, why they do it and it's a restaurant that is sure to get folks thinking. These days, folks are going into restaurants with a bit more knowledge and LYFE Kitchen embraces that by offering some amazing food. Upon entering the restaurant, you're greeted with a refreshing vibe from the colors, decor and their signature fresh herb wall garden. The garden is not used for food preparation due to sanitary laws/guidelines but it definitely sets the tone of what you're about to experience. There are colorful menus available which includes a separate vegan and separate gluten free menu, making it easy for those with dietary restrictions to skim what's available to them. And each menu item has a caloric value, sodium value in addition to symbols for gluten free and vegetarian/vegan. Now that's so thoughtful and considerate!

The restaurant is fresh food, fast. Patrons order at a counter and are seated casually wherever they'd like. Folks grab their silverware, napkins and there's a water station that offers 3 kinds of water - chilled, chilled sparkling and ambient. 

While we waited for our food to arrived (ordered by Brinker on our behalf), I learned that LYFE Kitchen is all about helping folks eat well, feel good and doing good. Eating well is evident since the menu is already so thoughtfully written and flexible for any dietary restriction and allergies. Did I mention how celebrity chef, Art Smith, well known vegan chef, Tal Ronnen and of course, Jeremy Bringardner have collaborated to make an amazing menu? Unlike many restaurants in the industry, LYFE Kitchen gets their ingredients fresh daily... even on Sundays. This ensures their product is the very best it can be every day and every time. Their menu will change slightly twice a year to account for seasonality but a majority of their menu items will remain all year round. Because of LYFE Kitchen's effort to offer healthy dishes and maintain sustainability, that itself makes me feel good about dining there. And it doesn't just stop with the customers that come in to dine at LYFE Kitchen. The staff is also active in the community and are encouraged to participate in healthy activities such as 5K runs, community service, etc.

So with this all in mind, it was time to eat. We had quite a feast and everything was outstanding. We had three refreshing drinks - LYFE waters made with chia seeds and a kale banana smoothie. We also had a few entrees including Art's UnFried Chicken, Tal's Grain Bowl made with vegan beefless tips, Roasted Salmon, Chicken Mushroom & Spinach Penne, Thai Curry Bowl, BBQ Chicken Flatbread, Quinoa Crunch Salad Bowl, and for dessert, Chocolate Budino made with chia seeds, and Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies. My favorites were Art's UnFried Chicken and the Chicken Mushroom & Spinach Penne. I also have a new love affair with their Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies. I also left with a new appreciation for quinoa, chia seeds and vegan/vegetarian cuisine. I cannot wait to go back and from the looks of it, there will be more LYFE Kitchens popping up around the country so be on the lookout!

más

I'm a big fan of Mexican cuisine and hosting culinary tours of the Pilsen neighborhood every so often gives me the authentic Mexican food fix I need. But sometimes, I want a little more. That's were más comes in. In Spanish, más means more... so if you are looking for a bit more when it comes to authentic Mexican cuisine, this is the place to go. A fairly new restaurant to the West Loop neighborhood of the city which is steps from Chicago's Restaurant Row, más brings to the table a delicious menu of Mexican dishes with a bit of flair. For starters, they have a nice listing of drinks to kick off the meal. I had a cocktail called the Bramblin', made with Espolon reposado, hibiscus, blackberry, ginger, lemon, and mint. My brother, who joined me for dinner, had the highly recommended Watermelon Margarita, made with Olameca Altos Blanco, aperol, Sungolds, fresh watermelon, lime, and agave served in a black Hawaiian lava rimmed glass. 

We started our meal with Chicharron Guacamole... now why didn't I think of that?! The chicharron (fried pork skin cracklings) added a great texture and slightly smoky flavor that paired well with the fresh guacamole, lime juice and pico de gallo. It was served with our choice of vegetable crudités (thinly sliced cucumber, beets and jicama) or root chips (yucca, plantain, and taro.) We also had the salsa sampler: Chicharron Morita, Pineapple Chile de Arbol, Cranberry Habanero, and Tomatillo. All of them were fantastic, with the pineapple being my favorite. 

Next was our salad course and we loved the fresh Jicama Fruit Salad. It had jicama, mango, strawberry, peach, pear, cucumber all tossed in a chile pequin and pineapple dressing. We also tried the Barquillo de Tuna Crudo, made with walleye tuna, pink mayo, avocado mousse, cucumber and black sesame seeds served in a fried wonton cone. 

For our entrees, we had the Ribeye Asada Tacos, made with ribeye steak, chimichurri, shoe string fries, queso freso, grape tomatoes and black bean truffle puree. This was an explosion of flavors and texture and was an absolute favorite of mine. We also had the Trompo Tacos, made with spit roasted pastor pork, an adobo tequila rub and pineapple piquin relish. It was a great combination of sweet and savory with a touch of heat. The best part? The corn tortillas are made fresh to order and you won't find packaged tortillas at this place. The flavor and texture of house made corn tortillas really elevates this restaurant from other Mexican restaurants. 

Lastly, to finish off our meal, we had their Donas, which are Mexican donuts served with three sauces - mascarpone rum chocolate, cajeta caramel and a triple berry sauce. All of them were wonderful with the donuts and a perfect way to end dinner. Overall, I think for a restaurant only being opened less than 2 months, they are off to a delicious start. They initially were open just for lunch and recently opened for dinner. Coming soon, brunch will be served with some fun offerings such a bacon infused tequila for Bloody Marias and a Mexican spin on classic breakfast favorites. más is a much needed addition to the West Loop area and they certainly are positioned well right on Halsted St. I'm looking forward to coming back with friends and exploring more of their menu and enjoying many dishes we recently tried again!

Famous Dave's BBQ

It's been ages since I've got to Famous Dave's BBQ restaurant. And after a recent visit, it's definitely worth it to visit again if you haven't been in a while. They have a new Modern BBQ bar menu being offered which is a refreshing update to what is traditionally known as BBQ fare. We had a chance to sample the new bar menu along with their classic favorites and it was quite a feast! 

They are now offering a BYOB - Build Your Own BBQ. With 3 types of fillings to choose from (pulled pork, beef brisket, or burnt ends), folks can make their own BBQ tacos with a combination of tangy mustard slaw, southwestern rice, chimichurri, pickled sweet onions, and pickles. This is a great option for those who are gluten free since you can create a traditional soft taco or lettuce cup. 

Then there's the soft tacos on a unique tortilla bread that's soft, flaky and flavorful, stuffed with either beef or pork. 

Flatbreads are also on the menu and we tried the Hawaiian, made with chopped pork, BBQ sauce, grilled pineapple, green onion and Monterey Jack cheese. My favorite flatbread was the Smoky Bacon Bleu, made with bleu brie white sauce, caramelized onions, hickory bacon and crisp arugula. 

BBQ sliders, also known as BBQ Bites on their menu are also offered, in which we tried both beef and pork. They were great  with lots of flavor and perfect if you have kiddies to order for.

Like most bar menus, buffalo wings are common but here at Famous Dave's they have 'Smokin Bones' which are cut up pork ribs that are tossed in a buffalo sauce and served with blue cheese dressing. Genius and creative twist!

A fun menu item were their pork skins that are served in a bag you can rip open. Lemon wedges are served along side the skins and when lemon juice hits them, they crackle! They were addictive and I couldn't help but devour it lol.

Vegetarians/vegans are not forgotten as they also offer a really healthy portion of salads,roasted vegetables and house pickle tray.

As for their traditional menu, we had to get the baby back ribs which were perfectly cooked and had a good smoke ring. We also had their steak, which was also perfectly cooked to a medium rare.

We couldn't pass up on dessert so we had a sampling of their top three desserts - Dave's Famous Bread Pudding, Down Home Banana Pudding and their Hot Fudge Kahlua Brownie. All of them were amazing with the bread pudding and kahlua brownie being my favorites.

Overall, Famous Dave's has some great new menu additions and I encourage folks to visit and give them a try! I know I'll be back...

PM Prime

PM Prime is a very new restaurant. In fact, I visited on their second night and despite some slow moments, overall it was very good. This is an elegant steakhouse located in the North Shore suburb of Highwood, IL. Steps across from the Metra station, it's easy to get to by train and they also offer complimentary valet parking. This is not a very big restaurant so it can get loud especially when full of patrons. Our server seemed as if he was still getting familiar with the menu so there wasn't anything on the menu he was excited to really recommend. Since it was their second night of opening, we leaned towards our favorite cuts of steak and chose a couple starters. I was happy to see Soft Shell Crab offered and it was cooked beautifully. Patrick had the Heirloom Tomatoes and Burrata which was plated artistically. I liked the proscuitto 'roses'! For our steaks, I stuck with my favorite cut, the bone in ribeye while Patrick had a NY Strip. PM Prime also offers dry aged steaks so we opted for that. Our steaks were perfectly cooked and solid. They do steaks extremely well so if anything, come for their steaks! Sides were separately ordered so we chose their Peas & Carrots served with a carrot top pesto and Glazed Potatoes with bacon and carmelized onions. As simple as the descriptions may be, the sides were also done nicely and paired well with our steaks. Lastly for dessert, we had the Spumoni (pistachio financier, cherry and chocolate) and the Goat Cheese Cheesecake with butterscotch and toffee streusel.

This was a nice steakhouse set in a good location among other fine restaurants so I'm hopeful they will do well. Once things settle a bit after the new opening, I look forward to going back and trying out their raw and chilled seafood starters, along with more of their great steaks!

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