Tuesday, October 28

ClassPass AKA How to Make Working Out Not Suck


It's no surprise I love to eat. I enjoy trying new cuisines and dishes and will try anything once. Well, all of that consumption can really add up so I also have to move my body. I sometimes get asked how I'm able to go out to eat frequently without being morbidly obese. Let me tell you, it's not easy. There's no secret. I like food so I also have to like working out. Yes, it's not always fun and games, but I've found workouts (eg running and BodyPump) that I enjoy and I try to stick to them. Anyone knows doing the same workouts all of the time can get pretty old fast, so when ClassPass launched in Chicago last month, I knew I had to check it out.

ClassPass dubs itself as "an alternative to a gym membership" and allows you to visit any of about 70 fitness studios in Chicago and the suburbs for a flat monthly fee of $99. The only catch is that you can only visit the same studio up to three times in a month. With some of these classes charging $25 per class, it's easy to get your money's worth. 

I tried out ClassPass for a month and I was hooked from the start. How else can you get access to some of the best fitness classes in the city and suburbs with no commitment and nothing to lose. ClassPass offers a huge variety of classes including spin, barre, aerial fitness, yoga, pilates, HIIT, and strength training. What I loved the most was that you can sign up a week in advance which makes it easier to fit fitness into your schedule and stick to it. I found myself more accountable to work out knowing I had reserved a spot in a specific class, at a specific day and time. It's truly a win-win, and great for someone like me who sometimes needs motivation to get my butt moving.

Here are some of the classes I tried and what I thought (in terms of 1-5 ghosts, of course):

Group Training at DHF Lakeview: 4 ghosts

Fly 45 at FlyWheel: 4 ghosts

Barre Code at The Barre Code: 3 ghosts

Pure Barre at Pure Barre: 4 ghosts

GO Cycle at GO Cycle: 3 ghosts

Vinyasa Yoga at Yoga Loft: 5 ghosts

FIT LOFT-Sculpt at Yoga Loft: 5 ghosts

Foam Roller - Yoga Express at Power Sculpt Fitness: 3 ghosts

As you can see, I had a pretty great experience with every studio I tried, and I fell in love with Yoga Loft! 

I highly recommend checking out ClassPass if you're interested in exploring new workouts or find yourself stuck in a rut with your current fitness routine. It was so fun to constantly try something new and challenge myself!

Note: ClassPass provided me with a complimentary one-month membership to facilitate this post; however, all opinions expressed herein are my own.

Monday, October 13

Latin-Inspired Eats at Bar Takito

Last week the BF and I headed to the West Loop to check out the second location from the Takito Kitchen group. Bar Takito opened in August and features Latin shared plates and cocktails.  The restaurant is vibrant and eclectic, fitting in amongst its neighbors in the popular dining area. We stopped by on a Wednesday night and nearly every table was taken. Definitely a good sign.

The restaurant features bright graffiti walls and even huge letters spelling out "Bar Takito" attached to the ceiling. There are even typewriters attached to the exposed brick walls.

We sat at one of the communal tables near the bar and ordered some cocktails. I ordered the Peruvian Margarita and the BF tried the Oaxacan Chalice. Mine was awesome--I love a spicy cocktail and this one didn't disappoint. It featured aji amarillo, a Peruvian pepper, to add a little kick. The BF's cocktail was mezcal based and was smokey and complex. We were both happy with our choices. We also tried the regular margarita and it was pretty great too!

Peruvian Margarita & Oaxacan Chalice
We decided the best way to explore the menu was to try an item across each menu section and share everything. We started with the suzuki bass ceviche with tomatillo, cucumber, habanero, avocado, basil, mint, cilantro. This ceviche was so different than others I've had previously--I really enjoyed the beautiful green color, fresh citrus, and mix of herbs.

Suzuki Bass Ceviche
Suzuki Bass Ceviche
Next, we tried a side order of the beer cheese arepa with aji peanut sauce and cilantro. This thing was incredibly delicious, as one would expect with something containing the words beer and cheese. I loved the sprinkled crushed peanuts on top, and the spicy peanut sauce.

Beer Cheese Arepa
The chorizo stuffed peppers also were from the appetizer section of the menu. These came five to an order and were topped with breadcrumbs, marcona almonds, and basil. The peppers were mostly seeded so they were not spicy but they did have a wonderful sweet and smoky flavor. These were one of my favorite dishes of the night.

Chorizo Stuffed Peppers
Bar Takito offers four varieties of tacos including beef, pork, fish and cheese. We are both huge coffee lovers so we picked the coffee braised beef tacos with cherry tomatoes, red onion, jalapeno, cilantro and peanuts (sense a theme here?). You could just pick up on the coffee flavor and it complemented the beef well. I was a big fan of the homemade beer corn tortillas also.

Coffee Braised Beef Tacos
Our last shared plate was from the larger plates portion of the menu. We tried the lamb barbacoa with aji panca, pickled vegetables, queso fresco, pistachio and basil. The lamb was served deconstructed with tortillas and picked veggies on the side. I LOVED this dish because it was a different take on standard barbacoa and all of the flavors just worked so well. They give you a ton of meat too, so you can make tacos or just eat it on its own.

Lamb Barbacoa
Our meal at Bar Takito was fantastic because everything we tried (and we tried a diverse selection of items) was great! I'd recommend stopping in for drinks and bites after work or on the weekend, or catching the live music every Thursday night beginning at 8pm. The space is a bit on the louder side, so I wouldn't recommend it if you're looking for an intimate meal, but it's definitely a great spot for a flavorful and upbeat night out.

Note: my meal at Bar Takito was complimentary; however, the opinions expressed herein are my own.

Bar Takito
201 N. Morgan St.
Chicago, IL 60607
Bar Takito on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 10

The Ghost Guest Photo Shoot at Doughnut Vault

A few weeks ago I joined forces with one of my friends and college sorority sisters, Karly Tearney Sinise from Karly Tearney Photography, for a fun photo shoot at one of my favorite foodie spots in the city. I thought it would be nice to have some professional shots for The Ghost Guest and Karly kindly offered to do the shoot.

Picking a location for our shoot was no easy feat.  There are so many locations to choose from, including picturesque rooftop bars with skyline views of the city, modern and unique restaurants, and cute local cafes. I ended up deciding on River North's Doughnut Vault as the location for our shoot for two reasons:

1) It's adorable, unique, and fun


2) Doughnuts are my favorite food group and Doughnut Vault makes some of the best doughnuts in the city.

If you've ever been to Doughnut Vault, you know people start lining up well before they open. We're not talking Hot Doug's-esque lines, but once they run out of doughnuts, they close up shop. We stopped by on a Sunday morning about an hour before they opened to ensure we got some shots of the facade and surrounding area before people showed up.

The BF was there and did a great job of making me laugh. He also held our place in line. Karly had him sneak into a few photos too :)

We had some time to kill before Doughnut Vault opened so Karly and I shot in a few locations in the surrounding area. We wanted to get some shots that had a Chicago look and feel.

After our short field trip, we made our way back to the DV and Karly got some great shots of the store's intimate interior. I'm obsessed with their vintage cash register!

We grabbed seats on the sidewalk patio and took some more shots with our loot. It was so hard not to eat those doughnuts right away! They were so fresh and delish my intentions of saving a few for later were quickly destroyed.

I want to give a HUGE thank you to Doughnut Vault for allowing us to shoot on site, and of course to Karly Tearney Photography for the beautiful photos. Check out Karly's Facebook page for more of her photography and information about her services (which obvi come highly recommended from me), as well as Dougnut Vault's ever-changing doughnut menu!

All Photos: Karly Tearney Photography

Doughnut Vault
401 1/2 N. Franklin St.
Chicago, IL 60654
The Doughnut Vault on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 9

1st Annual Taste Talks in Chicago

Taste Talks, a weekend food symposium, launched in Chicago this past weekend, Friday, October 3rd– Sunday, October 5th.  The fest already completed two successful years in Brooklyn and is presented by chef, author, and entrepreneur Mario Batali. The Chicago fest was curated by local Chicagoan and James Beard Award-winning chef Paul Kahan.

The festival brought together some of the biggest names in food and drink, including writers, chefs, bakers, and brew masters, in an effort to discuss the "future of taste". The three-day festival featured panel discussions, underground dinners​ and an All-Star BBQ featuring some of the top chefs in Chicago and beyond.

There were so many fun and interesting seminars and dinners but I had to whittle it down to a couple of events due to my schedule. I stopped by the West Loop's Kaiser Tiger (awesome space, by the way) for a panel discussion titled, "The Wildest Brews in Town". The panel was led by Michael Kiser of Good Beer Hunting (who was a fantastic moderator), and he was joined by several local brewers to talk about progressive beers. The brewers included John Laffler of Off Color, Eric Olson of Marz Brewing, and Tim Faith of Goose Island. We even got to sample a beer from each of the three breweries. All three were Berliner Weiss style: Goose Island Lilith, Off Color Fierce, and Marz Bubbly Creek. My favorite was from Marz Brewing, which also happens to be the youngest brewery of the three. Their beer has Chardonnay grape juice added at the end, and a lactobacillus culture that is typically found in yogurt. Sounds gross, but don't knock it 'til ya try it!

"The Wildest Brews in Town" Panel
The other event I attended was the All-Star BBQ on Sunday in Palmer Square Park. The event included more than 20 top chefs and their best BBQ dishes. It was a perfect fall day and the park setting was awesome. We walked around to the numerous booths and were able to mingle with the chefs and hear more about the food. By the end of the day I was stuffed, mostly from several short rib dishes, roasted pork and decadent desserts.  Some of the chefs included Paul Kahan (Blackbird, Avec, Publican, Chicago), Stephanie Izard (Girl & The Goat, Little Goat, Chicago), Mindy Segal (Hot Chocolate, Chicago), Doug Psaltis (Bub City, Chicago), Edward Kim (Ruxbin & Mott Street, Chicago), Lee Wolen (Boka, Chicago), and Jeni Britton Bauer (Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Columbus, Ohio).

Check out the photos below of some of the seasonal fare we sampled and cross your fingers Taste Talks returns to Chicago next year!

Wood Grilled Porchetta from Bub City
Smoked Short Ribs from Paul Kahan
Grilled Fall Squash from BOKA 
Sherry & Vermouth Juice Pouches from Three Dots & a Dash
My Friend Lauren and Me Enjoying Our Juice Pouches 
Grilled Clam & Mussel Bruschetta from Girl & the Goat 
Korean BBQ Short Rib from Ruxbin/Mott St.
Intelligentsia Black Cat Sundae from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
Note: I attended Taste Talks with a media pass; however, all opinions expressed herein are my own.

Wednesday, October 8

Food For LYFE

LYFE Kitchen Menu
I had been meaning to check out LYFE Kitchen in River North for quite some time so when a fellow Chicago food blogger Christina of Chritiques suggested we check it out, it was a no brainer. Christina and I stopped by on a Monday night post-yoga (food bloggers have to work out a lot people!) and the restaurant was bustling with patrons. We were introduced to the menu by manager Pamela Savell who walked us through the restaurant's concept. LYFE Kitchen offers a variety of menus, including a gluten-free menu, and vegan and vegetarian menus, and was started by two former McDonald's execs. The name LYFE in LYFE Kitchen stands for "Love Your Food Everyday," and every item on the menu is less than 600 calories. The restaurant started in California, and has locations in Colorado, Nevada, and Texas. The two Illinois outposts are in Chicago and Evanston.

The restaurant prides itself on offering quality food made from local, sustainable and organic ingredients whenever possible. They even grow their own herbs in the restaurant!

Fresh Herbs
Fresh Herbs
Christina and I took a seat at the counter overlooking the kitchen so we could catch all the action. While we waited for our food, we filled up on some sparkling water (they have a pretty cool water dispenser...it's the little things!)

Water Dispenser
We were able to sample some of the most popular dishes from each section of the menu.

Some of our food spread
First up were all four varieties of LYFE waters: orange ginger chia, cucumber mint, ginger mint chia, and hibiscus beet. My favorite was the orange ginger chia because it tasted like a better version of OJ and has soft bits of chia seeds throughout.

LYFE Waters
Next, we tried a few starters including the chunky guac 'n chips, and the edamame hummus and veggies. I didn't think the guac was anything special, but I did like how they served it with baked corn tortillas as chips. There also was a nice dusting of spices on the chips. The edamame hummus on the other hand was fantastic. It was served with fresh veggies, smoky paprika, and flax seed crisps. I thought the paprika added a nice kick.

Chunky Guac 'N Chips
Edamame Hummus & Veggies
We also tried some greens including a side marinated baby kale salad with carrots and fresh lemon juice, as well as the quinoa crunch bowl. The kale was simple and light, while the quinoa crunch bowl offered a healthy serving of fireman's hot sauce that I loved. It also included quinoa tabbouleh, crunchy veggies, avocado, arugula, edamame hummus, and chipotle vinaigrette.

Marinated Baby Carrot Salad
Quinoa Crunch Bowl
One of the other sides we tried were the sweet potato fries. They were baked instead of fried, and came with a side of agave ketchup. I appreciated the homemade ketchup but felt the fries were a tad soggy.

Sweet Potato Fries
Moving along to entrees, we tried an assortment of items including options suitable for meat lovers, vegetarians, and pescatarians. The one dish I heard I had to try at LYFE Kitchen was Art's Unfried Chicken, named after Chef Art Smith of Chicago's own Table Fifty-Two, and LYFE Kitchen's executive chef. The chicken was coated and baked, not fried, and served with the perfect seasonal veggie blend including roasted brussels sprouts, and butternut squash. Adding a flavor punch was the cashew cream and dijon vinaigrette. I LOVED this dish, especially the cashew cream. You felt like you were eating something way less healthy. I don't even like brussels sprouts and this dish made me love them.

Art's Unfried Chicken
We also tried the roasted salmon, tomato & fennel served with red onion, broccoli, and a tomato sauce. The dish was simply prepared but very flavorful.

Roasted Salmon, Tomato & Fennel
Lastly, we tried the Thai curry bowl with marinated tofu. This bowl featured broccoli, eggplant, peppers, peas, whole grain wheatberries, and Thai basil. I liked the curry flavors, but I probably wouldn't order this again.

Thai Curry Bowl
Our last two entrees (as if we weren't already bursting at the seams) were the BBQ chicken flatbread, and the fish tacos. The flatbread had a crispy and hearty crust and I liked the tangy bbq sauce. The fish tacos were one of Christina's favorites, but I felt the grilled mahi mahi had a pretty tough texture. I did think the portion of fish that came with the tacos was a great value.  The tacos were topped with chipotle slaw, avocado, cilantro, green onion, and chipotle aioli, with a side of salsa fresca. I appreciated the corn tortillas, but the single layer wasn't able to stand up to the taco's ingredients.

BBQ Chicken Flatbread
Fish Tacos
Lastly, I managed to save room for dessert and tried all three of LYFE Kitchen's dessert options, the chocolate budino, banana chia budino, and chocolate chip cookie. I was shocked to find out the cookie was only 150 calories because it tasted just as decadent as any other cookie. Also, the richness of the budino's were fantastic and they each clocked in between 210 and 240 calories.

Chocolate Chip Cookie
Chocolate Budino, Banana Chia Budino, Chocolate Chip Cookie
Overall, I was impressed with the sheer size of LYFE Kitchen's menu. There is absolutely something for everyone there, regardless of dietary restriction or preference. Christina is vegetarian and cannot eat soy, and they were able to accommodate her dietary preferences seamlessly. While some items are rather small in portion size (they have to be under 600 calories, after all), I felt the majority of menu items were filling, fresh, and flavorful. I will have to come back and try their breakfast menu!

Note: my meal at LYFE Kitchen was complimentary; however, the opinions expressed herein are my own.

LYFE Kitchen
419 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60654

1603 Orrington Ave.
Evanston, IL 60201
Lyfe Kitchen on Urbanspoon