Wednesday, July 20

The Ghost Guest in NYC

I recently returned from a long weekend in New York City, a place I hadn't visited in four years! Before I flew in, I made sure to ask my social networks for their favorite places to wine and dine in NYC. The result was a three page list of spots that I had no way of visiting in one trip. I decided to narrow down that list and save the rest for future visits. Here's a recap of my favorite places that I'd recommend stopping by the next time you're in NYC!

Coffee shops are a dime a dozen, but some are better than others. I tried cold brews at a few places, but my favorites were at Toby's Estate, Bluestone Lane (they have a cool location inside a former church), and Birch Coffee. All have several locations throughout the city.

Cold Brew
Toby's Estate Cold Brew
Bluestone Lane Coffee
Bluestone Lane Coffee
Bluestone Lane Coffee
Bluestone Lane Cold Brew
Birch Coffee
Birch Coffee
If you know me, you know I love sweets, and there is no shortage of those in NYC. A stop at Dominique Ansel Bakery is a must, not just for a cronut, but for pretty much anything. I tried his signature kouign amann, a flaky and caramelized pastry that is too good for words!

Dominique Ansel Bakery
Dominique Ansel Bakery
Dominique Ansel Bakery
Kouign Amann
Christina Tosi's milkbar is another must stop, especially if you've never tried her cereal milk soft serve, or crack pie (when you eat it you'll know why it has that name). I went all in and stocked up on both, as well as birthday cake truffles, and a compost cookie. 

milkbar
Cereal Milk Soft Serve
Another favorite ice cream stop is Big Gay Ice Cream. There's nothing better than a simple soft serve cone dipped in chocolate with sprinkles! They also have a variety of other treats if you're feeling more adventurous.

Big Gay Ice Cream
Big Gay Ice Cream
Big Gay Ice Cream
Big Gay Ice Cream
One of the overlapping suggestions I received for sweets in NYC, was William Greenberg Desserts on the Upper East Side. Their black and white cookie is a must order. It's so huge you'll think you should share it, but trust me, don't. The first thing to know about the black and white cookie is that it's actually a drop cake. It's light and fluffy and features a crisp top coat of luscious black and white chocolate!

William Greenberg Desserts
William Greenberg Desserts
William Greenberg Desserts
William Greenberg Desserts
There's no better place for bagels than New York, and two places topped my list. One was a new spot to me, Russ & Daughters, while the other was an old staple, Brooklyn Bagel. Russ & Daughters is THE place for amazing smoked salmon. I enjoyed a bagel sandwich with lox and cream cheese and was seriously in heaven.  Brooklyn Bagel is known for their wide variety of cream cheese flavors, and they definitely slather the good stuff on.

Russ & Daughters
Russ & Daughters
Russ & Daughters
Russ & Daughters
Russ & Daughters
Lox & Cream Cheese Bagel Sandwich
Brooklyn Bagel
Brooklyn Bagel Cream Cheeses
Brooklyn Bagel
Whole Wheat Everything Bagel with Scallion Cream Cheese
I had a chance to take in the Manhattan skyline from a relatively new hotel rooftop. Mr. Purple is a funny name for a picturesque bar. It's on top of the Hotel Indigo Lower East Side, and affords incredible views while you're sipping on a cocktail or some bubbly.

View from Mr. Purple
View from Mr. Purple
View from Mr. Purple
View from Mr. Purple
One of the best meals I had was at a place I stumbled across. Gaia in the Lower East Side is a tiny Italian spot serving authentic and homemade Italian food including pastas. I loved the incredible textures and flavors of the pastas in the no-frills spot.

Gaia New York
Gaia
Gaia New York
Mushroom Ravioli
Gaia New York
Octopus, Shrimp, and Eggplant Pasta
If there's one recommendation you should take away from this post, it's that Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park takes walk ins. Yes, walk ins. But only in the bar. I literally walked in at 8pm on a Saturday night and grabbed a table in the bar. They serve an a la carte menu featuring the same dishes that you'd find on the main dining room's tasting menu. The service is just as fantastic, and you can pick and choose exactly what you'd like to eat. I enjoyed two courses including fluke with peas, and butter poached lobster. Both were divine and worthy of the restaurant's three Michelin stars. It was an amazing experience and I couldn't get over how breathtaking the view of the dining room was.

Eleven Madison Park
Eleven Madison Park
Eleven Madison Park Dining Room
Eleven Madison Park Dining Room
Eleven Madison Park Dining Room
When in Eleven Madison Park, Drink Champagne
Eleven Madison Park
Fluke with Grapefruit and Peas
Eleven Madison Park
Butter-Poached Lobster with Daikon and Citrus
Eleven Madison Park Dining Room at Night
Eleven Madison Park
Worthy of its Three Michelin Stars
These are just a few of my favorites from my short trip! Where are some of your favorite places to eat and drink when in New York?

Tuesday, July 19

Ixcateco Grill

Brace yourselves, I'm about to tell you about my new favorite Mexican spot in the city, Ixcateco Grill. If there's one thing I know and love about Chicagoans, it's that we will travel for good food. Case in point: Ixcateco Grill in Albany Park.

The BF and I joined our friends for a date night at Ixcateco Grill during the middle of the week and noticed the dining room filled up very quickly. It's not a huge restaurant, so I'd recommend making a reservation via phone in advance (especially now that the word's getting out about how good it is). It's also not super fancy, but it has character thanks to the neon walls and vibrant artwork. Ixcateco Grill is BYOB so make sure you grab some booze on your way over.

Chef Anselmo Ramirez, formerly of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, features cuisine from Mexico's central and southwestern regions. The menu is limited, but well-executed, so you won't need to worry about order regret.

We started our meal with a selection of shared appetizers including the ensalada de pulpo, or octopus salad with cherry tomatoes, jicama, pea shoots, green beans, and Oaxacan pasilla dressing. The texture of the octopus was superb. It was super tender and soaked up every ounce of the dressing it was bathed in. Seeing grilled octopus on a menu these days is like seeing a poke bowl, everyone's doing it, but Ixcateco's version is a must order.

Ensalada de Pulpo
Our next shared appetizer was the queso borracho, or drunk cheese. They take a hefty portion of melted chihuaha cheese and top it with garlic red potatoes, peppers, and red chilies. In the words of Ina Garten, "how bad can that be?" Put a chunk of that on a warm homemade tortilla, and you're instantly in heaven.

Queso Borracho
One of Ixcateco Grill's signature items are its picaditas, or masa boats filled with chicken carnitas, avocado cream sauce, queso ranchero, and pickled cactus. They are pretty dense and hearty, but feature a nice balance of flavors and textures from the creamy sauce and pickled cactus.

Picaditas
Admittedly, we were pretty stuffed when it came time for our entrees, but the appetizers at Ixacteco Grill are so yummy, you're going to want to order more than one. The entree portion of the menu includes six options, including meat, seafood, and vegetarian dishes. Our table went mostly the meat route, including the pollo en mole negro, or chicken in black mole. The dish includes half of a boneless roasted chicken atop a dark pool of smoky black mole, as well as garlic mashed potatoes. If you love mole, you will love this dish. It's rich, complex, and so much better than half of the moles I've tasted.

Pollo en Mole Negro
The second dish at our table was the vegetarian chiles rellenos, a classic dish with roasted poblano peppers stuffed with sauteed vegetables and Oaxacan cheese. Again, if you're a fan of this dish normally, you'll likely enjoy Ixcateco's version. I thought this dish was beautifully plated, and I enjoyed the vibrant pops of color.

Chiles Rellenos
Lastly, we enjoyed the cochinita pibil, which is slow roasted achiote marinated pork shoulder served with a side of black beans, and a pickled cactus salad. The tenderness of the pork was amazing; you simply pulled each delicate piece apart with a fork. The natural juices of the pork are well absorbed, and you can taste it in every bite. I couldn't get enough of the homemade tortillas, so I ate the pork on those and dipped them in the natural juices.

Cochinita Pibil
Ixcateco Grill has so many positives going for it. It's affordable (everything is under $20), BYOB, inventive without being too pretentious, flavorful, and a friendly and casual space. It's definitely worth the trek north (it's not a far walk from the brown line), and you're bound to leave feeling like you just found your new favorite hidden gem.

I'm giving Ixcateco Grill 4.5 ghosts out of 5!





Ixcateco Grill
www.ixcatecogrill.com
3402 W. Montrose Ave.
Chicago, IL 60618
773.539.5887
Ixcateco Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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