Wednesday, December 10

Tea for Three at Soho House Chicago

Recently, Soho House Chicago launched daily afternoon tea service providing Chicagoans another fabulous afternoon tea option. Tea is served in The Allis, the lobby and lounge area open to the public. So no, you don't need to be a Soho House member to feel like one!

The Allis
Photo Credit: Soho House
I stopped by on a Saturday afternoon with my mom and sister to enjoy afternoon tea for my sister's birthday. It was fairly crowded in the lounge area but we were able to grab a round table near the window. There are a variety of seating options including intimate tables, larger dining tables, and couch seating, allowing you to choose what type of tea experience you want. While I don't recommend afternoon tea from the couch seating, our tiny round table was not large enough for the three of us (especially when factoring in tea cups, teapots, and the tiered serving tray!).

The selection of teas at The Allis is not expansive, which is great for someone like me who has a hard time making a decision. The usual suspects including green tea, jasmine tea, English breakfast, and Earl Grey are all represented, along with more interesting options such as African Rooibos and Verbena Mint. Tea is served in your own mini tea set custom designed for Soho House. I secretly wanted to take one of these sets home with me--they were adorable and beautiful at the same time.

Jade Green Tea
Tea service includes a tiered serving tray showcasing Pastry Chef Kady Yon's take on traditional British tea service. All items are housemade and include finger sandwiches, fancy cakes, scones, and pastries. We ordered tea for two plus an extra teapot and there was plenty of food! I'd recommend sharing the food unless you're starving. 

Pastries, Cakes, Scones, and Finger Sandwiches
We decided to start with the savory sandwiches which included traditional options including smoked salmon and cream cheese, egg salad, and ham with Dijon. We weren't too crazy about these because there was no added flair, but I can never pass up some smoked salmon.

Finger Sandwiches
The next tier included scones with clotted cream and jam, as well as sliced citrus poppy seed cake. The scones were dry and hard in my opinion, and left me disappointed. However, my sister liked them. The cake on the other hand, was bright and fresh.

Scones and Citrus Poppy Seed Cake
The top tier included a color assortment of mini red velvet cupcakes, profiteroles, a fruit tart, Victoria sponge cake, and chocolate mint French macarons. As a lover of all things sweet, this was my dream. Too bad we were so full already! We did make room to sample the cupcakes which were moist (sorry) and topped with a decadent cream cheese frosting, as well as the mint macarons. Sadly, we couldn't make it to the beautiful slice of cake, or the profiteroles or fruit tart. Everything looked delicious but I can only vouch for what we tried. My favorite item overall was definitely the cupcake.

Cake, Mini Cupcakes, French Macarons, Profiteroles & Fruit Tart
Afternoon tea at The Allis is not your typical stuffy service. It's definitely more laid back and casual, which is nice if you want an unpretentious afternoon tea experience. My biggest complaint about tea was our service. Our server was aloof and at one point completely disappeared without warning. Service aside, I think afternoon tea at The Allis is a great value and a nice option for entertaining out-of-town guests, or for a special afternoon with friends or family.

Afternoon tea is served daily from 3-5pm at The Allis and no reservations are required. Tea service is $18 per person, or you may also order items a la carte.

Note: our tea service was complimentary; however, opinions expressed herein are my own.

The Allis
Soho House Chicago
113-125 N. Green Street
Chicago, IL 60607
Allis Lounge on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 4

What's Your Flavour?

You know how it goes, the dreaded "what should we eat for dinner" convo:

- "Where do you want to go for dinner?"
- "I don't know."
- "What are you in the mood for?"
- "Anything but sushi."
- "Then what do you want?"
- "I don't know."


Enter the Flavour app, an easy-to-navigate guide to help you answer this pesky little question. The app is simple and features a beautiful interface, and has launched in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles.  With a few taps, you can search neighborhoods, browse menus, and book tables based on cuisine, location or occasion. There are even categories for special features including BYOB, James Beard or Michelin Star winners,  outdoor dining or vegan friendly.

Flavour’s restaurant list is distilled from recognized food critics, local publications and industry experts and amended with social media data on the most visited and popular establishments to keep the list relevant. For each listing, Flavour includes highly recommended dishes, links to a full menu and the ability to make a reservation through integration with OpenTable. The Flavour app is available exclusively on the iPhone and is free to download and to use. 

I decided to download the Flavour app and test it out on a Saturday evening.  The app was easy to use, fast and helped me discover two places I had been meaning to try. I was joined by the BF and my friend JG and we headed out to Logan Square for cocktails. I chose Logan Square first on the app because I never seem to make it out there and there's a surplus of fantastic bars and restaurants.  Scrolling through the list of bars and restaurants on Flavour led me to Billy Sunday, a cocktail bar I'd been meaning to try. 

We were seated immediately and apparently had perfect timing because not only did it start to snow outside, the bar quickly filled up. It was dark and cozy inside, a stark contrast to the cold, white Chicago streets beyond the windows. The plan was to have some drinks and apps and then move on somewhere else for dinner. 

We started with the butternut squash hummus topped with crispy garbanzo beans (appropriately filed under the "things in jars" section of the menu). Since this is served a la carte, we tacked on an order of artisanal bread with cultured butter and sea salt. Nom nom nom. This was delicious--a hefty portion and that crusty bread...yum.

Artisanal Bread & Butternut Squash Hummus
Butternut Squash Hummus
When it comes to ordering drinks at a place known for its cocktails, I like to have server give their best recommendation. In this case, it was something off the menu, a Lion's Tail. This drink features whiskey, lime juice, simple syrup, pimento dram, and bitters. I loved it and wanted 10 more.

Lion's Tail
JG ordered a Hot Toddy which Billy Sunday was featuring that evening. It was perfect for the snowy night.

Hot Toddy
Next, I tried probably the most popular drink at Billy Sunday, an Old Fashioned. This was by far the best Old Fashioned I had ever tried. Perfectly balanced, smoky, citrusy.

Old Fashioned
The BF tried Handle With Care, appropriately named because of its contents--tequila, high proof falernum, and tonka bean bitters. There wasn't a ton of liquid in this one, but it was highly potent! The SPQR featured whiskey, quince, and pineapple bitters. Similar to the Old Fashioned, but slightly sweeter.

SPQR & Handle With Care
Billy Sunday is a great place for snacks and cocktails, and we lingered for quite some time. The place is not too big so I'd recommend arriving earlier in the evening for a table, or spot at the bar.

Our next stop on our Flavour adventure was to another part of town I don't frequently get to visit, Pilsen. We ended up at the building that houses Dusek'sPunch House, and Thalia Hall. We put our name in for a table at Dusek's and headed downstairs to Punch House for a drink and another app.

Punch House can only be described as a hybrid between your grandma's basement and a hipster paradise. The brown wood bar and low ceilings, combined with marlins on the wall, and more flannel than you could possibly imagine, led me to this conclusion. We immediately said, "Toto, we're not in River North anymore".

Punch House offers a selection of classic and contemporary punches, other cocktails, and bites. We tried the contemporary Dusek Punch #3 with two rums, saison, hibiscus, passion fruit, and lime. It basically had all of the flavors I love in a drink, so I had no problem drinking that.

Dusek Punch #3
We were hungry while waiting for our table so we ordered the oven roasted crab dip. The dip was super crabby (in a good way) and fresh. It came with a side of pull-apart bread for dipping.

Oven Roasted Crab Dip
When our table was ready at Dusek's, we headed upstairs. The menu at Dusek's is heavily beer-focused. They have a selection of 24 beers on tap, as well as cocktails. Food specials change frequently and there is a nice selection of seafood on the menu.

After ordering some beers on draft, we quickly ordered since we were so hungry. The menu at Dusek's is extremely varied, which is evidenced by our selections. JG ordered the roasted half chicken with potato salad, spring onion, chanterelles, and mustard jus. It was juicy and tender and perfectly roasted.

Roasted Half Chicken
The BF ordered the Juicy Lucy, AKA the burger. I'm pretty sure he ordered it just for the side of beef fat fries, but, nonetheless, it was a tasty burger. The Slagel Farms beef patty was topped with a red onion bacon marmalade, butter lettuce, and heirloom tomato. The hefty portion of fries made the burger look teeny tiny. Was it the best burger? No. Was it worthy of the name Juicy Lucy. Oh yeah.

Juicy Lucy
Last but not least, I splurged on a classic Maine lobster roll. The portion of lobster meat was super fresh, and not to mention HUGE. The gooey, buttery New England split bun was properly dressed with bibb lettuce and delicious lobster. There wasn't too much mayo which I liked. I also may or may not have been swayed to order the lobster roll because of the side of beef fat fries. These fries are now on my list of favorite fries in the city (along with the likes of Smoque, and Hot Doug's--RIP).

Maine Lobster Roll
Here's a close-up of that buttery lobster roll and beef fat fries... 


Maine Lobster Roll
By the end of the night we were stuffed. It was such a fun culinary adventure, all with the help of the Flavour app. Thanks to the app, we were able to venture to places in the city we don't frequently visit (not having a car makes things tough!), but had always wanted to try!

Check out the Flavour app in the iTunes app store and start exploring!

Note: this post was sponsored by Flavour; however, the opinions expressed herein are my own.

Billy Sunday
3143 W. Logan Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60647
Billy Sunday on Urbanspoon

Punch House
1227 W. 18th Street
Chicago, IL 60608
Punch House on Urbanspoon

1227 W. 18th Street
Chicago, IL 60608
Dusek's on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 1

A Taste of Fall at MAX's Wine Dive

I'd been to Wicker Park's MAX's Wine Dive a few times for brunch (it's awesome), but when I got the chance to check out their fall dinner menu, I was super excited. MAX's hosted several Chicago bloggers to showcase its seasonal menu, paired with seasonal wines. Wine Manager Kristin Irwin was our informative guide throughout the evening as we sipped and nibbled on bites from Chef Jessica Brumleve's new menu.  MAX's has built its name by serving up hearty comfort food and a variety of wines, all in an approachable manner.

We tried six dishes paired with six very different wines. First up was the bubbly, which paired nicely with the roasted beet salad. I'm not even a huge beet fan but this bite was light and refreshing with the citrus vinaigrette. Most courses were served in one-bite portions which made it easy to try a little of everything (though there were a few dishes I'd wish I had a huge portion of!).

Möet & Chandon Impérial
Roasted Beet Salad with whipped goat cheese, arugula, shaved radish, citrus vinaigrette, and candied pecans
The second white wine was Avancia Godello and paired with the roasted bone marrow and beef jam. I didn't love the wine, but I did enjoy the richness of the marrow, the giardiniera, and the buttery Texas toast.

Avancia Godello
Marrow & Beef Jam with house-made giardiniera, red onion, parsley and Texas toast
Our middle bite was the roasted cauliflower masala. I think this dish is a great example of the wide variety on MAX'S menu. I'm not sure this would be the first dish I'd order off the menu, but I did enjoy the masala flavor, as well as the slivered almonds which added a nice crunch. Kristin paired this dish with a Cab Franc that was one of my fave wines of the night.

Roasted Cauliflower Masala with braised French lentils, tomato garam masala, and almonds
Here's where things got really interesting--the braised short rib ragu and gnocchi. This was by far the most flavorful bite of the night and easily the biggest crowd pleasure among my fellow bloggers and me. The ragu was oozing with richness and the tender short rib was fantastic with the little gnocchi. It also didn't hurt that this one was topped with shaved Parmesan. Not only was this my favorite bite, it was paired with my favorite wine, Chateau de Treviac. No wonder I liked it, it can be found on the wine menu under "Bad Ass Reds". Enough said.

Braised Short Rib Ragu and Gnocchi with Parmesan, balsamic, and Dijon butter
Our last main course bite was the apple cider pork belly with apple-fennel slaw and a sunny side up egg for good measure. You can never go wrong with pork belly, and the apple cider vinaigrette was a nice fall touch. Kristin paired this dish with the Flora Springs Red Blend.

Apple Cider Pork Belly with apple-fennel slaw, apple cider vinaigrette, sunny side up egg
A fall menu tasting isn't complete without a fall-inspired dessert. I don't know about you, but when I think of fall desserts, I think of apple crisp. The version at MAX's includes caramelized apples topped with salted caramel ice cream and honey peanuts. I secretly hope they decide to keep this on the menu year-round because it's that delicious. Although, I will admit, it's nearly impossible to make it to the dessert course at MAX's because the portion sizes are so huge. I'd advise sharing dishes and/or wearing stretchy pants. Our last wine was a dessert wine, Moscatel. As is the case with dessert wines, this was exceptionally sweet. I prefer to eat my sugar :)

Caramelized Apple Crisp with salted caramel ice cream and honey peanuts
I had a great time sampling the sips and bites at MAX's and was so happy to see the quality of food at dinner was as great as at brunch. One added bonus I learned at the fall menu tasting is that patrons can buy any of the wines at MAX's to go. There are several wines available only through partnerships between the restaurant and wineries so this is especially awesome (not to mention you can always pick up a bottle on your way to a picnic or friend's house...or your own house!). Check out the new menu at MAX's and let me know what you think! Be sure to save room for dessert!

Note: my meal at MAX's was complimentary; however, the opinions expressed herein are my own.

MAX's Wine Dive
1482 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
Max's Wine Dive on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 19

A Hidden Gem in the Gold Coast

You know that neighborhood restaurant you pop into and wish you'd discovered earlier? That's Eduardo's Enoteca. The Gold Coast Italian restaurant is actually a concept from the same folks behind Edwardo's Natural Pizza--but you'd never know it. The cozy restaurant is warm and intimate, and serves a nice selection of handmade pizzas and pastas, as well as antipasti.

The BF and I stopped by on a chilly weeknight and grabbed a table in the window. We started off with a bottle of Sangiovese, after sampling a few wines we thought we might like.

Rosso Di Altesino Sangiovese
Nothing goes better with wine than cheese! Eduardo's offers a selection of cheeses and salumi allowing you to mix and match to create your perfect charcuterie board. We picked the asiago fresco and burrata cheese, as well as the spicy hot casalingo. You really can't go wrong with any combination. The meats and cheese were accompanied by homemade jam, fruit, olives, and buttery bread. I'm not a huge olive fan but the BF raved about them.

Artisanal Cheese & Charcuterie Board
Our server (who was super friendly and I may or may have secretly wanted to hang out with her--I know, I'm a creeper) recommended the wild mushroom crostini, so we had to try it out. Crostinis are served two per order which was perfect for us to share. These were topped with wild mushrooms, garlic, caramelized onions, ricotta, and toppled with a drizzle of white truffle oil. There's nothing like that rich combo of wild mushrooms and truffle. We were big fans of these guys and they were loaded to the brim with toppings.

Wild Mushroom Crostini
Next we tried one of Eduardo's homemade pastas (we skipped over the whole greens/salads business....gotta stick strictly to carbs). There are six varieties to choose from including tagliatelle with an eight-hour bolognese, black ink linguini, and wheat pappardelle. We went with the sagebutter gnocchi because...butter. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting. The bowl of gnocchi was topped with an over easy egg, crispy pancetta, and parmigiano. While I liked the gnocchi itself, I wasn't a fan of the combo of flavors and the brown butter kinda just pooled at the bottom of the bowl.

Sagebutter Gnocchi
While Edwardo's is known for its stuffed pizza, the pizza at Eduardo's is thin, Neopolitan style. There are quite a few pizza options to choose from (no surprise) including a potato gorgonzola, prosciutto arugula, and a sausage, peppers, and onions combo. As lovers of all things spicy, the BF and I went with the appropriately-named, Diavola. This pie was topped with parmigiano, mozzarella, basil, white truffle oil, and that same spicy hot casalingo from our charcuterie board. The pizza was yummy...not too thick, light and crispy, and loaded with toppings. We nearly polished all of the pizza, if it wasn't for our previous carb-heavy courses and our intentions of ordering dessert.

Diavola Pizza
Last but not least, we (changed into stretchy pants and) ordered the seasonal pumpkin cheesecake. In addition to its regular menu, Eduardo's also offers a limited seasonal menu with a selection of appetizers, entrees, pizzas, and desserts, including the pumpkin cheesecake. Our server told us this cheesecake was the reason she works there. We practically licked the plate clean--my only complaint, it was nearly frozen. I asked if they made the cheesecake in house and apparently they get them from a supplier that provides desserts for their other establishments. In any case, it was still worth ordering.

Pumpkin Cheesecake
I was pleasantly surprised by the ambiance at Eduardo's Enoteca. I've probably walked past it a million times without realizing the quaint restaurant inside. I'd recommend Eduardo's for a date night dinner or dinner with a small group of friends. The staff was super knowledgeable and friendly and made our experience a positive one. While I probably wouldn't order all of the same items again, I did enjoy the food overall, and appreciated the wide variety of options.

Note: my meal at Eduardo's Enoteca was complimentary; however, the opinions expressed herein are my own.

Eduardo's Enoteca
1212 N. Dearborn St.
Chicago, IL 60610
Eduardo's Enoteca on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 17

Chicago Gets a Shake Shack!

The day has finally come and Chicago's very own Shake Shack is officially open! Shake Shack, which dubs itself as "a modern day roadside burger stand,"first opened in NYC's Madison Square Park in 2004 and has since expanded along the East Coast, Florida, and also has several international locations. Shake Shack is known for its beef burgers, hot dogs, housemade frozen custard, and crinkle cut fries, all of which have earned it a cult following.

The Chicago outpost recently opened in River North at the corner of Ohio and Rush. I stopped by with the BF for a hearty lunch during opening week. The lines are long. There's no doubt about that. But they are worth waiting in and move quickly!

Part of the Line Inside
While Shake Shack technically serves up fast food, the ambiance is no indication of that. The interior walls are covered in reclaimed local brown bar board, and booth tabletops are made from reclaimed bowling alley lanes from Brooklyn, NY. Shake Shack Chicago also features interactive sliding puzzles, and posters designed by local Chicago artists.

Seating in the Dining Room
We wanted to try a little of everything on the menu, so we ordered two burgers, a hot dog, fries, and a concrete...just a little light lunch for two. The BF tried the original ShackBurger, a cheesebuger topped with lettuce, tomato and ShackSauce. ShackSauce is their signature mayo-based sauce that's a little sweet and a little tangy. I liked it and thought it added a nice little zip!

After reading several raves of the SmokeShack Burger, I knew I had to try it. The SmokeShack Burger is a burger topped with applewood smoked bacon, chopped cherry pepper, and ShackSauce. The peppers had just the right amount of heat and acidity to cut away at the gooey richness of the cheese, beef, and bacon. It was so damn tasty!

Burgers are served medium but can be customized and come in single or double options. I was a big fan of the size of the burger (not too big) and the soft pillow-like buns. I was expecting the burgers to be on the greasy side, but I was pleasantly surprised they weren't overly greasy.

SmokeShack Burger
Next, we tried the Publican Pork Sausage, a collaboration between ShakeShack and Chicago's very own The Publican. The pork sausage is topped with Shack cheddar and American cheese sauce, and ShackMeister-marinated shallots. ShackMeister Ale is brewed exclusive for Shake Shack by Brooklyn Brewery! I LOVED the fried shallots because you could really taste the ale! I don't think I'd normally order a hot dog at Shake Shack, but I'm so glad we tried this! I'd definitely recommend it.
Publican Pork Sausage
We also ordered some crinkle cut fries which I had heard mixed reviews about. I actually thought they were well seasoned and nicely crispy on the outside without being too dry on the inside. My only regret? Not getting some of that cheddar and American cheese sauce on top!

Crinkle Cut Fries
No trip to Shake Shack is complete without a shake, or custard dessert. Shake Shack makes its own frozen custard in house, and flavors change weekly. The Chicago location serves three concretes (custard blended with mix-ins) that you can only get in Chicago. Shack Attack features chocolate custard, fudge sauce, chocolate truffle cookie dough and Vosges black salt caramel chocolate, and is topped with chocolate sprinkles. Da S’mores includes vanilla and chocolate custard with a slice of Bang Bang Pie s’mores pie. And last but not least, Salted Carame‘L’ includes vanilla custard, banana and bits of Glazed & Infused salted caramel old fashioned doughnut. We tried the Salted Carame'L' and I was a HUGE fan of the creamy custard. It was dense and creamy and just all around delicious. The concretes come in a perfect size, but my only complaint is the lack of mix-ins. I think I counted three tiny bits of doughnut, and two banana pieces. 

Salted Carame'L' Concrete
All in all, Shake Shack lived up to the hype in my opinion. They have a wide variety of options, including Chicago exclusives, and the quality and ingredients are on point. Welcome to the neighborhood Shake Shack!

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

Shake Shack
66 E. Ohio St.
Chicago, IL 60611
Shake Shack on Urbanspoon