Recent Foodie Finds

December 30, 2016

MAN have I been busy eating! Seemingly too busy to write about it. But much of my time as of late has been devoted to work, wedding planning, and writing awesome pieces for Thrillist! But fret not, I'm back on The GG and it's been a fabulous few weeks of dining. I thought I'd recap some of the highlights from places I've been in hopes that it sparks an idea or two for you the next time you're planning a meal out!


Lettuce Entertain You's Ema opened in June in River North, helmed by Top Chef CJ Jacobson. The Mediterranean-influenced restaurant has a similar vibe to Summerhouse Santa Monica, in my opinion. Both are bright and airy, and California-influenced. Some of my favorite dishes were the house-made labneh with marcona almonds, honey, grapes, and homemade bread, as well as the stracciatella, similar to a burrata. It's best to order a bunch of dishes and share, so I'd recommend going with a small group of adventurous eaters.

The wine list is quite unique as well; many wines are sourced from places you don't typically find on wine lists including Israel, Lebanon,  Morocco, and Croatia.

House-made Labneh

House-Made Stracciatella
I'm giving Ema 4 ghosts out of 5.

Roister Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

I finally made it into Roister, the more casual restaurant from The Alinea Group. I was there to celebrate team USA for the French cooking competition (essentially the olympics of the culinary world), Bocuse d'Or. Lucky for me, that meant Chef Thomas Keller, arguably the most famous chef in America, was also in attendance. Meeting him was a foodie dream come true, especially since he was not at The French Laundry when I dined there. Chef Keller is on the board of directors for team USA and I got to meet him along with the 2016 and 2017 chefs.

Chef Thomas Keller (far left), Bocuse d'Or Chefs, and Myself
The dinner we had was a mix of Roister favorites and special dishes made exclusively for the evening we dined. You've probably heard about the chicken dish at Roister, and it's for good reason. Essentially its chicken prepared three ways: fried, braised, and poached. It's superb and a must-order dish when you go.

Whole Chicken and Chamomile
Other must-try dishes include aged cheddar rillettes with cauliflower and fry bread, potato chips with caviar, sour cream, and onion, and pipe pasta with clams, green chiles, and lime. For dessert, don't forget to try the foie gras candy bar, a creation chef Andrew Brochu developed at neighboring The Aviary.

Foie Gras Candy Bar
As if the evening wasn't incredible I enough, it ended with me meeting Chef Grant Achatz (in the unfortunately blurry photo below). Have you seen his episode of Chef's Table? I highly recommend watching it.

Me with Chef Grant Achatz

One of my most memorable meals recently was at Steadfast located inside the new Kimpton Gray Hotel in the Loop. Not only is the restaurant stunning, I was blown away by nearly every dish and drink I enjoyed, in both taste and presentation. Their bread service is also fantastic. I know what you're thinking, why would you pay for bread? Trust me, it's worth it. The lavender pretzel bread and honey Oaxacan butter were amazing. I also loved the oysters, and one of the snacks which is a laminated brioche with serrano ham, manchego cheese, mustard, quail egg, caviar, and gold flakes. It's truly over the top! 

Spring in My Step with Aquavit, Carrot, Ginger and Gran Classico

Oysters with Chartreuse and Bone Marrow Mignonette

Bread Service

Laminated Brioche with Serrano Ham, Manchego, Quail Egg, and Caviar

Green Zebra
Green Zebra Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

When you hear about an all-vegetarian restaurant, you may not get excited, but I'm here to tell you that veggie restaurant, Green Zebra changes all of that. I had a fantastic dinner at Green Zebra that never once made me miss meat. From the mushroom pate with hen of the woods mushrooms, to the housemade pastas and fermented beet tartare, each dish was fresh, vibrant, and intensely flavorful. Beautiful too - just look at that beet tartare!

The menu changes pretty frequently, but some menu staples remain, including the pate and beet tartare. They also offer seasonal tasting menus that are reasonably priced per person, with the option to add wine pairings. You don't need to be a vegetarian to love Green Zebra.

Hen of the Woods Mushroom Pate

Fermented Beet Tartare

Buckwheat Pasta

Housemade Gnocchi with Truffles

The Ridge Hotel, Lake Geneva

If you're looking for a quick winter getaway that's not too far from Chicago, I have to recommend a trip to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin's Ridge Hotel which is located just five minutes from downtown Lake Geneva. I've been to Lake Geneva quite a few times, but headed back for a girl's weekend with my mom. We were invited to check out the new Ridge Hotel which recently underwent a nearly $5 million face lift, complete with new dining options (important to me, obviously!). The hotel has a sleek new lobby and outdoor spaces, including a cozy fire pit, and outdoor bar with views of Lake Como.  There is also a full-service spa, health club, indoor and outdoor pools, and banquet space (there was a wedding while we were there!). It's a quiet and relaxing spot for a little weekend away from the big city. 

The Ridge Hotel Lobby

Outdoor Fire Pit

The Ridge Hotel Lobby
The hotel's new dining options include a wine and coffee bar, bean + vine, as well as Crafted Americana, a full service restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The restaurant has a contemporary atmosphere and features modern American dishes with homemade touches.

Crafted Americana
Our dinner at Crafted Americana rivaled the quality of Chicago steakhouses, complete with fresh seafood, prime steaks, and decadent desserts.

Jonah Crab Cocktail

Squash Bruschetta
When in Wisconsin, one must order cheese curds. I'm so glad we did because the curds at Crafted Americana were some of the best I've had. They were dipped in a Spotted Cow beer batter and their freshness was unbeatable!

Wisconsin Cheese Curds
My steak was well-seasoned and prepared to my liking which honestly happens only about 50% of the time (medium rare all the way) so I was pretty happy.

Filet Mignon
One of my favorite desserts of all time is bread pudding so when I spotted it on the dessert menu, it was a no-brainer choice. Their version was topped with sliced bananas, caramel sauce, and vanilla bean ice cream. It was heavenly.

Bread Pudding
If you're a seasoned Lake Geneva visitor and want a new place to stay, or if you've never been, check out The Ridge for a quick trip!


One of the hottest restaurants in Chicago is so huge, it's Giant. Bad jokes aside, this place lives up to the hype. Chef Jason Vincent (formerly of Nightwood) is crafting some amazing shared dishes and handmade pastas that will make you say "wow, that's good." Contrary to the name, the restaurant is pretty small. As a result, tables are on top of each other, so you'll want to get to know your neighbor (we did).

If you must order three things at Giant, they are: the uni shooter, essentially a ball of butter and uni fried to perfection, the biscuit with jalapeño butter, and sweet and sour eggplant with cashew and pancetta. If you were to only get one thing (which you shouldn't do), get the eggplant. I repeat, get the eggplant. Even if eggplant sounds healthy and boring and like something you wouldn't want. Get. the. eggplant. It's served with housemade pita which you will need more of to soak up all that delicious sweet and sour sauce.

Other runner-up dishes including the jonah crab salad and the lasagna which has an insane number of thin layers that are pressed together and seared in a pan, rather than baked, before being served.

Uni Shooter

Biscuits with Jalapeño Butter
Jonah Crab Salad with Waffle Fries
Sweet and Sour Eggplant with Cashews and Pancetta
I'm giving Giant 4 ghosts out of 5.

True Food Kitchen

True Food Kitchen, a popular casual dining chain from the West Coast has made it's way to Chicago's River North. The restaurant is based off True Food Kitchen's co-founder Dr. Andrew Weil's anti-inflammatory diet. That diet focuses on whole grains, lean proteins, and fruits and veggies. Before you write this off as another gluten-free, delicious-free, fad-filled restaurant, you need to know the food here is tasty as f*ck. The restaurant is huge and beautiful and the perfect spot to take your health-focused friends, and your meat-loving dad, because there truly is something for all appetites.

I loved their butternut squash pizza with almond ricotta and smoked onions, while their ancient grains bowls are so flavorful (can we talk about the miso-glazed sweet potatoes?). Yes, you can order a burger or steak tacos, or a kale salad if that's your thing. But definitely same room for dessert; their squash pie with coconut whipped cream is 100X better than your standard pumpkin pie, and available as a whole pie to go (no judgment). 

Open Kitchen
Ancient Grains Bowl with Steelhead Salmon
Butternut Squash Pizza
Squash Pie

The Florentine
The Florentine - JW Marriott Chicago Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Have you been to The Florentine located inside the JW Marriott in the Loop? It's been around for several years, yet I had never stopped in before, and I'm kicking myself for it. It's a great Italian spot for a romantic meal before the theatre, or a weekday lunch.

When I visited, I had an incredible appetizer of buffalo mozzarella crostini with huge chunks of cheese and fresh crusty bread. It was heaven on a plate. So was the pumpkin tortelloni with crispy sage, pancetta, ricotta salata, and a light apple cider broth. The tiramisu there is pretty fantastic too (and I don't even like tiramisu normally), as is the service!

Buffalo Mozzarella Crostini

Pumpkin Tortelloni

Tesori Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Another Italian spot I had never been to until recently is Tesori, near the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I walk by it every week, yet I never popped in. The fiancé and I had a weekday lunch and really enjoyed the diversity of the menu. This isn't your spaghetti and meatballs type of Italian restaurant. They have a large selection of appetizers including antipasti platters with balsamic glazed onions, eggplant caponata, and herbed farro, as well as fresh salads including a kale option with apples, hazelnuts, fennel, and goat cheese.

We enjoyed some hefty carbs including housemade pastas like the smoked beef brisket ravioli, because when was the last time you saw that on a menu? I loved the smokey flavor that came through in each pasta pocket. Tesori's pizzas are well-topped with fresh meats and cheeses, including the red pizza with prosciutto, Parmesan, arugula, and Tuscan olive oil. The crust was on the doughy side with crispy outer edges.

Smoked Beef Brisket Ravioli

Prosciutto Pizza

Cocoa + Co.
Cocoa + Co Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Last, but not least, I have to rave about a cute shop in Old Town serving all things chocolate. Cocoa + Co. is an independent shop where you can order drinking chocolates in adorable seasonal mugs, and coffee or tea drinks, or pastries. They also have an extensive collection of chocolates for gifting (to yourself, or another deserving person), and afternoon tea service complete with pastries, bonbons, and drinking chocolate.

When I visited, I tried the Mayan Magic drinking chocolate with chilies, nutmeg and cinnamon, and La Parisienne with vanilla!

Cocoa + Co. Drinking Chocolates

That concludes my latest foodie finds round-up! Stop by tomorrow for the annual list of my top 16 favorite dishes I ate in 2016!

Note: Aside from Ema and Giant, all of my meals were complimentary; however, all opinions expressed are my own.

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