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Posts Tagged ‘Foodie Fun Day’

  1. Foodie Fun Day: bellyQ

    December 19, 2012 by Barb


    Resolutions.  Every year, I look back on my computer and read my list of goals that I made before the new year.  Last year’s resolutions were probably similar to many of your own….exercise more, watch television less and do more for other people.  (Okay, I didn’t get much exercise in while watching TV but I do think I did more for others.)

    One of my other resolutions, that shouldn’t surprise you. was food related.   I vowed that in 2012 I would eat at Chef Bill Kim’s newest restaurant, bellyQ (1400 West Randolph Street, Chicago).

    With less than two weeks left in the year, I was cutting it close but I made it!!!bellyQ menu

    Now the first thing I must do is apologize to the staff because I had the excited chatter of a second grader!  The big open space fused my energy and the sunshine of the afternoon added to the joy.

    The best part is that from where I sitting I could see the open kitchen and watch Chef Kim expediting each order.  I had read articles over the years praising Chef Kim’s creativity and his ability to “modernize and fuse” classic Korean dishes.  So to watch him in action was a treat in itself.  (I even had a recipe that I tore out of the Chicago Tribune years ago preserved in a page protector.)

    Now, let’s talk food.  My first dish was the Thai Fried Chicken.  The boneless pieces of chicken triple battered with a sticky (in the best way), spicy sauce literally crunched out loud when I pressed my fork into them.    And if the crunch wasn’t enough to make me giddyy, the chicken was so moist and delicious.  In my world, there is nothing better than something with sweet heat.  (Future reference:  I would order extra so you don’t’ have to share.  It is that good!)


    Next I had the lunch special, a kimchi-bacon hominy cake with cucumber relish and tomato jam.  I loved the smoky flavor infused from the bacon.  I must admit that the tomato jam made me feel like I was eating a BLT or should I say BKT?  Either way, it was great!DSC01672

    I also ordered the Chilled Somen Noodle Salad.  Delicate rice paper rolls filled with succulent pork, mint and seasoned somen noodles.  Once again the “Q” flavor came out in the pork and was a great compliment to the subtle vinegary flavor on the noodles.  (I can only imagine how good this would taste on a hot summer’s day!)DSC01675

    The Fragrant Rice came up next and it lived up to its name.  The first seconds my bowl arrived, I closed my eyes and inhaled.  The aroma alone was enticing.  Adorned with olive oil poached shrimp, the rice was indescribable with its unique cilantro sauce.  (I want to say it was tomatillo too.)  Plus, the crispy shallots on the top were a marvelous touch.  I could eat those as a snack!DSC01676

    My last savory dish was the Pork Dumpling Soup.  With big, fat roly-poly dumplings in a rich, smoky broth, this is the soup to get you through a Chicago winter.  The pulled pork, baby bok choy and udon noodles made this a meal in itself.   (I would call this a bowl full of heaven because it was comprised with everything I loved!)DSC01679

    Finally, don’t leave without having the Citrus Ice for dessert.  The housemade vanilla ice cream (they use some coconut milk) had Yuzu tapioca pearls and a grapefruit granita on top.  It was PHENOMENANAL!!!!  I drive my hubby crazy because I NEVER want ice cream, I would eat this after every meal if I could.  The citrus was refreshing and the tapioca pearls danced on my tongue.DSC01681

    So one more resolution checked off my list.  I had a wonderful time at belly Q and am looking forward to my next visit.  Hopefully, I can go one night with friends and enjoy one of their grilling tables.  (They also have a cool Karaoke room on Mondays, private dining and a big open bar with creative cocktails-and yummy housemade sodas).)

    Thank you to Chef Kim and everyone who made my day so special.  It felt like I experienced a celebration of my senses and a great way to enjoy my final Foodie Fun Day for 2012!!!


  2. Foodie Fun Day: CHILL 2012

    November 16, 2012 by Barb


    I officially have been going to food events for over year.  And there is one consistent thread that runs through each event…my mouth waters.

    Whether it is the rich aromas that roam through the halls or my first view of a perfectly plated dish of food…my mouth waters.

    When I see the chefs walking in their crisp, white coats…my mouth waters.  (Um, wait, I’m not sure I should admit that.)

    As I walked into Merchandise Mart in Chicago  last night for the Sixth Annual CHILL Event, my mouth watered.  How could it not?  40 of Chicago’s top chefs and 150 Premium wines all brought together to benefit three amazing charities.  (Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras and The Lynn Sage Foundation).

    Thank you to the CYSO for providing so much beautiful music.

    To add icing to the cake (or is accoutrement to the amuse bouche), you get to eat all of this fabulous food while walking around the amazing boutiques assembled together by LUXEHOME.  (Think of everything you would ever need for your dream home all under one roof.)  My mouth waters…

    So to continue the fun of me making up my own award shows…I want to present you with the prestigious Felt Like a Foodie first official WATERS Awards.  (When Appetizing Treats Enter Remodeling Showcases)

    2012 CHILL WATERS Award Winners

    Best “Godfather” Moment:  Rosebud And Carmine’s for the delicious housemade (Thanks Chef Coppolillo) sausage  and peppers and cannoli!  It was the first time I felt like saying, “Leave the gun and take the cannoli!”

     Best Discussion About French PastryBistrot Zinc and Chef Tim Kirker’s Gougéres with butternut squash, roasted apple and chevre.  I love making (and eating) Gougéres.   I appreciated every ounce of the flavor packed pastry and Chef Kirker’s appreciation for my enthusiasm.

    Best Balls:  The Florentine for their buffalo ricotta fritter with chestnut puree, roasted beet puree and truffle honey.  Besides each ball being the perfect temperature and crispiness-it was the bite that excited every taste bud on my tongue.  (Now I am obsessed with truffle honey!)

    Best Place I Missed Last Year (so I went twice this year):  Japonais won me over with the Spicy Mono Maki: Spicy Octopus topped with spicy tuna tartare and unagi sauce.  I could have stood there all night.  (Also my favorite bite of the evening.)

    Best Place I Didn’t Miss Last Year (but I still went back for seconds)Roy’s Maine Lobster Dim Sum with a lobster emulsion and white truffle emulsion was rich and luscious.  (I’m trying to decide if I could have gone more than twice.)

    Coolest Atmosphere for Serving Food:  This award goes to both the boutique (The Nanz Company and Remains Lighting) and the restaurant (Leopold).  Leopold’s pork and rabbit terrine with dill mustard, house pickled red onions on toast was the perfect bite to accompany the stunning mood this boutique exudes.

    Best Sweet Bites (2 way tie):  Sixteen for making me feel like I was in a winter candy wonderland and Bistronomic for their homemade bittersweet chocolate chip cookie.  (Okay, I can’t eat a lot of the sweet bites because most of the them have chocolate but my husband was happy!)

    Sixteen had cotton candy on a ferris wheel!

    Most Colorful:  Blackbird’s beef tartare, roasted maitakes, chestnuts, cranberry yogurt and miner’s lettuce.  This was a great example of tasting a rainbow.  Every component (and color) served a purpose and you could taste it in each bite.  The cranberry yogurt was sensational.

    Best Refreshing DishWAVE Restaurant’s celery root apple salad.  I liked the use of the lemon crème fraiche and the tartness it added.  With the crunchy almonds and touches of sheep’s milk cheese, it was light, delicious ….and refreshing.  (It made me want to try more of Chef Elliott’s new menu!)

    Best Plays Well with Others:  The Latin America themed room within Design Resource Center that included Barrio Urban Taqueria, Mercadito, Province and Nacional 27 was just a great combination of restaurants and flavors.  (This was also the time I started to get full.)

    Favorite Familiar Face:  Chef James O’Donnell from Michael Jordan’s Steak House.  With hearty bowls of short rib and barley risotto at his side, it is always nice to see his friendly face.  (And eat his food!)

    And for the last WATERS Award for 2012:

    Best Husband:  Earl Miller I met this handsome guy 15 years ago and can’t thank him enough for supporting my crazy food adventures and me. 

    As with all large food events, I didn’t get to taste everything.  There were many missed restaurants so I want to thank everyone who worked so hard to make last night’s event wonderful for all of the guests.

    I guess I will have to go into training so I can try more dishes next year.  My mouth waters just thinking about it!  : )




  3. Foodie Fun Day: Food & Wine Chef Showcase 2012

    November 13, 2012 by Barb

    I don’t know what it is about the Food and Wine Chef Showcase in Chicago that makes me smile, it just does.  Not just any smile, but a smile that makes my cheeks hurt.

    It is the kind of smile that resonates through your whole body and makes you put a spring in your step.  The smile that almost makes you weepy because you can’t believe you are so happy.  It is the smile you get when you are just loving every second of an experience.

    Last night I had the pleasure of smiling for about 3 hours at the Museum of Contempory Art.  Smiling back at me were chefs from over 20 of Chicago top restaurants (The Purple Pig, g.e.b., Moto, iNG, Café Spaggia, The Publican, Girl & the Goat, Blackbird, bellyQ, Wolfgang Puck Catering, Acadia, Bistronomic, The Bristol, Balena, Rustic House, Trenchermen, North Pond, Table Fifty-Two, Boka, GT Fish & Oyster, Nightwood, Perennial Virant, Vie, Slurping Turtle, Sepia and Province.)

    As with every food event, I have not yet met the challenge of trying EVERYONE’S food.  I try very hard but at some point I get lockjaw from smiling so hard and just can’t open up for one more bite!

    So this year, I thought I could make up my own award for some of the stand-out experiences I had at this amazing event.  I would call these awards SMMILES (Stuff Making Me In Love Every Second).  With that said, may I present to you the first Felt Like a Foodie Food & Wine Chef Showcase SMMILE Awards!!!  (Insert you favorite trumpet blare here.)

    2012 SMMILE Awards

    Best Use of a Thermos:  Chef Andrew Zimmerman (Sepia) for his Pot au feu “Rossini”, rare beef, foie gras royale, truffle gelee and perfect temperature oxtail consommé.  Chef Zimmerman’s tableside pouring of the oxtail consomme guaranteed that it would be at a perfect temperature.  Chef Zimmerman made my favorite dish last year with his duck wonton and he didn’t disappoint me this year!  It was so delicious.  (Any fans of the Steve Martin movie the Jerk and start singing the thermos song now.)

    Best Use of the Word Poof:  Chef Stephanie Izard (Girl and the Goat).   The fabulous goat chili with Wisconsin cheese had the fun of a little crunch with the addictive pizza poofs on top!

    Best Looking Dessert that I couldn’t eat because it had ChocolatePastry Chef Sarah Jordan (GT Fish & Oyster, Boka) The chocolate banana ganache with cashews looked fabulous but my chocolate allergy made me only admire it from afar.

    Neatest Bump Into You MomentDana Cowin, editor Food and Wine Magazine.  Okay, technically I didn’t bump into her, I sort of hovered until I could say hi.  I have admired her for years and it was wonderful just to say hi.  (Okay, I babbled uncontrollably but I am hoping she just thought I had been drinking and didn’t realize this is how I sound all of the time.)

    Most Fun on a Plate: Chef Homaro Cantu (Moto and iNG).  A play on wine and cheese, molecular gastronomy was shown at it’s best.  The ice-cold grapes complimented the cheesy “packaging” peanuts.  I do think there should have been a disclaimer that not all packaging peanuts taste that good.  (Um, not that I know.)

    Biggest Pain in the Fanny When I’m Taking a PictureJason Vincent (Nightwood).  You gave me the biggest laugh of the night!  Thanks.

    Most Components in a two inch space:  Chef Jason Vincent (Nightwood) In all seriousness, The beautifully layered dish started with an apple gelee on the bottom and everything from a fermented foie gras, cauliflower puree, whipped foie gras, celery puree and about 4-6 other components.  The best part was scooping a little taste of everything in one bite.  Just fabulous!

    Best Spoonful of Noodles:  Chef Bill Kim (bellyQ)  Anyone who follows me on Facebook knows that I have been semi-obsessed with meeting Chef Kim and going to bellyQ.  I proudly wear their t-shirt and am hoping to make it my foodie fun day in December.  So you can’t imagine how excited I was to eat the tasty somen noodles with lentils and roasted chicken in turkey broth.  It was everything I imagined and more.  Ready or not, here I come!!  : )

    Best Use of a Cracker:  Chef Chris Pandel (The Bristol)  The “wheat thin” with the trout rillette and smoked roe had the crunch that I love in a cracker without overpowering the trout’s delicateness. 

    Best-Unexpected DishChef Takashi Yagihashi (Slurping Turtle) Soy marinated salmon pizza??!!  I’ve seen a lot of pizza fusion but I’ve never seen anything this creative, tasty and super fun.  The crispy crust almost sweet salmon with an umami twist was such an unexpected surprise.  (Also thank you for being such a nice guy!)

    Best Pastry Made with Duck Fat: Chef Art Smith and Rey Villalobos (Table Fifty-Two)  I just made my first pie crust with duck fat so I 100% appreciated the homemade puff pastry with duck rillette, celery puree and cider emulsion. 

    Most Fun with a Push-Up:  Chef Steve Madonna (Wolfgang Puck) The Smoked pheasant “push-up” pop was not only amusing but it was really tasty.  The sweet potato, apple butter and whipped hard cider highlighted some of the best flavors of fall in one simple push. (My bra was also nominated in this category but sadly lost.)

    Best Rustic DishChef Jimmy Bannos Sr. & Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr.  (The Purple Pig) The pork neck gravy (or was it just neck bone) and creamy polenta was the perfect dish for such a chilly night in the city.  It is one of those dishes that just showcased its ingredients in rustic, simplicity.  YUM!!

    Best Giggling Fan Moment: Chef Paul Virant (Vie and Perennial Virant)  I am a HUGE fan of Chef Virant’s book Preservation Kitchen.  It is not only a cookbook but also a reference guide to learn how to understand the wonderful world of canning.  Chef Virant was kind enough to sign my book and listen to my babbling about my new love of canning.  His book is awesome and he is awesome.  (I’ll stop before I sound like Kathy Bates in Misery.)

    Best Balls:  Chefs Michael Sheerin and Patrick Sheerin. (Trenchermen) You see a little fried ball, you don’t know what it is but it has to be good….and it was!  Perfectly done fried chopped liver ball with an egg yolk jam and yuzu marinated apples.  It wasn’t just good, it was fabulous. 

    Best Pull a Chef Away From The Table to Take a picture:  Chef Sarah Grueneberg (Café Spiaggia)  As a huge fan of  Top Chef Texas, I love getting to say hi to Chef Grueneberg  .  She is an absolute doll and I appreciate her taking the time out to visit.  I was so excited to see her that I almost forgot to eat my bay scallops with purgatory beans!  (I also appreciate Chef Tony Mantuano’s graciousness when I stopped him for a hello as he was walking up to his own table!)

    Finally the last SMMILE category…

    The Best How Do I Know You MomentJaime Laurita , Rock-Star Celebrity Chef.  I saw Jaime (he is sweet enough that I feel comfortable calling him by his first name) and couldn’t remember how I knew him.  He graciously pointed out that he is the brother to one of the Real Housewives of New Jersey so I had probably seen him on that show.  A genuine, nice guy who I would consider an instant friend. 

    I didn’t have a moment last night that didn’t make me smile.   Thank you to every chef in attendance last night and Food and Wine Magazine. I wish I could have met you all but hopefully in the coming year, I will have more opportunities.

    For now, I am going to go ice my cheeks because they are so sore from all of the smiles last night!

  4. Dragon Ranch Moonshine & BBQ: A Foodie Fun Day

    October 21, 2012 by Barb


    A little fun fact to start off your week…In Chinese astrology, the dragon is the only animal of the zodiac year that is fiction based.

    So it makes sense that Dragon Ranch Moonshine and BBQ which opened this year seemed too good to be true.  (Now the fun fact makes more sense doesn’t it??)Located in Chicago at 441 North Clark (look for the red trimmed windows), it is a conventional American BBQ with some unconventional Asian twists.

    Part of the creative and fun Rockit Ranch Production team, Dragon Ranch offers some great American barbeque (pulled pork, ribs, brisket), Asian fare (ramen noodles, bahn mi sandwiches, steam buns) and some novel “fusion” items (classic glazed carrots with bourbon barrel aged fish sauce, togarashi aioli on the sandwiches.)

    I was thrilled to come in today for their Sunday brunch (available from 10:30-4).  After reviewing the menu online, I knew what I had to have….Thai Benedict.  The description of the house made spicy Thai sausage, poached eggs, sautéed greens (Chinese water spinach) and topped with red coconut curry hollandaise made my mouth water!  It was like someone read my mind of what I wanted in an egg dish.

    My eggs came to the table and I did what all poached egg lovers do…I poked it in the center.  I watched as the beautiful rich egg yolk delicately flowed down the greens, over the patty and onto my plate.  (Sigh, why can’t everyone make an egg this perfect?)

    I literally closed my eyes with my first bite.  I had built up the flavor profile of this dish in my mind and my anticipation was building.  The first bite….it was like a biting into a piece of heaven.  The balance of seasoning (Thai chilis, ginger, lemongrass and cilantro) in the sausage was complimented nicely with the spicy yet sweet hollandaise.

    (I also loved the Chinese water spinach.  As a new veggie in my playbook, I was delighted in its lack of bitterness.  I will definitely order this as a “fix’n” when I come in for lunch.)

    Although my Thai Benedict was more than enough to fill my belly, I had to try the deviled eggs.  I loved the subtle heat of the togarashi aioli and red chilis.  It was enough so you knew this wasn’t your neighbor’s deviled eggs (even though my next door neighbor is the deviled egg queen! )

    One of the standout features for Dragon Ranch is the attention to their ingredients.  So much of the menu was house made, pickled or cured.  (The smoky bacon was out of this world.)

    As a newbie to canning, I could totally appreciate the flavors and skill Dragon Ranch displayed in their house made pickles.  The bloody Mary bar had a great array of homemade items like pickled shishito peppers and kimchi.  (The pickle juice in the bloody Mary was a marvelous alternative to the horseradish-y version I am used to.)

    In addition to their pride of in house preparation, Dragon Ranch is a great supporter of local farms.  Monday, October 29, 2012, they will be hosting their first Farm to Fork dinner.  The seven-course whisky paired dinner is a great way to meet the “faces behind the feast” as you dine with the local suppliers.  (Tickets went on sale recently and there are still some seats available.)

    Did I say whiskey?  You can’t go to Dragon Ranch Moonshine and BBQ without mentioning the huge array of barrel-aged cocktails, whisky, and the infamous moonshine.  (Yep, white lightening, hooch, moonshine.)  The whisky bento box is paired with specific accoutrements (cheese, chocolate, pickled veggies) to experience every nuance the drink has to offer.   (Come in on Saturdays and join the fun for the “Red Cup” parties.)

    Overall, I just loved how tastefully Dragon Ranch portrayed their theme without making you feel like you were in a 1950’s western.  (Not one person said y’all except me, of course.)  The food was an exceptional array of everything I love in BBQ with just enough Asian flare to make it stand out from others.

    Finally, I think every restaurant experience can be made or broken by the staff.  I have to give a huge thumbs up to my waitress (Hi Lauren) and everyone who was working this morning.  You all were working as a team, extremely friendly and made me want to come back again and again.  (Okay, the Thai Benedict will also influence my reoccurrence but you guys were pretty awesome.)

    Thanks Dragon Ranch Moonshine and BBQ.  You did the year of the Dragon proud!




  5. Chicago Gourmet 2012: THE FOOD

    October 4, 2012 by Barb


    The last three days, I have sat down at my computer numerous times to write about the food at Chicago Gourmet this past weekend.  I view my notes and pictures and immediately get hungry and feel the need to snack.  Preferable snack on food from some of the best chefs and restaurants in Chicago.

    But since I don’t have the luxury of having these resources at my small town back door, I go back to looking at the pictures.  And like a computer’s thesaurus…adjectives like tasty, succulent and scrumptious are bouncing around my head.

    The adage of “a picture is worth a thousand words” has never rang (or is it ringed) truer in my mind.  Each image of the food and chefs tells a story to me that I never wanted to end.

    My biggest challenge was trying to manage my time between the tastings and the cooking demonstrations that I spoke of earlier this week.  Luckily, there is an App for that.  (I’m serious.  Chicago Gourmet had a wonderful App that had everything on it from the schedule to the map to a “favorites” page.)

    Speaking of some of my favorites….


    The phenomenal black truffle, short rib po’boy from Restaurant R’evolution (Chef Rick Tramonto’s and Chef John Folse’s new hotspot in New Orleans) opened every one of my senses.

    Rockit Bar and Grill’s Amanda Downing (the only female chef to participate in Friday night’s Hamburger Hop) was a winner with me serving her delightfully juicy melted brie, date aioli, fried shallot angus burger on a red onion brioche bun.

    The restaurants (Oceanique, Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse, RL Restaurant, Trenchermen, N9NE Steakhouse, Heaven on Seven, WAVE, Keefer’s) that served at the Supreme Lobster & Seafood Co. Tasting Pavilion were all excellent.  I especially loved N9NE’s tuna tartar and Keefer’s salmon tartar. 

    Keefer’s Japanese inspired Salmon Tartar

    The best part of Chicago Gourmet’s tastings is eating a food you normally don’t like and falling in love with it!  I will never look at a piece of pineapple the same after tasting the most refreshing bite of the day, carbonated pineapple, by iNG Restaurant’s.  (I will admit that I went back in that line more than once.)

    And yes, that is their business card printed on a chip!!


    LM Restaurant Groups’s Mushroom bisque with country pate is going to be something I crave as the cool days of fall approach.

    Chalkboard also did an excellent rabbit pate that hopped into my stomach joyfully.  (Okay, you know I had to do a pun at some point during this post.)

    Lao Sze Chuan (spicy chicken), Sunda New Asian (braised beef) and Pecking Order (Kristine Subido’s new restaurant) were all superb.

    And if I had a gold star to give to any restaurant it would have been The Grill on the Alley.  Their lovely gazpacho with crab and big chunks of creamy avocado refreshed me with every bite.  I had my Oliver Twist moment saying “please sir, I want some more” at least 3 times.  I also had my Honey Boo Boo moment when they jokingly said I could just take the entire container and I almost dunked my whole face in!

    I thought the portion sizes served at Chicago Gourmet were just perfect.  It was enough to allow you to taste the uniqueness of each restaurant without filling you up before the afternoon sessions.  (Each pavilion had a noon session and then “reopened” with all new restaurants a few hours later. )

    My only suggestion for next year is to request that all of the chef’s have a sheet up describing their dish.  (Some of you did already do that so thank you.)  The lines move so fast sometimes that there isn’t always the opportunity to find out exactly what we are enjoying from the chefs.

    Thanks Oceanique…your dish was the perfect size and scrumptious.

    The time I did have talking with chef’s I have been fortunate enough to meet this past year was wonderful.  I can’t wait to see Chef Cory Morris (Mercat a la planxa), Trevor Hoyte (IPO), Tony Priolo (Piccolo Sogno),  James O’Donnell (Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse) and Amanda Downing (Rockit) back on their home turf!

    Chef Cory Morris before he started his Choc. Croquettes

    Chef Hoyte served a great braised beef short rib, pickled cherry, pistachio powder & micro greens

    I did not even get close to tasting everything but I did enjoy every bite that passed my lips.

    Maple Pumpkin Pie, pumpkin brittle….with a duck fat crust! YUM!!

    I’ve already marked my calendar for next year, September 27-29, 2013.  I could come up with another thousand words but can sum it up with 4 anticipation, expectation, excitement and suspense!

    Had to save room for Table 52’s blondie…just one more bite.



  6. Foodie Fun Day #21: RA Sushi NEW MENU

    July 25, 2012 by Barb


    Dilemma.  I love sushi.  (Okay, that is not a dilemma.)  The problem is that not all of my friends love sushi.  (They have other redeeming qualities.)  So every time I leave my small town, I want to go to a sushi restaurant and they don’t.

    Well thanks to RA Sushi’s new updated menu, I will never have to choose between my friends and food again.  (Really that decision is easy….sushi wins!)

    I went to RA Sushi in Lombard, IL this past week with my friend Beth and did something I have never done before.   (And no it doesn’t have anything to do with drinking too much sake and posting pictures on Facebook.) 

    I did not eat one piece of sushi!  (Gasp!!!)  It is not like there weren’t a bunch of rolls to tempt me (Tootsy Maki, Tunacado, or Crazy Monkey Roll to name a few).  I just wanted to concentrate on some of the new menu items.

    Getting started, we enjoyed the edamame dip (creamy edamame/spinach dip with light wonton chips for dipping) and garlic edamame (Japanese classic of steamed edamame tossed in garlic butter and Asian seasoning.)

    Bonfire Shrimp and Garlic Edamame

    Just writing about the garlic edamame is making my mouth water.  Imagine taking a pod in your fingers, placing it your mouth and pulling the bean out with your teeth as the flavors of garlic, butter and spice hit your tongue.  (It is a must have!)

    I was also truly excited by the edamame dip.  Who doesn’t like spinach dip? It was creamy but it wasn’t heavy.  The warm, freshly made wonton chips were also an added bonus.

    Edamame Dip

    A great option for your friends is to have them try Ra’s Asian Chicken Wings.  Tossed in one of three sauces (Sesame Garlic, Black Pepper Teriyaki, Chili Ponzu), there is something for everyone.  I loved the chili ponzu, a great balance of sweet and heat.

    Salmon with Green Beans and Asian Chicken Wings

    Another surprising menu addition is the Crispy Asian Tacos.  (Tacos in a sushi restaurant?) Served in brilliantly crafted rice paper shells, the five taco options (Spicy Tuna, Spicy Salmon, “RA”ckin’ Shrimp, Crispy White Fish and Guacamole Chicken) were a textural treat for your lips.  The wasabi rice cracker bits in the tuna and salmon added pleasant crunch.  It was Asian/Mexican fusion at it’s best.  (Now my mouth is watering again!)

    Now don’t fill up on starters because you have to save room for RA’s new entrees. I was able to taste the Salmon with Green Beans (grilled salmon atop garlicky green beans and drizzled with a spicy yuzu sauce), Bonfire Shrimp (lightly breaded/fried shrimp tossed in chili sauce with fried shishito peppers), and Drunken Black Mussels.

    Drunken Mussels

    Oh those mussels!!!  Sake steamed and sautéed with garlic and soy sauce, these were just unbelievable.  The mussels were big and plump and carried the flavor of the broth beautifully.  Beth called them “Magic Mike Mussels” because they were so huge.  (I still think she was inappropriate tucking the dollar bills in their little shells but Beth did have a Lycheetini so I’ll blame it on the martini).


    We saved enough room to indulge in the Sweet Mochi Ice Cream (ice cream wrapped in rice cake) with strawberries and kiwi.  This was a gratifying ambrosial conclusion to an extraordinary meal.

    Now I have a new dilemma, there are way too many delicious things on RA’s new menu for me to choose what I want to eat!  Thanks for the great food; I can’t wait to come back for a “RA”peat!  : )

  7. Foodie Fun Day #20: The Lucky Monk

    July 8, 2012 by Barb

    The Lucky Monk

    Elevate your soul.”  Is this the motto for a church?  Nope.  How about a beach yoga class?  Nope.  It is the part of The Lucky Monk’s motto “Delicious Food and Drink and a Welcome Warm Enough to Elevate Your Soul.”

    Named in honor of the Trappist Monks (beer crafting masters), The Lucky Monk located in South Barrington, Illinois, takes pride in their amazing list of house brews, crisp, fresh pizzas and juicy, creative hamburgers.  (Keep reading to hear about their “Name your own burger contest.”)

    Now anyone who reads my posts knows that I am not a drinker but even their beer menu intrigued me.   The sizable list showcased their house brewed signature drafts, pale ales, lagers, fruit beers, gluten-free options and ciders.  It literally was a cornucopia of features unique to this adorable brewpub. 

    You can’t have a brewpub without some amazing “Beginnings.”  I am a sucker for a pub pretzel and the Warm Pretzel Trio did not disappoint.   Actually, I went crazy dipping the warm yeasty bread into the gooey Wisconsin cheddar beer fondue and tomato Parmesan sauce.  But I couldn’t believe the flavor in the grainy mustard butter.  It had the richness of butter AND just enough mustard to compliment the pretzel and not overpower it.  (It was one of the best compounded butters I’ve ever tasted.)

    I also enjoyed the Trappist Trio, which consisted of The Lucky Monk’s Truffle Fries, Pickle Fries and Beer Battered Wisconsin Cheese Curds.  Served with two dipping sauces, the food shined on their own.  The cheese curd had a nice crunch on the outside but maintained their unique texture inside, as did the pickle slices.  The white truffle oil and parmesan fries are a MUST have when you go to The Lucky Monk.  (They were good enough for a monk to give up his vow of silence to make yummy noises!)

    It wasn’t my intention to have pizza on this visit but the temptation of a hand stretched, crispy thin pizza was just too much!  And I had to have the most intriguing pizza on the list…The Short Rib and Farm Egg!!!  (I have never had an egg on a pizza before.)  With “Solitude Stout” braised short ribs, mushrooms and onion this pizza only got better when I broke open the over-easy farm fresh egg.  The combination of the rich, moist ribs and the creamy egg yolk was astonishing.  (My awesome waitress, Noemi, couldn’t stop me from raving about it each time she came to the table.)

    The last item I devoured on my visit was one of The Lucky Monk’s hamburgers.  A half-pound of USDA prime beef cooked to perfection (I like mine almost mooing) and topped with a vast array of ingredients.  I went for the Smothered Burger topped with Gruyere cheese, caramelized sweet onion and pickles.  (Every burger is served on a little cutting board so the toppings will stay intact if you decide to cut it in half.)

    If you are one of those summer grillers with your own creative burger, The Lucky Monk is giving you a chance to create your own burger and have it featured on their menu.  (Submit your burger recipe on their Facebook wall by July 31, 2012 to enter.)

    The Lucky Winner’s burger will be featured at The Lucky Monk in August on the weekends.  In addition the winner can order their burger on Saturday or Sunday for free AND win a $50 gift certificate to The Lucky Monk.  (Please go to their FB page or website for more information or questions.)

    Since you all know I can’t resist a contest, my entry would be called the Chicago Dog Burger.  It would be topped with mustard, Green Relish (neon, of course), fried pickle slices, and a celery leaf salad mixed with tomatoes, a little onion and chopped sport peppers.   (And if there were such thing as a poppy seed bun, I would have that too.)

    And so I don’t leave anything out, The Lucky Monk’s menu does have some great looking salads, Brewhouse Signature entrées and sandwiches.  (There is something for everyone.)

    I feel like I found a hidden treasure in this restaurant.  The food was wonderful, the atmosphere was relaxing and the service was top notch.  (If you are in the Schaumburg area, this is another great option for lunch or dinner only a short distance away.)

    If it weren’t 103 degrees on the day I visited, I would have wanted to eat on the patio.

    Living true to their motto, my soul (which really likes good food) was elevated and you can’t ask for more than that!

  8. N9NE Steakhouse Chicago: Foodie Fun Day #19

    May 29, 2012 by Barb

    N9NE Sign From Randolph Street.

    Anyone who knows me knows I love numbers.  Big , small, rational or irrational, I look at numbers and my brain fires up.  (Okay, I am a little OCD and I just love to count things.)

    So the first time I saw there was a restaurant called N9NE Steakhouse, I was intrigued.

    This past Friday, I had the WONDERFUL pleasure of dining at N9NE Steakhouse in Chicago and thought I’d count down my Top Nine Reasons to Dine at N9NE.  (I could come up with more reasons but I’m trying to be cute!)


    1.  FOOD:  I wouldn’t be a food blogger (or a very good one) if I didn’t talk about the delicious food.  The menus were an ode to classic steakhouses but creative enough to allow some modern twists.  Specials are changed weekly to accompany seasonal freshness and availability.

    Hey Barb, What did you eat?  Thanks for asking….

    Although the Lobster Bisque tempted me, I took advantage of the smooth Gazpacho offered as one of the specials and I wasn’t disappointed.  It was a bright fresh cool note on a warm day.  I loved the touch of shrimp in the center.  It was just enough to flatter the tomato flavor without controlling the dish.

    Next, we moved onto the Rock Shrimp appetizer.  Amusingly presented in a Chinese take-out box, the panko covered Carolina shrimp were cooked to perfection and served with two sauces.  The caviar cream was smooth and creamy but it was the sriracha “cocktail” sauce that made me want to “double dip.”  (I swear I didn’t but I sure wanted to!)

    As for choosing an entrée, it was a difficult decision.  If my hubby were with me, he wouldn’t have been able to resist the prime aged steaks.  I was tempted into the glorious sea scallops.  Expertly seared, there was a bouquet of truffle oil that caught your sense of smell but didn’t overpower your palate when you took your first bite.  It was served with a lobster risotto that escorted the flavors into your mouth without being heavy.  (I don’t know what they did to the peas in the risotto but they were perfectly cooked and added a nice textural complexity to the dish.)

    My dining companion enjoyed the organic Irish salmon which she so kindly shared with me.  This flawless fish had a unique Chinese mustard glaze that was matched with a tangy ginger vinaigrette.  The salmon was allowed to shine but the sauces really brought out its natural nuances.  (It was also served with grilled shitake mushrooms and bok choy, which made the dish even better, if that was possible.)

    Finally, we dove into dessert.  My Pecan Square was just sweet and warm enough to be a nice finishing touch to my meal.  The warm caramel drizzle and the cool vanilla bean ice cream on top were also a nice touch.  (Chocolate lovers have to go for the Chocolate dessert of velvet mousse cake coated in ground hazelnuts, Godiva chocolate sauce and fudgsicle sorbet.)

    2.  ATMOSPHERE (Back to my list):  I walked into N9NE and just had to take it all in.  The soothing waterfall behind the signature “9” instantly made me feel like I was about to experience something spectacular.  The center of the room was lit in a gorgeous hue that changes all day and night.  I also loved how the silver metal looked modern but not like I was in an episode of the Jetson’s.  (And the plump booths were incredibly comfortable.)


    3.  GHOST BAR: N9NE’s creative, provocative lighting makes the private dining lounge of the Ghostbar the perfect space for planning your next event.  Sleek and intimate, it can accommodate 150 guests for a unique sit down dinner.  (Room enough for 250 if you are hosting a cocktail/hors d’oeuvre event).   And if you are a fan of spotting a celebrity or two, keep your eyes open!

    4.  SERVICE:  I love good service and was not disappointed at N9NE.  My waiter who seemed more like a host did everything in his power to insure that I was going to have a great meal.  His menu knowledge was expansive and his suggestions were spot on.

    5.  PRIME AGED STEAKS:  You can’t have a steakhouse without having Prime Aged Steaks.  A great selection of New York Sirloins, Filets, and Ribeyes will make your mouth water and your belly cheer.  (And when they say Prime they mean PRIME!)

    6.  BAR BITES:  Whether you are meeting up with friends after work or just grabbing a snack while touring the city, the Bar Bites offered in the bar are a great inexpensive ($10 each) option.  For example, Asian Chicken Pops, Mini Sandwiches (pulled pork slider, mini burgers) and assorted taco trios are great selections to the usual fare served in bar atmospheres.

    Great Wine and Beer Selection

    7.  WHITE JACKETS:  The servers wore White Jackets that took this modern restaurant back to an elegant time where dining out was an event not just an everyday occurrence.  (I was very relieved that they did not try to be quirky and have the jackets glow in the different lighting.)

    8.  PRIX FIXE THEATRE MENU:   Given the location at 440 W. Randolph, N9NE is close enough to some wonderful Chicago theatres that this is an excellent choice for theatre dining.  The prix fixe menu ($39) with an amuse and three courses, will make your special night out complete.  (The prix fixe menu is offered any time so if you want to dabble in some fabulous food; this is a great alternative.)

    9.  COME AS YOU ARE:     As fashionable as N9NE restaurant appears, they welcome their guests in everything from party dresses to business casual to blue jeans.  General Manager, Tim Griffin, said that in the evening guests tend to be “dressed to the nines” but it is not required.  (They want you to enjoy the experience being yourself, just don’t show up in your jammies or track suits!)

    I had an exquisite time at N9NE Steakhouse.  Thank you for making my lunch out seem like an elegant event.  I can’t wait to come back!

  9. Foodie Fun Day #18: Season’s 52 Oakbrook

    May 16, 2012 by Barb


    Surprises.  They happen every day and are around every corner.  I think surprises are one of the most exciting parts about food.  You can take one ingredient and prepare it many different ways.  It can taste completely unique even if it is something that has been around for years.

    So when I was invited to a preview luncheon at the new Season’s 52 opening May 21, 2012 in Oakbrook, IL.  I wasn’t expecting any surprises.  I already knew their seasonally inspired menu would be delicious.  I knew that the dishes presented to me were going to be under 475 calories and yet full of flavor.  And I figured that given it’s location in the luxurious Oakbrook Shopping Center, it would be beautiful.

    But when I walked in the doors, I was surprised.  (And no, the staff didn’t hid behind the podium and jump out at me and scream SURPRISE!)  It was just so gorgeous!

    The first thing that caught my eye is the chef’s table.  The table is in view of the impressive kitchen so you get to see all of the talented chefs cooking.  (To me watching the rhythm of a well-run kitchen is like watching well-done choreography.)  But besides the awesome view, I could have just stared at table.  The tabletop is framed so that there are squares of spices.  The colors were so vibrant.  I wasn’t sure if it was that “new restaurant” smell or if it was the table emitting an essence but it definitely invoked my senses.

    Name all of the spices!

    The next thing that made me say wow was the private dining space.  The large space could be broken into three separate rooms to accommodate multiple parties or the perfect size larger gatherings.  Given it is wedding season, I instantly thought it would be a great space for rehearsal dinners or showers.  It would also be a welcome change to some of the sterile meeting places for a work function.  (The actual dining room is also beautiful and can accommodate over 300 guests.)

    I finally made it into the bar.  The bar has the unique quirk of having a live singer daily on a piano (electric) in the center of the actual bar service area.  The space is open enough for you to see the entertainment but it doesn’t overpower your conversation.  (I’m not a bar person but I loved the 360 degree stools that allows a lady on and off modestly.)

    As I continued to walk through the restaurant, one word kept coming to mind…warm.  There was genuine warmth that surrounded every corner.

    Our actual lunch hosted by Chef Cliff Pleau, senior director of culinary, and George Miliotes, master sommelier was amazing (Chef Jason Klever will be the executive chef in Oakbrook and willing to share his own wealth of knowledge and skill.)

    Each course was paired with a complimentary wine and George detailed each wine expertly.  (The man is a walking thesaurus!  He was able to describe wine in a way that I had never heard before.)

    Chef Pleau discussed each course and explained in technically, meticulous detail how Season’s 52 is able to bring out the flavors while keeping it healthy.  (I personally want to thank him for answering all of my questions.  I learned so much and hope that he comes out with his own cookbook one of these days.  He could call it Cliff Notes: 52 Ways to Eat Healthier.  A small mention in the book will be thanks enough!  ha ha )

    Some of my top favorite bites of the afternoon were the Organic Salmon and the Lemongrass Sea scallop roasted on a cedar plank.  The salmon was perfectly cooked and it was nice to taste the fish and not eat it covered in goopy sauce.  (And thanks to Paula who sat next to me who let me eat her scallop because I just had to have more!)  The surprise factor to me was the vegetable mélange of golden beets, red peppers and green beans.  The veggies were crunchy and had absorbed some of the smokiness of the cedar.

    We also enjoyed an organic field green salad with grilled Portobello mushrooms, toasted pistachios and truffle dressing.  The salads are presented in a clear cylinder but then allowed to flow out of the container onto your plate.  The visual surprise was almost outdone as the woodsy truffle smell hit your nose.  (And the pistachio was a great alternative crunch element to the usual crouton or bacon served in salads.)

    My final favorite was the Goat Cheese Ravioli with roasted garlic, basil and tomato broth.  The light pasta was delicately tossed with fresh tomato broth so that you were able to taste each individual ingredient in its element.  It is the kind of pasta you want on a warm day….or a cold day…or a day that ends in “y”.

    Everything we ate was so great. I’m leaving out the Mesquite grilled sirloin, mashed sweet potatoes, bourbon chili glazed quail, and the great flatbreads but you can always go in and taste those yourself.

    And as always, I saved a spot for a Mini Indulgence.  I inhaled a raspberry cheesecake with fresh mango on top.  It was just the right amount of sweet to end my meal.

    Season’s 52 continues to grow with 22 restaurants in 13 states.  After meeting Chef Pleau, I am confident that they will be staying true to their goal to serve healthy, flavorful seasonal food.  (And George has all you wine lovers covered with over 100 different wines.)

    I wish them nothing but sucess when they open on May 21 and hope to get in there again soon.  The food is wonderful and will inspire you to change the way you cook and eat.  (I just planted my garden so watch out for my inspired dishes!)


  10. Foodie Fun #17: The Olive Branch

    May 8, 2012 by Barb


    You walk into the grocery store and go down the aisles.  You buy the items you need.  You aren’t given the option to taste everything you buy or in some cases know where it is made.  You do it because, in most cases, that is your only option.

    But let’s say you could go into a store and taste everything you were going to buy AND receive helpful cooking advice.  Would you do it?

    If you answered yes, then I have the store for all of your olive oil and balsamic vinegar needs.  The Olive Branch in Granger (Notre Dame Country), Indiana, is a store devoted to providing its customers with high quality and delicious tasting olive oils and vinegars.   

    Enter the store to discover that there is a whole other world of flavors with their premium extra virgin olive oils from Italy, Spain, Tunisia, Greece, Chile, Australia and Japan.  (The sesame oil from Japan is one of my personal favorites.)

    All of the oils are cold pressed which means that the oil is never heated over a certain temperature.  This process helps the olive oil retain more nutrients and keep its natural, great flavor.

    Oh, did I say flavor?  The Olive Branch makes it easy for you to discover your favorite olive oil flavor.  With over 30 stainless steel containers called fustis, you can taste everything they have in stock!  (I think I have officially tasted everything…twice.)

    My personal favorite flavors are the Garlic, Meyer lemon and Blood Orange.  (If you aren’t a fan of flavored oils, no worries, there are plenty of non-flavored oils to tempt your palate.)

    As for the balsamics, they are all imported for Modena, Italy and aged 12+ years.  The aging gives the vinegars a delightful, thick almost syrupy consistency.  And the flavor….it will put any other balsamic you have tasted to shame.

    I lose all my self-control when it comes to choosing balsamic vinegar at Olive Branch.  I have tried them all including the rich and luscious 18 Year Old Traditional.  It isn’t flavored but it is a delicacy in itself.

    The fruity flavored ones (Wild Blueberry, Fig, Peach White) are great as salad dressings or marinades especially when mixed with some of the citrus olive oils.  Another favorite is the Espresso Coffee, which I drizzle over ICE CREAM!!!  (Seriously, it is so good.)

    Your only limit is your imagination.  The store encourages you to mix up some flavors so you know what you are buying.  And if you need suggestions, just ask.  The staff will give you all sorts of ideas for using their product.  (They’ll be doing some cooking demonstrations this summer so you can see the product used first hand.)

    Description of origin and uses are placed by each product.

    I am such a fan of this store; it is also my favorite place to get gifts.  Between the cool cruets, dipping plates and drizzlers offered, I can always find a unique present.  (They also make super cute gift baskets to order so if you need a fun bridal shower favor or wedding gift, keep them in mind)

    And to help you make any gathering spectacular, The Olive Branch has a great selection of Wind & Willow mixes for cheese balls, dips and desserts.  In addition to Robert Rothschild’s sauces and dips and Enrico Formella’s relishes and awesome roasted red peppers. 

    The Olive Branch is located in Toscana Park, Granger, IN, Mattern’s Corner Butcher Shop & Deli in Goshen, as well as The Auction Barn in Shipshewana.   And a new shop will be opening this week at 1003 E Canal Street, Winona Lake, IN 46590.  You can shop in person, by phone or use their convenient online catalog.

    Since I have started my blog, I have been fortunate to try some amazing places.  I have been a fan of The Olive Branch long before my blog started and will continue to shop there no matter where my cooking endeavors lead me.  Whether it is their grapeseed oil, sesame oil, or a perfectly aged balsamic, their products are part of my everyday cooking.

    Let me know if you try them out.  Not only will you be enhancing the flavors of your meals but you will be supporting a great little store! (And a super nice family.)