Posts Tagged ‘Chicago restaurants’

Weber Grill’s Refreshed Spring Menu!

Weber Grill's Kettle Burger with Bourbon Caramelized Onions. YES!!

Last week, I was invited as a food blogger to attend a media dinner at Weber Grill. I had never been to the location downtown, so I was excited to visit and see what the refreshed menu had in store.

Weber has some refreshing new cocktails, including a classic rum-based daiquiri, which was stirred, not frozen, and there wasn’t a strawberry in sight. It’s a tasty drink, which would be lovely on a nice summer day on the Weber Grill patio.

Weber's new "Old School" rum daiquiri with a lovely edible flower

Weber’s new summer drink – “Old School” rum daiquiri with a lovely edible flower

Executive Chef Jason Friedland stopped by my table & mentioned that the Prime Kettle burger started off at Weber as a special item, but it was so popular that they recently decided to make it a regular menu item. The caramelized bourbon grilled onions are amazing on this burger. The touch of bourbon really makes these onions stand out.

Weber Grill's Kettle Burger with Bourbon Caramelized Onions. YES!!

Weber Grill’s Kettle Burger with Bourbon Caramelized Onions. YES!! Do you see this cheese dripping off of this burger??

The plank-grilled Chilean Sea Bass is a nice, light option, and as you would expect, Weber really knows how to grill fish. It was prepared just right with roasted cauliflower mashed potatoes, which has a touch of citrus to give it that little somethin’ somethin’.

Plank-Grilled Chilean Sea Bass from Weber Grill

Plank-Grilled Chilean Sea Bass from Weber Grill

Weber is also introducing some new dessert items that have a cake layer on the bottom, and creamy goodness on the top. My favorite was the chocolate peanut butter. A nice sweet treat to end the meal.

Chocolate peanut butter dessert - my favorite!

Chocolate peanut butter dessert – my favorite! 

Weber Grill is a classic Chicago restaurant with good straightforward food – great for foodies and non-foodies alike. I would feel comfortable inviting out of town guests, families with kids, my foodie friends, co-workers, and I would also do carry-out. (I noticed a carry-out station in the front corner of the restaurant). Weber is truly a Chicago gem, and I highly recommend it for a lovely al fresco spring or summer evening.

My menu selections for the evening

My menu selections for the evening

Disclosure: I received this complimentary meal as a part of a media dinner. I was not required to write a positive review, and the opinions I have expressed are my own. 

Me enjoying my time at Weber Grill!

Me enjoying my time at Weber Grill!

How Chicago Gourmet Helped Steal the James Beard Awards Away from NYC

I had the opportunity to interview Sam Toia, the President of the Illinois Restaurant Association during the Chicago Gourmet show, and learned that Chicago Gourmet was key to helping Chicago to host the James Beard Awards it’s 25th year (after being held in New York for the past 24 years). Impressive! So, how did that happen?

Below are my interview highlights from my chat with Sam Toia:

Sam Toia, President and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association and Erica Williams, Food Blogger for http://www.tastebuddiaries.com[/caption%5D

Q: What has Chicago Gourmet Done for the Restaurant Industry in both Chicago and in Illinois?

A:   “We are bringing the James Beard Foundation Award ceremonies here in May, and it all started with Chicago Gourmet. It started 7 years ago, and the talent that we have in this town from Rick Bayless, to Stephanie Izard to Graham Elliot is phenomenal. We are able to showcase to the city, the state and the rest of the country that our homegrown talent is as good or better than they have in New York, San Francisco or LA. There are over 180 chefs participating in Chicago Gourmet, so just by that fact you see that every chef wants to participate in Chicago Gourmet.”

Q: How does Chicago Gourmet benefit Chicago from a Financial/Tourism standpoint? A: “The Mayor is working on getting 55 Million visitors a year to the city of Chicago by 2020, and it looks like we are closing in on 50 Million in the next year, so we’re getting close!  When people look at what city they are going to travel to, 38% look at the restaurants in that town. They may say “I want to go to Mexique, I want to go to Grace, I want to go to Stephanie Izard, Frontera…Alinea…” – so they look at the restaurants and then make the reservations to come.  The front half is business, but the back half is tourism. Chicago Gourmet shows how great the homegrown talent is here, and it’s getting bigger and better every year, and attracting more visitors. It’s great for the industry, the tax base, the restaurants, the museums, and it’s one of the cogs in the wheel to bring more people to Chicago.”

Q:  This year, Chicago Gourmet is sold out and the demand is off the charts. Do you have plans to grow it, add more days, etc.

A: Absolutely, we are always looking to grow. We will definitely sit down and go back to the table. We need more real estate. Over the weekend, we bring in about 12,000 people between the Hamburger Hop, and Saturday and Sunday at Chicago Gourmet.

Q: What big things is the Illinois Restaurant Association working on for 2015?

A:  “We are bringing the James Beard Award ceremonies here. It was 24 years in New York, and it’s the first time they are out of New York in their 25th year. The James Beard awards are like the Oscars of the food industry, so we will be working on that, and it’s the first Monday in May. We will be working on that as soon as we wrap up with Chicago Gourmet with the ChooseChicago tourism arm here in the city. We are working very diligently on the ceremony coming in May.”

Erica:  “Wow – That’s taking Chicago’s food scene to a WHOLE new level – Having the Beard’s here after 24 years in New York? How did you do that?”

Sam Toia: “There had always been rumbles about moving to San Francisco, or another city, and Mayor Emmanuel reached out and said that it would be great to have the Beard’s here, so we had great cooperation from City Hall and Choose Chicago, and we made our presentation to the Beard Foundation. With the homegrown talent here, it just made sense. San Francisco was trying to get it, and we got it before San Francisco.”

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So, there you have it. Chicago should be proud. Keep an eye on the James Beards in May – I know I will be! In the meantime, check out the delectable bites I had from our amazing homegrown talent in the best food city in the world – Chicago!:

[caption id="attachment_827" align="alignleft" width="640"]Lemon Olive Oil Cake from Acanto Lemon Olive Oil Cake from Acanto

Bourbon Mousse with Smoked Bourbon Sugar Bacon from the Dawson

Bourbon Mousse with Smoked Bourbon Sugar Bacon from the Dawson

 

Roasted Apple Ice Cream Taffy Apple from Mindy Segal

Roasted Apple Ice Cream Taffy Apple from Mindy Segal

 

Tasty Ethiopian from Demera Ethiopian Restaurant

Tasty Ethiopian from Demera Ethiopian Restaurant

 

Mercat a la Planxa

Mercat a la Planxa

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More of Mindy Segal's apple creations

More of Mindy Segal’s apple creations

Cheers from Chicago Gourmet 2014!

Cheers from Chicago Gourmet 2014!

Underground Dinners Worth Digging For

Fork knife spoon

Want to add a bit of intrigue and surprise to your dinner plans? Try a secret supper club. They offer a level of mystery with secret locations, surprise menus, and close & personal interactions with their breakout chefs. It is believed that the idea for the underground dining scene first started in Europe, where chefs & amateurs created private, unlicensed speakeasy-operated dinners in obscure locations. This concept has since evolved in the States, and can be still found in various forms. Whether held at the home of a chef, an “underground” venue, or a space transformed such as a museum or church, all secret suppers share the shroud of exclusivity and discretion. Further variations on this theme rest purely with the chef. Formal training and culinary accolades do not make a perfect chef. Often, Secret Suppers feature self proclaimed chefs with an affinity for culinary fusion, creativity, or other specific talent.

Chefs are joining the secret supper movement in increasing numbers – either leaving restaurants to strike out on their own, or starting secret supper clubs on the side. The Secret Supper format is a winning experience for both the chefs and the diners. Chefs get a chance to showcase new recipes & concepts with an intimate group of serious diners, and foodies get a first-row seat on a culinary journey.

In the food-centric city of Chicago, the Secret Supper trend is rebounding in popularity right alongside speakeasies, farmers markets and Malort.  There are a number of active Secret Supper clubs in the city, which by their very design, might not be on your radar.

Membership in The Sunday Dinner Club earned diners the privileged first taste of Honey Butter Fried Chicken, a recipe that gained instant popularity following the recent opening of the comfort food restaurant.

Clandestino, and the Stew Supper Club also operate beneath the mainstream radar, hosting such themed dinners as the Feast of the Seven Fishes and a Whole Hog menu. Newest on the list is Dishcrawl’s Chicago contingent, holding a Secret Supper at a classified venue in River North on April 1st. See http://www.dishcrawl.com/chicagoss for more information.

If everyone knew about them, Secret Suppers and Underground Dining wouldn’t be any fun. If you’re a foodie, though, in need of a unique and intriguing culinary experience, a little investigation might lead to a whole new and exiting way of dining.

“What’s Good?” Turkey Chop Restaurant Review

Today’s “What’s Good” is about a new-ish restaurant called Turkey Chop. Turkey Chop is located in West Humboldt Park (3506 W. Chicago Ave.)  and they cater to those looking for beef and pork alternatives. I was invited as a food blogger, and I had a chance to try a number of dishes, including the Turkey Chops, the Turkey Tips, Sautéed Spinach (which was prepared like greens), Sweet Potatoes, Dirty Rice, and Peach Cobbler for Dessert. (I’m surprised that I didn’t instantly fall asleep after eating all of this food!)

They really go all out with the Turkey Chops (like smothered pork chops) and the Turkey Tips, which were my absolute favorite. If you like rib tips, then you will love the turkey tips – they are grilled and they have an amazing smoky flavor, they are very well seasoned and are served with a tangy and delicious bbq sauce.

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Turkey Chop also caters, so I can definitely see the turkey tips showing up on one of my party menus in the future. The prices are also very good – the turkey burgers were only $5 and they looked like they would definitely fill you up. The other thing that I loved is that they had cornbread, but it was prepared like a pancake. I’ve never had cornbread this way, and I really enjoyed it – vey innovative!

Check out my video review of Turkey Chop below:

…and that’s “What’s Good”!

New Weekly Web Series “What’s Good Wednesdays”

Hi Everyone!

Today I am announcing the launch of my new weekly web series called “What’s Good?” where I will talk about my favorite foods from restaurants, grocery stores and the like. I’ll be posting the episode on Wednesdays.

In this episode, I’m featuring the following:

  • The Hummus at Bin 36 – I had the hummus at Bin 36 and was floored at how fresh and delicious it tasted. It tasted better than many Mediterranean restaurants that I have tried. I was at a party and had to force myself to stop eating it because I literally had plates of it (small plates, but plates). If I had a picnic or event, I would order the hummus specifically and take it to-go. It was served with pita bread, and I loved it. Very unexpected find at a wine-focused restaurant.

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  • Good Vines Wine – I had the pleasure of trying Good Vines Wine at this same event, and was delighted to learn that they give 5% of their proceeds back to a charity (in this case it’s Common Threads, which is my favorite charity), and they also have a lovely Marzemino sparkling red wine. I said Sparkling. Red. Wine. Who knew? It’s very well-balanced (with hints of berries and violets) and not too sweet, so it can pair with a variety of foods. The wine has half the carbonation of Champagne, and it’s quite refreshing. Definitely the kind of wine that I would take to a dinner party or an outdoor picnic. (Can you tell that I like picnics?). The wine is currently sold in the Chicago area at Mariano’s grocery stores, so be sure to pick up a bottle the next time you go shopping. They also have a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Tai-Pinot Grigio as well. Check out their website at http://www.goodvineswine.com

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  • Trader Joe’s Macaroni and Cheese – If you don’t have time to cook and you have a craving for some serious Mac & Cheese, Trader Joe’s has a frozen, gourmet Mac and Cheese that you won’t believe came from a frozen box at the grocery store. It’s very creamy and has 4 cheeses. They also have a light version, but I was told to go for the regular version for the best flavor. This item is great for those days where you just don’t feel like cooking a side item, but you want to eat something delicious. Try a box and let me know what you think.

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That’s “What’s Good” for this week!

If you have any suggestions on foods that I should feature on “What’s Good Wednesdays”, leave me a comment or email me at erica@tastebudenterprises.com. If I decide to feature your suggestion, I’ll give you a shout-out in the video!

See you next Wednesday!

The Food and Fashion Rocked at “Fashion Rocks!”

I went to a fabulous foodie event Sunday night called Fashion Rocks, held at BellyQ. Over 20 of the best Chicago restaurants were under one roof with “fashion installations” by Haberdash, which is a local men’s clothing store in Chicago. What is a fashion installation you ask? Well, it’s a bunch of beautiful men who stand and pose in different scenes and outfits during the night. When I first arrived, they were holding guitars, and I asked “Are you going to play those, or are you models” and they said “We are models” – so of course I had to take a picture. They always looked away from the camera. Fierce!

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The proceeds of this event went to Common Threads (my favorite charity), and the West Loop Community Organization. Some of the Common Threads kids were helping the chefs out and they were SO CUTE with their full-sized Haberdash ties. The event was very well attended, and included some of Chicago’s best chefs and food bloggers.

Now on to the food. My top 4 favorites are below:

 Pleasant House Bakery with their meat pies – definitely a place that I need to visit in the future. I tried the Steak and Ale pie, the Chicken Balti (which was like a curry chicken, and my favorite), and the Mushroom and Kale pie.  These items are also on their menu at the restaurant. The pie dough was so flaky and delicious, and the owners were incredibly nice and down to earth – like the people next door.

http://pleasanthousebakery.com/

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Pecking Order served up a Caramelized Chicken and Garlic Rice dish. Very flavorful and comforting. It was like a hug in a bowl. I talked to chef Subido, who said that this item is on their brunch menu, but without the egg. I’ve been there for Sunday brunch and it is a nice alternative to a traditional brunch – very flavorful with different kinds of dishes that you won’t find anywhere else.  Turns out that Pecking Order is now offering brunch on Saturdays, and they have updated their brunch menu, so I’m due for another visit.  See for yourself: http://www.peckingorderchicago.com/

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Antique Taco – This is my second time trying Antique Taco at an event (Also tried them at the Common Threads World Festival), and it’s official. I need to go there. ASAP. They served a Crispy Duck Flauta that was very well seasoned and had some flavorful surprises. Plus, I like their logo.

Antique taco food Antique Taco sign

http://antiquetaco.com/

Frontier – Frontier is known for serving different kinds of gamey meat like Rabbit, Alligator, Antelope, and Kangaroo (yes, Kangaroo).  I chatted with Executive Chef Brian Jupiter who is from New Orleans, where he first started cooking different kinds of meats. Most of the meats served at Frontier are local (i.e. the rabbit was from IL) and they cook all of these different kinds of meats in an approachable way, so that they don’t scare people away.  If these items are a bit much for you, the menu also includes a nice mix of foods that you are used to eating.

I tried the Rabbit Etouffee at the event, which was really delicious – the flavors were well-balanced and I would have never known that I was eating rabbit. I could have easily been fooled into thinking that it was chicken.

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Frontier also has brunch on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so they are definitely on my “must visit” list. since brunch is my favorite meal of the day.  One item on the brunch menu that has caught my eye is the fried rabbit and cornmeal waffle dish with spiced pear butter and habanero maple syrup. I also have my eye on the bananas foster French toast and the Praline Pancakes – I know that they will be good since chef Jupiter is from New Orleans.

Check out the eclectic menu here: http://www.thefrontierchicago.com/food/

*I also learned that Frontier has a large enclosed patio, which will be great spot for the spring and summer.

I really enjoy going to these events because I can have a little taste of different restaurants and then visit the restaurant later if I like what I taste.  Great event for an amazing cause. Bon Appetit!

Rave Review for the Common Threads Cook-Off Event

Thursday, I attended the Common Threads Cook Off hosted by the Associate Board (which I’m a member of). What a fantastic event. This is the kind of event that leaves you feeling like an honored guest – well fed, well watered and well taken care-of.

The event was held downtown at the Fulton’s on the River restaurant, which is an excellent venue for an event of this magnitude.  The entire downstairs section was used for this event, which was very well attended with approximately 350-400 guests. The tables on the terrace outside allowed guests to admire the breathtaking views of the Chicago river.

Chicago-area chefs from all of the popular restaurants came together to duke it out for the best dish in a glass, on a stick, in a shell and on a bun. The chefs seemed to have a level of friendly competition between each other, encouraging the cook-off guests to vote for them by placing a voting chip (in the form of a bottlecap) into their bucket. Sara Greunberg (Top Chef Runner Up) was there representing Spiaggia and was shaking her bucket like “vote for us!” Very fun.

When I walked in, I was almost overwhelmed by the number of restaurants participating in this event.  All of the popular Chicago restaurants were in one place, including some new restaurants that I’ve been wanting to visit. There was so much food, but below were some of my personal favorites and highlights:

Pecking Order:  This country chicken sandwich on a Filipino-style bun had me saying Chik-Fi-Who? K-F-what? Best chicken sandwich I’ve had in quite a while.  It was dressed with pimento mayo, gouda tomato, onion and cilantro. The bun and the sauce are what really made it stand out.  Pecking Order is a relatively new restaurant headed up by chef Kristine Subido – formerly of the Wave Restaurant in the W Hotel. She told me that they are now open for brunch on Sundays, along with lunch and dinner during the week. I gave Pecking Order one of my chips. Guess where I’m going to be going for brunch?

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ZED 451: Served this amazing Maple Cajun BLT.  Time stopped for a moment and my eyes literally rolled to the back of my head. For the “On a Bun” category, this place tied with the Pecking Order for me.

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Lockwood: Heirloom Tomato soup and Burrata Cheese Crostini served in an elegant shot glass. Best tomato soup I’ve had in a long time. The crostini is what really made it shine.

Masa Azul – Chef Jonathan Zaragoza was representing Maza Azul (Mexican restaurant) in Logan Square, and had a tender and delicious Grilled Chicken Thigh Kabob with Chipotle Greek Yogurt Sauce. I love Chipotle anything, and this was very tasty. This is another restaurants that is on my list. How could I not know about this place? It has 4 ½ stars on Yelp. I’m going.

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Union Sushi & Barbeque Bar – Union Sushi gets the “out of the box” award from me because they served Grilled Kangaroo with Citrus Zest and Sweet Potato Cream. I have never seen Kangaroo on a menu, and I didn’t know that people ate Kangaroo. Quite frankly, I was a little disturbed by the thought because they are so cute. But then I thought to myself, “When would I ever have the chance to taste Kangaroo.”  (Unless I go to Australia). I reluctantly tasted it, but was pleasantly surprised. It tastes like beef with a hint of lamb. Very good. 

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Spiaggia – Sara Gruenberg at Spiaggia had a very creative presentation of a Cured Salmon and Squid Ink Grissino. The salmon was beautifully wrapped around a twisted black breadstick (grissino), and the black color came from Squid Ink. This was a well thought dish.  

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In addition to all of this food, there were also mixologists that had beautiful and delicious custom crafted cocktails. I loved the creativity that came from the chefs, and this event reminded me that these chefs really are culinary artists. This is their art. It was beautiful and delicious.

From the food and drinks to the adorable kids walking around helping to get donations, this was a wonderful event.  Where else can you have amazing food from Chicago’s top restaurants, and contribute to a great cause at the same time?

The icing on the cake for me was when Art Smith came by my table and introduced himself. Art is a well-accomplished celebrity chef and the founder of this organization, and it really meant a lot to see him there supporting the Associate Board and interacting with the guests. This is an organization that I’m proud to be a part of because it allows me to serve the community through my passion for food.  The best of both worlds.

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The next Common Threads event is the World Festival in March. I’m told that the World Festival is a super-sized version of this event, and rumor has it that the event in March is going to be the best one yet. Stay tuned! 

Learn more about Common Threads at http://www.commonthreads.org

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