melt

a while back i bought a groupon-type deal for a grilled cheese centric restaurant in bucktown called melt. so after work one day, a friend and i went to bucktown to get some sandwiches.

my first impression of the place was that it was a typical sandwich shop but one whole wall was devoted to their menu in chalkboard form.

menu at melt

menu at melt

i ordered the perfect 10 grilled BLT which i just automatically assumed had cheese in it since it is a grilled cheese centric shop. unfortunately not true. but even though it didn’t have cheese it was still delicious, but it had so much stuff in it that eating just one half left me full. and the other side was a little greasy by the end. still really good, but next time i would try a classic grilled cheese.

perfect 10 BLT

my friend got the grilled cheese with brie and apples which i preferred over mine. it was just a lighter, fresher sandwich for this summer weather.

i would definitely go back and try again – like i said maybe a classic grilled cheese with some avocado and bacon yummm. solid B for this sandwich shop.

nellcote

one big benefit of working in the west loop is that we are right near restaurant row on randolph street. so we hear and see the openings and going-ons in that area a lot.

one of the most recent of those was nellcote. i went there for an event right when it first opened and wasn’t impressed by the appetizers that were passed around. especially the pizza which they are supposed to be known for. it was thin, taste-less, and burnt on the bottom.

so i thought i would give it another try and go with my friend from grade school laurie for some dinner. it was super nice out the day we went so we got to sit outside and enjoy the nice weather.

the menu is a lot of small plates items so we ordered about 3 small plates and a pizza which was more than enough for the 2 of us. i left with some pizza even!

our first small plate was the shaved asparagus which i was really excited about. it was served like a salad with cheese and light olive oil or some sort of light dressing and it tasted earthy and healthy. it was light and perfect for the warm spring day.

shaved asparagus

we followed that up with the roasted rabbit loin, which i was really excited about trying. it was rabbit sausage wrapped in bacon served with turnips. i was a big fan of the dish – more so than i thought i would be. it was moist and tender – cooked really well. the bacon added a nice crisp to it and even the fatty bits were tasty.

roasted rabbit loin

we also ordered the spaghetti which came with tomato, calabrian chilies, and mojama. i liked that the noodles were bigger than normal italian noodles – more like a sobu noodle. and the sauce tasted more like butternut squash and had a little spice to it which i was a fan of. i liked the twist they added to this dish.

spaghetti

we ended our meal with the sunnyside up organic pizza which came with fontina cheese and an egg and was then topped with black truffles. the dough was perfect and such an improvement from the last time i came. it wasn’t burnt. it was thicker than last time, doughy and delightful. the egg wasn’t overdone or too much and the cheese went really well with the egg. i even got to take some home which was a big plus.

egg & fontina cheese pizza

i give this place an A-. it was good and i expect next time i come back it will improve again. lovely interior and beautiful patio. just a delight!

the aviary

i have been wanting to try the aviary for forever. and that i finally got my opportunity when i snagged reservations for a random friday night after work i was giddy like a schoolgirl!

for those of you who do not know (and are living under a rock if you are in chicago), the aviary is a cocktail lounge next to grant achatz’s newest chi-town restaurant next. all the cocktails are extremely involved and have a lot of ingredients. and they are expensive to prove it.

but i heard that it was sooooo worth it! so my friends and i arrived early and waited outside on the patio before our names were called and we were seated at our table.

the restaurant was honestly fancier than i thought it would be. i had expected a darker room, dark wallpaper, rock music playing. and it had more of an upscale white tablecloth feel to it. i didn’t hate it, just not what i was expecting.

right after we sat, we were served an amuse bouche of a iced tea type drink to cleanse our palettes. it was refreshing and a nice way to be introduced to cocktail lounge.

amuse bouche

we each decided to try a different cocktail so we could try a bunch off the menu. so for the first round, i ordered the “ginger” cocktail. which i thought would be good because i like ginger and it had vodka in it. so it wasn’t anything too crazy. and boy was i wrong. it was served with these white floaty frozen bits of ginger, red chili peppers, and flakes of some sort of herb (no idea what it was!) and then you got a tiny bottle of vodka to pour over the white floaty frozen bits. then you were given this bamboo stick to mix it all up with. what resulted was this mess:

ginger cocktail

hot mess. it looked like feta cheese floating on the top of dirty water. everyone at the table tasted it and the concensus was this was just too strong and weird.

but thankfully all other cocktails went up from there! my friend terri got the boston club punch which was cognac with raspberry ice cubes with champagne poured over it. i loved this cocktail so much that i ordered it for my second drink! it was sweet, but not too sweet and really you could only taste the raspberry and champagne the whole time. the cubes melted while you drank making it sweeter and sweeter as it went down. just a great cocktail. i wish i could make this at home.

boston club punch

lindsey ordered the sangria in suspension which was a cocktail off the next “el bulli” menu. the pieces of fruit were actually suspended in the cocktail. which you can imagine meant that the cocktail itself was really thick. while i wasn’t a huge fan of this drink, i did think it was one of the prettiest cocktails we were served that night.

sangria in suspension

for our second round of cocktails, terri ordered the…blank. Honestly I have no idea what the name of this cocktail was. Only that we thought it tasted very earthy and tree-like. Which was unexpected from the description of it.

the question mark cocktail

last but not least was another favorite of the night which was the pina colada. this was served with cotton candy on top and inside were balls of rum that exploded in your mouth when you drank the drink. it was whimsical, fun, and tasty. exactly what we expected when we first got reservations at the aviary and a good way to end the night.

pina colada

i give the aviary an A. they would have gotten an A+ except for the ginger cocktail which just fell flat for me flavor wise and look-wise. sometimes too much is just too much. which was the case with that one cocktail. otherwise i say everyone should go just to experience once. it is a lot of fun and the cocktails are strong!

leopold

a few weeks ago, my friend and i went to a restaurant in west town called leopold for the “taste around town” wine pairing dinners put on by Bottlenotes and Cheeky Chicago. basically the idea behind the dinners is to have a dinner paired with different wines from around the world.

we went to leopold and they actually let us pick our own 3 courses and let us have the wine pairings on their own, which was nice because we each wanted to try some different things off the menu than what the menu called for.

leopold is a belgian-themed restaurant, but for our first course we decided upon the remarkably polish dish of periogis. periogis are a lot like ravioli only they are filled with potato and cheese and this case onions. on top were some peas, mushrooms, and a creme fraiche.

homemade periogis

the periogis were a table favorite and honestly one of our favorite dishes of the night so i think they should stop all these belgian nonsense and be a completely periogi centered restaurant. for serious. so good.

so i’m sure a lot of people have been running into this trend lately – the whole you have to buy the bread from us scheme so many restaurants are doing. well we went with it and bought the grilled off the shared plates menu to pair with our rose first wine of the night.

grilled bread and rose

the grilled bread was a nice pleasant appetizer since it was nice out and it reminded me of bbq’ing and eating grilled bread off the charcoal grill. but it wasn’t anything spectacular so i think it’s a little ridiculous that it costs an extra $4 to get off the menu. the rose wine was of my faves and was nice since the weather was so nice out.

for my entree i decided to try the smoked rabbit leg that came with pork belly, fava beans, cherries, and almonds. my only complaint was that it felt like a very fall-like meal and since it’s spring i felt like it was out of place on the menu. but it was definitely delicious! not at all gamey like i thought it might be and the rabbit paired well with the cherries and the pork belly. i was a fan of it, but it didn’t fill me up that much so i sort of wished there had been a side on the plate.

smoked rabbit leg

for dessert we went the belgian route and got the belgian waffle with maple ice cream. they paired dessert with a very very sweet moscato wine that actually paired well with the food, but on it’s own was making my teeth hurt it was so sweet. not something i would have ordered on my own. the dessert itself was insanely GOOD. loved it to pieces. i could eat that dessert every night for the rest of my life.

belgian waffle with maple ice cream

i did like our meal at leopold and i would say the only drawback is that it is so out of the way to get to. i would give leopold a B+ because the periogis and belgian waffle were just the best. but the entree wasn’t my favorite of all time and i wish it had a side to just complement it a little more.

david burke’s primehouse

for mother’s day this year, my friend laura and i decided that a day of pampering was very much needed. and we had heard about this really great deal at ASHA day spa that if you showed them that you followed that particular location on twitter then you could get 50% a treatment that you had never gotten before. i said sign me up before she said treatment!

so we signed up for massages and decided to go the ASHA spa in the james hotel which also happens to house david burke’s primehouse. and they were hosting this fabulous $35 prix-fixe brunch that we got to partake in. and it was fantabulous.

first course was pastries and fresh fruit and of course mimosas. the pastries were actually better than one would expect. they had french toast cupcakes which was basically doughy cinnamon-y goodness, croissants with this great jam preserve, and little cinnamon buns that were flaky and soft at the same time (don’t know how that’s possible but it happened).

pastries & fresh fruit

next up was the eggs benedict that came with asparagus and bathed in hollandaise sauce. i’m not a big eggs benedict fan, but these were tasty with asparagus. and i love hollandaise sauce! so while i didn’t gobble this up, i still think it was really tasty.

eggs benedict

also included in the breakfast portion of the meal was bacon which i did not take a picture of because it wasn’t very pretty. it was a fatty piece of bacon almost more like pork belly. and i didn’t love LOVE it but it was bacon so of course i ate it all.

for our entrees and lunch portion of the brunch, i got a filet mignon and my friend got the pasta. my steak was good – a little tough on the outside and obviously had a rub that was a little spicy on the outside too. so even though the inside was cooked well, it was still a little hard to eat. which isn’t something you wish for in a steak. my friend wasn’t a fan of her pasta either – just very dull flavors.

however lunch was followed by dessert which blew our minds!

my friend got the blueberry peach crumble topped with vanilla ice cream. definitely hands down our favorite dessert. it was fruity, but not overpowering. it wasn’t too much pie crumble or too much fruit – basically a perfect combo of the two. this plate was clean by the time we left.

blueberry peach crumble

for my dessert, i ordered the cheesecake lollipops. the cheesecake balls were coated with a white-chocolate hard candy shell. i liked them but i couldn’t stomach more than one just because they were super super sweet. so i didn’t need 3!

cheesecake lollipops

overall a really delicious brunch and even better massage after brunch. just so so good and such a great day with a good friend. perfect sunday and a big A to david burke’s primehouse brunch.

red violet

for a friend’s birthday, me and some of my girlfriends went to red violet for dinner. red violet is a new chinese restaurant in river north that has prime real estate on hubbard near restaurants like hubbard inn, epic, and slurping turtle and is right next door to mercer 13 (a new restaurant/bar i def. want to try soon!).

my expectations of this place were pretty low. i don’t know why, it just didn’t speak to me as a place that i would enjoy. but i was wrong! the decor here is fantastic! whoever decorated did a faboosh job because i wanted half of the furniture in the basement level floor – especially these awesome steel chairs by the bathroom.

since i was running a 5K the next morning at 7:45AM, i opted out of drinking cocktails, but i was told by my friends that they were really good and very strong. which like i always say are the proof of a good cocktail.

for my entree, i ordered the sesame chicken from the specials menu and was delighted by it. it was actually really good! like i said i had low expectations. but i was told by the general manager that they use only fresh and local ingredients which makes all the difference with these traditional chinese meals.

sesame chicken

my friends got different entrees of course – 2 of which were a shrimp dish and then a noodle dish. this picture is really blurry, but i was told the food wasn’t outstanding so i guess a picture here doesn’t even really matter.

noodles & shrimp

while i was pleasantly surprised that this place was that nice and at least my entree was really tasty, i was not impressed by the prices of the food. my meal cost $18 for some chicken and broccoli. some of the more meat-centric dishes with beef and pork were upwards of $20. which on this road is uncommon. most dishes don’t get past $15 range unless it’s a nice fat steak. and you would think a place like this would take advantage of the small plates trend.

i didn’t drink and only ate an entree (aka no appetizers like my friends) and i ended up paying almost $30 for dinner without alcohol. which just seems absurd to me. so for that reason alone i will give this place a D. if they change their pricing, i can guarantee they will attract more clientele. and maybe me again.

the point

after work one day, a few of us girls from work decided to try out the point – a new bar/restaurant in river west.

interesting fact – it was named the point because it is in a triangular pointed building that is apparently historical. not sure why it is, but it is.

the wait for a table was 45 minutes probably because the place isn’t that big and the bar takes up most of the space so we decided to just order food at the bar. since we weren’t that hungry we shared everything.

first up were the truffle fries with srirachia ketchup and bernaise sauce. always a fan of truffle fries and the bernaise sauce was delish. not a huge fan of the housemade ketchup, but i’m regretablly more of a heinz girl myself so didn’t expect to like this.

truffle fries

the truffle fries were good, but nothing exceptional. i would totally take a bottle of that bernaise sauce to go though!

for our entree, we ordered the chicken sandwich served with grilled tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and sage pesto with a side of polenta. we were all fans of the chicken sandwich. the chicken was grilled really well and wasn’t dry at all. basically it was a caprese sandwich with grilled chicken, but it was tasty. the polenta was a little boring and didn’t have much flavor.

chicken sandwich with polenta

overall, it was good but not exceptional. i would go back for drinks after work, but probably not for the food. I give it a solid B for good bar food and a nice atmosphere.

nacional 27

tapas. we meet again.

this time it was at nacional 27 – a well-known latin tapas restaurant in river north – for a friend’s goodbye dinner. so obviously a place with strong drinks was necessary.

while at the bar waiting for everyone to arrive, i decided to try the sparkling sangria. obviously what makes this sangria different than others is that it is made with champagne. and it was really good and really strong – two very important factors in a drink choice.

sparkling sangria

nacional 27 works one of two ways – you can get tapas and have the table share – or you can get your own meal (and not share). but what’s the fun in not sharing! so we went with the small plates and more food option.

we started with the ahi tuna ceviche with watermelon. i’m not a big ceviche fan. it’s ok, just not a thing i would typically order on my own. but i’m really glad we tried this. the tuna and the watermelon paired really well together. acidic but not overpowering. and it was served in an ice bowl! so i loved the presentation and the taste. big thumbs up.

ahi tuna watermelon ceviche

next up was the chicken skewers that came with a cilantro sofitro. very simple but another favorite of mine from the night. great grilled flavor, good acids, and the cilantro was a great add to the dish.

chicken skewer

we also ordered a few empanadas to share – chicken, beef, and vegetable. i only tried the chicken and beef but they were only so-so. i have had much better empanadas (like the empanada truck which is another post for another day but ohmylord are they good!!!).

empanadas

we also ordered a few things that i did not take pictures of. we were so hungry i forgot to snap them before they were all gone! but i can tell you i was a big fan of the guacamole. it’s a hard thing to screw up and they do a good job on theirs. the shredded pork taco was also a favorite of the table – juicy and delightful.

i was not into the croquetas or the papas bravas which was disappointing because they are usually my favorite tapas when i get spanish or latin foods.

this meal was good, but not great so i will give it a solid C. possibly a C+ because of that great sparkling sangria! i would come back here for drinks or the salsa dancing nights.

frog n snail

before we even start this post, i have to point out that for a limited time frog n snail is BYOB. and everyone i know in chicago is all about their BYOB’s. i’m sure they will get their liquor license soon so run before they add over-priced wine and cocktails to their menu.

back to the regularly scheduled program!

so frog n snail is dale levitski’s new restaurant in lakeview. i had been to dale’s restaurant sprout in lincoln park before and had liked it, but not loved it. but i heard good things about this new spot and it is conveniently located across the street from a friend’s apartment. so we decided to try it!

we decided to start with an appetizer of the ricotta dip with bits of bacon and broccoli that comes served with baguettes. one word: delicious! i wanted more crostinis to dip in this amahzing cheese/bacon masterpiece. and could have made this my whole meal!

ricotta dip

we also decided to share the sweet pea risotto which i thought for sure would be a winner. but it fell really flat for both of us and won worst dish of the night. there weren’t enough peas and risotto was a little too hard. and the taste of mint was just a tad too strong. this dish needs some major kinks worked out of it.

sweet pea risotto

for our main course, we decided to share the lamb shank with mint gnocchi. which was all it was cracked up to be! the meat was melt in your mouth, the mint was a great addition to the meal altogether, and the gnocchi were the perfect consistency. we were big fans of this portion of the meal.

lamb with gnocchi

and there was no way we could pass up dessert when something like the a chocolate cake served with chips and pretzels. this was taking sweet and savory to another level. pairing something like Lay’s potato chips with cake doesn’t really seem right, until you taste it and then you’re like, ‘wait, why haven’t i been doing this all along?’

chocolate cake

while i couldn’t eat this every night for dessert, i still really enjoyed it. it was playful and different like most of the dishes (minus the risotto) that we tasted that night. which is why i will give frog n snail an B+. i just couldn’t get over how memorbale (and not in a good way) that risotto was. otherwise, a great meal! and i will return again with my dad for sure!

balena

a few of my college friends and i decided to try balena – the new restaurant in the old landmark spot – for dinner one night after work.

i love the feel of the place – very rustic barn-feel that still has a feel of luxury. big oak tables and pretty light fixtures. i loved the ambiance of this restaurant. but that’s where my love ended.

my first mistake was ordering a cocktail. i decided on the no. 1 strawberry that had all my favorite ingredients like prosecco, strawberries, and vodka. but the flavors did NOT vibe for me at all. it had an overwhelming vodka taste instead of prosecco and the strawberries seemed out of a can or jar rather than natural.

no. 1 strawberry cocktail

fortunately this bad cocktail was followed by my favorite part of the meal which was our starter cheese plate. the cheese plate came with 3 different types of cheese and different crackers and jams to eat them with. they were all delicious and i really enjoyed the cheese pairings.

cheese plate

for my main entree, i ordered the ricotta ravioli with swiss chard and brown butter. and while it was good, it was also pink. and i didn’t understand how those 3 ingredients could deliver a pink ravioli. not that it was a problem. it tasted decent and i basically ate it all, but the pink threw me off a bit.

ricotta ravioli

the place was also really busy for a weeknight and i felt like our service was lacking a little. she didn’t check up on us often and didn’t even notice that i didn’t drink my cocktail. i was surprised she didn’t offer me something else since it was obvious i didn’t like it. i didn’t bring it up, so it’s half my fault but i do think we deserved a little more attention from our server.

i give balena a C. i would like to come back and try it again maybe on a quieter night and try the desserts which i hear are to die for!