Foraging for Flavor

Ashley: I was pretty excited to try Intro because the concept of rotating chefs seems really interesting to me. When we got there, I noticed the décor right away. It was very clean and dark wood. It seemed more like a lounge than a restaurant, which was a nice change from normal restaurant décor. There was even a light fixture hanging in the middle of the room that reminded me of Christmas lights hanging on the canopy in someone’s backyard. Chef CJ Jacobson was walking around talking to all of the tables, even bringing out some of the dishes, so we were excited for him to come by.

Pre-Dinner Amuse

Pre-Dinner Amuse

Hilary: We were seated at a table off to the side that had 2 big comfy leather chairs to sit in. On the table was what appeared to be a forest-like table decoration. Turns out it was our pre-dinner amuse. It had pebbles and moss and what looked like 2 large white pebbles on top. They were actually edible meringues! I found this very suitable for CJ’s foraging/nature concept. We were each given a shot of green juice that had California bay leaf and other ingredients in it. We were instructed to eat the meringue and quickly follow it up with the shot. It was very interesting. The meringue melted really fast and the juice was so incredibly refreshing!

Ashley: Like, Hilary, I thought this was a table decoration of some sort but then the waiter explained what we should do and it was pretty cool. The little puff looked like Styrofoam and melted extremely fast. It tasted funny by itself but the shot was delicious. It was citrusy and a little thicker than just juice. I would drink that by itself as a breakfast smoothie.

Fir Mule

Fir Mule

Hilary: Once we had the amuse, we settled in and decided on cocktails. I got the Fir Mule (Vodka, douglas fir syrup, ginger beer) and it was so unique and refreshing! (Sensing a theme?) It had a minty, piney flavor with a cooling effect. It was pretty sweet but also had a slight hint of saltiness. It’s not something I would order over and over again but I’m so glad I tried it!

Fluke

Fluke

For our first course, we had Fluke (avocado, radish, douglas fir) served with a tangy parsley sauce. The fluke did not taste fishy whatsoever; it was sweet and a little citrusy.The radish was sliced so delicately thin and gave a nice light bitterness. The sauce was so delicious; I kept trying to get as much of it as I could with the fluke. This was a well-executed, beautiful dish that I would love to eat time and time again.

Ashley: I couldn’t believe that I was eating fluke for the second time in like a month…and I liked it BOTH TIMES! :) The sauce that it came in tasted a little like grass with olive oil. There were little orange dots, which were spicy and I loved having this pop of spice. The fluke and avocado were so fresh. And they actually had the same texture, which was good for me. This dish was so light and refreshing. I really liked it.

Potato

Potato

Next, we had Potato (seaweed, chicken skin, mugwort). This dish was like a bowl full of potato skins but in the mashed form. The mashed potato on the bottom was even delicious on its own. The chicken skin on top was salty and really crispy. It tasted just like a pork rind. The chicken foam was interesting. It just tasted salty to me. The dish also had the fried skins of the potato on top. This reminded me of fancy comfort food…and potato skins happen to be one of my favorites.

Hilary: Our server described this to us as CJ’s interpretation of a “hug in a bowl.” This dish was like the most decadent hash browns I have ever had, and probably will ever have. Instead of mashing the potato, it was riced to give a great, almost hash brown-like texture as the base. There were pieces of chicken and potato skin that were so crunchy and salty! I noticed that our server told us the dish was topped with watercress even though the menu said “mugwort” but either way, I thought it was very pretty but did not add much as far as the flavor.  I ended up sitting back in my comfortable chair and holding the bowl in my hands so I could enjoy it like I would at home.

Oxtail Tea

Oxtail Tea

Then, we had Oxtail Tea (rutabaga “ramen”, aronia berries.) This was such a clever concept and CJ actually came over to our table to describe it to us. He dehydrated a rutabaga squash and sliced it to create the ramen-like noodles. A very similar idea to spaghetti squash. CJ had a tea pot with the “oxtail tea” which was the broth they had cooked the oxtail in and he poured it over the top of the dish for us. The meat and broth was so savory and provided the same comfort as a good pot roast. The berries by themselves had a good flavor but a weird texture. I liked eating them with a big bite of noodles. This dish was excellent, one of my favorites of the meal.

Ashley: I was really excited when Chef CJ came over to present this dish. He poured the tea in our bowls and explained the different ingredients. It smelled so good when he started pouring the tea. It was like pot roast. And the taste matched the smell. The meat was so tender…like it had been cooking for hours. The berries were intriguing. The flavor wasn’t that bad but the texture was mushy and gritty. I did like that they were native to this area though. The “noodles” in the dish reminded me of spaghetti squash as well.   It also came with egg yolk on top, which of course was like icing on the cake. I loved it all together.

Grits

Grits

Our server told us about an optional add-on course of Grits (black truffle, parmesan cheese, pickled pomegranate seeds, popcorn) that we could share. We didn’t plan to get this but the description sounded so good, we decided to try it. When this came over, the grits were in a bowl and there was an extra plate that had the popcorn on it. The server told us the popcorn should be used as the crunchy topping. The grits themselves were very rich but the pop of sweet from the pomegranate seeds really balanced it out. The truffles added an earthy flavor and the texture was a little like mushrooms. I could really taste the parmesan in the grits and thought it was nice that they got the cheese from Wisconsin. I honestly would’ve been fine without the popcorn topping as the grits themselves were delicious on their own.

Hilary: I thought the most unique ingredient of this dish was the pickled pomegrantate seeds. I never had them before but they had a subtle almost-olive flavor but with the pomegranate seed burst. The grits were pretty heavy and rich, especially with all of the truffles on top (they certainly did not skimp on truffle!) so I thought the popcorn on top was a welcomed airy crunch to such a heavy dish. Although, it did not contribute much to the flavor. This dish was very good but was such a large portion compared to the other dishes. It was much better suited for four people, instead of two.

Sparkling Vampyro & Wine

Sparkling Vampyro & Wine

It was time for me to get another drink, so I ordered the Sparkling Vampyro (Beets, apple, elderflower, sparkling wine.) Again, such a unique cocktail! The beets gave it a beautiful red hue, while the apple and elderflower contributed to the sweet yet tart flavor, almost like sweet cherries. I drank this really fast, because it was so good! I would get it again.

Lobster

Lobster

Our last dish before dessert was Lobster (black trumpet, snap pea, cumin.) This plate looked so pretty, I hated to dig in but I’m glad I did. The lobster was very tender, not as silky as some lobster I have had before, but cooked very well. It had a similar texture to the mushrooms on the plate so the crunchiness of the snap pea was a great addition. The mushrooms were salty and delicious on the side and I LOVED the tiny bits of blood orange. They gave a sweetness to an otherwise savory dish. The cumin sauce was pretty strong on certain parts of the dish but not others. The inconsistency bothered me a little, but overall I enjoyed this dish a lot.

Ashley: The cumin sauce on the lobster was the best part of this dish in my opinion. You could really taste the cumin and it was just really flavorful and perfectly spicy. The lobster was an interesting texture for me but I’m sure that’s just its normal texture. The snap pea with the lobster was delicious. It added a bit of sweet to the spice of the cumin sauce on the lobster. It also provided a slight crunch and I liked that.

Kombucha

Kombucha

Hilary: Our final dish, dessert, was Kombucha (juniper snow, chocolate, sunflower.) We were told the brown paste was a sunflower seed-praline butter and the small cube was a chunk of rich chocolate fudge. It was topped off with some mild chocolate ice cream. The juniper snow was like a lemony shaved ice. I thought it was a little odd with the other ingredients, but everything else was so good, I still loved it. The other ingredients went so well together.

Ashley: The sunflower and praline butter tasted a lot like peanut butter. It had a nice nutty flavor and bits of sunflower seeds for crunch. The chocolate ice cream was nice and light and not too chocolatey. The chocolate chunks were really good as well. Like Hilary mentioned, the juniper snow on top was citrusy. It reminded me of water ice (or wooter ice for my Philly friends). I didn’t like the juniper snow with the chocolate flavors but I really liked it by itself. My favorite combination was the seed butter with the chocolate ice cream. This was a nice finale to a delicious meal.

I really like Intro and I think the concept is awesome. The service was great and our server was really nice and informative. The whole meal was delicious and I’m excited to go back when the new chef is there…or maybe even before chef CJ Jacobson leaves!

Hilary: I loved this meal! Everything was so fresh and, for the most part, light and refreshing! I can’t wait to see what CJ does next and who takes over at Intro once he leaves. He’s only here until April, so be sure to get in before he leaves!

Small Space. Big Flavor.

Hilary: While we were dining at Takashi, we ended up striking a conversation with the folks at the table next to us. They gave us several restaurant recommendations, one of them being Smalls Smoke Shack & More for some Filipino BBQ. After looking at pictures on yelp, I was drooling and could not wait to check it out!

Ashley: We decided to go on a cold, rainy day and lucked out with a free parking spot right across the street, so I knew this would be a good day.

Brisket Bibimbap

Brisket Bibimbap

The first thing we decided to get was the Brisket Bibimbap (soy/maple/sesame glaze, assorted vegetables, steamed rice, fried egg, kimchi, pickled daikon, Korean chili paste.) The brisket smelled amazing!  I was really excited to try it.  It was very tender and had a slight peanut flavor to it.  It had also been years since I had kimchi so I was excited to try it again. It was good and spicy.  The carrots were good too…I could really taste the ginger in them. I tried different combinations but one of my favorites was the beef, sprouts, and paste.  However, my all-time favorite was when I put everything together.

Hilary: For the most part, I really enjoyed the bibimbap. I thought the brisket was very flavorful, it did taste peanutty, but it was a little dry. And the rice was just plain steamed rice. I don’t know if I had ever had kimchi before but it was sour, tangy, and a little spicy.  I loved the carrots, they were very sweet but the ginger stood out too. The chili paste gave everything a kick without being super spicy.  Everything together in one bite was great, especially with the fried egg on top. Although the chili paste was such a strong flavor, that’s all I ended up tasting so I preferred it without the paste. This was one of those dishes where, on their own, the components were pretty good but when it was all thrown together, that’s where the magic happened!

Pulled Pork Platter

Pulled Pork Platter

The second thing we got was the Pulled Pork Platter (grilled texas toast, toasted garlic rice, not slaw, beets.)  This had a lot of things to try and taste! First, the pulled pork was a more tender than the brisket which I liked. We got the tiger cry sauce on the side for the pork, it wasn’t super flavorful but it was a little sweet and I could taste some ginger.  The fried beets were great, and had a delicious spicy mayo on the side. Although, I didn’t think they needed it. They tasted fresh and, being fried, they had a slight crunch, like a home fry at brunch. They were seasoned with just a touch of salt. One of the dips on the side was a bean dip. It was very interesting…kind of tangy but also kind of sweet like miso. The “not slaw” or, side of pickles, was refreshing…a little sweet but just barely salty. The garlic toast was pretty dry and I mostly left it alone. Now, on to the main reason that you should come to Smalls and give it a try…the garlic rice! It was awesome! Definitely my favorite part of the meal. Took the dish up 20 notches. My favorite combination was eating the garlic rice with everything from the bibimbap!

Ashley: I wasn’t sure what the beets would be like because I hadn’t had them before so I accidentally ate the chili paste on the brisket platter thinking it was the beets.  Whoops!  Once I figured out what the beets actually were, I tried them.  I thought they tasted like a sweeter white potato.  The texture was the same as well.  The garlic rice was delicious.  It had the perfect amount of garlic flavor and the rice was cooked well.  I didn’t really like either of the sauces that we got.  Again, I wanted to try different combinations but my favorite was putting the meat and rice on the bread like a little Sammy. 

I really liked the food at Smalls.  The place was as the name reads though…Small.  I would love to go back there and since they offer catering, I would definitely consider them if I was ever in need.

Hilary: I liked Smalls a lot and plan to go back and get the brisket bibimbap but with garlic rice instead of steamed rice. We heard that you can order takeout from here and eat it at Lizard’s Liquid Lounge, the bar next door. Sounds like a plan!

Last Call for Takashi

Hilary: Takashi has been on my to-do list for a very long time so when I heard it was closing, we hurried to get in before it was too late. I am so glad we did! What a charming place.

Hilary with her Kyoto Blossom

Hilary with her Kyoto Blossom

When we first arrived, we had to wait a little bit for our table to be ready, so we grabbed drinks at the bar.  I ordered a Kyoto Blossom (Imbue Petal and Thom Vermouth, Jasmine Liqueur, lemon juice, BG Reynolds falernum and sparkling sake) and it was delightful! Very refreshing.

Ashley with her glass of wine

Ashley with her glass of wine

Ashley: The ambiance in Takashi was nice.  It was a small space but had a great vibe.  I was tempted to try one of the specialty drinks but opted for wine as my first drink.    

Hilary: One thing that I loved about Takashi was that the dishes often included several different components but were smaller portions so it wasn’t an overwhelming amount of food. I loved this because we got to taste a wide variety of proteins and flavors without spending too much or feeling sickly full.

Sauteed Maine Scallops  and Soba Gnocchi

Sauteed Maine Scallops and Soba Gnocchi

We started off the meal with the Sauteed Maine Scallops and Soba Gnocchi (Trumpet royale, celery root-parmesan foam.)  Both the gnocchi and the scallop were excellent individually but I did not love the two textures when eaten together.  The gnocchi was a little gritty and powdery while the scallop was silky smooth and simply salted.  I loved the foam—the parmesan and chive really stood out.  It was very savory and I scraped the plate to get all that I could!

Ashley: The foam on top was a little weird to me but the dish was sooooo good.  The sauce was like a light alfredo sauce, which was perfect and not too heavy.  The scallops were also cooked perfectly…with a nice slight crust.  The gnocchi was so soft but not mushy at all.  Everything was good alone and together.  I tried a mushroom and the texture was too chewy for me.  Other than the mushrooms though, I loved this dish and probably said “mmmm” the entire time I ate it.

Soy-Ginger Caramel Pork Belly

Soy-Ginger Caramel Pork Belly

Next, we had the Soy-Ginger Caramel Pork Belly (Pickled daikon salad, steamed buns.) Luckily, someone near us was eating this because I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the bun.  It was like a little open-faced sammy.  The pork was pretty tender and I could really taste the ginger.  The mustard was pretty spicy but good. I could really taste the arugula in the salad but not much else.  Everything together was pretty tasty.

Hilary: The caramel ginger sauce on top of the pork belly was glaze-y and delicious, like a sweet Asian bbq sauce. I absolutely loved the caramel and the ginger was very subtle.  It was served with a spicy Asian mustard that was spicy, like wasabi. The daikon salad was very refreshing, a little bitter. I liked everything when eaten together, and I liked it even better when everything was combined with the mustard!

Salad of Duck Confit and Duck Prosciutto

Salad of Duck Confit and Duck Prosciutto

Next up was the Salad of Duck Confit and Duck Prosciutto (Sweet and sour French lentil, sunny-side up quail egg, bleeding heart radish, upland cress.) The duck confit was very tender, flavorful, and salty. It was served over a vinegary salad and a teeny tiny egg on top! It was so cute. I loved that there were really crispy pork bits sprinkled too.  The lentil salad was my favorite part of the dish.

The duck prosciutto was very rich. The radish had a great flavor and color—I loved the presentation of this dish! It was very refreshing but just a tad too much oil.

Ashley: The last time I had duck, I didn’t really like it but I was ready to try it again.  It was so tender and juicy…and was literally falling off the bone.  The lentils on the side were super salty and had bacon or something in it.   It also had a quail egg that was so tiny and cute…ha.  I tried everything together and it was ah-maz-ing.  I loved it.  It also had a salad that came with it and you could really taste the arugula.  The green beans were cooked perfectly and the radish was really delicious.  The prosciutto was unnecessary to me though.

Mito Green

Mito Green

I finally decided to go for one of the cocktails. The Mito Green (Juogo Shochu, honeydew syrup, lime juice, cucumbers and wasabi) intrigued me most because of the wasabi so I decided to try it.  It was delicious!  It had a melon & cucumber flavor with a spice that hit in the back of the throat at the end…but not in a bad way, it was perfect.  This was a very light drink and would be perfect in the summer.

Campfire Cocktail

Campfire Cocktail

Hilary: For my next drink, I had the Campfire Cocktail (Brandy, Smoked Scotch, maple syrup and orange juice.) This drink was very strong from the brandy but the maple syrup still stood out a little. It was probably too strong for my taste, but I’m glad I tried the flavor combinations.

Sauteed Scottish Salmon with Flan of Kabocha

Sauteed Scottish Salmon with Flan of Kabocha

Our first entree was the Sauteed Scottish Salmon with Flan of Kabocha (Gratin of wild rice in zucchini, pesto, and truffle vinaigrette.) I love salmon when it’s crunchy and salty on top but tender and medium rare in the middle.  That’s exactly how this was prepared! The kambucha squash flan was very nice, mostly savory but a little sweet. It tasted kind of like clam chowder soup but in flan form.  There was a rice stuffed zucchini as one of the side components and it was one of my favorite things from the entire meal! It was like a classed up cream of wild rice soup stuffed inside a hollowed out zucchini. I want to try and recreate this at home! My only complaint about this dish is that the pesto on the salmon was running off into the flan which threw the flavor of the flan off for me. Otherwise, an excellent dish!

Ashley: The salmon dish came with a squash flan.  It was strange.  It didn’t really taste like squash to me and the mushy texture was really turning me off.  However, the zucchini that came with this was so amazing.  It was crunchy on the outside and had a creamy parmesan cheesiness to it.  It had little bits of rice, carrots, and maybe potatoes with a cream sauce.  I think I could eat it every day…it was so good.  The salmon itself was cooked well but was pretty fishy to me.  It had a good crust to it but the pesto was just like normal pesto.  This dish was good but definitely my least favorite of the night.

Grilled Sirloin Steak and Short Ribs

Grilled Sirloin Steak and Short Ribs

Hilary: Our second entree was the Grilled Sirloin Steak and Short Ribs (Warm bacon fingerling potato salad, Brussels sprouts slaw with almonds, aromatic sauce.) The steak was very flavorful. It was cooked to medium rare but it was very chewy and a little tough to cut. We really needed a steak knife but were not given one, which leads me to believe the steak was supposed to be more tender. The sauce on the plate was very gingery, which I didn’t love. The potato mixture was very garlicky and awesome, kind of like a baked potato salad.

The short rib was, again, a little chewy, but very tasty. It was a lot of bone and fat and not much meat. There was a red pepper salsa on the side that was very spicy and smoky. It was very good with the steak. I’m pretty sure we got a cucumber slaw instead of brussels sprouts…it was pretty plain but tasted good. This dish was like a classy take on a bbq dish.

Ashley: The dish had a lot going on.  There were potatoes mixed with mushrooms and I kept eating the mushrooms on accident.  The potatoes were good…soft, buttery, and had bacon and asparagus in them.  The other veggie side tasted a bit like a salsa, nothing special to it really.  The cucumber salad was like a typical BBQ side dish…like cucumber slaw, which was creamy and good.  The sauce on the ribs was sweet and had a ginger flavor.  The steak was flavorful and tender but it was tough to cut with my knife.  I tried it with the salsa-like veggies and it was good.  The ribs were okay…I’m just not a big fan of ginger.

Egg & Pistachio Macaron

Egg & Pistachio Macaron

For the dessert we had the Egg and Pistachio Macaron (Milk chocolate crème brulee in brown egg, caramel custard foam.) The macaron was really good even though I usually don’t like them.  It had a subtle pistachio flavor and wasn’t too sweet.  The texture was a perfect mixture of dense and soft.  The egg was ok.  He told us we needed to go all the way down with our spoon to get all of the layers at once.  All I really tasted was caramel and salt.  It was too much salt for me…although I think I got the one bite with like all of the salt on it.  It was still delicious though.

Hilary: There were layers of mint cream, caramel, salt, and chocolate inside the egg shell. It was sooooooooo good when I got a bite with all of the layers in one. It was very creamy and cold. I loved the crunchy salt flakes in it. The pistachio macaron was good too. It wasn’t too soft or too crumbly, which are often my complaints with macarons. I LOVED this meal!! One of my favorites, for sure.

Ashley: This was by far one of the best meals I have ever had.  I really liked everything we had and I’m sad that Takashi closed and I won’t be able to eat here again.  I can’t wait to try another of Chef Takashi’s restaurants.

French Technique Meets Mexican Cuisine

Hilary: I heard about Mexique from the list of Michelin star ratings of Chicago (although, they have since lost their star) and was very intrigued by the menu.  I suggested it to Ashley and we decided to check it out.  The menu wasn’t very extensive but we were able to land on a few things that we both wanted to try.  We placed our order and got a bottle of wine to share.

Bread & Bean Puree

Bread & Bean Puree

Ashley: They gave us some complimentary bread to eat before we got our food.  It was little pieces of bread with a black bean puree.  The puree had a little spice to it and I liked it by itself but the bread tasted a little sweet to me and it didn’t mesh well with the black bean puree.

Hilary: When this came out, I thought, “Sure! Why not load carbs with more carbs?” I love that idea! In theory… This execution, however, did not fulfill my carb-o-load fantasy.  It was a pretty dry combination. I think, instead of bread it should have been something with a different texture, ideally something crunchy to go well with the denseness of the bean puree.  The puree itself was very tasty.  The flavors reminded me vaguely of Indian food.  There was definitely some coriander in there.  Overall, this was underwhelming.

Black Bean Soup

Black Bean Soup

The night we went to Mexique was one of the first cold nights of the winter, so when we heard there was a soup on special, we both ordered a bowl. It was a Black Bean Soup (Black Bean, Toasted Chiles, Tomatillo, Epazote, Tortilla Tatemada, Queso Fresco).  It had a nice kick that I felt in the back of my throat.  I tasted cayenne pepper and chili powder, among other things.  I loved the tomatillo that was on top.  The acidity combined very well with the spice and added a burst of flavor.  There was a tortilla on top but it seemed like it had been sitting out for a while because it was only lukewarm and really hard to break into pieces.  I liked this soup.

Ashley: I was in a soup mood so I was excited for the black bean soup.  When it came out, the bowls were huge!  They looked like those big beach hats.  I was a little worried that the soup would taste just like the puree that came with the bread but it was a different texture and had some extras with it.  Again, there was a little spice to it but the tomatillo added a nice contrast to the spice.  I liked it best with the crisp on top and cut it up into pieces.  It wasn’t super hot, so the cheese didn’t fully melt and I got a big clump of it.  I still liked it though.

Stuffed Pepper

Chile en Nogada

Our first entrée was the Chile en Nogada (Stuffed Chile Poblano, Roasted Vegetable Roots, Dried Fruit, Goat Cheese & Walnut Sauce, Pomegranate).  The goat cheese sauce had a pretty strong walnut flavor to it.  I liked the after-taste of it the best.  I also tried it with the pomegranate seeds and it was delicious.  The pepper itself had a little spiciness to it.  I tried the veggies without the pepper but they were much better when combined with the pepper.  The veggies could have been cooked a tad longer I think though because they were still pretty crunchy.

Hilary: I was surprised that most of the ingredients in this dish were sweet.  It seemed like that would have been a very odd combination with the bite of a pepper, but it worked alright.  I loved everything that was stuffed inside.  The pomegranate seeds were very aesthetically pleasing and gave a great pop in each bite.  The goat cheese walnut sauce basically tasted like creamy walnuts.  This dish was very unique and I enjoyed it a lot, both the way it looked and the way it tasted.

Asada

Asada

Our second entrée was the Asada (12 oz NY steak, Truffle Purple Malanga Puree, Zucchini Salad, Goat Cheese Fondue).  While the steak was very tasty, I thought it was a little dry.  I needed to eat it with the other components on the plate to make up for it. Our server told us the little bowl on the side was a tararoot puree.  It tasted just like mashed potatoes, so I liked it.  The goat cheese fondue, under the steak, was kind of spicy but a little too thick. Too heavy for the dish. The radish, zucchini, onion salad on the side was a crisp addition to the plate, but didn’t lend any strong flavors. Everything on the plate tasted good together, but not so great alone. I wasn’t super impressed with this dish.

Steak: The steak had a great flavor to it and it was very tender.  The goat cheese fondue that came with it was just really cheesy.  I did not like the combination of the steak and fondue.  I did like the combination of the steak with the tararoot that came with it though.  It tasted like mashed potatoes, with a little more sweetness and grittiness to it.  There was a zucchini salad that also came with it that tasted like coleslaw to me.

Overall, the meal was pretty good but not amazing.  The steak was definitely my favorite part of the meal and I really liked the way it was cooked.  I’m not sure I would go back though as the price is a little steep for the quality.

Hilary: I thought the meal was really good. We had some very unique flavor and ingredient combinations that I enjoyed.  However, I think there are other places held in just as high esteem (or perhaps even higher) where you can get more for your money.

Give Me Some of Your Tots

Ashley:  I had been wanting to try Trenchermen for a while so I was excited to finally get the chance.  Hilary was running a little late so I ordered a drink while I waited.  I wasn’t in the mood for anything fancy so I went with a Three Floyds Pride & Joy.  I was looking around and really enjoyed the décor.  There was a lot of wood and it was very cozy.  I especially loved the detailed silverware!

Norrland Saur

Norrland Saur

Hilary: When I finally arrived at the restaurant, I needed a cocktail so I ordered the Norrland Saur (North Shore Aquavit, Kummel, Lemon, Egg white.)  It was, as the name suggested, pretty sour with a strong taste of lemon.  I liked how the egg white made it frothy.  I drank it down pretty easily and quickly!  Ashley is right, the restaurant is very cozy with dim lighting, which was a nice ambiance but made it very difficult to get good pictures! =( We even tried using the candle on the table as extra lighting, but it didn’t work too well.

Pickled Tots

Pickle Tots

For our first appetizer, we ordered the Pickle Tots (Chicken Bresaola, Red Onion Yogurt, Scallions.) They were cube-shaped tater tots with bits of pickle inside but the pickles were chopped very small so I didn’t notice a different texture or anything.  They were pretty dense and heavy but had a great crunch.  I loved the contrast of the tangy yogurt, the dill on top, and the smoky bresaola.  I really enjoyed this dish and was scraping up the leftover yogurt that Ashley left behind!

Ashley:  I wasn’t sure what to expect with these.  They looked like tots but had pickle in them.  It was more like a fried pickle of sorts.  The red onion yogurt tasted a little like French onion dip but not as sweet.  It was pretty strong.  The chicken was like deli meat…and I didn’t really like it with the tots.  I think it could’ve come without the chicken.  This dish was just okay to me.

Burrata

Burrata

Next, we had the Burrata (Squash, Miso, Hazelnut, Apples, Beer.)  We weren’t really sure how we were supposed to eat it at first because there was no bread or anything.  We just decided to dig in with our forks.  I tried each bit by itself to see what everything tasted like.  The miso was interesting…I didn’t really like it.  The apple was really sour and tasted a lot like pineapple to me.  I liked it best with just the burrata and the squash.  I also liked the hazelnut.

Hilary:  I love burrata cheese because it is so creamy and delightful.  It was a great base for all of the components that were on this dish.  It involved an interesting combination of flavors.  The apple gave it a tang but then the miso and the hazelnuts softened it with a sweetness.  Those were my favorite components.  The squash was kind of flavorless and did not add much to the dish, in my opinion.

Scallops

Scallops

For our main course, we got the Scallops (Quinoa, Carrots, Vacouvan, Pig Ear, Kaffir Lime, Apricot, Peanuts) and it was a very complex dish.  The quinoa was curry-flavored with a slight kick and had a lot of coriander in it.  The scallops had a nice sear on top but there was just a bit of grit in mine.  They served the carrots two ways: whole mini carrots that were sweet and carrot slices soaked in lime juice and spiced with more coriander.  I couldn’t taste the apricot or peanuts at all because they were hidden by all of the other ingredients on the plate.  This dish would have been a lot better and simpler with just the scallops, quinoa, and sweet carrots. 

Ashley:  I thought this dish was pretty good, although it was a little overwhelming.  The scallops were cooked well and the quinoa that came with it was the best part of the dish.  I thought it had a Mexican flavor to it.  I liked the sweet carrots the best.

Trencherman S'mores

Trenchermen S’mores

We knew before we even looked at the dessert menu that we wanted to order something so we got the Trenchermen S’mores (Dark Chocolate, Popcorn Ice Cream, Graham, Mallow.)  I was interested to see how popcorn ice cream would taste but it was my favorite part of this.  It was so good and creamy and sweet.  They toasted the mallow on top so it was just like a burnt marshmallow.  The graham cracker had a little cinnamon flavor to it but it wasn’t too sweet.  I tried the mallow, chocolate, and graham cracker together and it was good but not quite like a typical s’more.  My favorite combo on the plate was the ice cream, popcorn, and graham cracker crumbles.  It could be it’s own dessert!

Hilary:  This was a pretty unique s’more and I appreciated the attempt to have a different take on such a classic dessert.  I loved the house made graham cracker! It was very thick and a little tough to break but it tasted like a gingerbread cookie.  I’m not sure if the ice cream was actually popcorn flavored or if it was just plain ice cream with popcorn on top but either way, I liked it.  Unfortunately, I was not a fan of the chocolate or the mallow. The chocolate was basically a brick of fudge on the plate and was too dense and rich for me and I, personally, like my marshmallow burnt to a crisp for s’mores.  My favorite combination was the same as Ashley’s: ice cream, popcorn, and graham cracker.

Overall, I did enjoy this meal and I really liked the ambiance but I think the portions were a little small for the prices.  Also, most of the dishes would be even better if they were simplified a bit.

Ashley:  I was glad to finally get the chance to try Trencherman.  The ambiance was great and the server was really nice.  They had so many options that I would like to go back and try something else sometime. 

Did You Say Goat?

Hilary:  Ashley and I decided to check out Little Goat Diner on a Sunday afternoon for a late lunch.  I’ve heard so many great things about it and I love diner food, so the menu sounded awesome!  It’s a pretty small place but has plenty of seating options. We were seated right under a sky light which was nice, and especially great for photos! =)

Ashley:  I was excited to finally try Little Goat Diner.  Our experience at Girl & the Goat was amazing, so I was expecting nothing less here and I was not disappointed.  Unfortunately, my notes were randomly deleted from my iPhone (thanks Apple!!) so my review may be a little vague as I don’t remember all of the specific details.

Rosemary Daly

Rosemary Daly

I started off the meal with a Rosemary Daly (Kettle One vodka, Rosemary simple syrup, Lemon, St. Germain, Lemonade, Iced Tea.) This drink was basically an adult lemonade.  It didn’t really stand out one way or the other.  It was good but nothing super amazing. 

Moscow Goat

Moscow Goat

Hilary:  I wasn’t too impressed by the drink I had either.  I had the Moscow Goat (Bombay London Dry Gin, Ginger beer, Fresh ruby red grapefruit juice, Fresh lime juice) and it was extremely bitter from all of the citrus involved.  It was hard to get down and I don’t think I finished it.

Mac & Cheese

Mac & Cheese

Even though our drinks were not great, our meal quickly turned around once we got the Mac & Cheese!  The breadcrumbs on top were just the right crispy crunch and I loved how the creamy cheese was scooped up by the large noodles.  It was smooth, creamy, crunchy and salty.  I may venture to say this is the best mac & cheese I’ve ever had…

Ashley: I really liked the mac & cheese.  It was creamy and I even liked the breadcrumbs on top, which I usually prefer it without.  It had the perfect cheesy flavor.

Bull's Eye

Bull’s Eye French Toast

Next, we had the Bull’s Eye French Toast (Eggs, Crispy chicken, Sweet onion brioche, BBQ maple syrup.)  It was an interesting take on chicken & waffles.  The egg in the middle was strange to me as I don’t normally like sweet stuff with my eggs but it was actually really good.  The chicken was delicious and I preferred bites with just the French toast and chicken.  The strawberries were unnecessary.  It didn’t add anything to the dish.  I liked this dish the most out of everything we had that day.

Hilary:  The French toast was a little soggy for my preference but still tasted wonderful.  The egg in the middle was a nice touch but was a little undercooked as it still had some raw egg white.  The chicken on top was definitely the star of the show. It was battered nicely and had a great crunch, with a slightly sweet flavor.  I agree with Ashley and could take out the strawberries.  When I had a bite of everything with the strawberries, it was a little off. Overall, this was great.

Los Drowned

Los Drowned

Last, we had Los Drowned (Braised beef, Havarti, Avocado, Pickled peppers & onions, Spicy mayo, Hoagie) and it was so delicious!!  It was like a french dip sandwich but with a unique twist because of the mexi-slaw and avocado on top.  I loved how the crunch of the slaw contrasted with the tenderness of the meat.  There was a great zesty flavor soaked into the meat.  I would, without a doubt, get this sandwich again!

Ashley:  I agree with Hilary in that it is a classic French dip with mexi-cali flavors.  The beef was definitely cooked well and had so much flavor.  I liked all of the toppings as well.  Nothing was overpowering and everything tasted so good together.  This was a delicious sandwich!

Hilary:  I am definitely in love with Little Goat Diner.  Even though there are so many things on the menu left to try, I plan to go back and order the mac n cheese and Los Drowned again!

Our Spain Adventure: San Sebastian

La Playa de la Concha

La Playa de la Concha

Hilary:  From Bilbao, we took a bus to San Sebastian, which was lovely! It was a little beach town and even though it was a little chilly while we visited, people were out in the water the whole time we were there. We did not bring our bathing suits so we did not go in the water.

Ashley: San Sebstian was a cute little town. It almost seemed fake as we were walking around…like one of those towns in Disney World.

Climbing Monte Urgull

Climbing Monte Urgull

The view from the top of Monte Urgull

The view from the top of Monte Urgull

Hilary: There was quite a bit to do in this small town! We hiked up to the top of Monte Urgull, had drinks at a pop-up bar on Zurriola Beach, drank sidre (cider) on the patio at La Perla, and had the best olives I’ve ever tasted at Nineu . But the real deal in San Sebastian is the food. San Sebastian has more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere in the world!

Pintxos out on the bar

Pintxos out on the bar

We spent our meal times doing pintxos (pronounced peenchos) crawls. This is where you go to several different places and order one or two specialties at each. Most places will have their pintxos out on the bar but some also offer hot pintxos to order. These were some of our favorites!

Top: Shrimp Skewer

Top: Shrimp Skewer

Ashley: When we first arrived in San Sebastian, we decided to put our stuff away and head right out for foods. One of the places Hilary found was a couple of doors down. When we walked in, there were so many options that I wasn’t sure what to get. For some reason, this skewer with shrimp and a deviled egg appealed to me, which was odd because a.) I don’t usually like shrimp and b.) eggs that are sitting out like that would normally skeeve me out. But I got it…and I ate the whole thing! The deviled egg was delicious and the shrimp was the perfect texture that I wasn’t grossed out. This may entice me to try shrimp again.

Scallop Gratin

Scallop Gratin

The scallop gratin at Dakara was so cute. It was served in a seashell instead of a cup. It was like a cheesy scallop soup. It was so good. I could eat it again and again.

Hilary: We ordered the scallop gratin off the hot pintxos menu. It was very creamy with pretty big bits of scallop. There was plenty of it for us to share. I do wish the crust has been crunchier though. This was our last stop for lunch time but we would be back at it that night for dinner!

Carrillera de Tenera

Carrillera de Tenera

Risotto

Risotto

If you look up pintxos bars in San Sebastian, chances are Borda Berri will come up with a recommendation to get the carrillera de tenera (veal cheek) and the risotto. So, that’s exactly what we did! It was very crowded so we had to be a little aggressive to get up to the counter and get someone’s attention. But, it was worth the wait! The veal cheek was the most tender meat I have ever eaten and the red pepper sauce was so tasty. The risotto had a great texture, not too soft, and the salty cheese sauce was satisfying without feeling too heavy. I loved the green sauce on it, although I have no idea what it was.

Ashley: I wasn’t really sure what to expect with the veal cheek…I had never heard of it before. But it was sooo tender and flavorful. It reminded me of pot roast that had been roasting for hours. It was delicious. The risotto was so creamy and rich and the rice had the perfect texture. It had the perfect amount of saltiness to it as well. Another dish that I could eat again and again.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes

Leftover Oil & Bread

Leftover Oil & Bread

Hilary: After hitting up Borda Berri, we headed to Bar Nestor. They only do three things there (tomatoes, padrón peppers, and steak) but they do them all right!! We ordered the tomatoes which are chopped and doused with olive oil and flaky salt. They also give you a basket of bread so you can dip it in the olive oil after the tomatoes are gone. It was such a simple dish but absolutely delicious. The tomatoes were so fresh and sweet, the crunch of the salt was just the small amount of seasoning needed, although I could have eaten them without any salt at all and still thought they were delicious. Dipping the bread in the oil really was icing on the cake. This was our favorite pintxo stop and we actually went back the next day for more! It helped that everyone who worked there was very friendly and the main guy was really funny, always trying to make people laugh.

Ashley: The tomatoes they had were so fresh and juicy. I loved how the leftover olive oil had a slight tomato flavor to it. It was so great to dip the bread in.

Spicy Morcilla

Spicy Morcilla

Hilary: Our last stop on the first night was Goiz Argi for the spicy morcilla (blood sausage with rice.) I was afraid Ashley would be too grossed out by the fact that it was congealed blood inside but she had no problem with this one. I thought it was really tasty! The rice made it very filling and a great texture. I don’t remember it being particularly spicy, just really flavorful.

Ashley: The name of this one kept throwing me off but it looked harmless so I made sure that I tried it. It was actually pretty good. It tasted like a meatball with some rice in it. I’m glad we got this one.

Arroz Idiazabal con Ali Oli y Negro Helado

Arroz Idiazabal con Ali Oli y Negro Helado

Hilary: The next night, we made some stops again to complete our pintxos crawl. We went into A Fuego Negro where they had some unique pintxos featuring molecular gastronomy. We ordered the arroz idiazabal con ali oli y negro helado which was a creamy cheesy rice served with a small scoop of black ice cream. Turns out the “ice cream” was squid ink frozen with liquid nitrogen. It was my first time trying squid ink so it was…interesting. Very salty and savory. I did not like the stark temperature contrast so I ended up mixing the squid ink into the rice and I liked that better. Compared to Borda Berri’s risotto, this was less exciting. The sauce was a little thinner and not quite as flavorful. But the squid ink put a totally different spin on it!

Ashley: When we first got this, we weren’t exactly sure what the ice cream was. All we knew was that it was a scoop of black ice cream. When I tasted it, I made sure to try the ice cream by itself. It wasn’t very good. It just tasted like salty ice to me. So, we mixed it all together and I took a few bites but the ice cream just overpowered any other flavor. Later, we figured out that it was squid ink ice cream. Gross…

Cheesecake

Cheesecake

Hilary: Even though we were completely stuffed, we had to make a stop at La Viña for their famous cheesecake! We walked in and were talking about how amazing the baked cheesecakes looked when the lady next to us spoke up and said the cheesecake was the bomb! We started talking with her and after a while he asked us where we were from. We said Chicago and she said she was from Chicago too. She mentioned her cross streets and we couldn’t believe it because we live less than a block away from her! How funny that we were thousands of miles from home but managed to meet someone who lived down the street. The cheesecake was very good—different than any cheesecake I’ve had because you could really taste the eggs. Apparently, the recipe is mostly just eggs and cream cheese. It was very delicious but we couldn’t even finish one slice because we were so pintxo’ed out!

Ashley: This cheesecake didn’t look like a typical American cheesecake and it tasted different too. It was very egg-y…like they put too many in there. I honestly had a hard time tasting anything else. It seemed more like a quiche to me.

San Sebastian was wonderful and I am so glad we made a stop here on our Spain adventure!

Our Spain Adventure: Bilbao (part 2)

Hilary: We decided that we wanted to have one splurge meal while we were in Spain, so we chose to go to Etxanobe . I was excited to try some things I had never had before!

Ashley: I was really excited for this dinner. The chef has a Michelin Star so my expectations were really high. When we were seated, the first thing we noticed was that it was extremely quiet in there. The décor was really fancy though and they even brought us iPads to check out the menu…which luckily, had an English option since none of the servers spoke much English. We opted to go with the Chef’s Tasting Menu, which came as a 12 course meal. Most of the courses were seafood dishes which made sense because Bilbao is known for having fresh, high quality seafood

Sardine Lipstick

Sardine Lipstick

Hilary: Before the main courses were served, we received two aperitives (“first bites”.) The first one was a sardine lipstick. It was mashed and mixed and formed into the shape of lipstick and put in a lipstick container. It tasted okay, like tuna I’ve had in sushi, but the fact that it looked like lipstick made it seem so wrong to eat it! It reminded me of when we were young and one of my friends used to eat her Lip Smackers chapstick!

Ashley: When they brought the sardine lipstick out, I wasn’t completely sure how to eat it.  Then our server showed us that we just push it up like an actual lipstick and eat it in one bite. It was interesting, to say the least. I agree with Hilary that it tasted just like tuna…very fishy. And the fact that we were eating “lipstick” was unsettling.

Watermelon Soup with Caviar

Watermelon Soup with Caviar

Hilary: Our second aperitive was a cold watermelon soup. It was so refreshing, like a palate cleanser. It was served on top of dry ice to create a smoky effect, which was very visually pleasing. The teeny tiny spoons it came with were so cute but made it difficult to actually eat all of the soup.

Ashley: The watermelon soup was basically watermelon juice with a little froth on top and I didn’t really taste the caviar.  This was just okay to me.

Truffle Ajoblanco

Truffle Ajoblanco

Hilary: This was a garlic soup with truffle, thinly shredded asparagus, and prawns made into some kind of liquid form. It was my favorite dish of the entire meal! At times, truffle can be overpowering, but in this case, it simply added depth and allowed the garlic to be the star of the show. The garlic was so bold, but did not stay in your mouth the way garlic sometimes does. So delicious! I wish I had more.

Ashley: This was surprisingly delicious! The texture was a little gritty and thick but was garlicky, salty deliciousness. I enjoyed it the most when I ate it with the asparagus. Luckily, like Hilary mentioned, it didn’t leave a strong garlic aftertaste.

Tartare of Prawns and Lemongrass Gel

Tartare of Prawns and Lemongrass Gel

This dish…was extremely hard to get down. It was raw prawns chopped up into bits and mashed together in a sticky glob. (Sorry for the extremely technical terms). I still tried multiple bites though. It was extremely fishy and my gag reflex was put to the test. The lemongrass flavored gel was not very good either. There was another sauce that came with it but it also tasted like lemongrass. We both left a lot of this on our plates and our server noticed that we didn’t care for it.

Hilary: Yep. Prawn Tartare. Flavorless raw bits of slimy prawns with thick goopy lemongrass. No bueno. I had a couple of bites and had to stop.

Anchovy Lasagna with Tomato Soup

Anchovy Lasagna with Tomato Soup

Ashley: This was another dish that I was a little afraid of because of the anchovies. It wasn’t bad though. The anchovies had a weird texture but I could get it down if I didn’t chew it too much…ha. The red sauce tasted like fresh tomatoes and the red pepper gave it a little extra something. There was a thin piece of pasta under the anchovies, which I mainly used to help hide the texture of the anchovies.

Hilary: Anchovies have a pretty bad rep, in general, but the anchovy lasagna was better than I imagined. I still did not like them because they tasted very fishy. When I ate smaller pieces of anchovies with the lasagna, I enjoyed it a lot more. The red pepper sauce was the best part of the plate. It was lively and interesting.

Ragout Grilled Scallop with Spinach

Ragout Grilled Scallop with Spinach

The scallops were my third favorite dish of the night. I have had some delicious scallops in my lifetime but I liked how unique this plate was, as a whole. The scallops were very tender and seasoned with just a touch of salt. The colorful dots in the back were spinach, cauliflower, and basil and all three were excellent compliments to the dish. I am not sure what the brown thing was in the middle of the plate because I did not eat that part.

Ashley: This dish was soooo good. The scallop was cooked perfectly. It had a nice, thin crust and it almost melted in your mouth. The cauliflower sauce that came with it tasted a little like mayo at first but I loved it. I also like the spinach sauce but the cauliflower sauce was my favorite of the two.

Scampi with Sautéed Vegetables and Fresh Pasta

Scampi with Sautéed Vegetables and Fresh Pasta

I was pleasantly surprised when I tried this and ended up love-love-loving it.  The scampi didn’t have a tough texture like I was expecting at all. The pasta that came with it was like a wonton wrapper and the veggies were so flavorful. The mixture of everything together had the perfect saltiness to it. This was my favorite dish of the night. I wish I could eat it again!

Hilary: Because of this meal, we learned that scampi is a type of lobster. It must be small because the tail was only a couple of inches long. It was so tender, just the way lobster should be cooked. One thing that impressed me was how finely the vegetables were chopped and how thin and delicate the pasta sheet was. You can tell the chef put a lot of time and attention into this dish’s preparation. It was a light, fresh, and tasty dish!

Hake and Mussel juice

Hake and Mussel juice

The hake (white fish) was an interesting dish because the fish was “dressed” with juice produced from cooking mussels. The fish was cooked to just the right flaky tenderness but the juice was salty, heavy and thick, like gravy. It weighed down the fish.

Ashley: The fish was flaky and very salty but combined with the asparagus, it made for a perfect mix of flavor. The mussel juice made it slightly fishy but I didn’t even care. It was that good. This was my 2nd favorite…until we got the grilled tuna…

Grilled Tuna Steak with Caramelized Onion

Grilled Tuna Steak with Caramelized Onion

Once I tasted this, it instantly became my new second favorite dish of the night. It was like a melt in your mouth steak. There were onions that came with it and they were so tender that I ate them all. There was some sea salt on top of the tuna which gave it that extra something.

Hilary: The grilled tuna steak was so good. I have had tuna steaks before and often, they are tough and very fishy tasting. But not this one! This was also my second favorite dish of the night. I loved the pinch of crunchy salt on top and the sweet caramelized onions. I am not sure what the sauces were but I loved every bit of them.

Boneless Suckling Lamb with its Sweetbread

Boneless Suckling Lamb with its Sweetbread

The lamb was the only meat course in the entire meal and it was a little heavy but very unique. There was a “potato cloud” on top that was like the thinnest potato chip you can imagine. I broke mine into little pieces and ate it with the lamb, which was the best lamb I’ve ever tasted.

Ashley: This was my first time trying lamb and it was a great first experience.  The lamb was so moist and tender. The potato cloud on top was an interesting way to have potato with a dish.

Caprice of Fennel, Strawberry, and Tomato

Caprice of Fennel, Strawberry, and Tomato

Hilary: On to desserts! The caprice was one of the most interesting desserts I have ever had. It had a fennel meringue with a strawberry cookie on top and tomato compote underneath. While, the fennel meringue and tomato compote added savory elements, there was no doubt it was a dessert. I really enjoyed it!

Ashley: This was very delicious. The merengue was sweet and light. The strawberry cookie was light and crispy and very sweet. The tomato compote balanced it out with a little bit of savoriness.

The Chef making our next dessert

The Chef making our next dessert

Orange Cream with Liquid Nitrogen

Orange Cream with Liquid Nitrogen

Hilary: I was really impressed that the chef came out to our table to make the second dessert for us. I got a little camera shy while he was there but snapped some pictures with my phone. First, he put some cream into a spoon. Then he dipped it into the liquid nitrogen and used two spoons to mold the cream. Last, he put the frozen cream on a plate with orange powder and instructed us to eat it in one bite. It was lovely. A very refreshing end to a great meal!

Ashley: This was a fun finale to our 12 courses. And it was cool that the chef came out to prepare it at the table. It tasted a lot like an orange creamsicle.

Hilary: Overall, this was an incredible experience. I tried a lot of things I never had before and some things I had, but these had a unique twist. I do wish there had been music or something playing in the restaurant so it wasn’t SO quiet. That would have helped a lot! I left this meal feeling full but not stuffed because each course was just the right size for such a lengthy meal.

Ashley: Overall, this was such a fun experience. Like Hilary, I tried things I never thought I’d try…and one of them ended up being my favorite! We had a great time.

Our Spain Adventure: Bilbao (part 1)

Hilary: Happy Halloween!  Today we continue with the next leg of our Spain trip.

Seville was amazing and such a great time, but it was time to move on! Next, we hopped on a plane and headed across the country to Bilbao, which is in northern Spain, near the Bay of Biscay. That area is called Basque country and they speak Basque, an entirely differently language than Spanish. Luckily, there was also Spanish so we were able to get by alright but there were very few people who spoke English there.

Ashley: When we first landed in Bilbao, we had to take a bus to the apartment we were staying in. We ended up missing our stop but, luckily, we were able to back track and get it right the second time. Little did we know, there was a train stop right nearby that we could have taken instead. Whoops! We were staying in someone’s apartment through AirBNB for this part of the trip so we met the owner at her place. She was so nice. She gave us recommendations on places to eat and even bought us a bottle of wine as a welcome gift.

Hilary: We stayed in Parte Vieja (the Old Part) but found that Bilbao was a small enough city to cover most of it in our time there. We walked along the river and down to the Guggenheim, although we only went into the gift shop. The Guggenheim building was really awesome and we were able to get some great pictures. Next, we took the funicular to the top of Artxanda Mountain to get a great view of the city. It was really beautiful. On our last night, we did a pintxos (“small snacks”) crawl and tried some really tasty things!

Puente Zubizuri

Puente Zubizuri

Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum

The view from the top of Artxanda Mountain

The view from the top of Artxanda Mountain

One of the restaurants that came recommended by our host was Agape. It was a cute, trendy place. We went for lunch so we split a menú del día (menu of the day) which included a first course, main course, dessert, and wine. Our server was very friendly and, luckily, spoke some English so he helped us decide what to get.

Paella

Paella

For our first course, we selected paella. It had pork and vegetables in it. This was my first time eating paella at all, not just my first time eating it in Spain. Given my inexperience, I do not know if it was a traditional take on paella or if they experimented with it a little. Either way, it was delicious. I would guess based on the other dishes on their menu that there was probably a slight twist from a traditional recipe but as far as we could tell, kept the basic elements the same, such as bomba rice and saffron.

Ashley: I was excited to try some authentic Paella and I was not disappointed. The rice had a great texture, just the right medium between dry and moist. All of the spices produced an explosion of flavor and I felt like I couldn’t eat it fast enough!

Moussaka

Moussaka

Our second dish was Moussaka with ground beef. It was a slight departure from a traditional recipe, and it was amazing. The sauce was a cream-based tomato sauce and I loved how creamy it was.

Hilary: My memory is escaping me on the exact details of this dish and unfortunately, we did not snap a picture of the menu. I do remember thinking that it had very similar flavors to an Italian lasagna. I’m not sure if there was eggplant in it but there were definitely some vegetables on the bottom. I do know that I really enjoyed it! The sauce was very nice, flavorful but not too acidic.

Mousse

Mousse

Our last course was dessert. Our server described this one as a light mousse with apple compote. He wasn’t kidding about the “light” part! It was such a simple presentation and flavor.

Ashley: The dessert was also amazing. The mousse was so light and fluffy and tasted a lot like light whipped cream. I wish I could have this dessert again.

Hilary: We also loved the wine we had with our meal and ended up finding a store that sold it so we could take some home! I really enjoyed Agape and am grateful that our host offered it as a recommendation.

Ashley: I actually think I would vote this as my favorite meal of the trip. I am constantly wishing I could eat it all again!

Tortilla & Txakoli

Tortilla & Txakoli

Hilary: On the evening we did our pintxos crawl, we stopped at Los Candiles for tortilla (potato omelette), which our host said was the best tortilla in Bilbao! Now, we did not try all of the tortillas in Bilbao, but it was definitely the best we had during our trip. It had caramelized onions on top that took the flavor profile up a huge notch compared to others. We had it with some Txakoli (the ‘tx’ is pronounced ‘ch’) which is a dry white wine made in Basque country.

Ashley: You all know by now that I’m not a big onion fan but I ATE them! And thought they were tasty with the tortilla! I will say that the tortilla was pretty greasy but we shared the slice so it didn’t bother me much. The txakoli we had was a little dry for my taste as I tend to like my wines a little sweeter. But I still bought a bottle to bring home!

 While we were in Bilbao, we decided to splurge one night on a tasting menu at a Michelin starred restaurant.  Check back next week for our post on all 12 courses!!

Our Spain Adventure: Seville

Hilary: One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2014 was to visit a different country.  I can’t believe it, but I went 27 years of my life without needing to use my passport!  It was time.  So, Ashley and I decided to take a sister trip to Spain!  We scheduled two weeks to visit 4 cities (I visited a 5th on my own) and it was such a great trip!  We met so many people from all over the world and tried many new cuisines.  So, of course we have to share some of our Spanish food adventures with you!

Our trip started off at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.  We were so excited to get going!

Waiting to board the airplane!

Waiting to board the airplane!

We flew nonstop from Chicago to Madrid, which took about 8 hours.  We needed to sleep on the plane but only ended up getting about 1.5 hours of sleep.  So, when we landed (at 7:40am the next day) we were exhausted.  We headed straight to the train station to so we could head to our first destination: Seville.  Seville is located in southern Spain along the Guadalquivir River.  We slept the entire train ride, but were pretty jet lagged when we arrived.

Ashley: I was so excited to finally be in Spain…but man, was I tired.  We heard from so many people that no matter how tired you are, you have to just power through to fight the jet lag.  So, that’s what we did.  To do so, we needed multiple café con leches!  And then we set off to explore and wander around.  Seville was beautiful.  It was warm and the architecture there was very impressive. 

Cathedral

Cathedral

In one of the neighborhoods, Barrio Santa Cruz, the streets were so narrow, we couldn’t believe cars actually fit on them!  Yet they whipped around like it was no big deal.  The hostel we stayed at, La Banda, was very welcoming.  Everyone there was so nice and they encouraged people to hang out and get to know each other.  They even cooked dinner for everyone and had a family-style meal up on the rooftop each night!  We met some really great people there.  It was the perfect way to start our trip. 

My favorite night, by far, was our last night.  We went to a Flamenco show and then walked to Metrapol Parasol, the largest wooden structure in the world.  We went right around sunset so we had some amazing views at the top!

Metrapol Parasol

Metrapol Parasol

That night, we had dinner at the hostel and stayed in with some of our new friends.  It was really great time!

Hilary:  For dining in Seville, we relied on the recommendations of people from the hostel and they did not disappoint!  Our second day in Seville, we had tapas for lunch at Vinería San Telmo.  We sat outside which was a little warm but still nice.  We asked out server how many tapas she recommended we share and she told us 4.  So, that’s what we did.

Tomato Tower

Tomato Tower

Ashley: First, we had the tomato tower (tomatoes, goat cheese, salmon, and eggplant.) I was expecting more of a caprese type set up with this but the presentation was much better.  The tomato slices were huge and really fresh and they piled on a lot of goat cheese, but I wasn’t complaining.  I couldn’t really tell the salmon was even on it and the eggplant, which I normally don’t like, worked well with the other ingredients!  This was my favorite dish.

Hilary: I agreed with Ashley for the most part, but I did think there was too much goat cheese.  Once I started taking some of it off my bites, I enjoyed the dish much more.  I think the eggplant was unnecessary.  I couldn’t taste it.

Beef Carpaccio

Beef Carpaccio

I love a good Beef Carpaccio so I was excited to get this.  However, it lacked flavor.  Some salt or capers or SOMETHING would have made this much better.  Otherwise, it was just bland.

Ashley: I wasn’t really sure what to expect with this but of course I was going to try it!  Unfortunately, the texture threw me off…shocking, I know.

Moroccan Pastry

Moroccan Pastry

Hilary: Our server told us the Moroccan Pastry (curried chicken, raisins, and almonds) was her favorite of the tapas so we tried it.  I loved it!  The pastry crust was so flaky and crunchy!  I loved every bite.

Ashley: This pastry surprised me because I thought it would be more savory, but it was actually kind of sweet.  There was a lot of chicken in it and you could really taste the spices.  I probably wouldn’t get anything like it again but I enjoyed it while I was eating it.

Tortilla

Tortilla

Spain is known for their tortilla (egg and potato omelette)…you can find it everywhere!  So, this was a nice introduction to it.  The potatoes were soft and the red peppers gave it some extra flavor.  It even came with a little bit of salad on the side, which was also good.

Hilary:  This being our first tortilla of the trip, I really liked it.  After having a few others, I realize it was really nice to have the red pepper because most places serve it only with egg and potato so that added some extra pizazz!

Seville was such a fun place and the people who ran and stayed at the hostel made it even better.  I would highly recommend staying there if you ever go to Seville, and also check out Vinería San Telmo for some tapas with a unique twist!

Stay tuned for more posts from our Spain adventure!

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