The French Rodeo

Hilary: After loving absolutely everything about CJ Jacobson’s meal during his time at Intro, I couldn’t wait to go back and experience the second chef, Erik Anderson. The concept behind Intro is that every few months, the head chef (along with the menu, theme, and décor) changes. Based on the fonts and the strong focus on whiskey, I thought maybe the new theme was rodeo (I was thinking elevated bbq or a lot of “game” animals or something) but then the food menu was heavily French. This struck me as odd. Not to mention, when we got to the restaurant, it was decorated with animal carcasses of different kinds around the restaurant (ducks, bears, etc.) I’m not well versed on French culture, but these things together seemed a little jumbled to me.

Ashley: We had such a great time at Intro the first go-round, so I was extremely excited to try it again. I remember seeing the menu though and getting a little freaked out because I knew there was going to be a lot of soft and/or gooey textures in this meal. I would like to preface this write-up by saying that I’m not a fan of softer textures anyway, but that night I was having one of those days where it was extra hard for me to swallow (pun intended).

Six Corner Sling & Serotina

Six Corner Sling & Serotina

Our server told us that they brought in a group from Bittercube to custom make their cocktails, so I knew I had to try one. I went with the Serotina (Blume Marillen Apricot Eau-de-Vie, Honey, Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters, Seltzer). I don’t know what exactly I was expecting when I ordered this drink but this was not it. When I first tasted it, it reminded me of medicine. I did just brush my teeth right before I left my house so maybe that had an effect. I kept drinking it but it just never really tasted good to me. The more I drank it, the more it tasted like black licorice (if that’s your thing then you would probably love this drink). I just didn’t know what to make of this drink. I finished it because I felt bad and I’m sure it was a well-made drink.

Hilary: I opted for the Six Corner Sling (Old Overholt, Lemon, Punt e mes, Green Chartreuse, Orange Bitters, Seltzer) and it was a good drink. Orange citrus was the main flavor but it had a slight bitters after-taste. 

Island Creek Oyster

Island Creek Oyster

Our first course was the Island Creek Oyster (gin, pickles.) Our server explained to us that the inspiration for this dish was a Gibson’s martini. It had a green sauce in it that I think was the pickle, some tiny bits of raw onion, and a gin gelette. I really liked the crunchy onion with the slippery oyster, it was a wonderful contrast of texture. I did not taste the gin gilette at all, which was probably a good thing since I’m not a huge gin fan. I think the fact that it wasn’t the dominant flavor was a good thing, even for gin lovers. A simple, salty start!

 Ashley: I was pretty surprised by this one because it wasn’t as chewy as I expected. It was perfectly salty and had a nice crunch on it with the pickles. I actually liked this a little.

Preserved Foie Gras Tart

Preserved Foie Gras Tart

Our second dish was the Preserved Foie Gras Tart (salted strawberries, hazelnut milk, radishes). When it came out, it looked just like a slice of cheesecake, however, that is not how it tasted…like at all. Now, I knew that it wasn’t going to taste like cheesecake but I think the look of it was throwing me off so much…I mean, it even had strawberry topping on it! It was really creamy like cheesecake but the taste was very earthy and salty. The hazelnut cream and strawberries were really good but I just couldn’t finish the foie gras. After multiple attempts, I think it’s safe to say that I definitely do not like foie gras.

Hilary: This dish was one of the prettiest plates of the night. The bright red of the strawberry and the deep maroon of the flower petals with the clean white foie slice. After my first bite, I was a little taken aback and how heavy and salty this tasted while still being fluffy and creamy in texture. I agree with Ashley that that aspect of it was a little off-putting. However, after my first bite, I got over it and started to enjoy the dish. It was VERY rich…there’s no way I could have eaten more than I did. But, I really enjoyed it. I especially loved the sweetness of the strawberries and the crunch of the hazelnuts with the foie.

Cold-Smoked Ocean Trout

Cold-Smoked Ocean Trout

The third course was the Cold-Smoked Ocean Trout (Tapioca, shellfish and squid ink jus, garlic). It was another visually pleasing dish because of all the different colors on the plate. There were a lot of components. There was the cold smoked trout, a celery root and lemon sauce, tapioca “caviar” in squid ink jus, little crunchy beads made of celery, and a sorel jelly. Then, on the side in a little glass was a garlic custard with roe on top. Our server recommended eating that separately, so that’s what we did. First, I tried each component by itself. I thought the trout was a little soggy, but tasted smoky and good. I really liked the celery root and lemon sauce and the crunchy celery balls because they added a pop of refreshment and lightness. The tapioca “caviar” was like warm Israeli couscous but black. Once I tried everything together, it was incredible how much better things tasted! The sauce is what made this dish for me. As for the garlic custard on the side, that was like a party in my mouth! The roe was like an edible version of bubble wrap because they popped as I chewed. The custard was VERY garlicky but that’s probably as good thing or else the roe may have been too fishy for me.

Ashley: This dish looked very good when it came out. The sorel jelly tasted light and refreshing. The tapioca pearls with the shellfish and squid ink jus were warm, which I wasn’t expecting, but they didn’t really have much flavor to them, they were just a fun texture on the plate. The celery root and lemon jelly definitely had a strong celery taste to it…and I like celery. The smoked trout was good. It tasted like it had some sort of spice to it…cumin maybe. I could really taste the smokiness to it as well. It was a little on the mushy side though. I liked it best when I combined the trout with the celery ball and tapioca pearls. I almost forgot about the little mousse that came with it. This tasted like pureed garlic with little bubbles on top of it that wouldn’t pop. It was strange.

Ribeye

Ribeye

After testing my gag reflex with all of the strange textures of the meal so far, I was ready for the meat (that’s what she said)! Our fourth course was the Ribeye (black truffle, peas, asparagus). It was amazing…and my favorite part of the meal by far. The meat was so tender and melted in my mouth. It had a good saltiness to it (there was a lot of salt in this meal). The seasoning on it was also perfect. The asparagus tasted just like asparagus…but who doesn’t love asparagus? There was a little tiny bowl shaped thing on the plate with the potato and pea mixture. It tasted just like peas but not as strong and mushy. When I ate the pastry bowl together with the potatoes and peas, it was even better. The crunch and extra salt gave the puree that extra something. I loved everything about this dish and would eat it again and again. Hilary even gave me some of her steak. She’s so sweet.

Hilary: I felt bad that, so far, Ashley hadn’t liked much of the meal so I did give her some of my steak. Not because I did not enjoy it…I loved it! But, I was already getting a little full. My favorite part of this dish was the little puff pastry with the potato-pea puree and pea tendrils with the red flower on top. It was so pretty! Also, the little black truffle hole punches were so visually interesting to me for some reason. Like Ashley said, the ribeye was wonderfully tender. It was almost like the texture of moist cake. I know, weird comparison, but really that’s what it reminded me of. And the red wine and truffle sauce was the shiz-nit! I kept trying to sop it up with each bite. The asparagus was really lovely but I thought it was comical that we only got half a spear of asparagus per plate. Regardless, this dish was one of my favorites.

Roasted Hay Custard

Roasted Hay Custard

Ashley: For our first dessert course, we got the Roasted Hay Custard (fresh crème, maple syrup). This again was a surprising dish. I was expecting sweet but the custard was actually salty. The crème was really sweet though, so it balanced it out a little. There were some crunchy pieces at the bottom that were a little sweeter. I’m assuming those were made of maple syrup. I couldn’t eat too much of the custard though, it was just too strange and salty for me.

Hilary: Wait, did she just say hay? Well, that definitely supports the rodeo theme. At first bite, I thought I really liked this. But the after-taste was blah. There were crunchy things in it that tasted like plain rice krispies. In fact, the whole thing kind of tasted like plain rice krispies and I thought it needed something more. I also wasn’t impressed by this presentation.

Burned Sugar and Rosemary

Burned Sugar and Rosemary

Thanks goodness there was a second dessert to make up for the first one! The second one was Burned Sugar and Rosemary (sable, oats and buttermilk ice cream) and it was awesome!! There was caramel custard, a shortbread cookie and pecan crumble, and little balls which our server told us was whiskey that had formed a natural coating around it. I’m not sure where the rosemary was…maybe it was in the crumble. Everything tasted so delightful together! The one exception was the buttermilk cream. I chose not to eat the cream because it dulled the rest of the flavors. This dessert was sweet, rich, had a soft base with a crunchy topping, a pop of booze…everything you could want in a dessert! Plus, we had coffee with it and it was a delightful pairing.

Ashley: I really liked this dessert. The oat crisps sticking out of the dish tasted just like oats…and they were good. The buttermilk ice cream tasted like a light sour cream (meaning light in flavor, not the “low-fat” version). There was a pecan and shortbread crumble on the dish that was my favorite part. It was like a sweet mix of chopped pecans. I could eat that by itself all the time, it was that good. The server told us the balls of whiskey were like a tiny shot…and she was right! When I bit into it, I got a shot of whiskey. At one point, I found three of the whiskey balls left on my plate, so I ate them all at once…I’m such a rebel. The caramel at the bottom was just a hint of flavor, not overpowering. I liked eating the caramel, pecan and shortbread crumble, and the oat crisps together, but again, I would take that pecan and shortbread crumble by itself any day.

I realllllllly wanted to love this meal but it was too full of soft textures that just didn’t sit right with me. I also felt like every dish was very surprising in that it looked like it should have been sweet but it wasn’t…and apparently, I just couldn’t get passed it. I still love Intro and am glad to have had the chance to try Chef Erik Anderson.

Hilary: There were definitely highlights on each plate during this meal but my favorite plates, overall, were the Oyster, Ribeye, and Burned Sugar & Rosemary. I thought this meal was delicious and I loved being able to try so many new and  interesting things. However, everything was very rich and salty. I was a little disappointed that Erik never came to the table himself to present any of the dishes. Regardless, I’ll continue to check this place out with each new chef because I love being able to experience new talent!

Lollapalooza: Spice it up!

Hilary: Ashley and I had gone to Lollapalooza every year since I moved to Chicago but we were not able to go in 2014. We were so sad about it that we vowed we would go again in 2015. I am so happy we did! We got to see Paul McCartney!! I grew up loving The Beatles so he was my must-see for the weekend. He was amazing!! He sang so many Beatles songs and Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes came out and rocked Get Back with him. Wow! She is impressive on stage!

Paul McCartney takes the stage!

Paul McCartney takes the stage!

Ashley: I was so excited to be going back to Lollapalooza this year since we missed last year.  The lineup was awesome and I had quite a few bucket list bands that would be there, so I couldn’t wait to see them.  Of course, I was also excited for the food! 

Jalapeno Cheddar Brat

Jalapeno Cheddar Brat

Hilary: The first stop we made was for a Jalapeno Cheddar Brat from Publican Quality Meats. I couldn’t really taste the jalapeno or cheddar, but it was still a flavorful brat. The skin gave it a tiny bit of crunch as I bit in. I liked that it came with sauerkraut and spicy mustard! Overall, a pretty good brat.

Ashley: Our first meal of Lolla just so happened to be eaten while listening to one of my bucket list bands, Alt-J.  They were definitely one of my faves for the weekend! I really liked this brat.  It was really juicy and not dried out at all.  I was a little surprised at how little of the jalapeno I could actually taste, though.  The cheddar actually had a stronger flavor than the jalapeno.  There was sauerkraut on top as well, which I don’t normally like, but I ate it anyway.  I honestly couldn’t really taste it.  The strongest flavor on the brat had to be the mustard though.  It had a very strong horseradish taste to it.  All of the flavors combined really made a delish brat.

Spicy Chicken Sandwich

Spicy Chicken Sandwich

While listening to Alt-J, we also had a Spicy Chicken Sandwich from Leghorn Chicken. This was probably my favorite meal of the weekend.  The chicken in the sandwich was really moist and even though there was other stuff on the sandwich, I could still really taste the flavor of the chicken.  The sandwich came with pickles, and we put some mayo on top, but the best part of the sandwich had to be the hot sauce that came with it.  Man, it had a kick to it…but it was soooo good.  It was burning my lips but I would totally eat it again.  The pickles on the sandwich provided a bit of a cooling effect.  I would absolutely go back to get this sandwich again.  It was delicious!

Hilary: The chicken sandwich was my favorite too. I’ve been wanting to make it to Leghorn for a while so I’m glad I finally had the opportunity to try it!  While this was just a fast food type sandwich, the chicken on it was great. The batter was crispy while the chicken was tender and juicy. The bun was buttery, almost like a croissant, which I liked. The pickles were the best part, in my opinion. They tasted crisp and fresh. The sauce was really great too. I thought it was just enough kick, not too spicy.

Day 2 begins!

Day 2 begins!

For day 2, we didn’t have as many bands that we felt we needed to see, so we went out early and wandered around checking out bands we didn’t know. It was fun to enjoy the beautiful weather and hear some new music!

Tamales

Left: Black Bean & Corn Tamale, Right: Slow Roasted Cuban Pork Tamale

Ashley: We decided to try some tamales from Dia De Los Tamales.  They had a special if you bought two, so we got the black bean and corn tamale and the slow roasted Cuban pork tamale.  While the black bean and corn tamale was good, it wasn’t really anything special.  I mean, you could taste the corn and the black beans but nothing really stood out.  So, we added some hot sauce and the sauce was really good.  Every bite I took, I tried to pick up as much hot sauce as I could.  The pork tamale was my favorite of the two.  It was really flavorful, although a little dry.  It had a red sauce on it that almost looked like marinara sauce.  I tried this with the hot sauce as well and loved it.  We both wish we would’ve gotten more sauce for these.  They had a buffalo chicken tamale that I think I would try if I ever go here again.

Hilary: I was a little disappointed by the tamales. Both of them were dry. The black bean and corn tamale had some kind of sauce on it but it wasn’t very flavorful. The hot sauce was absolutely necessary with this one. The hot sauce was great—it was almost like a tomato, onion, garlic sauce at first but after being swallowed, the heat hit the back of my throat. I don’t like it when a hot sauce is so spicy that it burns your tongue and you can’t enjoy the flavors of what you’re eating. This one enhanced the flavor but didn’t mask anything. The pork tamale was better. The meat was flavorful and the red sauce on top was delicious. It was a little sweet. I wished we had gotten more hot sauce so I could have eaten it with the pork tamale too.

Ashley: We were still in a snacking mood after sharing the tamales, so we opted for some fries from M Burger.  And we were both glad we got them.  The fries were like an upgraded version of McDonald’s fries…you know, when they are fresh from the fryer.  The perfect blend of thin, crispy, and salty.  Very yummy.

Lollapalooza 2015

Lollapalooza 2015

Hilary: The whole weekend, I wanted to try the Italian Sandwich (genoa salami, capicola, mortadella, provolone, tomato, arugula, evoo and vinegar dressing) from Labriola. I’ve seen Labriola at farmer’s markets selling their fresh-baked bread so I knew this would be a good sandwich. And I was right! Unfortunately, it was too dark to take a picture. The bread was pretty soft, and the meats were sliced very thin. I loved the tomato and provolone with it. The evoo and vinegar was just enough dressing to add a little something without making the sandwich soggy. I really liked it! It was great pre-Florence and the Machine grub!

Ashley: On the last night, we came a little late so we only had time for one meal.  Hilary mentioned that she wanted to try the Italian sandwich, and well, I just love food, so I agreed.  I liked this sandwich a lot.  You could tell the meat was fresh and I loved the flavor of the provolone.  I also appreciated the fresh tomato and arugula.  I usually don’t like dressing or evoo on my sandwiches but this was the perfect amount, so it added just a bit of extra flavor and didn’t over power it.  I would definitely get it again.

Hilary: I had a wonderful time at Lollapalooza this year! We had some tasty treats and heard many great sets. Until next year…

Special Edition: Best of Year Two

Savory Sisters 2015

The Savory Sisters: Best of 2015

Ashley: I can’t believe it’s been two years already since I moved to Chicago and we started this blog.  Time flies when you’re eating for fun!  Year two brought many new experiences, including a culinary adventure through Spain.  I can’t wait to see what the next year brings! Also, I’d like to thank the lovely Heather Marley for our ‘Best of’ logo.  She is an amazing artist and if you want to reach out to her about her work, you can contact her at hmarley218@yahoo.com.  Now, let’s get right down to business…

Best Egg Dish

Tortilla & Txakoli

Tortilla & Txakoli

Ashley: My vote for best egg dish comes from our trip to Spain, where we experienced the Tortilla Española (Spanish omelet).  The Spanish Omelet is one of the most commonly served dishes in Spain and Hilary found a place that supposedly had one of the best. It was Los Candiles in Bilbao.  It certainly was delicious. The tortilla was great.  It was rich but not too rich and I even ate the caramelized onions.  I really enjoyed this.

Hangover Breakfast

Hangover Breakfast

Hilary: My vote for favorite egg dish was the Hangover Breakfast from The Bristol. It had such a complex flavor profile that it satisfied many of my taste buds at once. As far as ramen goes, it wasn’t the most unique but I loved that they had it on a breakfast menu. I have wanted ramen for breakfast pretty much every day since then!

Best Seafood Dish

Scampi with Sautéed Vegetables and Fresh Pasta

Scampi with Sautéed Vegetables and Fresh Pasta

Ashley: For my best seafood dish, I knew immediately which dish I would choose. My favorite was a dish we had at Etxanobe in Bibao.  It was also the most surprising dish for me.  It was the Scampi with Sauteed Vegetables and Fresh Pasta.  I was expecting this dish to have the tough texture that I normally dislike in seafood but it didn’t.  It was like butter (think Mike Meyers from Coffee Talk on SNL).  The soft texture of the scampi with the crunch of the veggies made this a top vote for me.  I loved the thin won ton-like pasta square that was on it as well.  Such a great balance of seasoning and textures.

Fluke

Fluke

Hilary: My favorite seafood dish was from Intro when CJ Jacobson was the chef-in-residence (he is no longer there =\). It was the fluke appetizer. I loved the tangy parsley juice it was sitting in. I wished they had served it with a spoon so I could have gotten ALL of the juice! The fluke was so tender and I loved how it was both sweet and citrusy. What a lovely, refreshing dish!

Best Cocktail

Mito Green

Mito Green

Ashley: My favorite cocktail was a no-brainer.  It comes from Takashi which, unfortunately, is no longer open.  The Mito Green was such a surprisingly refreshing drink.  What intrigued me most (and also scared me a little) was the fact that it had wasabi in it.  The cucumber & melon flavors really balanced it out though.  It was light, refreshing, and had just the right amount of kick to it.  I loved it.

Sparkling Vampyro

Sparkling Vampyro

Hilary: My favorite cocktail was the Sparkling Vampyro from Intro. I picked this cocktail first of all, because it was delicious. It tasted like sweet cherries! But also, it was so unique. Beet juice in a cocktail? Wow! That was so interesting to me. The Kyoto Blossom from Takashi almost made the cut. It was also a very unique cocktail for me, in that I didn’t even know what most of the ingredients even were! I loved it, though.

Sweetest Treat

Rhubard & Almond Coffee Cake

Rhubard & Almond Coffee Cake

Ashley: For my top vote on a sweet dish, I actually have two that are so close, it’s tough for me to say which is my actual favorite…so I’ll just say it’s a tie!  The first dish is from The Bristol. It was the Rhubarb & Almond Coffee Cake.  This was just a perfect combination of flavor and texture.  The crust was crumbly and I could really taste the almond, butter, and sugar.  Combine that with the bitterness of the rhubarb and you have the perfect blend of sweet and savory. My other favorite was the Honey Ricotta Cheesecake from TWO. It was the best cheesecake I have ever had.  It was creamy but not heavy and the crust was sweet and crunchy.

Honey Ricotta Cheesecake

Honey Ricotta Cheesecake

Hilary: My favorite dessert was also the honey ricotta cheesecake! I’m not big on sweets but this cheesecake was just perfect. It was so creamy and light.

Best Sandwich

IMG_0883-1

Poutine Burger

Ashley: My choice for favorite sandwich comes from a place around the corner from my house, Spritzburger.  We got the Poutine Burger and it was delicious.  The burger itself was cooked perfectly.  It was so juicy even though it was covered with other things.  The fries that came with it were thin, crispy, and salty.  What more do you need in a fry? 

IMG_0895-1

Los Drowned

Hilary: My top choice was the Los Drowned from Little Goat Diner. It was like a zesty version of a French dip sandwich, with mexi-slaw and avocado on top. The crunchy slaw paired with the tender meat was my favorite combination. My second favorite “sandwich” (we had to assemble it ourselves…) was the Soy-Ginger Caramel Pork Belly from Takashi. I absolutely LOVED the caramel in the sauce and the spicy mustard that came on the side.

The Meat to Beat

Carrillera de Tenera

Carrillera de Tenera

Ashley: My favorite meat dish is another dish that comes from Spain.  The Carrillera de Tenera at Borda Berri in San Sebastian was amazing.  Thanks to Hilary and her diligent researching, we found this place that came highly recommended.  Now, I was little nervous for this one because, after all, it is veal cheek but it was so tender and tasted like pot roast that had been cooking for hours.  It was amazing.  I also had another dish that I wanted to include but wasn’t sure where to put it…but it has pork in it, so it qualifies as a meat dish.  In Bilbao, we had our first paella at Agape.  This was a recommendation from our AirBNB host and it was such a good choice.  I couldn’t get enough of it.

Prime Beef Meatballs

Prime Beef Meatballs

Hilary: I agree with Ashley that the veal cheek in San Sebastian was incredible. I couldn’t NOT choose it. But, I also chose the prime meatballs from RPM Italian! They were so flavorful and tender. And the sauce was acidic and salty, while giving off a hint of sweetness.

Best Pasta

Sauteed Maine Scallops  and Soba Gnocchi

Sauteed Maine Scallops and Soba Gnocchi

Ashley: My favorite pasta dishes come from two restaurants that I have mentioned already for other foods.  The first is the Sauteed Maine Scallops and Soba Gnocchi from Takashi.  The scallops had a slight crust to them but melted in your mouth.  The gnocchi was so soft but not at all mushy.  It was all brought together in a light alfredo-like sauce.  I really miss Takashi…  My other favorite pasta dish was the Risotto at Borda Berri in San Sebastian.  It was so creamy and rich and the rice had the perfect texture.  If this place was closer, I’d be in trouble because I would eat it all the time.

Risotto

Risotto

Hilary: I agree with Ashley that the risotto from Borda Berri was amazing. It was, without a doubt, my top choice. Ever since then, I’ve compared every risotto to it and nothing can quite hold up. It was so creamy and cheesy and salty…yum! 

Best Soup

Cauliflower Bisque

Cauliflower Bisque

Ashley: My favorite soup, by far, was the Roasted Cauliflower Bisque from TWO.  It tasted just like cauliflower, which I love.  It was so creamy and the bacon on top added a nice saltiness and bit of a crunch.  My second favorite was not actually a soup, but tasted like one. It was the Scallop Gratin from Dakara in San Sebastian.  Not only was it delicious…like a cheesy scallop soup, but it was served in a shell and was so cute!

Oxtail Tea

Oxtail Tea

Hilary: My favorite soup was the Oxtail Tea from Intro. It was like nothing I’ve had before. Plus, the extravagant story and presentation that came with it made it so much more interesting. The broth was cooked in a tea pot that they brought out and poured over the top of the noodles in front of us. Very cool.

Most Comforting

Homemade Biscuit

Homemade Biscuit

Ashley: My top choice for comfort food was my meal at Work & Class in Denver.  The meatballs were the best part of the meal for me but honestly, all of the meats were good.  What really made this “comfort food” was the housemade breads.  The biscuit had the perfect butter flavor and the cornbread with jalapeño had the perfect blend of sweet and spicy.  This place was worth the 90-minute wait and we couldn’t stop talking about it the rest of the trip.

Mac & Cheese

Mac & Cheese

Hilary: I knew right off the bat that the Mac & Cheese from Little Goat Diner was my choice for comfort food. The crispy breadcrumbs on top of the cheesy, thick noodles…so wonderful.

Most Adventurous Meal

Etxanobe

Etxanobe

Ashley: My choice for most adventurous meal was a no brainer.  Etxanobe in Bilbao was definitely the most adventurous meal I’ve ever had.  Etxanobe combined such great flavors with a little molecular gastronomy.  I was a little nervous about so many of the dishes going into the meal but was happily surprised when some of them quickly became my favorites!  What I can’t decide is which dish was the most adventurous of the meal.  It’s a toss up between the Sardine Lipstick (which was exactly how it sounds…lipstick made of sardines) or the Tartare of Prawns and Lemongrass Gel.  Both were strange and hard to get down but I’m still so glad I tried them.  This was an amazing meal and definitely one of the highlights of our Spain trip and year two of The Savory Sisters!

Hilary:  Etxanobe was truly the most adventurous meal I have ever had in my life. Not only because of the food they served, but it was my first time really traveling out of the United States. That whole trip was one of the best experiences. I totally have the travel bug now! Plus, I have very limited experience enjoying Michelin star restaurants, so that was great too. I had never had sardines, anchovies, raw prawns, or sweetbreads before and they were all included in this meal. While I wasn’t a huge fan of everything, I’m so glad I tried it. My favorite dish ended up being the Truffle Ajoblanco (garlic soup). 

Best Brunch Spot

Brunch at The Bristol

Brunch at The Bristol

Ashley: This year, we didn’t actually have many brunch options to choose from but when I was looking through the list, I knew that The Bristol was my favorite for the year.  The Rhubarb & Almond Coffee Cake was amazing, as I mentioned in the sweet section, but the rest of the meal was just as delicious.  The ramen especially was great.  The broth and pork were my favorite parts of the ramen.  I also really loved the biscuit in the Chicken ‘n a Biscuit.  It was soft and buttery and you could tell it was housemade.  I can’t wait to go back for dinner sometime!

Brunch at Little Goat Diner

Brunch at Little Goat Diner

Hilary: My favorite brunch of year two was Little Goat Diner! That mac & cheese and the beef sandwich? Ah-mazing!! So  glad we got to check this place out.

Best Dinner Experience

Dinner at Takashi

Dinner at Takashi

Ashley: For my favorite dinner spot, I had two restaurants that were both such amazing meals, I couldn’t pick one over the other.  First off was Takashi.  This whole meal was so amazing and I remember constantly expressing my joy with “mmms” and “OMGs” throughout the meal.  My favorite dish of the night was Sauteed Maine Scallops and Soba Gnocchi.  My second choice was TWO.  Again, a meal that was filled with expressions of joy.  Every time we got a new dish at TWO, it was just as good as the one before. 

Dinner at Intro

Dinner at Intro

Hilary: My favorite dinner this year is probably not a surprise now that you’ve seen all my choices for the year. It was Intro! I loved CJ when he was on Top Chef so being able to taste his creations was a treat. Plus, everything we had was unique with some surprising combinations. I will definitely have to follow CJ to see where I may be able to try his food next since he is no longer the chef-in-residence at Intro. We did go again with the new chef (post coming soon!) and it was totally different. Takashi was my runner up because we got to try SO many things. I loved that each plate had multiple components.

Year two has certainly been an adventure for us. We really branched out and tried some new things this year! And it’s mostly because we have this blog. We have you, the readers, in mind when we make our decisions. We don’t want you to get bored by us eating the same foods or trying the same restaurants over and over again. That being said, we love hearing from you! Have a favorite photo? A restaurant suggestion? Something you think we’re missing? Let us know and we’ll try to incorporate it in year three!

Slurpin’ Good Brunch!

Ashley: I was excited to try The Bristol. I heard from others that it was a great place to go and it’s in an area of the city where we don’t normally go!

Hilary: It was tough to decide whether we should got to The Bristol for brunch or dinner since I heard great things about both. We ultimately decided on brunch based on our schedules and I’m so glad we did!

Moscow Mule

Moscow Mule

When deciding what drink to order, I was happy to see that they made a Moscow Mule with vodka. I’ve only ever seen them with gin and I’m not a huge fan of gin. This drink was incredibly refreshing! The lime juice was nice and citrus-ey but the ginger cut through just a bit without being too strong. Just right! Off to a great start…

Bristol Bloody Mary

Bristol Bloody Mary

Ashley: I wasn’t sure what to get to drink at first but then I saw that they make their own bloody mary mix, so I knew I had to try the Bristol Bloody Mary (Ketel One vodka, chef chris pandel’s bloody mary mix). It had been a while since I had a bloody mary, so I forgot all about the garnishes, which excited me even more when I got the drink. It’s the little things in life. The mix itself was pretty good. It had a slight spice to it but what I could really taste was lime. It was pretty light though, so that was good. I don’t know that I would get it again only because of the strong lime flavor and the fact that I’m not a huge fan of lime.

Rhubard & Almond Coffee Cake

Rhubard & Almond Coffee Cake

As a last-minute decision, we decided to get the Rhubarb and almond coffee cake. This. Was. Amazing. I love coffee cake but this one had such amazing flavor to it…and they served it warm, which I loved. The top of the crust was crumbly and had powdered sugar. It was a little crisp and didn’t have the sogginess to it that most store bought coffee cakes do (which is really what I’m used to). You could definitely taste the almond, butter, and sugar. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the rhubarb though. It was slightly bitter but when mixed with the sweetness from the rest of the coffee cake, it was a great blend.  Again, it was soooo good. I would go back just for this if they put it on the menu again.

Hilary: I agree! This coffee cake was delicious. I loved the crispy brown sugar topping combined with the tang of the rhubarb. The cake itself was just moist enough but still a little crumbly and just the edges were crunchy. It had a savoriness to it while still being sweet… what a wonderful treat!

Hangover Breakfast

Hangover Breakfast

For our first entrée, we got the Hangover Breakfast (noodles, pork broth, aromatic vegetables). I saw a photo of this online beforehand, otherwise I’m not sure I would have expected a ramen dish, just because I’ve never seen ramen on a brunch menu. Now I’m wondering why more places don’t do this??? It was incredible! The broth was salty, savory, and spicy all at the same time. The fennel bulb, carrots, and radish were sturdy and earthy. The pork belly was cooked nicely, very crisp on the edges with some fat but mostly meat. They put something in it called “shrimp toast” that was kind of like a tiny shrimp “meatball”. I was not a fan and took it out of my bowl so I could eat everything else. This was so hearty and filling. I definitely ate too much of it considering how much food we had left to try, but I just couldn’t stop! It was my favorite dish of the meal.

Ashley: We mentioned ahead of time that we were sharing everything so they were kind enough to split this for us, since it’s ramen. We didn’t even have to ask, they just did it. I really liked this dish as well. The pork was really good. It was a little fatty and crispy on the edges, so it had good flavor. The broth had a little sourness to it, almost like vinegar, but it had a good spice to balance it out. There were a lot of extras in it, so I had to try a little bit of everything. There was fennel in there, which I’m not usually a fan of, but I really liked how the fennel blended with the spiciness of the broth. The shrimp toast was interesting. It was like soggy bread and had a really strong fishy taste. I did not like it. They recommended that we break up the egg and mix it in. I think next time, I wouldn’t mix it in right away because I didn’t get much egg flavor. I enjoyed this though and had leftovers to take home and eat later!

Chicken ‘n a Biscuit

Chicken ‘n a Biscuit

Next, we ordered the Chicken ‘n a biscuit (sausage gravy, bread & butter pickles). The biscuit in this dish was the best part. It was so soft and buttery and it had a nice crust on it too. The sausage gravy was interesting. It was buttery but it also had a sour taste to it, which may have been from the pickles, but I could taste it a lot. The chicken itself was ok to me. The chicken was moist but there was turmeric in the batter, which I didn’t really like. I loved eating the chicken without the skin & batter on it though. I just really loved the biscuit and would go back for that alone.

Hilary: I was a little less enthused by our second entrée, but it was still very good. I agree with Ashley that the housemade biscuit was the best part. They should make a breakfast sandwich on these biscuits, if they don’t already…that would be amazing! The sausage gravy was nice and smoky and the texture of the chicken was perfect. The breading was really crunchy while the chicken remained moist and tender. Unfortunately, I didn’t love the seasoning on the chicken. It was kind of sweet and as you all know by now, I much prefer the salty side of life! This dish was almost great, but missed the mark slightly for me.

Duck Fat Fries

Duck Fat Fries

Ashley: I’ve never had a duck fat fry that actually tasted that much better than a regular fry. Unfortunately, these were the same. They were really good, don’t get me wrong, I have just heard people rave about duck fat fries before, and I just don’t get it. There was lemon zest on them, which was pretty strong. It came with two sauces. One was a curry ketchup, which kind of tasted like horseradish/cocktail sauce. The other sauce was a garlic aioli. I really liked the garlic one a lot.

Hilary: While I agree that these fries weren’t much better than any other good fry, they were still damn good fries! They were crispy and salty (pretty much my only fry requirements) and I loved the lemon zest on top. It added a touch of uniqueness and was surprisingly delightful.

Now that we have had their brunch, I am convinced we need to go back and try dinner. Although, I will be tempted to return for the hangover breakfast! And next time, I will be sure not to eat so much of the first course that I can barely eat anything else. Although, the leftovers were mighty delicious later that day.

Ashley: Over all, I really enjoyed The Bristol. Their rhubarb and almond coffee cake is something that I would eat daily if I lived close enough! I loved it so much. I also really enjoyed the hangover breakfast and would go back for that. I would love to try their dinner sometime as well. I appreciated how kind and accommodating the employees were and they helped make the experience great.

Square Meal, Stiff Drink, and Fair Price

Ashley: My friend Andrea moved to Denver a few years ago, so my other friend, Shelby, and I decided to pay her a visit.  After all, she had a baby boy, James, about 22 months ago and we had yet to meet him!  I was excited to be able finally meet James and to get some girl time in with my ladies.  We took advantage of what Denver had to offer and not only experienced delicious cuisine, but also exciting events and landscapes.

Getting a Hug from James

Getting a Hug from James

Hiking Red Rocks with Shelby & Andrea

Hiking Red Rocks with Shelby & Andrea

Of course, before I went to Denver, I had to do my research on the local restaurants.  I found quite a few that had amazing reviews and menus, one of which was Work & Class.  Their motto is as the title says, Square Meal, Stiff Drink, and Fair Price.  Andrea and her husband had heard good things about it as well, so we decided to give it a go.  When we got there, the place was already packed at 6:30, so we had a 90 minute wait.  We were expecting this though as all of the reviews mentioned that it was worth the wait.  The awesome thing was that they will take your number and call you when your table is ready so you can head down the street to one of the bars to grab a drink while you wait.  So we headed down to a rooftop bar to enjoy the nice weather and grab a drink.

Blue Corn Empanadas

Blue Corn Empanadas

I read that the best way to experience Work & Class was to get a bunch of plates and share with everyone, so that’s what we did.  Our first dish was the Blue Corn Empanadas (stuffed with zucchini, squash, & oaxaca cheese, served with a smoked tomato sauce).  While these aren’t the prettiest, they were tasty.  You could really taste the blue corn and the cheese (I mean, who doesn’t love cheese, right?).  Even though they had great flavor, these were actually the least exciting part of the meal…it only got better as we went on!

New Jersey Ernie's Meatballs

New Jersey Ernie’s Meatballs

The next dish we shared was the New Jersey Ernie’s Meatballs (pork & veal meatballs served on a bed of cheesy polenta with spicy tomato sauce).  These. Were. Amazing.  I would say that these were the best part of the meal.  The meat wasn’t ground too finely so it had some texture to it.  The meat was seasoned so well that you could definitely eat it without the sauce on it…but the sauce was delicious too.  It didn’t really taste very spicy to me though…and I wasn’t complaining.  The polenta was good.  It was cheesy but not super strong.  I wish this place was closer to me just so I could go back for the meatballs!

Citrus-Mustard Braised Short Rib

Citrus-Mustard Braised Short Rib

Our first meat dish was the Citrus-Mustard Braised Short Rib.  When you order the meat, you order it in 1/4, 1/2, or 1 pound.  We asked for the server’s recommendation on portion size and he recommended 1/2 pound since we were also getting the chicken.  The short rib was so tender and full of flavor.  You could just tear it apart with your fork, yet it was still very moist.  The citrus-mustard sauce was pretty light and added a little bit of flavor.  It really was delicious.

Jamaican Jerk Rotisserie Chicken

Jamaican Jerk Rotisserie Chicken

For our second meat, we went with the Jamaican Jerk Rotisserie Chicken.  We opted for just the 1/4 pound since we also got the short rib.  This was my favorite of the two meats.  I love a good rotisserie chicken and this one did not disappoint.  It was so moist and it just had such good flavor to it, although I didn’t taste the jerk seasoning like I expected to.  It did come with a cilantro sauce though.  I tried it once…and yep, I still don’t like cilantro.  I was fine eating it without, although Andrea and Shelby seemed to really like the sauce.

Brussels Sprout, Apple & Bacon Hash

Brussels Sprout, Apple & Bacon Hash

I love a good brussels sprout, so I was excited to hear that Andrea and Shelby were both on board with getting the Brussels Sprout, Apple & Bacon Hash.  I was even more excited when I got to taste it.  This dish was the perfect side to go with our meal.  The brussels sprouts were cooked perfectly…soft with a little crunch still left in them.  The apple really added a sweetness to the grilled flavor of the brussels sprouts.  And of course, you can never go wrong with bacon and brussels sprouts.

Homemade Biscuit

Homemade Biscuit

Many of the reviews also mentioned that you had to try their bread because they were all homemade and delicious.  We decided to get two breads, one of them being the Homemade Biscuit.  The reviews were right!  This biscuit was amazing.  You could tell it was homemade.  It was moist and had such a good buttery flavor without being too buttery.  You didn’t even really need to add anything to it.

Jalapeño Cornbread

Jalapeño Cornbread

The other bread that we got was the Jalapeño Cornbread.  I thought this was pretty good.  The jalapeño wasn’t really strong, so it combined well with the sweetness of the cornbread.  It was a little on the dry side so the butter was needed for this one.  I don’t normally like cornbread but I think the combination of the spicy pepper and sweet cornbread let me enjoy this more than normal.

I think we all really enjoyed our meal at Work & Class (we couldn’t stop talking about it the rest of the night).  It was the perfect mix of great food and even better company!  I only wish that I lived closer so I could go back.

Chic Italian Comfort

Hilary: I have been wanting to try RPM Italian for what seems like forever! I was so excited we finally had the chance. It is a very popular spot! We had a reservation but still had to wait about 20 minutes for our table, which was good time for people watching, as several people came in and out. Once we were seated, our server asked us if we wanted to order any wine. We asked for his help since our tastes are so different (Ashley prefers Malbec, I prefer Pinot Noir). He brought us over a couple of Italian wines to sample but I wasn’t a big fan of either. Then he brought us a California Pinot Noir and we decided to go with that.

Ashley: We tried to go to RPM Italian for restaurant week but schedules wouldn’t allow, so I was excited to finally get to try it as well. I really enjoyed our waiter. He was very helpful with the wine and food choices and I think his recommendations were good. I was also excited because I had my first Chicago celebrity sighting! While we were sitting there, I saw Lebron James come in with some of his teammates (Note to the Bulls fans, I’m not a Cleveland fan and I’m sad that the Playoff run didn’t end better for the Bulls). I was surprised that I even recognized him but I did…and I stared at him as he walked by, like a creepy fan…with my mouth open. Thanks to my personal trainer, Ed, for making me watch NBA playoffs during our sessions, or I never would’ve known it was him.

Provolone Stuffed Peppers

Provolone Stuffed Peppers

Hilary: For our first appetizer, we went with the Provolone Stuffed Peppers. For some reason, I was expecting the peppers to be sautéed or grilled or something and for the cheese to be melted, but it came out more like a bloody mary garnish with cubes of smoky provolone inside cherry peppers. It tasted good, but it wasn’t a very exciting dish.

Ashley: I agree with Hilary on this. I also thought they would be grilled with melted cheese, so I was a little thrown off by what we got. The peppers were really fresh though and tasted good. They had a good amount of spice to them and the cheese was tasty but not overpowering. Although, the cheese seemed more like parmesan to me than provolone. I guess I was expecting the cheese to be slightly creamier.

Prime Beef Meatballs

Prime Beef Meatballs

Our second appetizer was the Prime Beef Meatballs. These were delicious. I’m not usually a fan of red sauces as they tend to be a little thinner and lacking in seasoning but this one was delicious. The meat in this dish was so tender and the meatball just fell apart as I was cutting it. I would love to eat these again.

Hilary: Oh boy were these delicious!! They immediately erased any doubts that had formed in my mind based on the stuffed peppers. The beef was tender and the sauce was delightful. It tasted like it was made from fresh tomatoes and was a great balance of acidic and salty with a hint of sweetness. I would definitely order these again!

Risotto Primavera

Risotto Primavera

Our first pasta dish was Risotto Primavera (spring vegetable, basil pesto). I was a tiny bit disappointed in this dish, mostly because I was hoping for a creamy, cheesy risotto but it was not creamy at all. I was also hoping that the vegetables would have been larger chunks vs. chopped into tiny bits and the herb on top tasted piney and overpowered the otherwise mild-flavored dish. On the positive side, this dish was very light and fresh, which is unique for pasta dishes.

Ashley: I was disappointed with this as well. Like Hilary, I was also hoping for creamy, cheesy risotto. This was one of my top choices for our meal because I was looking forward to the spring vegetables but it just wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped. I could taste the parmesan though and the dish was really fresh, which I liked.

Pappardelle Bolognese

Pappardelle Bolognese

I don’t actually think I’ve ever had Pappardelle Bolognese (pecorino, rosemary) before, so I was intrigued by the wide noodles. When I first took a bite, I thought the noodles were slightly undercooked for normal people standards (I think I’ve mentioned before that I like my pasta more on the al dente side). I was glad to hear that Hilary didn’t think so though. The sauce was really good and lighter than I expected. There was a lot of meat in it, which to my surprise included shredded pork, and I really enjoyed the flavor. I like ordering dishes that I don’t really know what to expect because then I get to try so many new things and am usually pleasantly surprised. This dish did not disappoint. I only wish there was more because I loved it so much.

Hilary: Pappardelle is one of my favorite types of pasta because of the width of the noddle. I find it so satisfying. This dish was no exception! With the Bolognese sauce, it was so hearty and delicious. The sauce tasted a lot like the sauce that was on the meatballs but with shredded pork and beef. The meat in the sauce was very tender which almost created a mushy texture but the al dente noodles made up for it. There was rosemary on top which added a nice earthiness. I loved this pasta!

Hazelnut Tartufo

Hazelnut Tartufo

For dessert, we had the Hazelnut Tartufo (dark & milk chocolate).  This dessert was huge! It was milk chocolate gelato shaped into a ball with chocolate in the middle and coated in dark chocolate with crunchy hazelnuts. The coating is what made this dessert…it was really good! It took me back to my childhood when I used to go to the corner ice cream store and get a chocolate dipped cone with nuts on top. However, this was pretty difficult to eat. I don’t usually have a hard time eating cold foods but this was really hurting my teeth for some reason. I was glad I ordered a coffee to accompany the dessert, and it was served in a giant mug!

Ashley: I really enjoyed the crunchy coating as well. You could really taste the hazelnuts and the chocolate was creamy and not too sweet. The chocolate in the middle was semi-sweet and didn’t really taste like dark chocolate to me, so my guess is that the coating was the dark chocolate. The gelato was milk chocolate flavored. This is definitely a dessert for all of the chocolate lovers out there!

Hilary: Our dinner at RPM Italian was about 50/50 for me. I would definitely go back to get the meatballs again and would stick to the recommended dishes so I know I’m getting their specialties. It’s a very trendy spot and seemed to be much better for small groups than romantic dates because of the amount of noise and people throughout the restaurant.

Ashley: Even though some of our dishes were a little less exciting than I expected, I thought this was a good meal. I would love to go back and try more of their dishes. They had a lot to choose from, so there are many other options. I also liked the space and thought it was cozy with a lounge vibe.

Chicago Restaurant Week: Stop TWO (Pun Intended)

Hilary: We went to TWO Restaurant & Bar for our second stop during Chicago restaurant week 2015. It was a 3 course meal with 1 bonus course and, like at Boka, we strategically chose different dishes so we could try several different things.

Ashley: I had been to TWO before and the meal was amazing so I was excited to get to go back and try different things. 

Beet Salad

Nichols Farm Golden Beet Salad

Hilary: The first thing we had was the Nichols Farm Golden Beet Salad (cucumber, candy onions, baby spinach, spicy walnuts, sheep’s milk feta, Michigan honey vinaigrette).  It was a small plate to begin with and we tried to share it. So, we each got maybe 3 bites. But, it was a good salad! A little heavily dressed, but I loved the thin onions, salty feta, and sweet beets. It was very simple and refreshing. A good introduction to the meal.

Ashley: I have really just started getting into beets so I was looking forward to trying this. It was so light and refreshing. It had a strong onion flavor but not in a bad way. The feta was nice and salty and the candied walnuts were sweet and provided a great balance. The spinach was really fresh. I loved this salad.

Cauliflower Bisque

Roasted Cauliflower Bisque

Next, we had the Roasted Cauliflower Bisque (homemade bacon, cured mushrooms, ricotta crouton). Again, it was a pretty small dish and we had to share it, which made me sad because I loved it! It was so creamy and tasted just like cauliflower but not super strong. The bacon on top was a great addition to the dish as well. I wanted more of this.

Hilary: This was excellent, and even better because it was a bitter cold winter night. The bisque, by itself, was simple and a little plain but not bland. There was a crusty, thin crouton on top with salty bacon that kicked the bisque up a notch, flavor and texture-wise. My only complaint, like Ashley mentioned, was that there wasn’t enough in the bowl. I also wanted more!

Porcini Polenta Cake

Porcini Polenta Cake

The bonus course was a Porcini Polenta Cake (wild mushrooms, garlic jus). This was such a comforting dish. The polenta was creamy and hearty and the broth was almost like a miso soup broth. The mushroom had a similar texture to zucchini, which I really enjoyed. When everything was eaten together, the mushroom was definitely the dominant flavor and texture, but everything contributed wonderfully.

Ashley: I was a little nervous about this dish because there were so many mushrooms but I ate them anyway and I actually liked them! They weren’t as chewy as mushrooms normally are. I agree with Hilary in that they had a similar texture to zucchini. The polenta itself reminded me of cream of wheat…a little mushy and gritty. It was pretty good though.

Scallops with Sweet Potato Puree

Sea Scallops with Sweet Potato Puree

Hilary: Ashley chose the Sea Scallops (sweet potato puree, herb vinaigrette, parsnip chips) as her main course. I would describe this dish as sweet and creamy. The sweet potato puree with the scallops reminded me of a seafood chowder and there were salty parsnip chips on top. Unfortunately, the scallops were a little fishy tasting with some grit. Regardless, the sweet potato purée was delicious and was my favorite part of the dish!

Ashley: I agree with Hilary that the sweet potato puree was the best part of the dish. It was creamy and smooth and not overly sweet. The scallops were pretty good. They had a nice crust but were tender enough that I could cut through it with just my fork. I could’ve done without the parsnip chips on top because they were a little soggy. The scallops and sweet potato puree were so good together and made the dish delicious.

Berkshire Pork

Berkshire Pork Kalbi Loin Chop

For Hilary’s main course, she chose the Berkshire Pork Kalbi Loin Chop (roasted Yukon gold potatoes, black pepper mustard sauce). Up to this point, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t get filled up because the portions seemed to be pretty small. However, this dish was a huge portion! I had no trouble feeling full after this. The pork was delicious. It tasted like a pork steak right off the grill. The potatoes that came with it were cooked perfectly and had a balsamic flavor. It was so good.

Hilary: Yum! This pork was so tender, with some fat but not a lot. The roasted potatoes were seasoned very nicely. I loved the sauce on top but thought the pepitas were unnecessary. This dish was comfort food at its finest!

Honey Ricotta Cheesecake

Honey Ricotta Cheesecake

My dessert was the Honey Ricotta Cheesecake (macerated blueberries, chantilly cream) and OMG! Normally, I’m not a big dessert person but I would go back to TWO just to get this again. It was so tasty! It was buttery, creamy, fluffy, and not too sweet. The crust was actually the sweetest part. The honey cheesecake was fantastic on its own but the blueberries added a richness while the whipped cream made it light and fluffy. Definitely my favorite part of the meal!

Ashley: This is by far the best cheesecake I have ever had and I love cheesecake (I get it from my pops). They make their own ricotta at TWO, which I thought was pretty cool. It was so creamy but it wasn’t that heavy. The crust was perfect as well. This dessert will definitely be tough to beat.

Dark Chocolate Brownie

Dark Chocolate Brownie

Hilary: Ashley’s dessert was the Dark Chocolate Brownie (homemade Nutella ice cream, graham cracker toffee, homemade marshmallow). This dish was kind of like a deconstructed s’more. The brownie was very dense like fudge and the graham cracker was pretty hard and crunchy, although it had great flavor. The nutella ice cream was a little bland but nice. The marshmallow was made from scratch in house and it had a weird texture, like a hard-boiled egg white. Obviously, this was not my favorite dessert and I would pass it up next time.

Ashley: I never pass up a brownie. Hilary is right, this was like a deconstructed s’more. The top was the marshmallow and it stuck to my spoon…but that’s why I have teeth, right? To scrape it off! Anyway, the brownie was good. It was cold instead of hot but not too chocolatey. The graham cracker was also chocolate flavored and the Nutella ice cream just tasted like a less sweet chocolate flavor (are you seeing the theme here?). I liked it best when I combined all of the ingredients together.

I really enjoyed this meal and have many great memories of it. Everything was so good to me. I definitely want to keep going to TWO since both experiences there were amazing.

Hilary: I really liked our meal at TWO. It was great comfort food without the dreaded heaviness. It was perfect for a cold winter’s night!

Chicago Restaurant Week: Stop One

Ashley: We went to BOKA back in February during Chicago Restaurant Week.  The décor was nice.  It was cozy with brick walls and dark wood.  I knew I wanted a drink when I got there and I had been reminiscing about our Spain trip recently so I decided to go with a Spanish rioja.

At the beginning of the meal, they gave us bread and butter.  The butter had lemon zest in it and it was good.  It was creamy with a slight lemon flavor but not overpowering.

Hilary:  I thought the lemon zest in the butter was very subtle but a unique touch.  They gave us a baguette and a whole grain roll.  The baguette was very pointy on ends and difficut to eat, so I liked the roll a little better.

Heirloom Carrots

Heirloom Carrots

Ashley: The restaurant week menu was designed so that each person could choose 4 courses from certain selections. Hilary and I strategically chose our courses so that we could get all different plates and try a bit of everything.  My first selection was the Heirloom Carrots (pistachio, amaranth, smoked goat cheese.) This ended up being my favorite dish of the night!  There were dates in the carrots, which were a little savory and combined well with the sweet carrots and pistachios.  The goat cheese was strong in flavor but not overpowering.  Everything combined together was amazing. 

Hilary: The goat cheese in this dish was very creamy and had a smoky flavor to it. I really liked the dates, they weren’t as sweet or mushy as some other types I have had. The pistachios and the carrots had a vinegar-y flavor that went well with the sweetness of the carrots. I really liked this dish. Some unique combinations of ingredients that worked very well together.

Marinated Fluke

Marinated Fluke

My first course selection was the Marinated Fluke (grapefruit, ginger, toasted rice.) The fish was sliced so thin and seasoned slightly with flakes of salt. The somewhat sour, acidic grapefruit cut the fishiness and resulted in a nice flavor. There were some beady things on the plate that tasted like some kind of fruit, maybe those were the ginger? Then there were some little ball-shaped things that tasted nutty. Overall, this dish was very light and refreshing with some great complementary flavors and textures.

Ashley: I was a little nervous about the fluke but it was surprisingly not as fishy as I expected.  I could definitely taste the ginger but not really the grapefruit.  The balls, which I’m assuming were the toasted rice because they were slightly crunchy, added a fun texture to the fish texture. 

Ricotta Dumplings

Ricotta Dumplings

My selection for the second course was the Ricotta Dumplings (escarole, onion, burnt bread.) This dish was not quite what I expected.  The dumplings were super small and almost looked like tiny raw biscuits (you know, the ones that come out of the can).  I could tell they were ricotta and the flavors on this were strong but in a good way. This was a nice combination of good flavors and textures.

Hilary: I thought the dumpling dish had some Asian flavors going on. Like cabbage with sesame oil or something. The dumpling by itself was kind of sweet, but this dish, as a whole, was pretty mild.

Slow Poached Egg

Slow Poached Egg

My selection for the second course was the Slow Poached Egg (squash, parmesan, cavatelli, smoked ham.) This dish was delicious! The egg was perfectly runny without having any raw egg white and there was a lot of cheese. I loved the cavatelli because they were like dense little dumplings. The brown cream on the plate was a purée  of mushrooms and the squash reminded me of spaghetti squash but had a hint of vinegar. The smoked ham and the foam on top were a great touch too!

Ashley: The slow poached egg was interesting.  We weren’t sure if we should eat it with a spoon or a fork.  Hilary went with the fork and I tried the spoon.  It was pretty runny so the spoon worked well.  I had never had cavatelli before, or at least not that I know of, and I really liked it.  The texture of the cavatelli was awesome.  The smoked ham was okay but I honestly think it was unnecessary.  This was a pretty good dish.

Seared Scallop

Seared Scallop

My selection for the third course was the Seared Scallop (cauliflower, apples, radish.) This dish was just okay to me.  The scallops were good….and cooked well but I felt that the apple was too sour and the cauliflower didn’t have enough seasoning.  I just didn’t think that these flavors went together well.

Hilary: I was a little underwhelmed with this dish. The scallop had a tiny bit of grit and not much of a sear. Although, I disagree with Ashley about the cauliflower. It was roasted and I always love cauliflower prepared that way. The sauce on top pretty much just tasted like milk and the radish was pickled, which didn’t go very well with the rest of the comfort food flavors. My favorite combination was to eat the scallop, cauliflower and sauce together. The other ingredients were extraneous to me.

Roasted Chicken

Roasted Chicken

My selection for the third course was the Roasted Chicken (boudin, prunes, burnt cabbage.) The chicken was very tender and juicy and still had the skin on. The sauce on the chicken reminded me of a teriyaki sauce, which I liked. The boudin was a pate, I would guess chicken or white pork because it looked like a white meat. It tasted okay, a little dry and nothing special. I’m not really sure what the cabbage added but I did love the mushrooms. They were salted and roasted which gave it a great crunchy texture, not spongey or mushy like mushrooms can sometimes be. The prune added a great flavor and depth to the dish. I will say that, while everything on the side tasted great together, I preferred to eat the chicken just with the sauce. There was too much chiken on the plate to eat every bite with all of the ingredients anyway.

Ashley: This looked more like strips of grilled chicken breast to me.  It wasn’t quite what I was expecting.  But the chicken was tender and juicy.  There was a brown sauce on it that tasted like soy sauce.  The boudin was weird.  It looked like a small liver patty to me.  It tasted okay though, like mushy chicken.  I tried the chicken with the prune and sauce and it was just okay.  It seemed slightly boring.

Poached Pear

Poached Pear

My selection for dessert was the Poached Pear (hazelnut, fennel, bourbon ice cream.) This was a fun dish!  The pear was really soft and the bourbon ice cream tasted like vanilla with a slight Rumchata flavor to it. There was another ice cream on the plate that was pear-flavored.  The crust was more like granola but good.  I liked getting a little bit of everything in one bite together.  This was good because it was light and fresh.

Hilary: I loved the cold tiny apple bits in the middle of the plate, and the “applesauce” that was made from pears. Pear sauce? Whatever you call it, it was good. The wafer had a good crunchy texture with what tasted like vanilla bean ice cream to me. There was a nutty mixture on the plate that almost tasted meaty to me and the fennel was made into a jiggly custard, which was odd. When eaten all together, the fennel custard texture was weird and the nut mixture overpowered everything. But I still loved this dessert.

Chocolate Cake

Chocolate Cake

My selection for dessert was the Chocolate Cake (huckleberry, gingerbread, cardamom ice cream.) When they put the plate in front of me, I thought it was very pretty with the colored flower petals they put on top. But the texture of the cake was almost powdery and had a liquid inside. It stuck to my mouth a lot and had an odd, meaty or nutty after taste. The huckleberries on the plate were very bitter and almost pungent, like sour blueberries. It did not go well with the cake. The highlight of this dish was the scoop of chocolate mousse on the side and the cookie crisp that tasted like fortune cookie.

Ashley: Everything on this dessert had a strong flavor.  There was chocolate mousse and the cake, which were both pretty thick and chocolatey.  The ice cream and droplets on the side tasted like lemon.  When everything was combined, it actually worked pretty well together.

Blood Orange Gummies

Blood Orange Gummies

At the end of the meal, they gave us each a blood orange gummy.  It tasted like those gummy orange candies that have sugar on them.  It was a nice surprise for the end of the meal.  I did expect it to be a little more firm though (that’s what she said).

I enjoyed my meal at Boka but the cold and hot starters definitely made it.  The restaurant week menu had a lot of courses so I was full by the end, which made me feel satisfied.  I would like to try Boka again.

Hilary: I really liked how Boka felt like an intimate space. There was dim lighting, and sexy décor, almost like a speakeasy or jazz club. And I thought this was a great meal! I liked all of the dishes, give or take a few ingredients. If they simplified some of the dishes more, I think they would be even better.

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!

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