Park Grillin' It

Last week, I had a business dinner at the the Park Grill in Millennium Park. The restaurant, situated in the shadow of the famous reflective Cloudgate sculpture (better known as The Bean), cooks a contemporary American cuisine, and offers indoor and outdoor dining. Because of the humidity, which had carried over into the early evening, we opted for the indoor experience.

The decor inside is very traditional and expected - deep wood and warm colors in a large space arranged around an unlit fireplace. Basically, it looks like a nice restaurant - nothing too exciting there. But then again, I tend to gravitate towards flashy! But let's move on to the important part here...the food.

The meal began with a hearty bread basket, served with creamy unsalted butter with an olive tapendade accompaniment. The two together, although I wouldn't automatically think to pair them, was delicious. The butter cut some of the salt out of the olive salad and I think I ate way too much of this, before my meal actually arrived.

Hummus. It can be so...bland. But just look at this plate! It was not only pretty but had some real substance behind all of its good looks. Topped with a hint of cayenne, it even had a little bit of a bite. A favorite for The City Veg.

Another beauty here - this was a beet salad with candied walnuts, watercress, and a goat cheese dressing that was really more like a foam. Ever since Marcel's season of Top Chef, I've been anti-foam, but this actually worked with all of the other textures on the plate. Sidenote: I used to absolutely despise beets. Now I love them. Discuss amongst yourselves.

We also ordered the Kobe burger, which you can see at the top of this post, and I'm told by my meat-devouring dining companion that it was quite good, along with a side of roasted mushrooms and onions. The dinner was good but overall, pretty standard. It's the perfect place for a business dinner in fact, and a post-dinner stroll around Millennium Park, can not be beat.

Tangent alert:
While perusing the offerings at Park Grill, I noticed a small logo at the bottom of the menu: "Produce Provided By Midwest Foods". I was intrigued. I looked them up and found a really well done web site with the tag line of "supplying the freshest produce to the finest kitchens". Not knowing much about produce distribution, it's a fun web site to click around on. Check it out. You can even see the "special" produce that is in season right now - which includes Pea Tendrils, Patty Pan Squash, Thai Eggplant, Mangosteens, Passion Fruit and more.


So Proud of You!

The 2009 Gay Pride Parade was yesterday, here in Chicago, and it was a doozy. It seemed like the entire city of Chicago was out to show their support and while supporting, also drinking heavily. It made for a fun day with a lot of love in the crowd from random strangers and made me proud to be living in a great city where a massive event like this is well organized, heavily promoted, and well attended. We watched floats sponsored by everyone from WGN (what up Tom Skilling!) and the Illinois Lottery, to KISS FM (Drex, I love you) and PFLAG. As the parade was ending, our tummies began to growl and we went on the prowl...for food.

After a few missteps into packed places that couldn't seat our large group of 10, Greg recommended Wilde and off we went. We were seated right away and I proceeded to eat one of the greatest bar meals I've had in a long time.
Wilde describes itself as an upscale Irish bar & restaurant and I think that's a pretty accurate description. The dark wood interior is cozy yet spacious (irony!) and the menu is comfort food, to the max. The walls are adorned with portraits of Oscar himself and quotes like "Love and gluttony justify anything". I couldn't agree more. And on this particular day, as busy as they were with all the revelers from the parade, the service was still spot on. Wilde, I think I love you.

Peen and I shared an order of Potato Pie "Rissoles" - cheddar and onion deep fried potato cakes served with spiced ketchup. These...were amazing. They were basically croquettes - perfectly crunchy and not overly greasy. Anything that contains potatoes, cheese and includes the word fried, works for me, but these were incredibly well done.
4 of us (40%!) or our group ordered one of their signature dishes, the old stand by, fish and chips. Flaky and again, not overly greasy, this hit the spot. I was sure to dress mine up with plenty of malt vinegar and dug right in.

I regret not getting a photo of Wilde's onion rings - THE BEST I'VE EVER HAD - but they were eaten too quickly! Please just go and order these as soon as you can.

Finally, on the way out, bellies full of food and pride, we were given a sample of this little delicacy: Salted Caramel Cupcakes from Pheobe's Cupcakes. This cupcake was life changing. The frosting was whipped so it was extra light and airy, and the combination of the rich sugary caramel with the light sprinkling of sea salt on top, made for a heavenly bite.

Browsing their web site, it seems like they also have more creative flavors for their little bundles of joy - White Peach Bellini, Cotton Candy and even Breakfast Cupcakes - which are Maple soaked Buttermilk Cake with a Maple Butter Frosting topped with Crispy Bacon.

After all this food, I rolled myself into a cab and headed back down to Pilsen. All in all it was a great day, made even better by the sharing of some amazing food, with some amazing people.

3130 N. Broadway
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 244-0404

Phoebe's Cupcakes
3327 N. Broadway Ave.
Chicago, IL 60657

First Photo by: Javier Ayala

Summertime Jam Out

Check out this jamming summer Digital Dish playlist, put together by my super-rad friend Chris. I'm really enjoying YACHT.

CLICK HERE to download.


I've Made It!

The Printed Blog is exactly what it sounds like. A hard copy newspaper, compiled of the "best and the brightest" from the Web.

Here, I'll let them describe it: The Printed Blog is the world's first daily newspaper comprised entirely of blogs and other user generated content. The result is a revolutionary newspaper that reads like a wed feed - yet can still be enjoyed on the train or spread across the breakfast table, for an uninterrupted, pleasurably tactile experience.

I say all this to tell you that my Shaw's In The City post was featured in the most recent printed blog - Volume 1, No. 16 - Gold Coast Edition! So farewell dear readers - I'm off to celebrate at Disney World! With champagne and rainbows! But I won't forget the little people, who have made it all possible! (sacracsm...just in case you can't tell)

You can download the edition I was featured in HERE. Scroll down to the last page. And look for more from the editors of The Printed Blog at a newsstand near you!

UPDATE: The Printed Blog just announced it is ceasing publication. Ha. Oh well...there goes my big break!

Ribfest Recap

What's that you say? Orange is good color on me? Why, thank you!

I picked out this lovely poncho to wear to the opening morning of Ribfest, an annual Rib cook-off and fundraiser that takes place in Chicago's North Center neighborhood and is sponsored by the North Center Chamber of Commerce.

My friend runs the company that puts on this behemoth ribcage-celebration festival every year and I had been recruited as a member of the "key staff". This means I got to wear a headset and use a walkie talkie. Awesome!

So Saturday morning started off rainy. We weren't sure how attendance would be affected. But soon enough, after the gates opened at NOON, people started to trickle in (although none were wearing such a cool poncho as moi), and begin to eat, drink, watch the bands and vote for their favorite ribs. As the day and weekend wore on, the sun came out and there were thousands upon thousands of people congregating on the few blocks that made up the festival area.

Because this festival is hosted within Chicago city limits, all of the rib vendors participating have to be licenced and accredited restaurants so this is not a mom and pop BBQ cook off. In addition to ribs, there were vendors selling everything from Greek Salad and Gyros to frozen cheesecake. And at the end of the day on Sunday, the fan favorite for BEST RIBS, as voted by attendees of the festival, was Cordis Brothers Supper Club! Any restaurant that calls itself a supper club, is good in my book!

This booth sold bacon-wrapped hot dogs and Lindsay could not resist Mr. Dog. I think they're getting married this weekend.

Vegan Ribs from De.li.cious Cafe, a new vegetarian restaurant in the neighborhood. These were so good! Made from seitan, they were grilled and crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Slathered in BBQ sauce, I recommended these all weekend to patrons.

And they gave out free fake mustaches with their vegan ribs. Who doesn't love a good mustache?

The winning ribs from Cordis Brothers!

My favorite meal of the weekend was a Greek Salad on a lightly grilled pita, covered in Feta Cheese Dressing. Yes - Feta. Cheese. Dressing. Why didn't I think of this?

All in all it was an amazing, exhausting and successful weekend. It felt good to be part of a great team of people who worked together to create and manage a huge city festival with little to no problems and some delicious results. Sign me up for next year!


Calling all Cooks!

Ever wanted to be on TV? Like being put in awkward situations for potential humiliation? Love food? Now is your chance! Click the image for more details. Oh and see you there!


Feast de Padre Mexicana

Because I don't have any family in the Chicago-land area, I offered to help Peen cook up a father's day feast yesterday. In honor of the Mexican rapper's dad, Peen and I hightailed it over to Pete's, which is still a magical place (yes, I realize I am a huge loser for calling a grocery store magical), and picked up all the fixins for a major Mexican BBQ.

10 pounds of Carne Asada - check. 6 pounds of tomatillos - check. A bottle of tequila - duh. Then we picked up Roo, drove south and got to work.

At Pete's, they always have samples at the deli or women sampling in the aisles. Samples rule! One of the samples we tried on Sunday was a sour cream dip with cilantro. We decided to try to recreate it as a dip for our tacos and other goodies. It's so simple but sure to be a hit at your next Mexi-function. Check it:

Pete's Cilantro Crema Dip

Finely chop a LOT of cilantro and white onion. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir it all together.

Simple and delicious, it needs to be put on a taco stat!

It Is Easy To Be Green Tomatillo Salsa

This is my own recipe for a tart and slightly spicy green salsa, that you can use as a sauce for enchiladas or as a standard salsa for your chips. Enjoy the recipe. This is the first time I'm sharing it publicly...

8-10 large tomatillos, husked and sliced into quarters
One large jalapeno, cut into strips and deseeded
One large shallot

1. Boil a large pot of salted water. Add the sliced jalapeno and tomatillos
2. Once the tomatillos are soft, drain and place in a food processor (or blenda')
3. Blend with the shallot (raw), chopped cilantro and salt and pepper

This is best warm and if you want to add some richness to it, throw in a few tablespoons of butter! ARHGHERHHAGHRHRG yum.


Next up, the homemade Guacamole! Here's an easy recipe for those who love eating green

2-3 large avocados
One small tomato
One shallot or small red onion
Diced Cilantro (again)
Pinch of Cumin
Splash of tequila (note: secret ingredient!)

1. Basically, chop everything up and mash it together! How's that for one-step cooking?

Grilled Chile Relleno

I love chile relleno but I don't love the stone in the gut feeling of eating THAT much cheese, and oh also...it's deep fried. So we did a slightly healthier take on the popular dish that everyone loved. I will definitely be making this again.

4-5 Poblano Peppers
5 strips of Quesadilla or Monterrey Jack cheese
Salt and pepper
Olive Oil

1. Coat the peppers in olive oil, slice in half so that each side is like a cup or boat
2. Fill with one slice of cheese and sprinkle with cumin and salt and pepper
3. Grill until the skin is charred and the cheese is extra melty and delicious

Gramma's Spanish Rice

That's right - this rice is so cool, you have to wear shades while you cook it. Here's a quick and delish recipe that would make any abuelita proud!

One bag of white rice
One can of crushed tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic
One large yellow onion
Can of chicken or vegetable stock

1. Slice and dice the garlic and onion, add to a saute pan with the rice.
2. Cook the rice, onions and garlic with olive oil for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. When the rice puffs up a bit, that's when you know to add the cooking liquid.
2. Add stock, heat until simmering, cover and cook until the rice is done.
3. Even better, leave the burner on very low and let the bottom of the rice get a little crispy (like bim bim bop)

I realized that I didn't get any photos of the meat. (again...10 pounds of it). This wasn't on purpose, as Peen did a lovely grilling job but I guess I overlooked it - like a true vegetarian.


Smitty's Summer Risotto

Please welcome back too long gone LA guest-blogger, Smitty - here to enthral you with tales of a summer meal gone right!
A few months ago, I came home from the farmers market with some beautiful fresh mint and an unbelievable bag of fresh shelled peas, and the next day happened to stumble across this recipe on one of my favorite design blogs (which, by the way, rarely has recipes).

I couldn't believe my luck that I had just picked up the exact ingredients to make this lovely dish, and I knew I had to try it right away, which I did. Ever since then, I'd been craving this dish because it is completely delicious and addictive. Please make this dish immediately and add it to the list of recipes you can make off the top of your head. You'll make a lot of friends this way, trust me.

Pea, Mint and Feta Risotto

1 ½ cups Arborio rice
3 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup white wine
½ cup crumbled feta
½ bunch mint, leaves torn
2 cups fresh or frozen peas
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

1. Start by boiling 3 cups of water, then add the mint, peas, garlic and some salt. Blanch the ingredients (about 3-5 min, just until the fresh peas are soft or, if frozen, the peas are cooked through), remove from heat and let cool. Remove 1/4 of the peas and torn mint leaves to use as garnish. Puree the remaining peas, mint, garlic and water in a blender and set aside.

2. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the chopped onion. Cook the onion until soft, then add the rice and stir until the rice is coated.

3. Add 1 cup of vegetable broth and cook, stirring frequently, until the broth is absorbed. Continue to add broth 1 cup at a time (keep stirring so that it doesn't stick to the pan). After you've added 3 cups of broth, taste the risotto -- it should be al dente but if it's too crunchy add 1/2 cup more vegetable broth and the wine to taste. Then add the pea/mint puree and cook until it is absorbed and the risotto is at the desired texture. Taste to see if it needs salt (if you're like me, it will need salt).

4. Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately, using the remaining pea and mint, crumbled feta cheese and cracked black pepper as garnish. Enjoy the deliciousness!


I Twitter Tha Fool

Hello Dear Readers-

I've given in to the newest of the new internet programs - Twitter!

Follow me there for even MORE of my hilarious musings on my food obsession.

(Random pic of my favorite creepy salt and pepper shakers. They will be very disppointed if you don't Twitter with me)


(Miss) Cleo's

After a long day of helping a friend move into a new apartment, we all headed to Cleo's on Chicago Avenue. Located across the street from one of my old stand-bys, High Dive, Cleo's is the oft overlooked bar/restaurant that not only pours a good beer, but has great food. With a friendly unpretentious staff, and two locations both near Wicker Park, I wanted to give a shout out to what may very well become my new "old stand-by" (especially since I've heard their Sunday Brunch Bloody Mary Bar is quite the smorgasbord). Here are a few shots from our post-move snack-down.

The view from the bar.

A Greek salad with French Fries. On the menu, it's listed as the Vegetarian Salad. This is an example of why vegetarians aren't always skinnier than their meat-eating counterparts.

Cleo's offers a variety of thin crust "personal" pizzas. We enjoyed the fresh basil and goat cheese pie. Truly a tummy filler.

1935 West Chicago

2nd location at:
2048 W Armitage Ave

And don't forget Miss Cleo


Spicy Buffalo Tofu with Mushrooms

I'm addicted to the South Loop Whole Foods. So much so that I took 2 buses - each way - so I could go to the Whole Foods salad bar on Sunday night. You know how some people crave a big juicy steak? Well, I crave salad bars. Ummm hmmm.

So on this trip, (after using the CTA Bus Tracker to keep my OCD in check) I discovered Soul Gourmet's Spicy Buffalo Tofu, made by chef Rahtsiyah Wolfolk. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE love love buffalo wing sauce - but not the actual wings. This was right up my alley! I ignored the $5.99 price tag (are you seeing a theme here?) and when I got home, whipped up a spice-ified vegetarian feast.

These were my secret salty ingredients - pickled hot peppers, lemon juice (just a tad), and pickled garlic.

The end result - spicy, salty, hearty and totally worth the evening on the CTA.

Spicy Buffalo Tofu with Mushrooms
Soul Gourmet's Buffalo Tofu nuggets
1 package of white button mushrooms
One small onion
Juice from one-half of a small lemon
Blue cheese for garnish
Hot pickled peppers (save one for garnish)

1. Dice and saute the onions in olive oil. Add chopped mushrooms, lemon juice, pickled peppers, and diced pickled garlic
2. When onion is translucent, add the package of Spicy Buffalo Tofu, sauce and all
3. Saute until heated through
4. Serve and garnish with cheese and pepper!

Whole Foods - South Loop
1101 S. Canal St
From Pilsen, take the Damen bus to Roosevelt
Wait....take the Roosevelt bus to Canal


Local Schmocal

Chicago's Downtown Farmstand is right around the corner from my office. It's such a gem - a storefront right in the middle of the busy loop, which stocks only local ingredients. They define local as food made or grown no further than 250 miles from Chicago. And while it can be expensive, depending on what you pick out, if you feel good knowing you're supporting local businesses and farms, then this is the place for you. Just get out the credit card! (I'm like the anti-Suze Orman)

In addition to the local produce and frozen goods, each month they also feature meals from a local ethnic businesses and this month features, spinach pies, spanakopita and other Greek specialties.

On my last trip to The Stand (that's what the cool kids call it), I picked up a bag of fresh arugula, two Wisconsin cheeses, whole-grain pita and Spicy Olive Bruschetta from River Valley Ranch in Burlington, WI. I whipped it all together into a healthy meal for me and my dining companion for the evening, Ms. L. Ozgunay (otherwise known at The Tornado).

Here is the end result of my localvore shopping trip - a toasted pita bread with Spicy Olive Bruschetta and an Arugula Salad, with Wisconsin Sharp Cheddar and Blue Cheese, dressed with Lake Shore Dressing. And below, find my recipe for Lake Shore Drive Dressing, because I must say, it was really, really good.

Lake Shore Drive Dressing:
The Spice House's Lake Shore Drive Seasoning
Olive oil
Lemon Juice (fresh squeezed please)
Dijon Mustard
A few minced green olives
Salt and Peppa'

Whisk all ingredients together and do NOT be shy with the Lake Shore Seasoning. This is the main flavor base for the dressing and gives it an herby, green flavor. Enjoy (locally!)


I'm on a ROOF!

For months, I had heard rumors of a chi-chi rooftop bar opening right next door to my place of employment. The closer the opening date got, the more excited my coworkers and I got. We needed a little glamour at the end of our long days!

And sure enough, Roof, located on the 27th Floor of the new Wit Hotel, does not disappoint. Barely open a week, I've already been there twice!

Open most nights until 2am (yes!), the impeccably designed lounge serves a menu of small plates and an arsenal of creative cocktails like a Pimm's Cup and Hibiscus Margaritas, at around $12 a pop. All in all, not bad for what is essentially a hotel bar. The food menu ranges from a platter of house cured lemon olives to a mushroom and goat cheese flatbread pizza. The food prices range from $5.00 to $16 - again, very reasonable.

And the VIEW - it can not be beat. I'll see you at Roof. I'll be there most nights.

The view from the north west side of the lounge, of the classic corncob buildings and Chicago river. Quite magnificent. You can also sit in the back of the lounge for a south east view, which in the evening, is even more fabulous.

Here's a little taste of the crowd at Roof. I mean, can you get any more glamorous!!!?

The grilled artichokes covered with melted mozzarella (I think). Very simple and very delicious. Artichokes at their best.

The cheap plate - $5.00 for a heaping bowl of huge olives. Have you ever seen pinkish olives like these?

And in honor of my blog post title, here's a link to my favorite video of the moment - I'm On A BOAT

201 N.State St.
(312) 467-0200


Spring Pasta with Baby Arugula and Two Cheeses

Recently, I decided to rent out the extra room in my apartment so tonight, I set up a few appointments to show it to potential renters (future roomies!). I needed the place to look clean and cozy, and I whipped up a batch of spring pasta, to fill the apartment with the lovely smells of a home cooked meal.

Spring Pasta with Baby Arugula
Whole Wheat Rotini
10-15 Stalks of Asparagus
One Tomato
1-2 Cups of White Wine
2 Tablespoons of Dijon Mustard (Grey Poupon preferred!)
Juice from 1 Lemon
1 Cup Shredded Mozzarella
A Few Handfuls of Baby Arugula
Sprinkle of Feta Cheese
Olive Oil and Rice Wine Vinegar
Soy Bacon (optional but recommended!)

1. Boil water and cook the rotini
2. While pasta is cooking, add chopped tomatoes, asparagus, white wine, mustard, and lemon juice in a sauce pan. Saute until the asparagus is just soft.
3. Add the cooked pasta to the saucepan, add shredded mozzarella and mix until the cheese begins to melt.
4. In a mixing bowl, toss arugula with olive oil, rice wine vinegar, salt and pepper.
5. Serve the pasta on a flat plate and dress with the arugula salad.
6. Sprinkle with feta cheese and crispy soy bacon
7. Eat awkwardly with potential new roommate (kidding!)


Lao Sze Chuan's Cabbage

Lao Sze Chuan, sister restaurants to both Lao Shanghai, and Lao Beijing in Chinatown, is known for authentic Sze Chuan cooking, and a menu like an encyclopedia. But before I even got to the menu on a recent trip to the Chinatown institution, we were served this dish of spicy pickled cabbage, dressed with what I think was shrimp paste. It is my new favorite starter (do not worry, I will not call this an amouse bouche) and on its own, is worth a trip down to Chinatown.