Yesterday, voting kicked off for the 2013 Eat Out Awards, our annual popular poll of the year's best restaurants and bars. The six nominees for Best New Restaurant are:
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Read TOC's review
This Fat Tuesday, you don't have to be in the Big Easy to get your fill of fun. Forget snatching beads on Bourbon Street—Mardi Gras is all about the food. And when it comes to sumptuous Southern dishes and authentic Cajun flavors, Chicago doesn't disappoint. Here are the top Mardi Gras specials north of the Bayou.
Celebrate smartly at this favorite, where the menu is more interested in history than in current trends. The Mardi Gras menu—with specials such as a po' boy sandwich and barbeque shrimp—will be around all week. For a group, order the $25-per-person family dinner, dubbed "A Cajun Country Ramble, ca. 1955." The meal's grand finale? Cajun cane sugar cake and caramel corn. Feb 6–11, 5–9pm; Feb 12, 5–11pm, reservations recommended. 5347 N Clark St (773-275-5725).
Performers on stilts, live Samba music and festive beads galore: Would you really expect anything less from a restaurant that shares a name with Mardi Gras's parent holiday? While Mardi Gras lasts one day, Carnival means a month of elaborate costumes and mouth-watering meals. Start the celebration with smoked pork belly and finish with the apple cream cheese bread pudding, topped with bourbon vanilla sauce as a nod to New Orleans. Feb 12, 5–10pm, reservations recommended. 702 W Fulton St (312-850-5005).
Feast on gumbo and sip cabernet at this winery/concert hall's Mardi Gras extravaganza. The vibe promises to be old-timey, with acclaimed musicians the Foghorn Stringband playing southern country tunes. Feb 12, 8pm, $12. 1200 W Randolph St (312-733-9463).
Hand grenades, hurricanes and Scarlett O’Haras—at Henri? The Gage’s sister spot proves that a white-tablecloth restaurant can still tap into the party atmosphere of Bourbon Street. But don’t expect the traditional sugar bombs. Mixologist Clint Rogers has created dry takes of these Mardi Gras classics; for example, the hand grenade—typically light rum, gin, vodka and Midori—nixes the vodka and subs in a housemade melon liqueur for the Midori. “We basically Cryovaced a honeydew melon, cantaloupe and a little bit of cracked pepper with a neutral base spirit,” Rogers says. It’s all part of the Fat Tuesday Spirited Dinner, a five-course affair that also features fancy spins on classic New Orleans food. Redfish nigiri? Sounds a lot healthier than a paczki. Feb 12, 6pm. $100 per person. Call for reservations. 18 S Michigan Ave (312-578-0763).
It's five days of Samba lessons, Congo drums and jazz music at this Latin hotspot. The prix-fixe Carnival menu features creative and tasty tapas, tacos and empanadas. But forget about the food for a minute and focus on the fruity booze: blood orange caiparinhas, anyone? Feb 7–12: Mon–Thu 5:30–9:30pm, Fri–Sat 5:30–10:30pm. Dinner for $44.95 per person, with optional cocktail pairings for $27. 325 W Huron St (312-664-2727).
This Japanese/Brazilian/Peruvian fusion joint embraces a third of its genealogy with Carnaval festivities to rival Rio de Janeiro's. With drummers, DJs and dancers, there will be no shortage of music. You certainly won't find the "Carnaval roll"—a sushi roll of tuna, quinoa, avocado and spicy mayo—at any other Mardis Gras party. And just in case diners aren't fully culturally immersed, SUSHISAMBA will stream a livefeed of Brazil's street celebration. Feb 12, 8pm–midnight. 504 N Wells St (312-595-0532).
Toni Patisserie & Cafe
What's Mardi Gras without a king cake? The beloved bakery stays true to its French roots by whipping up the classic dessert. Normally, finding a plastic baby in your pastry would be a lawsuit in the making. But on Fat Tuesday, the trinket brings nothing but luck. Head to Toni's or call in an order for the French-style, almond version with puff pastry for $17.95 or the typical cinnamon and sugar glaze New Orleans treat for $16.95. Mon–Sat 8am–8pm, Sun 8am–5pm. 65 E Washington St (312-726-2020).
The modern-day speakeasy is going all out this year, offering a live brass band, masked waiters and two different menu items incorporating crawfish, the lobster-like crème de la crème of Louisiana seafood. Not craving fish? The night's third special is a chicken jambalaya, a Creole favorite. Feb 12, 4:30pm–1am, reservations recommended. 111 W Kinzie (312-880-1511).
For the past twelve months, you've been eating. You've been going to check out all the new spots, writing me angry emails and leaving me creepy voicemails about your experiences at said spots. Well, the time has come to put that dining and drinking knowledge to good use (not to say I don't appreciate the voicemails...). Ladies and gentlemen, the polls are open! It's my pleasure to announce that voting begins right now for the 2013 Eat Out Awards. We're bringing back some of our stalwart categories: Best New Restaurant, Best New Bar, Breakout Chef of the Year, Cheap Eatery of the Year, Best New Pastry Chef, Best New Cocktail Program, etc. And we're also introducing some new ones, such as Best Local Microbrewery, Neighborhood Joint of the Year, and Best New Coffee Shop. Cast your ballot right over here anytime between now and March 13. But seriously, why wait? Go forth, vote!
Every week, we add new restaurant openings to the section of the print magazine called "Recently Opened: Too New To Review." Every week, there are about four new places, plus maybe one or two larger openings. Except for this week, where the 15 new additions to our listings include:
2 doughnut shops (neither of which spell their confection of choice in accordance with our style guidelines): Beavers Coffee + Donuts, which now has a permanent location along with its truck, and Firecakes Donuts, the "open-till-we-sell-out" shop from La Madia's Jonathan Fox.
1 lobster-roll emporium, appropriately dubbed Da Lobsta.
1 Korean-sushi mash-up: The apparently Facebook-less and website-less En Hakkore (1840 N Damen Ave, 773-772-9880), which replaces Melt Sandwich Shop.
1 steak-sushi mash-up: The remodeled Stetson's Modern Steak & Sushi in the Hyatt Regency.
1 pizzeria, dubbed Flour & Stone, which begins serving its "Brooklyn-style" pies (sort of like Neapolitan, but with a sturdier crust) Monday.
2 barbecue spots: a second location of Lillie's Q in the French Market and Milt's Barbecue For the Perplexed, a Kosher barbecue restaurant in Lakeview that gives 100 percent of its profits to charity.
1 hot-dog stand: Dion Antic's The Haute & the Dog.
1 cult fro-yo shop, Yogurtland.
1 taqueria: the second location of Taco Joint.
1 spa that's also a Russian small-plates restaurant: Red Square, in the historic Division bathhouse.
1 hope for good Indonesian food in Chicago: pan-Asian street-food spot Rickshaw Republic.
Restaurant Week starts on Friday, and your organized friends made their reservations weeks ago. Why? Because they're thrifty, and they weren't about to let anybody edge them out of $22 prix-fixe lunches and $33 (or $44) prix-fixe dinners. If you, too, want one of those reservations, you may fear you're out of luck. But you're not. Not completely, anyway.
Yesterday afternoon I asked TOC intern Cally Trautwein to call some of the restaurants participating in Restaurant Week and ask if they have any reservations left. The answers, posted below, were encouraging—but I recommend calling now. Otherwise, procrastinators like me may get to it first.
Name Sean Brock
Occupation Southern Chef
Welcome to Chicago! Why are you here?
Chef Ryan Poli invited me to come and cook some dishes at Barcito. I had an awesome time there the last time I came to town. I love that kind of vibe.
Did you have any fears/anxieties/nervousness about coming to the Midwest? Explain.
Hopefully Midwesterners will like southern cooking! I am doing a lot of very southern dishes.
True or false: You will be eating at Avec while in town.
True! I always do!
The Chicago hot dog—yes or no? (Choose one.)
C. I don’t know what that is.
A. Yes! I always eat way too many!
What does Chicago have that your home city doesn’t have? (We’re talking food and restaurants here, but feel free to go into other arenas.)
I have had some amazing Chinese food in Chicago. We certainly don’t have anything like that here. And then of course there is Alinea and Next, two mind blowing experiences.
What does your home city have that Chicago doesn’t have?
Great BBQ and shrimp and grits!
Tell us an interesting story from your childhood.
One time I thought it would be funny to catch a bunch of frogs and place them all over the refrigerator to scare my mom. For some reason she is terrified of frogs. It scared her half to death and then she got really paranoid that the frogs may have urinated all over the food. We had to throw all of the food away and I got grounded! I have always been a prankster.
Tell us a funny/interesting/frightening tale about your restaurant.
One time I was sharpening the meat slicer and I took the guard off of it to clean it. When I came back to put the guard on, one of my cooks was standing there holding her arm, white as a ghost. She had reached over the blade to unplug the slicer and didn’t see that the guard was off. It opened her arm up from the wrist to the elbow. It was the cleanest cut I have ever seen, very little blood and you could see all the different layers.
Fill in the blank: If I had just one more day in Chicago, I’d use it to ________.
Eat a burger at Au Cheval.
Lydia Esparza from Great Lake just called to make sure people know that Great Lake's Andersonville location is officially closed for good. As if I could forget.
But Esparza wasn't calling to rub in the bad news. On the contrary, she had several encouraging points to make:
- The Great Lake team is planning another venture.
- That venture will be a restaurant not be a restaurant.
- That said, Esparza says, "I doubt we'll stop doing pizza."
- Esparza's best guess for when the new venture will open is spring 2013.
Exciting, right? But there was one last thing:
"We're so thankful," Esparza said, referring to all of her Andersonville (and otherwise) customers. "It's been great to have the support." For all those who want to continue supporting Great Lake—or just keep up with its next move—Esparza invites you to sign up for an e-mail list. Shoot a note to GLNextChapter@GMail.com.
The story goes like this: Twelve years ago, Shin Thompson was in his second year at Kendall College—and broke. "Someone dared me to dunk my head in a rancid grease bucket," Thompson, who received a Michelin star in 2011 and 2012 for his Japanese-influenced cooking at Bonsoirée (now Table, Donkey and Stick, in which he is a part-owner), recalls. "People started throwing money in this pot," encouraging him to submerge his head in it for 15 seconds. "The pot got up to like 90 bucks," says Thompson, at which point his classmate, Ryan O'Donnell, walked in the room. "He said, 'Shin, I'll match the pot.'" But he didn't have any cash on him, so Thompson had to trust that he'd pay him later, bringing the total up to $200. "It's gonna be gross, but I'll take a couple of showers and it'll be worth it," Thompson remembers thinking. So he did it, getting the grease "really coated and caked in there," and rendering his instructor speechless. But the part of the story that's most important to Thompson: O'Donnell, "on his word, wrote me the check. When you're looking for a business partner, you think, How can you trust someone?" For Thompson, it came down to the grease bucket.
When the hype for your restaurant has been building for years, what better time to finally open your doors than the sleepy days between Christmas and New Year's? That's just what Stephanie Izard did, debuting Little Goat Diner on Friday, December 28. Team Food & Drink was on vacation, but photographer Oriana Koren checked out the scene. And to our delight: It really does look like a diner! And the menu really does read like one...with some whimsical twists: a brandade-and-pork-belly Benedict, bacon-and-eggs with kimchi, duck-confit banh mi, eight types of burgers, fried chicken, ground-goat Shepherd's Pie, and a whole section of the menu called "Snack Corner." Check out the full menu here. Little Goat Diner (820 W Randolph St, 312-888-3455) is open 7am–2am daily; Little Goat Bread, which opened in early December, opens at 6am.
Rick Bayless's new book, Frontera: Margaritas, Guacamoles, and Snacks, is, not surprisingly, all about margaritas, guacamoles and snacks. Some of you may think of margaritas and guac as summery, but this video, where Bayless demonstrates how to make his sparkling ginger margarita, will change that. This thing was made for New Year's Eve parties. Because, you know, plain old bubbly is so 2012.
Bonus: You can make this cocktail for a crowd. Recipes for both the individual cocktail and the pitcher are below.
Sparkling Ginger Margarita
Adapted from Frontera: Margaritas, Guacamoles, and Snacks, by Rick Bayless
For one cocktail:
2 slices of ginger the thickness of a quarter (no need to peel), coarsely chopped
1fresh kaffir lime leaf, cut in half where the leaf is indented (optional)
1 ½ ounces 100% blue agave blanco tequila
½ ounce fresh lime juice
½ ounce orange Curaçao or other triple sec
¼ ounce Ginger Agave Syrup (see recipe below)
1 ounce sparkling wine, such as a cava from Spain
6 to 10 small ice cubes (about ¾ cup)
In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, muddle the ginger slices and one of the optional kaffir lime leaf halves with a cocktail muddler or a wooden spoon until coarsely mashed. Add the tequila, lime juice, orange Curaçao, Ginger Agave Syrup and ice. Cover and shake vigorously until frothy and cold; tiny ice crystals will appear in the drink after about 15 seconds of shaking.
Strain into a 6-ounce martini glass and top with the sparkling wine. Bruise the other half of the optional lime leaf by slapping it between your plans to release the aroma. Float it on the top of the drink and serve immediately.
Yield: 1 cocktail
For a pitcher:
16 slices of ginger the thickness of a quarter (no need to peel), coarsely chopped
8 fresh kaffir lime leaves, cut in half where the leaf is indented (optional)
1 ½ cups 100% blue agave blanco tequila
½ cup fresh lime juice
½ cup orange Curaçao or other triple sec
¼ cup Ginger Agave Syrup (see recipe below)
1 cup sparkling wine such as a cava from Spain
6 cups ice
In the bottom of a pitcher, muddle the ginger and half of the optional kaffir lime leaf halves with a cocktail muddler or wooden spoon until the ginger is a coarse mash. Add the tequila, lime juice, orange Curaçao and Ginger Agave Syrup. Stir, cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours.
Fill a cocktail shaker ¾ full with ice, and pour in 1 ½ cups of the margarita mixture (be sure to include some of the muddled ginger and lime leaf from the bottom of the pitcher). Shake and strain into 3 6-ounce martini glasses, then top each with sparkling wine. If using the lime leaves, one by one bruise them by slapping them between your palms to release their aroma.
Float a piece on top of each drink and serve immediately. Repeat for the remaining margaritas.
Yield: 8 cocktails
½ cup agave syrup (light organic syrup gives the best flavor)
¼ cup (about 1 ounce) finely chopped ginger (no need to peel it)
Into a small saucepan, measure the agave syrup and 2 tablespoons water. Set over medium heat and add the ginger. When the mixture reaches a simmer, time 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. Strain. The syrup will keep a month of more, tightly covered in the refrigerator.