The Griddle Cafe at SLS [2,] Las Vegas NV

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The Griddle Café at SLS Las Vegas

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Medium Roast Coffee

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“Good Ol’ Fashioned” Our original buttermilk recipe, griddle-cooked to perfection!

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The Golden Ticket panCAKE Shake – Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Griddled Buttermilk Cake, Giffard Banana Liqueur, Kissed Caramel Vodka, Cinnamon Sugar Vodka, and Whipped Cream Vodka

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“Tis The Season” ~ Our “Good Ol’ Fashioned” recipe mixed with our own pumpkin pie filling. Topped with vanilla whipped cream and powdered sugar

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“Room Service” ~ Champagne, Chocolate, and Strawberry filled pancakes will fill you with Uncontrollable Love, Desire, and Passion! Topped with powdered sugar and vanilla whipped cream

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“Saturday Morning Fever” ~ Live it up with Bailey’s and Kahlúa swirled into our buttermilk batter. Topped with vanilla whipped cream and powdered sugar

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“Barry Yellow” ~ Raspberry and lemon folded into our buttermilk batter

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“Peanut Bubba” Crunchy French Toast ~ Our “Mom’s French Toast” dipped in a peanut butter crunch, then grilled to perfection. Topped with powdered sugar and vanilla whipped cream

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“Addicted to Noisella” Stuffed French Toast ~ Can’t live without chocolaty hazelnut spread, stuffed between a stack of our “Mom’s French Toast!”

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“Chocolate Chip Cookie” Crusted French Toast ~ You won’t get caught with your hands in the cookie jar with our Chips Ahoy-covered French toast! Topped with vanilla whipped cream and powdered sugar.

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Utterly astounded by the low quality of service offered during my first visit to The Griddle Café at the SLS Las Vegas but vowing to return it was with seven other adults plus one child that I sat down to breakfast on Saturday and while food remain TGC’s strongest draw the service has improved dramatically. Eating in a group of locals and visitors, the later a big group of guys in town for The Olympia, it was largely with intentions of touring the menu that our order was crafted and although a few plates of proteins such as eggs and bacon were ordered the ‘main event’ was five stacks of pancakes and three piles of French Toast served in two rounds – a creamy panCAKE shake lightly tinged with boozy bananas plus plenty of coffee to wash it all down. Obviously an absurd order, better suited to a table nearly twice our size, it was in the fluffy Good Ol’ Fashioned, Peanut Bubba, Chocolate Chip Cookie, and Barry Yellow that we began and with Vermont Maple Syrup gilding many bites both the toasts went quickly, the standard buttermilk flapjacks nearly finished as well. Moving onward with table cleared and more coffee poured as newly announced GM Adam Scholten watched his team work, round two began with the rich Nutella laden bread again a fan favorite, though the piping hot five-pound plate of flavors spot-on for pumpkin pie was quite delicious as well. Finding the Barry Yellow a touch too lemony and not particularly well paired to syrup while Room Service and Saturday Morning Fever both fell victim to “good, but not as good as the rest” verdicts at a table approaching food-coma it should be obvious to anyone that leftovers were abundant and all packed individually with big bags to be carried the bill was paid, a smile on every face as we waddled back to vehicles with no plans to eat until late that evening.

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FOUR AND A HALF STARS: Having now found its footing with a service staff that seemed perpetually in motion I’m happy to say that The SLS Griddle Café is now finally showing promise to be as good as its big brother in LA – the lack of “off menu” specials such as the Sweet Fantasy Baby Carrot Cake Pancakes and slow replacement of leaky French presses being resolved by steel replacements the only thing holding them back.

RECOMMENDED: Peanut Bubba, Chocolate Chip Cookie, ‘Tis The Season, Good Ol’ Fashioned.

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AVOID: N/A, though those who really want to (ab)use the 100% Maple Syrup may wish to pass on the lemony Barry Yellow and Room Service, a delicious combination harkening chocolate covered strawberries beneath a bitter-sweet top note that really does taste like a bottle of bubbly.

TIP: Seeming to have righted the ship one month in and at this point generating a line of approximately 20-30 minutes for a four-top during breakfast hours those looking to sample more options with a smaller group are advised to go with short or single stacks – the case above was ordered as it was for the sheer audacity of it all.

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WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://sbe.com/restaurants/locations/the-griddle-cafe/

The Griddle Café on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Coffee, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Griddle Cafe, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pancakes, The Griddle Cafe at SLS

Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres, Las Vegas NV

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Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres

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Parker House Rolls

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Foieffle Air waffles, foie espuma, peanut butter, honey

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Foie Gras “Floating Island” Foie gras soup, fresh corn espuma

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Morcilla with Uni – Spanish blood sausage, fresh sea urchin

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Clover Club – Gin, Raspberries, Lime Juice, Simple Syrup

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New York Sour – Rye Whiskey, Lemon Juice, Simple Syrup, Red Wine Float

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Wood and Fire – Tequila, Benedictine, Maple Syrup, Angustura

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Truffles & Honey – Pear Vodka, Honey, Truffles, Lemon, Bubbles

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S’mores Foie Gras, chocolate, marshmallow, graham crackers

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Pork-Skin Chicharrón Greek yogurt, za’atar spices

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West Coast Oysters – Mignonette, Hot Sauce, fruit vinegar

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Beef Carpaccio & Parmesan Grissini – Washugyu beef, espuma, caramelized onion purée

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Callos a la Vizcaína – Beef tripe stew with half Maine lobster

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Braised Lamb Neck Fried oysters, oyster catsup, fried potatoes

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Robuchon – Butter, butter, more butter, some potatoes

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Setas al Ajillo – Button mushrooms, garlic, lemon, arbol chile

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Catalan Spinach – Apple, pine nuts, shallots, raisins

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Spanish-style bone-in rib eye, oak-wood fired from Harris Ranch, CA (4.5lb)

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Suckling Pig with Ensalada mixta, lettuce, onions, tomatoes

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Bazaar Iced Espresso

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Dark Chocolate & Aged Rum Cake, Tiramisu Cream Puff, Tahitian Vanilla & Raspberry Cream Puff x2, Praline Inspired by Pierre Herme Caramelized Puff Pastry, Chocolate/Caramel/Sea Salt Caramelized Puff Pastry, Bacon/Strawberries/Cream Caramelized Puff Pastry, Milk Chocolate/Peanut/Caramel Tart

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Salted Caramel Ice Cream over Praline Crunch

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Self described as a “tapas-style” Steakhouse with an enormous footprint at the recently opened SLS Las Vegas, Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres is perhaps the Spaniard’s most daring concept to date – a sprawling dining room with mismatched furniture and obscure pseudo-taxidermy surrounding a kitchen eschewing any semblance of tradition with simple roast meats and cold shellfish set directly next to high concept tartare, offal, and several plates featuring the chef’s modernist twists. Truly a daunting menu, both in actual size and scope, it was with seven friends that I sat down just moments after 7:00pm and opting for a wide variety of items marched out by a staff that only once failed by forgetting a buddy’s beer I’ll simply say that for such a space, particularly in Las Vegas, the service was superior – a strong credit to GM Yassine Lyoubi who greeted me during the early part of the stay. Perhaps a bit expensive in items listed as starters, snacks, soups, and sandwiches but quick to make up for quantity with quality it was with a few small bites that I began before the rest of my group arrived and with a crispy ‘air waffle’ seemingly made of glass shattering to foamy foie tinged in honey I soon found myself swooning, the aggressively spiced blood sausage topped in creamy urchin that followed an equally restaurant-defining dish. Moving next to things more substantial as I sipped a cocktail of lime, raspberry, and gin it should be abundantly obvious that S’mores laced with creamy duck liver were two-bite bits of decadence but far more surprising was the crispy pigskin, a nearly 2×2 foot sheet cracked at the table with a mallet to be dipped in Greek yogurt heavily spiced in sumac and thyme. Moving next to a dozen fresh oysters as more drinks arrived with another “wow” moment delivered by warm cheese-sticks draped in thinly sliced beef that may have represented the meal’s best bite. Onward we went, to a bowl of tripe that quickly silenced skeptics at the table with snappy lobster juxtaposing soft stomach and then to braised lamb neck paired to fried oysters that drew a similar stunned response, and with both dishes quickly finished serving platters arrived – a trio of sides including “life affirming” potatoes a la Robuchon presented alongside four pounds of steak and 1/4 suckling pig with skin that crackled to the tooth. Felt by some to be ‘underseasoned,’ but particularly impressive from my perspective for allowing the meat’s natural flavors to shine, it was only after polishing off nearly every ounce of the scraps that we ended in espresso and dessert – the later a bit of an afterthought considering the pricetag, though the Chocolate and Aged Rum Cake and Pierre Herme inspired pastry are certainly worth the splurge.

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THREE AND A HALF STARS: Undoubtedly one of the year’s splashiest openings, only time will tell whether Bazaar Meat can maintain its early momentum but with an innovative menu and service that shines it already represents one of the best “Steakhouses” in Sin City, the 25+ percent price hike on nearly every item stemming from a Las Vegas Boulevard location aside.

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RECOMMENDED: Beef Carpaccio, Lamb Neck, Uni and Morcilla, Chicharrón, Potatoes, Praline Pastry.

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AVOID: Bang for the buck on S’mores, Foieffle, and Quarter Sucking Pig are questionable, though all were excellent, while the “floating island” is just over a single, dull mouthful for $8 and the spinach side dish was exceedingly bland. Speaking to dessert, save for the tiny $7 Caramelized Pastry and $8 Rum Cake none of it was any better than the sweets at Bacchanal Buffet and as such another cost versus quality conundrum.

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TIP: Featuring no less than 250 seats yet booked to capacity on a Friday night diners are well advised to make reservations or be prepared to wait, the far more limited menu at the bar not a ‘bad’ option, but very much focused on items carrying a hefty upcharge for a few small bites.

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WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://sbe.com/restaurants/locations/bazaar-meat-las-vegas/

Bazaar Meat by José Andrés on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bazaar Meat, Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres, Bread Basket, Coffee, Dessert, Foie, Food, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Lobster, Nevada, Pork, Truffle, Waffles

Pot Liquor CAS, Las Vegas NV

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Pot Liquor CAS

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Pork Belly with Country Grits

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Slow Smoked, Hand Sliced Texas Style Brisket, Louisiana Hot Links, Spicy ‘Cue, Sweet ‘Cue

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“Spare Me Baby” – Dry Rubbed Spareribs, Mopped Baby Back Ribs, Cornbread with Honey Butter, Mac n’ Cheese

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Brownie Bread Pudding – Bourbon Glaze, Sea Salt Vanilla Gelato

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Strawberry Shortcake Sandwiches – Pound Cake, Strawberry Cream Gelato

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Occupying a large space at Town Square and still in ‘soft opening’ stages it was nearly 9pm when myself and two friends arrived at Pot Liquor Contemporary American Smokehouse and although the hip-hop soundtrack trends a bit too loud while service is still green as well as a bit off-kilter I’m happy to say that nearly everything we tasted was quite excellent, a wide variety of barbeque styles represented with sauces and rubs drawing influence from Alabama and the Carolinas to the Lonestar State and even Kansas City. Described by director of development Flip Arbelaez as a ‘fusion’ of styles, both in food and décor, with design concepts ranging from reclaimed barn wood and mason jar chandeliers to a slick marble bar at the restaurant center the majority of our meal at Pot Liquor CAS was paired to sounds far more ‘urban’ than Southern but looking squarely at the ‘cue from a tightly regulated indoor smoker burning a blend of woods low-and-slow at 250°F there was nothing at all to suggest the cuisine to be that of some city-slicker. Unfortunately sold out of the pulled pork given our late hour of arrival and additionally limited on desserts which, save for a few, are not yet available it was with a focus on the remaining variety of smoked meats that our order was crafted and with our server literally cheering us on in phrases like “yeah, I like that” or “that’s totally what I’d do” it was not long before our order arrived, a single appetizer of crisp but under-seasoned pork belly over buttery ground corn plus a large pair of plates featuring more than enough meat and sides to be shared. Beginning first with tender sliced beef featuring a substantial waft of smoke but otherwise seasoned in only salt and pepper I’m confident in saying that Pot Liquor already offers the best brisket in Sin City and moving onward to snappy house-made hot links that paired beautifully with the mayonnaise and horseradish white sauce I was again impressed, the somewhat dry spare ribs a small step in the wrong direction though falling-from-the-bone baby backs were a return to form and easily on par with Rollin’ Smoke, though commanding nearly twice the price even without accounting for the AYCE option at the longstanding Vegas favorite. A bit underwhelmed by sides, particularly the skimpy portion of cornbread that commands a $5.95 menu price, it was in a duo of the three available desserts that we rounded out the night and with each option carrying a $6 pricetag the brownie-beneath-a-croissant style bread pudding proved unquestionably a must order, the nearly molten chocolate base well suited to blend nicely with slowly melting ice cream rife in vanilla amidst ample amounts of butter.

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THREE AND A HALF STARS: Clearly more corporate than the traditional Southern Smokehouse yet innovative in their scientific approach to barbeque with a controlled temperature in-house smoker it will be interesting to see just how Las Vegans respond to Pot Liquor CAS, the high tariff likely to turn some away in a city where good barbeque is sorely underrepresented and many seem satisfied by the swill being turned out by Famous Dave’s at less than half the price. With everything made in-house including brines, bacon, hot links, and a wide array of sauces it should go without saying that these guys are dedicated to what they do and with a high likelihood to only improve with time and customer feedback I look forward to a return visit sometime before year’s end – hopefully to find the ‘cue consistent, if not bettered by a well seasoned smoker, with sides and the music turned down…or at least tuned to something more befitting the sort of cuisine being served.

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RECOMMENDED: Hand Sliced Brisket, Baby Back Ribs, Brownie Bread Pudding. The Alabama White Sauce and Pot Liquor’s Sweet Barbecue Sauce were also excellent.

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AVOID: Cornbread is small, though quite moist even before adding the honey butter while mac n’ cheese was decent, if not particularly memorable. As noted above, Pork Belly was sorely lacking in seasoning or salinity and all told I’d have rather received a portion of grits in a mac n’ cheese sized bowl and let the kitchen keep the pig.

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TIP: Currently in soft-opening mode some of the items listed on the menu are not yet available but with the culinary team and ownership all present, accounted for, and eager to inquire about the customer experience I’d advise all but those most curious to hold out for the October Grand Opening – this is a place I expect will only improve as they learn the nuances of the smoker and their customer base, the potential for something that is already ‘good’ to become a new reference standard is exciting to say the least.

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WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

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http://www.potliquorcas.com/

Pot Liquor Cas on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Pudding, Cornbread, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pork, Pot Liquor, Pot Liquor CAS

Japanese Cuisine by Omae, Las Vegas NV

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Japanese Cuisine by Omae

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Matcha

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Sakizuke – Ikura and Mushrooms with Grated Daikon, Ponzu Sauce

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Zensai – Amaebi Tartar, Celeriac Puree, Tomato Sorbet, Shrimp Chips

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Mushimono – Steamed Scallop, Mozzarella, Grated Turnip, Golden Brown Sauce

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Sashimi – Salmon, Horse Mackerel, Red Snapper, Scallop from the Tsukiji Fish Market with Japanese Plum, ginger, wasabi

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Sumiyaki – Charcoal Grilled Cod with Truffle Soy Sauce over Rice

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Teppan – Grilled Wagyu Steak with Roasted Onion and Wasabi Mashed Potatoes with Shallot Soy Sauce

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A5 Kobe Upgrade +$80

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Cold Drip Coffee

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Dessert – Greet Tea Tiramisu, Mochi Coated Strawberry, Assorted Berries, Yuzu Cream Spoon, Vanilla Cream Puff, Passion Fruit Gelee

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Toqued by Takeshi Omae, a man bestowed stars from Michelin in Japan and one with plans to expand his culinary concepts stateside, Japanese Cuisine by Omae originally launched at 3650 South Decatur a few months back and with early praise lavished on the $20 lunch it was finally in September that the twelve seat space debuted its true vision, a $100 Omakase to which myself and four friends sat down on Saturday night. Intimate in size with a pair of four-tops and a duo of two seaters set beneath subdued chrome lights in hushed dining area decorated with kimono and koi it was just moments before our 5:30 reservation that our group settled in and with beverage service currently limited to non-alcoholic options green tea and sparkling water ordered, our one-man service team keeping cups brimming throughout our seven-course experience while presenting each dish in great detail. Measured in pace with portions trending small as the two-man kitchen turned out edible works of art without a single detail overlooked it was with a textbook bite of delicate tempura set next to briny baubles of salmon roe that our meal began and progressing next to dishes melding sweet shrimp with tomato sorbet and briny to soft mozzarella the team’s creativity took the spotlight early, a large bowl of elegantly plated, though unfortunately common, sashimi selections reigning things in before moving to plates more substantial. To this point impressed, though not particularly ‘wowed’ by any single course, it was finally the Sumiyaki that saw all five of us swoon as umami-rich rice provided a crispy juxtaposition to flaky fish and finishing up with reference standard beef, simply prepared with a light kiss from the grill, alongside aromatic mashed potatoes preceding a board of small, elegant desserts plus Japanese 6-hour drip coffee the evening ended strong, no one particularly full but everyone discussing how Las Vegas needs more restaurants of this kind.

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FOUR STARS: Undeniably a dining ‘experience’ as opposed to a simple meal it will be interesting to see how well Omae fares in its current format, the pricetag apparently prone to an increase of $50 at the end of the month. Oddly located, though really no more-so than Raku or Kabuto, and easily on par with the skill-set of any Strip-based omakase while proving quite capable of sourcing premium ingredients including A5 Kobe direct from Japan the longevity of Omae will be dependent, largely, on the support of locals and in a city where the ‘next big thing’ is never more than a week away I truly hope the restaurant finds it audience early on and word of mouth spreads quickly, though I must say even the current pricepoint makes me leery.

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RECOMMENDED: The tasting menu is your only choice, though supplements will reportedly vary depending on season and sourcing.

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AVOID: For myself, the difference between well sourced Wagyu and the perfectly marbled A5 Kobe did not justify the $80 surcharge, though the difference was notable from the bite I was offered by a tablemate.

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TIP: Open for two seatings, one at 5:30 and another at 8:00, reservations are most easily made online through the restaurant’s website and confirmed via text-messaging system that alerts you of the event on the day of. Also, with liquor license pending, Omae is currently non-alcoholic.

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DISCLOSURE: Obviously hands-on in all aspects of his business Shinchiro Tanaka contacted me via e-mail prior to our meal and stated he wanted to ‘comp two of the five covers,’ an offer I kindly rejected until the Chef insisted he would have it no other way. Still uncertain as to why this was offered, though the obvious possibilities have been considered, in no other way was our meal any different from that of the surrounding tables.

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WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

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http://takeshi-omae.com/

Japanese Cuisine By Omae on Urbanspoon

Posted in Coffee, Dessert, Food, Japanese Cuisine by Omae, Las Vegas, Nevada, Omae, Sushi, Tasting Menu, Tiramisu, Truffle

TC’s Rib Crib, Las Vegas NV

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TC’s Rib Crib

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Sliced Brisket, Pulled Pork, Spare Ribs, Cornbread

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Spare Rib Close-Up

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Mac n’ Cheese

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Sweet Potato Fries

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Biscuit

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“New Orleans” French Toast with Sliced Bananas

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Banana Pudding

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Red Velvet Cake

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Praline

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Located near Norm’s Eggs Café in a strip mall off South Durango and featuring “World Famous” ribs with awards in 2007 and 2010 for the city’s best barbeque it was with tempered expectations that I entered TC’s Rib Crib and although I will say the Motown soundtrack and service were quite pleasant as I watched the Buckeyes obliterate Kent State, little else of my experience was even remotely good – a small, buttery biscuit and a jumbo praline the lone exception. Obviously the sort of place willing to cut corners as condiments include Aunt Jemima and ‘honey’ cut with glucose syrup and starch it was in a wide selection of meats, sides, and sweets that I invested and although costs were quite low for most items, so too was the quality – the ribs clearly parboiled without a note of smoke while thinly sliced brisket and pulled pork were nearly indistinguishable beneath artificially saccharine sauce. Mostly ignoring bland elbow noodles from which I consumed only a few bites and fries that arrived almost at meal’s end as well as the $4.50 French Toast was flat and flavorless even with the $1.50 banana and whipped cream upgrade…the latter not supplied as they were apparently ‘out’…and moving on to dessert, suffice it to say that the boxed vanilla pudding with only a hint of banana beneath ‘nilla wafers is not worth $5.99 and although the frosting on a tiny sliver of red velvet cake was tangy and smooth the cake was so dry it literally crumbled to fork pressure – the majority of it joining nearly half the rest of my order in a waste basket when servers were otherwise occupied so as not to offend.

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ONE AND A HALF STARS: Literally the only patron present just past noon on a Saturday it is shocking to me that a business like TC’s can sustain and as much as I try to support locals I cannot fathom a reason to return, particularly given a pricepoint higher than Rollin’ Smoke despite quality on par with Famous Dave’s.

RECOMMENDED: Biscuit, Praline…maybe the ribs, though the taste more closely resembles slow cooker than barbeque.

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AVOID: Everything else I ordered, particularly the pulled pork, red velvet cake, and absurdly priced banana pudding.

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TIP: Offering a $20 certificate for $10 on Yelp! the cost was slightly less appalling after the discount, but even then entirely not worth it – not when $25 will net you all the quality ‘cue you can eat up at Rollin’ Smoke.

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WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://www.tcsribcrib.com/

T.C.'s Rib Crib on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Cornbread, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pork, TC's, TC's Rib Crib

Mr. Mama’s, Las Vegas NV

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Mr. Mama’s

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Buttermilk Biscuit

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Jumbo Cinnamon Roll

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Double Chocolate Chip Pancakes

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Two Eggs and Bottomless Coffee Served with Pancakes (Daily Special)

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Single Serving of French Toast

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One of the longest standing members on my breakfast ‘to-do’ list and a place to which I’d purchased a $20 discounted gift-certificate some six months prior it was finally on Saturday that I drove down to Mr. Mama’s and although the small breakfast and lunch spot is unlikely to win any awards for innovation it can only be said that this truly is a place committed to putting a smile on each patron’s face. Undoubtedly a locals institution in which nearly every other customer was a regular with orders frequently anticipated by staff it was just past 7:15 that I was invited to seat myself and with no less than three servers offering to get me coffee as I perused the menu it became immediately apparent as to why the restaurant was filled to capacity by eight o’clock. Focused mostly on diner staples with a whiteboard of specials just left of entry while prices trend far lower than almost anywhere else in the 702 my meal began with Mr. Mama’s oft-raved $3.50 cinnamon roll and with a soft, yeasty base rife with cinnamon and butter beneath sweet frosting the hype proved justified, a smallish biscuit proving less worthy its $2.75 tab, though still quite good. Preceding next to plates more hearty it was with a thin slice of French Toast that my meal moved on and opting this time to bring my own maple syrup from home the result was improved, though still nothing to write home about, particularly when compared to fluffy flapjacks studded with dark and white chocolate, a daily special matched with two eggs and at least six cups of coffee for less than $9.

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THREE STARS: Likely generating its fan base more through low prices and friendly service rather than by location or particularly excellent food I cannot say I’ll be rushing back to Mr. Mama’s soon, but for locals on a budget or those with little one’s looking for a good breakfast at a great price the restaurant definitely fills a niche – the open-kitchen of blazing-fast line cooks and televisions tuned to college football providing a bit of entertainment for those interested in such things, as well.

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RECOMMENDED: Cinnamon Roll, Pancakes.

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AVOID: French Toast and arriving after 8:30am on weekends.

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TIP: Currently offering $20 gift certificates for $15 through Yelp! (and previously as low as $10 for the same) savvy customers are advised to take advantage, though for solo diners such as myself one may be hard pressed to spend the whole amount, my whole meal ringing up for a mere $16.25 after tax.

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WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://www.mrmamaslv.com/

Mr. Mama's on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Coffee, Food, French Toast, Las Vegas, Mr. Mama's, Nevada, Pancakes

Owen & Engine, Chicago IL

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Owen & Engine

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Blueberry Cinnamon Roll with Cream Cheese Frosting

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Housemade Crumpets with Nordic Creamery Butter and Blueberry Jam

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Scotch Egg with Stout Mustard

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Chocolate Chip, Blueberry, and Poppyseed Scones with Clotted Cream and Blueberry Jam

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Scottish Pancakes with Burton’s Maple Syrup and House Bacon

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Steel Cut Oatmeal Risotto, Poached Farm Egg, Pork Confit, Shaved Parmesan, Grilled Brown Bread

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Bubble and Squeak

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House Baked Brioche French Toast Sandwich with Sunny Egg, Aged Cheddar, Smoked Ham, Maple Syrup, Blueberry Jam, Salad

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Full English Fry-Up with Tinned Beans, Fried Egg, Grilled Tomato, House Bacon, Brown Bread, Blood Sausage, Banger

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Located in Logan Square and loaded with beards, ink, and irony just moments after opening, Owen + Engine was selected as a ‘morning after’ celebration for two recently united families largely on location, but also in part due to items far more interesting than the ‘typical’ American bill of fare. Described by some as a gastropub, and by many as Chicago’s best British food, with a menu featuring items both savory and sweet it was thankfully with reservations and details of the special occasion that we were greeted at the restaurant’s doors and swiftly led to a semi-private room amidst the restaurant’s rustic confines both service and selections would shine, the unfortunate discontinuation of a coveted ‘foie gras cinnamon roll’ the meal’s lone flaw. Dining as part of a group of seven, with some still recovering from a wedding reception the night before, it was none-the-less with an eye on diversity that our tasting was crafted and starting out with a quartet of starters a theme of textbook execution was quickly made known – the sones and crumpets both as good as any I had in England while the ‘standard’ cinnamon roll and runny Scotch egg were delicious as well. Neglecting to photograph a burger proclaimed as ‘very good’ by the groom’s father but happy to document my own end of the table it was with a few double orders that entrees arrived and with two plates of pancakes plus a full English Fry-Up both impressive in their own right it was the pseudo-risotto and duo of French Toast sandwiches that handily stole the show, the former a creamy bowl of oats melded to crispy pig by egg-yolk while the later featured thick slices of bread griddled after a bath in custard surrounding sharp cheddar and smoky slices of ham, the savory flavors brought into sharp focus with a drizzle of syrup and sidecar of jam.

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RECOMMENDED: French Toast Sandwich, Oatmeal Risotto, Crumpets, and an extra quenelle of clotted cream to spread liberally on the scones.

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AVOID: Desserts, at least on the day of our visit, seemed utterly uninspiring compared to the menu proper. Additionally, attempting to share the Scotch Egg is hopeless – order one each.

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TIP: Featuring a vast beer list, indoor seating as well as rooftop patio, and service far superior to the likes of Reno or Longman & Eagle the vibe of Owen + Engine is undoubtedly the best ‘family friendly’ brunch I’ve found in Logan Square – a ‘unique’ menu for those looking for something different while still familiar enough for those unwilling to explore.

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http://www.owenandengine.com/

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Posted in Breakfast, Chicago, Food, French Toast, Illinois, Owen & Engine, Owen and Engine, Pancakes, Pork, Vacation

Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe, Chicago IL

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Wildberry Pancakes and Café

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Bottomless Drip Coffee from Intelligentsia and $2 pure maple syrup (and a giant plate of syrup and butter)

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Red Velvet French Toast with Vanilla Anglaise and Fresh Strawberries

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Banana Bread French Toast with Cut Banana

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Signature Berry Bliss Pancakes – Vanilla Anglaise, Blackberry Coulis, Berry Mascarpone, Fresh Berries

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Awakening early on the last day of my trip to take a long run along Lakeshore Drive it was with nearly twelve miles under my feet that I showered, packed my bags, and gathered my mother and aunt for breakfast at Wildberry Pancakes and Café, a regional brunchery with two locations in the ‘burbs and one within city limits. Ever the target of tourists thanks to prime real estate just steps from Millennium Park, and already sporting a 45 minute wait as the clock approached eight, it was largely an effect of convenience that led us to stay at a restaurant from which I did not particularly expect much and with seats eventually found in the center of a bustling dining room my suspicions were immediately confirmed – the service overburdened and perfunctory while food was pleasant without being memorable at all. Expectedly high priced for clever interpretations of diner classics including pancakes, bennies, and everything in between it was a total of three sweets plus rarely-replenished coffee that our meal progressed – the kitchen undoubted rushing to turn tables and serving a short-stack in place of a requested full stack. Arriving no less than 15 minutes after ordering, along with enough artificial maple syrup to smother more than twice as many plates, it was with dyed-red bread that dining began and topped with supplemental syrup from Vermont for $2 the texture was fine, the taste not particularly cocoa though pleasant with berries and cream. Faring better than my selection, both my aunt’s fluffy pancakes and mother’s griddled quick bread were well prepared with plenty of natural sweetness and although neither were ‘rave worthy’ or even ‘worth the wait,’ neither was particularly a poor choice –even if our server seemed to be rushing us out the door just thirty-five minutes after we had sat down.

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RECOMMENDED: The pancakes trumped both styles of French Toast and featuring a light, fluffy crumb topped with quite a few berries easily represented the best ‘deal’ of our breakfast.

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AVOID: Red Velvet French Toast seems like a bit of an upsell for an item that tasted mostly like white bread with a hint of cocoa. Clever, sure, but not particularly well executed considering the increase in price from ‘standard.’

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TIP: Obviously prone to tourist traffic an early, off hours, or weekday visit is probably a safer bet than Sunday at 8am, though if our walk the prior week to YumCha was any indication the place is never particularly ‘dead.’

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http://www.wildberrycafe.com/

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Posted in Breakfast, Chicago, Coffee, Food, French Toast, Illinois, Intelligentsia, Pancakes, Vacation, Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe

Publican Quality Meats [Private Event,] Chicago IL

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Publican Quality Meats

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Charcuterie – Guinea Amaro Pate, Spicy Coppa, ‘nduja, pickled vegetables, mustard, whole wheat bread

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Cheese – Alpha Tolman, Shropshire Blue, Red Hawk, Raspberry Jam, Kumquats, Sugar and Spice Mixed Nuts

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Spicy Pork Rinds

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Sourdough Bread, Local Butter, Olive Oil

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Little Gem Salad – Crispy Pigs Ears, Radishes, Buttermilk Vinaigrette

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Whole Wheat Bread

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Fried Perch – Onion Rings, Lemon, Parsley, Spicy Aioli

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BBQ Carrots – Dill Buttermilk Dressing

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Cheesy Focaccia

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Slow Roasted Porchetta – Spinach, Country Bread Salad, Salsa Verde

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Brassicas – Bagna Cauda and Almonds

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Stone Fruit Crisp – Sweet Crème Fraiche, Orange Candy, Mint

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Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Icing and Hazelnut Cake with Salty Caramel Buttercream from Alliance Bakery

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Acknowledging that it is entirely unfair to ‘rate’ the wedding of your only sibling but happy to assume that I had a lot to do with her refined tastes as well as the choice of venue I will simply say that, aside from a small snafu regarding the cake and a plate of bagna cauda too briny for even myself, no aspect of our the reception at Publican Quality Meats was less than exemplary on the evening of September 6th. Obviously a ‘big’ event despite a party of less than thirty, and one largely planned by the bride and groom themselves, it was shortly after the shop’s close of business that the space was converted into a duo of long tables and with each part of the four course menu presented family-style fashion there was never even a question of enough food to go ‘round, the only real quandary being where to invest one’s appetite after an opening spread of charcuterie including ample amounts of RedHawk, Pork Rinds ‘nduja, pate, and kumquats had already proven enticing enough to warrant several stops. Every bit a meal for the memory books as each course arrived with its own pairing of bread it was in salad topped with pigs ears and tangy vinaigrette that seated service began and moving quickly to a childhood favorite of fried lake perch alongside tender carrots I could see both my mother, aunt, and sister smile – memories of my grandparents and summers in Port Clinton undoubtedly dancing in their heads. Moving next to textbook porchetta, a Publican signature both tender and teaming with spice, and finally to the first of several scoops of bubbling stonefruit crisp it was finally at the three-hour mark that cake was cut and although everyone at this point was either drunk on wine or filled with food not a single one missed a chance to indulge – the high quality service team joining the party in a celebration of love with the best ‘wedding food’ any of us are ever likely to enjoy.

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RECOMMENDED: Booking a party with a legendary restaurateur like Paul Kahan was every bit the sure-fire choice one would expect, each dish including the lamented brassicas hand selected by my sister from a large variety of plates. For those visiting Publican or PQM on more casual terms, suffice it to say that the house made charcuterie shines and anything featuring pork is a safe bet.

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AVOID: Not pastry kitchen and further foiled by staff turnover it was only two weeks before the big day that my sister was informed that PQM would be unable to craft her wedding cake – a last minute request more than met by Alliance Bakery and clearly showing exactly why the Wicker Park landmark has garnered such acclaim.

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TIP: For those not particularly squeamish about butchery and the processing of animals in all forms a trip to the basement restrooms is a must; the team of nearly a dozen working diligently and respectfully throughout the evening to craft artisan cuts used in each of the One Off Hospitality Group restaurants.

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http://publicanqualitymeats.com/

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Posted in Alliance Bakery, Bread Basket, Chicago, Coffee, Dessert, Food, Illinois, La Colombe, Pork, Publican Quality Meats, Vacation

Green Street Smoked Meats, Chicago IL

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Green Street Smoked Meats

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Sliced Brisket

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Pulled Pork

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Pork Belly

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Potato Salad

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Frito Pie

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Vanilla Peach Swirl Softserve

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Owned and operated by Brendan Sodikoff, a man whose portfolio of success seems to know no bounds, it was only an hour after my sister and her fiancée had tied the knot that myself and two others descended upon Green Street Smoked Meats – the highly acclaimed contemporary smokehouse just steps of Randolph once again proving its owner’s ability to amaze regardless of region or cuisine. Already familiar with stylish spaces like Bavette’s, Maude’s, Au Cheval, and others it was admittedly an unexpected surprise to find the building housing Green Street to be open and airy with an appearance best described as ‘modernized-barn’ yet with a centralized bar and looped lightbulbs aplenty everything about the restaurant was welcoming – the team at the counter happy to chat about everything from the Rick James soundtrack to the tender meats ready to be sliced by the half-pound. Certainly more spendy than several similar spots, with brisket and belly tallying $24/lb while pulled pork and ribs ring in at a more modest $18, it was eventually in a trio of options that we invested our appetites and adding in a soda, sides, and swirl of soft-serve our nearly $55 tab set the bar quite high. Beginning first with sides, our first taste of Green Street cuisine found skin-on potatoes roasted to tender amidst a creamy, low-mustard sauce and personally satisfied with just a taste while my aunt raved each bite I instead turned attention to a Frito Pie, the corn chips still crispy beneath a veil of melted cheddar, smoky meat sauce, and jalapenos leaning more ‘medium’ than hot. Cleansing the palate with a few bites of soft-serve, the creamy base lovely while flavors of fresh peach popped, it was onward to meat that the meal moved and although the lightly seasoned brisket was on par with much of what I tasted in Texas it was the swine that stole the show, first with shredded pork that dialed back the sweetness to let more natural flavors amidst light acid shine, and then in tender pork belly with skin smoked bronze atop a smoky core the texture of bacon that almost melted on the tongue.

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RECOMMENDED: Pork Belly, Pulled Pork, Brisket.

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AVOID: Those of a more sensitive palate are advised to tread lightly with the hot sauce as it presents quite a punch.

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TIP: Open noon till late on weekends, 5p-1a on Tuesday through Friday, and closed on Monday be advised that, much like the best of Texas, Green Street Smoked Meats often sells out long before the end of service – the beef rib gone only two hours after opening on our Saturday visit.

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http://greenstreetmeats.com/

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Posted in Barbeque, Chicago, Dessert, Food, Green Street Smoked Meats, Ice Cream, Illinois, Pork, Vacation

Little Branch Cafe, Chicago IL

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Little Branch Café

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Cinnamon Roll

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Blueberry Scone

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Chocolate Chip Cookie

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Mascarpone Stuffed French Toast – 4 slices of brioche stuffed with mascarpone, grilled and topped with blueberry compote

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Selected largely as a result of its proximity to Burnham Harbor my second breakfast on the Saturday of my sister’s wedding saw me seated at a tiny two-top inside Little Branch Café, an unassuming little place next-door to an organic dry-cleaner that surprisingly generated a steady stream of patrons throughout the course of my 45 minute stay. Apparently present since 2007 and well known to residents of the South Loop, where destination dining is rare, it was just moments past 10:00am when I entered the snug space and with counter-service followed by self-seating the service was perfunctory at best – a four item order with item to be prepped by the kitchen while the rest were bagged despite my insistence that they were going to be enjoyed in house. Presented with an empty plate and a plastic cup for water my first bites of Little Branch would come in the form of a thinly frosted cinnamon roll and proving far more doughy than the version from Brunch only a few bites were taken before the rest was set aside, my attention soon turning to a chocolate chip cookie that was good, if not memorable, followed by a still-warm scone that proved the best of the trio as pockets of fresh berries juxtaposed sugary pearls amidst a background built on butter. To this point largely underwhelmed it was approximately twenty minutes after seating that my French Toast would arrive and although admirable in its sweetness even before adding maple syrup I couldn’t help but find the description oversold – the ‘four’ pieces of brioche cut so thin that each ‘sandwich’ was no larger than a standard slice while a light smear of mascarpone offered no more texture or nuance than the pool of Crème Anglaise did by itself.

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RECOMMENDED: The Scone was quite nice and the French Toast was competent, neither destination-worthy, but ‘good enough’ if one is in the area.

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AVOID: The Cinnamon Roll was essentially a dinner roll with light cinnamon notes and a lacquer of frosting and the chocolate chip cookie was no better than one cut from a Pillsbury roll.

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TIP: Small in size and bathed in natural light it seems as though the vast majority of diners at Little Branch were both locals and regulars, several tables lingering over conversation and coffee thus leaving my table the lone empty two-top as I exited the restaurant and thus leading several customer to walk away empty handed or simply order from the counter and take their pastries or coffee elsewhere – an early or off-hours visit probably best for those looking to dine in.

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http://www.littlebranchcafe.com/

Little Branch Cafe on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Chicago, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Illinois, Little Branch Cafe, Vacation

Brunch, Chicago IL

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Brunch

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Fresh Baked Cinnamon Rolls Homemade daily and baked in a cast iron skillet, topped with sweet creamy icing

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Donut French Toast Two cake donuts, sliced, soaked with our homemade French toast batter and grilled until golden brown. Topped with powder sugar and served with maple syrup and fresh strawberries

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Short Stack of Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

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Brunch Blend from Intelligentsia, bottomless and one to go.

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Waking up early as ever on the day of my sister’s wedding it was after another long run and shower that I walked down the street to Brunch, the rather obviously named spot serving a menu of…you guessed it…breakfast and lunch classics, plus several with a twist. Large in size and efficient in service, with several flatscreen televisions decorating the otherwise wood and cement space, it was to a largely empty dining room that I arrived just after 7:00am and quick to fill with folks of all ages shortly after I placed my order the atmosphere remained enjoyable, coffee refills coming at a near record-setting pace until my appetizer appeared. Every fancying sweets over savories, particularly at breakfast, it was largely on the advice of my server that I started with the restaurant’s signature cinnamon roll and having passed on French toast sticks, muffin tops, and chicken n’ waffle bites in its favor I immediately owed the young woman thanks – each bite of the golden spiral dense with butter while spicy Saigon cinnamon melded smoothly with sugary frosting, an unnecessary sidecar for those who simply can’t get enough. Admittedly starting strong it was only after the cast-iron skillet was empty with more coffee consumed that the rest of my order arrived and although neither would reach the high bar set by the cinnamon roll both the griddled donut and tiny short-stack would prove pleasant – the former obviously high on sweetness scale even before adding maple syrup while the later was a bit light on the blueberries, though fluffy and rife with buttermilk in each and every bite.

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RECOMMENDED: Definitely order the cinnamon roll, and consider going with a large group to experience more of the ‘starters’ and small plates – the strawberry stuffed French toast bites at the table next to me looked divine while griddled muffin tops looked like a potential upgrade on the pancakes at a table near the door.

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AVOID: The Donut French Toast was clever, though not a substantial improvement on a ‘standard’ cake donut considering the $10.99 tab.

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TIP: Nowhere near as packed as Wildberry while serving far better food, Brunch is a fine choice for those desiring breakfast downtown, a pre-9am arrival recommended on weekends for those unwilling to abide a long wait, though reservations can be made in advance.

http://www.brunchit.com/

Brunch on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Brunch, Chicago, Coffee, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Illinois, Intelligentsia, Pancakes, Vacation

Boka, Chicago IL

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Boka

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Nothing Gold – Ketel One, Fernet-Branca, Cherry, Lime, Bitters / Bee’s Knees – Beefeater, Honey, Lemon

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Asparagus Veloute with Aromatic Oils

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Salted Pretzel Roll, Olive Loaf, House Churned Butter

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Heirloom Carrots – pistachios, amaranth, smoked goat cheese

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Foie Gras Terrine – gooseberries, hazelnuts, vadouvan, brioche

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Ricotta Gnudi – hazelnuts, morcilla, raisins

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Summer Squash & Tomato – burrata, pickled watermelon, sesame, olives

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Salt Cod Ravioli – corn, arugula, radish

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Roasted Peking Duck Breast – peach, celery root, fermented black beans

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Seared Scallops – corn, morcilla, sea urchin broth

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Roasted Chicken – fennel, radicchio, pistachio, brioche

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Coffee & Mascarpone – Hazelnut, Elderflower, Honey

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Roasted Peaches – Olive Oil Cake, Buttermilk, Pecan Ice Cream

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Chocolate Ganache – Caramelized White Chocolate, Plum, Pistachio Ice Cream

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Coconut Rice Pudding – Tres Leches, Lime, Cassis Sorbet

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Peppermint Paddys

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Missing out on Lee Wolen’s tenure at The Lobby due to Chicago traffic during my last visit I was absolutely thrilled when I heard the young chef had landed at Boka in early 2014, the longstanding resident of restaurant ‘to-do’ list immediately vaulting to ‘must visit’ status on the night before my sister’s big day. Known best, perhaps, as the restaurant next to Alinea but more than once nabbing a Michelin Star of its own under previous chefs our arrival at Boka was a surprisingly simple affair with both reservations and traffic proving far less a hassle than one would expect and seated on entry at a large four-top amidst an open dining room with amusing décor it was to professional yet playful service that our night would unfold – the four course tasting that followed featuring a dozen plates in which nary a flaw could be found. Truly someplace to explore, the restaurant itself featuring an entirely different experience in the dimly-lit bar as compared to the more organic main room, the same can certainly be said of Wolen’s late summer menu and with an opening volley of creamy soup followed by the first of many rounds of bread the a theme quickly emerged, each plate a colorful mélange of immaculate produce manipulated just enough to yield peak flavors while herbs and spices joined in to accent equally well executed proteins. Already having stated that each dish was excellent but choosing to focus on a few favorites the best bites of the meal were delivered in a duo of delicate pastas and as much as I loved the creamy brandade it was the soft gnudi that stole the show, each buttery morsel smoky from the blood sausage yet focused by underlying nuttiness while the raisins natural sweetness occasionally came to the fore. Obviously renowned for his chicken, the crisp skin reapplied to sous-vide breast with buttery cracker stuffing and equally impressive with caramelized scallops bathed in an umami-laden broth it was finally in a quartet of sweets that the evening would culminate and although each one was impressive in both concept and complexity the focus again fell squarely on flavors, the subtlety of creamy rice pudding acting to meld sweet cream to bright citrus particularly memorable though the southern-themed peaches and pralines was also brilliant, a light note of buttermilk keeping sweetness in check while the cake literally melted on the tongue.

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RECOMMENDED: Every single item we ordered was nothing short of impressive, Chef Wolen showing a keen eye in pairing seasonal vegetation with perfectly prepared proteins while desserts, too, were quite strong.

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AVOID: Missing Chef Wolen during this next-step of his career – the young man is undoubtedly likely to find a restaurant of his own someday soon.

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TIP: Having mentioned the bar vs. the main dining room above, those sensitive to noise while dining are well advised to request a seat in the later – the same music playing throughout the space is approximately 3x louder in the more casual half of the restaurant, though the main menu is served throughout.

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http://www.bokachicago.com/

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Posted in Boka, Bread Basket, Chicago, Coffee, Dessert, Foie, Food, Ice Cream, Illinois, Pork, Vacation

Smoque BBQ, Chicago IL

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Smoque

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Half and Half Brisket and Pulled Pork Sandwich

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Peach Cobbler

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Bread Pudding

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Cornbread

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Macaroni and Cheese

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Opting to take advantage of an automobile for transportation yet not wanting to overdo it before dinner at Boka it was just after 2:30 on a Friday afternoon that my mother, aunt, and I entered Smoque and with the lunch crowd still lingering but several seats open it was only dried out cornbread and an unpleasant ‘host’ who barked at us that no one could be seated until an order was placed which prevented the visit from being a resounding success. Located on Pulaski just seconds from the Kennedy Expressway and considered by some to represent Chicago’s best barbeque a visit to Smoque is unlikely to be mistaken for anything resembling an ‘upscale experience’ and opting to eschew the more fanciful digs of Lillie’s or Bub City there is no doubt that the food is the star of the show – a lean blackboard menu, steel trays lined with white paper, and plenty of napkins on wooden tables the only things besides a few pictures decorating otherwise Spartan décor. Every bit matching the Texas experience with orders placed at the counter and sodas self service it was after only a few minutes of indecision that our tray was presented, the $20 tab a veritable bargain for a large portion of meat along with two sides and a duo of desserts. Admittedly ordering lightly with a focus on favorites it was first in the brisket that each of us indulged and with a good smoke ring visible on each slice the tender beef shined, a statement slightly less applicable to pulled pork that was just a touch too sweet. Largely unimpressed by cornbread that was improved only slightly by a pat of butter but happy to find similarly plated macaroni tender amidst rich cheese it was onward to dessert that we moved and although the peach cobbler was admittedly quite good it was for the bread pudding that we’d all fight, a nearly molten slab slathered in creamy caramel with smoky pecans adding just the right bit of crunch.

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RECOMMENDED: Brisket, Bread Pudding.

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AVOID: Cornbread, and adding too much of the overly-sweet barbeque sauce.

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TIP: Open at 11:00am every day of the week aside from Monday and smoking throughout much of the day I’ve been told that non-peak times are the best to visit Smoque from a consistency standpoint, the brisket and ribs especially subject to variability during times when the kitchen is in a rush to keep up – or serving up options made much earlier in the day.

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http://www.smoquebbq.com/

Smoque BBQ on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Pudding, Chicago, Cornbread, Dessert, Food, Illinois, Pork, Smoque, Smoque BBQ, Vacation

Cicchetti, Chicago IL

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Cicchetti

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Tomato, Basil, and Mozzarella Pizza

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Nonna’s Meatballs with Pancetta Tomato Sauce and Ciabatta

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Saffron Risotto with Melted Leeks and Fried Farm Egg

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Gnocchi with Braised Lamb, Green Tomato, Cucumber, Basil Pine Nut Puree

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Corn Fettuccini with Smoked Pink Shrimp, Black Pepper Pepita Crumble, Broccoli, Corn Cream sauce

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Aged Trio of Duck – Breast, Sausage, and Confit with Roasted Potatoes and Balsamic Cipollini Onions

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Scrambled Egg Bruschetta – Soft Scrambled Eggs, Ricotta, Crispy Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Green Salad

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Reverse Affogato – Coffee Gelato, Vanilla Malted Milk, Sugar Dusted Doughnuts

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Valrhona Grand Cru Gianduja Dark Chocolate Cannoli – Sweet Potato Flan, Candied Blood Orange, Chocolate Sorbetto, Balsamic ‘Caviar’

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Caramel Tart – Dark Chocolate Dipped Corn Ice Cream, Hazelnut Cracker Jack

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With my mother and aunt now in town and the wedding party soon to arrive our final meal as a ‘family of four’ took place at Cicchetti, the Midwest-begets-Italy concept currently making waves on Chicago’s Near North Side. Featuring the talents of Chef Mike Sheerin and pastries by Sarah Jordan, whose former home (Boka) three of us would visit that night, it was just moments after noon that we parked at the $14 valet and making our way through the doors to a small reception area juxtaposing the bar our reservation was confirmed – a large six-top soon providing us plenty of space in front of a kitchen bathed in natural light. Still a bustling space nearly nine-months after opening with not a seat unoccupied during our two-hour stay it was largely with an eye on diversity that our selections were made and with our server affirming that the ten-plate order was ‘a lot,’ though not excessive it would not be long before the first of four-courses arrived, the bowl of delicate meatballs bathed in rich tomato sauce commanding extra ciabatta in order to be mopped clean while pizza was more-so a flatbread, the crisp crust holding up admirable to puddles of fresh mozz. Treated next to a trio of pastas from which one ‘best’ would be difficult to declare it should only be said that those truly looking to experience Cicchetti at its best are wise to invest here – the vegetal punch of green tomatoes and cucumber an inspired pairing to braised lamb while fresh fettuccini tasted of the end of summer, a bit of crunch from smoky pumpkin seeds hinting at an impending fall. Almost a surefire setup for a letdown in secondi given the quality of each pasta both the duck and the open-faced egg sandwich were admirable, if not memorable, but moving on to dessert the meal again took flight, a duo of deconstructionist efforts in the affogato with donuts and atypical ‘cannoli’ proving exceedingly elegant while the caramel tart, set on each side with boulders of frozen, creamy corn was purely indulgent – another strong contender for ‘best dessert’ in a trip that had already seen several stunning sweets.

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RECOMMENDED: With Sheerin and Jordan out as chef and pastry chef effective 9/23/14 it is hard to make any specific recommendations, but based on my experience in their tenure I’d strongly suggest pastas over proteins or antipasti.

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AVOID: Risotto was good, but not on par with the handmade pastas while the secondi were merely good, the rest of the meal ‘standout.’

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TIP: Keeping in mind the location those arriving by car should add plenty of time to accommodate miracle mile and/or gold coast traffic while also bringing enough cash to account for $14-20 parking.

http://www.cicchettirestaurant.com/

Cicchetti on Urbanspoon

Posted in Chicago, Cicchetti, Coffee, Dessert, Food, Gnocchi, Ice Cream, Illinois, Italian, Pizza, Pork, Vacation

Kitsch’n on Roscoe, Chicago IL

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Kitsch’n on Roscoe

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Bottomless Coffee from Intelligentsia

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Fried Chicken and Waffles – Two Pieces of Belgian Waffle, Golden Chicken Thighs, Mixed Fruit, Jalapeno Butter, Fried Egg

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Coconut Crusted French Toast – Shredded Coconut Crusted Brioche, Fresh Pineapple and Strawberries, Raspberry Sauce

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Kitsch’n Twinkie Tiramisu

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Forever a member of my ‘places to visit’ during several trips to the Windy City it was finally on Friday that I decided to stop by Kitsch’n on Roscoe, my sister and her fiancé opting to sleep in on the day before their wedding while I went for an early morning run followed by a two-mile walk to a restaurant that more than lived up to its name. Truly a space that is best seen to be understood with a menu of items both standard and unique it was just after the 8:30am opening that I approached the deceptively sizable space and entering through unlocked doors I immediately became confused, the quirky décor with bedazzled album covers and Tony the Tiger smiling back as The Four Tops played overhead, but not a human to be seen behind the counter or in the kitchen beyond. Deciding to investigate further only after shouting “hello” it was onward to the back room that I progressed and again finding the space empty I was admittedly startled when a small woman emerged from the storeroom, the look on her face likely similar to mine as we both laughed at the circumstances – the cooks arriving a bit later than usual and thus requiring her to start the stoves and gather items to begin service. At this point more than a bit amused it would be mere moments before I found a seat and with the first of several cups of Intelligentsia’s House Blend poured into a bottomless cup a three-part order was placed – the opening duo arriving in expedited fashion from a kitchen who needlessly apologized more than once. Admittedly a bit more expensive than one would expect for food that could best be described as ‘fun’ it was with the restaurant’s signature chicken and waffles that I began and although the bird itself was a bit underwhelming the waffle and butter did an admirable job of steering the ship, though a mere half of the crunchy, golden disc seemed chintzy at best. Improving with subsequent plates my attention soon turned to buttery brioche tossed in shreds of soft coconut and while pineapple could have stood to be sweeter the raspberry syrup helped, an overall lightness to the dish proving a stark contrast to dessert – a pair of America’s favorite snack cakes infused with coffee and cocoa amidst a sea of whipped ricotta that tastes far more refined than the concept would seem.

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RECOMMENDED: Twinkie Tiramisu, copious amounts of coffee.

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AVOID: Chicken and Waffles are woefully overpriced, undersized, and underwhelming.

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TIP: With seating divided between front and back rooms take time to explore the décor, most of it far more interesting than the food itself, including a collection of vintage board games free for anyone to play should they wish to linger over coffee and the restaurant’s funky tunes.

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http://www.kitschn.com/

Kitsch'n on Roscoe on Urbanspoon

Posted in Chicago, French Toast, Illinois, Intelligentsia, Kitsch’n, Kitsch’n on Roscoe, Tiramisu, Waffles

Sanford, Milwaukee WI

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Sanford

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Pretzel Grissini

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Local Trout Rillette, Capers, Dill

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Multi-Grain Roll with salted butter

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Grilled Pear and Roquefort Tart with Caramelized Onions and Walnuts

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Fried Squash Blossoms with Zucchini and Dried Blueberry Caponata

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Grilled Duck Breast with Grilled Peaches, Pickled Golden Raisins and Roasted Sunchokes, Sumac Spiced Yogurt

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Banana Butterscotch Toffee Tart, Banana Rum Ice Cream

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Blueberry Black Currant Clafoutis, Lemon Ice Cream

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Double Espresso on Ice

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Butter Cookie, Caramel Pecan Shortbread, Chocolate Chip Biscotti

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Said by some to be the best restaurant in Wisconsin with dinner service six days per week in an old house on North Jackson Street Justin Aprahamian’s Sanford had long been on my culinary to-do list when I entered the low-lit space, and with service providing the most refined experience of my trip while the kitchen wowed with each plate it can only be said that Sanford is ‘destination’ dining in the least likely of space. Every bit the “white tablecloth” sort of space, with diners around me fitting a well-heeled demographic nearly twice my age, it was just after 6:30 that I entered the small restaurant and with my name soon located in the pen-and-paper register it was to a corner two-top that I was led, the plush upholstered seat nearly so comfortable as to lull one to sleep was the food on display not so eye catching and unique. Featuring a menu of seasonal dishes as well as the classics that helped put Sanford on the map it was largely with the latter that my meal would unfold and as pretzel grissini, an amuse, and then bread served to ready the palate it was in the restaurant’s signature tart that my meal truly began, the rich funk of melting blue cheese finding its balance in walnuts and sweet onions inside a buttery crust to be later revisited with equally impressive results. Focusing next on a seasonal item sold as ‘exquisite’ by my waiter it was in a trio of lightly fried squash blossoms atop sautéed zucchini and fruity gastrique that I next indulged and following this up with a substantial cut of lightly cooked duck I couldn’t help but swoon, the smoky sunchokes and sour yogurt proving an elegant juxtaposition to the sweetness of a late-summer peach. At this point already dreading a late-night drive back to Chicago and thus enjoying a double espresso served over ice I was entirely unable to decide which of Sanford’s two signature desserts I would most enjoy and subsequently opting for one of each my loyalties remain divided even today, the crackling-sugar topped clafoutis a textbook example while the elegant banana arrangement of bananas beneath soft toffee in a bed of butterscotch proved every bit as decadent as its ingredients would seem. Truly a special restaurant and one equally befitting both the young and the old it was finally with a trio of cookies that the night ended and although driving two-hours after dinner is never ideal there is no doubt in my mind I’d do it again, this sort of establishment far too rare in a world dominated by noisy gastropubs and multi-course tastings of modernist cuisine.

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RECOMMENDED: The signature items were all deserving of their acclaim but if left to select only one it would be the Roquefort Tart – a ‘cheese course’ for the ages with elements of sweetness, funk, and smoke amidst textures aplenty.

AVOID: If anything on the table was less than impressive it was the grissini, an almost bitter finish that could have used a touch more salt or a bit less time in the oven.

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TIP: Offering reservations only by phone and up to two months in advance suffice it to say that such a small dining room is likely to fill fast, my meal on a Thursday evening seeing each table seated at some point during my stay, though there was always at least one two-top available for a walk-ins as some groups dined far faster than others or only stopped in for appetizers and drinks.

http://sanfordrestaurant.com/

Sanford on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Coffee, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Milwaukee, Sanford, Vacation, Wisconsin

Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub, Milwaukee WI

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Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub

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Pork Rillette – served warm with apple butter, crispy whole wheat, and pickles

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Braised Pork Cheek – Pear and Celery Salad with Red Wine Syrup

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Wood Fire Grilled Quail with Broccoli Salad, Cilantro, Charred Onion Vinaigrette, Fried Celery Leaves

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Arroz Con Leche – Milk Chocolate Cremeaux, Hazelnut Royaltine, Dulce de Leche, Vanilla Whipped Cream

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Peanut Dacquoise Entremet – Pretzel Royaltine, Milk Chocolate Mousse, Blackberry-Peach Jam

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With a late dinner at Sanford set to conclude my trip to Wisconsin it was after a tour of the Miller Brewery and the Milwaukee Art Museum that I entered Hinterland, and with Happy Hour clearly a ‘happening’ event at the bar I instead settled into a four-top set for one in the main dining room, a three course meal comprised of five plates showing far more creativity than many trendy ‘gastropubs,’ both stateside and abroad. Toqued by Chef Dan Van Rite and located in the Historic Third Ward with an expected focus on all things local, seasonal, and sustainable including craft beers from Hinterland Brewery in Green Bay it was to a menu filled with temptations that I was greeted on arrival and opting for water as opposed to beer it was only after several questions that an order was crafted, a pot of warm rillettes served surprisingly warm alongside smoky bread in a room awash in rustic, natural décor. Truly impressed by the pork’s smooth sapor as I slowly enjoyed each bite it was only after I had finished the whole jar that my server had the second course fired and arriving with perfect timing, just like everything else throughout my 90 minute stay, the duo that arrived next was unfortunately a mixed experience – the quail slightly overcooked and frankly overwhelmed by the pungency of an onion while the celebrated pork cheek proved every bit the signature many have claimed – the tender, fatty flesh finding its foil in flavors both bitter and sweet. Keeping time constraints in mind as I leisurely enjoyed my meal with the room slowly beginning to fill it was a foregone conclusion that I’d be enjoying dessert as soon as I saw ‘rice pudding’ on the menu and although a bit atypical in presentation, the combination of milky caramel and hazelnuts on a rice-milk panna cotta imbued with cocoa was undeniably delicious – a similar statement similarly befitting a makeshift Mille-Feuille dividing layers of rich mousse with salty pretzels atop a smear of sweet jam.

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RECOMMENDED: Pork based dishes seem to be the focal point of Hinterland’s kitchen and if the rillettes are any indication one is well served to check out both charcuterie and potted meats.

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AVOID: Perhaps an anomaly or simply a matter of tastes I personally prefer my squab, pigeon, and quail to be closer to pink than featuring a crispy skin, the later apparently of the intended style of the wood grilled quail featured on the menu that night.

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TIP: With the bar open at 4pm and the kitchen cooking at 5:00 it was a nice gesture that the team opted to seat me upstairs and start service early, the chef stopping by to say hello while service proved to be both cordial and conversational – checking in, asking questions, and offering suggestions for other places to dine during my next visit to Wisconsin throughout my stay.

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http://hinterlandbeer.com/Restaurant_Mil.html

Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub on Urbanspoon

Posted in Dessert, Food, Hinterland, Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub, Milwaukee, Pork, Vacation, Wisconsin

Purple Door Ice Cream, Milwaukee WI

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Purple Door Ice Cream

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Samples of Rum Raisin, The Honolulu, Peanut Butter, Lemon Cardamom, Raspberry Green Tea, Baileys

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Tasting of Toffee Butter Pecan, Trail Mix, Maple Nut, Salted Caramel

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Named to several local and national ‘best of’ lists for their artisan approach to ice creams featuring almost nothing but locally sourced ingredients a stop at Purple Door Ice Cream’s 2nd Street scoop shop was mandatory for my visit to Milwaukee and with owner Lauren Schultz helping at the counter during my visit the whole experience couldn’t have been smoother – a sentiment applying to both the lovely customer service as well as the product itself. Focusing on a fairly modest 14% milk-fat base with flavors ranging from expected to exemplary it was first to a substantial tasting that I was treated and although I only requested a few bites the rest were insisted upon, the Lemon Cardamom a particularly memorable bite that just barely missed the cut in my ‘flight’ of four flavors, the $6 tab a veritable bargain when compared to other artisan operations across the United States. Clearly focusing on a theme of sweet-meets-salty in each of my selections it was in creamy salted caramel that my tasting began and moving next to toffee butter pecan I was immediately impressed, one of my childhood favorites upgraded with swirls of molasses that tickled the palate while providing a subtle transition to toasty nuts studding ice cream that tasted of syrup-soaked buttermilk pancakes. At this point already impressed enough to support the business further by buying a whimsical shirt to be worn back home it was with a flavor titled ‘trail mix’ that my visit to Purple Door would end and while all the other flavors were indeed quite good it was this one that stole the show, the cream itself imbued with the flavors of grain while raisins, nuts, and even M&Ms added their characteristic textures, tastes, and colors too.

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RECOMMENDED: Tasting with abandon, then ordering a flight of whatever tastes best.

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AVOID: N/A.

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TIP: Additionally offering ice cream sandwiches, shakes, and sundaes with house-made toppings plus several pints to go suffice it to say you will be tempted – several of the items and flavors additionally offered at any number of local markets and restaurants begging the question of when this small company will finally launch nationwide.

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www.purpledooricecream.com

Posted in Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Milwaukee, Purple Door Ice Cream, Vacation, Wisconsin

Karl Ratzsch’s, Milwaukee WI

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Karl Ratzsch’s

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Bread Basket with Buttered Rolls and Garlic Crisps

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Potato Pancakes – Served with Apple Sauce and Sour Cream

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Duck & Goose in Combination – One Half Goose Shank and One Quarter Roast Duck served with spatzel, Red Cabbage, Old Fashioned Dressing, and Natural Gravy

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Viennese Apple Strudel

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Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce

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Returning to Milwaukee with my sights set on one of the city’s most storied dining spaces it was just moments after 11:30 that I entered Karl Ratzsch’s and quickly settled at a large table in a room beset on all sides with steins, antlers, porcelain, and painting from an era long past it would not be long before I was greeted by an elderly woman – a server potentially as old as the restaurant itself and as such a lovely historian, if not particularly exceptional in terms of expediting an order or keeping water glasses full. Unapologetically resting on a menu of German classics, many present on the menu for greater than 40 years, it was largely with my order pre-planned that I sat down with a mix of local businessmen and tourists alike and with a basket of soft rolls atop large croutons studded with garlic to whet my appetite it would not be long before my first course arrived, a duo of $8 potato pancakes proving thin and crisp, though admittedly a touch oily for such a steep tariff while applesauce proved no better than the stuff from a jar. Moving next to things more interesting, a dinner-only item prepared at my request during lunch, it was with wide eyes that I was greeted by the “Duck & Goose in Combination” and requesting buttery spatzel in place of wild rice I’d be remiss to say which of the plate’s five parts was best – the crispy skinned shank proving moist yet lean while duck was gamey and rich, each tender morsel falling from the bone and melding perfectly with sage-tinged stuffing in a thick gravy that was savory but not ‘salty’ in the least. At this point already anticipating dessert despite the substantial day of eating ahead it was in a duo of items from the tableside platter that I decided to invest and with each item served piping hot from the kitchen suffice it to say that no matter how “famous” (and delicious) the flaky puff pastry surrounding apple and spice was it simply could not compare to the bourbon soaked ‘bread,’ a veritable poundcake already laced with butter yet more than capable of soaking up plenty of sauce…the rest eaten with a spoon while still warm on the plate.

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RECOMMENDED: Duck and Goose in Combination, Bread Pudding, Spatzel.

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AVOID: Potato Pancakes are too oily and the bread basket is simply so-so, the later served gratis but not particularly enthralling none the less.

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TIP: Offering a more limited menu at lunch than at dinner, those interested in dinner-only items are advised to call the restaurant in advance – my request for the goose requesting no deposit and served with no delay save for that of the leisurely service, an issue not particularly limited to my table and something the ‘business lunch’ crowd may want to keep in mind if there are any constraints of time.

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http://www.karlratzsch.com/

Karl Ratzsch's on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Bread Pudding, Dessert, Food, Karl Ratzsch’s, Milwaukee, Vacation, Wisconsin