Category Archives: restaurant

Living the Pura Vida in Costa Rica – Manuel Antonio

Hello online blogging world! It’s been quite a while, and a lot of food adventures have breezed by. A week ago I came back from Costa Rica after a week long vacation. As I was talking to my friend at the airport terminal waiting for my flight back to Chicago, she mentioned she read somewhere that Costa Rica is the happiest country in the world. After coming back from the lush paradise and back to the chilly realities of Chicago I can believe that. There’s something naturally simple about the Costa Rican life. Of course I was on vacation, but I can see how the day to day Costa Rican life is the pure life.

On my flight from the States to Costa Rica I sat next to a local heading back to Costa Rica. She told me that in Costa Rica people always greet each other with the phrase “pura vida” meaning the pure life. I didn’t fully understand the phrase till I experienced Costa Rica for myself. People greet each other with this phrase, and it essentially means the simple life. Learning to embrace life to the fullest with the genuine appreciation for everything. Though Costa Rica is becoming the mecca of tourism in Central America there are still many parts of Costa Rica that are knee deep in poverty. Huts with roofs made out of sheets of metal perched on the side of the mountain are not an uncommon site. But yet they all go about their day with a smile and the contagious phrase pura vida. Learning to live and to be truly happy with whatever you have is a true skill of the pura vida lifestyle.

Manuel Antonio – Costa Rica 

The first location that my college roommate and I visited was Manuel Antonio, a beach city along the southern coast of Costa Rica. IMG_7082This is the view from our hotel balcony. Just being surrounded by so much green was so soothing. Hidden behind all of the foliage is the open area where we had breakfast every morning.

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This is the traditional Costa Rican breakfast consisting of eggs, gallo pinto (rice and beans), fruit, and some type of sweet bread. I had this breakfast for three days in a row! Plus eating it in the open air dining area made for a perfect start to the day.  

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We spent many days bumming around on the beach. The view was just breath taking. Since we went during low tourism season it felt like we had the beach all to ourselves. We were bombarded by locals trying to sell us all sorts of things including cigars, handmade wooden bird whistles, coconut drinks, and even horseback riding along the beach.

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This is the flower that was in my fruity strawberry mojito drink. Nothing better than drinking a fruity drink on the beach.

IMG_7140We rented these reclining beach chairs for the day. When the tides came in, I dragged my chair into the tides. Let’s get washed away!

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We headed into the downtown area Quepos for dinner. A staff at the hotel told us the beaches were definitely not as great as the one we went to earlier that morning, but the view was spectacular especially during sunset.

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Since Yelp does not work abroad, I used TripAdvisor to find a good place for dinner. I wanted a traditional, non touristy dinner experience and Bohemia Cafe popped up. As we headed into Quepos I forgot to take my phone where I screenshotted the Bohemia Cafe TripAdvisor page which contained the name and the address. Luckily while wandering through Quepos we stumbled across Bohemia Cafe. It was tucked away on the other side of a small stream that ran through the town.

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This place was owned by a young lady and her mother. The restaurant is actually located in the living room of her house! As we approached Bohemia Cafe I saw the owner, her mother, and her baby sitting in the living room. The living room was tastefully decorated with a very carefree, Anthropologie like decor. The windows did not have any glass or screens on it just bars. An open living room felt so pure and wonderful. The owner is also a seamstress. She displayed her clothes and accessories that she made in her living room. I loved everything about this experience. My kind of ambiance! We were literally eating dinner in someone’s house!

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I got the Mahi Mahi with Passionfruit sauce. The Mahi Mahi tasted so fresh. It came with sides of brown rice and plantains. The meal was delicious. I wanted a traditional, authentic dining experience, and this was more than I could have ever imagined.

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The next day we went to the Manuel Antonio National Park to experience more beaches. This time I hid under trees, because of the terrible sun burn I got from the first beach day. Lesson learned!

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We encountered so many friendly raccoons. They darted across the beach to people’s bags and scavenge through for food. Here they are in action! As I commented in glee that they looked so cute, my friend exclaimed that they were rodents. Well I have never seen a raccoon before, so this was quite an exciting experience for me especially being so close to them!

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Baby raccoons! Cute little banditos.

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The other banditos at the beach were these monkeys. While we were in the outdoor showering area one of the monkeys stole a shampoo packet from a lady’s purse. Then a group of three monkeys sitting on a tree branch opened the packet and started rubbing it on themselves. Pretty adorable.

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The sneaky monkeys and I.

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They called these the traditional Costa Rican platters. I personally love side dishes, so these platters were perfect for me. The plantain at this place was so great! Since Mahi Mahi was the fish of Manuel Antonio, I couldn’t help but have Mahi Mahi again.

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Wouldn’t be a meal without ceviche! I got the fish ceviche, and both my friend and I agreed that this was one of the best ceviches we both had. The fish was so fresh combined with the perfect tanginess of the juice was perfect! My mouth is salivating just thinking and writing about it.

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We had dinner at a really fancy hotel’s restaurant. The restaurant was situated on a very high cliff so it overlooked the tops of the rainforest. A golf cart took us all the way up there. I tried the Mahi Mahi, and this was the best Mahi Mahi I have tried in Manuel Antonio. There was some type of batter on the Mahi Mahi giving it a crunchy exterior and a juicy soft interior. Priciest meal in Costa Rica, but for this Mahi Mahi it was definitely worth it.

Next stop Arenal Costa Rica! Look out for another blog post soon!

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Discovering The Purple Pig

A tapas/small plate styled restaurant called The Purple Pig… what’s not to love? I mean the name is The Purple Pig, you HAVE to try this place out. I wonder if they actually serve purple pig dishes? Sounds like something out of a Dr. Seuss book hmm…?

The wait for this place wait is usually about an hour, because it is located right on Michigan Avenue. The wait for a table for two was just 30 minutes. I came here on a weekday, so the wait was substantially less than weekends. We were seated right on the patio which was just wonderful, because the night was warm and breezy. Perfect for outdoor eating, lounging, and wining.

The Purple Pig – Near North Side

Don’t worry they don’t actually serve purple pigs, but they do serve scrumptious pork based small dishes. I shared three dishes with my friend and half a bottle of wine. Though the plates may be small they were packed with flavor and perfectly cooked.

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We started off with the Roasted Bone Marrow with Herbs. The bone marrow was delicious. Tasted like I was just consuming fats, but hey that’s okay. You have to live a little right? My arteries will survive. You scoop the bone marrow off of the bone and spread it on the perfectly toasted bread. The creaminess of the bone marrow on the crispy bread was delicious!

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Up next the “JLT” Pork Jowl, Tomato, Frisee & Fried Duck Egg or pork cheek! It was fried to perfection and so crispy and smooth. Put an egg on anything, and it becomes 100x better. This was a great dish. I loved the combination of everything together.

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The Milk Braised Pork Shoulder with Mashed Potatoes was so tender. I cut into the pork shoulder, and it beautifully fell apart. The meat was tender and soft. The mashed potatoes were perfectly whipped. I loved the gravy it was served with. It complemented the pork shoulder and the mashed potatoes really well.

The Purple Pig was a great place for dining out on a warm, breezy Chicago weekday. I will have to come back to try the other dishes this place has to offer.

Eve’s Cafe – Old Town

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Usually I am sitting at home typing away on my laptop writing my newest blog post. Today my friend and I met up at Eve’s Cafe in Old Town to plan our upcoming NYC trip. What a cute cafe! I got the tomato basil soup. The bowl and the plate were so adorable. It certainly matched the romanticism decor in the cafe. Now on to continue planning my NYC trip, a city filled with adventures. On our to do list in NYC – roof top bars, ramen restaurants, art museums, Central Park lounging, and lots of big city living.

Can it be Summer forever?

Everyday I have off I try to take advantage of everything that Summer has to offer, before I get holed up inside when winter comes along. You know those bitter cold Chicago Winters? I can honestly say those are the days when you basically do not want to go anywhere, but stay indoors. Here’s what I was up to this weekend. Some intense Summer loving.

Bridgehouse Tavern – Near North Side

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A co-worker recommended this place saying it had a great patio right along the Chicago river. It was the perfect location for brunch on a sunny Summer day. The brunch itself was okay. I wasn’t feeling that great, so opted for something light – fruit and house potatoes. Nothing too spectacular. My friend got the trout hash which turned out to be quite salty.

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The best part about this place was the view. Being right along the Chicago river, my friend and I boat and people watched as the boats made their way along the Chicago river. Big boats, small boats, large yachts. It was the perfect day to be on a boat, and an equally perfect day to watch the boats pass by. I could spend hours doing that. We saw as people docked their yacht and climbed up to the Bridgehouse Tavern patio for brunch. What a life!

The Second City – Old Town

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The Second City is one of the best comedy clubs in Chicago. I went several years ago, and the show was hilarious. I came back  for a Sunday afternoon showing of What the Tour Guide Didn’t Tell You. We got our tickets from Goldstar.com which is a website that sells discounted tickets to shows and events. We ended up with front row seats right in front of the stage. Best seats in the house! The show was definitely geared towards Chicagoans poking fun at Rahm Emanuel, Blagojevich, Daley, The Art Institute, Chicago tourists. It was definitely a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. In comparison to the other show I watched (The South Side of Heaven), the comedy was lighter and fluffier compared to very dark, twisted humor in The South Side of Heaven. Personally I think the other show I watched was better. The improv, the skits were funnier and more memorable. And who doesn’t like dark humor?

The Twisted Baker – Old Town

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We stopped here after The Second City for some late afternoon baked goods. I got the spinach quiche. It was delicious! The crust perfectly buttery and flakey, and the inside with the perfect combination of spinach, eggs, and cheese on top. People had books, laptops with them at this bakery. Reminded me of my college days when I would sit at a bakery for hours studying and people watching.

Carriage House – Wicker Park

We came here for dinner, and decided on outdoor seating. Have to enjoy these warm, sunny days as much as possible! Though I was quite tempted to eat inside since the decor was so cute. Carriage House is a southern  restaurant with small styled plates to be shared. The waitress told us the head chef is from South Carolina, and all of the dishes were inspired by his childhood. We ordered 5 different dishes. Here they are!

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We ordered the Charleston She Crab Soup – buttermilk cracker, crab salad and sherry gastrique. It was definitely on the saltier side, but had a very robust crab flavor.

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Next was the skillet cornbread with rhubarb jam and foie gras cream. I never had corn bread with toppings on it before. The combination of all three was delicious!

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Since it is a southern restaurant we had to try their fried chicken. This was a boneless Fried Chicken thigh – bread and butter pickles, sweet potato hot sauce. The chicken was perfectly fried. Moist on the inside and crunchy on the outside. I loved the sweet potato hot sauce that they paired with this dish. The orange colored hot sauce was sweet and tangy with a slight heat.

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This Hoppin’ John dish with rice, pork belly, and peas was alright. Nothing to spectacular. I thought it could have been a little bit more flavorful.

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By the time we got to this fifth dish I was already feeling quite stuffed. This dish Mushrooms, Truffle and Egg – grits, oyster mushrooms, soft egg, truffle vinaigrette and shaved thomasville tomme was good, but very heavy. The cheesy grits, cheesy mushrooms, and eggs was a little too much for me. Perhaps if this had come towards the middle I would have enjoyed it more. It was still very tasty. I love mushrooms, and these oyster mushrooms were tasty.

What a wonderful Summer day! By the time I got home after all of this I was thoroughly exhausted, but in a good way. To more Summer days.

Food Memories in the Making

Lately I’ve been coming to terms with my twenties, realizing I only get to be in my twenties once. Once you turn thirty it is all over. I’m joking of course, but it is in your twenties when you participate in self-discoveries, make mistakes, get into ridiculous situations, and laugh about it all in a couple of years with your friends. The conversations will start off with “Remember the time when…”, and the memories will flutter back just as vivid as day they were made. What is life without memories, without stories and shared experiences that bring people closer.

I believe that it is truly those memories, both the good and the bad, that really make people who they are today. I told my friend that I love listening to people’s problems, and she told me if a stranger heard that he would probably think I am a little nuts. The truth is I like to listen to people’s problems, because I am interested in knowing what events and life stories make people who they are. Though I would think that someone in their twenties have had less to experience than someone much older, I still enjoy listening to my fellow twenty-somethings. Perhaps they should call the twenties the age of listening, reminiscing, and making memories.

Now what has this twenty-something year old been up to? Let’s take a look!

Kit Kat Lounge and Supper Club – Boystown, Chicago

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My friend invited me here for her sister’s birthday. My friend who took me here is always raving about this place, and I just had to check it out for myself. It is quite a fun lounge in Boystown, LGBT central in Chicago. This lounge is known for their hourly Diva shows when their Diva of the night comes out to impersonates female artists like Madonna, Cher, Pink. They lip sync while dancing ferociously to the songs. The night I went Sunny Dee-Light was performing. Pictured is her impersonating Pink.

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The drinks here are so fun. This one is called I Kissed a Girl.  It even came with a glow stick and rock candy. For a girly drink, it doesn’t get better than that.

This place is super fun for a group of girl friends. Singing the night away with the Divas while sipping the tasty, girly drinks makes for a fun girls’ night out.

Nana’s Organic –  Bridgeport, Chicago

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I am a huge fan of brunch. Unfortunately with my evening nursing work schedule, I don’t get to enjoy brunch that often. When I do, I love to visit this local place in Bridgeport. This is my second time here at this local eatery known for their fresh, organic foods. I got the breakfast sandwich with chicken sausage, potatoes and greens. Again it was simply delicious! The best part of the sandwich was definitely the English muffin. I have never tasted an English muffin as fresh as this one before. It was soft, but still appropriately crunchy from being toasted to perfection. What a great way to start the day!

Ahjoomah’s Apron – Chinatown, Chicago

This place just recently opened up in Chinatown. It is the first Korean restaurant to open up in Chinatown, and being a fan of Korean food I needed to try it. We walked in, and the decor looked really modern. Large pictures of Korean dishes on the wall with descriptions of the history and making of the dish. I think the feel they were going for is healthy, authentic Korean food, and with the decor they really nailed it.

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We tried the seafood pancake. This was my favorite dish of the night. I loved the slight spiciness of the pancake. Kind of like a more doughy version of an American omelette.

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We tried the Pan Broiled Salted Mackerel. I’m not a really big fan of mackerel, but this was quite flavorful. It was pan fried so the exterior was crunchy, capturing the flavors of the fish on the soft inside.

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Of course we needed to try one of the Korean beefs, and we settled on Bulgolgi. I thought the beef was tender and flavorful with the bulgolgi sauces. Nothing spectacular, but still good.

Overall this place was okay. I’ve had better Korean foods, but I did really enjoy the very modern yet still authentic atmosphere of Ahjoomah’s Apron.

Now off to make more twenty-something year old memories! If only my work schedule didn’t get in the way… Oh the life of a twenty-something year old.

David Burke’s Primehouse for Chicago Restaurant Week

For those that have not heard about restaurant week, participating restaurants offer three course lunch or dinner at a discounted price that makes expensive restaurants affordable to the normal person. You can get pretty good deals on meals especially at the top restaurants, where an equivalent meal would cost double or triple the Restaurant Week amount. I am not such a big fan of Restaurant Week as my friends are. I just don’t think Restaurant Week meals are worth it especially since they limit your choices for appetizers, entrees, and desserts to a couple. Sometimes picking from the menu, at some restaurants, would just be a little bit more expensive, but you would get exactly what you want. Plus a lot of restaurants have lunch specials that seem like a better deal than the restaurant week deals. Nevertheless I went and tried out David Burke’s Primehouse for Restaurant Week.

David Burke’s Primehouse

After reading Yelp reviews raving about this place, I had high hopes for the steaks here. Since it’s a primehouse, I had to try out their steaks. Here is my Restaurant Week lunch adventure at David Burke’s Primehouse.

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For the appetizer I got the Surf and Turf Dumplings – lobster with black olive, caper hollandaise & lamb with harissa aioli. I thought the presentation of the dumplings was really beautiful. The lobster dumplings are pictured on the left, and the lamb dumplings are pictured on the right. The lobster dumplings look like the Chinese soup dumplings! The lamb dumplings look like cake pops, but only dumplings pops! How creative! Now for the taste the lamb dumplings tasted too gamey for me. The lobster dumplings were okay, but the cream cheese overpowered the lobster taste. Overall the appetizer plate was just mediocre. It looked a lot better than it tasted.

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For the entree I got the Classic Filet Mignon. It was perfectly medium. I loved the steak! It was slightly crispy on the outside and so tender on the inside. I was in steak heaven. My friend noted that my filet mignon looked a lot like a pan seared scallop. A scallop filet mignon?

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The entree came with sides of basil whipped potatoes and herb roasted mushrooms. I loved both of the sides. The potatoes were so light and fluffy. I am a huge fans of mushrooms, and these caramelized mushrooms were so great! These sides went really well with the steak.

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This was a set dessert plate for Restaurant Week – mini prime cake, cheesecake lollipop, and Jove’s homemade ice cream. The cake was really great – marshmallow cream, chocolate mousse, and chocolate cake on the bottom.  I didn’t realize that the cake pop was cheesecake. I am use to eating the cake batter cake pops, and this cheesecake cake pop just wasn’t as good. I loved the ice cream though. It tasted so fresh!

Overall this Restaurant Week lunch was okay. I loved the steak, but I could have done without the Surf and Turf dumplings and the Cheesecake Lollipop. This is my issue with Restaurant Week. Sometimes some of the dishes are a hit and the others are a miss. Until the next Restaurant Week meal.

Carmen, the Early Bird

There is nothing like the peaceful stillness of the wee morning hours. The feeling that just for one minute life is going in slow motion, and not sprinting at the speed of light. The idea that just for an hour or so you have time for yourself before embracing the hard realities of the world outside. I always thought of the morning as the best time of the day, when the mind is fresh, the body is rejuvenated, and the day begins anew again.

I try to explain this morning concept to my friends who are all night owls, and they look at me in disbelief that even on my days off I continue to go to sleep before 10PM and wake up before 7AM. Of course if there is a night out on the town, my sleeping schedule gets thrown off. Other than that I am pretty consistent with my early night and early morning sleeping habit. My friends don’t understand how I voluntarily wake up so early everyday, that waking up early is enjoyable. That is just the way I have been for a long time, and I love being that odd morning bird.

One of my favorite parts of being an early morning person is brunch. I love the smell of breakfast foods especially eggs and potatoes. Though the variety of brunch food options are limited, it never gets old for me. Brunch is my favorite meal of the day, and I would like to share with you the wonders of waking up early and enjoying a delicious plate of breakfast foods. I hope I can tempt you to come over to the light side of early mornings.

Wildberry  Pancakes and Cafe – The Loop

I’ve been here twice, and both times I left delightfully satisfied. Sometimes brunches leave you feeling stuffed in a bad way. You start the morning off wanting to hit the gym to burn off all of the calories you consumed in an artery clogging brunch. Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe’s brunches are light, but still delicious.

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This is the Wild Berry Belgian Waffles. I have had Belgian Waffles before. Waffallonia in Pittsburgh. The Belgian Waffles were quite disappointing. I was expecting crunchy, sugary Belgian waffles, and instead got regular waffles. They were really great waffles, but since I was expecting Belgian Waffles it did not suffice. I enjoyed the fresh berries that came with these waffles. It would have been better if there was some type of wildberry glaze or syrup with this waffle.

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These seasonal pumpkin pancakes were great! I am a big fan of all foods pumpkin – pumpkin bread, pumpkin scone, pumpkin cupcake, you name it and I would love it. This pumpkin pancake was no exception. I loved the strong pumpkin flavors and aromas with this pancake. The pumpkin gave this pancake a moist, fluffiness that a normal pancake would not have. This is a must try at this restaurant!

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Kind of looks like the spongey human brain or the spreading of a bacteria colony? How appetizing! This is actually potato pancakes. I loved the thinness and crispiness of these potato pancakes which the waitress described as more like latkes than a pancake. Delicious!

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This Garden Sizzling Skillet with two over easy eggs, hot potatoes, asparagus, mushrooms, onions, spinach, tomatoes and broccoli. This dish was a little underwhelming. There was no seasoning on the vegetables leaving it tasting very bland. It would have been great if they added spices or fresh herbs to the vegetables.

The Original Pancake House – Near North Side

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I came here on New Year’s Day after a night out for New Year’s Eve. Nothing like a hearty brunch especially when one suffers from the aftermaths of New Year’s Eve. The sausage patties were flavorful and slightly crispy from being pan fried. I love the combination of potato hash and the runny yolk of an over easy egg. These potatoes were a bit on the softer side. I prefer my potatoes a bit crunchier, but that is just personal preference.

Nana’s Organic – Bridgeport

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This has to be one of my favorite brunch places in Chicago. I ordered the Nanadict, Nana’s Organic’s version of an Egg Benedict. Two poached eggs on top of a bed of chorizo and a pupusa. Most Egg Benedicts come on top of an english muffin. In the Nanadict they came on top of a pupusa which is a thick corn tortilla. It tasted denser than an English muffin which was great in helping to soak up the poblano cream. I loved the home fries that came with this dish. It was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The dish itself wasn’t extremely heavy or fatty, but having a side of farm greens helped to ease the digestion process. I would like to think that by eating farm greens it cancels out whatever other foods I ate. If only…  The Nanadict was so unique, and definitely tasted quite special. I definitely want to go back to Nana’s Organic to try more brunch dishes.

Nothing beats sharing stories and catching up with good friends over a delicious brunch. I always look forward to weekend brunches. My favorite part of the week and one of the perks of mornings!

The First Time

It’s always better the first time around – more exciting, more memorable, more fun. That first time you try out that new restaurant, and it then becomes your favorite. That first time you take a mouthful of the ramen, and the springiness of the noodles and the richness of the broth is forever ingrained in your food memories. That first time you meet someone new over a meal, and time just flies like the conversation is endless. When the second time comes around, it is less exciting. You know what to expect, you discovered most of what is new about the person, the place, the thing. It is that uncertainty, whether it will truly be as good as everyone says it is or be a complete disappointment, that makes the first time so great. Treasure the first time, savor the moment, because it will only happen once.

These are my first moments at the following restaurants in Chicago. Even though the food may be the same the second time around, it will never exactly feel or taste the same as the very first time.

Vinci – Lincoln Park

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I came here with my sister to use a Groupon deal that I bought a while ago. $20 for $40 to spend at an Italian restaurant, count me in! I got the Spinach pappardelle – hand-made spinach pappardelle with roast duck, mushrooms, ovendried tomatoes, truffle oil, parmigiano. I loved the noodles. It definitely tasted very fresh. The slight chewiness and springiness of the noodles were perfect. The meal was great, and we even got a table right next to the window. A lot of the guests at Vinci that night were there for a pre-show dinner. I wish I knew about this show that was going on, because I would have liked to go.

Wasabi – Logan Square

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My friend invited me here, because her friend from NYC was visiting Chicago for the week. I am a huge fan of ramen restaurants if you haven’t noticed already, and I was excited about trying another ramen place in Chicago. I’ve had some pretty excellent ramen in NYC, but none that have really stood out to me in Chicago. This place was excellent. As good as or even better than the places in NYC. I loved it! I got the Tonkotsu Ramen – egg noodle, rich pork broth, berkshire pork cheek, soft boiled egg, marinated bamboo shoot, scallion, sesame, kikurage mushroom. The thing that makes or breaks a bowl of ramen is the broth, and this broth was spectacular. I was tempted to drink all of the broth after I finished my noodles! I loved the richness of the broth. The ingredients in the ramen were also quite tasty. The soft boiled egg, which isn’t quite as runny as a poached egg, but not quite as solid as a hard boiled egg, was the perfect texture for the ramen. 

The Girl and the Goat – West Loop

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My friends have been raving about this place for a while, and I finally got to try it. This restaurant owned by a Top Chef contestant is known for having one of the best foods in Chicago. I had high expectations for this place, and I was not disappointed. The small plates are meant to be shared, but my friends and I weren’t too hungry. We each ordered one dish. I ordered the scallops served with squash, onions, and other ingredients. The scallops were so soft. I took the first bite, and I couldn’t believe what I was eating. These are the best scallop I ever had! I hope the next time I go, the scallops will be as good as I remembered it being.

Cafe Iberico – River North

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I came here to meet up with a Georgetown friend who just recently moved to Chicago for his job. I am so excited more fellow Georgetown Hoyas are here in the city! Cafe Iberico is a Spanish tapas restaurant. The highlight of the meal in my opinion was the Iberico Styled Paella – chicken, pork, and rice baked in a pan with saffron sauce. All of the flavors from the meat and seafood infused into the rice making a fragrant and delicious dish. I could eat this for lunch any day!

My firsts with all four of these restaurants were spectacular. I don’t know what the second time will be like, but I hope if I return again it will be good as the first time.

 

 

MOVE in Chicago

The best way to spend my days off is exploring new places in Chicago. The excitement about going to someplace new and trying new things is exhilarating. I love the sense of adventure! The idea that you don’t know what to expect till you get there and see for yourself. Perhaps I will make it my New Year’s Resolution to experience new things with the idea that everyday is a chance to understand and learn more about this world we call home.

I stumbled across this video, MOVE,  last summer documenting the adventures of an international traveler. As a starry eyed college student, I remember thinking what a wonderful way to spend your life, and I still think that. Learning about the lives of people all over the world and how they may be different or the same as you and I, is the most appealing thing about adventuring around.

Sadly I do not have any trips planned for the future, but hopefully soon. As for now I’ll be doing lots of adventuring around in Chicago. There are so many places I’ve never been to even though I grew up here. Time to get up and MOVE in Chicago.

Chicago French Market – West Loop

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Chicago is lacking in indoor markets that are quite abundant in NYC. I love indoor markets, because it is a centralized area where you can pick up many different one of kind goods. It’s an overstimulation of the senses in the best possible way. When I found out that Chicago had a French Market, I just had to make a trek there. It is not that big, but offers a lot of different types of hot foods, produce, and even fresh meats and seafood. The macaroons at the Chicago French Market is suppose to be the best. I had to try them for myself.

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These macaroons are from Vanille Patisserie. In order from left to right – cranberry orange, red velvet, mango passion, and lemon. We were wondering what happened to the poor red velvet macaroon, because it looks a little deformed. The macaroons were one of the cheapest macaroons I have ever seen coming in at $1.50 a piece. It was also slightly smaller than the macaroons I have eaten in the past. Overall the macaroons are okay. I like my macaroons to be slighly chewy with an airy, light crunch. Some of the macaroons that we tried were a little on the soft side, dissembling when we tried to break it in half. The cranberry orange was a little disappointing, because the flavors were so weak. My friend says these are the best macaroons, so maybe the ones we got were a bad batch.

Christkindlmarket – The Loop

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Christkindlmarket is a German market in downtown Chicago around the big Christmas tree. When I saw the Christmas tree up close and personal, it was a little disappointing. Apparently there was a contest to pick the best tree, and this was chosen. The tree is what we would consider top heavy. There is a lot of empty space, because of the lack of branches on the bottom of the tree. Perhaps with the addition of large ornaments it would have looked less barren. Kind of reminds me of a larger, bigger version of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. A Christmas Tree is a Christmas Tree no matter how barren. It was still magnificent to look at.

from ilovepasta.com

The market was super crowded. As much as I dislike crowds, there was a sense of Christmas joy and spirit at the Christkindlmarket. I loved looking at all the stalls and seeing all the German goods they had for sale.

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One of the stalls was selling these star lights. They came in all different colors with unique cut outs. I would have bought one, if they weren’t made out of paper. It just didn’t seem like it would last very long.

Longman & Eagle – Logan Square

from peppermintbliss.com

This gastropub had a great casual, rustic atmosphere which I thoroughly enjoyed. The dining seats at each table did not match. All painted the same color, but slightly different in terms of style.

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This Housemade Ricotta Gnuddi with cider gel, babyfennel, micro celery, toasted hazelnut, braised cippolini vinaigrette, and celery froth was delicious. The ricotta balls were delightfully crunchy on the exterior and soft on the inside. I loved the vinaigrette that it was paired with.

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This pumpkin risotto vegetarian dish was delicious! I loved the infusion of pumpkin into the risotto. It came with a poached egg on top. There is nothing better than a runny egg over a bed of carbs.

20121208_175445 (1)This Slagel Family Farms Burger with aged Widmer’s Cheddar, North Country Bacon, and briochh was okay. I’ve had better burgers. The best part of this dish was the Beef Fat Fries. They tasted so fresh with a slight hint of smokiness. Next time I will try to order just the fries.

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When our waiter came by with the check, he placed these two chocolate chip cookies on our table, complements of the restaurant. My friend and I stared at the cookies, because they are about the size of a quarter. Teeny, tiny chocolate chip cookies. They were delicious, but I never seen such a small cookie before.

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Our check also came with this quirky postcard which I took home. I think I might frame this. Longman & Eagle, you just get me. “It seems just so awkward…” 

I learned that Longman & Eagle has six available hotel rooms above the restaurant owned by the restaurant. That would be kind of like a bed and breakfast inn. Wake up, stroll downstairs for brunch at Longman & Eagle, maybe take advantage of the $3 whiskey shots at the bar, and stumble back into your hotel room upstairs. With the smallest rooms for about $90 a night, no wonder these rooms are booked three months in advance.

How about you? Time to get up and MOVE in your city. Let’s be explorers together.

Eat Down. Tip Up.

A simple concept with a catch phrase that pretty much explains it all. It was started by my good friend and ten other people post Hurricane Sandy. See their website here. Eat Down. Tip Up consists of these following easy steps.

1. Go out to eat downtown.

2. Tip generously.

3. Post a photo on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (#EatDownTipUp)

You hear a lot about aid for families that were hit hard by hurricane Sandy, but what about the businesses? What about the restaurant staff that went days without pay, and most likely not reimbursed in some cases because the employer simply cannot afford to? This concept reaches out to restaurants, through community support, to help them keep afloat. No pun intended…

New York restaurants have an 80% fail rate within the first five years. Meaning for every 1,000 enthusiastic restaurants that open up every year within five years 800 of those will close. Say goodbye to that beloved cafe on the corner of the street or that lounge you and your friends frequent every Friday night. With the fail rate being so high, there is no doubt that Hurricane Sandy will increase the fail rate for many restaurants this year. When the margins for profit are so slim, the costs of Hurricane Sandy may place some restaurants in the inevitable 80%. Something as little as replacing the furnishings and decor in a restaurant can push them over the edge. The post Sandy expenses go on and on including replacing all perishable foods, replacing damaged kitchen equipment, and the long clean up process.

For those reading in New York or thinking about visiting soon, eat down and tip up. Support your local restaurants, so they may continue serving you your favorite dishes and providing you with unforgettable dining experiences. Support the waitress that provides you excellent wait service and the invisible staff that keeps the restaurant running. What better excuse to try new restaurants and retry old restaurants. If I lived in New York, I would validate dining out by calling it a good cause – a good cause for my taste buds and a good cause for the NYC community.

Eat down tip up was inspired by this Anthony Bourdain tweet from November 3.

Read more about eat down and tip up including personal restaurant stories here.

Ambiance

My friends always associate the word ambiance with me, and that is the very essence of me. Foodifyme wordpress readers might notice that I frequently use the word ambiance in my food blogs to describe an atmosphere that elevates the dining experience.

from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

am-bi-ence noun \ˈam-bē-ən(t)s, ˈäm-bē-än(t)s\: a feeling or mood associated with a particular place, person, or thing: ATMOSPHERE

It is spelled two ways, ambience and ambiance, with the original spelling derived from the French word ambiance.

I fully believe that when eating out it should not only be about the food, but the experience in itself, although this is a highly contested issue among my friends. The experience of being seated surrounded by a new place that takes you to another era, another world, another universe. That experience you cannot get from dining in your our dining room or at friend’s place no matter how good the food may be. It’s just not the same. The food and mood of the restaurant go hand in hand to make a one of a kind experience for any foody!

If a restaurant has just okay food, sometimes the ambiance makes up for just mediocre food. The best restaurant on the other hand offers both quality food and an inviting, unique atmosphere that creates a certain mood to the entire experience.  A lot my favorite places that I frequent have this mysterious, secretive quality to them equipped with moody, dim lighting and aged, vintage decor. This ambiance provides a breathtaking experience that becomes unforgettable.

Here are the recent places I’ve been to.  Note some of these pictures are taken from the lounge’s website.

The Violet Hour – Wicker Park, Chicago

A speakeasy tucked away in a the most hipster neighborhood in Chicago, Wicker Park.

This is the violet hour, the hour of hush and wonder, when the affections glow again and valor is reborn, when the shadows deepen magically along the edge of the forest and we believe that, if we watch carefully, at any moment we may see the unicorn.” – Bernard DeVoto “The Hour”

This quote perfectly summarizes the essence of The Violet Hour. A dimly lit lounge with modern decor that exudes a certain magical, coolness about it. The entrance is not as secretive as the other speakeasies I have been to. Instead of taking your number and calling you when your table is ready, they make everyone wait outside until there is an open table for your party. Thus there is a very noticeably long line outside of what would normally be an unsuspicious door. Kind of gives away the best part of going to a speakeasy, finding it.

The Violet Hour has a set of house rules associated with the speakeasy. The most amusing one is their last rule:

“And finally, please do not bring anyone to The Violet Hour that you wouldn’t bring to your mother’s house for Sunday dinner.”

Please keep the unclassiness outside of the The Violet Hour!

The long ceiling to floor curtains create an illusion of magic, kind of reminds of the land of Narnia. When you enter into the Violet Hour, you pass through two sets of these ceiling to floor velvet curtains. What’s behind the curtain? Well let’s see.

Unlike the other speak easies, the Violet Hour has a more modern theme than the usual rustic, old fashioned, vintage theme. The high back chairs complement the long velvet curtains along with the very dim, moody lighting.

I ordered two drinks here. The drinks are a bit pricey coming in at $14 a drink, but at a place like this you are not only paying for high quality drinks, but the chance to lounge at the Violet Hour. Pictured is The Lay of the Land, a gin based drink. I also got the Gates of Paradise, a vodka based apple cider drink.

Lay of the Land – Letherbee, Lemon, Strawberry Preserve, Green Chartreuse

Gates of Paradise – Zubrowka, Apple Cider, Ginger Syrup, Lemon, Blackberry

The Gates of Paradise was definitely my favorite. The combination of all of those ingredients made for one delicious drink.  Overall it is a bit loud for a speak easy since they play music in the background. Other than the noise level and the lack of mysteriousness surrounding the entrance, the Violet Hour is definitely worth a visit. Their menu changes every season, so I will have to go back soon to try the Gates of Paradise again!

The Bedford – Wicker Park, Chicago

Seems like all the hip places are in Wicker Park! The Bedford is a restaurant/lounge located underground in what use to be a bank.

Pictured above is a peak at some of the dining area seating. Also pictured on the left is one of the two entrances into the bank vault!

Here I am with my friend in front of the bank vault doors. We didn’t get seating inside the bank vault, but I would love to lounge in the bank vault next time.

This is what the inside of the bank vault looks like. Notice all of the authentic bank drawers lining the walls. How many people could say they sipped a cocktail inside a bank vault?

I wasn’t too hungry, so I just had a drink at The Bedford. They had their own version of  the Dark and Stormy called Darker and Stormier, the drink on the left. This drink was more on the heavier side.  No wonder it was darker and stormier than a regular dark and stormy! Look at all that rum. 

Darker & Stormier – Dark Rum, Allspice, ROOT Liqueur, Jamaican Bitters, Lime, Ginger Beer

There’s something so very special about lounging inside an authentic bank. The next time I come I will make sure to get seated inside the bank vault!

Gilt Bar – River North, Chicago

Finally venturing outside of Wicker Park to River North. Gilt Bar is a small dish (think of tapas) styled restaurant with a full bar serving classy cocktails and range of liqueurs.

The lighting inside this restaurant is whimsically beautiful. Lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling, lit with a warm glow from the visible filaments inside the lightbulbs. A gorgeous cascading, web-like ceiling lamp in the center of the room. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of all of lighting.

Here is a picture that captures the warm, alluring charm about Gilt Bar. I took this without flash on my phone. I think it came out pretty well!

A lot of people have been raving about their Truffle Pasta, so I just had to try it for myself. It was definitely a unique dish. It is a little bit too heavy if you were to have it by itself. The creamy sauce it came with was so strong that I started feeling a little sick towards the end. I loved the pasta. You can definitely taste that it was hand made that day. Overall I think this plate is better when shared with someone else.

I got a side of the Blackened Cauliflower to balance out the heaviness in the Truffle Pasta. I have never had cauliflower like this before. It seems like they roasted the cauliflower giving it a slightly crunchy exterior with a hint of smokiness. It was served in a weak vinaigrette sauce and vinagrette onions. Gilt Bar did a very good job in dressing up the cauliflower.

My friend and I both ordered the Pimm’s Cup, a classic summer drink made with the UK liquor Pimm. It had just the right amount of sweetness and kick from the ginger beer.

Pimm’s Cup –  pimm’s, lemon, ginger beer

The thing that made all three of these experiences exquisite and memorable is the unique atmosphere that they provided. Each of them slightly different. A modern styled speakeasy, a restaurant inside a bank vault, and a restaurant, bar with the best ambiance lighting. Ambiance really does make a difference. The next time you dine out make an effort to notice what type of atmosphere the place has. For me there is nothing better than sipping a delicious, classy cocktail in a warmly lit lounge with a couple of good friends. Makes for a fantastic night!