Monday, January 31, 2011

Chicago: Piece (Revisited)

It's been a long while I posted anything, but that's because I've been behaving myself and have been eating in instead of spending money eating out. Today my friend threatened to take action if I didn't post something soon, so because I'm afraid of her (and because I know she's not one to make idle threats), I dug out the pictures I took a couple weeks ago at our mutual friend's birthday dinner at Piece.

It was a feat in itself to score a reservation for 20, but somehow they got it done. We'd all heard the horror stories about how people have had to wait 3 hours without a reservation. Thank goodness that wasn't us.

The last time I went to Piece, I saw that mashed potatoes was listed as a choice of topping. When I mentioned it to my friends who were with me, both gave me the weirdest looks. I vowed to myself then that if I ever returned, I would insist on getting mashed potatoes.

That night at my friend's birthday dinner...victory was mine!:

I refused to take no for an answer and I stood my ground. And you know what? It ended up being the best tasting pizza on that table. Booyeah!

Besides the dollops of mashed potatoes, there was garlic, roasted red peppers, and bacon on our masterpiece:

This just goes to show that potatoes taste good with everything.

Don't be afraid to experiment with food! Sometimes the weirdest combinations will yield the tastiest results.

1927 W North Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 772-4422

Monday, January 24, 2011

Baltimore: Fogo de Chao (Guest Post!)

My own food adventures have been at a standstill recently (due to tightening budget...and tightening jeans), so when my sister asked if she could post about her recent trip to Fogo de Chao in Baltimore on my blog, I was more than ready to live vicariously through her.

So without further ado, No Shame's first ever guest blog post!

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Using our return from Winter Break as an excuse, my friends and I decided to take advantage of Restaurant Week and visit one of the fancier restaurants in our area. With its famous unlimited supply of meat, choosing Fogo de Chao was really a no-brainer. For about $45, including tip and tax, my stomach was pushed to limits it has never tested before:

Upon entering the restaurant, I knew we were in the right place. Our nostrils were assaulted with the smell of meat. I was in heaven.

Immediately after we were seated, waiters brought three different appetizers to our table. Seeing that there were eight people in our party, they gave us two of each and assured us that they would keep coming.

The first was the fried polenta. It was much crispier than I anticipated. The taste and texture reminded me of deep-fried corn bread. Not really my thing, but my friends really enjoyed it:

The mashed potatoes was surprisingly delicious. The texture was more smooth than I like, but the creamy garlic taste more than compensated for this shortcoming. I was tempted to waste way too much of my stomach space on this dish:

The caramelized bananas were nothing too spectacular. They were a bit too soggy for my taste:

The service here was spectacular. Every guest was given a round placecard that was green on one side and red on the other. When the placecard was flipped green-side up, servers would stop by your table with sizzling selections of meat:

The servers would stop by with meat on skewers and ask how you liked your meat done. They would then slice a generous cut which you brought to your own plate with the tongs provided.

Because it was restaurant week, we were given a limited selection of meats. Still, I was more than satisfied with what was offered.

The top sirloin (rare) was gorgeous. However, it was a bit tough:

The rib-eye (rare) was tender, with just the right amount of fat on it. Juicy and seasoned perfectly, this was by far my favorite cut of beef:

There were two kinds of filet mignon available:

The first is the Filet Mignon wrapped in Bacon. I was disappointed to find that this was less delicious and decadent than its name implied. In order to maximize the bacon flavor infused into the meat, the beef was cooked for a longer time. This left the filet mignon overcooked and tough.

The plain Filet Mignon was not much better than its pork-embracing cousin. I found the flavor to be slightly lacking. Though the filet mignon is supposed to be far more tender than the ribeye, I actually found the reverse to be true:

I'm not really a fan of pork so unfortunately, I didn't try the sausages and ribs that were offered. The lamb, on the other hand, was orgasmic. It was served in two ways, freshly cut from the leg, or as a lamb chop:

While the first bite seemed shockingly gamey, almost unpleasantly so, my taste buds soon began to appreciate the bold flavor of the meat.

Hands down, my favorite meat of the night was the lamb chop. I like my food on the salty side, and this was the answer to my meat prayers:

There was a healthy chunk of meat attached to the bone and even after I had devoured it, I was tempted to gnaw on the bone. This was definitely the highlight of the evening (I got two!).

Part of the restaurant week deal is a free dessert with your meal. We were limited to three choices: New York cheesecake, chocolate mousse cake, and key lime pie.

The cheesecake was on the plain side. Nothing special here:

The chocolate mousse cake was heavenly. Its light, slightly salty caramel icing contrasted nicely with the dense chocolate interior:

Unfortunately, I was unable to take a picture of the key lime pie before my friends devoured it. I found the pie filling to be unpleasantly bitter. The key is to spread the dollop of whipped cream across the whole piece and eat the filling with the whipped cream. This helps to balance out the bitterness.

Dinner at Fogo de Chao is usually $48.50 per person, not including tax and tip. This grants you access to endless meat as well a fancy salad bar. Too distracted by the meat, I never took the opportunity to snap pictures of the salad bar. To give you an idea of the variety, there was everything from smoked meats (pork, salmon, etc.) to cheeses (fresh mozzarella, parmesan, etc.) I did stop by for some fresh green beans and artichoke hearts intermittently during my gluttonous escapade. After all, I needed something to help with the digestion. (; The dessert is usually an added cost.

The quality of the meat is definitely top-shelf. Everything is seasoned to perfection and needs absolutely no additional salt/sauce. Were I able to afford this, I would probably come back every three months (recovery time, you'll need it) or so. Definitely worth the price and the trip.

Fogo de Chao
600 E Pratt St
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 528-9292

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chicago: Lula Cafe

After my friend's triumphant return from a day of interviewing for med school, we headed to Logan Square to celebrate with a girls' night out. (Then again, what night isn't a girls' night out?) Though we were incredibly late (sorry roomie!), we met up with my roommate at Lula Cafe:

I've been wanting to check out Lula Cafe for a long time now. Their brunch is supposed to be fabulous. I don't know quite what I was expecting, but definitely not this casual yet upscale feel:

Though after seeing the prices for the entrées, I shouldn't have been all that surprised:

After we placed our order, we were brought an amuse bouche to start with. For the life of me I cannot remember what was in that spoonful. There was dill and cauliflower for sure...and possibly some water chestnut and Asian pear. Sigh. Old age. My memory isn't quite what it used to be:

It was an interesting mouthful that reminded me of autumn. If that makes any sense at all.

We were really curious about the baked French feta:

None of us had ever heard of a baked feta dish before. The feta came topped with basil oil, olives, marinated pepper, red onion, and cucumber. Spread on the was amazing.

The three of us decided to split two entrées. We're all lamb lovers, so the roasted leg of lamb with puy lentils provencal was an obvious choice:

The lamb was encrusted in this crunchy breadcrumb-like casing and cooked to the perfect tenderness.

Out of the other options, the cavatelli with red wine braised octopus, oxtail, preserved lemon, sweet potato, currants, and saffron breadcrumbs sounded most interesting to us:

The cavatelli had the same texture as the octopus and while that was rather neat, the octopus got a little lost in the dish. So did the oxtail, for that matter. Due to the dim lighting, I'm not even sure if I'd gotten any shredded oxtail in my serving.

No celebration is complete without dessert. My friend picked the pumpkin tiramisu with creme fraiche, apple ginger compote, and sesame tuille:

Pumpkin and tiramisu happens to be two of her favorite things...and two of my least favorite. But hey, I'm open to trying everything. This particular tiramisu didn't have any of the alcoholic taste that I generally abhor about tiramisu. The texture itself was also slightly different. I especially enjoyed the fried pieces of pumpkin seed in the apple ginger compote.

After dinner we headed down the block to Longman & Eagle, where my roommate introduced my friend to her favorite bartender in Chicago. Overall, the night was a good way to celebrate a good friend.

Dinner at Lula Cafe is a bit too pricey in my opinion, but I still want to come try their brunch.

Lula Cafe
2537 N Kedzie Blvd
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 489-9554

Monday, January 17, 2011

Chicago: Pizzeria Due

When my high school friend came to visit from New York, I asked her if she wanted the full Chicago experience (in other words, whether she wanted deep dish). As it turns out, she's a big fan of pizza. I originally planned for a day of touring downtown Chicago with some pizza for a late lunch, but due to numerous flight delays (damn you, Chicago weather!), we could only squeeze in a quick visit to The Bean before heading straight to Pizzeria Due for dinner:

Pizzeria Due is owned by the same people who run Pizzeria Uno. It's tempting to pronounce "due" as the "due" in "due date", but it's actually "doo-eh", which means "two" in Italian. Duh. Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due are also only a block apart. I picked Pizzeria Due because it was the first one we came across.

Granted it was a Tuesday night, but we were still a little worried by how absolutely empty it was inside:

Nevertheless, we buckled down and decided to stick it through. The two of us ordered the medium numero uno:

A medium was definitely too much, but our intent was to have some leftover for my friend to have the next day while I was in class.

The numero uno comes with cheese, sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onion, and green peppers:

The very first thing I noticed when the pizza arrived and was being served to us was the lack of stringy cheese. In my limited deep dish experience, there's usually a long string of cheese that trails after the pizza slice as it is being lifted out of the pan. Now this could either be a good or a bad thing. Some deep dish joints have way too much cheese in their pizza, but when it comes to pizza cheese is still an essential ingredient, so the last thing you want is a non-cheesy pizza.

Luckily, it turned out to be a good thing. The amount of cheese was just perfect. The pizza was still cheesy without being overly so. The crust was a little crunchy for my tastes and while the sausage chunks were HUGE, I think I still prefer both Gino's East's crust and sausage.

Another Chicago deep dish done, how many more places left to go?

Pizzeria Due
619 N Wabash Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 943-2400

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Chicago: The Purple Pig (Revisited)

Despite being disgustingly full after the Rosebud burger, we still decided to stop by Purple Pig for dessert. Honestly, I don't know what we were thinking. Maybe we just weren't:

The four of us split 2 desserts. First was the bread pudding with marsala and citrus:

It sounded a lot better on paper. How can one go wrong with caramel sauce? Sadly, none of us were really impressed.

The Sicilian iris, on the other hand, was delicious:

It's basically a fried brioche stuffed with ricotta and chocolate chips:

So decadent and so good. But worth $6? I don't know about that.

As always, I ended eating way more than I should have. So much for my 2011 New Year's resolution of portion control...

The Purple Pig
500 N Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 464-1744

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Chicago: Rosebud on Rush

My friend and I had been trying to coordinate a Rosebud $5 burger run since last quarter, but our schedules just never seemed to work out. This quarter we just picked a Friday, roped in two other people, and made it work:

Rosebud's $5 burger deal is available every weekday from 11:00am to 3:00pm. I had a class that ended at noon, but we still managed to get ourselves downtown a little after 1:00.

As you can tell from the interior, Rosebud's usual fare is a bit on the fancier side (think Italian):

We were immediately brought a basket of warm bread:

A server went around the table filling our individual dishes with olive oil and topping it with a mound of parmesan:

The burger came on a pretzel bun with a side of fries:

You could choose to add cheese for $1 (I decided not to).

I ordered mine medium rare and it came just so:

The burger was really good, if not a little too big. I think I'm getting weaker in my old age. I managed to finish the beast, but I felt disgustingly full afterwards. I couldn't get through all the fries, which was a shame because I actually enjoyed them. They were crunchy without crossing the line into rock-hard. The spicy ketchup was also a nice touch.

Burgers at Rosebud are usually $10.75, so getting it for $5 was really quite a steal. There aren't many places left where you can get a (too) filling meal for $5 so take advantage of it!

Rosebud on Rush
720 N Rush St
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 266-6444

Friday, January 14, 2011

Chicago: Siam Noodle & Rice

Plan B turned out be Siam Noodle & Rice. My friend swears that this is the best Thai restaurant in Chicago. My roommate was a bit skeptical (she's a foodie from LA), but I had every faith in my friend. Or more accurately, I had every faith in my friend's boyfriend, who is Thai. According to my friend, Siam Noodle & Rice is his family's favorite Thai place and they've been going there ever since he was little:

I walked in and immediately knew that the food was going to be amazing:

My philosophy has always been that the best Asian food more often than not comes from the most unpretentious restaurants. No fancy tablecloths and fine china for me, oh no. I like my Asian restaurants unpolished, unrefined, and maybe slightly grungy. (Don't judge!)

We split a Thai iced tea between the three of us:

None of that package bright orange stuff here. There was a bit of a slightly fruity taste that threw me a little off guard, but other than that, it's legit.

We went more than a little crazy on the ordering. I blame my friend. She always wants to order half the menu.

For an appetizer, we got the steamed chive dumplings:

The house chili soy sauce was just amazing. Spicy, but with a tinge of sweetness. I think I drowned my poor dumpling in it.

Since all of us love basil and duck, what could be more appropriate than the basil duck?:

It really was a meal on its own. So flavorful and so much duck!

My friend recommended the nam tok:

Nam tok is essentially sliced boiled beef tossed with red onion, ground rice, mint leaves, ground dried chili, cilantro, and onion. There was a little wedge of steamed cabbage on the side, but I found it a bit tricky to wrap the beef in the tiny slivers of cabbage. Not gonna was SPICY. At least for me.

My favorite Thai soup is the tom kha kai (hot and sour soup with chicken, lemon grass, lime juice, mushroom, galanga, chili paste, coconut milk, and soy bean oil):

Coconut-y, but refreshingly sour. Unlike in many other Thai places, the chicken was not dry at all.

My friend also recommended the larb:

We were given a choice of meat and we went with the chicken. The ground chicken is prepared with a magical mix of red onion, ground dried chili, mint leaves, ground rice, green onion, and cilantro. My friend says the key to larb is the liver. It's not mentioned on the menu, but the addition of liver adds a bit of a game-y taste that sparks your attention but doesn't overpower the dish.

Every dish that came out was solid, good, authentic Thai food. Even my roommate was super impressed. Our meal was made all the more enjoyable but the most delightful server who joked with us and made us laugh. We all left feeling bloated but oh-so-satisfied.

Needless to say, we didn't get any studying done that night.

Siam Noodle & Rice
4654 N Sheridan Rd
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 769-6694

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Chicago: Ba Le

My friend was supposed to come over to study one night last week. (She ended up taking a nap instead.) I do have to give her some credit though because she did eventually make it to my apartment. My roommate and I were trying to figure out what to make for dinner...when out of nowhere my friend asked if we wanted to get some Indian at Devon. Uh, yea?

Devon was tempting (especially since we'd been talking about making it up there FOREVER), but simply too far away for a spur of the moment trip. My friend came up with a pretty awesome Plan B, which is how we found ourselves piling into her car and cruising our way to Uptown.

Since we were afraid that it would be closed by the time we finished dinner, we dropped by Ba Le first:

Ba Le has a brand new building over from where it was before. The new concept is very clean and modern:

Behind each glass door is an array of Vietnamese goodies that just leave me breathless:

We bypassed all the savory offerings and went straight for dessert. The three of us each picked one dessert cup:

From front to back: che thung (mung bean, tapioca pearl, coconut milk), che chuoi (banana, tapioca pearl, coconut milk), and che ba mau (red bean, mung bean, jello, coconut milk). Each cost about $2.95.

We saved them until after dinner when we could savor them in the comfort of our apartment. The only one I didn't really enjoy was the che chuoi; the banana flavor was just a little too intense for my tastes. Other than that, I'm a lover of coconut milk so I was high on cloud nine.

I really, really love Vietnamese desserts, so I can't even express how happy I am that there's somewhere in Chicago where I can satisfy those cravings.

Ba Le also sells bahn mi (Vietnamese sandwiches). My roommate bought one because she couldn't resist. Which reminds me...I need to ask her how she liked it.

Ba Le
5016 N Broadway
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 561-4424

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Chicago: Saint's Alp Teahouse

We'd been playing around with the idea of heading to Chinatown on New Year's Day, thinking that only in Chinatown would restaurants still be open, but ended up not going because we couldn't muster up the motivation to change out of our pajamas and venture out into the cold. But the idea of Chinatown somehow took root in our heads and we were there the very next night to grab some grub at Saint's Alp Teahouse:

One of the first things we did was to look through the drinks menu. I'm a straight milk tea fan, but I decided to take a risk and try a flavored one. I went with the hot coconut milk tea:

I love how the hot teas come in a teapot. It makes you feel like you're getting much more than a cup when that's not really the case. Coconut milk tea...yea, not going to try that again. I've had the ginger milk tea before and that was much better, though quite spicy.

Saint's Alp has a $5.95 menu that really reminds me of home back in the Bay Area. For $5.95 you can choose from a variety of dishes, such as this eggplant dish:

Not this beef and mushroom dish, but that's because it came in a sizzling pot:

I saw the exact same dish on the $5.95 menu, just without the pot. Somehow the pot made a $3 difference. Won't be making that mistake again.

There's the beef chow fun:

And the fried squid:

The food was surprisingly decent. I really wasn't expecting too much, but I liked being pleasantly surprised. If I'm ever craving Chinese food, I wouldn't mind hitting up Saint's Alp again.

Apparently Saint's Alp is a Hong Kong chain. I bet the food and drinks are even better there...

Saint's Alp Teahouse
2131 S Archer Ave
Chicago, IL 60686
(312) 842-1886
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