Friday, November 25, 2011

Chicago: M Henrietta

Could anyone blame me for not having any motivation to go to class the day before Thanksgiving break?  Especially since I only had ONE class and it was from 4:00-6:00pm?  AND it was raining?  I think not.

Even so, I debated with myself all the way to M Henrietta and back:

CK had a doctor's appointment downtown in the afternoon, so opportunists that we are, we seized the chance to get out of Hyde Park and enjoy some brunch.

M Henrietta was pretty quiet (probably because it was a Tuesday morning):

After consulting with our server, we decided on the latina omeletta:

The omelette itself was made of black beans, tomatoes, sour cream, Wisconsin sharp cheddar, green and sweet onions, and cilantro.  It came topped with chipotle sauce and with a side of sweet plantains and house potatoes.  While I enjoyed the plantains, the omelette needed a bit more salt and the potatoes disappointingly looked crunchier than they actually were.

The blackberry bliss hotcakes, however, were TO DIE FOR:

Now, I'm not a huge berry person, but one bite of these babies made me want to burst into the hallelujah chorus.  Warm blackberries, vanilla mascarpone cream, and best of all...a crunchy brown sugar and oat crust.  So.  Damn.  Good.

I would go back to M Henrietta for the blackberry bliss hotcakes alone.

Oh, and I ended up skipping class.  I got home from brunch, put on my pjs...and it was gameover.

M Henrietta
1133 W Granville Ave
Chicago, IL 60660
(773) 761-9700

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Chicago: Burger Point

It took some bullying, but I finally got the crew (CK, Goddess C, and The Stacker) together for Burger Bonding - November 2011 (yes, our monthly burger tradition now has a name).  Success!  That's two months of burger bonding in a row and I, for one, am quite proud.  Now if only we can keep it up...

November's Burger Bonding location was Burger Point, a new burger joint in town:

The place was pretty empty when we arrived (it quickly filled up later), but that was fine with us as it allowed us time to chat it up with the guy behind the counter:

He was incredibly friendly and very helpful with recommendations.  He told us that everything is made in-house and that they don't even have a freezer on site.

CK and I decided to split 2 burgers and some fries.  CK chose The Dirty South, which included 5-year aged cheddar, smoked bacon, and a pretzel bun, all smothered by this awesome bbq sauce:

She made it into a combo and upgraded the fries from a small to a large.

After hearing that it was like an upgraded Big Mac (which is a guilty pleasure of mine), I had to go with the Ashman:

American cheese, "special" sauce, lettuce, diced pickles, diced onions, and two meat patties tucked in a potato roll.  All the makings of a Big Mac but SO MUCH BETTER.

To try something new, I asked for a small side of sweet potato fries with sea salt instead of regular fries in my combo:

It came with a little container of honey mustard.  While the honey mustard was good, the fries really didn't require any dressing.  For the first time in my life, I actually preferred sweet potato fries over regular fries.  Egads!  I blame the hint of ginger in the sweet potato fries.  Everyone knows that I'm a sucker for ginger.

Ever the spicy food fiend, Goddess C ordered the Burger Point Burger since it included roasted chile peppers on top of the fried egg, smoked bacon, pepperjack, and pretzel roll:

According to her, it still didn't have the kick she was hoping for.  Guh.

The Stacker went with the New American Classic, which consisted of a fried egg, avocado, smoked bacon, american cheese, wasabi mayo, and a pretzel roll:

He also got some buffalo wings to share:

I am not a fan of buffalo anything because I'm a wuss and it burns my lips.  Laugh all you want.  It hurts.

You can choose to design your own burger, but for lazy peeps like us, getting the specialty ones ($8.25 each) is much easier.  Burger Point was a hit with all of us, though we all agreed that we would love it more if the prices were a bit lower.

Hooray for the revival of Burger Bonding!  Next month looks kinda iffy, with finals coming up and winter break following immediately after, but I'll keep my fingers crossed.  Burger Bonding will survive if it's the last thing I do!!

Burger Point
1900 S State St
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 842-1900

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chicago: Volare

My dear, dear high school friend, Nilala's mother and sister were in town for her white coat ceremony, so to celebrate we met up at Volare for dinner Saturday evening:

As we couldn't be seated until our entire party arrived, we were a bit late for our reservation.  Okay, very late for our reservation.  But the hostess was incredibly nice and had us seated almost immediately after our party was complete.

First we were brought a giant basket filled with two types of bread:

I knew what I wanted to order before I even got to the restaurant.  During snowpocalypse last winter, CK actually contemplated driving through the blizzard to get some of Volare's gnocchi in vodka sauce.  Since then, I've been very curious about it.  I mean, really, how good could gnocchi be?

I simply had to find out:

Apparently, very damn good.  My only complaint is that after a got sort of...boring, especially for 16 bucks a plate.  Every bite was just ricotta dumpling with...sauce, albeit very good sauce, which didn't taste like alcohol at all.  On some level, I expected that, but the fear was still there, so I may or may not have threatened to never speak to CK again if the vodka sauce ended up tasting like vodka.  I'm a bit of a drama queen like that.

Given my extreme aversion to alcohol, I was very surprised to find that I enjoyed the tiramisu Nilala's sister surprised Nilala with.  Best tiramisu I've ever had.  Then again, I haven't had that many in my lifetime...

Anyway, I had a fabulous time with Nilala's family and friends.  We ranted, raved, and probably scared everyone sitting at the tables adjacent to us.  It's always a party when people from the Bay get together, especially people from Independence High School.  Woot woot!

Congratulations, Nilala, on getting your white coat!  I know you're going to kick med school ass and then come out THE BEST DOCTOR EVER.  And of course, a big thank you to you and your family for your overwhelming generosity (as usual).  Looking forward to more Chicago adventures with you!

201 E Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 410-9900

Monday, November 14, 2011

New York: Red Rooster (Guest Post!)

November's been a rather slow month for me.  I blame law school.  It always manages to suck the fun out of everything.  And I really do mean everything.

So when my New York liaison (aka one of my two closest high school friends who my mother dubbed Nana when she requested a Chinese nickname and who is currently in the process of getting her Masters in playwriting at Columbia) texted me to tell me that she was dining at Red Rooster and that she actually met Marcus Samuelsson there, I had to fight off my usual inclination toward bitterness and be happy for her.

Then my thoughts took a selfish turn and my next reaction was GUEST POST!  So without ado, Nana's debut on No Shame!

(Reading this made me really miss you, Nana.  Can't wait to see you over Thanksgiving!  Baltimore won't even know what hit them by the time we're through.)

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~  

A couple of weeks ago, my department went out for a retirement luncheon for our beloved Edmund. (He wasn't really retiring from Columbia altogether, he just saw his only chance of escape from our department and took it.) We have this go-to restaurant that we take everyone to, for just about everything (the entirely un-bloggable Bistro Ten18), but our resident foodie suggested we check out Marcus Samuelsson's latest venture, Red Rooster:

(Our foodie, Keith, is the one in the grey hat. I'm positive he and Amy would be kindred stomachs.)

Located in the heart of Harlem, this place claims to fuse the comfort of soul food, with the flavors of the diverse neighborhoods that make Harlem so special. I, praise Jesus, had the opportunity to pick out the menu (because, as many people already know, I am quite the picky eater). I decided that instead of individual dishes, it would be better to have a lot more food options and just serve it family style. We're just as dysfunctional as any self-respecting family can get, so I knew this wouldn't be a problem.

Here is the final menu:

I unfortunately didn't immediately think to take pictures of the food before everyone dug in. First off, I don't write a blog, seeing as how I loathe them (Except this one. Amy is family. And one must pay the price, suck it up, and read the blogs of family); and secondly, I hate to look any tiny bit like a tourist, wherever I am. (Except, of course with Amy. Well, I actually do still hate it when she pulls out that damn camera, but I've now resorted to just rolling my eyes and looking pleadingly at the patrons around me.) This is all to say, forgive the crap pictures. And the missing pictures. And the poorly staged food. Hey, I did what I could considering my insane quirks.

We started off with the cornbread, which was good. Though it wasn't out there, it was very reminiscent of home-style cornbread. What made it good, though, was the honey butter. I'm pretty sure the consensus around the table was if given a pound of that butter, we'd either eat it all or rub it all over ourselves. Believe me. You'd feel the exact same way. The other topping for the cornbread was this delicious salsa thing. I call it a salsa thing because it looked like salsa, it smelled like salsa, and sorta tasted like salsa, but was called tomato jam. Wouldn't rub it all over myself, but would definitely throw it on an English Muffin.

We were then served our salads. Da. Lish. I enjoy none of the ingredients listed in the salad. (Except cauliflower. I lurve cauliflower.) But, being surprisingly game to try anything, I ate all of it. And I wanted more.

Once the dishes were cleared, we were served our main courses. First up was the Yard Bird:

This is Staged Picture #1. Because the Yard Bird (which I love to say) was actually 4 plates piled high with about 8-9 pieces of the biggest thighs and legs of probably the most 'roided up bird you'll ever meet. I will never again eat another bird that doesn't come from a yard. The greens were fine, but the Yard Bird was sooooo crispy, soooo tender, sooo juicy, sooooo meaty, and soooo flavorful. Best. Yard Bird. Ever. They also served little bowls of some spicy sauce (that were not at all spicy, even by Amy's standards) but it really wasn't needed for this clearly stand-alone bird.

Next up, and not to be out-shined, were the plethora of sides. We had Mac & Greens (Staged Picture #2):

Then the Mashed Potatoes (Staged Picture #3):

Followed by the Truffle Fries (Poorly Staged Picture #4):

The Mac & Greens were fantastic. You could really taste the gouda and the sharpness of the cheddar. It was creamy without being too soggy. And they use orecchiette noodles that carried with it the perfect amount of sauce. As for the greens? Pretty sure they were just there for decoration.

The Mashed Potatoes were equally fantastic. They were smooth, and I think I tasted a hint of sour cream or cream cheese or something milky and tarty like that. (I myself like to put this ingredient in my mashed potatoes. Probably not the only thing Marcus and I have in common. All I'm sayin'.)

The last side, the Truffle Fries, were also fantastic. ( I apologize for my over use of the word "fantastic." I currently do not own a thesaurus. I will also take this time to apologize for my overuse of the parenthetical. There are quite a few voices in this head fighting to have their opinion heard.) The fries were so crispy, and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. I will never again eat fries that aren't cooked in truffle oil. That's probably a lie.

And as if we didn't already have enough to eat, we were served dessert:

Now, I had the option to choose the Sweet Potato donuts or the Spiced Pumpkin Cake, but seeing as how I despise sweet potatoes, I opted for the pumpkin dessert, justifying myself with the "it's a seasonal dessert so I had to pick that one" argument. Let me tell you that there was nary an uncleared plate, no matter how many declared their limited stomach capacity just moments before. If it were proper etiquette to lick one's plate, I am certain the group would have done so. I most certainly would have.

As if the food wasn't good enough, the restaurant was just overall spectacular. The decor, the open feel, the kitchen, everything was incredible. There was this picture that a coworker and I were staring at:

And little did we know that at the very table next to us, was the little girl being drawn, now an older woman. I've always thought Norman Rockwell was the quintessential American artist (well, next to Keith Haring) and to witness his own inspiration sitting at a table next to us, eating soul food from a man who claims New York as always being his home, and dining in the heart of such an important American neighborhood, it all sort of made me feel somewhat...patriotic. And considering all the mumbo-jumbo currently going on in the States, it's nice to get that feeling apart from a major holiday/anniversary.

It was all in all an amazing lunch. To spend time with your coworkers and friends outside of the stressful environment of the workplace, and to enjoy good food, we actually all had such a wonderful time. (And there wasn't even any booze.)

Oh, yeah. And having Marcus Samuelsson, in the flesh, come to our table to talk with us for a few minutes wasn't too bad either. ;)

Red Rooster
310 Lenox Ave
New York, NY 10027
(212) 792-9001

Chicago: Big & Littles

CK and I were planning on having an uber productive weekend, but we should have known better.  All those grand and lofty plans of getting a massive amount of studying done crumbled pitifully when Saturday passed by and neither of us accomplished much of anything.

After acknowledging that Saturday was a lost cause, we committed ourselves to buckling down and unleashing our inner study beasts Sunday morning.  To give ourselves some incentive, we decided our reward would be a nice brunch.

We didn't actually finish in time for brunch, but we did manage to get out for a late lunch at Big & Littles:

Despite it being 2:30 in the afternoon, the place was packed:

When we placed our order at the counter, we were told that the wait would be 20 minutes.  It was actually way longer than that.  Way longer.  People who came before us were getting really irritated and I would be pretty surprised if the staff in the open kitchen couldn't feel the pressure from all the eyes trained on their every move.

I don't know why it took so long to prepare the food.  Perhaps there wasn't enough staff on hand or maybe we just went on a particularly busy day.  Whatever the reason, on top of the long wait, the food didn't come all at once.  People had to make multiple trips back to the counter to pick up their food.  On the upside, everything came out freshly fried and HOT.

We got an order of fish and chips ($15):

A samurai whitefish taco at the recommendation of the girl behind the counter ($4.75):

And an oyster poboy ($16):

While the food was indeed quite delicious, I was a bit shocked by the steep prices.  Just those three things cost us a whopping $39.59.  Really?  The oyster poboy itself was almost double the price of the one at Fish Bar, which in my opinion is still the best oyster poboy I've ever had the pleasure of stuffing in my mouth.  Big & Littles is a cash only establishment too, so pad your wallets accordingly if you decide to make the trip.

Sorry, Big & Littles, while the food is great, it just isn't enough to justify both the wait and the money.  Especially not with cheaper and equally delicious options like Lawrence's Fisheries around town.

Big & Littles
860 N Orleans St
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 943-0000

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Chicago: Belly Shack

I spent the weekend with Queen G in her new apartment.  We quickly fell into our old routine; me mounting Queen G's mirror on her door, us cooking and eating dinner together, and then a post-dinner movie on a laptop (but minus the impromptu laptop stand made of law books) while munching on grapes and watermelon seeds.

Sunday morning, we walked to church and then dropped by Belly Shack for lunch with a new friend:

I'd heard of Belly Shack before and had passed by its front door tucked under the L blue line on numerous occasions, but was never tempted enough to venture in.

While its exterior certainly resembled a shack, in the interior looked more like a warehouse:

The three of us got everything to share.  As usual, we stepped back and let Queen G do all the ordering.  We started off with the roast pork sandwich with chihuahua cheese in ciabatta, which was on their specials menu:

I don't remember what else was in it, but I do remember it tasting pretty good:

But for 10 bucks?  I don't know...

We also ordered the togarashi spiced fries with curry mayo:

Now this stuff was addicting.  I couldn't stop eating it.

The somen noodle salad with shrimp, tortilla chips, tomatillo, and jicama, on the other hand, was rather disappointing:

Bland, flavorless, blah...I was not impressed at all.

The Asian wings with cornbread was also off the specials menu:

While the flavors were awesome, the wings could have been crispier.  Between Belly Shack and Crisp wings, I would go with Crisp every time.

We ended our meal with Vietnamese cinnamon caramel soft serve:

I really appreciated the generous pool of caramel at the bottom of the bowl, but to be absolutely honest, it didn't strike me as $4 worth.  I think anyone could have made the same thing at the dessert bar of a Fresh Choice or a Sweet Tomatoes.

Final verdict?  Good, but not worth the money or a return trip.

After lunch I found myself doing more odds and ends around Queen G's apartment (hanging the drapes, assembling a lamp, and changing the light bulbs on the ceiling fan) before I finally went home.  Some things don't change, even if the location does.

Belly Shack
1912 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 252-1414

Monday, November 7, 2011

Chicago: La Baguette

To kill some time after dinner, MM and I went to Little Village to see if we could find her a Halloween costume.  Sadly, all the clothing stores were closed by the time we got there.  But on the upside, I got to explore a neighborhood I'd never been to before and we found La Baguette:

La Baguette is basically the ultimate Mexican bread and pastry FACTORY.  Just the sight of all the goodies is almost overwhelming, not to mention all the amazing smells.  And everything is so damn cheap too!

MM got a tres leches cake for about 2 bucks:

The layer of frosting was a bit thick for both our tastes, but the cake itself was moist and delicious.  I can't say that it's better than Kristoffer's tres leches cake, but for $2?  I don't really care.

I asked MM to help me pick out some bread.  She recommended this cinnamon-y goodness:

And this cute little pig:

I wasn't very fond of the pig, even though I really wanted to be.  It was rather dense and tasteless and just overall blah.  The cinnamon sprinkled one, on the other hand, was mucho yummy.  Both only cost me under $1.50.  Now that's what I'm talking about!

I definitely need to make another trip out to Little Village.  According to MM, that's where all the good Mexican food is.  And where there's good Mexican food, I'm there.  Plus, I would love another walk around La Baguette.  I just want to take a nibble out of everything.  Too bad they probably wouldn't take too kindly to that...

La Baguette
3117 W 26th St
Chicago, IL 60623
(773) 254-0006

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chicago: Simone's

Now that we're spread all over the place and everyone has different (not to mention crazy) work schedules, it's hard to coordinate a get together with my SSA girls.  MM finally had a day off, so we seized the chance and met up at Simone's in Pilsen:

The two of us shared a buffalo chicken sandwich:

It came with a mix of regular fries and sweet potato fries.

The sandwich itself consisted of pulled chicken with buffalo sauce and celery relish:

I didn't expect the chicken to be so...spicy.  I think I burned my lips eating that sandwich.

We also split a Simone's pizza at our server's recommendation, which came topped with potatoes, parmesan, and rosemary simple syrup:

MM and I were so busy talking up a storm that by the time I picked up a slice, it had already gotten cold.  I've always believed that you can identify a great pizza by seeing if it still tastes great cold.  Simone's pizza was good, but I could tell that it probably tasted better warm.

Simone's is a great place to relax and catch up with friends.  MM and I sat there for a long time, just chatting and laughing and we never felt rushed or pressured to leave or order more.  The atmosphere is chill, the food is decent, the prices fair...all in all, a cool place to hang out at in Pilsen.

960 W 18th St
Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 666-8601

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Chicago: Kuma's Corner

The first time I went to Kuma's was back in my first year of law school.  I had such a horrible experience that I hadn't returned since.  Just get a load of this.

Kuma's is rather far north, so it took my friends and I over an hour and a half to get there via public transportation.  Then we proceeded to wait over 2 hours for a table.  None was opening up, so we finally resorted to hovering at the bar, claiming one stool at a time until the three of us could finally sit together.  All the while, music was blasting at top volume and weird, grotesque flicks were being shown on the TV screen above the bar.

By the time our food finally arrived, we were all a bit annoyed and not really in the mood to eat.  So we picked at the food, packed it up, and hightailed it out of there.  Only to be stuck on public transportation for over another hour and a half.  We'd left the house at 6:00pm, only ate for about less than 30 minutes, and didn't get back home until midnight.

Pretty horrendous, right?

I vaguely recollect the few bites I did take being good, but that night is such a haze in my memory that I don't even remember finishing the leftovers.

Since that dreadful first visit, I've been understandably reluctant to go back to Kuma's.  However, after hearing multiple people wax poetic about Kuma's burgers, I started to toy with the idea of giving it another chance.  I definitely wasn't about to take on the evening rush again, so I tried to figure out a day when I could get in for lunch.

My chance came in the form of fall break.  Whatever that means.  Nobody at the law school understands why we get 2 random days off at the end of October.

Now, my friends and I have been trying to set up a tradition of hitting up a different burger joint together every month.  We started this endeavor last year and succeeded in actually getting a grand total of ONE burger.  Pitiful.  Fall break provided the perfect excuse and the perfect opportunity to get into Kuma's Corner and revive our monthly burger tradition:

We planned to arrive at Kuma's right when it opened Tuesday morning at 11:30.  CK managed to get there early, but the rest of us didn't get there until 11:40, which apparently was all the time Kuma's needed to fill up.  We ended up having to wait about half an hour before we could be seated.  Plan fail.  Still, half an hour is nothing compared to the 2 hours I had to endure the first time I came.

Kuma's has a pretty bold decorating scheme:

It looks innocent enough until you notice that there are naked women in rather crude poses posted along the wall.  Those aside, I do enjoy picking out the quirky messages written on the chalkboard and the various bear decorations.

CK and I decided to split the Iron Maiden:

It came with avocado, cherry peppers, pepper jack, and chipotle mayo:

Everyone else either wasn't happy with the meat to bun ratio or flat out felt that there was too much meat.  Uh, what?  I disagreed.  I loved the fat, juicy beef patty and the thick pretzel bun.  My only complaint would be that our burger came a little well done to be properly medium.

CK and I also split the mac and cheese with sundried tomatoes and caramelized onions:

We're still trying to work through it.  No joke.  We barely touched it at Kuma's, so we packed it home, where it's been sitting in our fridge even after taking out half of it for dinner one night.  How many meals can two people get out of one order of Kuma's mac and cheese?  This is starting to get ridiculous...

Anyway, my final conclusion is that Kuma's burgers are indeed legit.  I still wouldn't come during dinner time, but I definitely want to come back and try all the other amazing-sounding burgers on the menu.

This just goes to show that you should always give things a second chance.  Now if only we could get our monthly burger tradition to stick...

Kuma's Corner
2900 W Belmont Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 604-8769
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