Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Chicago: Ruxbin (Revisited)

Though I had the honor of dining at Ruxbin during their soft opening, it took me almost 2 years to finally go back after they officially opened for business.  Shame on me.  I know.  Double shame since I know the owners via Queen G and we've all hung out multiple times.  

Queen G knew that Ruxbin was on my Chicago bucket list, so when her friend was in town, she invited me to tag along.  Which I did.  Shamelessly.  

Due to their popularity and no reservation policy, the wait at Ruxbin is known to get quite daunting at times.  Luckily, we went on a night when it was relatively quiet:

It was my first time sitting in the actual dining room, so I had to take a minute (or three) to soak in all the creative details of the decor:

The four of us started with some garlic fries with chipotle aioli:

The fries were piled so high I was surprised the bowl didn't topple over.  If you like shoestring fries, this is definitely for you.

We also got the beet salad, which came with roasted, pickled, then shaved beets, housemade ricotta, pistachio praline, pumpernickel (I love that word), white anchovy, orange, and greens.  The plating and the colors were simply gorgeous:

The perfect bite had a little bit of everything.

We also got the octopus:

The octopus was grilled and it was served with fried chickpeas, pickled green onions, radish, black soybean, roasted grapes, and ginger-scallion vinaigrette.

For our entrees, we split the trout, which rested on a bed of spelt (a type of wheat) and decorated with cauliflower, kalamata olive, and golden raisins:

The trout was perfectly cooked with the perfect crust.  Yum.

We also split the pork loin:

It came with fava beans, baby carrots, ramp pistou, and basil.

Because Queen G's friend was feeling sick, she got her own entree, Ruxbin's play on beef and broccoli:

She was kind enough to share her dish with the rest of us.  And maybe it's my love of beef talking, but I think that was my favorite entree.  The hanger steak was so very tender and went so well with the broccolini and miso butter.  And get this...RICE TOTS.  Holy moly.

We couldn't resist ordering both desserts.  First was the chocolate pot de creme:

The chocolate was super decadent, but the surprise came in the cumin tuile, bacon cotton candy, and coffee-chili salt.  Genius.

The big finale came in the form of fried hand pie:

Vicki was kind enough to come around to our table and introduce the dessert to us.  Apparently, since Ruxbin is BYOB, a lot of people have asked them to add a fruit and cheese platter to the menu.  The fried hand pie is Ruxbin's answer to that request.  The fruit is found in the pie.  The cheese in the gorgonzola ice cream.  Yup, you read that correctly.  Gorgonzola ice cream.  All of us were awed by how the ice cream could taste like cheese and yet not overpoweringly so.

Ruxbin has certainly matured and grown into itself over the last two years.  I really feel that I've been able to witness Ruxbin grow from its initial building stages (as documented on their blog) into the well-established and well-loved restaurant that it is today.  Without a doubt, it deserves all the accolades it's received both locally and nationally.

Ruxbin is always evolving, so make sure to drop in every time the menu changes with the seasons!

851 N Ashland Ave
Chicago, IL 60622

Friday, May 25, 2012

Chicago: Avec

Guess what?  

I'm officially done with law school!  That's right.  Took my last final yesterday, so now I'm just lazing around Chicago until graduation in two weeks.  Well, that's not quite true.  Lazing around is difficult when bar prep classes take up so much damn time.  Ugh.  

Anyway, enough whining.  I have posts to catch up on.

Avec has been on my list since my first year in Chicago, but I just never found the opportunity or the occasion to go.  Turns out we didn't require much of an occasion to get out there.  After another boring (and I mean REALLY boring) art law class one day, CK, JS, and I escaped to Avec: 

We were a little worried about the wait since Avec doesn't take reservations, but it actually wasn't that bad. Much like its siblings, Publican and PQM, Avec is very much a communal space:

One thing that's great about communal dining is that you can openly check out what everyone else is eating and ask them about it.  We already had a pretty good idea of what we wanted though.

I was really curious about the focaccia with taleggio cheese, ricotta, truffle oil, and fresh herbs:

I think I killed most of the foaccia.  It was addictive.

Avec is well known for its chorizo-stuffed medjool dates:

I can't describe how amazing these are.  They really live up to all the hype.  The dates come in this awesome piquillo pepper-tomato sauce and a simultaneously spicy and sweet and savory and I-can-die-happy-now good.

The wood fired squid was my least favorite of the night compared to all the other dishes, but it was still pretty stellar:

It felt like we were eating squid noodles in a creamy bath of guanciale, fideo, and fennel aioli.

The pork shoulder came in the cutest little cast iron pot:

The pork was wood oven roasted and came with ham hock braised black turtle beans, charred salsa verde, and spiced carrots.  I don't usually say stuff like this, but the carrot were bomb.  Unfortunately, by this point in the meal we were all so full that we could barely take a few bites of pork.  Fortunately, CK and I got to take the leftovers home and enjoy it another day.

Being full doesn't mean we skip dessert though.  Oh, no.  Dessert goes into another stomach after all.  We went with the lemon cake with rhubarb and ginger compote, yogurt sorbet, and ginger streusel:

Very light with just a bit of tang.  Yum.  The perfect way to end our meal.

Avec has one of those menus that make you want to order one of everything.  The service is attentive, the atmosphere relaxed, and everyone there is gushing about the food.  It really is a great restaurant to chill with your friends.  Especially after a life force draining class.

615 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60606
(312) 377-2002

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Chicago: Cumin

Being considerate of some vegetarians in the group, EK decided to have her very belated birthday dinner at Cumin:

Queen G and I got there a bit early after doing some shopping in the area for EK's birthday gift.  Luckily, they let us sit down at our table.  It's kind of swanky inside Cumin:

And they let us start snacking on some papadum:

Papadum is essentially the Indian chip.  They're light and airy and savory and go fabulously with chutney:

After the other girls arrived, we proceeded to order a massive amount of food.  We started off with some garlic naan:

This is where things start to get a bit fuzzy for me.  Not because I was drinking or anything like that, but because I'm getting old and so much time has passed that I don't really remember what we ordered (plus our server did much of it for us).  Bear with me as I attempt to figure out what's what.

I think this is the Nepalese goat curry:

Which one?  I have no clue.  All I remember was the server telling us that they were out of one so we had to go with the other.  It might have had bone in it, so I'm going to guess it's the gorkhali khasi.

You know what?  I give up.  I'm looking at these pictures and trying to match them up with the descriptions on the menu and I'm just not getting anywhere.

I fail as a food blogger.

Please enjoy the food pictures as I crawl into a hole in shame.

Chickpeas for our veggie friend:

This might have been lamb:

Perhaps this is chicken:

 More veggies for our veggie friend:

I do remember what desserts we got though.  One point for me.  Make that two since we ordered two desserts and I need all the pity points I can get for this sad, sad post.

There was the gulaab jaamun:

And the pistachio kulfi:

While the food was good, it obviously wasn't individually memorable.  The company, however, was excellent.  And maybe that was the problem.  Maybe we were having so much fun that we paid too little attention to the food in front of us.

Oh, well.  I'm not feeling particularly motivated to go back to Cumin and focus on the food the second time around.  Now that I'm in my last week of law school, time is precious.

1414 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 342-1414


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Chicago: Bang Bang Pie

Ever since Bang Bang Pie opened their storefront, I've been dying to get inside.  Before church one Sunday, I casually hinted at dropping by Bang Bang post-service to Queen G and she jumped right on it.  Success!

So immediately following church, the 4 of us (Queen G, EK, a new friend, and yours truly) zoomed on over to Bang Bang Pie:  

It has to be one of the cutest new spaces to have opened up in Chicago recently:

I love all the natural light from the giant windows and how the kitchen is entirely open so that you can see all the magic as it happens.

We were super curious about the blood orange pie:

Definitely the most interesting pie I've had in a long while, though I can't say that it was my favorite.  Maybe it's something about eating orange rinds that just throws me off...

The peanut butter cream, however, was downright DIVINE:

When we first saw the pie, all our thoughts were pretty much the same: where's the peanut butter?  Oh ho ho.  That thin layer of peanut butter at the top and at the base were enough to give this pie the richest peanut taste.  Together with the cream....guh.  I couldn't stop stuffing my face with this one.

As always, there are perks to eating out with Queen G.  Since she's friends with the owners, Megan sent herself brought us a slice of French silk, which she was working on perfecting:

We were all stunned when she let us in on a secret: it was her first time making French silk pie.  Say wut?  Far denser than any French silk I've had before, but I much prefer it this way.  Super silky and just all around amazing.

Bang Bang Pie also serves biscuits.  I know it's hard, but don't get caught up in the pies because this baby is possibly the best biscuit in the world:

So buttery I wanted to die.  In a good way, of course.  I could have walked away happy with just this biscuit.  No, that's the lie.  I couldn't have walked away with a slice of peanut butter cream pie.

Bang Bang Pie also has a cute little housemade preserves and butter station:

Here's a tip for all y'all.  Go straight for the black pepper honey butter.  It's kind of genius.

With just a few weeks left before I hightail it out of Chicago for good.  I have to say, I'm making slow, but steady progress on my list of places to eat at before I peace out.

Bang Bang Pie...check!

Except I kinda want to go back again.  I suppose I still have enough time for repeats...

Bang Bang Pie
2051 N California Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 276-8888

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Chicago: Davanti Enoteca (Revisited)

I apologize for the gap between my last post and this one.  I don't really have an excuse.  It's not like I was actually studying for my upcoming finals.  In fact, I don't really remember how exactly I spent the last few days.  Huh...

Wait, I remember now.  

All my spare time was entirely devoted to planning my SUMMER TRIP TO TAIWAN, THAILAND, MALAYSIA, AND CAMBODIA.  Woot woot!  That's right, my friends.  Food paradise, here I come!  All that stands in my way are two pesky, little obstacles called finals and the California state bar exam.  No biggie.

So anyway, sorry about the delay.

Before SY left Chicago, we managed to fit in a bigger SSA reunion at Davanti Enoteca.  Queen G and I arrived a little early and then everyone else ended up arriving late, so unable to wait any longer, Queen G ordered the ricotta and honey comb with tuscan toast while we chilled at the bar:

Oh.  My.  Gawd.  I never knew I liked ricotta so much.  If there's food in heaven, this must be at the front of the buffet line.  (And it has to be a buffet because it's heaven.  Duh.)

Once everyone arrived the real ordering started.  I was really excited about the focaccia di recco:

Ligurian-style baked focaccia is thin and crispy.  The soft cow cheese sandwiched inside made every bite amazing.

The mascarpone polenta board with the sausage ragu was a given:

SHP couldn't eat the polenta because there's dairy in it and when our server found out, he was incredibly considerate to come back with a separate bowl of ragu.

We also got the 5 for $20 salumi board:

We could have picked a couple of cheeses, but why waste board space?  There was prosciutto di parma (dry cured Italian ham), mortadella di bologna (heat cured Italian salami), soppressata calabrese (spicy red pepper salami), cacciatorini ("Hunter's" Italian salami), and capicolla piccante (cured spicy pork shoulder).

There was so much meat it couldn't fit on one board:

For our second round of ordering, SY wanted to try the riccio di mare e granchio, or linguine with sea urchin and crab:

Good, I suppose.  But it didn't knock my socks off.

We also tacked on a pizza della fattoria, which came topped with farmed egg, pork belly, potato, scallions, asiago, and bechamel:

Our server popped the egg quite ruthlessly before I could even squeeze in a photo.

Queen G and I made the bad decision of also ordering a burger:

Don't get me wrong.  The burger was good, with its bacon jam, roasted tomato, cheese curd, arugula, roasted garlic mayo and side of shoestring fries.  It was just too much food.

Davanti Enoteca is a great place to catch up with friends, share some food, and just have a good time.

I really wish SY could have stayed longer, but hey, I'll be back in the Bay in a month and I know I'll definitely see her around all summer.  Hooray for Chicago reunion in the Bay!

Davanti Enoteca
1359 W Taylor St
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 226-5550

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Chicago: Gourmet Food Inc.

I debated over whether I should include this post.  I'd forgotten my camera at home so I had to make do with my cell phone.  And of course, thanks to my infamously shaky hands, all the photos came out crappy.  Then I thought, whatever.  No shame, right?  That philosophy extends to bad photography.  

Now that the whiny excuses are done with, on to the food!

One night, CK and I were feeling particularly hungry for Asian food.  CK's boyfriend happened to be visiting, so the three of use set off for Chinatown and the one no-nonsense Chinese restaurant (if it can ever be called that) that I know of, Gourmet Food:

Don't be fooled by its name.  There's nothing gourmet about Gourmet Food.  It's actually designed more like a take-out place.  There's a counter.  You place your order there.  Then you sit and wait for the food.  Don't expect anyone to bring it to you either, you gotta fetch it yourself.  And don't expect actual plates and utensils.  It's plastic and styrofoam all the way.  Everything is dirt cheap though, so what more do you want?

I went a little crazy with the ordering because the minute I read something on the menu, I had a craving for it.  That's how desperate for Chinese food I was.

CK and her boyfriend were responsible for the 3 chicken wings.  I had nothing to do with those:

The chive boxes, however, were entirely my doing.  Both of them.

So were the steamed pork and cabbage buns.  One for each of us:

And the 2 scallion pancakes and the 27 dumplings (9 pork and 18 seafood):

  My dad makes better chive boxes and scallion pancakes, but the dumplings were surprisingly not bad.  Buns were pretty good too.

On top of all that food, CK's boyfriend also wanted a noodle soup and a side of rice.  To be honest, I was pretty much full after eating a steamed bun.  Everything else was utterly unnecessary.  We barely made a dent in it.

Ugh.  This is what happens when you make friends with people who have as little self control as you do.

Gourmet Food
210 W 23rd St
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 842-3366

Chicago: Do-Rite Donuts (Revisited)

SY decided at the very last minute to do a surprise visit to Chicago.  It was great to have her back in the Windy City again, even if it was just for a few days.

SY wanted to try some new places that'd opened up after she left so we went to Do-Rite with EK for some donut lovin'.  We must have lost our minds, because we ordered half a dozen donuts for the 3 of us.

I've already raved about the old fashioned and the pistachio in a previous post on Do-Rite, so I'll spare you all and skip to the new stuff.

First there was the Valrhona chocolate:

Super decadent chocolate.  Yum.

We also got the candied maple bacon:

The bacon was great, but I'm just not a fan of French crullers.  It's like eating air.

The carrot cake was interesting:

Love the cream cheese.

The Boston creme pie wasn't my favorite:

EK cut into it before I could take a picture.  Shame on you, EK!  I've trained you better than that!  Anyway, failed friend aside, I wish the creme wasn't almond flavored.  I've never like almond flavoring...too much like eating potpourri.

In the end, my favorites remained the same: the old fashioned and the pistachio-meyer lemon.  They're so phenomenal that I don't think Do-Rite will ever be able to top them.

EK had to go to work after we demolished the donuts, but I was lucky enough to spend the rest of the day with SY.  We shopped downtown, then bought some sandwiches to-go from PQM for a late, late lunch with EK at her work.  SY and I ended the day with some banana pudding at Magnolia Bakery.

Whew.  So much food in one day!  I love it when friends come to visit...if only it weren't so detrimental to my waistline...

Do-Rite Donuts
50 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 488-2483
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