9.03.2015

The Great American Lobster Fest

Navy Pier: home to the giant Ferris wheel, oodles of delicious popcorn and ice cream options, the gorgeous stained glass museum and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, approximately a bazillion tourists... and The Great American Lobster Fest. Yes, you read that correctly: a lobster fest in the middle of one of the most unlikely locations, aka the lobster-less Midwest. Okay, so we're not exactly lobster city (we have that tiny lack of ocean problem), but we are known for our fantastic food festivals... and thanks to the wonders of NESC and overnight shipping from the East coast, we're able to join in on the excitement with our very own festival dedicated to the oh-so-delicious crustacean.


The two-day festival returned to Navy Pier for its second go around the same weekend as the Air and Water Show. As the majority of the fest took place outside, it was the perfect location for those looking to escape the beach crowds, but still have a great view of the show. Admission to the main outside festival area was free of charge, and included ample opportunities to stuff yourself silly with numerous seafood options (lobster tacos! lobster mac & cheese!), work off the calories playing carnival games, and chase away the pain of loosing at said games whilst chilling in the beer garden. As much excitement as was happening outside, Diana and I were most interested in what was taking place inside the iconic Navy Pier Grand Ballroom: live music, libations, and lobster dinners!




While admission to the event was free, a paid ticket was what got you the motherload: a full steamed lobster, served with corn-on-the-cob, potatoes, a dinner roll, and warm butter dipping sauce. *drool*

We snagged our lobsters, donned our bibs, and headed outside to the pier to indulge in a little people-watching and crustacean chomping. While we did have to wait in an absurdly long line for our dinners (with the smells of lobster and corn swirling around us - so cruel!), the end result was worth it. The meat was tender and succulent, and the warm butter was the perfect accompaniment to everything on our trays.


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Heeeelllllo, ladies!
 
As much as we wanted to sample some of the other lobster-stuffed offerings, we were just too stuffed from our dinners to eat another bite (boo!). So instead, we decided to digest by walking the length of the pier like proper tourists (if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!) to take in the beautiful city-skyline-meets-lake views.

  A lovely ending to a delicious day!

Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.    
 

8.26.2015

Koi Fine Asian Cuisine

Way back in the day, I made my first pilgrimage up to the quaint, yet still bustling northern suburb of Evanston in the middle of one of those horrible January record-breaking freezing spells. I had been on my first date with Mario only a few days before and seeing as he was so charming, I agreed to brave the cold and head up to his neck of the woods to meet up with him again (yes, I was already totally smitten). Having only been in Illinois for a little over five months, I barely knew the city, much less the suburbs, but in the months to follow I would soon come to think of Evanston as my second home. Sixteen years later, I still have a special place in my heart for the suburb, namely because it held such a prominent role in the beginning stages of our relationship; however, in more recent years, it has also morphed into one of my foodie destination spots. Surprisingly, as many fantastic restaurants as there are in Chicago, a few of my all-time favorites can actually be found just across the city line. So of course, when Koi invited Ashley and me up to Evanston to sample their newest sushi offerings, I knew it was meant to be! 


As has been well-documented on this blog, I am a straight up sushi fiend, so it should come as no surprise that I actually paid my first visit to Koi shortly after they opened back in 2004. However, due to a combination of factors (Mario moved back to the city with me, which decreased my time spent in Evanston, and I discovered that our new neighborhood was just teeming with so many awesome sushi options), I hadn't managed to make my way back up to the restaurant in over ten years. Nevertheless, as soon as Ashely and I walked into Koi, I knew I was in for a whole new experience, as the decor and menu were quite different from when they first opened their doors. Situated in the heart of Evanston's downtown area, Koi offers a modern, cozy atmosphere with beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows that spill out onto the busy Davis Street - a seat next to the windows is perfect for people like me who love a good people-watching session with their meal!



We kicked off our meal with edamame and drinks - while the cocktail menu looked delightful, we chose to have sober lunch (for once!). I chose the absolutely addictive and lovely Raspberry Summer Soda, which was almost as fun to photograph as it was to drink.

Ashely went with the more traditional Jasmine Tea, which was served in the cutest little pot offering a perfect view of the tea blossom.


As we perused the vast amount of sushi offerings (the menu is huge!), we happily slurped on some Miso and Hot & Sour Soups.


We paired our soups with the Octopus Salad with Soy Vinaigrette Dressing. This is one of those salads that I could eat every single day! The pungent vinaigrette perfectly complemented the tender, thinly shaved octopus - it was really one of the best octopus salads I've ever had.

As we were completely indecisive when it came to the rolls (we easily could have ordered just about the entire menu!), we took the manager's advice and started out with the Dragon Fire Maki: shrimp tempura topped with salmon, super white tuna, tobiko, green onion, spicy mayo, and unagi sauce, then baked and served warm. I'm sure all the sushi purists out there would turn up their noses at this roll, but I fell hard for this delicious dish! This rich and totally messy roll was the epitome of everything that is good about Americanized sushi. Trust me when I say that you need to sop up as much of the unagi sauce as possible - there's so much deliciousness!




As much as we enjoyed the first roll, we both gasped in delight when our server brought out this beautiful Lobster Maki with tempura fried lobster, cucumber, avocado, and lettuce topped with unagi sauce, spicy mayo, and FOUR different kinds of tobiko. Not only was this roll seriously photogenic (so much tobiko!), but also it made our lobster-loving hearts extremely happy. We both swooned over the lobster/avocado combination and appreciated that the roll wasn't too heavy, thanks to the lettuce filling.



We rounded out our order with a few of my favorite sashimi picks: Hotategai (scallops), Namasake (salmon), and Tamago (sweet egg omelet). While each piece was perfectly presented, I was particularly impressed by the sweet, silky scallops. If you've never ventured onto the sashimi side of the menu, these impeccable scallops are a great place to start (they're also an ideal pick for seasoned sashimi lovers!).


Finally, we ended our meal with two of Koi's most popular desserts, the first being the Green Tea and Mango Mochi, served on a platter of chocolate, vanilla, and raspberry sauces. Neither of us can ever pass on mochi and we were both super happy we saved room for this squishy, creamy dessert.


After devouring the mochi, we moved on to the Tempura Battered Bananas served with ice cream and chocolate sauce. Fried bananas + ice cream + chocolate sauce = total dessert win!


You can try all of this deliciousness and more at Koi: 624 Davis St, Evanston, IL.

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Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.  

8.24.2015

Bastille Day at Pierrot Gourmet

During my summer of foodie fun, I visited a multitude of restaurants serving up all types of cuisines. I noshed my way through the fast casual sandwich and sushi market, devoured gourmet ice cream cone after cone, sipped on some of the most divine cocktails in locations with spectacular views of the city, and happily slurped my way through the best oyster offerings in the Midwest. Needless to say, I had a wonderful summer filled with fabulous experiences - I consumed countless amazing meals with friends and even added a few new restaurants to my favorites list. Now, I'm not trying to gloat or rub it in, but rather, I want to emphasize exactly how much good food I encountered, so you know that when I say today that my meal at Pierrot Gourmet was one of the best I had all summer, it must have been something *very* special.

Last month, I made my way down to the swanky Peninsula Hotel and met up with Ashley to preview Pierrot Gourmet's Bastille Day menu, along with some bites from their regular menu. Seeing as it was one of the hottest days of the summer, I have to admit that I was super grumpy and really wasn't prepared to love Pierrot Gourmet as much as I did... and let me just say that I didn't just love it, I LOVED it. Yes, in fact, I had such a wonderful experience, thanks to the combination of delicious dish after after dish and the lovely staff and service, that I'm actually reduced to typing in all caps to proclaim my love. That alone should tell you that I really mean business. ;-)

 The lovely European-style café is filled with farmhouse-inspired decor, including the cutest little details tucked away on ledges in every corner. Despite being in a tourist-heavy location, it still manages to feel like a charming, cozy bistro in the middle of Paris.





Ashley and I kicked off our tour through the Bastille Day menu with two dishes that were not only my favorites of the afternoon, but hands down, my favorites of the entire year thus far! These Gruyère Gougères were absolutely divine (and I am not someone to use that word lightly!). While they were just a simple pate aux choux stuffed with oozy gruyère, these delicate puffs were so incredible that both of us moaned our way with delight through the entire plate... and yes, we cleaned off every single crumb!


Not to be outdone by the spectacular puffs, this Salmon Rillette served with baguette slices was so incredibly tasty that Ashley proclaimed it to be even better than the salmon spreads she sampled in Alaska last year! The warm, rich spread was perfectly complemented by notes of garlic and thyme (two of my favorite seasonings). We loved it so much that after noshing our way through all of the bread, we continued shoveling it in by the spoonful.




Of course, we had to pair our amazing food with some equally fantastic cocktails. Ashley chose the Sunshine Martini (apropos for the crazy hot day!) with citron vodka, Grand Marnier, orange, basil syrup, and sunshine bitters while I went with the Parasol, made with sparkling limoncello, Lillet Blanc, vodka, rosemary syrup, and lemonade.


After thoroughly devouring our delectable salmon spread, we moved on to two more highlights of the meal (are you sensing a theme here?), the first being the Bouchot Mussels. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I have a thing for mussels - if I see them on the menu, I have to order them. Finished with pernod, fennel, and fine herbs, these mussels were so incredible that I surreptitiously kept inching the bowl away from Ashley and closer to my side of the table so that I could sop up as much of the crazy addictive juices as possible with the crusty country bread. If I hadn't been in public, I easily could have tipped the bowl into my mouth in order to get every last drop. It really was THAT good!


We ended our tasting of the special Bastille Day entrées with the Seared Octopus with fennel pollen, smoked paprika, and the sweet, slightly smoky sunshine sauce. Let me just say that you should be happy Pierrot Gourmet decided to add this dish to their regular rotation; otherwise, you would have to wait an entire year to taste it. The octopus was perfectly seared (there's nothing worse than rubbery octopus!) and the bright, citrusy sauce enhanced the tender meat. I could easily think of a long list of ways to use that sunshine sauce - not only was it delicious, but it was a surprising flavor that I've never seen paired with octopus.



Before moving on to dessert, we sampled a few dishes from their regular menu, starting with this fresh Quinoa Asparagus Salad with citrus, kale, and roasted nuts, drizzled in a lemon vinaigrette. While I'm mostly over quinoa (I had too much of it in a short period of time), this tangy salad actually won me over.

We also tried their most popular brunch dish, the Popover With Chicken & Sweet Potato Hash with tomato, asparagus, mushrooms, poached eggs, and mustard mousseline. As soon as I tasted this light, fluffy popover, I understood exactly why it's so popular. While I greatly enjoyed the innards of the dish, the crusty, airy bread and creamy mousseline were what really made it a standout.

Finally, we moved on to the dessert menu where we first sampled their three special Bastille Day desserts. We started with the Chocolate Royal: chocolate mousse, vanilla crème, hazelnut sponge, hazelnut crisp, and coffee ice cream. As with every other good French chocolate dessert, this dish was decadent, rich, and obscenely delicious.

The Floating Island with poached meringue, vanilla anglaise, caramel sauce, caramelized hazelnuts was Ashley's favorite, thanks to the melt-in-your-mouth meringue and smooth vanilla anglaise.


As much as I enjoyed the first two desserts, the lovely and delicate Mille Crêpe Cake with macerated strawberries, Grand Marnier, and vanilla bean chantilly was the one that won my heart.

For our last round of desserts, we tackled a trio of Pierrot Gourmet's legendary ice cream sundaes: the Poirebelle Hélène with poached pears, vanilla bean, and chocolate ice cream, drenched in hot chocolate sauce; the Café Liégeois with coffee ice cream and whipped cream served table side with a shot of espresso poured over; and the Strawberry Romanoff with fresh strawberries macerated in Grand Marnier and vanilla bean ice cream, topped with fresh whipped cream.

My favorite of the three was the strawberry stuffed Strawberry Romanoff. If you're a strawberry lover, you should immediately run over to Pierrot Gourmet to snag one of these delectable concoctions, as they're only available through September!

As stuffed as we were, we just had to stop by the display case on the way out to ogle the beautiful desserts and stock up on some of the best macarons in Chicago!

You can try all of this deliciousness and more at Pierrot Gourmet at The Peninsula (and if you haven't already, you absolutely should!): 108 E. Superior St.

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Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.