May 2015 | chicago foodie girl


Chicago Eats: RA Sushi

Fact: I am a sushi fiend. I double, triple, and quadruple heart sushi. Seriously, I could eat sushi every day of the week... in fact, there was one lazy week last summer in which I ordered from my favorite neighborhood sushi spot four days in a row (and only broke my streak because I had lunch plans on the fifth day!). While I tend to favor sashimi or simply prepared nigri, I am always up for any type of sushi, be it from the more traditional end or fusion rolls with a heavy Midwestern influence. So of course, when RA Sushi invited me to sample items from their new menu, I immediately grabbed Mario (who loves sushi as much as I do) and booked it down to the Gold Coast for an evening of bites mixing traditional with newer flavors.

The Arizona-based mini-chain offers diners Japanese-inspired dishes and creative cocktails in an upbeat atmosphere filled with energetic music and bright colors. We arrived at the tail end of their Thursday evening happy hour and found the restaurant packed with a young after-work crowd (and yes, they were all very happy by that point).



Chicago Eats: The Brass Monkey

A mix of classic 1970's music ranging from ABBA to Dolly Parton to Marvin Gaye? Check. A dining room complete with bold colors, brass accents, velvet booths, and a mirrored ceiling? Check. Check. A Julia Child-inspired menu that includes groovy favorites such as bologna sliders, TV dinners, and Baked Alaska? Check, check, and check. That, my friends, is The Brass Monkey experience.

A few weeks ago, Diana, Ashley, and I made our way over to the West Loop for the Brass Monkey media dinner. Quite honestly, we initially had no idea what we were getting ourselves into; based on the concept, we all pictured a night filled with flashing disco balls, Jell-O molds, and Farrah Fawcett posters. Rather than the kitschy/cheesy representation of the decade that usually dominates themed restaurants and bars, we found a surprisingly elegant, but still funky and fun version of the 1970s behind its brass door (yes, it seems like a bit of oxymoron to equate elegance with the '70s, but trust me on this one).

The '70s-inspired restaurant offers a unique dining experience with two distinct menus: diners can choose from the Brasserie menu, featuring French-inspired fare or the Hits of the '70s menu, featuring a contemporary take on '70s classics. During our dinner, we had the chance to sample dishes from both menus - while there were some definite standouts from the Brasserie menu (the Skuna Bay Salmon and Spanish Calamari Salad in particular), let's be honest, we were most excited about the classics from the '70s side. I mean how can you take a trip back to the '70s and not partake in the retro dishes?!



Chicago Eats: Luella's Southern Kitchen

A few weeks ago, Ashley and I made our way over to Lincoln Square to check out Chicago's newest hotspot for Southern cuisine, Luella's Southern Kitchen. Seeing as Lincoln Square is one my of favorite neighborhoods in Chicago (I've had my eye on it as a potential spot to move to for years now!), I was excited to not only sample some Southern comfort favorites, but also to introduce Ashley (aka a Lincoln Square virgin) to the quirky/charming neighborhood. Unfortunately, the Arctic winds decided to swoop their way into the city, cutting our walking tour a bit short (as we were both woefully underdressed), but the chilly winds created the perfect backdrop to the warm and welcoming Luella's.

Located just off of the main square, owner/Chef Darnell Reed's casual, counter-service restaurant is a labor of love that was years in the making. The native South Sider learned to cook at the elbow of his Mississippi-born/Midwestern transplant great-grandmother Luella; after spending eighteen years in the Chicago hospitality scene (most notably as the executive chef at the Conrad Hotel), Chef Reed finally achieved his dream of opening his own restaurant. Of course, he dedicated it to the woman who taught him to love food. Armed with his great-grandmother's recipes, Chef Reed also draws his inspiration from his numerous international travels, as well as his explorations of the South; his contemporary twist on Southern cuisine showcases a combination of professional technique meets homey family dinner.



Chicago Eats: Southport and Irving (SIP)

Nestled into the quiet northern end of the bustling Southport Corridor in Lakeview, Southport and Irving (SIP) offers globally inspired, seasonally driven dishes in a fun environment that pays homage to the Jazz Age. Located in the space formerly occupied by neighborhood favorite Deleece, SIP has a decidedly speakeasy-esque vibe that is evident in everything from the decor (tufted leather benches, heavy brocade curtains) to the handcrafted Prohibition-era classic cocktails.

Diana and I were recently invited to stop by the cozy restaurant to sample their spring menu, along with a few (or five) of their throwback cocktails. As soon as we walked in, we realized that we were there on a perfect evening - every Thursday is Dame Thursday, featuring live jazz by Elaine Dame, as well as original cocktails offerings created specifically for the evening of swinging urban jazz. Of course, as much as I love a good cocktail and a cool setting, a good restaurant is more than just its liquor and atmosphere, right? I'm happy to say that as much as I loved (loved, loved!) those delightful cocktails, they weren't even the best part of our visit - the food really took the starring role.



Filigree Suppers: Victoria & America

Founded by Elise Metzger and Brita Olsen, Filigree Suppers celebrates a love for all things food, design, and entertaining. The duo already had successful design careers of their own when they decided to come together to create the monthly pop-dinner series that creatively pairs the work of local artisans with food in an intimate dinner-party setting. Rather than relying on generic table settings and other overdone design elements, Elise and Brita work closely with designers, craftsmen, and artists to create a unique theme for each dinner; once they determine the theme, they team up with local chefs who are then tasked with executing their vision through food. Assembling a special team of artists and chefs for each individual event ensures that their concept remains fresh and innovative.

Mario and I were invited to join the most recent event in the traveling pop-up series held at West Town favorite The Winchester; as we're both nerdy history lovers, we were excited to learn that the evening's theme was Victoria & America. The evening focused on 19th-century design concepts featuring local ceramicist Leah Ball and floral designer Elizabeth Cronin of Asrai Garden, paired with a menu inspired by the time. While I was already quite familiar with the Victorian period (as any good English professor should be!), I was excited to dig deeper into the specifics of the dining traditions of the time, as many of our modern food trends actually became popular during the era. 



Chicago Eats: Presidio

As I mentioned a few posts ago, Mario and I recently went through a bit of a dinner date dry spell. During the early part of the year, we became complacent with our carry-out/DVR nights and weekend brunches; it was cold and gross, and we wanted nothing more than to spend most of our free time camped out on our couch. However, our attitude completely changed after spring eventually decided to make its entrance and we finally broke our dry spell with a fantastic dinner date a few weeks ago. After our night out, we were jonesing to get out of the house and back into the swing of our regular restaurant adventures, but we weren't entirely sure where to go next...

Enter Presidio.

Yes, that introduction most definitely deserves its own paragraph complete with dramatic pauses, as Presidio is one of those very special places that leaves you thinking about your experience (and wishing you could experience it for the first time all over again) for weeks after. Based on a single experience, we've both already proclaimed it to be one of our new favorite restaurants in Chicago, thanks to the combination of the delightful atmosphere, innovative and drool-worthy food/drinks, and amazing service. It really is that good.

Open since early March, Presidio is housed in the Bucktown space formerly occupied by Bluebird. The departure of the wine bar last year left the neighborhood with one less option for those looking for something more than a fast-casual restaurant or for those seeking a more grown-up specialty cocktail lounge. Thankfully, attorney-turned-restaurateur and former bartender at Dragon Ranch, Patrick Cullen (alongside chef Shaun Connolly, previously at Chicago Cut & Nightwood) stepped in to fill the hole in the neighborhood market.

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