June 2015 | chicago foodie girl


Icing Class at Magnolia Bakery

Last week, Diana and I were invited to join a group of bloggers for a cake icing class at the fabulous Magnolia Bakery. As you may recall, we used to have a monthly cooking class date, but after our schedules started getting a bit too complicated to keep up, we had to take a step back. While we no longer have our regular commitment, our love of trying new foodie classes hasn't faded... especially when the class involves heaps of delicious buttercream icing at one of our favorite bakeries in the city!

While I consider myself to be a professional consumer of confections, I'm far from a pro when it comes to the decorating end. I'm one of those people who love to bake, but kind of dreads the decorating side - not because I don't want my sugary delights to look good, but more because I'm totally OCD about it and drive myself crazy trying to achieve perfection (see: the cake ball craziness). Honestly, I'd rather just dump a load of sprinkles on my baked goods and be done with it. However, I know that part of my craziness comes from the fact that I really don't know what I'm doing when it comes to decorating; I know how to make something taste good, but not always how to make it look good. This is why classes like those at Magnolia are perfect for me - I love having someone show me exactly what to do in a low-pressure situation (i.e. if you mess it up, you have someone there to show you the best way to fix it!).

Magnolia offers a variety of icing classes; our two-hour class was focused specifically on how to create their signature rosette cakes. The class included step-by-step instructions on everything involved in cake decorating from the best way to fill the pastry bags to choosing the correct tips and assembling cake layers.



Chicago Eats: Miku Sushi

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Mario and I are sushi fiends. From paper-thin cuts of sashimi (yes, I know that's not really sushi per se, but humor me here) to fusion rolls stuffed with cream cheese, we are always up for sampling from every end of the spectrum. During the last fifteen years, we have eaten our way through numerous sushi spots in the city and suburbs; we definitely have our favorites, but we're always up for giving new restaurants a try. So of course, we were excited to discover that the space that once housed Lincoln Square's renowned (and personal neighborhood favorite) Tank Sushi is now home to the newly renovated Miku Sushi.

Miku Sushi is the brainchild of husband and wife pair Stanley Liem and Sara Katekaew, who actually met while working at Tank Sushi in 2008. Katekaew spent a decade as Tank's general manager and Liem was a onetime waiter who left Tank in 2011, pursuing his dream of opening his own restaurant. Eventually, the duo married and opened a second spot, a popular Thai restaurant in Chinatown. Shortly after Tank finally closed its doors (and briefly housed the quickly shuttered Laughing Bird), the owners offered the pair the opportunity to purchase the space and implement their own vision of upscale sushi in the very same spot where they first connected seven years ago.



Chicago Eats: Pump Room Spring Bites

Pump Room is one of those iconic Chicago restaurants that was once known as much for its legendary celebrity connections as for the food they served. Located in the same neighborhood as the original Playboy Mansion, the first iteration of the restaurant served as the former stomping grounds for likes of Natalie Wood, Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra (he had his own booth!), and yes, even the Hefners. Back in the day, it was the place to be.

While the 2015 version of the restaurant (Pump Room 2.0?) is decidedly less star-studded, it is still the place to be. Nestled in the chic Public Chicago (formerly the Ambassador East), the modern space would probably be unrecognizable to those who roamed its halls during the Golden Age. The bones of the original hotel remain (evident in the gorgeous molding and elaborate chandeliers), but its 2011 facelift transformed it from the cozy relic your grandparents loved to the uber cool restaurant du jour. Along with the physical transformation, the restaurant also received a menu makeover; while a few of Pump Room's original menu items remain, much of the menu was recreated by Jean-Gorges' Vongerichten of the highly successful ABC Kitchen.

Having never stepped foot in Pump Room (of yesteryear or today), of course, I was pumped (ha!) to check out both the new space and the new menu as soon as WCBC announced its latest Seasonal Bites & Cocktails event would take place at the famed restaurant. 

Before heading up to the gorgeous private outdoor space, I just had to stop by the dining room for a quick tour. The room is dominated by the sleek network of lights dubbed "The Constellation." I think it's fairly well established that I have a thing for fun lighting fixtures and can't stop photographing them, so it's probably a good thing that our event took place outside.



Recent Foodie Finds

Happy Monday! I hope everyone is having a fantastic spring/almost summer! I have officially been on summer break for a month now and needless to say, I've enjoyed every moment of it (well, minus that day I had a mild case of food poisoning). After a semester of saying no to event after event (mostly due to my early hours and long commute), I've spent the last month saying yes to practically every opportunity that came my way. Thus far, I've visited sixteen new restaurants (hence my string of restaurant review posts), took two fab mini trips to Wisconsin and Indiana with my favorite foodie partner (more on this soon!), fell hard for a new steampunk-themed arcade (FTW is seriously awesome!), went on a mini sushi tour of the city with Mario, and discovered my new favorite ice cream flavor (*swoon*). Whew! Summer break sure is exhausting! ;-)

As per usual, I've spent the first part of my break pretending as though I don't actually have any work responsibilities (it's all middle of the week brunches, DVR catch-up sessions, day drinking, and pleasure reading); however, it's officially time to stop pretending that I don't have to do anything over the summer, as I am about to start the first of two grad classes I need to complete before the start of the fall semester (boo!). I have to say that while I do love my job, I have enjoyed my faux life of leisure this summer even more than either of the last two, mainly due to the number of yeses I've thrown out to the universe. 

Here are a few of my recent foodie highlights (follow me on Instagram for even more!)...

Dizzy Pua'a from Three Dots and a Dash James Beard Awards Tiki Time Luau: Appleton VX, scotch, Aperol, passion fruit, lemon & tiki bitters. Wooooooo... this is one intense little drink! If you haven't yet been to Three Dots, what are you waiting for?! It's such a fun little place and the drinks are crazy good. Pro tip: go early (it tends to fill up quickly) and definitely try the Dead Reckoning!



NRA Show 2015 Food & Drink Highlights

Last month, over 2,000 vendors and 63,000 attendees from all 50 states and 100+ countries descended upon McCormick Place for the largest gathering of restaurant, foodservice, and lodging professionals in the world. Intended as a meeting space for industry experts and foodies of all levels, the National Restaurant Association's annual event allows vendors to showcase their products, as well as attendees to learn all about the latest hot-button issues and trends in the food and beverage industry. This year's four-day whirlwind was filled with Michelin-starred chef demonstrations, Food Network personalities, foodie tech startups, piles of gorgeous table settings, enough alcohol to keep the city in stock for the next year, an awesome Donut Robot, and of course, food, food, and more food!

For years, I had heard all about the show from various friends in the industry, but this was the first time I'd actually been able to jump into the action myself. I didn't want to tackle the massive show alone (it's always more fun when you have a favorite foodie partner!), so I grabbed Diana and headed down to the premier food event of the year with little idea of what we were really getting ourselves into. Yes, we tried to make a tentative plan, but realistically, we had no clue what we were doing - the second we walked into McCormick Place, all of our ideas flew out of our heads as we were bombarded with shiny lights, delicious food smells, and numerous passionate, friendly vendors.

While our first experience at the event was definitely overwhelming and exhausting, it was also exhilarating. Diana and I have been to some huge festivals and trade shows in the past, but never one that catered exclusively to those in the food industry; not only did this show eclipse all others in size but also it was such a cool experience to be amongst those in all areas of foodiedom. Typically, we're amongst the crowd that loves to eat. While that crowd was definitely well-represented, we also were amongst those on the manufacturing and production ends, as well as the service end - it really offered us a new perspective on the industry!

Here are some of our favorite eats/drinks from our day of fabulous foodie fun...



Chicago Eats: Freds at Barneys Sunset Menu

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a preview dinner for the newly launched Sunset Menu at Freds at Barneys. If you recall, I had my first visit to Freds earlier this year with my lovely blogger babes Ashely and Gigi; since then, that cozy restaurant with the perfect views of the always bustling intersection of Oak and Rush has become one of my favorite brunch spots. While you typically wouldn't find a see-and-be-seen spot on my favorites list (Freds is in one of the swankiest areas in the city after all), the restaurant is one of those special places that manages to strike a perfect balance between elegance and comfort (with delicious food, of course!). It's the ideal spot for a lighthearted girls brunch, a sexy date night, a business lunch... or really, anything in between, thanks to the new Sunset Menu.

The Sunset Menu consists of late afternoon snacks that pair perfectly with cocktails (yes, I've worked my way through much of the cocktail menu at Freds and yes, it's glorious!). The new offerings are meant to cater to those in the after-work crowd or those looking for a break after a long day of power shopping. It's also fitting for those who might want to share a light early dinner on the patio. Executive Chef Mark Strausman designed the menu to highlight dishes that incorporate fresh, local ingredients with an emphasis on healthier fare with a decadent twist.

How gorgeous was this table setting?! The restaurant was filled with soft lighting and fragrant peonies as far as the eye could see - it was the perfect respite from the cold, rainy afternoon!



Chicago Eats: Summer House Santa Monica

Since opening in 2013 Summer House Santa Monica has consistently been considered the darling of Lincoln Park. Diners flock to the bright and airy restaurant for its California-inspired cuisine, relaxed beach-side feel, and magnificent Vitamin D room... oh, and let's not forget about the gigantic cookies (seriously, they're the size of a child's head!). I discovered the awesomeness of the restaurant shortly after their opening during what was one of the worst winters on record. While I usually enjoy winter, the ridiculously brutal temperatures had me desperate for some semblance of warmth and happiness; thankfully, Summer House was there to provide a brief respite. After the snow finally melted and life came back into the city, the restaurant's popularity only increased - the combination of the relaxed, but still luxe environment, and delicious food quickly placed the space on every Chicagoan's must-visit list.

Seeing as I already had some hardcore love for Summer House, of course I jumped at the chance to stop by with Ashely (whose love for SM eclipses mine!) to sample their new lunch menu. The seasonal chef-driven menu highlights simple dishes made with local ingredients, many of which are prepared on the five-foot wood-fire grill (meant to emulate a home hearth). Keeping with the restaurant's goal of minimalism, Chef Jeff Mahin takes advantage of what's seasonally available to create his fresh, California-inspired flavors, including one of the newest menu items, the English Muffin Burger with avocado and pico de gallo.

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