2019 | chicago foodie girl


Chicago Eats: Holiday Tea at The Langham

As you all know by now, I am a huge fan of a good afternoon tea service. It's funny because in my day-to-day life, other than chai, I'm actually not much of a tea drinker, but there's just something about the ritual of tea service that makes me so incredibly happy (perhaps it has something to do with secretly being a Brit at heart). While I'm down for tea service year-round, I especially love it during the holiday season; there's nothing better than a lovely and relaxing afternoon spent with your girlfriends indulging in everything sparkly, twinkly, girly, and delicious.

This year, Ashley, aka my favorite fellow Anglophile, and I decided to make our way over to The Langham for their holiday tea service. While we've both been to Travelle at The Langham numerous times over the years (here's our very first visit back in 2016), neither of us had managed to make it in for their holiday tea, so this was an extra special treat. The service is held in their second-floor lounge, Pavillion, and includes a variety of proprietary Langham teas and an array of sweet and savory bites, all served on gorgeous Wedgewood teaware made exclusively for The Langham. It is definitely a must-experience tea service, as The Langham is credited as the first luxury hotel in Europe to serve afternoon tea beginning in 1865.


Travel Eats: Mike's Donuts & Chicken in Kenosha, WI

As I've mentioned here before, I have a soft spot for Wisconsin. I spent my undergraduate years there and have fond memories of the land of amazing dairy products (yes, I know there's so much more to the state than its delicious cheese, but really, cheese always takes precedence!). Back when I lived up there, Chicago was one of my favorite spots for spontaneous road trips and now that I live in Chicago, the Milwaukee-area has taken that place of honor.

It was during one of those random road trips a few years ago that I first stumbled upon the quirky and fun Mike's Donuts & Chicken in downtown Kenosha. Open since 2014, Mike's quickly established itself as the spot to go to worship at the altar of the almighty combo of donuts, chicken, craft beer, and whiskey. Along with the daily rotating donut offerings, donut and chicken specialties, 80 different craft beers on tap, Mike also boasts a wide variety of Jameson offerings, including Jameson on top, cocktails made with Jamesons, and my personal favorite, the Wall of Jameson. Made up of reserved bottles, each buyer signs the Book of Jameson and designates the list of people who have the authority to drink from that bottle.



Chicago Eats: Katana

Happy Monday and happy fall! Although we're mostly in summer daytime weather mode around here, I'm still super excited to see the return of my favorite season. Not only am I ready to shift into all things fall (apples! pumpkin everything! bonfires! foliage!), this is also the time for me to hit up all of my favorite restaurant patios before we move into snow season. I know most people think of peak patio time as June-August but for me, I'm all about the late summer/early fall evenings when the sun has lost its intensity and the bugs have finally beat a swift retreat.

I kicked off my fall patio tour de force with a visit to the lavish West Coast import, Katana in River North. Open since summer 2017, Katana took over the massive 13,000-square-foot former Bin 36 space and transformed it into a sleek and modern spot complete with a dramatic design and sexy vibe, three specialty kitchens (sushi bar, hot kitchen, and robatayaki grill), and a long list of sake and Japanese whisky offerings. Known for their upscale sushi selection and meats cooked over special charcoal imported from Japan, the third location of Katana also includes a focus on prime steaks, as a nod to its first foray into the Midwest.

Having been to Katana several times over the past year (but this was my first patio dinner date!) I already knew their signature Tropical Infusion cocktail was on my must-order list. Not only is this drink a refreshing mix of vodka, watermelon, and fresh pineapple, it's also beautifully presented (I'm always a sucker for a pretty cocktail!). It's obviously an excellent patio cocktail and it's also perfect for whenever you want something light and fruity, but not overwhelmingly sweet.

Kampachi Crudo in miso vinaigrette topped with cherry tomatoes, lava salt, almond chili garlic oil, and trout roe. Based on previous visits, I also knew this dish was another must for me. Kampachi (also known as amberjack) is buttery and rich yellowtail that pairs naturally well with bold citrus and smokey flavor. Katana's beautifully balanced version initially won me over with only one bite! Along with the creamy citrus flavors, the dish also has a nice smokey component, thanks to the trout roe that is smoked over the hickory coals. Note: the cold dishes do rotate frequently based on availability - I highly recommend trying either the crudo, the hamachi, or the toro.

Hanabi: spicy tuna on crispy rice. This is the final item that I absolutely had to revisit (and introduce it to my friend, as I raved about it so much!). I've had numerous versions of this crispy rice tuna at various restaurants, but none beat Katana's. These addictive chewy little pillows of crispy rice and soft spicy tuna are so melt-in-your-mouth delicious that you absolutely will not want to share.

Ingen Itame: sautéed Chinese green beans in a spicy garlic sauce. At this point, we decided to turn our dinner selections over to the kitchen. If you stop by Katana for dinner, you have the option of letting them create a tailored experienced based on your preferences. After chatting with us about our likes and dislikes, our server put together a three-course meal (hot dishes, sushi, and dessert) that ended up being one of the best omakase experiences either of us have ever had!

Nasu Dengaku: Japanese eggplant, baby bok choy, and miso. Quite honestly, eggplant is never something I would order, as I tend not to like the flavor nor the texture, but this was incredible. The eggplant was firm (eliminating any texture issues) and covered in a slightly sweet miso glaze - my friend described it as eggplant candy.

Wagyu Dumplings: A5 wagyu with miso dressing, crunchy chili garlic, shaved Brussels sprouts, and furikake. A major benefit of letting the kitchen choose your meal is the possibility for some off-menu items like these incredible dumplings. The flavors were so spectacular and the meat so tender - at one point, my friend literally moaned while working her way through a dumpling! While this dish is not a regular menu item, I do highly recommend asking for something special made with their wagyu as part of your experience.

Robata Skewers: Gyu (rib eye), Wagyu Kosho (wagyu & black pepper sauce), Suzuki (Chilean seabass), Ebi Bekon (jumbo shrimp wrapped in bacon with chili garlic sauce), and Tsukune (chicken meatball) served with classic ponzu, ginger sauce, and Karachi mustard. Part of what makes Katana so special is their robata grill - the skewers are all cooked over an open flame using Binchō-tan (Japanese white charcoal). The result is meat that is lightly crisped, extremely tender, and ridiculously flavorful. In fact, they're so flavorful that you'll probably skip right over all of the dipping sauces!

Sushi Course: Spicy Tako Roll, Botan Ebi, Sea Bream, Salmon, and Isaki (grunt fish). For our sushi course, the kitchen sent out a selection of their most popular offerings, along with a few specials, designed to move from lighter to more intense flavors. We especially enjoyed the grunt fish, a very delicate and sweet white fish with a higher fat content (making it perfect for nigiri).

Carnival Cake: crunchy, chocolate brownie topped with layers of raspberry gelée and creamy peanut butter semifreddo topped with toasted meringue, house-made toffee, and pretzels, and encased in cotton candy that is dosed in vodka set alight tableside. Yes, this dessert is over the top layers of sweetness that every Instagrammer loves to order (see it in action here) - it's exactly as crazy as it sounds and that's why everyone wants it. Really, who doesn't love a little fire show with their dessert?!

Given the size of their menu and wide array of sushi, vegetable, and meat options, everyone in your party will find something they love at Katana. You can try all of this deliciousness and more at Katana: 339 N Dearborn St, Chicago, IL.

ETA: This restaurant has closed.


Chicago Eats: Steak 48

Chicago has been known as a meat-and-potatoes kind of town since the days in which the stockyards made it the largest producer of meat. While the culinary scene definitely has evolved since those days, the city still loves (LOVES) its steak. By the last count, Chicago is home to over 50 steakhouses, at least half of which are in the downtown area (and several of which are considered amongst the best steakhouses in the country!). Really, steakhouses are a dime a dozen here, so as you can imagine, it's hard for newcomers to stand out amongst the crowd. However. Steak 48 manages to do just so.

Open since 2017, Steak 48 is part of the new breed of steakhouses in the city - it's glitzy, stylish, and packed with sparkly, glittery bits everywhere you turn. It has a modern feel that breaks away from the old boys' club stuffy steakhouse vibe and appeals to a younger crowd that cares as much about the aesthetic as the food. However, this isn't one of those restaurants that are all show; the food is as equally beautiful and fantastic as the gorgeous space. Started in Phoenix by the brothers behind Mastro's Steakhouse, the family's third location is a gigantic space with a massive menu to match. Usually, such a large menu would raise a red flag, but Steak 48 has all of their dishes down pat (and having sampled a good third of the menu, I can confidently say you really cannot go wrong with any of their offerings!).


Recent Foodie Finds

Happy Tuesday! I hope everyone is having a fantastic summer. Can you believe we're already heading toward the end of July?! It feels like only a few short weeks ago, I was staring down a seemingly never-ending pile of spring portfolios, special assessment projects, and final grades... and now I'm already starting to think about my fall classes (but no, I haven't actually moved beyond the thinking phase, as I'm still firmly settled into vacation mode!).

Speaking of vacation mode, I didn't intentionally take a vacation from the blog, but life got a bit overwhelming during the spring, as it was the final semester of my graduate program (yay!). I am officially done with my second master's degree and am ready to move on to my doctoral program next year (I decided to defer it, as I really need a break from juggling my simultaneous professor and full-time student roles). I have to admit that I am looking forward to not spending every weekend in homework mode (although the grading will still be there... grading never ever ends!).

Now that I've finally recovered from the mental stress of last semester, it's time to get down to the most important business of all: food! If you follow me on Instagram, you know that along with eating my way through the city and 'burbs, I also managed to fit in two major trips over the last few months. Over spring break, Diana and I made our way down to Nashville for a week and fell in love with that city. The food, the culture, the people, the cuteness - we both absolutely loved it! And just a few weeks ago, Mario and I took a cruise to the Caribbean, where I had some of the best seafood of my life (and yes, I also drank my weight in fruity cocktails). I had such a fantastic time on both trips, and I can't wait to share all of my travel foodie finds with you.

In the meantime, here's a bit of what I've been up to over the last few months (follow me on Instagram or Facebook for even more)...

Diana and I made our way out to Barrington to check out Southern Belles Pancake House, where I ended up falling hard for their fantastic sandwich The Gobbler: smoked turkey, cranberry pecan pesto, Granny Smith apples, and arugula on fresh-baked bread. Yes, Southern Belles specializes in pancakes, and yes, they are delicious (the CinnaBomb pancakes are especially good), but this sandwich was the showstopper for me, thanks to the Thanksgiving-esque flavor combination, and the fact that it's texturally interesting, which really makes it fun to eat.

Speaking of awesome suburban spots, if you're into BIG and flavorful smoked meats, Rack House Kitchen & Tavern in Arlington Heights is definitely a spot that should be on your list! The BAM is completely ridiculous and completely awesome (emphasis on the awesome!). This sharable signature Bloody Mary is made with a liter of Two Brothers Brewing Company vodka and topped with smoked wings, andouille sausage, pulled pork, brisket sliders, beer-battered fried shrimp, cheese, Nutella brownies, fresh yeast donuts, smoked ribs, spicy Nashville hot chicken tenders, and fried pockets. It's also served with two pints of beer! 😵

If you have room after making your way through all of the meats and vodka, it's also work checking out Rack House's super tasty Hangover Sandwich with hickory-smoked brisket, fried egg, Merkt's cheddar, chipotle mayo, arugula, tomato, onion, and pickles piled high on a toasted pretzel bun. This mammoth sandwich may look a bit overwhelming, but it's incredibly balanced with the smokey and slightly fruity moist brisket and sharp cheese.

After years with barely any choices for poké in the Midwest, the craze has taken over the city and suburbs; one of the newest ones to join the lineup is Pono Ono Poké in Evanston. Pono Ono differs from most of the other options, as they eliminated the BYO model used in most other restaurants in the area to focus on more authentic Hawaiian ingredients and flavors. While the bowls are slightly more expensive than other options, the quality of the fish and the interesting flavor combinations really make this place stand out from the rest. My current favorite is their signature Spicy Tuna Bowl with avocado, tobiko, cucumber, sweet onion, and chili mayo.

Speaking of standouts, the Motor City Derby pizza with sausage, spinach, chevre, tomato, and chili roasted garlic from Longacre is so ridiculously good, I really don't know how I ever lived without it! Okay, I'm being a wee bit dramatic, but seriously, this is some damn good pizza. While Neapolitan and tavern-style pizzas are my favorites, Detroit-style isn't far behind. If you've never had this type of pizza before, Longacre is definitely a fantastic place to dive in, as it's the most authentic I've had outside of Michigan.
One of the most frequent questions I get on Instagram has to do with which brunch buffets are actually worth the money. I have to admit that I'm not a huge fan of most of the buffet options here, as they're so underwhelming, but Maple & Ash is one of the few that manages to buck the trend.  Their Sunday brunch includes a variety of stations (the hand-carved filet station is always a favorite), along with several dishes that are served tableside (the fire-roasted seafood tower is fantastic!). Bonus: Maple & Ash is also a gorgeous restaurant with prime people-watching.

I've also recently gotten tons of questions about brunch spots on the Riverwalk. While there are so many fab new restaurants down there, I always highly recommend checking out the Blues & Brunch at River Roast (from James Beard winner and Chicago favorite Tony Mantuano). If you're firmly on Team AC, you can snag a seat by the windows and enjoy the view of the river while enjoying the indoor performance. If you're all about that summer al fresco life, you can sit right on the river on their private patio. One of my longtime favorites from their brunch menu is the Fried Chicken Sandwich with Sriracha pickles, spicy remoulade, and butter lettuce on brioche.

If you're like me and always on the lookout for fun twists on mac and cheese, you definitely need to stop by Mad Social for their Havarti Mac and Cheese with sweet corn, wild mushrooms, crispy brussels sprouts, and a butter crumb crust. I really cannot say enough good things about this dish - it's creamy, cheesy, gooey, crunchy, savory, and so satisfying!

I have to admit that I tend to avoid the Michigan Ave. dinner scene (especially during the summer, as there are so many tourists), but I recently made my way down to Michael Jordan's Steakhouse to check out their unique cuts offerings in honor of National Steakhouse Month. While the restaurant does pay homage to MJ through its decor and various menu items (e.g. the 23-layer cake), the food itself does not rest on the laurels of Michael's Jordan's alone. I was impressed by the ambiance, consistent service, and food, especially this perfectly done 45-Day-Dry-Aged Tomahawk. 

The aforementioned 23-Layer Chocolate Cake from Michael Jordan's Steakhouse. This bad boy is chocolate, chocolate, and even more chocolate (and yes, we counted to make sure there were exactly 23 layers!).

Ever since Ashley introduced me to Pizzeria Bebu last fall, I've been thinking about it (and eating it!) an absurd amount. Its super thin crispy crust, fresh ingredients, and inventive flavor combinations made it love at first bite for me! You really can't go wrong with any of their pies (even the simple pepperoni is a standout), but hands down, the Ode to Rubirosa (vodka sauce, nutless pesto, fresh mozzarella) is the absolute best.

How sexy is the Mexican Hot Chocolate topped with a gingerbread churro, Cookie Crisp, gold marshmallows, and gold stardust glitter from La Bodega del Barrio?! While this was a seasonal offering, all of their drinks are gorgeous, indulgent, and delicious AF!

Widely known for having some of the best vegetarian and vegan dishes in the city, the recently reopened Bad Hunter is knocking it out of the park with their new brunch service! The standouts include the Chicken Friend Hen-of-the-Woods Mushrooms and the Ramp Pesto Pinwheel. For carnivores, the 'Nduja Salumi Toast with kimchi slaw and chili oil is a must-order!

If you're in the mood for an incredibly indulgent and super chocolatey and boozy dessert, you must stop by Brickhouse Tavern (next to Wrigley Field at Gallagher Way) for the Old Fashioned Cake Shake. When you want to go all-in with dessert, this cake shake is definitely an utterly delicious way to do it! 

Finally, Sweet Mandy B's really needs no introduction, as it has been one of the most popular bakeries in Chicago since 2002. However, if you've never been there before, put it on your ist immediately - everything there is super cutesy, nostalgic, and oh-so-sweet! My all-time favorite treats from SMB's are their super buttery Iced Sugar Cookies loaded with frosting and sprinkles.

ETA: Longacre, Rack House, La Bodega del Barrio, and Bad Hunter have closed.



Travel Eats: Morelia en Boca

After my very first visit to Mexico back in 2017, I caught the travel bug for that beautiful country. As you may remember, the experience I had in Riviera Maya was absolutely amazing; however, it was limited in the sense that it was just a tiny taste of Mexican culture, as seen through a luxurious all-inclusive resort... but it was definitely enough to pique my interest. That first taste of Mexico set me down the path to a return trip in 2018 in which I ended up discovering my love for the gorgeous city of Morelia, a place that quickly earned a spot on my list of favorite cities in the world!

Located in the central part of the state of Michoacán in central Mexico, the capital city of Morelia is one of the oldest and most culturally rich areas in the country (as well as a designated UNESCO World Heritage site). Founded in 1541, the city was originally a result of Spanish invasion/colonialism, but it eventually grew into one of the most important centers of knowledge as the birthplace of the Mexican independence movement. These days, Morelia is renowned as a city of significant history, art, distinctive architecture... and just as importantly, amazing food! Thanks to the intermixing of northern and southern cuisines, the city is home to some of the most diverse food in all of Mexico. One of the best places to get a taste of everything from Michoacán’s traditional cuisine to the inventive flavors and techniques being used in modern Mexican cooking is the annual Morelia en Boca festival.


Travel Guide: The Edgewater in Madison, WI

I spent most of my free time during my senior year of college (oh so many years ago) exploring everything that Madison, WI had to offer. I went to a small school about an hour outside of the city and while I got a fantastic education and really loved so many things about the environment, it wasn't exactly the epicenter of culture. Comparatively, Madison had a funky vibe and the diversity I craved - I loved it so much that I thought I might even move there post-college. While I ultimately ended up in Chicago, as it was a better fit personally and professionally, Madison is still one of those places that hold a special place in my heart.

All these years later, I still try to visit Madison at least once a year: fall trips involve hours spent outdoors leisurely perusing every stand at the most amazing farmers market, summer and spring visits focus on exploring all of the newest restaurants and shops, and winter weekend visits are spent decompressing at boutique hotels complete with plenty of roaring fireplaces, stunning lake views, and decadent comfort food options. Recently, at the end of a particularly stressful stretch at work for both of us, Mario and I packed our warmest sweaters and headed up to Madison for one of those long winter weekends that involve no plans other than relaxing; as we discovered during this trip, hands down, The Edgewater is absolutely the best place in the city to do just so. After spending years hotel-hopping, I am 100% a convert to this fantastic spot and honestly cannot see myself choosing to stay anywhere else again!


Chicago Eats: Monnie Burke's

I can't even begin to tell you how many times over the years people have asked me what I do with all of my free time during my semester break. Well, throwing out the actual work part (that's the dirty secret of being in academia - you're never truly off, as the next semester is always lurking) and the holiday hoopla, I really spend most of my winter break meeting up with all of my friends and eating all the delicious foods. It's the time of year in which I crave cozy afternoons with friends filled with comfort foods, laughter, and really good booze. While my summer breaks are mostly filled with major writing/teaching projects and travel plans, winter breaks are all about unwinding and enjoying myself. As I discovered a few weeks ago, the beautiful Monnie Burke's in Pilsen is the perfect place to do just so.

Open since last spring, co-owners Margi Abu-Taleb and Anan Abu-Taleb (of the fantastic Maya Del Sol in Oak Park) named the restaurant after Margi's late aunt, a social worker and activist involved in Cesar Chavez’s 1960s farm worker movement. The couple had her fun-loving and adventurous spirit in mind when they designed this modern and unpretentious spot focused on new American/seasonal cuisine. Jess and I stopped by for a late brunch on a cold Saturday afternoon and immediately fell in love with the space - the warm woods and twinkly lights made it super inviting and just a glimpse of their massive patio (replete with cute umbrella-topped tables and a gas-powered fire pit) got us super excited for the warmer months!


Chicago Eats: Taureaux Tavern

While I haven't mentioned it much over here (I definitely need to rectify that soon!), Cochon Volant Brasserie has been one of my favorite restaurants in the Loop practically since the day it opened in 2015. Between the charming space reminiscent of a Parisienne cafe and the perfectly executed dishes, it's such a great spot for everything from a leisurely breakfast with friends to an afternoon coffee break to a mouthwatering pre-theatre dinner. So, it should come as no surprise that as soon as I heard the owners of Cochon Volant were opening another French restaurant, Taureaux Tavern, I immediately added it to my must-try list.

Tucked into the Financial District, the massive two-story restaurant offers diners an elevated but still inviting environment with multiple areas of service, including a year-round covered patio (a rarity in that area!), and a gorgeous decor with cute nods to the district. With Chef Mike Sherrin (formerly of Blackbird) at the helm, Taureaux Tavern offers a variety of French-inspired fare, ranging from classic dishes such as escargot and steak frites to lighter options such as smoked whitefish salad.



Suburban Eats: Brunch at Bonefish Grill

As I've mentioned several times over the last few years, I have a serious love for Bonefish Grill. Considering I live in a city in which the food options are plentiful (and we have some of the best chefs in the country!) there aren't many chain restaurants that I can say I actually crave/keep me coming back for more, but Bonefish is the exception. Ever since Ashley introduced me to the awesomeness of Bang Bang Shrimp, I've been hooked!

Recently, Bonefish introduced a new weekend brunch menu focusing on classic brunch dishes with a twist paired with endless bubbles options. Due to his ever-changing work schedule, it's rare that Mario (another Bonefish super fan!) can join me for weekend brunch, but as soon as I mentioned the new menu to him, he managed to make some scheduling magic happen... it's amazing what a little Bang Bang Shrimp motivation can do, right?! 😉


Chicago Eats: D&D's Place

While once upon a time I was a fan of all donuts (every donut was a good donut, even the ones that were kind of bad), I've turned into a bit of a donut snob. No longer am I satisfied with just anything that's raised and glazed. I need my donuts not only to have a good structure and flavor, but also a filling/glaze that complements the flavor of the donut, isn't overly sweet, doesn't have a fake/chemical taste, and doesn't leave a film in my mouth from too many oils. Based on those criteria alone, there are a lot of mediocre to truly terrible donuts out there in the Chicago-area alone; the ones that are truly awesome have developed a cult-like following, including those at D&D's Place in the Ashburn neighborhood.

When a coworker of Mario's contacted me a few weeks ago to recommend his favorite donut shop/best in Chicago, I was immediately intrigued. As a fellow donut aficionado (and self-proclaimed snob), he mentioned that having traveled extensively and sampled donuts at just about every stop, he firmly believes the donuts at D&D's to be amongst the best in the nation. In fact, he believes in them so much that he does marketing and PR for the shop on a volunteer basis. But he's not the only one with a massive love for D&D's, as the shop took home the coveted 2018 People’s Choice trophy in just its first year at Donut Fest Chicago, beating out numerous other long-established and super popular donut shops. As someone who's always in search of fantastic donuts, how could I possibly resist a visit to this small, family-run South Side spot?!
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