The past two weeks I have been on travel for training and have been getting as much as I could in every aspect: knowledge, networking, and most of all – FOOD.
Last week, I was back in the great city of Chicago and this time, I was actually in the city versus my first trip to the Second City where I was mostly there to sleep. Granted, it helped that my fellow colleagues all wanted to go out each night to get the most we could together.
However, when I first arrived in the city on Sunday night I was on my own since I had yet to know who was in town. I quickly checked in and headed straight out to take the metro to my first food destination: Blue 13.
I found this restaurant from researching online and had great ratings, along with fabulous raves from foodies like myself. When I arrived, it was quaint little restaurant with a warm overall feel to it in its minimalist interior design. As far as I could tell, there was only one server and one host who bus tables when it became busier through the night.
To begin the meal, I ordered a simple Mixed Green salad:
The salad of mixed greens, shaved carrots, and radish tossed with Dijon vinaigrette and topped with a generous amount of pecorino. A great, refreshing start to the meal. There is little for me to say about the salad other than it was a great salad. Plus, the fresh, hot bread that came out along with olive oil to dip in made a delish start to the meal.
For my entrée, as I was dining for one, I ordered the highly recommended “3 Birds” Lobster Pizza:
I know what you’re thinking already. Yes, I did know I was ordering a thin crust pizza in the city known for deep dish. However, if you come here, I am going to echo what I had found during my online research – this is a must have dish.
The crust was charred perfectly and thin so that you would have to do the fold right down the middle to make sure everything stayed on. This is a white pie with a roasted garlic puree base, caramelized onions, chunks of lobster, and manchego cheese to hold it all together with a sprinkling of herbs. This pizza has the sweetness that reminds you of a cheesy, yummy, lobster bisque. It all balances so well together that I couldn’t stop eating it. I pushed myself beyond the point of bursting because it was that delicious. However, I sadly left behind two slices that were stripped of their lobster pieces because my stomach said, “Please…no more!!”
Despite my comatose state at that moment, I still ordered a dessert because how can I call this meal completed until I did?! So of the 3 dessert choices, this was the one that perked my interest: Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Waffle.
Understand that I had no more intention of stuffing myself, but when I saw “candied bacon” I knew I had to try it. What came out was a waffle, drizzled with chocolate sauce, topped with candied bacon and hazelnut, and paired with butter pecan ice cream.
First off – the candied bacon was the best part of the dessert. You’re wondering what did it taste like right? Just imagine breakfast, where you have a side of bacon with your pancake/waffle, and the maple syrup drips over to the bacon. It was sticky, sweet, crispy, and salty. The waffle did not have chocolate chips and needed more peanut butter. Overall, I would suggest you skip this dessert, try a different one, or just order yourself another lobster pizza.
This is the type of restaurant you go to with friends to just catch up, share some good food, and enjoy the evening. The two servers were great and attentive, but when it got a little busier by the time I had finished my meal, the lack of staff was apparent. Still, friendly service and great food is the equation for a satisfied customer who will return.
416 W Ontario St
Chicago, IL 60654-5714
The following night, after our first day of training, a group of us went out to grab dinner at The Publican where if it oinks, it will end up cooked at this restaurant. I loved the open space design which was to resemble a barn. To add to that, their booth seating had little doors to encapsulate diners as if they were in a pig stall. The rest of the restaurant was set up with communal tables where you could be sitting next to a complete stranger on one side and your friend on the other.
We went family style and ordered various dishes off the menu to share. I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking, with a few inserts by me, so enough grazing through the pictures!
Beets with Clementine segments and yogurt – this was my favorite side that we had ordered that night. Sweet and tart, great palate cleanser.
Charcuterie plate: pork pie, trotter-foie gras terrine, head cheese, milano, morteau sausage, pickles & mustards
Turnips with rosemary
Cajun Shrimp with Grits – the grits had soaked up all the Cajun spices and shrimp juices.
Fried Smelt with mustard greens and raw onions
Country Ribs with mustard greens & grilled red onions
Sweetbread with sweet potatoes, black trumpets & green garlic-watercress pesto
Pork Belly with fresh chickpeas and stuffing – decadent and you feel so guilty for eating this fatty yet delicious piece of the pig. (*gurgling sound*)
Lamb Sausage with lentils, mint, meyer lemon & yogurt – I love lamb…I love sausage…I loved, LOVED this dish. The mint and yogurt balanced out the gamey flavor of the sausage and the casing had a great snap to the bite.
Apple & Rhubarb Crumble with crème – heaven in one’s mouth.
Waffle with pear butter & plum marmalade – highly suggest that you do not waste your time with this one. It was nothing special at all.
Dark chocolate tart with vanilla ice cream – a darker heaven in one’s mouth. Then again I am the biggest fan of dark chocolate, so if you don’t like dark chocolate (WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!) then this is definitely not for you.
The Publican also has a wide beer and wine selection, as well as servers who are willing to mix you up a great cocktail if you desire it. The restaurant has a fun atmosphere especially for big groups. Just make sure you don’t have any vegetarians in the group otherwise they will most likely go hungry.
837 W Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607
On our last night in the city, our dining group only grew to an even larger number than the previous night. This time around, upon my insistence on move to more ethnic flavors, we decided upon a restaurant that has several locations throughout the country, but still supposedly made great food. That night…we our taste buds did the samba at SUSHISAMBA!
Once again, we ate family style and tried a little bit of everything.
This dish was the sunshine of my night (wait…um…yea, I’ll still stand by my description)! It was fresh, bright, sweet, spicy, turns your life around because it was just that amazing. It would even put a smile to the worst Debby Downer that you know! (Unless he/she doesn’t like fish…but even then! This dish may convert him/her!)
Of the 3 seviches we ordered that night, this was the most disappointing for me. It didn’t have the vibrant flavors of the salmon nor yellowtail seviches. 😦 However, our fish adventures had just started because out came our platter of various sushi rolls:
Unfortunately, the mussels did not taste fresh (consistently) and so we asked for them to return it and traded for:
Spicy Popcorn Shrimp – sweet and spicy, fried tempura shrimp.
We also ordered the churrasco “supreme” (aka meatfest) with: rio grande grilled hanger steak, ribeye, pork tenderloin, chorizo and linguica. This was served with sides of white rice, black beans, collard greens, and farofa. Additionally, various dipping sauces including malagueta pepper oil and chimichurri:
The Miso-marinated Chilean sea bass roasted organic vegetables is one of those dishes that I still think about. This is the perfect example of a perfectly cooked fish that is so smooth, so fresh, so buttery, so fracking delish that I gurgle as I giggle with giddy.
Whole crispy red snapper spicy red curry sauce, scallion, ginger, coconut rice – the rice was good! The fish staring at me…not so much.
Side of Peruvian corn – it’s like hominy; I wasn’t much of a fan.
And of course, we had to have desserts. Note the plural form of that: desserts. We really went all out for dessert and there were no regrets what-so-ever afterwards because they were all delicioso!
Carmen Miranda: seasonal fresh fruit, pop rocks, lemon sorvete…sorry, no pictures for this one :(. I can describe to you what it was: a bowl of fresh berries that included strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries, with a sprinkle of pink pop rocks (not enough apparently since the tasters didn’t feel the effects of it) and a scoop of lemon sorbet.
I don’t know which one I liked more, but I did know I had a taste of everything and there wasn’t one that I didn’t like! Even though it is not a local restaurant, this place has a fun atmosphere and serves stellar food with great service. SUSHISAMBA…I think you will have to be part of my favorite small, national chain! One note though: of all the food we ate, it unanimous that the “sushi” part of the restaurant was something that fell short on with the exception of the “seviche.”
Several locations in the US
Thank you Chicago for showing me yet another good time! 🙂
My colleagues and I unfortunately had to work a little during this weekend. Normally, it would not be an issue but the fact is that we were in Chicago for goodness sake! I was about to chuck my laptop out the 19th floor window being stuck indoors, in a city that I had never been to!
“What the shit?!…”
That was the phrase of the week, literally. This is why I took the initiative in deciding for the team as a whole that we needed something great to break up this crappy start to the weekend. Thus, I ordered for us the Chicago icon: deep dish pizza!
We were staying in downtown Chicago and Gino’s East was not all that far away! Turns out that the place actually delivered to hotels and so we had an order of the Cheesy Bread with marinara:
and Gino’s East Supreme deep dish.
The crust had to be at least 2 inch high, which was needed for all the ingredients that were piled into this gorgeous break to a crappy day. It had chunky tomato sauce, mushroom, peppers, onions, and half sausage patty, half pepperoni. Of course, there was an oozy, gooey cheesy layer buried underneath all of that. It was so delicious!
Leonidas Chocolate Cafe
Sometime between lunch and dinner, a pick me up was needed. I was going to get coffee at first yet ended up going to Leonidas Chocolate Cafe because I needed ice cream or gelato ASAP! It felt like an emergency and all the alarms in me were going off shouting, “I. NEEDED. THIS. NOW!” So…
My medium cup of gelato was HUMONGOUS! I got half toasted coconut with almond and fudge, and half Belgium chocolate. I realized as I was eating this was that: my gawd I was so terribly depressed and this is why I am enjoying this even more. Secondly, I should have gotten all Belgium chocolate. It was smooth, creamy, and bittersweet. The best chocolate gelato I’ve had in some time.
Now also in passing, I saw a plate and bags of macaroons being displayed at the cafe. How could I ever pass up the opportunity?!
They looked much better than tasted sadly :(…I should have just stuck with the gelato and maybe some chocolates. Oh well, how could I have known until I tried it for myself? Live and let learn!
Later that evening, when the guys decided the stay in for the night, my new friend/colleague (PR) and I went out for dinner. We were both craving tapas all week and decided we both needed it! However, since we didn’t have the car, we walked the 2.5 miles through downtown to the restaurant. It was actually a really nice walk except for a certain area we had to walk through, but we were both quite hasty in getting to the restaurant so nothing exciting happened.
The spread included (starting from the top and going clockwise): lamb tenderloin with caramelized onions and mushroom, stuffed mushroom caps with cheese, and stuffed peppers with goat cheese.
Goodness gracious….it was an explosion of flavors! PR and I have been feeling trapped with the choices of food we have been eating and desperately needed this change up in our diet. However, just 3 tapas would never satisfy the two of us, so we had an order of the vegetable paella!
The paella was good and it was what we both wanted: something flavorful, fresh, and light too. I had 2 criticisms about the dish: 1. not enough crust! This is the best part of paella in my opinion! Also, when one thinks of paella, one would think saffron being the key spice for the rice yet this one was more tomato base. The entire meal was the best meal we had since arriving to the city!
The following day, PR and I went on an architectural river boat tour which was very informative and fun! I love learning the history of a city and I realized even before the tour, how beautiful the buildings were in the city. After our tour, we met up with the guys to grab a late lunch.
We had another staple of the city that was not all that far from the hotel again! Portillo’s had a fun atmosphere and there were so many options to chose from. However, what I wanted was an Italian sausage, onion rings, and a milk shake! And that was exactly what I got:
Look at the glory that is the delicious, greasy, fatty food that you know you shouldn’t have but you just can’t help it because it has been quite “shitty”.
The Italian sausage was typical, but the bun was a soft crusty bread that was so much better than a hot dog bun! I wish I had grilled onions and peppers to go with it :(…The onion rings were fried super crispy and even though I would normally complain at the number of rings I got that day (very few), it ended up being just enough. The milkshake was a chocolate milkshake with chocolate cake pieces mixed into it. W.O.W. Talk about chocolate overload! It was so rich that I couldn’t finish it and had to recruit my colleagues to help out. Overall I enjoyed myself again with this meal and would do it again in a heart beat.
That was pretty much my time in Chicago. I wish I had more time in the city, but we did our best in between work and commuting. I would definitely be coming back to Chi-town (hopefully not for work) for more!
Leonidas Chocolate Cafe
59 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
1530 s. state st
Chicago, IL 60605
Ever since I had my very first cannoli back at the bakery I used to work at, I have been in love with this Sicilian dessert. My favorite version in San Diego comes from Solunto in Little Italy. They come in 2 sizes (large and mini) and when they say mini, they REALLY mean “mini”.
I love Solunto because they are filled to order!! There is nothing sadder than a pre-filled cannoli, sitting in a case and hoping that someone will buy them as their shell gets soggy. How hard can it be for someone to understand that you need to make this dessert to order?
A cannoli is a fried pastry dough, shaped into a tube, then filled with a sweetened ricotta cheese that is mixed with candied fruit peel. It can be orange or lemon, but my preference is to mix in mini chocolate chips. Now…combine that ricotta mixture with a pastry dough, add a little time…what do you get? One limpy, soggy, sad dough with sweet mixture. See? So when you see a pre-filled cannoli, just say ‘NO!’
Solunto Panificio e Ristorante
1643 India St.
San Diego, CA 92101
Thank goodness Cafe Hue came and took over that other froyo place.
Cafe Hue is next to the Nijiya market and is a nice little dessert cafe. It serves coffee, tea, milk teas, and snacks. What you really come here for is their snacks: waffles and crepes!
Although you will see froyo machines as you enter, I urge you to step past them and head to the counter. From there, you will see displays and pictures of the possibilities: freshly made waffles and crepes!
I was initially worried that they were buying pre-made waffles and crepes. However, my worries soon disappeared when I saw the batter for the crepe and the tray of dough to make the waffles.
My friend, her little brother, and I ordered the following (respectively):
– Red bean crepe with green tea gelato
– Nutella and banana crepe
– Dark chocolate dipped waffle w/ vanilla bean gelato
I tried my friend’s red bean crepe and it was good. However, I think I am still partial to my favorite crepe combo (nutella, banana, and coco).
What really rocked my world was my chocolate dipped waffle. The waffle was nice and soft, not quite like the Belgium waffles that I’ve had, but still delicious. Since it was freshly dipped, the chocolate was still soft and melted in my mouth. Once the chocolate harden, it added a nice crunch to the bite. And the gelato was a very nice complement to it ($1.50 extra).
All of our desserts came out to be about $5-7 each. I would definitely add this to my quick, cheap dessert stop.
3860 Convoy St, Ste 106
San Diego, CA 92111
My goal and dream is to one day have my very own bakery/café. While I was sitting in class last Thursday, I was thinking of names that I could call my future bakery. A name is just a name, but the right name for anything – whether it be for a person, animal, or place – is very important because it’s the first impression. A name can convey a lot to the outside world before the world gets the chance to know you.
When a restaurant is named after the owner, it can convey an air of haughtiness and the feel of vanity. I find that a restaurant whose name has no relation to the owner and/or chef, works harder to gain the respect and recognition of their patrons so that one day, the owner and/or chef is synonymous with the restaurant.
So what would I name my future business venture? Well, when I cook or bake, it is usually driven by cravings, followed by inspiration. That is what I would like my name to reflect either directly or indirectly. Also, I want a sleek and elegant, yet simple name so that no one would ever feel that he or she is too “high” or too “low” to visit and enjoy my bakery/café.
I’m not a guru or expert in marketing and advertising to figure out the right name currently. Perhaps the name will come to me spontaneously (like my cravings) or perhaps something will eventually inspire the name. This leads me to my food-related post because everything was driven by a craving.
For weeks, I had been craving breakfast food and for the last few consecutive weekends, I slowly went about satisfying this craving. Breakfast to me is an important part of my day, although it didn’t used to be. However, I’m a simple person when it comes to the first meal of the day. I like to start out my day on a healthy tone so that if (more like WHEN) I happen to make not so nutritious meal decisions throughout the day, I am satisfied that at least I started off on the right foot.
That being said, my breakfast is almost always yogurt with fresh berries (strawberries, raspberry, blueberries, and blackberries). Sometimes I will “jazz” it up with various additions such as: coconut flakes, granola, cereal, banana, kiwi, or other fruits. Or I’ll simply go with a bowl of fresh fruits. That is my usual breakfast. However, cravings of breakfast offerings that cannot and usually not made in my house had me hostage. So I relented and gave in.
What can I say about this? Carbs are good. Carbs grilled with a rich batter is very good. However, if you stuff that puppy with sweetened cream cheese and marmalade, then my friend…you have a breakfast paradise on a plate.
Did I feel guilty about eating this?………Maybe a little.
Would I go back and eat it again?………Yes.
Did I feel dirty for liking this simple, unimaginative, corporate chain offering? ………Yes, oh gawd yes.
Come on! Everyone has their secret food, guilty-conscience, pleasures. Be it Panda Express’ orange chicken, McDonald’s chicken nuggets, Pizza Hut pizzas, or Starbuck’s frappuccinos. Hate it or love it, there’s a reason why these chains do well and that’s because they have their formulas perfected to keep you coming back for more.
However, that is not to say that the small guys don’t have a chance against the “big, bad” corporations. Is it an uphill struggle? Hell yeah it is! But for those who can fight through the thick and thin and come out as a gem, the results are incomparable.
Belgian Waffle from the La Jolla Farmer’s Market
This one came at me very unexpectedly. It was my first time visiting the La Jolla Farmers’ Market and I wasn’t quite sure what they had to offer. Upon arrival, CP and I made our way around the entire market. We sampled some delicious olive oils that I would go back for. We then went by a bread vendor that had a wide variety of rustic breads, from whom I bought three little ciabatta rolls for CP and he loved them. I didn’t try it, but I trust CP’s taste for bread, so if he gives two thumbs up for these ciabattas, then we shall most definitely go back for more! However, I still needed breakfast as did CP. After looking at all the food vendors, the only one that really intrigued me was the Belgian waffle vendor.
First, I noticed that the “batter” he was using was not like your traditional American waffle batter which is usually a thick liquid. The vendor was taking balls of dough that looked like sugar dough to me and placed it into his well seasoned waffle irons. Second, the shape of the waffles was round and had incomplete edges rather than the defined edge end.
Although I’ve never been to Belgium, I’ve seen the waffle street vendors on the Travel Channel and this vendor in La Jolla was producing waffles like the ones I saw. Lastly, throughout the market, CP and I noticed how many people were speaking French as they shopped. Then at the vendor, an older lady was talking to the cook in French and he was responding in French. Sold!
We both ordered waffles, a small plain for me and a large with blueberry jam for CP. I saw others who ordered the waffle with all the fixings but once again, from what little knowledge I had of Belgian waffles I obtained from the Travel Channel, I knew that the real stuff would be sweet on its own. So I took a bet on that this was going to be the real stuff and I was right.
The waffle was freshly made so it was piping hot with a crispy outer texture and soft, almost custard-like innards. It was magnificent! It needed absolutely NOTHING because the waffle was so packed with flavor that had I gotten anything on it, it would have been too much. I tried some of CP’s waffle with jam and it confirmed my suspicion that the waffle didn’t need anything. So for anyone who wants to try this, I highly recommend that you get it plain and I mean PLAIN. That way, you can enjoy this wondrous little disc of goodness without going into a sugar coma.
Lastly, while shopping at the Hillcrest Farmers’ Market, I spotted one of my most favorite, ultimate, indulgent, and gluttonous sin sitting on two large baking sheets at a French pastry vendor booth – Almond Croissants. Rows and rows of the unsuspecting and horrifying beauties were beckoning to me, cooing me, and digging up the wonderful memories of a San Francisco bakery where I had the best breakfast item that I’ve yet to have a repeat of here in San Diego. *Sigh*
Pastries are meant to be eaten fresh out of the oven. It is the unwritten law in the world of flaky, buttery indulgences. I’m telling everyone out there, who lives within a mile of a bakery that there will never be anything like the smell and first bite into freshly baked carbs – bread, pastries, muffins, puddings, cookies, etc.
Now, you may wonder why I called the almond croissant horrifying. Well…unless you are one of the blessed people in the world who can consume any amount and any type of food without growing your own area code, the almond croissant is one of the most nutritionally bad foods. Croissants are made with tons of butter in order to obtain their beloved flaky innards, the hallmark of a good croissant. Now take that butter-filled carbohydrate, cut it in half, and slather both side with frangipane. Frangipane is basically a paste made from grounded almonds, sugar, butter, eggs, and flour.
Once the extra fatty goodness has been slathered on, put the two slices together, dip or brush simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar) on the croissant and sprinkle sliced almonds on top, then finally bake until golden brown, and finish off with a dusting powder sugar.
This pastry was created originally for miners who would need the energy in order to work long hard days. Almond croissants (croissant aux amandes) runs around 600 calories with approximately 30-40 grams of fat. Even with this knowledge…I saw the almond croissant, I wanted the almond croissant, I got myself the almond croissant, and I demolished the almond croissant.
A tray of delicious Croissant aux Amandes
Unfortunately, I devoured my almond croissant from the market before it even crossed my mind that I should take at least one picture for you. (UPDATE: I went to the market today and this time, I remembered to take a picture for you!)
However, I can tell you that if you are ever at the Hillcrest Farmers’ Market, you should put aside any hesitations or reservations and dive straight in for one of those babies. Although it wasn’t as fresh as I would have liked it, it was pretty damn good. My only gripe about this almond croissant was that it was too sweet. The frangipane that was in-between could have used a cut-back in the amount of sugar. I’m not sure if the vendor made it himself or it was outsourced by some other bakery, but I would love you more if you just cut the sugar back please!
As you can tell, when I eat out for breakfast, I put all my hesitation and nutritional conscience aside and stuff them into the closet. And why should you do the same? Because not only is breakfast the most important meal of the day, but in order to live up to the importance of it, one should go BIG…or go home and make yourself your own wimpy breakfast!
10788 Westview Pkwy San Diego, CA 92126
(858) 566-6667 La Jolla Farmers’ Market La Jolla Elementary School at Girard Ave and Genter Sundays, 9:00 am – 1:00 pm Hillcrest Farmers’ Market DMV parking lot at 3960 Normal St and Lincoln St
Sundays, 9:00 am – 1:00 pm