Tuesday, January 20, 2009

January Restaurant Raves

One would think that with the start of 2009 amidst some of the worst economic times, most people would inevitably go out to eat less frequently in hopes of spending less of their hard earned money. Well, folks I'm not like most people. Nope, I DID go and buy an exorbitant amount of groceries the first of January, but I have also somehow managed to eat out 6 times this week, yep...count em'...1,2,3,4,5,6! Not that i'm proud of it, but thought I'd at least start a monthly blog posting of the fab (or not so fab) restaurant finds in Chicago!

1. Aperitif 21

2221 N Lincoln Ave

Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 281-4400

Sunday, in a quest to find a restaurant located between my house and Lindsey's that we both had not been to, I stumbled upon this quaint Mediterranean gem. We were due for a late lunch (around 2pm) and thus anticipated a pretty quiet scene. We were right...only one lone family (likely the owners) dining when we arrived. Ordering hummus and pita appetizer was a given. It arrived warm and delicious and while noshing away, we were unexpectedly offered complimentary soup du jour. However, we were quite perplexed because we'd had a rather awkward exchange with the ESL (English as a Second Language) waitress about what the soups were and had a rather jumbled explanation about the color of beans in the soup. Linds ordered a Mediterranean salad and I got the vegetable kabobs. All in all the food was "decent", I mean you can't go wrong with hummus. But my fave part of the meal was the water that was served. We each tried guessing its unique flavor blend, (me - lemon, Linds - orange). Both to be proved was green apple, strawberry, and lime, quite delish! The most disappointing part of the meal was the service, which is ironic since we were basically the only patrons. So, for this, Linds gives it "Apairoftwhothumbsdown"! And I'd have to agree...too many awesome places in the city to waste your time, money or heck, calories here.

2. Bar Celona
3474 N Clark St

Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 244-8000

TAco Tuesday at Bar Celona is a MUST! When my girlfriend Emily told me about this magical place where you can get $1 tacos and free chips and salsa, I thought she was talking about heaven. Or better yet, that we were taking a whirlwind trip to Spain. Fortunately, for my budget, we only had to head north to Wrigleyville to this Spanish hot spot. The lighting was dim and seating comfortable. On one of the coldest nights, it still drew a decent crowd and the wait staff was friendly and attentive. They didn't even mind that my friends and I stayed for about 2 hours and rang up a $20 tab among the 3 of us. We each got to choose from variety of tacos, chicken, beef, vegetarian, and shrimp - each of which was delicious. And single ladies, watch out...irresistible professional athletes hang out there and offer to buy you drinks (ok, they were professional table tennis players, but whose keeping track)! So, if you can't make it across the Atlantic, Bar Celona is a close second any day of the week (they have ridiculous nightly specials)!

3. Chili's
2 E Ontario St
Chicago, IL 60611

(312) 943-1510

Now, I must preface this one by saying I ordinarily would never go to Chili's in Chicago, but there are exceptions to every rule and believe it or not, I'm trying to be a good steward of my income and I was given a gift card for Chili's for Christmas. So, thus, i took my friend Molly on a date to Chili's on Wednesday to catch up (plus, it's right across the street from her office). We opted for the Kickin' Jack Nachos over the usual chips and salsa (we thought, heck, it's free...let's go krazy)...big mistake...the nachos were nicely laid out with even amounts of cheese and jalapenos, but they were just a little too unconventional for my liking. Back to bottomless chips and salsa next time. Molly got some soup and I got the black bean burger that I've almost tried a thousand times and have been non-committal. I should have kept it up. It was dry and disappointing. The sweet corn on the cob that i substituted for mixed veggies, on the other hand was especially satisfying. We capped off the night with a Chocolate Chip Molten Chocolate Cake. There was a bit of debate between this new version of the Molton Chocolate Cake and the original, but we were rather bold this night and went against convention one last time. And as luck would have it, the 3rd time was a charm. This dessert was A-mazing! Note to self: Next time just get the chips/salsa and dessert! No shame!

4. Karyn's Raw
1901 N Halsted St

Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 255-1590

Founded by Karyn Calabrese, one of the most popular and innovative leaders in the holistic health industry, this unique restaurant serves only RAW food. What?!? No hot meals? Nothing baked, steamed, fried, or grilled? Nope...only dehydrated and in it's natural state. How can this be you ask? Well, frankly, I have no EARTHLY idea. I have been interested in trying Karyn's for quite some time (being an adventurous eater and all), so I went on Saturday with 3 girlfriends. It was a nice place, white table cloths, fresh flowers on the table, and an expensive menu to match. I was very impressed by the variety of things they have learned to make out of raw food...stuffed pizza with a crust made from nuts, veggie burger with homemade bread from nuts, flax, and barley and homemade mustard, tortilla chips out of corn and nuts, ravioli made from turnips and zucchini. Everything was edible, but no one finished their small plates. This food is really salty and dense and sits heavy. My fave item was the guacamole, obviously, i mean, even i can make raw guac, haha. If I had to sum up the experience in one word, it would be "Interesting". I'm def not going to rave about how awesome raw food is, nor will I go back on my own volition for $20 of cold veggies and nuts. And I should caution you, more than one of us had some not so fun repercussions from the naturally fibrous and dense "goodness" in these foods, so I don't recommend it for a first date. Enough said.

5. Lalo's Mexican Restaurant
1960 N Clybourn Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 880-5256

Lalo's is Tex Mex at it's finest. Complimentary chips and salsa. Extremely large margheritas. And cheesy Mexican inspired decor. And I love it. This was by no means my first venture to this chain, however it was my first time to the Clybourn location. And, it just so happens, I like it better than the LaSalle location. It seemed a tad more authentic, had good energy and great service. My friend and I shared two appetizers and the portions were so generous that we couldn't even finish them. We got nachos with beans and cheese with guac, pico de gallo and sour creme in the middle. They were awesome (kicked Chili's mediocre attempt). And I tried Sopes for the first time - a round dough with pinched sides (like pie crust) topped with beans, lettuce, cheese and your choice of beef, chicken or pork. Quite tasty. My only compliant: Don't get the iced tea if you are a tea snob like me. They serve instant, eww!

6. R.J. Grunts
2056 N Lincoln Park W,
Chicago, IL
(773) 929-5356

If you find yourself really hungry, then this is the place for you. If you have an adventurous spirit at the salad bar, then this is the place for you. If you like to be seated before your whole party is in attendance and like nice servers, then this is NOT the place for you. Sunday night two friends and I went after church to get some dinner and arriving at 8:45 were made to wait until 9pm when our other friend joined, mind you, the restaurant closed at 9pm. The snarky waitress even came by while we were waiting at the front and made a not so kind remark to my friend about closing time...seriously? How rude! When we were finally seated (before 3rd party member arrived) she made a huge fuss about how the kitchen was "closed" and we should get the salad bar (which we already intended to). And then reneged her "closing statement" when our male friend came in to join us and she basically made him order from the menu. We felt discriminated against, haha. Oh well, enough complaining...the salad bar exceeded expectations, more options than the alphabet and our friend's meal was ginormous. I'll most likely go back, but only because I can't resist a good customized salad!

7. Cuernavaca
1158 W. 18th St.
Chicago, IL

When it comes to Mexican cuisine, I like it all. Tex Mex, Authentic, Chipotle, and even Taco Bell all make my list of acceptable options when i crave refried beans, chips, guac and salsa! Back in January, my friends and I decided to take a trip down to Pilsen (Hispanic Chicago Neighborhood) for the real deal! Cuernavaca definitely met my expectations...the chips and salsa flowed like water and the service was exceptional. Our lone waitress did a great job attending to the needs of the 15+ people in our group. The food came fast and my tacos came with soft corn tortillas (not my preference, but traditional in style) and a good portion of beans and rice. The burritos looked exceptional! The atmosphere was lively, colorful and reminiscent of it's native country. The best part of the night was when my roomate, Brittani, and neighbor, Alex, (who were alienated at their own table because the tables were unmovable) received a Shirley Temple for two from one of our friends and a romantic dinner for two ensued. :)

Alex & Britt...


Ashley said...

What a fabulous blog! I love the design!

Sweetly Unique, Beautiful Life said...

Mmmm, it makes me want to go out to eat!! Love you, lovie! And why yes, what a fabulous design! ;o) PS. I went to elementary school with Ashley. Don't you just love the blog world? It's crazy how everyone gets connected! I'm finishing up the new one and then will follow, promise!

Marie Reed said...

I love the postcard in your banner! CUTE:)