The Boarding House

720 N Wells StChicago, IL 60654 • (312) 280-0720 • boardinghousechicago.com

If I were just reviewing the chandeliers this place would receive a resounding 5 knives, because they are both stunning. Impressive in both size and beauty they each cover roughly 75% of the ceiling footprint on their respective floors. Over the bar on the first floor, the chandelier is made up of thousands of wine glasses, whereas the one upstairs in the dining room is made up of just as many wine bottles (pictured). Fortunately Chicago isn’t on a fault line or I would’ve been very nervous about being crushed beneath them.

The theme of the chandeliers is very intentional as I understand it, the restaurateur being well known for their skill at compiling a killer wine list. And judging from the bottle of wine I had, I’d say I have to concur.

Sadly, a little more attention toward the food might be nice, because I found everything to be pretty average.

The baby octopus appetizer was shockingly bland regardless of its rather inventive preparation, sporting two of my favorite things on earth, shishito peppers and chorizo. But somehow they managed to find the least spicy versions I’ve ever encountered.

Then, the mahi entrée came it is was so overcooked and dry that I only bothered to eat half of it. Served over an equally overcooked risotto. In hindsight I probably should’ve sent it back, but after the appetizer my confidence was waning that they would ever get it right. And besides, I’m always a bit reticent to send shit back to the kitchen, because pissing off the chef is a surefire way to wind up with Ebola on your plate.

So, after the lackluster food we decided to forego dessert in favor of after dinner drinks instead, since that is clearly their forte. And chandeliers.

Advertisements

Nico Osteria

1015 N Rush StChicago, IL 60611 • (312) 994-7100 • nicoosteria.com

39-df953a34eead20a75344c65ad364e0e2

Nico is probably much better for lunch or dinner than it is for breakfast, so to be fair, please take this review with a huge grain of salt, after all, I had plenty to spare considering how insanely salty my eggs were. Between the prosciutto and capers I think my blood pressure rose a good 50 points on the spot, not to mention the salt they probably used in the dish itself. It was so strong I had to scrape off all of the mix-ins and just ate the eggs by themselves so that my arteries didn’t pop like water balloons.

On the plus side, the orange juice and the tea were both good and the décor is chic enough to hold up to the Thompson hotel it calls home. As for service, it was a touch non-attentive considering I was only one of two people in the restaurant.

1 tooth

Il Porcellino

59 W Hubbard Chicago, IL 60654 (312) 595-0800ilporcellinochicago.com

Image result for il porcellino chicago

Doing Al Capone proud, Il Porcellino (which means “Little Pig” in Italian- no idea why) feels like good, ole, authentic Chicago Italian, with lots of little back rooms tucked away in brick catacombs turned dining areas with private bars and back doors for easy escape… to smoke. Yes, Capone would’ve love this place, granted as slow as the service was, I think he might’ve whacked a few waiters until things improved.

Also worthy of mention is that we were a large party, and why I think this is of significance in this review is because very often that means that the food will be nowhere near as good as it would be during a typical dining experience. So fedora’s off to the piglet, because if this is a notch down, then it must be something special when you eat there like a normal person.

For starters the green chopped salad with kale, avocado, parmesan, pistachios and pepperoncini was good, as was the charcuterie, aka prosciutto trio (parma, cotto & speck). But if you want your world rocked, go with the guilty pleasure of the Tuscan Cheese Bread. I know it sounds like typical Americanified Italian crap, but damn is really friggin’ awesome Americanified Italian crap. Made even more kickalicious with some seriously spicy marinara for dippage.

Both pastas were also crowd pleasers. The rigatoni in vodka sauce with peas and red pepper flakes was a classic done right. And the orecchiette gigante with Italian sausage and broccolini, was right up there with it. Not even sure which was better.

What I am sure about was that the Steak Grigliata was terribliata. I’m guessing grigliatta is Italian for grisly because it was so undercooked and chewy it was inedible. In fact, I had to get up and go to the bathroom just to spit out my bite. And while I’m beating this dead horse, I would say it was so bad that it cost them a knive on this dish alone. That said, the parmesan-garlic fries were pretty darn good.

Ending on a high note, both desserts were great. The gelato is creamy and rich and the tiramisu cups are pretty spectacular.

3 teeth

Blackbird

619 W Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60661(312) 715-0708blackbirdrestaurant.com

Image result for blackbird chicago

The first thing that struck me when I entered Blackbird was that the décor is very white without a morsel of black to be found anywhere, ironically. The other thing I noticed is that while the service is very friendly and knowledgeable about the menu, they are also unbelievably slow, to the point of distraction, taking 40 minutes just to take our order and that was only because I flagged him down. Not even bread or drinks came in this time. And once they did, our waiter dripped the wine all over the table and down the sides of the glass EVERY time he poured it. It was so bad I think I’ve seen less dribbling in the United Center!

Fortunately the wine was good (what was left of it after he dripped most of it on the table) and the Port of Call cocktail is just awesome and it comes with significantly less dripping, unless it’s self-inflicted. Also, I do want to mention that the wine list has some solid, affordable options and the bread was warm and yummy, served with a curried butter.

It was from that point on that Blackbird soared, from a tasty amuse bouche to a trio of incredible appetizers that resoundingly affirmed that this chef de cuisine got game!

The most creative of the three would be the panzanella salad made with sweetbreads and sweet bread. A fun play on words and ingredients, using Hawaiian bread as a sweet counterweight to the savory glands. As was the raspberry vinaigrette. But as good as it was, it was actually the weakest of the three, best by the turnip and foie gras soup. So creamy and rich you should have to pay luxury tax on every spoonful. And my favorite of the three, the endive salad, believe it or not. Served in a stunning bird’s nest (pictured) with a poached egg, crispy potato, basil, pancetta and dijon. Relatively simple, but positively brilliant.

Both entrees I tried were exceptional as well. Completely apples and oranges, but each superb in their own right. The halibut is perfectly cooked and artfully accompanied by peekytoe crab and gooseberries. It was also somehow both decadent (duck fat) and light at the same time. Whereas the beef striploin was a full on savory-palooza, cooked to perfection and surrounded by a wonderful chanterelle moat with additions of quince, horseradish and crispy polenta planks. Masterful!

The only miss of the night was the carrot cake, and by miss I actually mean that it was good, but in comparison to the complimentary eclair and the white chocolate bar I would skip it, because that complimentary duo beats the cream cheese out of that cake 10 times out of 10, and I’ve a HUGE carrot cake fan, so this is saying a lot.

What’s also saying a lot is that not since the Purple Pig have I had a meal this good in Chicago. Granted I haven’t been to Alinea yet, so stay tuned.

4 teeth

Girl & the Goat

809 W Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60607(312) 492-6262girlandthegoat.com

6937075434_217003c090

As you may have guessed, I love the name. It’s got a critter in it and alliteration. What more could you want? Good service? Check. Hip décor? Check squared. Great cocktails? Check-a-palooza. Great food? Well, depends on what you get, and I tried a lot.

It’s all small plates, so it’s a bit hard to distinguish between the appetizers and the entrees, but whatever you want to call them, be sure to get the warm marinated olives. They are tops. Never had better. Not even in Europe.

Another kickass dish are the green beans in fish sauce vinaigrette with cashews. It stole the show away from the cauliflower dish that so many others rave about. Sure it has pickled peppers (assumingly picked by Peter Piper), pine nuts and mint, but if you’ve ever eaten the cauliflower at Ilili or Tamarind in NYC, or Cleo in LA, this cauliflower is a mere apprentice in the shadow of their mastery. Whereas those green beans are Ultimate worthy. Trust me.

After that I’d go with the sweet corn pierogies with green goddess and rhubarb chimichurri (pictured). Or the pig face served with a sunny side egg, tamarind, cilantro, red wine, maple and potato stix. So good and definitely the better way to go versus the goat shank.

But buyer beware, because not everything is worth your hard-earning coin. I say skip the shishito peppers. If you’ve had one, you’ve had them all, and there are so many other original dishes to be had.

The grilled baby octopus is decent with its guanciale (cured pork), fava beans, pea tips, pistachios and lemon vinaigrette, but not at the level of those winners I mention above. Same goes for the broccoli with smoky bleu cheese, the roasted beets with avocado crème fraiche and the kohlrabi slaw with fennel, toasted almonds and blueberries.

And finally, for dessert, the tres leche was the best of the bunch for me, with rhubarb, pink peppercorn and strawberry sorbet. It’s not so great that I would recommend force feeding it down your gullet if you’re already stuffed with everything else, but if you’ve still got room for jello, then go for it!

3 teeth

The Original Pancake House

22 E Bellevue Pl. Chicago, IL 60611 • (312) 642-7917originalpancakehouse.com

original-pancake-house-1

Amidst the like likes of Prada, Ted Baker, Jil Sander and Armani you will find an oddly located, old-school pancake house smack dab in the middle of the Viagra Triangle (it gets its name from the fact that there are a lot of wealthy, older gentlemen partaking in high class escort services in the hotels that triangulate this area).

Hookers aside, there really is some great shopping to be had and if you want to hit the stores early, there are few places that are better to power up than The Original Pancake House (which technically isn’t the original, which opened in Oregon). But “early” is the key word here people, because not only does the early bird get the worm, it also gets a table without having to wait an hour.

Yes, this place packs ‘em in all these years later because they have a good thing going and they keep it that way. Been almost twenty years between the last time I visited and just now and they haven’t lost a step.

My strong recommendations are the pancakes, obviously, and specifically the pumpkin pancakes when in season (they are pretty famous for their apple pancakes as well). But the other call that might seem less obvious are the baked eggs. I’m not sure how they do it, but they bake their omelets instead of frying them and while you might think that would make them less flavorful, it’s quite the contrary. They are chock full and fluffier than a Pomeranian after losing a battle with a blow dryer. So pick whichever one tickles your fancy from veggie to western to spinach and feta- it doesn’t matter. It’s all good and probably the best thing you can buy in the neighborhood for under $100. That was intended to be a shopping joke, not about the escorts. Although I suppose it covers both.

5 teeth

The Blanchard

1935 N Lincoln Park W. Chicago, IL 60614(872) 829-3971theblanchardchicago.com

ct-food-0902-review-blanchard-20150827

The chef comes from very good pedigree having worked at some of New York’s finest such as The Four Season (RIP), Le Bernadin and the Gotham Bar & Grill. But now he’s making a name for himself in Chi-town, serving up French cuisine with a twist. And some truffles. And foie gras. And sweetbreads.

Starting with the foie gras, this guy obvious loves it (either that or he hates geese), serving so many dishes with it he ran out of names for them and just starting using numbers. For example “Seared Foie Gras #1” and “Seared Foie Gras #2,” of which I had the latter, crusted with black truffles, candied lavender and in a Madiera sauce. And while it sounds transcendent, it was really nothing memorable, especially when compared to the much less sexy sounding foie gras hot dog, which is doggone delectable. Topped with foie gras mustard, coz why not? Onion confit and served on a brioche roll.

Of the rest of the starters the only other one I would recommend would be the scallops, so don’t fall for your waiter’s swooning praise of the Oueff Outhier. The presentation is certainly nice, basically scrambled eggs put back in the shell with vodka infused crème fraiche and caviar on top. It’s good, but the scrambled eggs at Gato in New York and Bar LaGrassa in Minneapolis both trounce the shell out of this dish.

But the most disappointing of all the starters was the sweetbreads with chicken mousse, artichoke puree and bacon fat. Surprisingly bland for something so artery clogging.

The entrée course faired much better with all three being good. Granted I found the filet of sole to be insanely overpriced. It’s sole people. Not soul. But the dish worthy of the most adoration was the rack of lamb, served with a ratatouille tatin, roasted tomato and eggplant caviar all nestled in a natural reduction. So good Shaun the Sheep would wolf it down.

But as the evening went on, things just kept getting better and better, either that or I was getting drunker and drunker. Or perhaps it was something in between. Well, whatever the reason, dessert was the icing on the cake, delivering three winners in the form of a pineapple galette with passion fruit pastry cream, frangipane (almond paste) and a crème fraiche gelato. This was followed by a crepe gateau with Grand Marnier cream and hot fudge. And the cherry on top was an Ultimate crème brulee, of which I am normally not even a huge fan. But I scarfed that thing down like it was the only thing I had eaten in weeks.

Service is very good, other then the oversell on the eggs. And the décor is very nice. Striking that balance between warm and contemporary quite skillfully. And thus rounding things out for a fantastic four.

4 teeth

Allium

Four Seasons Hotel 120 E Delaware Pl. Chicago, IL 60611 •  (312) 799-4900 •  alliumchicago.com

336561_312592435432685_472265531_o

I suppose it should come as no shock that the restaurant in the Four Seasons is excellent, because after having now eaten at five of them (New York, Toronto, Atlanta, Istanbul & Chicago), the only shock would be if it wasn’t superb. After all, that’s just how they roll- four knives or better, or four get it. And unFOURgettable it was (okay, I’m done with the “four” puns). A farm to table tour de FOURce (I lied) that would make the Department of Agriculture proud.

Feeling a bit chunky, however, I didn’t go all in, deciding to keep it lite with choices like the white asparagus gazpacho accented with marcona almonds, grapes and smoked trout roe. It was one of the best cold soups I’ve ever had and everything I was hoping it would be. Full of flavor, not calories. And as fresh as The Prince of Bel Air.

The other half of my soup and salad duo was a roasted carrot salad comprised of marinated wheat berries, lime yogurt, bitter greens, pistachio and some mysterious form of heat. I’m gonna go with chile. It was like Bugs Bunny’s wet dream on a plate. Ew… I think I might’ve even grossed myself out on that one. But assuming I didn’t just ruin it for you, this is a must get. Trust me. You need this.

Then, wash it all down with an excellent sav blanc from South Africa and you will be happier than Pharrell on Zoloft.

4 teeth

J. Alexander’s

4077 Lake Cook Rd. Northbrook, IL 60062(847) 564-3093redlandsgrill.com

020910  (Taylor Jones / The Palm Beach Post). PALM BEACH GARDENS. Restaurant Review of J. Alexander's Restaurant in Palm Beach Gardens.

I’m not gonna lie, my fangs were bared and I was full-on ready to pounce all over this place. Shitting on it like something out of a relentless Family Guy sketch. I mean, c’mon, it’s in a Deerfield, IL office park for Pete sake! Your expectations get about as low as a snake in a wagon trail. Not sure where that Ross Perot-ian metaphor just came from, but you catch my drift.

Plus, the moment you walk in, the décor just screams casual dining chain (which it is), the likes of Bennigan’s and Applebee’s. So there I was at the table, seething at how foolish I was for taking the word of the girl at the front desk over at the Hyatt, when suddenly, BAM! BA-BAM! No, not gun shots. That’s the sound my ego makes when I’m wrong.

All three starters were really impressive. My favorite of the three being the deviled eggs with candy bacon and pickled slaw. But so was the smoked salmon salad with crostinis. And, of course, just to spite me, so was the Hyatt recommended fried calamari, which was shockingly tender, with a nice kick in the sauce to boot.

For my entrée I went with the coffee rubbed rib eye, served with a sizable mound of mashed potatoes. And while both were good, this was decidedly the weakest dish of the night. Fortunately, the Prisoner zinfandel I ordered by the glass to go with it was sensational. Making it the third best “Prisoner” I’ve ever experience. The first being sung by the band Squeeze. The second being the movie starring Hugh Jackman, which is technically plural.

For dessert, J. Alexander closed strong with two desserts so massive that after the five of us each took at least two bites apiece, there was still enough left on the plates to be considered a reasonable serving size. But please don’t take the stranded portions as a sign of mediocrity, because both the Key Lime Pie and the Chocolate Cake with vanilla ice cream (pictured) were very on point. We were all just stuffed to the gills by that point.

Sure, it’s a casual dining chain, but in the land of lowered expectations this place stands proud and tall, with the service to match. Take note all of you other chains out there, because this place has cracked the code like Benedict Cumberbatch in The Immitation Game.

4 teeth

 

Yak-Zies

3710 N Clark St. Chicago, IL 60613(773) 525-9200yakzies.com

IMAGE_Yak-Zies-Bar-_-Grill

Chicago thin crust pizza is a dicey proposition in general, so I think a grain of salt needs to be taken at the onset of this review. That said, Yak-Zies does manage to shine in a few key places. The first place being Summer. Yes, that shining I spoke of is primarily the sun, and Yak-Zies takes advantage of every last ray with a great outdoor seating vibe that’s filled with energy (code for young people getting inebriated).

The other shiny object to discover is their famous Chicken Tang Pizza. It’s less novel nowanddays, but once upon a time they were one of only a handful nationwide who offered a Buffalo chicken pie. And being the heat-seeker that I am, I do loves me some Buffalo chicken. Unfortunately though, The Tang is not all that spicy hot. It’s more the flavor of Buffalo spices and therein lies my gripe. The failure to commit. I mean the least they could do is offer up varying degrees of torture, but sadly that isn’t the case. But what can you expect from a sports bar? Lucky for them their pitchers of draft beer are so damn affordable it’s hard to stay mad for long.

2 teeth