out to eat

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Last weekend we celebrated the day o’my birth and my sister came in to visit me for the occasion. We had tons of girly fun – mani/pedi’s, boutique shopping, coffee runs & meals at fab restaurants. It was exciting and relaxing, exhilarating and restorative, all in one. Family time is good for the soul.

[the two sisters]

For some time I’ve had my eye on a brand new little brunch spot down the street from my place. The menu was clean and inventive, plus the two guys behind the restaurant hail from the iconic Charlie Trotters. Once I saw this rave review in Daily Candy, I was sold and knew I couldn’t waste anymore time. With my sister in tow, we set out for a Friday mid-morning brunch at Lincoln Park’s newest hot spot, 2Sparrows.

[and that, my friends, would be the general manager making house-made beef jerky right atop the bar]

We ordered the foie gras pop tart with cherry compote [!!] for a little app, then we each ordered the eggs benedict [had to see what the b-y-o hollandaise was all about].

[cappuccino made with intelligentsia coffee to start the day off right]

[the richness of the foie gras offset the sharp tang of the cherry. 'twas all wrapped up in a buttery, flaky crust. mmmmm.]

The eggs benedict was EGGCELLENT [shame on me. couldn't resist]. I’ve had quite a few eggs benedicts in my time and I would go out on a limb [branch?] by saying 2Sparrows has the best eggs benedict I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. Where oh where do I begin:

-the ham. I don’t normally like the greasy, fatty canadian bacon that typically comes with eggs benedict, therefore I order mine sans meat. In this case, our [amazing] server informed us that all the ham is made in-house and so I decided to give it a try. Boy am I glad I did. This ham was wonderful. Just the right amount of salty smokiness to round out the dish.

-the toast. Sometimes the richness of eggs benedict can leave you with that nauseously overfull feeling. I blame that feeling, not on my own gluttonous ways, but on the filling bread that most eggs benedicts are perched on. At 2Sparrows the small, almost bite-sized pieces of toast are just the right amount.

-the big green salad. I’d never seen eggs benedict paired with a big green salad before and oh lordy, was it delicious. My sister loved the fennel and the dressing was light and refreshing. The perfect compliment to our eggy & indulgent brunch.

-the b-y-o hollandaise. Whoa. This was another first for me. Our meal came with not one, but two different hollandaise sauces – one was infused with roasted red pepper, the other with scallions. You build your own [b-y-o] and mix it up however you like. Who knew brunch could be so much fun?

The atmosphere was dynamic [even for a Friday afternoon], the service was excellent, the food was right on the money [and for that matter, quite reasonable given the upscale feel of the place]. I can sum it up with this – never before have I been at a meal where my companion and I both completely cleared our plates. We ate every last crumb. 2Sparrows, I will see you [and your eggs benedict... & probably your maple & bacon doughnuts] again soon.

 

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[rustic house]

Last night to celebrate Vince’s birthday we went to the [relatively] new kid on the block, Rustic House. I was initially drawn to this Lincoln Park locale because of the fireplace [love] and it’s cozy, intimate interior. Once I did a little digging I fell in love with the menu… the executive chef frequents Green City Market [yeaa!] and they have really interesting dishes like hand-rolled gnocchi with hudson valley foie gras & crispy pork belly, but also feature traditional feel good comfort foods like chicken pot pie and braised lamb.

[the birthday boy & his present, which i stealthily concealed in a missoni for target shoebox. more on that traumatizing shopping experience to come.]

We had the gnocchi to start, it was a modest portion but delicious. For dinner Vince ordered the halibut ["sweet corn & lobster succotash/champagne beurre blanc"] and I got the veal cheek ragout ["pappardelle/pear tomato confit/saved pecorino"]. Vince’s was REALLY good, he got quite a sizable piece of fish and the sweet corn & lobster succotash combo was amazing. I wasn’t as crazy about mine, it was a wee bit salty for my liking, but I’m a sucker for fresh homemade pasta and enjoyed the pappardelle. Oh and we also got a side of roasted garlic mashed potatoes, they were tasty.

[onto dessert. decisions, decisions.]

[worth noting: you can order wine by the glass, carafe, or bottle. the carafe is the equivalent to a glass and a half, the perfect middle ground.]

[we went with the whatchamacallit]

Highlights of the night were the excellent service, great beer recommendations, warm’n cozy ambiance and tantalizing menu. Overall verdict: we loved Rustic House and will be back soon!

 

 

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Last week I had the pleasure of meeting one of my ‘bloggie heroes’, as I like to call him, Tim of Lottie + Doof. Tim’s site, along with The Fashion Face [owned by my uber-talented friend Erika] and Cupcakes and Cashmere were the three blogs that inspired me to start up my own. I remember upon discovering Lottie + Doof, I was so excited to jot down several of Tim’s recipes. To date I’ve made his caramel cake and pumpkin whoopie pies [yum!]. Still on my to-dos? Blood orange bars, garlic dressing, and gooey butter cake. In short, getting to meet Tim was extremely special and gratifying for me.

I have to say after meeting Tim he is exactly as I imagined; humble, gracious, and sharp as a tack with a wry sense of humor that keeps you on your toes. He’s the type to cook a four-course meal …for 40+ peoplefrom scratch… with original recipes all while donning a grin and a casual “oh, this old thing?” cool-as-a-cucumber charisma. The opposite of stuffy and pretentious [although he has every right to be]; I’d like to think Tim’s personality is the equivalent to a bowl of chicken noodle soup [must everything relate to food? uhh, yea.] ~ inviting, warm, and genuine.

Side note, kudos to Tim for his feature in ReadyMade [among other appearances in Saveur, Apartment Therapy, design*sponge, and Time Out Chicago for starters], but unlike the rest of his fanfare, this time Tim and his fiancé Bryan are getting props not for food but for their beautiful home. Congrats!

So where were we. Ah yes, like a mad science experiment that formerly existed only in my dreams, last Wednesday Tim teamed up with Sandra Holl [the prodigal mind and petite powerhouse behind Floriole], to create a scrumptious [I never use that word but it's apropos here] four-course meal with the theme of … drum roll please… springtime! Since spring decided to skip us this year it’s only fair we get to experience it on a plate.

[ wildflowers picked on a trip home]

The dynamic duo of Tim and Sandra artfully wrangled up the light, airy, fresh, earthy components of spring to create a decadent meal that left me clamoring for more. It certainly helped that I was seated [in my humble opinion] at the best table in the house, where I met several more gems: Karin, Karin’s mom [I wish.. alas, she was there only in spirit], Jaclyn, and Melissa – the unrivaled reigning queen of handcrafted syrup and the owner of Jo Snow Syrups [as swooned over here]!

Before I go into the menu, take another swig of your coffee and allow me to digress for I must sing Melissa’s praises. Melissa left behind the comforts of a full-time job to start this fun [and highly successful] venture. The day of Tim’s dinner I was tweeting with Melissa describing my excitement to meet her. To my delight, not only was I seated at her table but she also thoughtfully brought me a bottle of syrup to take home as a gift. Seriously, how sweet is she? Such a generous act of kindness and one I won’t forget. In fact, I’m putting together a post on the many different ways I’m using my prized bottle of cardamom rose water syrup… stay tuned on that.

Back to the menu:

[the snacks] a perfectly salty trio of popcorn, peanuts, and olives to compliment jo snow’s rhubarb & basil syrup beer cocktail.

[lemon ricotta ravioli with spicy asparagus] this pillow of heaven had a tangy, creamy filling with a welcome crunchy kick from the asparagus.

[sorrel soup with poached eggs] eggs + soup, why have i never tried this combo before? also my first experience with sorrel, it had a pleasantly sharp bite that contrasted nicely with the velvety texture of the egg.

[dessert] i think this was my number one but i don’t like to play favorites. let’s just say tim + sandra’s homemade cheesecake = religious experience.

So there you have it. Although I had my camera in tow, I was enjoying the company at my table too much to take photos. I did manage one of dessert:

 

[like buttah]

The team at Floriole, including Sandra and Rachel Post [Floriole's head bread baker], will be holding another dinner this summer – a pizza party to top all pizza parties! Tim let me know he’ll be on our end this time enjoying the ‘za.¬† We’re all looking forward to it, thanks again everyone for a stellar night. It was a real treat.

 

 

 

 

 

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One of my favorite things to do is go out to a relaxed dinner, unrushed, unhurried, savoring every bite and enjoying each plate the talented chef concocts. Last night I had the pleasure of trying out one of Chicago’s newest up-and-coming restaurants, the distinctive Argentinian~Italian fusion restaurant, Caminito. Located in Lincoln Park, across from Steppenwolf, this gem is mere months old, but somehow [he never reveals his ways] my thoughtful boyfriend found out about it and, knowing how much I love eclectic, unique cuisine, made plans for us to try it out.

[winnie + kev, quintessential sweethearts]

We both love gnocchi [pasta + potatoes, basically sums up the two of us] and he’d heard Caminito had the best gnocchi in the city ~ which, news to me, is a common dish in Argentina. After dousing some of our freshly baked bread in housemade chimichurri [our server clued us in that it's a blend of oregano, red pepper, fresh parsley, garlic, olive oil, and vinegar] we both ordered the Gnocchi al Fruto del Mar [homemade potato dumplings sauteed with fresh seafood on a semi-spicy tomato sauce]. As we sipped our champagne and sopped up the addicting chimichurri with the hot crusty bread, diners slowly started trickling in, and before we knew it the place was packed. Oh, and how could I leave this part out, it’s a BYOB! Genius right?

[some bubbly for date night]

Our gnocchi came, a prettily arranged plate piled with calamari, crab, mussels, and the famed dumplings. In went the first forkful. Heaven, I tell you. Each bite of the gnocchi was pillowy soft and creamy, matched by the hearty chunks of fresh seafood. We both chewed in silent admiration, this gnocchi was legit. In the midst of all this a person approached our table, professional-looking camera in tow. “Mind if I take your picture?” He was a photographer from Metromix/RedEye and they were featuring Caminito in their Friday edition. We were going to be famous! Okay, not really, but it was pretty cool and a first for both of us. Snap, snap, snap. “Can you cheers with your champagne glass?” Sure! Snap, snap, snap. A very memorable end to an already wonderful evening.

ps: apologies for the shoddy photos, the dim light works like a charm for romantic ambiance, not as well for snapping non-flash iPhone pics.

[let the stomach growling commence]

[every bit as good as it looks]

[+ dessert: almendrado con dulce de leche]


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Yippie! Today is my birthday! I know I sound like a twelve year old but birthdays have always been celebrated as a special day in my family. Every birthday growing up, we’d wake up and scurry downstairs to see the kitchen decorated with a big “Happy Birthday” banner and find the kitchen table set with the special birthday tablecloth. We’d eat cake for breakfast and bring giant frosted cookie cakes to school to share with everyone. It was the best.

For the first time ever, this year my birthday has morphed into a birthday :week: ! I celebrated with my family this past weekend while I was home [complete with not one, but two cakes], last night Vince + I went out to dinner, then this weekend my sister planned a surprise visit to Chicago. Maybe everyone feels bad for me because I’m inching towards my late-twenties [which, I know isn't old but it sure feels old]. So tonight I have a work event that I’m looking forward to, and after that am planning on meeting up with some friends in from out of town.

Last night my honey, ahem, + I …

[honey {+honeycomb} purchased at patterson fruit farm in chesterland, oh]

… went to the most amazing restaurant: Browntrout at 4111 N. Lincoln [North Center neighborhood]. The place was perfect for a quiet date night. Dimly lit, good crowd, wonderful service, and best of all – delicious food. Browntrout has a great thing going. They specialize in sustainable, locally farmed, and organic dishes. While I don’t necessarily go out of my way to find restaurants like this, it’s always a major plus when I end up at one.

We opted to have our server pair each dish with a drink, a first for both of us. I was impressed by how well each drink and dish complimented one another; it made each bite taste even better. We shared the Pommes Frites [w/three dipping sauces incl. gruyere fondue...heaven). I had the Wild Burgundy Snails, I can't remember the name of the fish I had for dinner and it's not listed on the site.. eep.. but I think it was bass, yum, and for dessert I had the Butterscotch Creme Brulee. Vince had the Illinois Corn Risotto, Idaho Golden Trout, and Fallen Chocolate Souffle. They pretty much had to roll us out of there.

[ready to dig into the trout]

[bass {i think} w. saffron sauce]

We really enjoyed ourselves. Browntrout, we’ll surely see you again soon.

Thank you loved ones for a star-studded 26th,

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