Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Name Change

I am contemplating a name change for this blog. I don't travel for work any longer so if anyone has any suggestions, let me know. I doubt I can actually change the URL for the blog but I think it would be more appropriate for this blog to be named something different. So, feel free to suggest anything if you think of a potential new name.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Japonais -- Chicago, IL

On the 23rd of August, Jane decided she wanted to take me on a date that was a surprise. She just told me to look my best and be ready by 6:30. So, knowing full well that everyman should listen to what his lady says, I abided, freshly shaved my head and then pulled a comfy yet sophisticated outfit.

We took a cab and I realized we were heading to Japonais. Japonais is a restaurant about 1 mile east of me off Chicago Ave. Every time I have ridden my bike or driven by it, I have only seen Bentley's, Range Rovers and the like parked outside. Was this going to be over the top, not my scene? Jane booked us in the lounge on the river. It proved to be perfect since the sun was close to setting (see picture below) and the decor was perfectly simple but sexy and sophisticated.

So, we took in the scenery, allowed the paparazzi to snap some pics and then settled in. Jane started with a Pineapple Mojito and I a scotch. We were sat at a sofa with a coffee table like setting. It is different but casual and ended up being perfect for us. We decided not to do any entrees and instead just ordered several appetizers. It ended up being perfect.

Our meal consisted of:

  1. Lobster Spring Rolls
  2. Ahi Tuna Ceviche
  3. Chilean Seabass Cartoccio
  4. Kombu Summer Roll

Everything was perfect. We started with the first two to begin and then ordered the second two later into the meal. I switched to wine and Jane stuck with the mojitos. The lobster spring rolls were so crispy and perfectly fried but the lobster meat was so amazingly succulent. It was amazing and I don't usually eat fried foods. Jane had never had ceviche. I give her credit for trying it but I do have to admit, she was pleasantly surprised and loved it. The ceviche was so fresh and just sort of summarized the setting we had -- fresh, summery, refreshing and perfect. Jane loved it and I think she will have more ceviche in the future.

The Seabass was different as it was hot. It was served in a plastic bag which it clearly was cooked in. The sauce and bass was all inside. They open it up for you when it comes and the scent was intoxicating. I think we were both a bit scared but it was so good. I am guessing they poached the bag in hot water so it cooked everything inside simultaneously. The hardest part was trying to use the chopsticks, which neither of us are experts with. Jane chose the summer roll and that just capped off a perfect evening. It was fresh as well and with the cucumber it cooled you down slightly (see picture -- we were looking so hot -- sarcasm).

It was nice to have someone take care of me for once. The fact that Jane put so much effort into the date really made me smile (once again see picture above). She dotted her i's and crossed her t's. As has been the case for Jane and I, the conversation was perfect and really complimented the food allowing for a nice 2 hour long dinner (oh and the wine/mojitos did not hurt either). It ended up being a great date.

It took me by surprise and showed once again how different every dinning experience can truly be. Of course, the skeleton of a dinning experience is the food. There were definitely no broken bones at Japonais. The ambiance added the organs to the skeleton (no medical issues here). Finally, Jane's company added the muscle and epidermis. With the amazing food, fantastic setting, lovely company and Jane's sexy little black dress, I can't really explain how great the evening was. Obviously, I looked great in my unironed linen pants (sorry Jane) but I only added the outfit to skeleton, etc, Jane took care of the rest.

There is a Dave Matthews Band quote from the song Best of What's Around that sums up Jane for me: "It's not where you are at but who you are with." This is so true. Japonais is an amazing restaurant. Anyone walking by is lucky, let alone those sitting in the river walk patio. But, going there with Jane, knowing she planned the night, eating truly amazing food (some of it so new for both of us) I could not ask for anything more. I will have to admit though, Dave Matthews may change his lyrics to "It's not where you are (unless you are on the patio of Japonais) but who you are with." Just make sure though, to be safe, you are with someone great. I was lucky enough to be both in a great place with great food and with an amazing person.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Home Bistro (HB) -- Chicago, IL -- Boystown

Recently I went on a date to HB. I am not too proud to admit that the draw was to go there because I heard the food was fantastic (let's face it, the gays know how to do it up) but it was also a BYOB which besides Asian restaurants in Chicago, is hard to find good food and BYOB -- See future posting about Schwa the one restaurant in Chicago I am yearning for and will post on hopefully sooner rather then later.

So, back to the dinner. The place is cute. It is quaint which I love. It is not the over the top type of restaurant like you typically find in Chicago -- which is probably why it is a BYOB. It used be owned by the Hearty Boys (er go HB) but then the won the Food Network Next Personality show (or whatever it is) and they sold it to their friends. I never went there when the Hearty Boys ran it but I assume nothing changed or they did not lose a step.

The place requires just regular phone reservations (no opentable.com). From the beginning (i.e. the reservation) you could tell they knew what they were doing. They inform you that it is a BYOB and there is a wine shop (Kafka) down the block, which I thought was a nice touch.

We got there late but there was a window table still open which actually worked out better because all the gays could stare at us when they walked by. The truancy was my fault, I was deep in conversation and missed my turn and ended up going through Wrigleyville...bad move.

So, I brought a bottle of Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir -- just in case. Jane had never had escargot before so we ordered that and busted open the Chardonnay. First dates can be fun. We were both slightly apprehensive (er go the 2 bottles of wine) but we quickly settled in. On a side note, we went to a great little place for a drink before hand (Randolph Wine Cellar) and I highly advise it for a relaxing loft like atmosphere. So, we began to talk and get to know each other.

Quickly, but not too quick, the escargot came out. We both loved it. Escargot can be scary for people but it literally is like having mussels that are completely soaked in garlic. So, if you like garlic, you would like escargot. The menu was fantastic but the special sounded the best -- Grilled Marlin, which I had never had. We both discussed how we had never had it and wondered what it would be like. I think from my countless hours of watching Food Network, I some how pulled out that it would taste similar to swordfish. Alas, I was correct. They literally brought us a T-Bone sized Marlin steak. It was fantastic. Towards the middle of the dinner, we finished the first bottle of wine and moved onto the second because we were both enjoying ourselves and I wanted to test Jane and see if she would have dessert (she is a trainer at my gym -- equinox -- and she does not eat sugar on a regular basis).

So Jane, to her credit ate most of the Marlin but when the waiter came by to ask if we were done, she grabbed the rest off her plate and put it on mine, which I loved. Speaking of the waiters, they are great. There are only 2 of them and they are the guys who own the place so they know everything about the menu and they are very attentive. Our waiter continually came back to fill up our wine glasses from the wine we brought. I know this may not sound like a big deal but I have ordered bottles of wine at restaurants where I have to pour my own wine, which I am fine with. The point is they pay ultra attention to details and that is what makes this place cozy, romantic and fantastic.

We ordered the Cupcake trio for dessert. It was good, not amazing but good. The Carrot Cake cupcake was to die for though. This allowed us to finish our second bottle of wine and call it a night. HB is the perfect date spot. There is parking down the street in a lot (not super expensive), the interior is quaint, cute and romantic, the people were great and most importantly, the food was great. I advise asking if you call for a reservation, to be seated in the window, I felt like a manniquen displaying clothes -- not just any clothes but "couture" and it was fantastic. It is a great way to see a great area of Chicago that I would not typically see. There are sex shops down the way that are have window displays more intense then most things I have ever thought of -- no we did not go in, the energy is great and it is fun over there.

So, please consider trying HB because it was fantastic. The menu changes constantly (per our waiter) and it is BYOB, the most underrated thing in Chicago.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Vintage Wine Bar -- Chicago, IL

Howdy, I am attempting to back track here since I have been to many a restaurant I have not commented on. A few weeks ago, we were wandering Division Street. We were planning on going to Jerry's Sandwich shop. Jerry's is a fantastic little place that serves about 100 sandwiches on their menu. It sounds like a deli but it really is a very nice, quaint, down-to-earth deli that serves wine and beer as well. Anyways, Jerry's was a minimum 30 minute wait so we decided to continue walking. We did not get far (next door) and I said I had always wanted to go to Vintage Wine bar but never had. We checked out the menu.

It is a quaint little restaurant, dimly lit and a very nice, easy going atmosphere. They a few $10 flat bread pizzas so we decided to try it out. This ended up being a nice little gem. I think I will go back there often. We ordered a bottle of wine and then got two pizzas (a BBQ Chicken pizza and an Artichoke, spinach and goat cheese pizza). Both were really, really good. The main complaint I found with Vintage resides in the small jazz band that was playing. They were really loud, really too loud for a smaller, quaint restaurant.

I am still amazed by how much the atmosphere of a restaurant can influence your night. You would think it is all about the food and the people you are with. We enjoyed this place because we were able to just relax. The pizzas were very moderately priced and a good size, let alone good.

To close the dinner out we ordered the creme brulee. It was good, but not as good as the creme brulee I had in St. Kitts. All in all, a really good dinner for $80 considering we bought a bottle of wine. We lingered in Vintage just chatting it up and staring at other people around us. It is funny, sometimes when you call a restaurant a "wine bar" you will find "wine snobs" that clearly frequent the place just because it is a "wine bar." We enjoyed about a 8 minute convo/laugh watching a young gentleman who would only hold his wine glass by the stem (clearly to not compromise the temperature of his white wine, which clearly would have occurred had he held the wine glass by the actual oblong vessel in which the wine was relaxing).

I have probably ordered around 10 bottles of wine together in the past 5 weeks. No, I do not have a problem but every time, the server is clearly trained to go through the "wine presentation" with me. This would include:
  1. Presenting me with the bottle
  2. Uncorking (hopefully cleanly though we have run into a few servers in those 10 who broke the cork and had to get a new bottle)
  3. Pouring the individual who ordered the wine a small tasting
  4. Allowing me to comment on the wine, the serving glasses to those other(s) at the table.
To me this process is annoying. I ask the server sometimes if they have actually ever had someone send a bottle back and they commonly say, "Yes, I have." This astonishes me. It also makes me proud to be only a pseudo-wine snob. I like wine that I like. Typically I stay away from the boxed stuff or overly fruity wines but that is where I draw the line. Some of these people get so full of themselves and "enjoy the process" described above. Just pour me the wine, let me drink it. If I order crap wine, that is my fault. If I order crap food, that is my fault for not (1) finding a good restaurant and (2) ordering something that I could trust would turn out well.

Well, I turned Vintage into a wine tangent but it was a good place, I will definitely go back. It was nice to go to a place that is not commercially known and still enjoy the experience. I hope to try something new next time and write another great review.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Nacional 27 -- Chicago, IL

So, once again I have been slightly slacking. Aunt Peggy thank you for the virtual kick in the ass to "lock it up" and write a post. I will start with my dinner last night but then go back and review a few of the places from St. Kitts.

So, last night a few friends and I decided to try somewhere new. We chose Nacional 27 in River North in Chicago. Here is what was ordered:
  1. Ceviche Sampler: Shrimp and Scallop • Cold Smoked Tasmanian Salmon • Ahi Tuna and Watermelon -- $11.95
  2. Grilled Tasmanian Salmon: Spinach, Fennel, Spring Onions, Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette -- $19.95
  3. Beef Tenderloin "Medallions": Spanish Cheese-Potato Gratin, Red Wine Jus Truffle, Blue Cheese -- $23.95
  4. Me: Pacific Blue Nose "Huachinango": Tomatillo Salsa, Arroz Verde, Cilantro Sauce -- $21.95
  5. Bottle of Wine: 2005 Fillaboa AlbariƱo -- $32
I will get the negatives out of the way first because overall this was a great dinner and experience and I would definitely go back to Nacional 27 again. We wanted to sit outside but decided against it as the table next to our's had a dog that was walking around our table. So, we opted to sit inside. It was a Tuesday night around 8:15. As a result, it was a pretty slow night. The wait staff was fairly slow in dealing with us. After an initial greeting from David, another server took over. This was fine as maybe it was time for David to go home since it was slow. Our new server was knowledgeable and nice but like I said, he was slow. Not like, sorry I am busy slow but almost like he forgot about us a few times. We ordered the bottle of wine and instead of leaving the bottle at the table, it was set away from us and we had no idea where it was at. Our server did refill our glasses for us but only when he saw we were sitting with near empty glasses of wine. Other then the slow service, this was truly a great experience. Once again, I attribute this to the slow night they were having.

We were started with a chef's treat of three homemade fried potato chips with a house made ceviche on it with manchego cheese and a drizzle of lemon vinaigrette. I think every single restaurant that truly serves great food should do this. No, we did not pay for it but it was a fantastic treat while we were looking over the menu and provided us with a trust in the chef that whatever we ordered was truly going to be amazing.

After long deliberation, we chose our meals as stated above. They provided us with a bread basket with homemade bread and some breadsticks along with a black bean dip and a chipotle dip. Both were great and it was nice to get different types of bread with something other then the standard butter.

The wine was fantastic, light, crisp and dry. It would have tasted even better had Rufus the dog not inhabited our outdoor table. The food was great. I did not taste The other dishes but they said the food was great. My fish was fantastic. There was a really spicy salsa verde which made each bite fantastic and luckily for me went great with the wine. I had never heard of Huachinago fish before. It is from the pacific and my waiter informed me it was similar to grouper. It was fantastic and grilled. Dinner did not last that long because the food was so good.

We decided to try some desserts. I had the coffee creme brulee. This was a let down. The creme portion was very bland with an overwhelming espresso taste at the end which was somewhat bitter. There needed to be some sort of sweetness added. Reid had the Roasted Pumpkin Flan which he was was great and tasted like really good pumpkin pie. A flan should not have the consistency of pumpkin pie but as long as it tasted good, that is what matters. I guess flavoring the flan with pumpkin automatically will make it a different consistency.

Overall a great meal and I would definitely go back. Nacional 27 has salsa dancing on the weekends which would be fun to go and watch. Apparently they have fantastic mojitos and one has habeneros in it, sounded really interesting. I would try the churros with carmel ice cream if I went back and I was very tempted to try the skirt steak since that is typically a stable at a latino restaurant.

Once again, I had a different dining experience. It was nice to have people from different aspects of my life at dinner. Everyone had met previously, which I think helps. But, once we got the ball rolling, we talked about a lot of stuff and did a little people watching (always a fun Watson past time). The nice part as well was this felt like we were actually adults. Sometimes, at the age of 26-27, people are stuck in one extreme or the other (socially speaking). They either want to run around wild and crazy like they are actually on spring break or they are married and only do the dinner party thing. This was the perfect adult mix for us because we had fun, laughed and enjoyed some wine and good food but also were able to get out to this nice dinner on a Tuesday night, something inconceivable when we were younger.

More to come....