Thursday, October 27, 2011

Perfect Meal By: Christina Tallerico

Christina is a high school Spanish teacher who enjoys cooking, trying new restaurants and going to concerts. She says she is willing to travel as far as she needs to go to eat some delicious food. She has even planned road trips to other states so that she can try new restaurants. Her favorite restaurant is Maya del Sol which will be featured in season 11 of Check, Please!

My best friend and I used to play this game in college where, when we were really hungry, we would discuss where and what we would like to be eating. When given the prompts for the Check. Please! blog, I found it more than appropriate to take my 24-year old self back to those long lost college days and play the “Food Game.” 

 Where to begin? I guess the best place to begin my perfect meal is with location. If I could pick anywhere in the world to eat, it would have to be in an outdoor café in Spain in the early fall where I could enjoy the mild weather and people watch. I spent a semester in a small town in Spain and often find myself longing to get back to the Spanish way of life. The atmosphere of my ideal meal would hands-down have to be that of Maya del Sol, where I could sit on the patio and be part of the fast pace energy and attentive service. 

To start my meal off with, there would be a plethora of fine Italian bread a la Bari bakery in Chicago.  The restaurant would give me several of the crusty end pieces of the bread, which are my absolute favorite. I would start with the Mangaso drink from Maya Del Sol, which consists of mango puree, lime juice, tequila, rum and lined with a chile rim. Later on in the meal I would switch to the Pepinito, which is made of cucumber gin and habanero syrup with a chile rim.

My appetizer of choice would have to be the fried romaine lettuce with lemon and garlic from Danny’s Deli in Melrose Park. It is delicious and tender and makes you think you are eating healthy because you ordered lettuce. 

The entrée of my choosing would have to be the “Lair of the minotaur” burger from Kuma’s. Korner in Logan Square It has to be cooked medium and served piping hot. This burger is served on a pretzel roll and topped with bourbon soaked pears, Brie cheese and caramelized onions. I would obviously finish the entire thing and still be ready to take on the rest of my meal. As a side I would have to say that the deep fried cornbread from Heaven on Seven would take the cake. Served to me hot, crispy on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside I would literally be in Heaven eating every delicious morsel.

My dream meal would be capped off with dessert perfection of course: the Sicilian Iris from the Purple Pig on Michigan Avenue. This decadent and unique dessert is the stuff dreams are made of.  It is deep fried brioche dough filled with chocolate chips and ricotta. Think a cannoli on steroids. And that, readers, is how I would end my perfect meal. If you will excuse me, I am getting hungry…

Maya del Sol 
144 S Oak Park Ave
Oak Park, IL 60302
(708) 358-9800

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Click Your Heels Three Times By: KD King, featured Check, Please! Guest

 KD King is an erotic romance novelist from Hazel Crest. She was a guest on the latest new episode of Check, Please! as she recommended her favorite restaurant Mabovi. KD loved her experience of being on the show and is excited to share her love for Chef Bea's Afro Caribbean creations with all of you.

Say it with me “There’s No Place Like Home, There’s No Place Like Home.” Well unless you decide to stop by Mabovi restaurant. No sparkling red heels needed. Come and bring an empty stomach.
When I first heard of Mabovi it was through one of my women’s groups. We had plans to go and check out the cuisine. At the time Mabovi was in Matteson. Unfortunately, I was busy that day and couldn’t make it. But I made appoint to remember the name so I could check it out on my own. I am familiar with both West African and Caribbean cuisine, so I knew it was a place I wanted to try. I love oxtails. And I grab at any chance to find a place that makes good ones. 

When I finally decided to try the restaurant out, they had moved to their Hazel Crest Location. In fact they had just moved. So it was only a take out window and two small tables pushed against the window. No more than four people could “dine-in” at once. 

I sat and studied the menu trying to figure out what I wanted. That’s what happens when you wait until you are hungry. Well she was baking some bread to take over to the fire department and just pulled some loaves out. 

“Here try this.” Bea, the owner, gave me a fresh baked roll.
I knew then and there this would be a place that would not disappoint. The bread melted in my mouth. Filled with nuts and cranberries it was unlike any roll I had ever had. I know many people are carb addicts. They love bread and the like. I’m not one of those people. But in that moment. I became one. I craved the bread. And I was sure to order an extra piece with my meal. And I have from that day on.
I decided on the curry lamb shank. She recommended it to me. I decided to eat at one of the two tables. I was not prepared for the Fred Flinstone portion of meat on one of the biggest plates I have ever seen served at a restaurant. Curry lamb shank, rice and peas, and steamed cabbage. I ate, and ate, and ate. Then I took the other half home. 
The food was great, but I’ve never felt so welcomed. The owner talked to me, recommended food, we talked about her expansion of the restaurant, and why she moved. I was no longer eating by a window in a small restaurant. I was enjoying a meal at home. It was that experience in addition to the food that had me coming back for more and more and more. And yes her oxtails are delicious.

I finally made it to another event with my women's group at Mabovi. This time she served family style because the group was so large. The food kept coming, the laughter never stopped, she talked to everyone, walked them through, made her special peach tea type concoction and made sure that everyone left full. Well full is an understatement. We were stuffed. Somehow we had managed to eat our weight in food. Afterwards we lingered, relaxed, and sipped tea. That’s when I knew. I could no longer keep this gem to myself. I had to tell everyone about Mabovi. A home away from home. I didn’t have to kill a witch and travel down a road to find Mabovi. Just a hop, skip, and a jump away and I found another home. 

Mabovi African & Caribbean Restaurant
17100 Dixie Highway
Hazel Crest, IL 60429
(708) 206-1900

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Most Memorable Experience at Al's Italian Beef By: Patricia Nicandro

Patricia is a graduate student at DePaul University who enjoys traveling, reading, culinary exploration, and playing sports that don't require much athleticism. If Patricia was forced to choose her favorite kind of food it would be breakfast food with a heavy emphasis on bacon. Patricia may not have a car but she is willing to travel as far as the CTA/Metra tracks will take her in order to reach a good restaurant.

My most memorable experience at a restaurant was going to Al’s Italian Beef on Taylor Street in Chicago’s Little Italy.  I grew up in Bolingbrook, IL, until age 13 and it was always such a treat when my family drove up to Al’s for Italian beef sandwiches with sweet peppers and a bag of fries.  When summer hit, we’d walk across the street to Mario’s Italian Lemonade.  The Italian ice at Mario’s pairs perfectly with the hot sandwiches from Al’s.

Dining at Al’s and Mario’s is so different than what you’d experience in the suburbs.  The food tastes authentic. The beef and “gravy” (similar to au jus) at Al’s packs a lot of flavor and the meat looks real; not like the trimmed lunchmeat you’d see at your typical family-friendly chain restaurant.  The French fries at Al’s are also very fresh with the potato skins still on them. 

Likewise, Mario’s puts chunks of fresh fruit in its Italian ice.  Every other Italian ice I’ve had pales in comparison because they use artificial syrups to flavor the ice. 

The ambiance at these two establishments is very casual, which is also part of their charm.  Mario’s was the first food stand I had ever been to.  And upon my first visit to Al’s, when I was 4 years old, I noticed that there were no tables, just counters.  At that age I was always taught to sit down at the dinner table when you eat, but at Al’s you quickly learn how to eat your Italian beef sandwich standing up.  As I later discovered, this technique is called “The Italian Stance.”

Al’s Italian Beef and Mario’s Italian Lemonade may not be fine-dining restaurants, but you are sure to receive some of the finest food Chicago has to offer.

Al's Italian Beef
1079 West Taylor Street 
Chicago, IL
(312) 226-4017
Mario's Italian Lemonade
1068 West Taylor St
Chicago, IL 60607

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Downtown Family, and the Uptown Cafe By: Gina Witt

Gina is a dental hygienist and food blogger who enjoys running, sewing and fantasy and baseball nerding. Gina is picky about her food and restaurant choices. She says, the must be prepared flavor-fully with care, from scratch and considers herself to be a snob about these requirements. Time is too precious to squander on a mediocre or bad dining experience for this busy mom.

Throughout my life, I’ve occasionally been noticed for my quirky style, but never my expensive taste. I have always earned a look of disdain when, on receiving a compliment on an outfit, I’ve blurted proudly, “It’s second-hand. Two bucks! And I sewed the top!” I admit, I think that good things don’t have to cost a fortune.

Now, I have two kids under the age of three that I love to share meals with. However, I don’t believe in bringing our kids along to fancy restaurants, because I feel that a $32 steak is a waste of money when served with a side of screaming.

My life doesn’t happen at five-star venues. My life happens at the Uptown Café in Arlington Heights.

We can all have fun at the Uptown, and I don’t have to eat something that’s pressed into a nugget shape. The food is fresh and delicious at Uptown, the service is friendly, and the prices are incredible.

The Uptown Café has been owned by a Greek family for decades. Georgia greets us at the door. She is a tall woman with tall hair and a tall personality. She has shown my toddler how to stack the creamers to help keep her amused, or she has fed her jelly off the end of a spoon. She calls her “kukla,” or “doll.” The Uptown staff is always accommodating: crayons and coloring paper, saltines, and a kiddie cup are available promptly at the Uptown. Phew!

The décor is the low-point at the Uptown, but I find it endearing. It includes Miami-style pinks, palm fronds in the upholstery, and frosted glass partitions. Things get even more convoluted with lots of ceramic figurines, and hanging seasonal paper decorations. If you can’t find the warm heart (or at least the kitsch factor) in these types of surroundings, then I would humbly suggest that the Uptown is not for you.

The French fries at the Uptown are some of the very best anywhere, always served hot, with a shattering crunch. Breakfast selections include enormous omelets and perfect pancakes. (The Mickey Mouse pancake is a festival of cherries, sprinkles, and whipped cream so over-the-top that your kid will think it is her birthday.) The sandwiches have ingredients like hand-carved turkey, cranberry mayo, crispy bacon, and always perfect avocado. You will obsess about their chicken salad, or their thick and gooey grilled cheese. Specials never disappoint, whether a burger or an entrée salad. The grilled chicken is incredibly flavorful: my favorite special has been their broccoli, chicken, and cheddar crepe that I have requested specially-made many times.

The prices at Uptown are fast-food low. Our family can eat for just above $20 on real food, creatively prepared, with quality ingredients and fresh produce. I can bring my family to the Uptown, and still leave a hefty tip after my kids trash the immediate area around our table.

I’m happy to admit that the Uptown Café is where my family is right now. And like my family, it is always fresh (and oh, that toddler is a fresh one), comfortingly routine but never boring, just what I wanted, and where I’m always very glad to be.

Oh, and a little tacky and loud sometimes.

Uptown Cafe
24 East Miner Street
Arlington Heights, IL 60004-6012
(847) 398-1720

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Perfect Meal By: Emilie Yount

Emilie is an editor from Andersonville. She loves to read, travel and considers herself a fan of everything Harry Potter. Emilie watches Check, Please! to see how different people view things in different ways. She thinks its interesting to see how the food, especially spicy food, tastes to other customers. Some people may think something is too spicy, but Emilie says, bring it on!
Twist is a restaurant in Chicago in the oddest of areas. When you think of Wrigleyville, you likely imagine 20-somethings stumbling down Clark Street in a drunken haze to the next sports bar that smells of stale beer. In the case of Twist, a plethora of delights are encased in a tiny storefront just near the corner of where Clark intersects with Sheffield. I have been back dozens upon dozens of times to savor in what this quaint tapas restaurant has to offer. It can get super-crowded due to its size, and although I have spotted quite a few first dates there, it isn't ideal in terms of romance. It is, however, an excellent place for a group to converge over an array of red and white sangrias and chat the night away.

Tapas are the best way to get to know the people around you or reconnect with your dinner party. Sharing food allows people to converse and discuss and, of course, allows you the chance to dabble when it comes to your meal. How many times have you ordered an entree that you were unhappy with and spent the majority of the meal eyeballing the lovely entree your dining partner has ordered? Tapas allow you to sample, which means you will be happy with most items, but more than likely, there will be standouts to remember for your next visit.

Twist has a price per plate that can't be beat. I have definitely been to my fair share of tapas places, and there is no silly gimmick here. They have quick service and bring the items out as they become available. You can sit in the front section, which rises upon the rest of the restaurant and looks out onto Sheffield or at the tables that line the restaurant wall. You also have the choice to sit in front of the cook station, which smells like heaven. Some of the items are are continuously stellar are subtly spicy jalapeno gnocchi, the tuna cannelloni stuffed with tuna, asparagus and basil in a white wine vinaigrette and tomato basil sauce, the lobster ravioli with sun-dried tomatoes, stuffed mushrooms roasted with sauteed spinach and Monterey Jack cheese, the beef tenderloin crusted with delicious blue cheese and the Paella Twist, which combines chicken, calamari, mussels and shrimp with saffron rice. I can honestly say I have never had a disappointing visit here. Your options are endless, from cold to hot tapas (veggies, meat, cheese- whatever you are craving) and a full bar selection. People who don't like small spaces need not apply, but I am all about the food. If it's good, I will come back, and in this case, it's great. The sangria selection doesn't hurt, either (red being a mainstay but always in addition to a summer option). If you want to meet up with old friends or meet new ones, this is the place.

3412 North Sheffield
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 388-2727

Turquoise: A Delicious Gem By: Tom Gull

Tom Gull is a sales manager who enjoys singing, bike riding, travel and of course cooking. Tom thinks that good food, unrushed service, and a knowledgeable wait staff makes a restaurant worth going to. He watches Check, Please! to see how others view the restaurants that he has experienced already.

I was introduced to Turquoise Café by a friend who is Turkish. My initial impression was how clever the name is. In subsequent visits with friends for whom it is their first visit, they too were surprised by the name that points to the cuisine – maybe everyone first thinks of the rare gemstone. 

This was one of the only restaurants I know of where I didn’t know what to expect. I figured the menu would be a cuisine that would be similar to Greek and Middle Eastern restaurants. Greek restaurants to me all taste too similar to each other and Middle Eastern restaurants also seem to be a slight variation on a theme – shawarma and kebaps. I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

Sure, there are kebaps and hummus but even these well known dishes took on a flavor all their own. The hummus, when served as an entrée is accompanied by all sorts of vegetables (wild mushrooms, carrots, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, broccoli) each cooked perfectly.  Each dish is unique unto itself. One of the kebaps I’ve tried is served with a reduced pomegranate sauce.

There were a dozen people at my first dinner at Turquoise. We went with a group of twelve who were in Chicago from all parts of the U.S. for a conference. It seemed like most had some food restrictions – gluten-free, dairy free, vegetarian, diabetic. The server was knowledgeable and easily directed everyone to appropriate choices or asked the chef to alter the dishes to accommodate their needs. I do not have any food restrictions so I chose the sampler platter. I try not to overeat but I figured the sampler platter would be a great introduction to the restaurant. It was filled with shrimp, salmon, chicken, beef and scallops all on a delicate bed of rice pilaf. It was so flavorful that I knew I would soon return.

On future visits, our group has been six or fewer persons. Upon a recommendation from the sole male waiter, who will proudly tell you he is not Turkish, but Kurdish, we always order 2 appetizers and one less entrée than the number at the table to share. There is always plenty to eat. The appetizers tend heavily toward seafood (diver scallops, calamari, mussels, salmon carpaccio or vegetarian – think zucchini pancakes, or spreads made from roasted eggplant) all served with delicious warm, homemade bread. At Turquoise, each dish I have tried tastes completely different from the next. Each entrée is served with uniquely perfect sides – rack of lamb with roasted vegetables, braised beef short rib with a creamy polenta, grilled salmon with gnocchi in a light tomato sauce, gorgonzola chicken with roasted red peppers, salt crusted Mediterranean white fish with steamed vegetables.

With the waiter’s recommendation, I have literally had over 50% of their entrees. With each dish, I feel like I am experiencing eating for the first time with new taste buds being awakened.  Unlike many other ethnic restaurants where the moussaka, pasta marinara or Wiener schnitzel all taste the same, the chefs at Turquoise have created a menu where there are no similarities. The accompaniments to each dish are as unique as main dish itself.

Dessert tends to be traditional, offering crème brulee (odd for the region), baklava, gelato and cheesecake but then they surprise you with an almond parfait that is flambéed tableside and drenched with a warm chocolate sauce. Also available is Kazandibi, which according to the menu is a mixture of caramelized butter, sugar and custard served with vanilla ice cream. It is a dense custard but the caramelized top is reminiscent of the flavor of toasted marshmallows.

For the past twenty or so years, I have taken three of my nephews, who are brothers, out to lunch or dinner a few days before Christmas. This tradition began when the oldest was 9 or 10 to give my sister an afternoon to finish her Christmas preparation. Each year, I choose a different ethnic restaurant for our meal. Each year as we get into the car, I ask the boys “why are we doing this?” They respond in unison “so we learn to appreciate other cultures.” As a native Chicagoan, I enjoy taking my friends, visitors, and nephews to the many ethnic neighborhoods that make Chicago a world-class city.  Through the years, we have “visited” Mexico, Guatemala, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Sweden, Ethiopia, Japan, China, Korea, India, Lithuania, Peru, Russia, and Thailand. As we drive, I give them clues to where we are going and along the way I detour through different neighborhoods to throw them off the track. In 2010, I took my nephews to Turquoise. When the meal was finished, they all proclaimed that it was the best restaurant yet.

Turquoise Restaurant
2147 W.Roscoe
est Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 549-3523

Café Ba Ba Reeba By: Rudy Abiera

Rudy is a research development manager who enjoys cooking and bowling. He uses his outside dining experiences to further develop his own creativity and cooking explorations. If Rudy chooses a drink while dining he will usually choose wine or a Latin Mojito.

The restaurant that keeps me coming back is Café Ba Ba Reeba on N. Halsted in Chicago. This is because Café Ba Ba Reeba has a great overall dining experience. First-Tapas style is always a blast, especially if you are looking for a variety of eats…don’t go with anyone who does not like to “SHARE”…that’s what Tapas is all about! My personal peak is my dinner is when the Paella comes out…Fantastic! The bonus to this restaurant is that they do special events like Flamenco Dinners and Paella classics! What keeps me coming back is the atmosphere and quality of the staff, the great outdoor patio seating, the ever-changing menu selections, but most of all…we can keep coming back with different people, with different tastes and make it a totally new and exciting experience! Remember, “Life is Food-Food is life!” 

Café Ba Ba Reeba
2024 Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 935-5000

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