Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Restaurant That Keeps Me Coming Back By: Jen

Jen Panattoni is a business woman and marketing student from Oak Park. She enjoys dining out so she can get something she doesn't know how to cook and gets inspired to recreate dishes she's had. Also, she finds it relaxing to sit down for a meal she didn't have to prepare. She watches Check, Please! because she secretly wants Alpana Singh's job, not that it's so much of a secret anymore!

One Logan Square spot which keeps me coming back for more is Dunlays on the Square. I’m talking about one of the best brunch spots in Chicago people, and if you like brunch like I do, then you also know that a little hair of the dog is just what the doctor ordered on those days where you just haven’t quite recovered from the night before.

Nestled right in the middle of hipster paradise, Dunlays is like an oasis that beckons with its big comfy booths and its promises of bottomless mimosas. If you’re not really into Mimosas, they also have one of the best Bloody Marys in the city as well, complete with a sidecar of the cutest little beer ever.  You could easily skip the entree and just feast on all the garnishes that come with your bloody such as, soprasatta and fresh mozzarella, but you would do yourself a disservice if you didn’t order up a plate of the Johnny Cakes.

Their Johnny Cakes are thin, cornmeal griddle cakes that are stuffed with savory cider braised pork.  On the side, you have an assortment of accoutrements; two poached eggs, crunchy fried potato strings, and a mysterious pickled concoction referred to as “chow chow”. I like to dress my Johnny Cakes like I would a taco with all these fantastic sides to get never ending combinations of savory, sweet, crunchy, and the most important flavor of them all, porky. Yes, pork should have its own flavor, I think it’s well deserving of that. You’ll agree with me if you ever get the chance to pony up to a comfy bar stool at Dunlays.

So go there, the staff is so nice, they’ll even charge your cell phone for you behind the bar if it’s about to die! They won’t even make fun of you for returning a week later because you left your charger there, which is just a really great excuse to order up some more Johnny Cakes.

Dunlays On The Square
3137 West Logan Blvd.
Chicago, IL. 60647

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Senor Pan By: Jerry

Jerry Weber is a Senior Contract Buyer from New Lenox. He is an ultimate Check, Please! fan as Jerry says he's watched every single episode over our 11 season history. While it can be an expensive hobby, Jerry loves checking out as many of the Check, Please! reviewed restaurant as he can. He even created his own Check, Please! database to help him find the perfect dining spot for any occasion.

Finally it was time for my birthday family meal, it is only over a week late! Well I will say things have been quite busy around the old family home lately. This is the first free day when we could all get together.

I decided on Senor Pan, since we are a Cuban household. This restaurant came highly rated on several of the different Internet websites. The ratings have been very high for this restaurant. So we head up north to pick up our oldest daughter and then head over to Fullerton. There is a parking lot right in front of the restaurant. There is a pretty good crowd for a late Saturday lunch, early Saturday dinner.

We start out ordering two orders of the Croquetas De Jamon (Ham Croquettes). They were very good. All the Cubans at our table agreed these tasted like a true Cuban made them and reminded everyone of the home made version. We also ordered the Mariquitas Con Mojo (Homemade Plantain Chips with Garlic Sauce). These were also good. It was strange that the Plantains were cut with ridges (just like Ruffles have ridges). So they were not as thin as they could have been. Also they could have used more salt.

For our main orders I started with the Senor Pan Trio (3 mini sandwiches of my choice). I got the Sandwich Cubano (sandwich with Ham, Roast Pork, Cheese and Pickles, this was very good and I am not a big fan of ham or pickles), Sandwich De Boliche (Roasted Beef, Lettuce and Tomato, this one was even better), and finally the Sandwich De Ropa Vieja (Shredded Flank Steak in Tomato Sauce, this one was truly the BEST). I will say two of my favorite Cuban dishes have to be Ropa Vieja and Boliche and in that order too. Oh I almost forgot I also ordered a Mango Batidos (milkshake, very, very delicious).

Well my wife and my youngest son both ordered the Bistec Encebollado (Grill Onions Steak). Of course I tasted their steak and it was very good. They both thought the steak was very good but the rice, black beans, and plantains were just average. My oldest son and youngest daughter both ordered the Ropa Vieja (Shredded Beef, my favorite Cuban dish). Dad had to try some (remember it is my birthday meal and my favorite dish) and I thought it was truly outstanding. They both agreed on the beef but again just thought the rice, black beans, and plantains were just average. Finally, my oldest daughter order the Boliche (Roast Eye of Round Cuban Style, my second favorite Cuban dish). I also was allowed to sample this one and again thought it was one of the best I have ever tried. My daughter agreed on the meat, but also thought her sides were just average.

For dessert, my wife and two daughters all ordered the flan. They really liked it a lot. Usually they order flan and say afterward that it was too jello like, however this flan was firmer and tasted very good. So this time at Senor Pan they all LOVED their flan and thought it was just like a true Cuban would have made.

Oh I almost forgot, (remember I am older now) I also ordered another Senor Pan Trio to go. My sandwiches were just sooo good that I had to place another order to go. I figured I had another yummy meal for the next day.

So all this food and with drinks, our total bill came to roughly $85 dollars. Actually it was a bit higher with a tip that our waitress did not want to accept (I left her a tip anyway). Since it is a family run place I think they don't want to accept tips. But the service was just sooo friendly and helpful.  
I would highly recommend Senor Pan to everyone and we do plan on heading back to Fullerton for another yummy Cuban meal.

Senor Pan
4612 West Fullerton Avenue
Chicago, IL 60639
(773) 227-1020

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Restaurant That Keeps Me Coming Back By Lori

Lori has traveled the world as a flight attendant and has experienced the food and cultures of many countries. Now, a hotel concierge, Lori gets to enjoy dining at restaurants in the River North area as apart of her job. One of the reasons she loves dining out is because you can never have the same experience twice. Every restaurant and meal is a new experience and makes life interesting because you are able to live in the moment.

Merlo on Maple is my idea of the perfect restaurant dining experience. The restaurant is located in a beautifully restored, four story, 19th century town home in the heart of the Gold Coast, just steps from the exciting Rush Street area of Chicago. During the Winter months, the cozy rooms invite you into the warmth of the restaurant with it’s understated elegance. Flicking candles in silver candlesticks are on every white linen table. You enter the gracious town home and immediately see the intimate bar. Perhaps a drink before dinner. 
During the summer months, the second floor bar extends outside to form a charming balcony. There is outside patio seating in front of the restaurant. The lovely wooden staircase greets you as you walk into one of the dining rooms. Many of the rooms are used for small, intimate gatherings. Fresh flowers are on the tables, it feels like you are entering a beautiful home. This restaurant is Class!
Chef/Owner Luisa Silvia Marini spent many years in her native Bologna, Italy where she was able to refine the flavors of Bolognese cuisine. She uses the finest and freshest ingredients, many imported from Italy. The menu is also a favorite. Dishes are perfect for sharing. The handmade pastas, fishes, meats, and desserts were created from the most sophisticated recipes of Bolognese cuisine. Portions are on the small side for the American plate. This is a fine dining experience geared for the “slow food” devotee. The wine list focused around the flavor of the Bolognese cuisine. The professional wait staff will guide you with your selections. Service is friendly, knowledgeable, and well paced.
The upscale, sophisticated atmosphere is perfect for a quiet, romantic, fine dining experience. It is equally suited for a private business dinner or special occasion. The spacing of the tables allows for privacy and conversation. The charming horse drawn carriages are nearby and add to the atmosphere of the area. The Rush Street area is perfect for strolling after dinner or having after dinner drinks at one of the many nearby bars or clubs.
My favorite reason for going to Merlo on Maple is the feeling you have when dining here. It is a wonderful trip to Italy without having to pack and use your passport. If a trip to Italy is not in your near future and you love Italian cuisine, this is the place to splurge and go!! If you have been to Italy, it will bring back wonderful memories. You may be inspired to go to the bookstore and pickup a 2012 Guide to Italy. After dining at Merlo on Maple you will have the urge to pack…… Start dreaming, a trip could be on the way!

Merlo on Maple
16 West Maple St.
Chicago, Il. 60610

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Most Memorable Dining Experience By: Nicole

Nicole loves food, but hates to cook so enjoys trying different restaurants on a regular basis. She travels to many different cities as an Operations Analyst and enjoys researching restaurants or food trucks to check out while she's there. Nicole enjoys watching Check, Please! to discover new restaurants in other neighborhoods and feels like she's met a new acquaintance whom is telling her about their dining experiences.

My most memorable dining experience took place not at just one establishment, but four over the course of a few hours, thanks to local tour company Fork and the Road. Two summers ago I joined Fork’s intrepid owners, Dimitria and Sharon, for a bicycle tour of some of Chicago’s great Eastern European cuisine. During our 15-mile bike ride through the city’s northwest neighborhoods on a lovely day, we most assuredly took in more calories eating than we burned biking, but it was still a fun and delicious way to explore the city.
After first hearing all the necessary bike safety rules for our group of 10, we pedaled up from Edgewater to Argo Georgian Bakery on Devon. Here we were each treated to our own Hachapuri, a flaky, cheese-filled puff pastry cooked in the depths of a large Georgian oven built right into the bakery’s floor, complete with cooking demonstration by the owner. It made me wish I had a Georgian oven in the middle of my kitchen so I could eat that bread every morning.
After stopping by a nearby Russian delicatessen, Three Sisters, for a quick sausage tasting, we took the scenic route to Elston and Peterson for our biggest meal of the tour at Polish favorite Smak-Tak. Here we were treated to a giant spread of pierogis and Hungarian-style pancakes- potato pancakes covered in goulash, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and peppers. Would I normally have had such a homey Polish feast on a hot summer day, with a few miles of biking left to complete? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t still clean my plate.
Finally, we rolled down Lincoln (at a far slower pace than when we started) toward Jibek Jolu, Chicago’s only Kyrgyzstani restaurant. This central Asian country’s location on the silk road has produced food with an influence from both its Eastern European, Persian, and Asian neighbors. It made for really interesting flavors, hearty with some surprising spices. The noodles in the signature lagman dish are even hand-pulled in-house. I used to recommend this restaurant to anyone looking for something a little “off the beaten path”, though with its recent appearance on Check Please, that’s probably no longer necessary!Fork and the Road did a great job of introducing us to some great hidden gems in my own backyard, easily accessible by two wheels. Trying such wonderful local and authentic eateries only made me want to continue on to sample all the great ethnic food Chicago has to offer.

Argo Georgian Bakery2812 W Devon AveChicago, IL 60659(773) 764-6322

Three Sisters2854 W Devon Ave
Chicago, IL 60659(773) 465-6695

5961 N Elston Ave
Chicago, IL 60646
(773) 763-1123

Jibek Jolu5047 N Lincoln AveChicago, IL 60625(773) 878-8494

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Chicago Brauhaus By: Samantha

Samantha has traveled as far as Vegas to eat at B&B and driven to Cleveland to go to Lola. Although she loves cooking, she loves the ambiance, service, creativity, and of course the wine of a dining out experience. Originality is something she looks for in a restaurant and has Check, Please! on her DVR so she can find new places to try. Samantha also writes Yelp reviews and tries to pinpoint what she looks for from a dining experience. Her boss even calls her a pretentious foodie!

I have such a huge love for food in general, it really is difficult for me to pick my favorite restaurant, food item, etc. Thus, I think I’d like to start with the restaurant that keeps me coming back, because to me consistency is really key. While I adore fine dining, I also like different types of places.
My favorite spot to keep going too and to take people to who haven’t experienced it is Chicago Brauhaus (yes, I realize this has already been on). First of all, it’s the first place I ever had beef tartare (Hackepeter) so it obviously holds a special place in my heart, but that place also has great food other than the raw meat (imagine that). I am going to Oktoberfest in September so perhaps I’d be in a better position to report on the authenticity after that, but I love all of their dishes (liver dumpling soup is a fave).
What makes this place so special, other than being one of the four places in the city that I know of that carries BBK Pils (delicious beer, nom nom nom), is the entire experience. It’s a very random group of people you’ll see, but you do see a bunch of German families in there. The band is awesome. I sometimes forget about my food and drink because I’m just soaking it all in.
What is just great is you see these little old women dancing and partying like they’re 21. People are all genuinely having a good time, and that enjoyment is contagious. I don’t think you could possibly not have a great time here! Anytime someone says how they aren’t impressed by German restaurants I always immediately ask if they’ve been here and, if not, make plans right away. It sets the bar (don’t get me wrong, Edelweiss is solid as well) for all German restaurants in Chicago.
I’ve gone with just my husband or a huge group of people. This is somewhere you want to take people who like German food or who like to have a good time. No one has ever asked for their money back.

Chicago Brauhaus
4732 North Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60625
(773) 784-4444

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The restaurant that keeps me coming back By: Emilie

Emilie Schukai is an Administrative Assistant from Andersonville. She likes baking, ceramics, reading, people watching, and dining out with friends. She enjoys dining out because it gives her a chance to try new flavors, new cuisines, different cooking techniques, styles, and dining experiences in Chicago that she may have otherwise not tried. Emilie is a “try anything once” kind of person…..usually!

I’ve enjoyed many experiences at Big Jones over the three years I’ve lived in Andersonville. Everything from experimenting in my new neighborhood, to a last minute dining idea, to impressing out-of-town (including international) guests with a great taste of creativity in Chicago. “Southern heirloom cooking” at Big Jones is a hit!

It is truly a unique treat in my neighborhood. The Art Nuevo styled font on the quaint looking awning above Big Jones’ door draws you in. While they do take reservations (a true treasure in a neighborhood jewel!), you are welcomed to enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail at the bar while waiting for a table. The best seating is at a charming table for two in the front window- apt for people watching along Clark Street, but larger groups and quiet tables can be accommodated easily. 

A start with Fried Green Tomatoes is the best decision when in season! For a traditional southern taste experience, the familiarity of their Gumbo Ya-Ya will make you fall in love with Big Jones. The Shrimp and Grits provide another recognizable flavor and comforting experience. The Fried Chicken special is a must have, with chicken gravy, potatoes, and greens. They also offer a great selection of daily specials and southern inspired dishes with updated flavor profiles from local ingredients.
If you’re looking for a relaxed, easy-going brunch, Big Jones offers up a generous menu. Beginning with Mimosa and house Beignets and moving onto savory Eggs New Orleans (eggs benedict served over blue crab cakes and popovers), an ideal way to spend a Sunday morning.

 The service is thoughtful but laid back, allowing you to enjoy your company and your meal without feeling rushed. Menu prices are a bit on the higher side, but the food quality and portions are well worth it.
Big Jones is a dining experience you can’t leave Chicago without!

Big Jones
5347 North Clark St.
Chicago, IL. 60640
(773) 725-5725

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Naf Naf Grill By: Aaron

Aaron is an elementary school teacher who loves going to see bands play, reading, and watching sports. He enjoys dining out because it is time spent with friends and family without worry, and a reason to celebrate or try new things. Aaron's favorite kind of food in Chicago-style pizza from Burt's Pizza.

The most delicious single bite of food in the Chicago land area exists in Naperville. The flavors, textures, and layers of the falafel sandwich found at Naf Naf Mediterranean Grill perfectly marry to create a simply divine, yet foodgasmic morsel. The handmade pita pillows nestle a handsomely dressed (with chili paste, tahini and pickled vegetables) falafel. By itself, the falafel is a delectable bite: warm, savory, spicy and crunchy - tucked gently under its pita blanket; anxiously awaiting like kids on Christmas Day, to erupt from slumber and celebrate a joyous occasion. Simply put, it is a profound eating experience.
Located off of I-88 and the Naperville Rd. exit, Naf Naf is very accessible, has ample parking, and is reasonably priced. Since it moved locations, it is seemingly constructed more for the lunch crowd than a family dinner; which shouldn’t be a deterrent as families are welcome and there is plenty of space to sit and eat, but the restaurant does lack character.
The sterility is easily overlooked with all of the singing and dancing from the falafel sandwich taking place on the taste-buds which is why Naf Naf Mediterranean Grill keeps me coming back – it makes all falafel sandwiches in the greater Chicago land area pedestrian. The average cost is about $10 per person.

Naf Naf Grill
1739 Freedom Drive, Suite 109
Naperville, IL. 60563

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Something A Little Different- Charlie Trotter's Cooking Class Demonstration By: Elizabeth

Elizabeth Bayston is a fitness trainer and business owner from Lincoln Park. Her favorite kind of food is fresh, healthy vegetarian food and 'za (pizza). She tries to eat according to her motto: "Gourmet Everyday- treat yourself to the freshest wholesome ingredients possible- you and your body deserve it".

A cooking class demonstration at Charlie Trotter’s is my most memorable dining experience. I saved the menu from this experience. Thirty-five of us who had the intuitive good fortune to purchase a $100 ticket for a school fundraiser were equally blown away and hopefully all have treasured the experience as I. Back then, Charlie Trotter’s ruled the Chicago fine dining destination spots. Others have followed, but at that time Trotter’s along with West Coast Keller and Waters were trend setters serving fresh flavorful food in stylish settings. Diners flock there to celebrate memorable occasions and receive the royal treatment: cozy amply spaced seating areas, relaxing background music congenial to conversation, cordial and attentive dining staff. A three-four hour sitting was the norm. This afternoon fit all those criteria and the icing on the cake was having Charlie himself and his entire staff at our disposal (in his kitchen I might add) for viewing and questioning.
The sommelier greeted each of us with utmost courtesy offering a champagne flute of Gruet Blanc De Noirs Brut from New Mexico to stimulate our afternoon palates. Relaxing living room chairs with sufficient high backs added to our comfort level as we all settled in to see the maestro at work and take copious notes. Our first of four wine-paired courses was a cerviche of Citrus (grapefruit- I recall) cured Smoked Salmon with Soba Noodles and Ginger Soy Hijiki Sauce. Our palates cleansed with a pouring of a 1998 Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc Chateau La Nerthe . The second course sampling of Roasted Elephant Garlic Soup with Fennel, Cumin Scented Eggplant and Fennel Emulsion was no less impressive. Its creamy yet light texture languished on the tongue and again paired beautifully with the aforementioned aperitif. Both Charlie and Sous Chef Sari gave us sufficient explanations on the meticulous preparation of this dish. Another one of those why you don’t attempt this at home type detail. Of particular noteworthy was the fresh “home grown” ingredients incorporated from the garden out back. A key differentiation point offered in New American cuisine. Along with other notable restauranteurs then Trotter’s prodigious attitude provided the catalyst for today’s Green City Markets now commonly accepted city wide. But I digress, onwards to the Main Event; Thai BBQ Beef with Collard Greens and’ Hen of the Woods’ Mushrooms composed of a secret asian spice blend no doubt he will take to his grave. The Volnay selection of “Caillerets-Cuvee Anciennes Carnot” Bouchard provided an appropriate chaser. Gratefully the sommelier came by with ample refills as our never before stimulated tongues were on fire. Sadly, we accepted our final course that afternoon of Espresso Crème Brulee with Dark Chocolate Sauce, (simple but so smooth), with a tiny glass of 10 year old Malmsey Madeira. Alas our rich experience bought at a bargain basement price had come to an end. And now that this famed restaurant is closing its doors after twenty-five successful years makes it that much more memorable. Though almost twelve years have passed, I still relish this once in a lifetime experience in one of America’s most sought after kitchens. As they say in Hollywood – it doesn’t get any better than this

Charlie Totter's
816 West Armitage Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 248-6228

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