Monday, September 24, 2012

The Restaurant That Keeps Me Coming Back... By: Bethany

Bethany hails from Albany Park and enjoys softball, football, reading and dining out in her free time. Her favorite foods include anything Latin inspired and she loves eating out because it allows her to take a mini vacation to a different culture, so she can feed her love of experimenting with new cuisines. She thinks Check, Please! is a great resource for checking out the restaurants people are talking about before you actually go there.

My favorite go to restaurant is called Al Dente located on Irving Park near Pulaski. It is a little off the beaten path, but it is probably one of the best restaurants you will go to in Chicago. This restaurant is one where you will never get bored. The owner Javier Perez has worked in some of the highest rated restaurants in Chicago such as Spiaggia and Cibo Matta. As a result, the cuisine offered at Al Dente is a little eclectic. It is influenced by Italian, French, and Mexican cuisines, which lends itself to the adventurous diner. The food is also served with only the freshest ingredients and creates a truly upscale dining experience.

This combination of influences results in some of the most tantalizingly delicious meals I have ever had in a restaurant. My personal favorite dish is the Lobster Ravioli, which is a little surprising because I would never have ordered that dish at any other restaurant. I was able to take the risk because the servers at Al Dente are both extremely knowledgeable and exceedingly patient with their diners. I am the type of diner who has a million questions and always asks for the servers recommendations. The way the ravioli was described left my mouth watering. A few other dishes that are musts include the gazpacho, salmon, and lamb. In reality, there is very little on the menu that you would not enjoy.

Perhaps, my favorite aspect of dining at Al Dente is the ambiance and laid back atmosphere. The restaurant is also a BYOB. From the moment you walk in you will see that most diners bring in a bottle (or two.) It is a great place for a nice intimate date for 2 but it also attracts big groups, as I have seen groups of 10+ people dining there. The servers are very attentive as they immediately come over to greet each table and chill and/or open wine once you arrive. They always try to gauge what type of experience you are looking for in the restaurant. If the meal needs to be quick, you can inform the server and they will instantly accommodate; if you want it to be long and intimate they can accomplish that as well.

One of the aspects I appreciate most about Al Dente is that it really is not an excessively expensive restaurant. Most entrees are between $20-$30 and the appetizers are all between $10-$15. In fact, the first time I went to the restaurant I was surprised at how little the bill was in comparison to my experience. Al Dente really has few equals in terms of their amazing food and experience, so it keeps me coming back.

Al Dente
3939 W. Irving Park Road 
Chicago, IL 60616
(773) 942-7771

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Restaurant That Keeps Me Coming Back... By: Karolyn

Karolyn is a High School English Teacher who works and lives in the city of Chicago. She enjoys reading, writing, running, eating, travelling, and movie-going. Karolyn says if she had to choose her favorite foods, she'd go with spicy foods and comfort foods. She believes that going out to eat should be a celebration of food and is a great way to introduce yourself to a completely different culture.

(Taste of Peru was featured on Check, Please! in Season 6, but we loved Karolyn's passionate review so much, we decided to re-visit them. You can check out Taste of Peru on Check, Please! here.)

The restaurant that keeps me coming back is Taste of Peru. I have frequented this restaurant for the past two years. Though located in a strip mall of sorts on the far north side, there’s nothing strip-mall about this place. It’s not fancy, but one whiff of the spices and joy coming from inside and I was hooked. Having had the opportunity to visit Peru, I was introduced to the authentic dishes that so many Peruvian restaurants here have forgotten: strips of ceviche (none of that chopped-up-into-tiny-martini-glasses kind), real corn tamales, beef heart shish kebab (or, for the perhaps less adventurous, chicken), Cau-Cau (tripe stew), fried plantains, and my favorite: Aji de Gallina (a shredded chicken dish topped with a walnut cream sauce and hard-boiled egg with potatoes and rice). True comfort dish! Most beef and chicken dishes are served authentically, meaning with both rice and potatoes. Carbs are not to be dodged here!

The staff never rushes you, even if you are finished and there is a line out the door. If you have wine or beer left, you are welcome to stay and drink up. Since the friendly staff is of Peruvian background and seem to maintain close ties to their homeland, you may trust that they know authentic Peruvian food, and they are happy to help you choose from their vast menu of deliciousness the dish that suits your fancy or threshold for adventure.

The last time I was here, it was Peruvian Independence Day. There was celebratory Peruvian music in the background, and everyone--whether Peruvian or not--got into the celebration. The owner was handing out Pisco Sours. I had several Pisco Sours in Peru and never really enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed his. Talking with him, I was instructed that the next time I come in, I should bring my own Pisco and he would personally mix it up for me. He assured me that I would never turn down a real Pisco Sour, musing that I must have gone to the “bad” bars. Talk about genuine hospitality. I will be going back with a bottle of red wine…and a bottle of Pisco! While I normally don’t order dessert, that night I noted that they have Mazamorra Morada, i.e., purple corn pudding. In Peru, purple corn is also made into a wonderful juice drink. I decided to give the dessert a try. The presentation wasn’t the best—it just came in a water glass—but the sweetness brought me back to Cusco where I first had purple corn juice. The texture was almost like a rice pudding and it just burst with flavor. 

This, for me, is the sign of a true restaurant: one that awakens your taste buds, celebrates and embraces different cultures, and awakens memories.

Taste of Peru
6545 N. Clark St. 
Chicago, IL 60626 
(773) 381-4540

Friday, August 3, 2012

My Most Memorable Experience at a Restaurant... By: Patti

Patti is an administrative assistant that lives in Frankfort. She loves going out to Italian restaurants and says her favorite dish is the Baked Spinach Ravioli from Rocco's Little Italy. Patti says she knows her food as her friends are always asking her for restaurant recommendations on her train ride to work.

One of my most memorable recent dining experiences took place this past weekend at Eddie Merlot’s in Burr Ridge. Because my husband and I are no strangers to fine dining, we were recommended Eddie Merlot’s and decided to give it a try.

Immediately upon entering Merlot’s, one is visually astounded by the upscale contemporary décor - the lighting is colorful and festive, the stained glass pieces that hang from the ceiling are beautiful, the chairs at each table are “living room” stuffed chairs, which immediately makes you realize you will be comfortably seated in this sophisticated arena. Spacing of tables allows for easy movement around the restaurant and is conducive to privacy in conversation. Although your eyes are roaming to take in all the beautiful décor, the main attraction would have to be the floor-to-ceiling wine “cellar” encased in glass, which takes up the back wall of the restaurant. The “cellar” offers you a rare view of the large selection of the wines that Merlot’s has to offer.

You are escorted to your table by one of several hostesses and your wait staff magically appears within minutes. Our waiter, Jaime, gave a short overview of the steaks for which Merlot’s is known, and when asked, comfortably offered suggestions and comment on our selections. For appetizers, presentation of the calamari was most notable as it is served in an edible “bowl” made to look like an open clam/seashell. Upon our waiter’s recommendation, we also ordered the blue cheese potato chips which were flavorful and delicious, but not heavy. Merlot’s offers several salads, one being a wedge, however, what set Merlot’s apart, was the offer of a maple apple cider vinaigrette, which caused the taste buds to water.

For the steak lover, the bourbon marinated rib eye is a flavor explosion, while the bone-in rib eye with gorgonzola literally melted in the mouth. Sides are perfect for sharing, and the Eddie’s potatoes (diced potato with jalapeno in au gratin sauce) are a great enhancement to any entrée and something apart from the everyday baked potato.  The Brussels sprouts with cippollini onions and diced bacon would make a veggie eater out of anyone. They were a taste bonanza. Each course is brought to the table and served by wait staff and managers so that the entire table is served at one time.

Eddie Merlot’s is a fine dining experience geared for the diner who wants to savor and enjoy each course with the perfect down time in between. General manager Jeff Stoltman and his staff are devoted to making you feel pampered. Merlot’s is the perfect place for that special occasion, even if that special occasion is simply because it’s a Saturday!

Eddie Merlot's 
201 Bridewell Drive
Burr Ridge, Illinois 60527
(630) 468-2098

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Full Monti By: Steve

Steve lives in Highland Park and enjoys cooking, photography, skiing, and travel. He says that because his years of cooking, he truly appreciates going out to restaurants that do a great job with good ingredients, excellent preparation and attentive service.  “From great Chicago dogs to haut cuisine, we are lucky to live in a city that provides so much diversity and quality.”

My son and I have had a recent ongoing discussion about the Philly cheesesteak sandwich. I had a cheesesteak at one of the most highly rated stands in Philadelphia, and was very unimpressed.  I posted what I thought was wrong about the sandwich construction in my blog, and made the statement that I did not think there was a good example of the "true" Philly cheesesteak sandwich to be found.  About the Philly cheesesteak sandwich itself, I was definitely wrong.  There is a commercially available Philly cheesesteak sandwich that belongs in the realm of iconic sandwiches.  It is found here in Chicago, at Monti’s in the Lincoln Square neighborhood.  It deals with every problem that I had with the sandwich that I had in Philly, and the result is spectacular.

I talked with Jennifer Monti, who with her husband Jim, own Monti’s.  I explained the tastelessness of the sandwich I had in Philadelphia.  Jennifer thought that I might have had bread right out of the package, and it would have been too soft.  They tried to duplicate the Amoroso hoagie roll here with local bakeries, but were not able to reproduce the exact taste profile that they wanted.  They import the Amoroso rolls par-baked, and finish them in their pizza oven.  The result is greatly improved over the squishy roll I had in Philadelphia, as there is a nice crust bite to the outside, with a soft crumb inside.

The meat is Black Angus Ribeye, seasoned with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic.  It has a wonderful taste on its own, not too dry, but mixes well with the choice of either a domestic provolone (with a nice bite to it), or the house cheddar sauce (made with Wisconsin cheddar cheese and water).  Mushrooms are sautéed from fresh, as are the onions. The result is a truly excellent sandwich, one that would please a resident of the City of Brotherly Love as well as the residents of the City of Big Shoulders (or anywhere else for that matter).  Jennifer was so sure of her product that she stated if I didn’t like it, the sandwich was on her.  It was a very safe bet on her part!

I will have to return to Monti’s to try their other offerings:  grinders, pizzas, Italian water ices.  But, try the Cheesesteak, it made a believer out of me.

4757 N. Talman Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Restaurant That Keeps Me Coming Back By: Samuel

Samuel is certified watercolor instructor, a prizewinng photographer, a published poet and an author. He describes himself as 78 years young. He is also a laughter yoga leader and a facilatator of a creative writers group at Mather's More Than a Cafe'.

I left home for Mather’s More Than a Café about 8:30 Friday morning. I arrived around 8:45. It was the day that Miss Chicago would be featured for, “The Friday Night Dinner Show.” I had been waiting to see and hear Marisa Buchheit, Miss Chicago.

Mather’s three Cafes are open for breakfast and lunch, (except the location located between Higgins Ave. and Neva Ave. which is open till 7:00PM on Fridays.) The Higgins location's cafe walls display patron’s art work. There are cherry wood shadow box glass covered dining tables which are filled with old time pictures, magazines, coins and stuff. There is a computer room, an exercise area, a recreation area, three washrooms, a couple of offices, and a kitchen.

For breakfast I had a healthy meal of oatmeal with raisins, cinnamon, and brown sugar. The price was $1.65 with my M.A.D. 20% discount. All patrons that are 55 years old and older are eligible to purchase a Mather Advantage Discount plan. The cost is $55 a year. Being a senior, I watch my food intake and my money output; I want food that is of good quality, that is healthy for me, and that is reasonably priced. With the oatmeal I had a cup of coffee that cost $0.75 all day (a bottomless cup). I like a place where the coffee flows like water. Also at Mather’s, food is cooked in trans-fat free oils.

For lunch I had a bowl of Italian Wedding Soup. I would have liked a little bigger meat ball, but the taste was still divine. Then it was off to the computer to get my email. Later, I worked on a Sudoku puzzle.

The dinner show menu had Tilapia, which is my favorite sea food. I had the blackened Tilapia. It had a lemon pepper seasoning, olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice. It was yum, yum, yummy going down to the tummy.

The fish was severed with mixed vegetables, cauliflower, broccoli, and a side choice. I chose a carrot salad, because I wanted to make sure my eyesight was at its best. For dessert, I had a small slice of wonderful tasting chocolate cake. The meal and show were well worth the money. Dinner and show cost me $20.00.

Marisa sang popular songs and operatic favorites. She sang songs from Carmen and from West Side Story. What a lovely young lady! Her voice enchanted me. I was lost in loveliness. Miss Buchhiet  asked if the audience had any questions. I learned she studied singing in Italy. I asked a question, “Can the men in the audience have your phone number?" Laughter filled the air. She gets high marks from me.

What a day I had. Marisa is a treat for my eyes. My big ears enjoyed every sound that came from her lips, while my palette was well satisfied. Ah, what a day that this 78 year old senior enjoyed. Marisa, I’m Yours- Body and Soul.

Mather's More Than a Cafe, is a not-for-profit organization that caters mainly to seniors, but all patrons are welcome. They have computer classes, exercise classes, trips, classes about health issues, line dancing- the list goes on. It is a great place at a great price. The Cafes are open at 8:00 am till 3:30/4:00 pm. The Higgins Cafe is open on Fridays till 7:00pm. The kitchens close a half hour before closing.

Mather's More Than a Cafe (Norwood Park)
7134 W. Higgins Avenue
Chicago, IL 60656
(773) 774-4804

Friday, June 15, 2012

Au Cheval By: Martha

Martha is a copywriter and freelance writer who enjoys reading, bicycling, and playing ping-pong. Her favorite kind of food is Mexican and she loves eating out as a way to embrace different cultures. She'll visit any restaurant with exceptional food- even if it's a hole in the wall. 

Au Cheval
800 W Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 929-4580

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