Empanadas Brought to You by the Recession

Image via chicagoreader.com

Like many in the last few years, Nicolas Ibarzabal’s  job was in danger of being a casualty of the economic downturn.  He decided to channel his energy into creating his own business based around what he described as one of his “passions” — the empanada. With two other fellow Argentines 5411 Empanadas was  created.

Chicago has more than a few hoops food trucks have to jump through but 5411 Empanadas has managed to grow a following with regular daily spots. There are also plans to open a restaurant in Lincoln Park.

Seems like a silver lining to the economy can be that people are deciding to try a hand at doing what they love for a living.

Latin American Herald Tribune – Empanadas Catch On with Chicago Street Food Consumers.

Top 50 Fit for Foodies Restaurants – 2011 Diners’ Choice Winners

Open Table asked their readers to rate what they consider the best restaurants in the country. Based on over 10 million restaurant reviews they compiled the following list of the top 50 restaurants for “foodies.” Link to the list is below:

Top 50 Fit for Foodies Restaurants – 2011 Diners’ Choice Winners.

Image via Metromix

Six restaurants in Chicago made the list: Blackbird, Bonsoirée, Girl & the Goat, Graham Elliot, The Publican, and Sprout Restaurant. I would definitely agree with West Loop picks of Blackbird and The Girl & the Goat, both are great spaces aesthetically and consistently serve high-quality dishes. I felt comfortable trying pig face at G&G because the preceding dishes I had were so good I thought there was no way the pig face (the name alone give me the willies) wasn’t going to be good. Blackbird is a bit more traditional but the flavor combinations are right on and they have an amazing wine list and craft cocktails. The best whitefish sandwich I’ve ever had is on the lunch menu at Blackbird.

I have not been to Bonsoirée or Sprout but hope to go soon. I’d also argue that Avec, the sister restaurant to Blackbird, should be on the list as well.

Image via Concierge.com

“A beautiful setting full of happy people” – Dose Market Chicago

The next Dose Market is this Sunday September 25th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m in the River East Art Center. Dose is a year-round monthly event that features local vendors that are handpicked for their food or fashion innovation. Food and fashion — can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Especially as the weather cools off and you need to escape indoors. The hot cider and looking at one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry will make the cold weather bearable.  If hot cider doesn’t do it for you they have drinks as well:

Image via dosemarket.com

You can find a list of vendors and event information here. I am looking forward to tasting the food, drinking the drinks and trying on the wares. I’ll post pictures and keep you updated on the next Dose Market.

A peek at some of the food line-up:
• Wild-caught Alaskan salmon and smoked salmon on New York Bagel + Bialy bagels with Zingerman’s cream cheese
• New candy company Sea & Cane’s sea salt caramels, pistachio cherry nougat and chocolate “sausage” logs
• City Provisions’ Bloody Marys, plus two exclusive beers brewed by chef Cleetus Friedman
• Sweet Cakes Bakery’s brioche bostock (think portable French toast), individual bread puddings and quiche
• Franks ‘N’ Dawgs’ fanciful sausage sandwiches

Some fashion visuals:

Image via mineralogydesign.blogspot.com

Image via cultureclubfashion.com

Market Info.

Dose Market – River East Art Center, 435 E. Illinois St., Chicago, IL

I Have a Secret

Julius Meinl has great coffee (they have been around for 150 years), wonderful tea, quality food and a great space to enjoy all of these things in. But here’s the secret, the real reason to come here are the little cookies they serve with the drinks. There is just one little crisp cinnamon cookie that comes with the drink and I savor it every time. It’s baffling how something so small can have so much wonderful. Trust me, these gems are worth the trip.

So invite your friends to go to Julius Meinl but don’t tell them about the cookies and maybe they will hand it over when you innocently ask, “Can I have that biscuit…”

Other good items to try:

Meinl Baked Eggs – any kind, Bacon Cinnamon Roll, Austrian Breakfast, Nutella Crepes, Soup of the Day, any of the pastries, Chorizo Spätzle and of course any of the many coffee and teas offered.

P.S.  You can buy boxes of the cookies at Julius Meinl. Do so at your own risk…

Lakeview   Julius Meinl is at 3601 N Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60613

O’Hare Airport Debuts Aeroponic Vegetable Garden

Image via HuffingtonPost.com

Good news for travelers coming through O’Hare International Airport — fresh on-site produce will be served in several restaurants. According to the Huffington Post the aeroponic garden is the “first in-airport vertical garden at O’Hare will supply the international airport’s restaurants with swiss chard, red habanero peppers and 42 other types of herbs and vegetables grown right between terminals 2 and 3.”

The promise of locally grown, fresh food while you wait for your (probably delayed) plane helps make the whole pre-flight time bearable.

O’Hare Airport Debuts Aeroponic Vegetable Garden (VIDEO).

Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements | September 16-18, 2011 – Eckhart Park

Just another Chicago festival? The more I read about Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements the more I realized it did not sound like the typical Chicago festival. The About page of their site states, “Our ultimate goal is to create a distinct environment that allows a wide audience to be entertained with the most creative ideas and performers regardless of genre. As a production the event has no stylistic boundaries, it can  incorporate circus artists, music, comedians, short film and hopefully more.”

The creator is Mike Reed of Pitchfork fame. He designed the event to have something for everyone in a unique and oddly entertaining way. Its sounds intriguing enough to go see for yourself. Of course my question: Is there food?  Yes, there is FOOD. There will be a farmers market on Saturday and Sunday featuring some great Midwest vendors.

Besides the farmers market there are also a number of free events as well. Here are a couple:  Walk for Fun and for anyone that missed Renegade Craft Fair  last weekend, a Renegade Craft Fair Pop Up Market.

The website itself is really well designed and is packed with information so go there and check it out for more info:

Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements | September 16-18, 2011.

Eckhart Park (Chicago Ave. & Noble St.) Chicago, IL 60622

News: Magnolia Bakery In Chicago Loop

Image via designerscollaborativenyc.com

I had my first Magnolia cupcake in the West Village in 1999. I remember it being good but what I really remember is the long line. I expect the Magnolia Bakery that is opening up in the Loop will be very popular as well. I just hope the lines don’t equal what they were/are in NYC. It just might be worth it though; I’ll let you know.

Magnolia Bakery is also open in Los Angeles and Dubai.

Magnolia Bakery – 108 North State Street in Block 37, Chicago, IL

News: Magnolia Bakery.

Chicago « Renegade Craft Fair & Other Weekend Fests

Even though the weather has indicated summer is over and fall has arrived it’s still nice enough to enjoy some of the last Chicago festivals this weekend. Here are a few of my favorites:

Image via withlovexox.com

Renegade Craft Fair Chicago – One of the best fairs to showcase handmade crafts and art. The emphasis for this fair is on original DIY works by artist. Even if you don’t end up buying anything it’s a visual treat to see new ideas and work that you won’t see at other Chicago fairs. Now for the real reason I love this fair, the FOOD:

Food will be available for purchase from Antique Taco, Big Bite Catering, and MANA Food Bar, while Black Dog Gelato and Puffs of Doom will be selling sweet treats. Intelligentsia Coffee will be on-hand providing your caffeine fix.

Beer will be available for purchase from Goose Island, and wine will be available for purchase from Lulu B.

via Chicago « Renegade Craft Fair.

Lakeview East Festival of the Arts–  This is a great fest for families and art lovers. Artists in almost every medium will be represented including photography, printmaking, mixed media, ceramics, clay, collage, fiber, glass, sculpture, furniture and more. Unique and original artwork is on sale in all price ranges.

The Festival also hosts children’s entertainment featuring puppet shows, interactive arts and crafts and activities to foster an appreciation of fine art in the youngest participant. The Lakeview East Festival of the Arts hours are 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Saturday) and 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Sunday).

Image via gozamos.com

German American Fest – This is truly a party starting on Friday evening through Sunday in Lincoln Square. There will be a parade on Saturday at 2pm ending in Lincoln Plaza. Lincoln Plaza  located at Western, Lincoln and Leland. Admission is free. Entertainment-wise there will be traditional cultural programs with participation of many societies, plus German music for your singing and dancing pleasures. Last but not least great FOOD and lots of German beer. There will also be activities for children.

I Ate Alligator | Union Sushi + Barbeque – River North

I didn’t plan on it, it just happened one night in River North. So began my meal at Union Sushi + Barbeque. Seems to be the “it” thing this year in Chicago, sushi & BBQ.  Said alligator is pictured above on the right-hand side. Looks harmless, doesn’t it? Someone asked me if it was crispy, it was not. It had the consistency of chicken just a bit heartier tasting. I did go back and ordered the alligator again and they were out so it must be popular. My recommendation is to try it. It won’t hurt and the portion is so small you don’t have to commit to a full appetizer or entrée and you can feel adventurous.

From left to right:

PROSCIUTTO-WRAPPED SCALLOP | wasabi-avocado purée, sweet plum sauce, fried ginger – Very tasty and the most interesting item from the barbeque bar to me (including the alligator). Plum sauce and ginger were a good complement to the scallop.

CHICKEN THIGH | Japanese-curry – Good flavor but with so many other items on the menu I wouldn’t order again.

BEEF FILET | ginger-soy – I did not try this but my meat-loving dining partner really liked it.

ALLIGATOR | garlic-soy + Kirin Light  – You should try it just to try it. Heartier like a venison but not strong flavor.

WHOLE SQUID | tare-soy – Pictured below. I did not try it but was told it was good and it would be a repeat order.

Having the BBQ part out-of-the-way I moved on to the sushi/seafood. First up was the truffled tuna with truffle oil, avocado, parmesan, chile fresco + wonton chips. For some reason I couldn’t initially taste the truffle oil but once I did it made the dish worth ordering.

Next: OYSTERS ON THE HALF SHELL | (6) red tobiko, green onion, crispy shallot + jalapeno-cilantro ponzu. I’m not a huge oyster eater but the flavor combination was great. The green onion with the texture of the crispy shallot was really good. Bold but in a delicate way…if that makes any sense. These were ordered again on the second visit.

The Union Rolls look a lot more interesting than the classic rolls so we went for those and were not disappointed. You can order half-orders of all the rolls so it makes it easier to try more at one time.

OLD CITY MARKET | spicy tuna, seared salmon, spicy ponzu, cilantro, green onion, fried okra + wrapped in collard green. I really like the collard green wrap. The fish tasted fresh and did not seem hidden behind all the flavors. It was ordered on the second visit.

THE BELLY ROLL | hamachi, cucumber, orange tobiko, scallion, chili paste aioli, crispy tempura crumbs, fried pork belly strips + eel sauce. I loved this roll, yes there is pork belly on top and it seems weird but it worked. Another repeat order.

Besides the rolls my next favorite thing about Union Sushi + Barbeque  were the craft cocktails.

THE SPARROW BEE | El Dorado 5 year Rum, Lemon, Honey Syrup, Mint, Bittercube Jamaican #2 Bitters. This is the type of drink that if you are not careful you finish it in no time. Not because you want a buzz but because you don’t want the perfect taste to end. When you take the first sip and your eyes get bigger and you say, “Oh my god, this is so good, you have to try it.” Then the person with you is bummed because your drink is so much better.

That is unless you ordered the NIGHT SCENE | Sobieski Vodka, Rock Sake, Cocchi Americano, Combier Orange Liqueur, Bittercube Orange Bitters.  Another perfectly balanced drink and deceptively strong as the vodka is hardly tasted.

I did get a dessert but don’t necessarily recommend it. Tasted like prepackaged dessert: KILLER YUZU PIE | coconut biscuit crust, fresh whipped cream

Before the rolls and cocktails, my favorite thing about Union Sushi + BBQ is the space itself. It is nice and open, visually interesting and the music is great. The atmosphere makes it hard to leave and miss going to Up Bar that is you guessed it, upstairs to continue the night.

Taste of Greece 2011 – Greektown Chicago

Last weekend was Taste of Greece in Greektown and I did not leave hungry. My knowledge of Greek food is pretty limited, when I think of Greek food the Gyro comes to mind. I did have one and it was good (see pic below). But I was lucky enough to have my friend Dana with me who is 100% Greek and knows her Greek food and guided me through all the food options.

We were on a mission to get Loukoumades. These are Greek donut holes, fried and dripping in honey sugar syrup and dusted with cinnamon. Sesame seeds are often added on top. We found them at Artopolis. They were heaven, satisfying and provided a nice sugar high.

Artopolis also provided us with tasty Spanakopita, spinach pie. It was the perfect size to share with flaky crust and right blend of spinach, feta and spices. Sometimes there seems to be too much crust and not enough spinach or vice-versa. Artopolis got the balance just right.

We rounded it out with Loukaniko, Greek sausage. Rich flavor with hints of citrus I believe there was fennel as well. Wrapped in a quality pita it made a nice little sandwich.

Added bonus to the food, there was some surprisingly good sangria that really packed a punch. I will definitely come back next year!