Getting Fancy at Henri – The Loop

Henri WindowsIt’s been a long time since I’ve gone out to eat on Valentine’s Day and Henri is the perfect place for those that enjoy the perks of fine dining without the uptight vibe.  Huge front windows grant an amazing view of Millennium Park while the decor feels rich and decadent yet inviting.

Henri Dining Room 1Thick leather bar stools line the front bar lending a relaxed feel of the room while pristine white table clothes, light green velvet and leather chairs and booths sit perfectly under crystal chandeliers. I believe it was faux but it may have been real leather that lined the walls of the bathroom. Nice touch.

Henri Dining RoomService is excellently choreographed so you’re never left long waiting for anything but no one is bothering you when they shouldn’t be.

The Valentine’s menu was a choice of a prix fixe four course or grand tasting with nine courses. We choose the four course and were more than satisfied with taste, presentation and portion.

First Course: Continue reading

Brunch at La Sirena Clandestina – West Loop

La Sirena Clandestina Dining RoomLa Sirena Clandestina feels cozy yet open with large front windows that allow the morning light to come streaming in. There is not shortage of rustic wood highlighted by brick and teal walls. The stools, netted light fixtures and mermaid artwork give it a retro vibe.

I love a classic American breakfast but La Sirena Clandestina brings a nice change of pace with its Latin/Brazilian/Japanese take on brunch. There are so many interesting mixes of flavors in each dish. It reminded me of Myers + Chang or what I imagine Fat Rice would taste like if they served brunch.

Let’s start with the fact I found my favorite empanada in Chicago. I’ve been around the Empanada Block, from Chicago to Colombia and these won my heart. I suspect it has to do with the fact they are baked instead of fried. The phyllo-like dough was so light and airy felling similar to meringue when it melts upon hitting your mouth. Filled with baked bacon, sage and cheddar and it was clear why the whole table declared these empanadas the best.

La Sirena Clandestina Breakfast EmpanadaRabanada is a Brazilian-style fried french toast. This version was loaded with dulce de leche and bananas then dusted with powdered sugar and topped off with Cachaça, the most popular distilled alcoholic beverage in Brazil. Made from sugarcane it brought the dish to a whole other level of sophisticated sweet taste.

La Sirena Clandestina Rabanada French ToastPushing aside reservations that the breakfast sandwich was a “boring” choice I went with it after the server said it was one of his favorites. Reminiscent of a torta this hunk of sandwich is served on massive thick and crispy ciabatta encasing fried ham, fresh avocado, egg, and cheddar. Boring this is not.

La Sirena Clandestina Breakfast SandwichThe breakfast sandwich was served with the best potatoes I’ve had in a while. The outside was super crispy like bacon and the inside was nice and soft. Heavily seasoned with chunks of garlic this might not be a good choice during a date but it would be worth it if you did.

La Sirena Clandestina Breakfast Sandwich PotatoesThe Okonomiyaki is a Japanese pancake served with an ingredient combination that will leave your mouth happy and wanting more. Octopus, bacon, kewpie mayo, bean sprouts, green onions and sesame taken together in one bite will literally make you smile. Kewpie is a Japanese mayo and made with rice vinegar making it slightly sweeter than regular mayo and twice the umami taste in a creamier texture.

La Sirena Clandestina OkonomiyakiThe shrimp Baiano was another new dish to me. The taste and texture of the La Sirena Clandestina Shrimp BaianoThe polenta worked nicely with the bite of the green onions and habenero rounded out with some richness from cashews.

Finally a Kale salad that is a bit different. This was lovely with roasted poblano dressing, cotija, toasted pepitas, radish and jalapeño. We opted for the chicken but you can have shrimp as well.

La Sirena Clandestina Kale SaladLa Sirena Clandestina is a perfect brunch spot and I am looking forward to trying the dinner and drink menu I am hearing so much about. If it’s as half as good as brunch I’ll be sending all my friends there.

La Sirena Clandestina Bar

Panamanian Classics at Las Clementinas, Casco Viejo, Panama

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Established in 1673, Casco Viejo is the historical heart of Panama City. Churches, plazas, crumbling houses and restored buildings turned boutique hotels share space in a very noticeable rapid transformation since my first visit in 2004. A decade ago I contemplated buying real estate in Casco Viejo falling in love with the architecture and history of the neighborhood. I am kicking myself for not following through as it is not surprise that so many other people saw what a beautiful area it is. I just hope all the families living there will be able to stay in their homes.

Las Clementinas Hotel RestaurantTucked away in Casco Viejo Las Clementinas is a hotel and café built in the 1930s by Clementina Herrera and her daughter Clementina Jaén. According to their website: Continue reading

Red Square: Steam, Drink & Eat at Chicago’s Oldest Russian Bath House

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I can get a drink delivered to me in the hot tub? A group of Russian friends were happily chatting away with cocktails in hand when I stepped into the locker room to change before heading into the Turkish steam room. Sure enough I saw the phone to dial-up to order from the bar. I see why Al Capone liked to hang out here.

Check out my Tastemade video to look inside Red Square.

Red Square Call Front Desk

For thirty dollars you get Continue reading

Chicago Restaurant Week 2014 – Sepia – West Loop

Sepia Pumpkin & Coconut Tart

se·pi·a [see-pee-uh] noun

1. A brown pigment obtained from the inklike secretion of various cuttlefish and used with brush or pen in drawing.

2.Photography A print or photograph made in this color.

After entering the huge wood door the decor takes on its namesake with rich brown tones throughout the space. A beautiful antique camera greets you upon entering the bar and it’s hard to resist the urge to touch it.

Sepia Camera

There is a small sitting area by the bar to wait for your table which is much more convenient than trying to pack in by the bar. The dining room opens up to a large room with giant chandeliers covered in sheer black lamp shades, glossy cream/brown tiled columns, and deep brown tables with soft fabric chairs contrasted against the dark metal doors and exposed brick. Continue reading