Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mexican in Uptown

Near the Sheridan red line stop are many Mexican taquerias, each having its own specialty, whether it be tacos, burritos, or other items.  We headed to Taqueria Mr. Salsa for a late afternoon snack, but ended up having a very filling dinner.  Stan ordered the pepper steak burrito, which was huge and had a spicy kick to it.  I liked that it had refried beans, which I normally don't have nor see in burritos.  I ordered sopes with bistec (steak) and was surprised at the big size.  Honestly, I've had better sopes, even at El Famous Burrito.  The sope here could have used (more) cilantro and more seasoning in the meat to make it more flavorful.  The thick masa base was bland.
Mr. Salsa Taco & Burrito House on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Pizza and Small Plates

For dinner Stan and I checked out Osteria Via Stato for the first time.  We were asked whether we wanted to dine in the Pizzeria Via Stato side (sandwiches, pizza and small plates) or Osteria Via Stato (more extensive Italian selections).  Since the wait for Osteria was an hour, we opted for the Pizzeria and were seated right away.  We ordered the Caprese and Roasted Octopus small plates and the Pizza of the Month, which was Local Goat Sausage, with goat cheese, little peppers and rosemary.  Stan normally prefers medium crust pizza, but he actually loved the paper thin pizza we had.  Since it is paper thin, it is the right portion for one person; since we shared other plates, we were okay.  The standard tomato, basil, and mozzarella Caprese was satisfactory and the octopus was surprisingly tender, paired well with fingerling potatoes.  For dessert we shared some gelato.  I couldn't believe how similar Pizzeria Via Stato's offerings were to that of Quartino, which is just across the street.  However, Quartino seems more hectic and bustling with singles, whereas Pizzeria Via Stato seemed quieter and more family-friendly.
Osteria Via Stato on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Barbecue at BellyQ

Last month, my friend Pete (owner of Korean barbecue restaurant GOGI) and I checked out Chef Bill Kim's bellyQ in the West Loop.  We opted for the at-table grilling ($60pp), which is a separate set menu of soup, various grilling meat, side dishes and dessert. Off the regular menu, we ordered the goat milk feta pancake, which tasted like Korean jeon.  Unlike traditional Korean barbecue places, bellyQ is Korean-inspired and quite fancy in its style and presentation.  I guess that's what you can expect since Michael Jordan is a partner!  

The kuri squash soup kicked off our special menu selection.  Then we grilled the select meat, which included small portions of imperial wagyu beef, wagyu korean short ribs, and suckling pig.  We didn't use any of the accompanying fancy sauces and seasonings, such as korean chili flake, calypso & black bean salts; nuoc cham, sesame-Seoul sauce & sun dried tomato-black bean vinaigrettes; and pickled red onion, green papaya & giardiniera.  The little tasting side dishes (or banchan in Korean) included marinated Chinese eggplant, napa cabbage kimchi, Asian coleslaw and pickled radish.  Many people would call this place Korean fusion, but I read somewhere that Bill Kim abhors the term fusion because it sounds forced.
Side dishes included griddled Chinese broccoli with parmesan, steamed Chinese buns, sweet potatoes with maple togarashi glaze, and sticky rice with dried shrimp and togarashi.  I would have loved to eat everything (besides the buns) if I weren't so full!  We finished with Vietnamese cinnamon donuts with vanille soft serve and chocolate sauce.  It was like a true Thanksgiving feast -- a never-ending, tasteful foodfest.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

One Woman Restaurant

Tucked away right by the Morse red line stop is a neighborhood gem that serves inexpensive Korean-influenced fare.  "Susie," a Korean hahlmuhnee (grandma), runs the one-woman show by taking orders, preparing and cooking the food, serving the dishes, accepting payment (cash only), and busing tables.
I finally made it out to this legendary establishment for Saturday brunch and was amazed to witness her execute everything.  All the tables were taken, but there were two seats available at the counter.  I ordered the bulgogi and kimchi omelet with rice, which also came with buttered toast and jelly.  The omelet tasted very much like kimchi jeon (Korean pancake) and had a generous amount of meat.  Stan ordered the yukgaejang, great for a chilly morning.  We waited to see if there would be a moment to ask her some questions about the restaurant's history, but patrons kept trickling in.  Susie doesn't have her own website, but various online media have taken good care of her by spreading the word.

There appears to be a consensus that dining at Noon Hour Grill is similar to eating a meal at grandma's house.  The ice is from cubed trays, the napkins are non-commercial, and toast is served already buttered.  These little domestic (and perhaps loving) touches seem to attract single men and families with small children.  Since she is remarkably managing the entire restaurant by herself, there is a mutual understanding that service may be a bit delayed.  Most dishes run under $8, and I observed most patrons leaving her generous tips. 
Noon Hour Grill on Urbanspoon