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First Tine Eating Here, but Second Tine Is a Charm

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Update:  Even though this post was very negative of Knife and Tine in Chicago during Restaurant Week, we were treated to a comped meal courtesy of the management.  With this free money, we spent it very well given that their menu had plenty of great options compared to the Restaurant Week offerings.  While the food from our first visit was either bland or super salty, the food this time around was great all around since they weren’t under the gun to throw out tons of food all at once.  We started the meal with a free plate of their biscuit bread.IMG_6730  It was crumbly on the outside and soft and warm on the inside.  Plus, the giardiniera butter spread was a spicy cherry on the cake.  Moving on to the main course,  I got the bone in pork chop ($24) that was succulent and served on top of a bed of farro or an Italian wheat that tasted like fried rice with sprigs of green onion mixed in. IMG_6732 My girlfriend ended up getting the dry roasted mussels ($12). IMG_6733 I’m not a huge seafood person, but after trying one, they weren’t too bad compared to the more snot-like oysters.  My girlfriend said that they were absolutely wonderful especially with the fennel infused salsa verde.  Overall, it was a pleasant time, and I recommend a visit if you have a chance.

Welcome one and all to Mastication Monologues where I review restaurants and bring you some of my food adventures throughout Chicago and the rest of the world!  This post is the final installation of Chicago Restaurant Week, and sadly it doesn’t live up to other great days that were filled with spicy plates and savory treasures.  Today’s review deals with the brand new eatery Knife and Tine that opened in 2014 in the chic Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago.

The outside of the restaurant was modern and clean with flagstone from corner to corner, and the inside was like most modern American gastropubs:  dimly lit and dark accents.  IMG_5952IMG_5950Upon sitting down, we were supplied with our Restaurant Week menus.  It was like most other restaurants that allowed for diners to try a three course meal for the low low price of $33 dollars, but Knife and Tine also had a $44 souped up menu that had more decadent options.  The complimentary bread that started it all off wasn’t decadent.  IMG_5935The pimento cheese spread that came on the side was a bit too salty for my liking, but it was slightly spicy that salvaged my taste buds.  To start, we got an order of the spoon bread and the pear salad.  The former actually didn’t involve any bread, rather fried pieces of whipped cornmeal.IMG_5937  This staple of Southern US cooking left much to be desired on their own.  They were quite bland, and the batter had no character whatsoever. IMG_5940 They came with a hot sauce bacon aioli (dipping sauce) that might as well have been called “cream of salt with a dash of bacon”.  On the other hand, the pear salad was light, refreshing, and balanced in terms of the earthy baby arugula, sweet pear slices, and salty Parmesan flakes that were liberally strewn about the salad. IMG_5941 Then there were the arancini which are a Sicilian dish allegedly being invented in the 10th Century A.D. during Arab rule.  As for the name, it comes from the Sicilian word “arancine” meaning orange since these fried rice balls are shaped like their fruit namesakes. IMG_5943 It was fried like the spoon bread, yet a lot more flavorful than the cornmeal stuffed bites.  Unfortunately, it was a matter of quantity over quality in terms of tastes as the pimento cheese and cheddar took over this plate, and even then it was more salty than savory.  As we moved from snacks to the main entrees, I tucked into my chicken and dumplings platter.  It looked ok, and when I had my first bite, it was a let down.  IMG_5946While the crispy skin gave the chicken a satisfying crunch, the meat was greasy, and the ricotta dumplings were bland and semi-soggy soaking up the au-jus.  As for Janice’s beef cheeks, I actually preferred the brussel sprout salad that had a tangy vinaigrette over the over roasted meat. IMG_5945 I’m sure if you really like pot roast or other really stewed meats, this would be the dish for you.  It’s not quite my cup of tea.  The bone marrow bread pudding (on the left below) was confusing since I felt like the bread part overshadowed the spreadable goodness that is bone marrow.IMG_5947  It was a case of gilding the beef cheek in this case.  I was extremely impressed with the desserts, and this isn’t just my sweet tooth talking.  The denouement of our dinner took the form of coconut lime panna cotta and a super brownie.  The panna cotta (Italian for “cooked cream”) was coated with a blueberry coulis or thick sauce and topped with sesame tuiles (French for “tiles”) or a wafer of sorts and candied ginger. IMG_5949
 This Italian version of flan was also infused with a bit of coconut and lime juice with gave it an interesting tropical feel.  My favorite part were the toppings like the crispy sesame bits that brought a savory side to a sweet dessert and counteracted the sweeter pieces of ginger.  As for the super brownie, I might as well have slapped an “S” on it and called it, “my hero”! IMG_5948 It consisted of a blondie brownie buried under more brownie bites, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and candied walnuts.  On top of this avalanche of chocotastic flavors and crunchy walnuts, it was slightly warm that left me in a food coma and drifting off to dreamland.

While many diners have raved about Knife and Tine on Yelp and Urbanspoon, I honestly don’t know if we were eating at the same place.  Based on my experience and Amy Cavanaugh of Time Out Chicago’s, don’t go to Knife and Tine unless you like overpriced and salty food.
Knife & Tine on Urbanspoon

MSG’s Alright With Me

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Hey everybody, and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Many great events have been happening as of late including my blog now being featured on the acclaimed food blogging website TheBesty.  You can find the article here, and they will be featuring some of my restaurants in a few upcoming YouTube videos.  So stay tuned!  Self promotion aside, today I’d like to tell you all about Oriental Taste, a simple but yummy eatery located at 106 63rd St, Willowbrook, IL 60527  that has quickly become my family’s go-to Chinese restaurant when we crave some Asian cuisine.

While this place may not be as famous as some of the other Chinese establishments I’ve visited both in the States and abroad in China and Taiwan, it still manages to do serve some quality Cantonese-inspired American Chinese food at a great price.  It’s quite simply furnished both inside and outside,ls but this is a case of not judging a book by its cover as their menu will both intrigue and excite you.ls (1)  They have everything from classic egg rolls and potstickers to many different varieties of fried rice and noodles dishes.  If you’re feeling adventurous, they also have Cantonese specialties that are closer to some of the dishes I saw while vacationing in Hong Kong.  In all the years my family has been going there, it seems like we’re always the only non-Asian people who actually sit down in the restaurant to eat, but overall, it seems their carry-out business is the real money maker.  We’ve never tried their carry-out services, so I can’t offer my own opinion on the overall efficiency of this part of the business.  Anyway, for this dinner, I decided to get a plate of bbq pork chow mein, and my mom ordered the ever-popular kung pao chicken.  After a good while of looking at the various duck carcasses and pieces of meat in the display case next to the register, our entrees came out with a side of white rice and a full pot of tea.  I focused mainly on my wonderfully arranged plate that was overflowing with noodles. IMG_2752 I took three forkfuls of the noodle nest along with the morsels nestled in its golden tangles.  Each mouthful was a who’s who of textures and flavors as the noodles were prepared in the crispy, Hong Kong style, and the barbecued pork strips were succulent but not greasy, thankfully.  I’m also partial to bean sprouts, so this dish was perfect for me.  These translucent, crispy tubes were paired perfectly with the crunchy green onions that popped up every so often to pep up the meal.  IMG_2753The kung pao chicken was quite scrumptious as the juicy pieces of chicken were pure white meat, and the soy based sauce covering every inch of the plate provided a spicy zing to each mouthful.  I liked the peanuts that were added to supply a crunchtacular counterpoint to the chewier chicken and firm onion and pepper elements of the meal.

So if you’re looking for quality American Chinese fare without the bells and whistles of other chains or upscale restaurants, check out Oriental Taste in Willowbrook, IL.  It’s a hidden gem that won’t be under wraps for long.

 
Oriental Taste on Urbanspoon

The Quay to a Man’s Heart Is Through His Stomach

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Hello everyone once again in the blogosphere to another addition to Mastication Monologues.  Unfortunately, it has been hotter than the inside of a Pepperoni Hot Pocket as of late in the Chicagoland area.  So while lurking about in my air-conditioned cocoon known as my house, I decided I might as well write about a delightful restaurant I visited a few weeks ago.  A friend, Maria Jose, was in town from New York, and she decided she wanted to try out this new place called Quay (pronounced “key” not “kway”; confusing, I know).  It is located at 465 East Illinois Street  Chicago, IL 60611 in the River East building.  Unbeknownst to me, I would be pleasantly surprised by her suggestion.

First, I was surprised at the location because I remember during my childhood the River East building being a hollow shell of an edifice mainly housing empty storefronts with the occasional video game arcade or art gallery, but it functioned mainly as a mooring hub for boats making their way out to the lake/Navy Pier.  Therefore, when I showed up to a buzzing and elegant restaurant with al fresco dining, I was gobsmacked.  There is valet parking for 12 dollars and is valid all night (I opted for this option), or you can park in the parking garage across the street.  As we entered, the decor of the restaurant was very sleek and modern with softer lighting in the bar area, and the staff were very friendly.

The main dining room.

We first split a bottle of Tangley Oaks, a Merlot from Napa which was a soft, full-bodied wine that was not too overwhelming (mind you, I am not a sommelier by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a pleasant compliment to my meal).  The menu boasted a variety of American options (steak, burgers), French cuisine (Tarte Flambe, Lamb au Poirve), and Italian cooking (Suckling Pig Porchetta, Insalata Caprese).  For dinner, I decided to order the Spring Risotto which contained fava beans, english peas, braised radish, spring onions pecorino pepato, and truffled nettle puree.  Unfortunately, I was unable to take a picture of this tiny masterpiece, but it was elegantly presented on a simple white plate along with a drizzling of olive oil and a very dark vinaigrette to provide a bit of slightly bitter bite to the risotto.  The actual rice dish was very nicely balanced as the rice was not too soggy which sometimes can happen to cream-based rice dishes.  Another part of the dish that I enjoyed was the fact that all of the ingredients weren’t simply assimilated into the flavor background.  The english peas were served whole and not mashed contrary to their English heritage.  I am a huge fan of onions, and the spring onions strangely gave the risotto a slightly sweet aftertaste now and then which made me excited to explore more of the nooks and crannies in this mini-mound of goodness.  The pecorino pepato (peppered Italian cheese for those of you who don’t parla italiano) was lightly grated in thin, snow-white slices and perched gently atop Montecello Risotto.   This cheese lived up to its peppery name, but it was not very spicy for those worried about mouth scorching foods.  Plus, the heat of the risotto melted the cheese slightly which made it easier to mix into the rice and integrate it with the other flavors on my palate.

Whilst I was greatly enjoying myself, my friend Maria Jose had a slightly different dining experience.  She ordered the Oven Roasted Sea Bass with a side of grilled asparagus as a substitution for the baby spinach at no extra charge.  Upon tucking into the verdant and evenly grilled and seasoned spears, she found a small amount of hair.  She brought this up to our waiter who was visibly disturbed at this discovery, but he was a gentleman about it and the manager apologized/covered Maria Jose’s meal.  Our waiter even went above and beyond general hospitality and allowed us access to the lounge/bar in the back section of the restaurant even though there was a private function.  It has a lovely view of the Chicago River along with very tasteful furniture and a classy bar area.

The spacious lounge at the back of the restaurant

Upon returning to our table, we finished our main courses and split one of their special desserts for the night:  ice cream sandwiches made with homemade dark chocolate cookies and banana gelato on the inside along with a side of raspberry compote.  These small sandwiches lived up to the Latin phrase “Multum in Parvo” (A lot of stuff in a little package).  They were probably only as big as silver dollars, but the chocolate from the cookies meshed perfectly with the banana gelato to create a classier version of eating frozen chocolate bananas on a stick.  The raspberries also served as a subtle contrast to these two sweet elements with a  slightly sour contribution to the dessert course.

On the whole, I would recommend Quay to anyone who is looking to try out a new restaurant/bar/lounge in the Streeterville area for  a lunch or dinner before Navy Pier, a pre-movie meal, or just looking for a new place to expand your gastronomic horizons.  Even if your visit may seem like it is teetering on the verge of becoming un Inferno like ours was, the helpful staff and delicious food can definitely leave you feeling like you’re in Paradiso.

but leave molto felice. Eyyyy!

You may come in as happy as Dante…

Quay on Urbanspoon

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