August 30, 2012

The Scenic Route

Today I took the afternoon off work because tonight kicks-off this weekend's festivities for one of my best friend's weddings.  I left just after lunch, and as I walked from my office to the train I knew it was warm outside, but I couldn't wait to get home, put on some workout clothes and head outside for a nice long run.  I'm one of those "crazy" people who loves the heat.  I also am in love with the change of seasons (even snow holds a special place in my heart), and I believe it is for that very reason that I do not live in California or somewhere in the South where warm weather is a much more permanent fixture.

I have a favorite running route that I affectionately refer to as the scenic route (emphasis on "the").  My journey starts outside my front door in Lincoln Park and takes me down Armitage towards the Lincoln Park Zoo.  When I run this route on Saturday mornings I get so giddy as I pass by the Green City Market - just seeing that kind of community and knowing what's taking place there gives me the warm & fuzzies.  I love local sourcing.  I love fresh produce.  I love small businesses.  I love when I remember to bring $4 with me to get a fresh fruit smoothie on my way back home.

My route then takes me through the softball diamonds and across the beautifully landscaped bridge over Lake Shore Drive.  Suddenly I see the water - water so blue it almost looks like an ocean instead of a lake.  Sand, people running, biking, yoga-ing, playing volleyball, running on the beach & playing in the water - having just run through the hustle & bustle of a major city, along tree-lined streets, several parks, past a zoo, and now next to sand - all set against one amazing skyline - I almost have to this real life?

Once I leave the lake path I pass one of the boat harbors and head back towards the Zoo - one of the most gorgeous spots in the city is the park nestled in between the Conservatory & the Zoo.  The landscaping is breathtaking - I have always wanted to have a picnic here and believe me, I will make it happen one of these days...

It wasn't until I was nearing the end of my run that I saw the temp reading at 101 degrees - perhaps a bit of an exaggeration of the truth, but it was definitely HOT.  There's just something about running this particular route - it's beautiful and calming - the perfect 5 miles.  It takes me past the same street, the same building I called home when I first moved to the city 5 years ago.  It gets me thinking about how much has changed in those 5 years.  I am a different person than I was when I first moved here - I'm a stronger, more independent many ways a happier, more confident person.  I think about the people I've loved, those I've lost, but perhaps most importantly those I've gained.  It's crazy to think how time flies, but every time I run this route it gets me excited about the unknown & everything that is to come.  I am truly lucky to get to live in this great city.

August 29, 2012

Picnic in the Park - a Summer Night Worth Putting on Repeat

What a night.  It was one of those perfect summer nights that you wish you could replay over and over again.  Great music, friends, food, wine, blankets, Chicago skyline, sunset - the perfect equation that was the My Morning Jacket and Band of Horses concert in Millennium Park.

Our spread - that random couch pillow may or may not have been used by my friends to conceal a large bag of wine

August 20, 2012

Yusho - Sunday Noodles Style

This past Sunday I took one of my best friends out to lunch as a belated birthday treat.  I had a bachelorette party the previous weekend on Saturday night when her original celebration took place - but I knew I'd be making it up to her.  Megan is a bit of a foodie, like myself, and she loves trying new & unique places.  What better gift could I give her than a super yummy meal at the other "Best New Restaurant" nominee in Chicago?

Enter Yusho.

Inside Yusho

Yusho is located in Logan Square - a neighborhood which I have spent very little time, therefore I was taunted the entire walk after our meal from Kedzie down Milwaukee - with it's cute shops, amazing restaurants and adorable neighborhood charm, I decided I must return for more...soon.

The restaurant itself was an eclectic mix of vintage and industrial light fixtures, exposed brick & simplistic flare.  They boast a regular dinner menu (opening at 5 pm each day) but Sundays the Yusho team opts for a $20 per person, three course Noodles menu - which includes a drink (one alcoholic and one house-made soda option) and soft serve for dessert.

We immediately knew we'd each choose a noodle dish and share, so we decided to go with the Soba - a cold, delicately composed dish with excellent chicken drummies served on the side - and the Shrimp Ramen.  Our server thought we said Mushroom Ramen instead of shrimp, which wasn't evident until the dish was placed piping hot before us, but it was all good because it literally was all good!  But mark my words, I will be back for the shrimp...I'll also be back on a non-Sunday to try out the regular menu - a restaurant voted one of the top 50 in the country is worth a second trip at the very least!

August 13, 2012

Balena wins a spot on Bon Appétit's list of the Top 50 Best New Restaurants!

Inside Balena
Searching for a Thursday night Italian spot for myself and two of my girlfriends led me to many options, but Balena had been near the top of my list since its inception, and it was recently named to Bon Appétit's list of the Top 50 Best New Restaurants - woo hoo!

Occupying the former Landmark space on Halsted, (also conveniently in my neighborhood) the space is huge, yet feels warm, rustic and homey.  We waited a bit long to be seated for our 8:30 reservation (we weren't seated until a little after 9), but we ordered a glass of wine from the friendly bartenders to keep us occupied.  They also made sure we were compensated for our wait by sending over a complimentary order of the Burrata and Roasted Beet salad.  Seeing that burrata is one of my favorite cheeses (similar-tasting to mozzarella but much creamier and seriously amazing), I had my eye on that dish from the start so it was a welcome surprise.

Tagliolini Nero, Crab, Sea Urchin, Chili

Our server was very knowledgeable about the wines and she recommended a great blend to go with my  entrée: the Tagliolini Nero, Crab, Sea Urchin, Chili - a perfect portion of squid ink, linguine-like pasta with an amazingly rich (but not too rich) flavor and tender hunks of crab - was one of the best pasta dishes I've ever had.  The other girls got the Mozzarella, Tomato & Basil pizza - the sauce was tangy and the crust crisp, overall a great version of classic Margherita pizza.

My only regret is that we were too full for dessert - I've read that Amanda Rockman's desserts are not to be missed, and Dessert Classics, Composed Sundae's and Sorbetti I won't be skipping dessert again!

A big congrats to the Balena and BOKA group teams and props to Chicago food culture!

August 7, 2012

Grilled asparagus - Your New Weeknight Friend

Did you know that vegetables containing water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C, can lose some of that good nutrition if boiled as opposed to grilled or steamed?  Asparagus is one of those veggies but with a very low calorie count and high nutritional content (vitamins, fiber and antioxidants to mention a few), we should all be eating a lot more of it.

Try cooking this super healthy and easy weeknight side on the grill - a frying pan or oven would also work, but I'd recommend softening the asparagus in the microwave in a shallow dish with 1/4 cup of water in the bottom for two minutes before frying to give it a little tenderness under the crisp. I like to keep it pretty simple with some heart-healthy olive oil, a dash of sea salt, some fresh cracked pepper and a dash of lemon pepper, but any other additional ingredients you may have lying around the kitchen are fun to explore and will change the flavor profile so you're not getting bored.  Try adding any of the following ingredients:

-lemon juice  -dill  -garlic  -balsamic vinegar  -diced onion  -red pepper flakes  -bell peppers  -low-sodium soy sauce  -sesame seeds  -shallots or onions

Acadia in Wonderland

We kicked off our extra-long Lollapalooza weekend with a fanciful dinner at Acadia - chef Ryan McCaskey's little South Loop gem.  Almost hidden off of Wabash, this one is not to be missed.  The evening started off with delicious craft cocktails with house-made ice cubes and a side of edible foliage at the bar.  We were then led to our corner table for what evolved into a two-hour culinary kaleidoscope for both our taste buds and our eyes.

We tried many items on the menu - including four different desserts - but the Foie Gras was the best of the first courses...if you're into that sort of thing.  The little flaky biscuits with salted butter on the side came compliments of the kitchen just before our main course and they were so good we asked for a second helping.

Although disappointed not to see what has been dubbed McCaskey's "ultimate dish" on the menu - the Yukon potato "Risotto" with leeks and summer truffle (FYI the online menu is not current) - the Stonington Lobster Pie more than made up for it.  A deconstructed lobster pot pie with a sour cream pastry and the most tender hunks of lobster were coalesced by the rich and creamy broth our waiter poured into the dish.

All in all Acadia is worth investigating.  Though portions are on the smaller side (we ordered four different items for each of the three courses for a four-person dinner), the presentation and flavors will keep you happy.  Check out some photos from our dinner below...

First course