Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chicago's Most Elite Lounges and Bars

Curio photo via Michigan Avenue magazine.

From Brendan Sodikoff's Inglorious Basterds-inspired lounge on the lower-level of Gilt Bar to The Office—Chicago's most impossible bar to gain access to—I check out the absolute best hidden bars in the city for Michigan Avenue magazine.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

'The Headgear' & Other Burning Questions Answered By The Moto Guys

Moto's Chris Jones. (Photo: Moto)

"I had a very angry streak to me when I first started at Moto," Top Chef contestant Chris Jones tells Metromix. "Moto's a very calm restaurant. We don’t yell, we don’t scream, we don’t fight, we don’t kick. And I did all of those things, so what I started doing is ... wearing some sunglasses on my head ... . It made me feel like I was back on a beach."

That answers the burning question everyone has about "what's up with all the headgear" Jones and his co-worker and former Top Chef competitor Richie Farina sport every week on Bravo's wildly popular culinary show.

Farina adds: "As far as the bandanas and pencils and armbands and all that stuff goes, that's what we wear every day. It wasn’t just stuff for the TV show."

MMX also asked about what they really thought about the unprecedented number of chefs from one city competing on the show:

A Sneak Preview of Bar Toma

Bar Toma's unique Mozzarella Bar. (Photos: 312 Dining Diva)

We slipped into the friends-and-family event Sunday for Bar Toma—it opens today!—and boy was it a scene.

The casual Italian resto helmed by Spiaggia's award-winning Tony Mantuano attracted a number of heavy hitters and newsmakers, namely current Top Chef contestants Heather Terhune (Sable Kitchen & Bar) and Sarah Grueneberg (Spiaggia). The two confessed to 312DD that they've become good friends since appearing on the culinary-driven reality show.

But they didn't come to talk about the show, they came to chow down like everyone else on Mantuano's take on authentic Italian casual fare. Most of the items on the menu were offered that night, so we had the opportunity to check out a number of dishes.

Monday, November 28, 2011

All Eyes On These Fries Around Town

Leopold's lip-smacking, Belgian-style Poutine de Merguez comes with mounds of Nordic Creamery cheese curds and house-made bratwurst. (Photo: Leopold)

I know you just came off an extended weekend of indulging in turkey, stuffing and all the pumpkin pie you could stuff down your face, but the holiday season is only beginning. So just give in, man.

One way to celebrate the next few weeks is by chowing down on the most delicious fries in the city. But not just any fries—we're talking fries that eat like a meal.

From the Pig Face Poutine at Lincoln Park's newest cocktail lounge, Barrelhouse Flat, to sweet potato fries dipped in goat cheese fondue at Uncommon Ground, you'll find the best list of suppery spuds at

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bleeding Heart Now Offering Cocktails, Dinner

Michelle Garcia of Bleeding Heart Bakery (Photo: Bill Lambert)

The new Bleeding Heart Bakery & Cafe's ambitious concept of staying open 57 straight hours 7am Friday-4pm Sunday didn't quite take off, so they've made a few changes.

One of the reasons, according to one of the late-night servers, is because too many dishes felt like breakfast items. On a recent Friday night visit, there were eggs in almost everything, including the fish tacos. The dining room at the West Town spot was also empty.

So the diner menu has been completely revamped and the weekend hours have been cut back 7am-11pm Friday and Saturday.

Here's the newly released menu that's full of dinner-focused items, plus they've added a Mimosa and Bloody Mary to the previously non-alcoholic beverage list.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Slurping Turtle Opens Nov. 28

Takashi Yagihashi's ramen noodles photo via

We're pretty enthusiastic fans of Penny's Noodle Shop and Zen Noodles & Sushi, so we've been waiting pretty anxiously for the opening of The Slurping Turtle.

That's Takashi Yagihashi's trendy spot that's finally debuting Nov. 28 in River North. We're expecting big things from the Michelin-starred chef, so we've been stalking the menu in preparation.

Here are some highlights:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sprout Team To Open Lakeview Spot in 2012

The Sprout kitchen team includes Executive Chef Dale Levitski (second from right) and sous chef Sara Nguyen. (Photo: Sprout)

In October, Sprout's Dale Levitski told 312DD that he was looking to open a second location.

Thursday, he revealed to the Chicago Tribune that the new restaurant is going to be a French-American bistro called frog n snail in Lakeview:

"(Levitski) describes it as French classics with Midwestern sensibilities, with touches of his Eastern European roots. It’ll be a return to roots of sorts, the sort of food he was cooking at Andersonville’s La Tache.

'It’s not a concept that’s reinventing the wheel,' he said. 'My neighborhood needs a French-American bistro.'

'Best Mixologist,' 'Best New Restaurant' Categories Added To Banchet Awards

Josh Pearson of Sepia; Lynn House of Blackbird.

The 15th annual Grand Chefs Gala happens Jan. 27, and one of the highlights will be the Jean Banchet Awards ceremony, which rewards top talent on the local dining scene. But new this year are the "Best Mixologist" and "Best New Restaurant" categories, which should be hotly contested races.

Also new was that for the first time in the award's 11-year history, the nomination process was opened to the public through online voting. The winners will be chosen by all nominees as well as the chefs that participate in the 2012 Grand Chefs Gala.

Here are the nominees:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Something To Hop About . . .


Those into the beer scene will appreciate these events pairing suds with supper (or brunch):

Lincoln Park newcomer 2 Sparrows has already garnered rave reviews for breakfast and lunch, so now they're delving into dinner with the launch of a monthly beer series.

The plan is to highlight prominent breweries throughout the Midwest, and pairing the beers with seasonal and locally sourced dishes from Executive Chef Gregory Ellis. The event debuts Dec. 9 with Finch's Beer Co., with reps from the Chicago-based small-batch brewery on hand to co-host the evening. The event is $60 per person, and reservations can be made at 6, 6:30 and 7pm.

Here's what guests will get:

Country pate and pork rilette (paired with Finch's Cutthroat Pale Ale)

Scallop with crispy pig trotter (Finch's Golden Wing Blond Ale)

Porchetta with a Sunny-Side Egg (Finch's Threadless IPA)

Malted Crepes with blueberry mascarpone (Finch's Smoked Honey Dunkelweiss)

Two more events you don't want to miss:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Big Star vs. Perennial Virant!

Big Star's "Justin Cased" hot dog is on the menu at Franks 'n' Dawgs through November. (Photo: Big Star)

Even more big news for Big Star.

The red-hot taco spot's going head-to-head with Perennial Virant this month in Franks 'n' Dawgs' Iron Dawg Competition. Each restaurant's executive chef has created a signature hot dog, and the one that sells best wins bragging rights.

Happy Anniversary, Big Star!

Tacos from Big Star (Photo: Grant Kessler)

They've got a solid taco menu, dirt-cheap whiskey shots and Honky Tonk tunes to get that head nodding.

That'll be Big Star, which celebrates its second anniversary Wednesday with a blow-out bash.

For the occasion, Three Floyds takes over all the taps, and will feature all their products including the hard-to-get Zombie Dust. Other deals include $2 shots, $2 tacos and a t-shirt designed by artist Tony Fitzpatrick. Oh yeah. Somehow they're squeezing deejays in the mix.

My advice: Get there early . . .

Monday, November 14, 2011

Have a Stress-Free Holiday


If you're like me, you absolutely love holidays like Thanksgiving, but you don't love the idea of cleaning up.

Now, if you're lucky, you'll manage to get yourself invited to someone's house who doesn't mind the cooking and cleaning, but you still have to bring something. That's why I decided to add a few tips on some of the best spots to pick up an item or two.

Or, if you decide to dine out at one of the many restaurants actually open on Turkey Day, I've got you covered there, too.

Friday, November 11, 2011

'Bartender of the Year' Poll Turns Ugly


Eater Chicago launched its second-annual Eater Awards Monday, and boy did it get ugly this time around in the comments section.

Things were pretty routine in categories like Restaurant of the Year and Chef of the Year, but when the poll for Bartender of the Year went live, the comments were so nasty and personal that Eater editor Ari Bendersky had to shut them down in less than 24 hours.

The issue, according to many of the commenters who work in the industry, was that they felt that some of Chicago's best bartenders had been snubbed. Of note were Paul McGee (The Whistler), Josh Pearson (Sepia), Matty Eggleston (Perennial Virant) and Ben Schiller (Boka Restaurant Group)—who actually won last year's contest.

There was also strong opposition against a few of the bartenders who made the list, but hey, it's Eater's poll so they can pick whomever they want.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Who Makes The Best Manhattan in Town?!


Anyone who knows me well knows that you'll make me happy if you put a well-crafted Manhattan in front of me.

That's why I'm bummed that I'll miss the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Experience going down 7pm Monday at Quay.

Guests (it's open to the public for free; RSVP here) will be treated to expertly prepared Manhattans created by some of Chicago's top bartenders, including the likes of Drew Goss (West Town Tavern), Tim Williams (Pour Souls) and Kris von Dopek (Duchamp). But these guys aren't just doing it for fun; they're competing for the chance to go up against a number of mixologists from across the country at the finals in New York.

Padma Recaps 'Top Chef,' More

"Top Chef" judges Tom Colicchio (from left), Padma Lakshmi and Hugh Acheson. (Photo: Bravo)

Other than aria's Beverly Kim joining the five other Chicago chefs as one of the official competitors on Top Chef Texas (whew! and yay!), the second episode was pretty uneventful for our homeboys and girls.

But here's a recap from the show's host/judge Padma Lakshmi, who also tells the chefs about the next challenge that has to do with Mother Effin' Snakes . . .

Hot Chef News You Can Use

Chefs Curtis Duffy (left) and Takashi Yagihashi.

This may sound like a minor thing to you, but when you're a chef with as much clout as former Avenues chef de cuisine Curtis Duffy, it's pretty major.

He tells 312DD that after four grueling months, he's finally settled on a chair for his new restaurant that's scheduled to open in the West Loop next spring. That's right, a chair.

The award-winning toque wouldn't divulge details, but if it took this long to find one, that means it's going to be one helluva chair. He's getting 90 of them custom made, which means they will be ready by the time the restaurant debuts.

Duffy's still keeping a tight lid on the restaurant's name and location, and says that he'll be ready to make a big announcement right after Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Next Up: Glazed and Infused


Scott Harris (Mia Francesca's, The Purple Pig, Davanti Enoteca and quite a few more restaurants) is now tossing his hat in the doughnut ring, according to a tweet from Chicago magazine's Penny Pollack:

"Mid Jan, Scott Harris joins the doughnut fray & the Fulton Mkt crowd w/Glazed and Infused. Counter, couches, wi-fi, & still 'secret' coffee."


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Best Impress-Your-Date Food?!

Japonais' sushi. (Photo via Japonais)

Here's something to hold everyone's attention as they wait on pins and needles for Chicago's second-annual Michelin Bib Gourmand Restaurants to be released Wednesday.

Seamless just announced the winners of the 2011 CRAVED Restaurant Awards, with 15 Chicago spots specializing in delivery getting a nod. Now, what's the best part of this?! Through Saturday, you can get 25 percent off all the winning restaurants.

Here's what won:

Monday, November 7, 2011

Big Week For Big & Little's . . .

Gary Strauss (left) and Tony D'Alessandro at their new Big & Little's location. (Photo: Big & Little's)

In addition to Top Chef co-host Padma Lakshmi throwing props Chicago's way on this season's premiere episode, the Food Network's Guy Fieri is also giving love to one River North spot.

Big & Little's—which boasts as an owner former Hell's Kitchen contestant Tony D'Alessandro—will be featured on Monday's episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Who's Got The Best Fried Chicken In Town?!

Chicago's Harold's Chicken Shack gets the nod as one of the best fried chicken spots in the country by Food & Wine magazine.

Food & Wine just released its list for the best fried chicken in the country and two Chicago spots made the cut.

On Harold's Chicken Shack, they had this to say:

No More MeatyBalls?!

Chef Phillip Foss and his Meatyballs Mobile truck. (Photo: The Pickled Tongue)

One of the first and most popular food trucks is taking a hiatus.

Meatyballs Mobile chef/owner Phillip Foss tweeted Friday:

"Though humbling & heart breaking to inform, The Meatyballs Mobile will only occasionally 'pop up' going forward."

His reasoning?! Because he wants to focus more attention on his successful, but tiny brick-and-mortar project, EL restaurant, in the Pilsen neighborhood:

"My attention will now be devoted full time to EL ideas venture & unlocking our full potential. Still really sad right now."

Good luck, man!

Nov. 4 is a VERY Big Day!

Koren Grieveson, chef de cuisine at avec. (Photo: Jessica Tampas Photography)

That's because it's the birthday of avec chef Koren Grieveson (didja know she has an identical twin?!).

But there's more big anniversaries on this special day. . .

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Heather Terhune Is On A Hot Streak

Sable Executive Chef Heather Terhune. (Photo: Sable Kitchen & Bar)

Sable Kitchen & Bar's Heather Terhune is one of the one fab chefs repping Chicago on this season's Top Chef Texas, and while we're excited about that, she just gave us yet another reason to love her even more.

She's signed on to be November's celebrity guest chef to create a hot dog for America's Dog at all locations in Lincoln Park, Navy Pier and in the Loop.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Padma Praises Chicago 'Top Chef' Contestants


Bravo's Top Chef Texas premiere turned out to be red hot as the competition was seriously turned up with 29 chef-testants fighting to stay in the game.

The twist this season is that only 16 of those chefs would get to remain on the show for the real competition. Six of the chefs hailed from Chicago, and in the opening episode five of them made it to the real competition.

Who made it in?!

New Group Moves Into Old 33 Club Space

The former 33 Club interior will look entirely different when it reopens as a new concept. (Photo: 33 Club)

312DD broke the news of all the drama that went down at the 33 Club in Old Town.

Now here's the latest on that coveted space:

Spiaggia Snags Table Fifty-Two Pastry Chef

Celeste "CeCe" Campise with her pastries. (Photo: Table Fifty-Two)

Congrats are in order for Table Fifty-Two's pastry chef Celeste "CeCe" Campise, who's leaving the upscale Southern-focused restaurant for the Michelin-starred Spiaggia.

"My last day at Table is this Friday," Campise tells 312DD exclusively. "It was tough to leave Art (Smith) because I love him so much, but it's time to move back to the Italian roots!"

This is super exciting news for Spiaggia, which now boasts two talented head female chefs. Campise joins Executive Chef Sarah Grueneberg—who's one of six Chicagoans competing this season on Top Chef Texas.

Looking forward to seeing what she does. I already know that she makes sinfully delicious doughnuts!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Speakeasy, Bottomless Mimosas & More . . .


Some events to get you through the week—and beyond:

Frontier's "speakeasy" event happens every other Wednesday, beginning Nov. 2. That's when you'll get a number of classic Templeton Rye cocktails, including Manhattans and Cherry Smashes for $5. The "speakeasy" part comes in when you RSVP at to get directions on how to enter through a secret door. Live music by Jonathan Marks of Hey Champ and guests will be entered to win a $50 bar tab for every specialty speakeasy cocktail they purchase. 8pm every other Wednesday. No cover.

Seems like everyone's doing a boozy brunch these days. Last week I told you about the $15 bottomless Mimosas at MorSo, and now two more spots are getting in on that action. You can also get them at The Bedford and 25 Degrees every Sunday during brunch hours.