Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Notes From: Spiaggia's 'Top Chef' Finale Party

(Photos: 312 Dining Diva)

Spiaggia's Sarah Grueneberg skyped into her finale party twice Wednesday as fans anxiously waited to find out who won Top Chef Texas. It was held in Spiaggia's private events space on the third floor.


• Grueneberg's favorite cocktail, the Agrumi of Hendrick's gin, Prosecco, pineapple juice and fresh ginger syrup, was served at the party. Guests also enjoyed house-made salumi, charcuterie, fresh mozzarella and pastries.


• A number of high-profile, Chicago-based chefs came out to show their support for Grueneberg—even though she was in New York for the finale—including her former Top Chef opponents Chris Jones and Richie Farina of Moto (photo above); Bill Kim and Yvonne Cadiz-Kim of Urban Belly; Kevin Hickey of Allium and Giuseppe Tentori of Boka/GT Fish & Oyster. Master mixologist Adam Seger also made a cameo.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hot Stuff Coming To Lakeview This Spring

Levitski displaying a hand-blown Italian glass pendant for the dining room. (Photo via Ari Bendersky/Eater Chicago)

Last fall we told you first about Sprout chef Dale Levitski's second project, Frog N Snail, which is now set to open in Lakeview this spring.

Eater Chicago popped into the construction space last week for an update:

Monday, February 27, 2012

Can We Do It AGAIN, Chicago?!

Spiaggia Executive Chef Sarah Grueneberg. (Photo: Levy Restaurants)

Spiaggia's Sarah Grueneberg is in the finale for Top Chef Texas.

This is not only the second time a woman's been in the finale since our own Stephanie Izard of Girl & The Goat won way back in 2006, but it's the third time Chicago would get boasting rights (Remember that Frontera Grill's Rick Bayless won the first-ever Top Chef Masters!).

To cheer Grueneberg on, Spiaggia's throwing a big viewing party in its third-floor events space, and you're invited!

Rooftop Lounge Planned For Hotel Lincoln

One of the guest rooms at Hotel Lincoln, which is set to open March 8. (Photo: Hotel Lincoln)

We're definitely looking forward to this!

The long-awaited Hotel Lincoln, which is home to Perennial Virant, finally opens March 8.

The most exciting news is what's in store as far as the dining program. According to the release just sent over:

Last Night at the Oscar After-Parties . . .

Servers prepare to serve Adam Seger's "Moët Red Carpet Glamour" cocktail Sunday at the "Governor's Ball" Oscars' after-party. (Photos: Adam Seger)

The Oscars may have been dismal for celebs and media attending, but Hum Liqueur co-founder and Chicago mixologist Adam Seger likely had the best time of his life.

After winning Moët's cocktail contest, Seger was whisked off to Los Angeles late last week, where he attended pre-Oscar parties, press conferences and more (Check all Seger's Oscar coverage here on Twitter.).

But his biggest moment of the weekend came Sunday after the Academy Awards—which he also attended—when he served all guests his winning Moët Red Carpet Glamour.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Prince of Punch Returns To Chicago!

David Wondrich photo via

Famed cocktail historian David Wondrich returns for a couple of events certain to sell out damn near immediately.

Going down at The Aviary, the ticket includes a signed, personalized copy of David Wondrich's Punch, passed bites, and several different punches showcasing the history of the "flowing bowl."

For Those With Big $$$ To Spare

Frontera Grill's Rick Bayless. (Photo: Frontera Grill)

Opening night for the much buzzed-about Rick Bayless in Cascabel: Dinner – Daring – Desire show at the Lookingglass Theatre just got amped up, so look for it to be the hottest ticket in town this spring.

The Frontera Grill chef/owner signed on for this production months ago, and we've been excited ever since. It's described as "an unforgettable theatrical adventure featuring a sumptuous feast, world-class circus acts, and a tantalizing love story starring celebrity chef Rick Bayless." Hey, what more do you need?!

A HOT Fried Chicken Eating Contest!

I hope The Southern's hot fried chicken is as GREAT as you'll find at Prince's Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville! (Photo: via

If you think you can handle the heat, sign up for The Southern's first-ever HOT Fried Chicken Eating contest, happening March 22.

If you don't know what HOT fried chicken is, then you haven't visited the South often. The spice is slathered on and incredible, but it doesn't hide the flavor. That's the key.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

This Weekend's Big For Adam, Oscar & You

Adam Seger's 'Moet Red Carpet Glamour' cocktail. (Photo: Tuan Bui)

It's a big weekend for Hollywood types who are on pins and needles for the annual Academy Awards show on Sunday.

But I'm more excited for Adam Seger, who won Moet's first-ever cocktail contest for the famed Oscars' after-party also known as the Governor's Ball.

He stopped by The U's You & Me This Morning to whip up his Moet Red Carpet Glamour that he'll make for hundreds of celebrities at the bash. See him make it right here, so you can re-create it at home for your Oscar-themed party.

Or, if you're going out instead, check out scores of sexy soirees happening around town:

Josh Pearson Snags Another Honor!

(Photo: Sepia)

Fresh off his awesome Banchet win for Best Mixologist, Josh Pearson snags another cool honor.

But this time Sepia's red-hot bartender competed for his favorite charity, United Through Reading, at Texas de Brazil's first-ever Caipirinha Mixology Competition on Tuesday.

Going up against Pearson was The Bedford's Peter Gugni and Benjamin Newby of The Underground. The guys were charged with coming up with their own spin on the Caipirinha—Brazil's national cocktail—to win money for their favorite charities.

While Pearson competed for United Through Reading, Newby shook cocktails for Open Heart Magic and Gugni whipped up drinks for Imerman Angels. One hundred percent of the party's proceeds went to the winner's chosen charity.

Pearson's Literate Caipirinha won the People's Choice Award as well as knocked the socks off the judges, which consisted of the RedEye's Emily Van Zandt, Michigan Avenue mag's Rachel Gillman, and the Chicago Sun-Times' David Hammond.

In the end, Pearson won $3,000 for United Through Reading, which he says 95 percent actually goes to help people.

Wanna try to make their cocktails at home?! Check them out:

Your VIP Invite To Nellcôte's Exclusive Bash

Nellcôte's beautiful interior. (Photo: Nellcôte)

The West Loop's hotter than ever with so many restaurants set to debut this year, including the just-opened Au Cheval diner at Halsted and Randolph.

But taking it up a few notches should be Nellcôte, when it officially opens the first weekend of March. The French-focused spot's helmed by chef Jared Van Camp (Old Town Social), and it's so beautiful that it's breathtaking.

To celebrate, Van Camp's throwing an exclusive, Evening of Exile-themed VIP bash, and he's inviting 200 of his closest friends to party with him.

Wanna join?! I've got five pairs of tickets for some lucky folks to attend the party, which includes passed appetizers from Van Camp's menu, specialty cocktails and wine. It happens 6-8pm Feb. 28.

Follow 312 Dining Diva on Twitter for a chance to win. We'll randomly select five lucky folks by 3pm Friday, Feb. 24, so you'll have an opportunity over the weekend to pick out the perfect outfit to wear.

Good luck!

For Those Who Didn't Give Up Meat For Lent

Au Cheval's griddled double cheeseburger looks yummy! (Photo: Au Cheval)

Brendan Sodikoff's a beast when it comes to opening restaurants. The guy's had much success with Doughnut Vault, Gilt Bar and Maude's Liquor Bar, and now he's opening what he's calling a "high concept" diner.

You won't find the typical fixin's at Au Cheval, his latest spot, opening Wednesday. The very meat-heavy menu contains dishes like beef stew with marrow bones, foie gras terrine, griddled burgers, crispy potato hash with duck heart gravy, and a 32 oz. pork Porterhouse with foie gras and apples.

And unlike most diners, you'll find booze on tap, from a number of offbeat beers to classic cocktails.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Join The First-Ever 'Keepin' It Classy' Crawl!


312DD's joined forces with Google Chicago and Uber premium car service for the first-ever Keepin' It Classy Crawl 3-7pm Saturday, March 3. And guess what?! You're invited!

By "classy" we mean we'll be tasting our way around town at some of my favorite high-end spots, and by "crawl" we actually mean we'll be chauffeured by Uber, everyone's private driver.

We will rate and review our bites along the way (food photography is welcome and encouraged). We'll be stopping at three to four cool joints, but have decided to keep you guessing until the day of to make it more fun and "underground" inspired.

To find out how to get a complimentary invitation, here's more information, including details on the event.

Good Luck!

Who Will Snag a Beard This Year?!

Grant Achatz with his Beard award in 2008. (Photo: James Beard Foundation)

It's that time of year again. Time for the announcement of the semi-finalists for James Beard. Last year, the actual award ceremonies were pretty dismal for Chicago, so here's hoping we'll fare better in 2012. New this year is a category for Outstanding Bar Program, in which two Chicago spots were tapped; no Chicagoan included in the Outstanding Wine & Spirits Professional category.

Here are the semi-finalists; the narrowed down list of Restaurant and Chef Award nominees will be announced March 19:

Monday, February 20, 2012

First Sneak Peek At Melmans, Rancics Resto


Over the weekend, RPM Italian—the trendy Lettuce restaurant boasting as owners Bill and Giuliana Rancic, siblings Molly, Jerrod and R.J. Melman, as well as chef Doug Psaltis—threw one helluva bash. The guest list was as VIP as Chicago gets, and of course, 312DD was on the scene to check it out.

One of the highlights of the night was the awesome interview I scored with the Rancis for The U's You & Me This Morning. The happy couple, who are first-time restaurateurs, were treated like royalty, but nowhere near prima donnas. They jumped in to help every chance they got, including shaking up cocktails and taking reservations over the phone.

RPM Italian opens to the public Feb. 26.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

'Chicago Chef Week' Returns . . .

(Photo via San Francisco Examiner)

Soon we can look forward to Chicago Chef Week, happening March 18-23.

Organized by the Boka Restaurant Group (Balena, Boka, Girl & The Goat, GT Fish & Oyster, Perennial Virant), the fourth-annual affair gives chefs an opportunity to showcase signature items on their menus. And of course, diners get deals: It's $22 (lunch) or $39 (dinner) for a three-course, prix-fixe meal at most spots.

Paul McGee, Sterling Field Team Up For Melman Concepts

Mixologists Paul McGee (left) and Sterling Field (Photo: Darkroom Demons)

If you're a big fan of Sterling Field, the talented bartender over at Sable Kitchen & Bar, you'd better head there by Saturday because that's his last day.

He's signing off to join Paul McGee, who recently left The Whistler to take charge of the cocktail programs at Lettuce's latest projects, RPM Italian and Bub City.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Is He the Best Pastry Chef in the Midwest?!

Blackbird's Bryce Caron via

Blackbird's been around for more than 12 years, yet it continues to get major accolades as though it's brand new.

Last month, master mixologist Lynn House announced her participation in Sundance's first-ever Behind The Bar Series, and now their new executive pastry chef just picked up an awesome honor of his own.

Bryce Caron competed against some of the Midwest's most talented pastry chefs in Food & Wine's first-ever foray into this category. Caron's signature steamed black walnut cake with lingonberries, toasted milk and cocoa nib ice cream was what won them over.

Here's what the editors had to say about him:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Adam Seger IS On His Way to the Oscars!

Adam Seger's 'Moet Red Carpet Glamour' cocktail. (Photo: Tuan Bui)

You guys came through for the homeboy!

Local mixologist Adam Seger's quest to serve his signature cocktail at the Academy Awards is now a reality.

Moet & Chandon just announced the winner:

"The legendary Champagne House congratulates Chicago native Adam Seger, whose Moet Red Carpet Glamour cocktail dazzled a panel of expert judges and the social media community alike. The Moet Red Carpet Glamour cocktail – selected for its originality, taste and popularity – will be brought to life at the 2012 Governors Ball, the after-party of the 84th Academy Awards."

Here's the recipe for the cocktail, just in case you want to make it at home during your own Oscar party celebration:

'National Drink Wine Day' is Feb. 18


You're Welcome!

Time For Carnaval & Mardi Gras Madness


Don't you just love how Fat Tuesday and Carnaval fall on the same day this year?! For the best in indulgence, check out one—or two or three—of these sweet events happening on Feb. 21 and beyond:

25 Degrees: Just in time for the occasion, the River North burger bar's created The Nola, a spiked shake made with Southern Comfort whiskey, praline liqueur, butter pecan ice cream, and toasted pecans. It's on the regular menu. Damn.

Big Jones: Grab a large group of friends and head to this New Orleans-inspired resto for a throwback menu from The Big Easy. A Cajun Country Ramble (circa 1955) features crawfish and pork boudin balls, cracklins and cornbread, creamy potato salad, Arkansas Delta rice with butter, and Sunday file gumbo of chicken, sausage, ham, catfish, crawfish, and crab. Of course, you'll get King Cake and tac-tac. Seriously insane. $25 per person; served family style. Menu available through Feb. 26.

Two Red-Hot Chicago Spots Crack GQ's 'Best New Restaurants in America' List!

Next's dining room (Photo: Next); diners wait anxiously outside Ruxbin (Photo: Ruxbin).

Take that, New York!

GQ just released the annual Ten Best New Restaurants in America list, and two awesome Chicago spots made the cut. No other city got those honors. Yeah!

Ukrainian Village's sensational BYOB Ruxbin simply got the nod at #9 because "The thirty-two-seat room feels as if it's been carefully assembled over a lifetime," writes editor Mike Benoist.

He continues: "The menus are hand-embossed each day. And the food, like the rest of the place, is labored over. Time and energy take the place of overused, overpriced ingredients. Squid stuffed with sausage gets depth and heat from a chile paste imported from a farm in Tennessee. Cream of Wheat, enriched and amplified by lamb drippings and brown butter, is maybe the best thing I ate all year."

Wow. It's gonna be even harder to get in that place now!

And writer Michael Paterniti had this to say about Next, which came in at #3:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

BBQ Events You'll Drool Over . . .

(Photo: Lillie's Q)

If you're obsessed with BBQ like most people in this town, you'll want to check out these upcoming events:

Get your tix to the first-ever Pitmaster Dinner Series at Barn & Company, where resident pitmaster Gary Wiviott shows off his skills in a number of dishes. Rib Night kicks off the series at 7:30pm Feb. 22 with some of his signature items, including smoked, cumin-scent lamb ribs, "Fred Flintstone" beef ribs and more. Each dish is paired with a bourbon-based cocktail or craft beer. It's $40 per person. Reservations recommended by contacting the restaurant here.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Tiki Theme on Its Way Back?!


I've been pretty bummed ever since Polynesian-themed Trader Vic's shuttered last year, so I was thrilled to find out from Time Out Chicago that the Melman brood has decided to add a tiki-themed component to their upcoming project.

The spawn of Lettuce Entertain You Entertainment Chairman Rich Melman has teamed up with master mixologist Paul McGee (formerly of The Whistler) to open Country & Western-themed Bub City (a once popular Lettuce spot that was on Weed Street). According to TOC, they'll dedicate the lower level to a massive tiki tavern:

"It will be housed in a 4,000-square-foot space that is being built out below Bub City, but unlike SUB 51 and Studio Paris, the lower/upper-level club components to HUB 51 and Paris Club, the as-yet-unnamed tiki bar will be a completely different concept with its own entrance. Also, SUB and Studio Paris 'are nightclubs,' (partner) RJ Melman says. '(Bub City and the tiki bar) are not nightclubs.'"

The project's slated to open later this summer, but if you need a tiki fix now, man, do I have the party for you:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

5 Chicagoans Up For F&W 'Best New Pastry Chef'


So this is pretty cool.

For the first time ever, Food & Wine is searching for the Best New Pastry Chef in the country.

The best part about it is that the readers get to choose from an awesome list of contenders, including five fabulous Chicago chefs in the Central Region competition:

Time For Last-Minute Valentine's Day Plans!


No pressure at all, but do you realize that Valentine's Day is only several days away?!

To get you in that right frame of mind on where to dine, I stopped by The G-Spot Radio Show to offer my Top 5 picks for most romantic restaurants in the city.

I also brought along some lovey dovey treats, including heart-shaped pizzas from Giordano's and loads of stuff from Magnolia Bakery. We were pretty big fans of the heart-shaped Red Velvet Whoopie Pies!

Get Gourmet Mac 'n' Cheese at the Auto Show

The Nissan-wrapped Southern Mac 'n' Cheese Truck set to appear at the Chicago Auto Show. (Photo via

I finally got a few more details on the First-Ever Food Truck Meet-Up at the Chicago Auto Show, happening 6-7:30pm Feb. 16 in McCormick Place Lot B. Apparently the Slide Ride, the woman-owned mobile truck serving miniature sandwiches and burgers, is participating.

And even more exciting news is that Nissan has teamed up with The Southern Mac & Cheese Truck to bring food to those inside of the show:

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Here Comes Another Steakhouse Chain


The old Esquire Theater on Oak Street has been vacant for far too long, so it's good to know that something's finally going to occupy that massive space.

Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House, which also operates Sullivan's Steakhouse, is set to open there in December.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Adam Seger On His Way to the Oscars?!

Adam Seger's Red Carpet Fizz cocktail. (Photo: Tuan Bui)

It's no secret that master mixologist Adam Seger rubs elbows with the likes of Oprah, as he was commissioned to create signature cocktails for her celebrity-studded wrap party last year. So this latest news shouldn't come as a surprise.

This time around, he just might be on his way to the Academy Awards—with your help. Viola Davis, Meryl Streep and Brad Pitt are all stumping for votes to snag Oscars, and Seger's politicking for his cocktail to be named the signature drink of the legendary Governor's Ball.

"My Red Carpet Fizz cocktail has been submitted for The Governor's Ball, and will be considered based on taste and presentation (which I am very proud of) and social media buzz," Seger tells 312DD.

The cocktail is simply beautiful, featuring Moët Imperial, HUM Botanical Spirit and a single rose petal. It would also serve as an ideal Valentine's Day drink, and Seger has generously provided the recipe below:

Friday, February 3, 2012

Super Bowl Booze & Bites For Every Appetite

The Burger Bar's Tailgate Burger of bratwurst burger, Gruyere cheese, homemade sauerkraut, Goose Island Mild Winter-Braised Sheboygan Brat and spicy mustard on a buttered pretzel bun. (Photo: The Burger Bar)

Super Bowl XLVI goes down Feb. 5, and to get you ready, 312DD stopped by The U's You & Me This Morning with some of the best booze and bites you can get around town.

See the video right here for the 411 on the Hot Chocolate Bar at NoMI, mac 'n' cheese flight at Gaslight and Moonshine's first-ever Slider Bowl.

Want more options?! Here are some additional cool deals around town:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tim Lacey Lands at Ada Street

(Photo: Tim Lacey)

Former Drawing Room mixologist Tim Lacey had been laying low for quite awhile, so I was mad excited to find out Thursday that he's signed onto a hot new project.

Ada Street, owned by David Morton and Michael Kornick (DMK Burger Bar, Fishbar), is set to open later this month, and Lacey started working as head mixologist Wednesday.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Put A Little Love in Your Libation!

Acadia bartender Michael Simon puts a unique spin on classic cocktails that are perfect for a romantic night out. (Photo: Acadia)

I already hooked you up on what you should be doing if you're single on Valentine's Day.

But if you're lucky enough to be part of a pair—and you're both cocktail enthusiasts—check out my latest roundup of exciting elixirs to indulge on the most romantic night of the year. If these don't put you in the mood for amore, you're on your own!