Apr 022014
 
Cab Driver Day | Gino's East

Honoring their roots with freebies for cabbies.

Gino’s East recently opened a new “neighborhood” version of their popular pizza chain at 500 North LaSalle. The historic LaSalle Street Cable Car Powerhouse building (formerly Michael Jordan’s first restaurant and Lalo’s), boasts three floors of dining and group entertainment options, and will soon have its own in-house microbrewery.

That last tidbit is what made me say yes to an invitation for lunch. Turns out, there’s plenty more to dish…

Starters
Though I especially love the crust at Gino’s East, I knew a deep dish pizza would be too much for me to handle on my own. I was also too hungry to wait 45 minutes for my current fav, The Chicago Fire Pizza.

Smoked Salmon Crostini | Gino's East

Smoked salmon crostini is a great way to start a meal.

The waitstaff helped by serving house favorites off the lunch menu, starting with the minestrone soup. Though a few slurps tasted great, and a zing of basil pesto added zest, the Gino’s version couldn’t overcome mushy veggies and salty broth. Not the best start.

The smoked salmon served on grilled points with a dollop of caramelized onion dip and sprinkling of scallions, however, was mouth-watering good. It’s sized more for three or four people to share — I confess I may have eaten more than I should.

When they brought out the Black Kale Harvest Salad, I knew I would be in danger of stuffing myself silly. With a great balance of salty Stilton, figs and candied walnuts, and sour pickled apples, this harmonious salad was improved by slightly blanching the kale leaves. Raw kale can be work to chew, so I appreciated the extra effort. I felt healthy and virtuous for eating my leafy greens. Go me!

Kale Salad | Gino's East

You can add chicken to the kale salad for a complete meal.

The Main Dish
The bar downstairs has a view into the micro-brewery, with room for maybe six or eight tanks. The plan is to create brews that compliment the menu and give customers a complete dining experience. Management hinted at Gino’s East involvement with the upcoming Chicago Craft Brew Week and potential collaboration with 5 Rabbit for the event. However, they were mum on who they were bringing in to run their micro-brewery or if they would have beers available before the end of May. More to come.

Bar | Gino's East

Plenty of screens available to catch the game.

The current draft and bottle selection includes choices beyond the usual with Revolution, Metropolitan, and 5 Rabbit making appearances. Gino’s East also hosts tap takeovers and hosts beer events, making it an appealing spot to broaden my hoppy horizons while watching a game. I tried the Schmetterling Gose from Local Option — the sour cut through and balanced the heavier dishes. A great recommendation from the staff, thanks!

Lunch continued with a massive Herb Grilled Chicken Panini served with truffle fries. I have a chronic fear of dry, rubbery birds, so I’m not normally a fan of chicken sandwiches. But this? This was pretty awesome. The chicken was very moist, with an extra buffer of mozzarella and aioli between it and the crunchy panini. A few fries were all it took to complete the meal, but they threw in a few dozen extra for good measure.

Chicken Panini | Gino's East

Chicken panini with a heaping side of fries.

The Big Finish
The desserts at Gino’s East are from local favorite, Sweet Mandy B’s. Since the polar vortex put a kibosh on my will to tromp around for great baked goods, I was delighted to see them on the menu.

Sweet Mandy Bs | Gino's East

Everything is better with cupcakes. And frosting. And sugar.

The Vanilla Cupcake couldn’t have been better. Order it if you go — it’s worth the calories.

As an extra added incentive to hit the gym, I also tried the Peanut Butter Fudge Rice Crispy Treats — perfectly crunchy with a layer of chocolate amazement. If you haven’t been to Sweet Mandy B’s, Gino’s makes it easy to round-out your Chicago bakery experience without hauling across the Depaul campus.

If you need a quick spot for lunch, consider ordering beyond the pizza at the new Gino’s East. There are a range of choices between healthy to decadent that are sure to fill the lunch-shaped hole in your day. I know I’ll be back.

I was not financially compensated for this post. Lunch was provided to me for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.

Feb 072014
 
Homestead

Bringing the outside in at Homestead

I finish my Chicago Restaurant Week with a visit to Homestead on the Roof, located atop Roots Homemade Pizza. In order to get to Homestead, you must go inside Roots and wend your way to the back. The indoors portion of Homestead isn’t attached to the main building, so you must go past the rooftop patio to get to the indoor portion of the restaurant. Let me say this wasn’t fun on a frigid night after we’d warmed up at the bar.

However, the heaters were blasting upstairs, which was nice and cozy. As the restaurant filled up, the heat became too much as did the noise level in this busy little space. I couldn’t hear across the table by the time we were done.

Kale Salad | Homestead

Chew and chew and chew.

Homestead opted to not offer their regular menu during Restaurant Week, so we had no way to compare differences at the table. Our waiter shared that some items were special for RW, but may make an appearance on the regular menu.

The first round of courses consisted of salads — a kale, a curried cauliflower, and a duck egg salad. Nothing stood out particularly, though the Frika Salad, with its curry base, was an odd mix of flavors and was over-seasoned. Certain ingredients, like curry, apples, and pomegranate, showed up here and made appearances throughout the meal. The lack of variation felt lazy and not cohesive. It’s like they wanted to used up what was left in the fridge.

Maple Glazed Sweetbreads Homestead

Maple Glazed Sweetbreads

Of the second set of courses, the Beef Short Rib Sugo, with fresh made pasta and tender bits of beef was the stand-out. I had the Moroccan Spiced Mussels, which again was heavy on the seasonings, whereas the Maple Glazed Sweatbreads barely had any hint of sweetness. I’m glad we were able to try the entire restaurant week menu as it let us see how the unevenness in the execution.

Chestnut | Homestead

A milk chocolate brulee dome disguised as cotton candy.

The dessert course was the most interesting of the three. I had a Hazelnut Financier with a Meyer Lemon Sorbet, which showcased a nice variation in tartness, citrus, and flavor. I also liked the beet dessert, with different treatments of the vegetable lending an earthy sweetness to chocolate cream rolls. The chestnut dessert was both a visual and taste show-stopper with a mound of cotton candied chocolate sugar atop a creamy center. It was awesome.

Would I come back? For dinner, probably not. However, I think Homestead would be a spectacular spot for drinks on a hot summer evening. If you’ve been to Homestead, let me know if I should give it another chance for dinner. Thanks!

Homestead
1924 W Chicago Avenue

Feb 062014
 

Sophie’s, located on the 7th floor of Saks Fifth Avenue, opened this week for breakfast and lunch. While I have only tried a few nibbles of the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake and Baby Beet Salad, the menu of American classics seems well executed and geared for the power lunch. The view of the Water Tower is amazing, and the tucked-away feeling of the restaurant will be the draw. It’s not likely that you’ll fight for a seat with tourists like you would for other North Michigan Avenue restaurants.

Also nice is the restaurant bar that extends into the retail space. It’s a sophisticated spot to enjoy a custom cocktail, such as the house speciality Bourbon Cherry Sour, or enjoy a local craft beer from Half Acre and Revolution Brewery. Manager Michel Gabbud shared plans to feature smaller local breweries as well. If true, then Sophie’s becomes a more compelling choice to meet up with friends along the Mag Mile.

Who’s ready for a drink?

Sophie’s
7th Floor
700 North Michigan Avenue