Nov 112013

I recently had dinner with a former co-worker and we decided that we would each bring our significant others, who hadn’t met and didn’t know each other. Since I was the “restaurant expert”, it was up to me to pick a place that was convenient to downtown and at a decent price point. Easy enough.

An important factor in picking a restaurant on this occasion, for me, was conviviality. I wanted four of us to relax and be able to have a cross-table conversation instead of two of us rehashing shop talk while two ate. A great wine list or cocktail selection goes a long way to loosen things up, however, I knew that at least one person would not drink so that wasn’t a choice. Other wow factors like an interesting setting or gimmicky surroundings could also work, but I wanted the focus to be at the table.

The solution? Tapas. Specifically, Tavernita (151 W Erie Street).

After the introductions and switching tables so we could face each other, the four of us conquered the menu together, navigating our individual culinary quirks, and building a case for more hamachi and less eggplant & pepper crostini. It’s hard to stay in your shell when you’re dividing flatbreads or making a play for the last wagyu meatball. The conversation flowed back and forth as the steady stream of d papas fritos and serrano ham added new configurations to the table. Success!

In my opinion, tapas breaks down conversational lulls better than individual entrees. I’ll try it again the next time I’m mixing company. Have you had a tapas success story? Let me know the details!

Jun 262013

Zed 451 Private Wine Cellar

It pays to drop your business card at events! I recently won a wine tasting in Zed 451′s private tasting room and dropped in last week to collect. This lovely experience included a bottle each of red and white wine, cheese and bread for me and three friends.

The chilled chamber, located behind the hostess station as you walk in, is available for guests to reserve for parties. I can’t imagine more than six people fitting in the room comfortably, so plan for an intimate party. Call the restaurant to make a reservation.

Zed 451
739 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654

Oct 122011
Hub 51 | Veggie Burger

Veggie Burger

I popped in here for lunch with a co-worker because it was convenient and we didn’t need reservations. There’s something to be said for a “yes, we can seat you right away” place when your day is a mad rush of meetings and high-powered business deals (Ha, not! Though it sounds great.) Hub 51 is a sit-down restaurant, so I had to work through the initial lunch sticker-shock. I’ve been bringing food from home and eating in the cafeteria, so I forgot for a moment that Hub 51 was not out of line for places along Michigan Avenue.

Hub 51 | Taco Salad

An overflowing mound of chicken, avocado, and nachos

The servings are extremely generous here. I had forgotten that, too. Since we ordered lunch outside on the sidewalk cafe, rightly feeling that we should outside while we still could, there was no way to hide or downplay the mountain of food that our tiny waitress hauled to our table. I think I had a moment of denial when ordering, and was surely out of my mind when I made the executive decision to order dessert so we could forgo the coy dance of temptation and get straight to satisfying chocolate desires before the afternoon round of business, business, business. Like I said, Out. Of. My. Mind.

As you can see from the photo, the hard stop of a separate dessert menu is sometimes needed:

Hub 51 | Dessert


Service was quite good, and the food was neither outstanding or wretched, instead making its mark through the stuffed tummies of Hub 51 patrons. My co-worker argued that the brownie ala mode was worth the trip, though I think I would have been just as happy without the syrupy confluence of Hershey’s and cream.

Lunch came to about $25 a person, which means I’ll be taking “low powered business lunches” in the near future. I am assured, however, that they make up for the lunch prices by offering their sushi half price from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. YMMV, but I never seem to be hungry around that time and certainly wouldn’t be after trying their lunch menu.

Hub 51
51 W Hubbard St
Chicago, IL 60610