Apr 032014

I’m always on the hunt for the next seafood restaurant. Seafood offers a wide culinary intersection of styles and seasonings, making it a great date night choice. So when Kinmont, a sustainable seafood restaurant in River North opened, I started planning a harmonious evening for two.

Was it worth the wait?

Bait the Hook
Kinmont (419 W Superior Street) doesn’t embrace the traditional oceanic sea shanty feel, tending towards the Field and Stream end of watery decor. Given that, the carpets on the ceiling seemed odd and out of place. We couldn’t figure out why they were there. The lighting and neighborly seating also didn’t lend themselves to a cozy evening, which put a damper on the date night feeling. We forged ahead with drinks.

The beer menu at Kinmont isn’t large, though they have an interesting and well-curated selection of midwest brews. Off Color Brewing‘s Troublesome proved to be an acidic, lemony beer that paired well with menu.

I switched to the beer, but only after trying an Alaska cocktail combination of gin, orange bitter and yellow chartreuse. The cocktail list, which normally doesn’t tempt me, came into play because Kinmont produces their own syrups, bitter and cordials on site. I appreciated their efforts as well as the citations from old recipe books.

Soft Scrambled Eggs | Kinmont

Soft Scrambled Eggs are served with thunderous slabs of country bread.

I checked off the recommendations received from Twitter earlier in the day, including an order of Soft-Scrambled Eggs. The texture was a little different than what I expected due to the addition of the smoked whitefish, no doubt, but there was nothing wrong with the flavor. Served with thick slabs of country bread, it was the breakfast of my dreams. For dinner.

We stuck with a theme and also tried the Smoked Fish Dip, paired with onion crackers and selection of pickled vegetables. If you like smoked fish and crudites, this is the dish for you. I mean, for me. We threw in an order of Fresh King Crab Gratin. My boyfriend enjoyed the creamy texture of the dish more than I did, so we each settled in like happy clams with our preferred appetizer.

Catch of the Day
While there were several recommendations to order from the For the Table section of the menu, they seemed too large for just two people. For the record, our waiter agreed. I want to go back for the Shore Dinner mainly because we had a taste for Littleneck Clams. FYI — items included in the table menu aren’t available for individual order though it’s unclear why that is.

Halibut | Kinmont

Halibut was the Catch of the Day.

Halibut was a featured Catch of the Day, and we had ours served with brown butter and capers. Kinmont sold out of the fish while we were there — and I know why. The fish was firm, fresh, perfectly prepared and simply presented.

Though we didn’t really need more food, we also ordered a side of Smoked Carrots to round out the meal. The sweet, al dente vegetables weren’t merely an afterthought but an art. A range of blue, orange and yellow carrots were topped with crunchy hazelnuts and hint of cumin. They were almost dessert by themselves.

Reel’em In
Sorry for the blurry photo — Kinmont lowered the lights before dessert was served and threw off my aim. The apple pie earned its place here, though.

Apple Pie | Kinmont

The crust to apple ratio of the pie was perfect.

The crust to filling ratio of a pie with a top and bottom could easily be off, but I was pleasantly surprised how well Kinmont nailed it. The table-side pour of a scrumptious cheddar-caramel sauce into the center was unexpected and ridiculously good. I may have licked the plate. A little.

While Kinmont didn’t quite meet our expectations for an intimate evening out, the restaurant satisfied our need for seafood while setting the stage for the next visit. I can’t wait to return.

Enjoy more…

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…

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 042014
Pisco Sour | Tanta

February is Pisco Sour month. Drink up!

Chicago Restaurant Week coverage continues on with a stop at Tanta, the newish Peruvian fusion restaurant in River North. I’ve tried this Chinese/Japanese/Spanish influenced food before, but this meal was the first time I’d ever considered it cuisine. Tanta has elevated Peruvian food beyond the hole-in-the-wall experience I’ve had to date.

Since February is Pisco Sour month, we started the meal with this signature South American drink. The cocktail is very tart and cuts through the spicy food nicely. I’m not sure the original lime version would be as good on its own, though I think the passion-fruit could be enjoyed solo.

Tanta Cebiche

A tangy cebiche.

The large and wide-ranging menu at Tanta was overwhelming for hungry first-timers, so we turned them over to concentrate on the RW prix fixe menu. Since quinoa is a staple grain of the area, we started with the vegetarian Quinoa Causa. Comprised of lovely layers of yellow corn, avocado, and quinoa this appetizer included a surprisingly peppery sauce. It was a treat of textures and flavors that I don’t think I’ve seen duplicated anywhere.

The Cebiche Mixto was equally enjoyable. More yellow corn anchored the tart citrus that cooked the fresh seafood and thinly sliced red onions. Based on this, I want to go back and try Tanta’s version of nigiri to see how it compares with Japanese cuisine. Seafood seems to be something this restaurant excels at.

Tanta Skirt Steak

Steak & Fries, Peruvian style.

We filled up on the first course, which was accompanied by lightly fried plantain chips. It probably wasn’t the best plan as Peruvian food is hearty. Even so, the Lomo Saltado was so tender and rich, it was hard to stop dishing it up. The crispy, fluffy potatoes were a treat to dip in the sauce, too.

Almost as hearty was the Arroz Criollo, a yellow rice prepared in a wok with a variety of seafood. A green, peppery sauce layered on top gave the dish a richer character and nice bite. I loved both these dishes and want to go back for more.

Tanta Dessert

The Pie de Limon was the better of the two RW desserts.

By the time dessert came, we were stuffed. That did not stop us from polishing off the cheesecake, a creamy concoction topped with a passion-fruit flavored strip and raspberries. It was good, though not as good as Eli’s.

The better bet was Pie de Limon, which had a perfect balance between texture and flavor. The tangy lime-mint sorbet played off the creamy, whipped limed mousse. Crispy quinoa bits dotted each bite and the meringue pushed it over the edge. So good!

Once again Chicago Restaurant Week has done its job — I will be back to Tanta to explore more of the menu. How’s your CRW experience been? Share!

118 W Grand Avenue