Chicago Restaurant Review: Nellcote

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Could any restaurant in the entire city of Chicago be cuter?

The answer is definitively NO, it could not.

We have had the best of intentions of getting ourselves out to the West Loop for oh, the last six months now to see what all the hype was about. On our holiday seester date, we finally made the reservation and headed over on a cold and gloomy Saturday morning.

I think if we had to sum up the whole experience in one sentence, it would be, “WHAT WERE WE WAITING FOR?”

These photos do not do the decor justice. How can a restaurant be both warm and cozy and totally over the top opulent at the same time? It hurts my brain to think about such deep thoughts, but that’s exactly what Nellcote does. Gorgeous chandeliers and wainscot ceilings contrast create this warm and glowy space that we just never wanted to leave.

You’re greeted with a choice of the Times or US Magazine (naturally, I went for celebrity gossip and Ali bettered herself as an informed citizen) and if you’re as lucky as us, you’re seated with an absolutely fabulous waiter that I’m bummed is not my friend in real life. Perhaps if we keep going back enough….

We happened to be in when they were showing The Holiday behind the bar, so that was a cozy little surprise.

When we were happily snuggled in to our table with mimosas and trashy magazines/serious newspapers, I told Ali, “I’d come back even if the food tastes like dirt!”

Happily, we were a far stretch from dirt.

We were immediately served a an adorable charcuterie plate with cheeses, jams and prosciutto. As we munched away, we perused the menu and then ended up ordering purely based on our waiter’s recommendations. How do you pick just one thing when everything sounds so delicious? #whitegirlproblems

The lobster benedict had huge chunks of lobster under a blanket of smoked paprika hollandaise. The eggs were poached perfectly and melted into the hash underneath.

The simple salad served with the quiche almost stole the show – blasphemy, I know, but the champagne vinaigrette was delicious. The quiche itself was light, fluffy and so creamy.

We opted out of ordering our waiter’s recommendation of the sausage and potatoes because it just sounded like too much food (I know, who were we kidding?) but to our surprise and delight, they brought an order to our table for us to try along with our entrees. We ate every last bite of both and both will forever be tacked on to our brunch orders at Nellcote.

We sat around watching The Holiday, chatting, reading and drinking mimosas for an extra hour or two and then reluctantly headed out into the cold. We stepped one foot outside and wondered why on earth we had ever left.

We will be back for you, Nellcote! If brunch was any indication, dinner would be to die for… I’m just envisioning those beautiful chandeliers lit up at night and the cocktails arriving from behind the bar.

Fun tip – Nellcote’s NYE party sounds like an absolute blast! http://www.eventstand.com/event/nellcotenye for tickets.

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Epic Burger

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Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly late to the Epic Burger game, but as I (never, ever) say, better late than never!  The other night, not in the mood to cook – gasp! – I walked down to the closest Epic Burger which unfortunately for me, is pretty damn close.  Their menu is pretty straight forward – pick your patty (all natural beef, turkey, portabella or grilled chicken) and pick your toppings.  I went for the beef, cheddar, whole grain bun combo and it was delicious.  With additional frills like grilled or raw onions, fried egg (choose your yolk’s runniness!) and crisp bacon, there’s a good chance I might have to stop in again.  I mean…if only to take in the full lanscape of options!

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Chicago Restaurant Review – RPM!

(I wanted to name this post RP-YUM but I’m pretty sure Ali would disown me.)

As Ali mentioned, we had one of the most incredible dinners last week and I have been seriously lagging in sharing the delicious details.

After reading the menu online basically all day, we were pretty excited come Friday night. We often text each other just to make the other one want whatever food we’re craving and it was a bit out of control before our visit. Proof:

I’d heard great things about RPM, of course, but I have to admit — despite the drool-worthy photos on the website, I was a bit of a skeptic. I thought that at least a part of the rave reviews HAD to be just Chicago celebrity hype. Let’s be clear, though, as an ardent fan of Team Rancic, this in no way deterred my desire to check it out. I’d suffer through some mediocre pasta for a Giuliana sighting at a beautiful restaurant with a fun scene, no problem.

Wellllll, I’m happy to report that I was totally and completely wrong.

As I suspected, we found the restaurant was beautifully decorated and the people watching killer, but the food stole the show.

House-made ricotta, so simple but definitely my personal favorite. Like a happy fluffy cheese cloud from heaven.

Prime beef meatballs… Smothered in Parmesan and served in the skillet they baked in, these tasted like Giulianas cute little Italian mother was firmly planted in just around the corner in the kitchen rolling these little balls of love by hand.

We chose the tuna carpaccio to break up all of the rich foods with something a bit lighter and were awfully happy with that decision. The freshest, smoothest tuna, so deeply colored it almost looked like salmon with little sprinkles of black garlic for the most interesting hint of flavor.

This might surprise you, but I can count the number of times Ali and I have ordered dessert in the last 5 years on one hand, and that’s because the number is one. We’re not mad at it, we’d just rather have another glass of wine or more fried olives. The Affogato float came highly recommended by a trusted source, however, so we went for it. A grown up float with an intense bottled coffee poured over creamy vanilla gelato, this was the absolute perfect ending to a fantastic dinner.

Unpictured but amazing –

  • Fried olives
  • Chicken liver on toast
  • Lobster caprese
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Pork chop as big as my head for the manly man at the table
  • Spaghetti carbonara

RPM, we will be back! Sneaking in early on a weekday to the bar area to try a few small plates without the months-long wait for reservations may be our new tactic, but I’d honestly sit on the curb in the  alley outside the kitchen if someone would just be so kind as to hand me a cup of that ricotta and a spoon.

San Francisco + Napa: Bouchon Bakery

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I have no earthly idea where to start in describing the last 3 weeks of my life. I’ve never been away from home for that long and while I was definitely happy to see my own bed and pillow Monday night, my little 3-week adventure was one that I’ll never forget.

So instead of trying to write one big post for London and then one for San Francisco, I think I’ll just blog about some of the particularly memorable experiences – you know, like cheese. (See: Halloumi :))

We happened to be in SF/Napa for TWO Bears games and while JB was a trooper about missing the Monday night game with all of the Giants-going-to-the-World-Series madness, missing this past Sunday’s game was not optional. This meant spending an incredible Napa morning in a dark bar, so as a trade off, we headed out super early for a run through Yountville which culminated in a stop at Bouchon Bakery.

I had heard rave reviews of Thomas Keller’s Parisian bakery in NYC, so nothing could have made me happier than seeing that cute little yellow house off the side of the road, line out the door and great smells a half mile away. I did a bit of reading and Yountville was actually their first location, with locations in NYC, Las Vegas and Beverly Hills added later.

I quickly negated our three-mile run (and then some) with the coffee of my dreams and after agonizing for ten minutes over the pastry case, settled on two scones: chocolate cherry and bacon cheddar. They were perfection — buttery, crumbly, just sweet enough.

If you have the chance to go to a Bouchon bakery, please go! Run! Or walk, but go, and have a pastry for me.

Quartino’s New Second Story Outdoor Patio

> Photo via Eater Chicago

Thanks to this handy tip from Eater Chicago, I was raring to check out Quartino’s new second-level patio. Quartino is a long time DEUX on our list. (How do we not use that pun more often?) It’s the perfect spot for happy hour with the girls or a loud group dinner. Wine by the carafe? Cheese by the mountain? Olives by the bucket? Exceptionally reasonable prices? Yes, please!


Ali and I twisted arms, bribed and threatened with bodily harm last week so the girls would drag themselves out on a Tuesday (read: proclaimed, “new outdoor patio at Quartino!” to an extremely receptive and enthusiastic reception)  to experience it for ourselves, and while it was much smaller and far more narrow than the above picture lets on, it was absolutely lovely. In the future, I’d stick to a smaller group of two or three, but the five of us spent a great evening catching up over chilled white wine, grilled octopus and gorgonzola dolce, blissfully perched above the madness of State and Ontario.

FYI: It’s first come first serve, and we had to specify that we wanted to sit upstairs.

Cheers to another al fresco dining option, Chicago!

Crisp

Yesterday, I desperately wanted to check out Frog & Snail.

Hangovers, diets and friends in town all hijacked my dreams and no one would go with me to Frog & Snail. Stay tuned, I will prevail!

However, I still turned out the big winner of the day because I finally, finally, tried Crisp. I’ve wanted to go forever and just haven’t, for whatever reason, and the super casual vibe was perfect for a lazy Sunday night. This is not a new restaurant – located in Chicago’s East Lakeview neighborhood, it opened in 2008, which makes it practically a hundred in Chicago restaurant terms. A number of friends have enthusiastically recommended it and there’s some 987 reviews on Yelp contributing to a solid 4 out of 5 star rating.

One magnificent meal later, I am a Crisp believer, and after reflecting on that meal of righteousness basically all morning, I become a Crisp evangelist. Go immediately, bring your friends,  visitors, your family, get takeout… just go partake in the glory of those sweet and spicy Korean wings. (That said, do not take a first date as it is impossible to look even remotely good eating this meal.)

Our meal:

JB dunked everything into the Buddha Sauce, I went for Allison’s Atomic. Crisp is BYOB, but you’ll be parked at a community picnic table, so unless it’s a tall boy or something, I wouldn’t bother. If you’re in the mood for alcohol free and sickly sweet, go for Diet Cream Soda!

We split the Original Bad Boy Buddha Bowl, which is a cute name for the traditional Korean bibimbap with 8 different chilled veggies and a fried egg over hot, seasoned rice. The combo of hot and cold works so well, I promise, and the whole mess is that much better with added hot sauce of your choice. This thing is huge – probably 12″ around, and thankfully, they’re displayed when you order so you know what you’re getting into and aren’t tempted to order one per person. That being said, this would be a great choice for a vegetarian, or sans-egg for vegans.

And the star of the show: the wings. I went for 6 – which is really more like 12 as most bars and restaurants cut the wing into two pieces – with the Seoul Sassy sauce.

In the words of the great Rachael Zoe – I die.

(Those would be unlikely words to cross Rachael Zoe’s lips in this particular instance, as I imagine it’s unlikely she often digs into a tray of fried chicken, but we’ll call that her loss.)

Super meaty, very light breading, extra crispy and perfectly moist. The Seoul Sassy sauce was delicious – the website warns not to call it teriyaki but um, it tastes exactly like a very good teriyaki marinade with garlic, soy, sugar, sesame and ginger. Sorry, Crisp!  That’s a compliment in my book.

JB went for the Crisp BBQ Sauce, and in my constant quest for over the top flavor, this is definitely the sauce for my next trip back. And the one after that, and after that… It is reminiscent of a traditional barbeque but with a deep, smoky heat and spices that make the sauce definitively South Korea, not South Carolina.

After what will probably go down as the least attractive half hour of my life spent demolishing all six (fine, twelve) wings, fighting for my fair share of the coveted egg yolk in the Buddha Bowl, and looking around desperately for something else to squirt Allison’s Atomic sauce onto, my handsome and gracious date rolled me and my greasy fingers out of Crisp and home to curl up into a very bloated and happy state, already dreaming up my next trip back.

 

Blowtique

I have super-fine, fairly uninteresting hair.

I’ve never gotten a blowout before yesterday because frankly, I didn’t see the point. My hair is already incredibly straight, and whenever I’ve asked for more volume when getting my hair dried after highlights and a cut, I absolutely hate the result – it always looks cheesy and fluffy.

But when I heard about Blowtique opening in River North, I had to give it a try.

I had dinner plans at Sunda with JB last night and since I already had a dress, I thought not spending money on a new dress would be a good excuse to you know, spend money differently.

The experience was nice – the girl that did my hair was super sweet, the place was really cute, and I was in and our in 35 minutes flat for $40 including tip.

Here’s my result: my hair in the morning and post-blowout… I wasn’t blown away (excuse pun) but I thought it had a little more movement and wave than usual.

*please excuse incredibly awkward self-pics… how do you guys do it?!

What do you think? Worth it? Do blowouts just have a better result on thicker, longer hair or do I just need to keep trying until I find a blowout that works for me?