Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Logan Square’s Pop Up Restaurant

Logan Square Kitchen
2333 N. Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

If there ever was a perfect testament to Logan Square’s Foodie character, it would certainly be found in the Pop Up restaurants hosted by the Logan Square Kitchen. During the weekend of the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival, this space hosted a chef and his small menu for one weekend only. The menu was a small and delicious addition to Logan Square, at least for that small glimpse of time.

Now, what is a pop up restaurant? It is as it sounds. A chef comes into a space and plans to try few dishes on the good people of Logan Square like guinea pigs for one weekend. The Logan Square Kitchen is one such venue that hosts these restaurants. It is an extremely cool idea to know that this one location will effectively morph into different restaurants throughout the year.

On the weekend of July 29-31 of 2011, the Logan Square Kitchen became a restaurant called “Gypsy”. The menu, as simple as it was, was very tasty. The chef was the same chef of Le Bouchon /. The main dish that caught my eye on the menu was the duck tacos. The duck was very tasty and oily, as expected from duck meat. It came served on a fried flour tortilla and topped with mandarin oranges, clinanto and pickled onions. The pickled onions added both a sweet and sour flavor to the taco, which I am still conflicted about. My biggest complaint was how greasy the dish was. Granted, it was duck after all. I think settling on a corn tortilla that was not fried would have helped cut back on the grease that did literally drip out onto my hand.

For a starter, I had an order of Risotto balls. These were extremely good. The outside texture was crunchy and the inside was the goowy risotto that tasted lovely with the tomato sauce and fresh basil on top. Compliments to the chef.

I recommend that all aspiring Logan Square chefs and admiring foodies keep an eye on what new pop up restaurants end up at the Logan Square kitchen. You’ll be supporting and fueling the Foodie movement that is, most certainly, taking over Logan Square.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hearty Ecuadorian Lunch

Restaurant Ecuador
2923 W. Diversey Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

While I’m sure Restaurant Ecuador would be great in the evening with dinner, there is something that truly makes you feel like you are dining in another country when you have lunch here. Maybe it was how the bright light hits the well-decorated wall and blue tiled counter or maybe it’s the soccer game playing in the background. Maybe, it’s the fact that I am not a Spanish speaker and there was not a fellow white person in the room. Maybe it was my mighty appetite that usually hits around lunchtime that made me crave a big hearty lunch. Most likely, it was all of the above. Thank god for Restaurant Ecuador.

Sitting right on the northern border of Logan Square and Avondale sits this great little restaurant. From outside, it doesn’t look like much. From the inside, you will find locals (presumably Ecuadorian, mostly) enjoying this very hearty cuisine. There really is no other word to describe it. It’s extremely flavorful, filling and very lean. I did not find the Ecuadorian food here to be unhealthy in any way (within moderation). If you’re watching your waist, feel free to waddle down here and enjoy yourself.

In Ecuadorian meals, it is traditionally to have three courses: a soup, an entrée served over rice and finally a dessert. For soups, you could always dive right into trying the Caldo de Pata or Beef feet soup with chickpeas. Not that adventurous? A safe, yet interesting option is the Caldo de Salchicha, which is an Ecuadorian pork sausage soup. If soup wasn’t enough for you, one little appetizer that I would recommend is the tortillas de papa. This is one potato pattie that is served over a salad. It is light and flavorful.

The menu has an extensive list of different, tasty looking entrees. Seafood fans, you are in luck! This menu has 16 different seafood dishes for you to choose from. These include a fish and plantain tamale to a fish and plantain soup to a clam cocktail.

If you’re more of a land animal fan, I highly recommend the Seco de Chivo. This dish is goat stewed in a tomato-based sauce and served over rice. Like every other dish here, it comes with plantains. This stew was one of the best goat I have ever had as far as flavor is concerned. It was savory and the tomato really melded well with the goat. The texture, however, was still a bit tough. Understandably, goat is often a gristly meat, but with enough stewing (or braising) it can get fall off the bone. However, let this not deter you. If goat isn’t your thing, try the Llapingacho, which is two potato patties and two eggs with a peanut sauce over rice. Peanuts may throw a few people, but peanuts are often found in Ecuadorian food.

As a nice change of pace from some of the more upscale and more note-worthy restaurants in the neighborhood, Restaurant Ecuador still provides a lot of charm and great food. This place certainly shouldn’t be overlooked if you need a nice hearty lunch.

Getting down to Brass Tax:

Date place? Yes.
Friend Hang out? Yes.
Recommended dish: Seco de Chivo
Price Range (2 People): +/- $30

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Logan Square’s Adventurous Sushi

2507 W Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

While many would not associate Logan Square with sushi, this is a much more common type of cuisine being found in our fair neighborhood. Logan Square is lucky enough that it can lay claim to one of the more adventurous sushi places that this Foodie has ever been to in Chicago. This BYOB sushi bar only adds to the diversity of restaurants in Logan Square.

Sitting on the eastern edge near Lincoln Park, some might think that the interior of this restaurant would be something you would find on that side of the river. That said, it has a very low key feel that is perfect for Logan Square. Upscale, but not stuffy. No need to dress up, but would it kill you to wear a clean shirt? Christ! They do have outdoor seating, but unfortunately, Fullerton Avenue doesn’t offer the sort of calm, inviting streetscape that begs for al fresco. Sorry, S@kura. Nice try.

In spite of S@kura’s rather cumbersome seating capacity, its food does pack in locals on most nights. This is because the menu is full of sushi bar favorites like miso soup, California Rolls and Godzilla Rolls. But dig into this rather, large menu a little deeper.

The miso soup is a good start, but you’d be better off starting with a Wakeme Salad—a bowl of seaweed that is coated in a sweet and sour sasemi vinegarette. “Seaweed??” you say? Yes. It’s an acquired taste and texture, but keep going. Eventually you will appreciate how the seaweed and vinegarette blend.

As for rolls, a very popular one is the Godzilla roll. This roll of tempura shrimp, crab with cheese cheese and wasabi mayo has a spicy, yet smooth texture. It’s a mouth full, so make sure you share it with someone else. This one a very strong choice, but S@kura offers a much more notably exciting roll that I recommend—The Tie Me Up Roll.

The Tie Me Up Roll features long, stretchy ingredients (hence the name). Which are those? Raw Octopus and Seaweed. You can’t get more adventurous than this! The flavor is outstanding. The texture, however, is rubbery. You might want to bring some sake and get a few shots under your belt if you are of the faint of heart for this one.

If you’re looking for something not quite as Fear Factor-ish (is that reference still current, or did I just date myself?) then, the P’Dodo Roll is perfect for you. Flavorful, fresh and interesting. This roll has three types of fish, a spear of asparagus, cucumber, avacado, some wasabi for heat and rolled up in soy paper (an interesting change from seaweed paper).

If you really want to go nuts with adventurous, take anything from the Sashimi or Nigiri section of the menu. These items are either raw fish (Sashimi) or raw fish on a little pillow of rice (Nigiri). Here the list goes from anything from the squid to clams to smelt roe (smelt caviar (smelt eggs)). Take your pick. I quite liked the Unagi Fresh Water Eel. This is fresh water eel on a pillow of rice with a little bit of a sweet, brown sauce on top. The texture of fresh water eel is soft and delicate. Smooth, almost.

As mentioned before, S@kura is BYOB. If you’re not looking to drink, try their Thai Iced Coffee or Tea. These are sweet and creamy. The Thai iced tea has an incredible flavor that is simply sublime. Get it.

While Logan Square may not feel like the home of sushi restaurants, this is increasingly becoming a common commodity. S@kura provides a unique menu of this cuisine by providing the neighborhood with exciting, not commonly found rolls.

Getting down to Brass Tax:

Date place? Yes.
Friend Hang out? Yes.
Recommended dish: P’Dodo Roll
Recommended drink: Thai Iced Tea
Price Range (2 People): +/- $40

Monday, June 27, 2011

Logan Square Farmer’s Market

Milwaukee Ave and Logan Boulevard
Chicago, IL 60647

You cannot beat Chicago in the summer. Like many other great neighborhoods in Chicago (and there are many) summer time becomes a time of the year to showcase what these communities have to offer. And they do it outside. Among Logan Square’s many different festivals and events one event is a summer staple—The Logan Square Farmer’s Market. Yes, this market is an almost enchanting way to spend your Sunday mornings in the summer while you do something good for yourself, our region and for your social status. After all, there’s no better trump card than telling your friends that you do your shopping in a REAL market.

Aside from providing you with the sights and sounds of open air markets that are sometimes over-celebrated in America in an attempt to embrace the easy and romantic aspects of European culture, this market also manages to make us feel better by being socially responsible. I’m talking about locally grown food, which is far more sustainable than food at your produce store. Yes, locally grown food will be a greater benefit to you and our society in the future than ‘organic’ (whatever that trendy buzz word means). Why? Well, to explain without sounding like a crazy conspiracy theorist, the price of oil is going up. We all know that. Food is an oil-intensive commodity. In the future, it will cost much, much more to ship food over the distances that we currently do. Growing food locally is one way to cut down on that cost, making our produce cheaper in the future. By buying into this system now we are encouraging a food production system that will avert a food crisis in the US. Pretty cool, huh?

Now that we understand the economics on locally grown foods, let’s see what tasty things we can buy here so we can pat ourselves on the back. This market has plenty of locally grown foods. Some say they are organic, so if you’re into that kind of thing, you’re in luck. The foods that are offered are seasonal. This being the beginning of the summer, there are lots of greens. Kale, Swiss chard, collard greens and asparagus. Very healthy and hearty vegetables that we all should be eating on a daily basis.

Since it is June, we are right in the midst of Strawberry season. This market has some of the best strawberries I’ve ever had here. Small, juicy, tart and extremely flavorful. These put your store-bought strawberries to shame and I am not exaggerating (I NEVER exaggerate). That may have been a slight exaggeration.

Aside from produce, there were other products you could take home, like locally grown honey. There was a great selection of different types, based on the types of flowers that the bees had pollinated. It’s rather impressive how honey can have different flavors based on that. I recommend sampling a few and tasting the different floral scents. If you’re a cheese lover (and I can think of one in particular) there is a cheese stand. We all know how this goes. Sample a few and then buy yourself a baguette at the La Boulangerie stand and you’ve got yourself a tasty lunch. (Again, we want to do the easy and romantic aspects of European culture).

Yes, La Boulangerie has a stand in the market, where they are serving a selection of breads and crepes. The wait is a little long, but it is an extremely popular destination at the market. There are several other food options throughout the market, making this a great spot to have lunch. One in particular I would point out is a stand that advertises organic Italian food. You better believe there were girlsin thrift shop sundresses and big, plastic, tacky, neon sunglasses were flocking to this one. In spite of it possibly being considered ‘fancy’, which would be frowned upon by this crowd, it is marketed as ‘organic’, thus being ‘acceptable’. And rightfully so! I enjoyed their Zeppoles. These were different from the ones that are served at Ciao Napoli. They were coated in cinnamon and sugar, which I found to be very enjoyable.

The Logan Square Farmer’s market offers all the locally grown foods that we all should be consuming during the summer months. Truth be told, it’s sold at a premium. Even if it’s just to grab a crepe and people watch, it’s surely worth your time.

Getting down to Brass Tax:

Date Place? Sure. You could make it work.
Friend Hangout? Yes.
Recommended Dish: Crepe
Price Range (2 People): +/- $30

Sunday, June 19, 2011

An Off-The-Beaten-Path Brewery of Chicago

Revolution Brewing Co.
2323 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

One of the uniquely Foodie parts of Logan Square is this two and a half year old brewery. While this restaurant-bar manages to attract the usual types that glorify old lady glasses, it also has attracted Lincoln Park and Lakeview people. While they do make some excellent “Revolution”-themed beers, they also have excellent burgers and pizza. This brewery is off the beaten path from most Chicago landmarks and attractions, however, it certainly is something most should seek out. If there’s one thing you take away from this review, it’s that the burgers and beers are fantastic!

Revolution Brewing has several brews that are made in house. If you have lunch there on a Sunday at noon, you can tour the brewery for free. All the brews have a name that imply some sort of military or political upheaval theme like the Iron Fist Pale Ale or the Anti-Hero IPA. As a stout person, myself, I recommend the Repo Man Rye Stout. It has a nutty flavor and not too bitter. Just right. My favorite, however, was the aptly named, Coup D’Etat. This is a saison beer, which can be appreciated by all beer and non-beer drinkers alike. If you aren’t up on saison beers, get with the program. If beer is still not your thing, the Mexicali Mule is a nice, light tequila and lime, summer drink.

Their starters are very tasty. They have a delicious take on your run of the mill calamari. This version comes with asparagus, arugula and parmesan cheese lightly sprinkled on top. Calamari and asparagus is a surprisingly good combination. Give it a try. But, the most interesting combination for a starter that they have here is Bacon Fat Popcorn. If you’ve been converted to the side of being a bacon enthusiast and not watching your figure, grab yourself a bowl of this. The popcorn is topped with bacon fat, a few crispy pieces of bacon, sage and parmesan. At first the bacon fat texture can be off putting, but a few bites later and you will be on your way to getting your bacon fill and getting that much closer to a cardiac arrest!!! Mmmm. This dish is also great as just a drinking snack.

For an entrée, you have plenty of options. Salads and pizzas here are good, but if you stopped at that part of the menu, you’d miss the hidden treasure. Order from the sandwich and burger section. While the burger selection isn’t as crazy and diverse as, say Kuma’s Corner’s burgers, you can get a gourmet burger here hit the spot and in some ways rival Kuma’s. Mainly, you can get a great tasting burger without waiting for hours to get a table and without getting a burger whose size is wildly inappropriate for human consumption.

The Farmer’s Burger is excellent. This burger is your usual beef patty with spinach, beets, horseradish and a fried egg on top. It’s a very fresh combination that doesn’t feel too heavy. But, the best sandwich they have at Revolution is the Smoke Pulled Pork Sandwich. I love pulled pork. This sandwich may be the best one I’ve ever had. The pork was simmered in a mustard sauce and topped with honey-jalapeno coleslaw. Coleslaw is pretty much required for pulled pork, if you ask me. This sandwich has a little heat to it and it can very VERY messy, but it is delicious.

Revolution Brewing offers plenty of great food and brews for foodies. As their line of beers grow and spread through Chicago, this place will surely help put Logan Square on the map for foodies. If you live in Logan Square or even if you live off the Red Line, this place is worth the trek.

Getting down to Brass Tax:

Date place? Yes.
Friend Hang out? Yes.
Recommended dish: Southern Pulled Pork
Recommended drink: Mexicali Mule
Price Range (2 People): +/- $50

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Taste of France in Logan Square

La Boulangerie
2569 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

Yes, ladies and gentleman, it has finally happened. Gentrification—for better or for worse—has brought a French bakery into Logan Square. By no means has Logan Square been bakery-less, as the neighborhood is dotted with panaderias for some time now (More to come on these later). This is because Logan Square has been a primarily Latino neighborhood for the past 20 to 30 years.

While being a bit more upscale establishment it’s understandable how some could see this establishment as being a bit contentious for the neighborhood. Nothing says, “yuppie” like “French Bakery”. Given that places like this are becoming an all the more common sight in Logan Square, it’s a realization that many are having as the future of this neighborhood.

Putting this geography lesson in gentrification aside, let’s talk about La Boulangerie. Walk in side and you will learn quickly that the owners are, indeed, French. For any of you out there that are looking for… “authenticity” this should give them a few points. The bakery has many different types of baguettes. Take home a Herbs de Provence baguette. Very tasty. Additionally, there are a number of different pastries, if that’s what you’re into.

Let’s say you’re looking to have a light lunch. The menu that they offer is small. They have savory and sweet crepes available that they will make right in front of you. I highly recommend going with savory. My favorite one there is the ratatouille crepe. Ratatouille is a mix of stewed tomatoes, zucchini and onions with goat cheese served in a crepe. It comes with a side salad. Throw in some carbonated French berry juice and you’ve got a pretty good lunch on your hands.

While bakeries are not new in Logan Square, they are changing in form, function and patrons for different purposes; much like this neighborhood itself.

Getting down to Brass Tax:

Date place? No.
Friend Hang out? Yes.
Recommended dish: Ratatoulie Crepe
Recommended drink: French Berry Juice
Price Range (2 People): +/- $20

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Date Night Cuban Food

2165 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

In a neighborhood that is gentrifying and certainly on its way to becoming a Chicago destination-neighborhood, it might appear as if Logan Square has an abundance of mom and pop's Mexican joints and neighborhood hang outs, but no date places. That's not to say that these places can't be good for dates. Truth be told, a truly good date restaurant is scarce currently, but they can be found and they are on the rise. Now, what you need for a good date restaurant is great food, inviting and comfortable atmosphere and, of course, a good drink selection. In 2009, Siboney opened on Western Ave offering Cuban food that meets this criterion.

Now, I know I have been hitting Cuban food a little heavy lately here at The Logan Square Foodie, but I have mainly focused on the Cuban sandwich and I should do this Caribbean cuisine some justice and look at some other dishes of theirs. And, in the meantime, you will now know of a new place to take your date to next weekend. After all, foodies make the best date planners.

Siboney is a restaurant-bar that has a chic, yet relaxed feel to it, which manages to attract local, Latino residents and other residents from around the city. By and large, though, this is one place in Logan Square where you can enjoy an evening and avoid running into someone who prides themselves on knowing an obscurer band than you. On weekends, you can find a live band in the bar, which only adds to the amenities. Find yourself a good spot in the bar and I think you’ll be set for the rest of the evening.

They have many delicious options for a starter. Many of which we have already touched on in other Cuban places in the neighborhood like Tostones and empanadas and papas rellenas. Siboney does a good job with these dishes. Try the empanada filled with ropa de vieja, which is a pulled beef that was simmered in a Cajun sauce. Also try their papas rellenas, which is a potato stuffed with beef. Both of these dishes come with their own ail oli that you can dip them into.

For a main course, I recommend going for sea food. If you’re into shrimp, get the Camarones Enchilados, which is shrimp cooked in a tomato, onion and pepper sauce and served with rice. The shrimps were cooked perfectly and the tomato sauce was excellent.

If you want fish, go straight for the Filete Dorado a la Plancha. This is a grilled Mahi Mahi filet served with rice and black beans. As someone who is not the biggest fish eater, I have to say this was excellent. If you’re a little squeamish on fish, let me walk you through it. The flavor is not fishy at all and the texture is firm (not rubbery firm). Without a doubt, this dish is highly recommended.

For drinks, on weekends if you come with a party of three or more, you get a complimentary pitcher of sangria. Not a bad deal. If it’s just you and your date, they have a lengthy drink menu with plenty of cocktails including margaritas, daiquiris, pina coladas, and mai tai—everything you associate with boat drinks. While boat drinks sometimes get a bad, suburban housewife rap, there is still one you can drink and be well respected by all and that is the mojito. Siboney has made an excellent mojito here. What sets this one apart from other mojiots is that they have not over-sugared the drink like many mojitos or years past. Additionally, there is a strong lime flavor that comes through, which I really liked.

Siboney is an excellent little date restaurant with a very good menu. I look forward to some day soon enjoying the bar and live music. Cuban Sandwiches are all fine and good, but Cuban cuisine has some very tasty dishes up its sleeve.

Getting down to Brass Tax:

Date place? Yes.
Friend Hang out? Yes, in the bar.
Recommended dish: Mahi Mahi
Recommended drink: Mojito
Price Range (2 People): +/- $45