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Chicago restaurants

My review of etta: tasting the magic of the hearth

I’ve always thought eggs are a pretty straightforward affair. Hard boiled, poached, scrambled, covered with hollandaise, smothered by chimichurri. There are numerous ways to reinvent tradition, and yet many of them invariably gravitate towards a few tried-and-tested standard applications. I believe that to make your breakfast/brunch eggs brighter and to make you truly happier, a journey of a special kind is needed – one which combines a passion for innovation with a love for quality ingredients, flamboyant and versatile, and most importantly, bursting with rich, immersive flavors. I recently embarked on such an incredible culinary journey at etta, and I’m here to tell you all about it.

Located in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood, etta is famous for its wood-fired hearth, which bestows charred flavor to dishes ranging from focaccia to meatballs and from salmon to pizza. I visited etta (short for “Henrietta,” which in French means “keeper of the hearth”) for brunch a couple of weeks ago, and I was impressed with the high quality of the ingredients used, as well as with Executive Chef Danny Grant‘s hearth-informed vision.

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My visit to Arun’s Thai: the magic of approaching food as a postgraduate research project

Ask me about my favorite Chicago neighborhoods, and I’ll have two words for you: Albany Park. Every time I visit one of Chicago’s most ethnically diverse neighborhoods, I’m in for a treat. I love the people – warm, friendly, bursting with excitement and imagination -, the streets – a mosaic of cultural symbols seamlessly intertwined – and, of course, the food. Many popular Chicago restaurants are located in Albany Park, yet none of them manages to capture the hearts of minds of diners the world over like Arun’s Thai does, which I got the chance to visit recently.

Located on a corner lot on North Kedzie Avenue, next to a grocery store, Arun’s Thai Restaurant looks rather unassuming from the outside. Keep Reading

ROOH: a story of belonging

Every now and then I come across a restaurant which makes me question my own food journey and my purpose in keeping this blog alive. I take the time to reflect on what I do and how I do it: Have I kept true to myself while writing all these stories and posting all these recipes? Have I remained authentic to those influences from my past, which have shaped me in profound and lasting ways? Is it still me who’s doing the writing – or is it somebody else, whom I barely know? This striving for authenticity has always interested me. There are so many stories out there that seem contrived, inauthentic, or downright fabricated – and so many restaurants which thrive on providing an embalmed, carefully manufactured version of their supposed true purpose. And then… there’s ROOH.

Meaning soul or spirit, ROOH is a restaurant which brings India to Chicago in a way that preserves the authenticity of the Indian dining experience while also gifting it with a fresh, innovative perspective. As someone who is familiar with traditional Indian cooking, I was looking forward to seeing how acclaimed Executive Chef Sujan Sarkar would rethink the fundamentals of Indian cuisine so as to epitomize a fine dining experience. I thought such a project had its risks, the most obvious perhaps being the loss of authenticity. As I stepped into the restaurant on its official launch night, I had one question in my mind: Will I be able to find the spirit of India at ROOH?

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My visit to Coarse Italian in Glenview: talking family and community with restaurateur Franco Francese

Ask restaurateur Franco Francese about his favorite food-related memory, and his face lightens up at the thought of Sunday dinners of years past. It was a family affair, with everybody sitting down at the dining table and waiting their turn to get rigatoni. As with many Italian dishes, the secret lied in the sauce – and the Francese family recipe was a work of wonder, featuring cow’s neck bones simmered for hours at a low temperature so as to slowly develop their flavor. “Family matters,” Francese tells me with a pensive voice. “It’s what molds us and shapes us as people. And it’s nice to work with family.”

It is this spirit of family and familial love that Franco Francese is bringing to the Glenview Park Golf Club with his latest restaurant, Coarse Italian, which opens for dinner on June 17. Keep Reading

Chef Battle Midwest Regionals: I ate, I judged, I had a fabulous time!

I don’t know about you, but I love cooking competitions! There is something truly addictive in watching the adrenaline, the sweat, the trembling – and sometimes the desperation – of talented chefs working under pressure. Be it the ingredients that are hard to work with, be it the technology that fails, be it last-second misfortunes which render the final dish inedible – it’s all that drama that keeps me glued to the TV screen, waiting for the chefs’ next move. As a Chicago-based foodie, I’ve also had my fair share of live cooking competitions, which I attended and then described in detail on this blog.

The most recent competition I was invited to was Chef Battle Midwest Regionals. I also agreed to be a judge for the preliminary stage of this event. Spending Sunday downtown eating food made by talented local chefs and grading them for their efforts? Yes, please 🙂

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Celebrating 20 years of Chicago’s Best Wingfest: Give me wings, glorious wings!

Tamarindo chicken wings served by Estrella Negra at 2019 Chicago’s Best Wingfest

What’s the magic formula for perfect chicken wings? I don’t know about you, but the first thing I notice when eating one is the texture. As I bite into it, I expect it to be moist and delicate, with an almost melt-in-your mouth quality. Once that’s done, the flavor kicks in: I expect it to be a little bit on the spicy side, and fully developed, encompassing several layers of surprising elements. What’s my absolute no-no? The freezer burn taste. I’ve tasted it before – never again, tyvm!

If you’re still unsure what kind of chicken wings you like, how about you try a lot? I reckon the best way to do it is to check out Chicago’s Best Wingfest next year. With so many wings to discover, you’re bound to find a favorite, have a fab time with your loved ones – and maybe even win some prizes in their famous wing eating competition 😉 Keep Reading

My review of Mezcalito: Are you #DownToFiesta? I’d say we are :-)

Chef Marissa Tuñon’s molletes, featuring refried beans, cheese and pico de gallo

Somewhere in hip River North, tucked in the basement of the famous Mercadito, lies a cocktail lounge that offers inventive food and drinks in an immersive atmosphere. The name of Mercadito’s younger sibling is Mezcalito, and its goal is to capture the hearts and minds of customers who want a quality bar experience, which blends authentic Mexican food with upscale tequila-based cocktails. Ever wondered how to make your night downtown memorable? Whatever you do, I strongly encourage you to check out Mezcalito at some point. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and I’m here to spill the beans – or the mezcal, more likely 😉 Keep Reading

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