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This past Saturday, Bob and I enjoyed the best meal we’ve had all year!  We dined at Fat Rice, the newly opened Asian fusion restaurant in Logan Square.  Chef/Owner, Abraham Conlon, and General Manager/Owner, Adrienne Lo, describe the food as, “drawing influence from the Euro-Asian unions of China, India and Southeast Asia’s colonial past, the food at Fat Rice combines homestyle comfort with exotic, lesser known ingredients and flavors“.

We’d been lucky enough to try their food before when they were running X-marx, the successful and always super fun underground dining experience, which they also started.  Their food never fails to impress and Fat Rice is no exception.  We arrived just 10 minutes after opening and they were already half full.  By the time we had sat down at the L-shaped bar (the other seating option is long, communal tables) and ordered our drinks, they had filled up entirely.  So go early!

Most of their dishes are made for sharing, something I’m not always a fan of, but it works well here.  We started with a trio of small snacks – lemongrass carrots, spicy pickled cucumber & Charlie’s peanuts.  The spicy cucumber was my favorite and I would buy them by the gallon if they ever started selling them retail.  The peanuts were good but they were the only dish I wasn’t crazy about – that said, Bob loved them, so it was simply personal preference.  We also split a pork & shrimp pot sticker, which was easily the best pot sticker I’ve ever had in my life (Bob agreed).  Then we split the Fat Rice Casserole (linguica, portuguese chicken, salted duck, tea egg, prawn, clam, roasted pork) which was the best dish we’ve had all year.  I’m not a big meat eater but loved it anyway – it’s that good. Finally, we were gluttons that night, we split the Pineapple Upside Down Cake for dessert.  Again, easily one of the best desserts I’ve had in a long time.

Go, and go soon!  You’ll thank me after.  They are currently open Tuesday-Saturday from 6-10 p.m. and do not accept reservations.  You can check out more Fat Rice photos, via Grub Street, here.

lemongrass carrots, spicy pickled cucumber & Charlie’s peanuts

 

inside, just before it filled up

 

hard at work in the open kitchen

 

fat rice menu

 

fat rice casserole

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I’ve been meaning to share with you the two great restaurants we ate at while in L.A. last week — the Lazy Ox Canteen and Natas Pastries.

The Lazy Ox (241 S. San Pedro Street) is located in the Little Tokyo neighborhood. I went for lunch, with three other people, and we all absolutely loved our dishes. When we came in, they encouraged us to share the plates but we all had something specific in mind so we ignored them and ordered individually instead. This meant the dishes came out a bit staggared, rather than all at once, but it worked out just fine. I had their veggie burger and it was easily one of the best I’ve ever had. The veggetables were high quality, as was the bun, and extrmely well marinated. I’d order it again in a second! The restaurants decor was also to my liking – low lighting, lots of wood and a very relaxed atmosphere.

(photo via la times)

Natas Pastries (13317 Ventura Blvd) is in the Studio City neighborhood of Sherman Oaks. We actually discovered it by accident – I needed to use the restroom so I went in planning to buy a cup of coffee to gain access. Well, that all changed the moment I laid eyes on their elaborate and drool-inducing pastry display. (Check out their online sweets gallery and you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about.) I ended up ordering us each an eclair. I’m normally not a fan of eclairs, so I’m not sure why I chose them but I’m so glad I did! They were huge and absolutely delicious – like no pastry I’ve ever had before. I seriously cannot recommend them highly enough. If you’re an eclair fan and in L.A. you must try them. Even if you’re not a fan, I bet these will change your stance — they’re that good.

(photo via dining with the catty critic)

It’s been a busy week for me but, luckily, it has resulted in getting to dine at a number of different restaurants I’d wanted to try for some time now. On Monday, my mom was travelling through Chicago on her way to Seattle to visit her mother. She had a few hours to kill before her flight so she met me near my office, at Coco Pazzo Cafe in Streeterville, and we had a late lunch. We sat inside, due to the chilly weather, but they have a large outdoor seating area as well (which is my favorite way to dine). They provided a bread basket that included focaccia and oil for dipping — it was much better than your average bread basket. My mom ordered the Calamari, which I was more than happy to steal a few pieces of — it was really fantastic. She also ordered their Sette Vegetali which also looked delicious but I didn’t try. I had their Spaghetti AOP which was good but nothing special and definitely not spicy, as the waitress warned me it would be. Overall, the food was above average and the service was great. I’d love to give it another try when it’s warm enough to eat outside.

Coco Pazzo Cafe

On Tuesday, B and I took our good friends Christine and Jim out for dinner at Wasabi in Logan Square to celebrate their engagement over the weekend. B & I had eaten there once before and really enjoyed it so we were excited to go back, especially now that we knew it was BYOB (something we missed the first time around). We had edamame as an appetizer and then shared a bunch of different maki rolls, including the Spider, Logan, ArtMex, Cubby Bear, Hot Yogi Vegan & the Super White Tuna Crunch. All delicious! You can check out their full menu here.

ArtMex Maki Roll / Wasabi

Then, yesterday evening, I had a going-away-dinner with Allison, one of my best friends, who is moving to California to start a great new job. I’m happy she landed her dream job but I’m still sad to see her go. We had dinner at The Bristol in Bucktown, which I’d been wanting to try for years. Even with the long-awaited anticipation it still more than lived up to my expectations! The food was delicious, the decor spot on and the service was great yet still relaxed (I hate stuffy service). We started with their Monkey Bread with Sea Salt & Dill Butter and then each tried a different pasta dish — Allison had the Chitarra all Carbonara and I had one of their daily specials that I can’t remember the name of. For dessert Allison tried their carrot cake and I went for the cheesecake. We left full and happy!

Monkey Bread with Dill Butter / The Bristol

Next up is The Bedford, which is inside an old bank vault. B & I are going out for my birthday dinner there tomorrow night. Today is my last day as a 26 year old!

(photos via coco pazzo; wasabi; the bristol)

I have a confession to make. Lately, we’ve been eating out – a lot – and after each time I plan to share with you what we found. But I haven’t. Not once. So, the result is this jumbled review of all of them in just one post. I apologize in advance.

We kicked off with Pollo Express in Pilsen. B, myself & two other friends ventured out on a Sunday, when traffic is lightest. We saw a lot of great street art, including some nice work by Jasso (check out the light saber piece below). As the name implies, Pollo Express is all about the chicken. Served only two ways (natural or adobado) you don’t have a lot of options, but it doesn’t matter. It was so moist and flavorful I even liked it — and I am not a big meat/chicken fan. The freshly made guacamole and house salsas also made the visit more than worth it. Gluttons that we are, we swung by Black Dog Gelato on the way home. If you haven’t tried it yet, you are basically abusing yourself. Get on it.

Feeling guilty for all our indulgence the next place we hit was a fully vegan joint, Native Foods Cafe, in Wicker Park. They have an expansive menu and some of the friendliest servers I’ve had in awhile. They also have a killer watermelon fresca – with free refills! You can check out their full menu here. They have enough variety and mock-meat dishes to satisfy most meat eaters. And everything on the entire menu is made fresh, from scratch, every morning.

Last week, while working in the loop, I grabbed lunch at the newly opened Tortas Frontera in the Chase building. It was quietly opened by Rick Bayless but it didn’t take more than a day for the crowds to come. I had to wait 20-25 minutes just to order. My food was ready (and delicious) quickly. Although, I had their Taqueria Salad, which played a role in the speedy aspect. The lady behind me ordered a tortas, and was warned it would be another 10-12 minute wait. Although if you have the time, it’s definitely worth the wait. They also serve breakfast. But if you come for lunch, be warned, they close at 2. I showed up at 2:05 the first time and learned the hard way.

Another recently opened place we tried was Publican Quality Meats. Part sandwich shop, part small grocer, part butcher – and it nails all three. We both loved our sandwiches. I had the “Better Than a Gyro” and B had the “Train to Tuscany” (horrible sandwich naming was the only fault we found). The products I scanned while waiting for our food made me want to return immediately. They carry farm fresh eggs, house made stocks, artesian oils and other hard to find items – all with an emphasis on local. I can’t wait to go back.

Lastly – finally – we went out for dinner and drinks at Big Star last Friday. We’ve been many times before but I never get sick of it. The crowds are another story. They have great salsa, fresh tortilla chips, delicious tacos and a serious drink list (if you like bourbon, this is the place to go in Chicago). Definitely worth a try if you’re in the city for more than a day or two. If you want to make a night of it, go across the street for drinks at Violet Hour afterwards. You’ll feel like you were plopped in the middle of The Great Gatsby.

(photos via flickrgapers block; racked & rock n roll ghost)

Last Wednesday a few of my friends in the restaurant industry invited me to a practice party at RPM Italian, the just opened restaurant from celebrity duo Giuliana & Bill Rancic, executive chef Doug Psaltis, and the Melman siblings. The initials of their last names explains the name. It was a larger space than I expected, but they decorated it beautifully with lots of round booths and smaller tables, low lighting and mainly black, white & silver tones. It’s large but it still feels quite intimate, it’d be a good date spot. I’m not going to lie, I geeked out a bit when I saw both Paul McGee and Bill Rancic there.

The menu is quite expansive (and a little expensive, at least for me, but it’s pretty normal for the River North area). I was at a table of six so we shared everything and got to try a lot of different dishes. We ordered the Polenta with Poached Egg (great but not quite warm enough), Shredded Brussel Sprouts (surprisingly good), Kale & Pancetta (nothing special), and the Tuscan Kale, Heirloom Spinach salad, which was fantastic. We also tried three pastas – Bucatini Pomodoro (great potential but was too al dente, and I like al dente), the Short Rib Pappardelle (my least favorite dish) and Spicy King Crab pasta, which was not spice at all. We also shared the Natural Bone-In Rib Eye and the Grilled Giant Prawns, both of which were great. You can check out their full menu here.

Last week B and I went out to dinner for our Valentine’s date. We’ve gotten in the habit of going out a day or two before, as the day of is an absolute mob scene around here. This year we went to a pop-up restaurant at the Logan Square Kitchen. It was put on by Trenchermen, a locally & seasonally focused restaurant, which will be opening in the old Spring space in Wicker Park sometime this year. The dinner was five courses, all of which came with a drink pairing. They really nailed the drink pairings! Neither of us are big drinkers, and I worried I wouldn’t enjoy having so many drinks with
one meal, but they all went so well with each dish and most were quite unique, so it ended up being one of my favorite parts!

The first course was “Pickle Tot, Chicken Bonito, Scallion” (paired with Eric Bordelet ‘Authentique’) and was basically a pickle tater tot, with very thin strips of cured chicken, fresh scallions and a red
onion yogurt. It was quite yummy! The second course was “Tortellini, Ricotta, Sake Lees, Butternut Squash Miso, Smoked Pickled Grapes” (paired with Nigori Chai), this was my least favorite course, although we both really loved the smoked pickled grapes. We’d had carbonated grapes before, at an X-Marx event, and these were quite similar but with a much more smoky flavor. The third course was “Scallops, Oyster Avgolemono, Egg Yolk, Bamboo Rice” (paired with Three Floyds Gumball
Head). This was my second favorite course — the scallops were cooked perfectly and the bamboo rice, which I’d never had before, was delicious. The fourth course, “Aged Duck, Corn Bread, Yuzu Apple Sauce” (paired with Rene Rostaing C.DL. ‘Puech Noble’ 2007) was OK but nothing too special — although the wine pairing was amazing! The fifth, and final course, was the dessert course and it was “Coffee Cake, Fried Chocolate, Tofu Chai Ice Cream” (paired with
Elio Perrone ‘Bigaro’ 2010). We both loved the dessert.

Overall, it was a great meal in a relaxed, romantic setting (exposed brick walls and lots of candle light). I think we will definitely be trying Trenchermen out when they open in their permanent space. For more info, you can check out Chicagoist’s write up of the event here.