Girl and the Goat: Worth the Wait!

When people think of Chicago they think of the windy city and of great food! Personally, I think that both of these are certainly worth taking into consideration, especially the dining portion! Since I have lived in the city of Chicago I always make it a point to try new restaurants that I have not been to. My latest addition to the list is the Girl and the Goat. This awesome restaurant is located in the West Loop smack dab in the Randolph Restaurant Corridor. It is easily accessible from the River North area via taxi, if you are staying with us at the Hampton Inn & Suites it will probably take you about 10 minutes via cab.

I would strongly recommend that you have a reservation before you go to this restaurant and be warned that when you try to make one, they will probably be booked for months! Now you are certainly able to just show up and put your name on the list but the wait is at least 45 minutes if not longer. We had a reservation that was made 4 months prior to the selected date for dinner!! Now this certainly took me by surprise, this was my first restaurant where I had to make reservations so far ahead. You are probably thinking one of two things right now; this must be an amazing restaurant to be booked so far in advance or is this really worth my time?! I assure you that this restaurant is so busy because it is absolutely worth your time! The chef who created the restaurant, Stephanie Izard, won top chef several seasons ago and has really made a name for herself here in Chicago with her $1.5 million dollar restaurant-The Girl and the Goat. If you don’t like crowded places then this might not be the spot for you, but if you are just looking to be surrounded with great friends and looking to have dinner in a rockin’ environment then certainly check this out!

When we sat down we were immediately greeted by our waitress. As it was our first time there she was more than happy to explain how the Chef envisioned the dining experience. Because there were four of us she recommended that we order anywhere from 8 to 11 dishes. At first we thought that this would be a ridiculous amount of food and we were hesitant to order that much, but she did reassure us that we would be full, as the portions were designed to be small in order to enjoy the flavor of each bite. As we ordered our entrees we were pleasantly surprised by the aromas and the infused flavors of each individual dish. One of my favorite dishes was the Sautéed green beans. This dish contains a fish sauce vinaigrette with cashews; for a person that is not crazy about green beans I was surprised I could not get enough of this dish. I highly recommend this dish to anyone that is eating at this amazing restaurant.

Sauteed Green Bean

Wood Fired Oysters

One of the many flatbreads available

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America’s Second City is top for entertainment

Joe Shooman, a Travel Writer for The Observer in the Cayman Islands, stayed here at the Hampton Inn & Suites Chicago Downtown and wrote an article on his experience in Chicago. I am re-posting below for your enjoyment.

America’s Second City is top for entertainment
Travel and Leisure
By: Joe Shooman | joe@cfp.ky
25 March, 2012

Snow. I’d forgotten all about it. But it’s beautiful, it’s soft and it’s very, very cold. But that’s what you get when you decide to visit Chicago in February, I guess. And whilst the rest of the Chi-town population is wrapping up against more days of the blimmin white stuff, Suzy and me are like kids cause we’ve not seen snow in four years.

Chicago is a city with seemingly endless possibilities for entertainment, sight seeing, eating and drinking and it’s great to land somewhere where nobody knows your name.

After a quick trip up the Willis (formerly Sears) tower we spend our first evening in the Illinois city watching the Chicago Bulls at the mighty impressive United Center along with 20,000 other people. Whilst we may be up in the gods at least we’re near the beer; that, allied to the fact that the Bulls ease past the challenge of local rivals Milwaukee Bucks by 110 to 91 with a triple-double from Joakim Noah, makes a very happy bunch of visitors. And whilst Derrick Rose remains the team’s star, I’ve got a new hero – Carlos Boozer. We return to our brilliant, centrally-located Hampton Inn & Suites Chicago Downtown in the River North district, the choice of which proves a smart move on our part due to it being right in the heart of downtown, just north of The Loop.

It’s also near the Red Line of the easily navigable El Train underground railway system; we buy day passes and start to make our adventures the next morning. It’s always much easier to get an idea of a city’s layout and size during the day and so it proves.

 

Checking the bean

We end up at Millennium Park, which is something of a centre of entertainment, nature and art. Because it’s winter there’s an outdoor ice rink and we toy with getting our skates on, but we have more important things to do, one of which being checking out the famous Cloud Gate.

It’s a sculpture by Anish Kapoor, a British artist born in India, and it’s a masterful, huge, distended, polished steel jelly-bean blob in which the downtown scenery is beautifully reflected. The skyline looks quite extraordinary and lends the city a contemporary regality. Of course, the colloquial nickname is The Bean, which shows the humour of the locals. But it’s a brilliant piece that plays with perception – so much so that my wife Suzy clonks her head into it whilst trying to take a video. Oops! But no harm done, so we skip through the rest of the park – no music on the Great Lawn today, but in the summer you can tell that open-air concerts would be awesome there. It gets lovely and warm come July here, with temperatures kissing the 80s with some ease.

Back to the frozen icicle dripping from my chin, however. It seems we need to warm up which we duly do with a visit to the excellent Art Institute of Chicago which for 150 years has presented the good stuff.

It’s a comprehensive museum with Old Masters alongside plenty of contemporary, decorative and visual arts and the one million square feet make it the second-biggest in the States (only the Met in NYC is bigger). Of the many famous works, Edward Hopper’s study of aloneness, Nighthawks, and Grant Wood’s American Gothic are highlights as is the ancient Egyptian gallery. Best of all, I buy an awesome pen in the shape of the heavy metal salute on the way out.

There’s one thing you have to eat in Chicago and that is pizza. Famous for its deep dish, buttery crust, this is a long way from the mostly traditional Italian thin crust style. It truly is a wonder to behold and a wonder to eat, too. We round off the evening with a visit to the cinema to watch The Artist; a couple of post-movie drinks and we’re done – despite planning to head to one of the many awesome blues clubs which are just getting started. But that will have to wait for another visit.

Despite my best efforts, our third day is spent downtown shopping on the Magnificent Mile – every store you could want is here for clothes and stuff apparently. I’m more interested in trying to find a decent set of darts to bring back to Cayman, but sadly I fail. I do, however, manage to snag a pretty sharp set of Nike trainers that I didn’t know I was looking for until I saw them, so it ain’t all bad.

 

A bit about food

We lunch at Crisp, a North Broadway eaterie that is famous for its Korean-tinged fried chicken. I’d seen it on one of those celebrity cooking shows previously and if it’s good enough for Guy Fieri then it’s gotta be worth a shout. And it comes up trumps; the Seoul Sassy adds a great ginger/garlic slight heat to the very tender chicken which, yes, is crispy on the outside. The salad that comes with it – Buddha Bowl – is a mix of vegetables with rice and topped with a fried egg. Strange, but outstanding nonetheless. A quick trip to the ace Myopic Books yields brain food that afternoon and we round off our trip with a final-evening visit to another awesome food place.

The Purple Pig is located on the Magnificent Mile and can be best described as a kind of pig-worshipping tapas-type bar. We’re a little late due to unforeseen wine, so we have to wait, salivating, for half an hour before the table is ready. But by god it’s worth it; plate after plate of extraordinary dishes are brought out for us to sample and share. There’s fried pig’s ear with crispy kale, braised pork shoulder and mash, turkey leg confit and the absolute star of the show – roasted bone marrow. The interior of the bone is a buttery delight; smeared on brioche it is delicate, rich and something that everyone needs to taste at one time in their lives. The Purple Pig’s menu is great but this is something very special.

And so, a quick few beers later, we’re packing to come back. Yes, it’s cold in the winter, but that’s no bad thing in itself; when you live in beach paradise it’s great to get a dose of opposites once in a while. Chicago is as fast and furious as you want to make it, the inhabitants are friendly and the food is great. With the direct Cayman Airways flight taking around three hours, it could well be the ideal city break.

To see this article in its entirety, click here!

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Café Baba Reeba: Terrific Tapas!

My husband and I went out for dinner to one of our favorite spots in Lincoln Park – Café Baba Reeba. This restaurant is known as an elegant tapas restaurant with excellent food and reasonable prices. As we entered the restaurant, we walked down the initial entry hallway and entered the main restaurant. We immediately noticed the host stand directly in front of the main entrance, the patio area to our immediate left and the large bar area to the right. There was a great charred smell in the air and a noticeable buzz of excitement flowing throughout the entire restaurant. All in all, a great first impression that made us very excited to begin our experience.

The host explained that there would be a short (10-15) minute wait for the patio. We took at seat at the bar and enjoyed some sangria. So refreshing!

Regreshing Sangria

After we were seated we started with the Sweet Potatoes – A generous portion of sliced sweet potato pieces situated next to a small scoop of pomegranate aioli. Great flavor/spice overall! Perfect balance of sweet and salty with an excellent textural contrast between the crunch of the sautéed potato skin and the warm smooth potato center. The tart pomegranate aioli was a great compliment and added a great unique taste to the dish. Great way to start the meal! Next we tried the Braised Short Rib. This dish has a medium-sized tender piece of short rib meat served alongside mashed potatoes and sitting in a pool of rioja wine sauce.Extremely tender overall – the short rib was cooked perfectly! The mashed potatoes soaked up all of the remaining wine sauce and were a great compliment to the richness of the short rib. Excellent dish overall! Our next tapa was the Bacon Wrapped Dates. Wow! You get six bacon-wrapped dates topped with fresh green apple pieces served in a small white bowl. The dates were very smooth and tender without being gummy and/or chewy. The salty bacon paired perfectly with the sweetness of the date and also gave the dish a desired textural crunch. We would 100% order this again.

We finished our meal with some coffee and their Butterscotch dessert which is a small shot glass filled with creamy butterscotch filling and topped with a small dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of coco powder. So good! Extremely rich butterscotch flavor. Excellent dessert option with an excellent rich flavor overall.

Anyone looking to have a fun and relaxing dining experience would love Café Baba Reeba. The pricing is especially reasonable for the quality of food and the location of the restaurant. We can’t wait to go back!

Private Party Room at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba

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Bakin’ and Eggs

They always say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I couldn’t agree more. I love breakfast and could eat it for lunch and dinner if I could. I am not much of a connoisseur of fine foods and have admitted many times that I am a horrible cook. However, the one thing I know and know well is great breakfast places in Chicago. As seen on WTTW’s ‘Check Please’, Bakin’ and Eggs is known for their breakfast, homemade pastries, and the most important food group; Bacon. The name Bakin’ and Eggs comes from both the fresh baked goods and the bacon that is creatively incorporated in almost every dish on the menu.

Vittles from Bakin' & Eggs

If you do venture out to this Lakeview delicatessen, be sure you show up early because they do not accept reservations. However, if you do show up and there is a wait time, don’t worry; there is a fresh self serve coffee station available to take the edge off.

Of the many breakfast places I have been too; this one has a wide open space to accommodate a lot of people. This is also a kid friendly establishment, so be forewarned; it can get noisy. The menu ranges from sweet to savory and everything in between. If you are looking for savory, you should try the caramelized onion, blue cheese, and balsamic frittata. If you have a sweet tooth, you can select the banana pecan French toast with 3 different dipping sauces; hazelnut ganache, banana rum cream sauce, and good ol’ butter. You can also take a walk on the wild side and order the bacon flight, which has an assortment of 5 distinct flavors. The Jalapeno Bacon was my FAVORITE!

A cool twist to end the meal is the chance to win free pastries at the counter on Saturday and Sundays. Your bill is delivered to your table and secured with a close pin. If your close pin has a color on it, YOU WIN! Only 6 lucky guests will win a free pastry, and 1 lucky winner will receive pastries to feed your whole group (if you choose to share). Even if you aren’t a winner, might I suggest buying the whoopie pie just as a “I deserve it” treat at the end of a great meal. I am not going to give away any more mouth watering details, you will have to check it out yourself.

Bakin' & Eggs Interior

 

Bakin’ and Eggs is open for breakfast and lunch Monday- Friday and brunch on the weekends. Feel free to check out their website at http://www.bakinandeggschicago.com/menu or the review on ‘Check Please’ at http://video.wttw.com/video/2161642378.

 

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Scoozi: Exceptional food presentation and quality

My husband and I had date night, once again, this past weekend and wanted to try something new. We gave Scoozi a shot after hearing some great food reviews. The restaurant gave off a warm and inviting ambiance as soon as we entered making us excited to sit down and start the experience. Our server made us feel very welcome and immediately asked if we would like to start with drinks, wine, or cocktails and also started to discuss the nightly specials and layout of the menu. He did a great job describing the preparation and presentation of some of his favorite recommendations, and it was apparent that he had a good understanding of the menu. Overall, a wonderful first impression.

We started with the Mushroom and Truffle Pizza as an appetizer. Wow! It was a large rectangular thin crust pizza topped with roasted Portobello mushrooms, fresh green baby arugula, ricotta cheese, a porcini pesto sauce, and rich white truffle oil served on a wooden pizza server. Excellent crunch and flavor overall. The fresh and peppery baby arugula paired extremely well with the richness of the ricotta and truffle oil and the earthiness of the Portobello mushrooms. Very good value and portion size for the price. Great appetizer options overall.

Scoozi Gnocci/Ravioli Trio

For an entrée I ordered the Gnocci/Ravioli Trio. This included generous portion of three gnocci/ravioli choices – mushroom bolognese gnocci, tomato and cream gnocci, and seasonal butternut squash ravioli – on a white, divided dish. Overall, the ravioli and gnocci were prepared perfectly. The mushroom bolognese gnocci had a great meaty flavor that paired well with the smooth creamy texture of the gnocci.  The richness of the tomato cream sauce paired extremely well with the smooth light tender gnocci and the smooth butternut squash filling paired very well with the crunch of the candied walnut pieces served atop the ravioli. Overall, a great, unique dish!

What is a dinner date without dessert? We ordered the Strawberry Panna Cotta – a small white disc of fresh cool smooth panna cotta served with fresh sliced strawberries, a drizzle of dark balsamic, and a dusting of white powdered sugar. Excellent fresh light dessert option overall. The smooth vanilla flavor of the panna cotta paired very well with the sweetness of the fresh strawberries, the balsamic, and the powdered sugar.

After we finished our meal Brian wished us a good evening as we stood up to leave as did the host as we left the restaurant. There is no question that my husband and I will return to Scoozi. It is an excellent value, the food quality and presentation is exceptional, and it has a fun, welcoming and elegant atmosphere.

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NYC Bagel a hidden gem in River North!

As the saying goes, little things come in small packages….. No, I did not get a little box over the weekend that could possibly determine the rest of my life. I am actually talking about the small New York City Bagel store (NYC), located on Dearborn just across the street from the Hampton inn & Suites Chicago Downtown. This is truly a hidden gem in the River North area of Chicago; they have great flavors and the quality of their meats are amazing!

I have begun to use them as our outside catering company for my meetings at the hotel. I knew that they were good, as on more than one occasion I have been known to run across the street to indulge in their savory breakfast bagel sandwich. Yum! Our first experience working with them as a caterer went better than I had hoped, the staff was amazing! When I expressed concerns about the details of the lunch for the meeting they were more than happy to meet with me. In person, we were able to discuss what I envisioned; they ensured that everything was executed to my expectations.

The meeting was for 64 people, this had originally been 24 and as the client called me to increase the number of attendees, I in turn called NYC to increase the number of people for lunch. They were more than accommodating, which seeing the size of the store one might think that they would not be able to high volume catering. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the presentation of the food that they were so willing to deliver to the hotel in order to facilitate the process for us.

The best part of this experience is that the client was blown away; the program coordinator sent an email a couple of days after the event, “Thank you for taking care of our needs for this event! It was above and beyond our expectations. The ultimate goal in the service industry to make the client happy, through NYC’s professionalism and attention to detail this was accomplished and certainly well received”.

The next time that you stay with us at the Hampton or if you are in the River North area, go and get a sandwich at NYC Bagel. You won’t regret it!

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Streets of Chicago

 

 

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

 

― Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

 

 

Marina City

 

It wasn’t until moving to Chicago did this ring so true. Until you experience the majesty of street life in a big city, it is hard to truly understand it. You definitely can feel it visiting, you may even notice that there is something different, but can’t quite put your finger on why. I noticed that my vacations from my home town of Memphis were always large cities: Chicago, LA, New York, London… I knew that I wanted to be in the cauldron of street life. Its being part of city life that you are actually shaping the city.

 

The built environment has a lot to with the vibrancy of street life as well. Think of a typical suburban strip mall. There is a lot of activity, but walking down the sidewalk you don’t get a sense of lively cohesion.  One of the most important parts of this built environment in modern North American cities is the Grid.  Chicago is one of the largest cities with a continuous grid throughout the city.

 

River North grid On Google Maps (Hampton Inn & Suites is marked)

Chicago’s grid is 1.3 degrees off true north.  If you travel northbound on a north/south street, you will travel just slightly west.  Not bad for the engineers that laid out the Chicago grid system using 19th century tools. You can actually see this on Google Maps! Take a look at the photo above, Find Chicago Ave in the upper left, notice how it jogs north the further east you go.

 

  • Some things to remember about the Chicago grid:
  • Every 8 Blocks equals 1 Mile & you will find an arterial Street
  • Every 4 Blocks is a major Secondary Street.
  • A Block is about 480 Feet. In downtown with the older blocks, it is closer to 400 feet
  • Even Numbered Addresses are on the West and North sides of each street
  • Odd Numbered Addresses are on the East and South sides of each street
  • Odd Numbered Addresses are on the East and South sides of each street
  • The intersection of State (0) and Madison (0) is the 0 / 0 block. If the original numbering system were done today, I am sure that the 0/0 block would be much further west. There are no east numbers north of North Ave because of Lake Michigan. I don’t think the 19th century planners could even to begin to imagine how much futher the city would grow. The city could only grow west because of the lake!

Look for the Chicago grid when you fly into the city.

 

 

 

 

 

The grid is part of street life in Chicago, but the grid would be nothing without the people that live in work in it. Think of the entrepreneurs with their business ideas, the actors & techs with their art in the theatres, the workers in the shops, the tourist with their cameras, the bar patron enjoys one last beer before getting on the train… The lively street life is why people come to big cities like Chicago. Just walk around River North for a few hours you see it all: world-class architecture (Trump Tower, Wrigley Building, Boyce Building, Marina City), fine dining (Sunda, Sushi Samba), the hippest of hip clubs that as so cool, they don’t even need a sign (Underground) & a lively street scene. This is why Chicago is always sure to surprise. 

 

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Great experience at Wildfire Chicago!

Wildfire Chicago

It was date night last Friday night at Wildfire Chicago. My husband and I were graciously welcomed by the host. We were then greeted by the Maitre’d who showed us to our table. She engaged us in conversation on the way to the table, asking if we were out doing holiday shopping (we had several shopping bags with us). As we sat down, she made sure the table was in order and made sure we were comfortable before departing back to the host area. An overall wonderful first impression!

We started with the chopped salad to share for an appetizer. What a great appetizer option! A generous portion of mixed greens, roasted chicken, avocado, tomato, blue cheese, bacon, scallions, corn, and tortilla strips tossed with a light citrus vinaigrette dressing and served tableside in a large white bowl with tongs. Excellent blend of fresh flavors and unique textures. Each ingredient complimented the others extremely well. The crunch of the tortilla strips, fresh corn, and bacon pieces paired well with the smooth tender chicken, avocado, tomato, and blue cheese crumbles. The citrus vinaigrette dressing was very light yet flavorful and gave the dish a desired citrus flavor to balance the other ingredients.

For an entrée I ordered the Fillet Medallion Trio. Three filet medallions positioned on a circular white plate. Each was topped with a different signature crust- I chose blue cheese, parmesan, and horseradish. Prepared medium-rare, the filet medallions were extremely tender and juicy. The horseradish crust was surprisingly balanced and not at all overwhelming. The parmesan crust had an excellent cheesy aftertaste, and blue cheese crust was very rich and flavorful overall. An excellent entrée choice due to the difference in flavors you get with one dish. Great job!

After we finished our meal, our plates and flatware were cleared. Our server made sure to wait until the table was fully cleared and crumbed before presenting coffee and dessert options which was appreciated. He wished us a good evening and a happy holiday as we stood up to leave as did the host as we left the restaurant. Overall, a great experience at Wildfire Chicago!

 

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Ras Dashen, a wonderful Ethiopian Restaurant on the northside of Chicago

Chicago as a city has so much to offer; fun sightseeing, good theatre, great nightlife and definitely some good eating! When you come to Chicago you are bombarded with an array of different cuisines that will blow you away. I try to venture out to a new local restaurant that I have not been to about once a month. Let’s be real guys, most of us are not billionaires, so like the rest of us I’m trying not to break the bank and still be able to enjoy what Chicago has to offer.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of meeting some friends at ‘Ras Dashen’, an Ethiopian restaurant. It is located on the north side of Chicago on Broadway. If you are traveling from out of town and staying with us at the Hampton Inn & Suites, just take the red line at the grand stop and head north! This was such a great experience! Beware! If you do not like spicy food, this is probably not going to be for you. Since it was our first time there we did not know what to expect. Totally exceeded my expectations. As we entered the restaurant, there was a band playing which was awesome! Then, we were seated at a table that was not really a table (they have actual tables there too, but we wanted the full experience!). They had four chairs surrounding this tall basket in place of a table. As the table top, they used a round tray with Ethiopian art.

The Dining Room at Ras Dashen

The Dining Room at Ras Dashen

We started off with some drinks. I ordered a Peach Martini, usually not a fan of very sweet martinis, but the restaurant recommended it, noting it was quite popular. I took a chance and it was delicious. For the appetizer we ordered the Sambusa, this is such a great dish. It was a little spicy but light and full of flavor. We all ordered our entrées and sides (with an entrée order every table gets a choice of three sides) with the thought of sharing in mind, and good thing too because they prepare the meal on one plate for the entire table. The preparation of the food is so unique. They use a very large round tray as a plate. At the bottom they put Injera, which is the traditional word for flat bread. Then they place the entrée on a section on the Injera in front of the person that ordered it. In between each entre, they place one of the sides in order to provide a little variety. Then you dig in! Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that they do not use utensils. You use the Injera to grab the food and you eat with your hands!

Whether you are a local or someone that is visiting from out of town, I would highly recommend this restaurant to anyone that is daring and likes spicy food.

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Chicago Steaksnob

Going back almost a 150 years Chicago has been known for the meat packing trade. The Union Stock Yards on the south side was the largest processer of meat for almost 80 years. There isn’t much left of the stock yards now except the original gate…

All of those stock yards laid the foundation for Chicago to have some fantastic steakhouses… And after being in Chicago for 12 years, I have had the opportunity to visit all of the best ones. The most recent one I went to was Mastro’s Steakhouse. The overall experience we had was truly one of a kind, with food that is over the top and service that is second to none. With being in the service industry, you really have to impress me for me to say that the service was that good.

I made the reservations a week out and came in about a half an hour early to sit in the bar. We ordered some cocktails and received a nice heavy handed poured drink. They had someone on the piano and a singer serenading the crowd. They were just loud enough to enjoy, but not so loud that we couldn’t hear each other speak. Our table was ready right on time. The menu has items like Alaskan King Crab Black Truffle Gnocchi and Gorgonzola Mac & Cheese to complement their wide array of perfectly cooked steaks. A few days later, I even got a follow up phone call to ask how my experience was! The entire experience was absolutely perfect. If you get a chance, go visit them. It will cost a few bucks, but if you are going to splurge, this is the place.

Enjoy!

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