White Oak Tavern & Inn

Every now and then, you find a restaurant where it is all in the small details. A place that has menu items that are seemingly simple, but then tweaks them with things like a smoked breadcrumb topping on the house made fettuccine. The menu at White Oak Tavern & Inn is not intimidating to diners who are slightly less adventurous, and it services those who are pig face lovers as well. They have that whole locally sourced ingredients thing down, but not in an annoying way.

I went with a group of six last Friday, which of course gave me the advantage of trying the majority of the menu.

For starters, we shared the fried mushrooms, (amazing)  stracciatella (amazinger) and smoked trout bruschetta (amazingest). Though the group favorite seemed to be the stracciatella, I favored the smoked trout bruschetta, which made me nostalgic for childhood Sunday brunches, eating Northern Michigan whitefish salad.

Mains involved the beef burger, grilled half chicken and house made fettuccine, all fresh and delicious; the burger was the group standout.

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With Sweet Mandy B’s next door, we unanimously outsourced our dessert, however, had the location been next door to a Dunkin Donuts, I would have been all over the cookies with milk jam. Still not sure what milk jam is, but as Ina Garten would say, “How bad could that be?

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Menu Musts: Arami

Bar Siena

You know that feeling when you take a risk going to a new restaurant and you assume that with no reservation, there is no way you’ll ever get in? And then you end up going and you’re seated right away? Outside? I think that is my favorite feeling.

This was the case last Sunday at Bar Siena, otherwise known as Siena Tavern’s little and equally delicious sister. Even though they had not started brunch service at that point, settling for their lunch menu was a nonissue. My friend and I started with the crispy tomino cheese with wild mushrooms and polenta toast. Seriously, my mouth is watering as I write this. The combination of textures and flavors and the gooey melted cheese were the perfect accent to our slightly spicy bloody marys.

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Next, we shared the bibb lettuce with watermelon, red endive, cherry tomato, pistachio, sheep’s milk ricotta and green goddess dressing. Another great dish that we goddesses gobbled right up.

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Our final order was the Lobster Club. At this point, we were a little full, but that didn’t stop us from appreciating the freshness of ingredients, the perfect char on the brioche, and the same green goddess dressing that we welcomed with open arms.

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A perfect Chicago Sunday consists of sunshine, outdoor seating, good company and awesome food and drinks. Bar Siena took care of the last two and let’s face it, those are pretty important.

Five Fixations

Even though I am officially back in school mode, I am doing everything I can to spend my free moments outside. As much as I dread the cold winters in Chicago, I have made a point to remind myself that the beginning of the school year does not equate to the immediate end of nice weather. The sunshine is not going anywhere as far as I’m concerned! I hope you enjoy some of my current fixations. Have a great weekend!

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Absolutely obsessed with this pretzel bedding

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Spotted this mother duck and her ducklings hanging out at the Riverwalk.

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Mini grilled cheese and tomato soup are perfect any time of year.

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Look for a post about my new favorite sushi spot next week.

Top Seeds with Josh Zadikoff

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Josh Zadikoff, Brand Operations Manager for Cornerstone Restaurant Group, has crossed all spans of positions in the restaurant industry. “I started out baking cookies and bussing tables in high school. That was my first experience.” In college, Josh discovered his passion for management when he completed a management internship training program at Wildfire in Glenview.

Even though Cornerstone was owned and operated by his family, Josh’s passion for the industry led him to other corporations and opportunities. “When I graduated from college, I worked for Hyatt for four years. I wanted to see a different side of hospitality and really get a feel for more than just our group. Eventually, we decided to open Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse and I transitioned into the opening management team.”

Cornerstone continued to grow as they partnered with Bill Kim on Urbanbelly, Belly Shack and Belly Q. Since Josh’s feet were officially wet, he moved into the Brand Operations Manager position, which encompasses working with restaurant teams and the Cornerstone marketing department. “My job is to really oversee the ongoing success of our restaurants and to make sure that there is positive execution among each individual restaurant team.” Based on the success of their restaurants, it seems that Josh is achieving his goal.


Josh’s Top Seeds


The Perfect Ramen

It’s really all about the broth. The source of the stock doesn’t matter to me because I eat it all, but it has to be well balanced with a silkiness and a good slurp.

Date Night with the Wife

Being in the restaurant industry rarely affords us a date “night”, so we actually tend to do a brunch date. More times than not, we end up at Birchwood Kitchen in Wicker Park. Emily {my wife} loves the beet and goat cheese sandwich and I usually get something seasonal. We love their patio in the summer and they always have a stellar quality of ingredients.

When we do get a date night, it’s usually on a Monday, so we’ll go over to La Sardine for 50 percent off bottles of wine. It’s just a classic, killer French bistro.

Next Big Trend in Food

Ramen is obviously huge right now and I think that will continue to grow and evolve. When you think about it, there is really very little moderately priced Asian food in Chicago outside of chains and fast food. I think restaurant groups are going to start taking a healthier, more casual approach to that region, particularly with Vietnamese food.  Think bolder, more undiscovered flavors.

Speaking of trends, it seems there is a new barbecue chain on every corner. What is the best of the best?

The original Smoque will always be my favorite. I get the sliced brisket, St. Louis ribs and coleslaw. The Sorkins are great friends and they participated in Ramen Fest this year. They did a brisket ramen that was insane.

The Air and Water Show took over the city last weekend. Love it or hate it?

If you do it the right way, it can be great. You need to hop on a boat and just take it in from the water.

The Journey to Cherry Circle Room

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When I first heard the name Cherry Circle Room, I was immediately reminded of a children’s board game. Is it just me or does it sound like a place where you might find Colonel Mustard with the lead pipe?  This mental image ended up being extremely fitting, because getting there, like getting to the end of a board game, is a fun little excursion. The latest project from Land and Sea Department is tucked away in a quiet corner of the newly restored Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, and is just steps away from Millennium Park.

The path from the ground floor of the building to the restaurant was largely reminiscent of a treasure hunt; the treasure being the calamari that enveloped my taste buds at dinner. In fact, I decided to give you, my devoted reader, your very own step-by-step treasure map. This way, when you check out this true gem for yourself, you can make the same observations as me.

  1. Enter the beautifully restored Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, formerly a private men’s club.
  2. Allow your jaw to drop to the floor as you take in the stunning iron and marble staircase, situated next to Shake Shack.
  3. Jaw stays dropped as you take in the equally beautiful crinkle cheese fries.
  4. Past Shake Shack you will notice a line of no less than 100 people, all under 30, all in dresses that need an intervention. They are waiting to get on the elevator to Cindy’s for some high class fist pumping.
  5. Walk up the stairs. The elevator situation is not worth the stress. You’ll need the exercise after this meal anyway.
  6. Enter lobby of the hotel. More jaw dropping ensues. This may be the most beautiful space in the building.
  7. Ask concierge for directions to Cherry Circle Room. You’re lost.
  8. Walk through The Game Room. It feels more like a camp mess hall than a bar, with bocce ball sandboxes, ping pong tables and no music.
  9. Find Cherry Circle Room in back corner of The Game Room.
  10. Breathe deeply, order a martini from the tableside martini cart, order the items below.
  11. Repeat steps 9 and 10 as soon as possible.
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Classic Cocktail

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Beet Salad

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Natural Aged Lacquered Duck

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Broiled Alaskan Halibut