Weeknight at Bernie’s

Finally! A restaurant within steps of my apartment that I actually want to go to for dinner. Bernie’s Lunch and Supper has a bit of nostalgia for me. The owner and chef, Zack Sklar, is from my hometown in Michigan. Apparently his restaurants are what keep suburban Detroit trendy. Now Sklar is taking on Chicago, and his restaurant group, Peas & Carrots, already has another project in the works.

So, I went with one other dining partner and I feel like we ordered like rock stars. When I go back, I’ll have a hard time not ordering the exact same things. That said, we peeked at the other tables and they seemed equally pleased. The  menu isn’t that big, so if you go with enough people you could technically order everything.

I also want to mention that Bernie’s offers a 6 and 9 ounce pour option for wine. Are we all in agreement that this is not a bad option?

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We started with the Lamb Hashwi with hummus, pine nuts, pomegranate seeds and warm pita, which is really like a hot naan pancake. This seriously embarrasses your standard pita and hummus.

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Next came the heirloom tomatoes with nectarines, burrata, torn bread and roasted onions. I think we all know how I feel about a salad with bread in it.

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Another winner. Sweet corn with basil pesto and spicy honey.

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I am a diehard Au Cheval burger enthusiast, but this one gives it a true run for its money. The Bernie’s Cheeseburger has dill pickles, aioli and grilled onions. Not too shabby.

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Parlor Pizz’eh’

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I recently made an executive decision with my strategies team, (Sully) to eliminate negative restaurant reviews from my blog. I think it creates bad energy and nobody needs that. That said, I have to tell you about my experience at Parlor Pizza Bar on Saturday night.

Picture this: Perfect weather. Rooftop bar. Downstairs patio with picnic tables. Loud inside bar with more tables. Rosé flowing like water. Girls in crop tops that read: #roséallday. Girls in other variations of crop tops taking selfies with their rosé and instagramming their selfie with the hashtag, you guessed it, roséallday. So, there’s that.

Then there is my group of six, who I will coin, ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillars’. We’re over 25. Our clothes actually cover our extremities. We’re having drinks, but we have them with the end goal of food in mind. Suddenly, except not suddenly at all, our 45 minute wait for the patio turns into a 2 hour wait for inside. Not happy. We get our food quickly, likely because we pulled our waitress out of the bathroom so she would take our order.

The pizza is good. The salads are good. The calamari is good. Nothing is great. I am not denying that we eat the meal like we are headed straight to the chair, but, on a scale of 1 to eh, it’s an eh.

That rooftop bar though, it is pretty fantastic. Especially when the reality is that our outdoor days are numbered.

So, here’s the bottom line: Enjoy the roof, but have a brisket sandwich beforehand, preferably from Green Street Smoked Meats.

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?

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.

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

The Publican: Chef’s Menu

Ahh, the Publican. A diamond in the rough. A league of its own. Cool without trying. Every time I go there, I feel like I am in a barn turned restaurant on a family’s farm in France.

Even though the Publican has been around for a few years (seven to be exact), its consistently good food, vast selection of beers, and casual ambiance has kept it continuously bustling with people. On a Saturday night with a group of six, our waiter suggested that we order the chef’s menu; they pick the food, you eat it. Here is what they brought us:

Charcuterie Plate

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Publican Bread Plate

Barbecue Carrots

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Sungold Tomatoes

Fried Eggplant

Boston Mackerel

Cajun Sausage

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Dark Chocolate Mousse

Basque Cake

Waffle

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We basically had to beg the staff to stop bringing us food.  Our only minor disappointment was that we missed out on two of our favorites, the farm chicken and the pork rinds. After the waiter agreed to keep us from unbuttoning our pants at the table, he asked us our favorites of the night. Ironically, as a group, we ended up shouting out everything brought to us. My two best? The Boston mackerel and the fried eggplant.

Osteria Langhe

Being chosen to pick the location of a goodbye dinner is a potentially stressful undertaking. This is especially true when the person chosen to pick the location is me and the person moving is a food aficionado. But, Osteria Langhe has been on my list for quite sometime after rave reviews from friends and enemies alike.

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Whole snapper with steak fries

The cozy candlelit interior was almost as warm and inviting as our sweet waiter. The flavor pairings were unique and satisfying and the breadsticks in vintage tomato cans were dangerously addictive. After a fantastic dinner, I can safely say that my reputation is still intact, and Osteria Langhe was quickly moved to the top of my short list of go-to favorites.

I have always felt that it is hard to mess up Italian food, but it is equally challenging to make it stand out from the crowd. This restaurant hits all the marks. The fan favorite was the whole snapper, which we devoured down to the fins. The only minor disappointment was the Burro E Salvia, which was a bit reminiscent of Lipton’s noodle soup.  Bonus: I live tweeted with their social media person during the meal! See the deliciousness below.

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Burro E Salvia: house made noodles with butter and sage

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Vitello Tonnato: poached beef, crispy egg, tuna citrus caper aioli

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Cavalfiore: parmesan encrusted cauliflower, salted cod, sunchoke puree, house pickled vegetables