Sunday, July 18, 2010

Quick Review: Ñ (Chicago)

Got here early (~7pm on a Saturday) for some food and beer before a party. Quilmes bottles. Nice.

Quilmes and mango mojito @ N

Had the place to ourselves.

Interior @ N

Quiet. Good light. Liked the exposed brick walls.

Interior @ N

Great empanadas ...

Empanadas @ N

... and chorizo chunks you grab w/ toothpicks. Also nice.

Chorizo @ N

Later for more drinks and music. Cool crowd having a good time w/o losing their sh*t. Very nice.

Quick Review: Il Villagio (Boston)

Il Villagio

Il Villagio was exactly what we were looking for.

Strolling with my wife around the North End one 90 degree night in late June our wish list was this:

* A/C
* Good food
* Not crowded
* Not some cavernous money minting operation
* Not too far away from the main action and energy of the neighborhood

I'm pretty sure we walked past every restaurant in the neighborhood as I searched for the exact atmosphere I was in the mood for. But Il Villagio nailed it.

Judy @ I'll villagio

Pleasant service, low key atmosphere, eating with only a handful of other tables, really good food. The wife loved her shrimp & scallops linguine and I enjoyed the risotto with prosciutto paired with a couple glasses of the house red. Solid meal.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mini Review: Nuevo Leon (Chicago)

exterior Nuevo Leon, Pilsen - Chicago

Liked it a lot. Strong entrees (filete al nuevo leon and pollo mole ... I think that's what the wife had, anyway). Had chips, a decent appetizer (queso panelas) two entrees, an horchata and a soda for $32 before tip. And we both have lunch for tomorrow. Good value.

Crowded at 6pm on a Saturday, so be ready for that. Also, there are two rooms. Back room is brighter, maybe quieter.

interior Nuevo Leon, Pilsen - Chicago.jpg
view from our booth, front room, Nuevo Leon, Pilsen - Chicago

Queso panelas
Queso panelas

Filete al nuevo leon
Filete al Nuevo Leon

Monday, January 19, 2009

Mini-Review: Tabla (NYC)

Note: I'm writing this three months after my stay. My posting activities fell off drastically in November and December. So, take this more as directional recollections than a highly focused critique.

The wife and I watch our fair share of Iron Chef America. And a few weeks before we were going to be in NY visiting family, we saw the battle pitting Bobby Flay against Floyd Cardoz of Tabla. That particular episode wasn't especially appealing to us since we aren't big snail eaters. But the description of Tabla sounded interesting so we wanted to give it a shot.

Tabla nyc

We aren't normally 'fine diners' (one exception being our anniversary dinner @ Arun's), and this wound up being a touch fancier, more formal and sophisticated than we expected. If we had known exactly what we were getting into we might not have followed through with our reservation. But I'm glad we did because it was quite good.

If I could do anything differently, the one thing that was a bit disappointing was our table placement. It might seem odd to complain about having too much space between tables at a restaurant (especially if you know me), but we were on kind of an isolated island, tucked into a nook at the top of the stairs.

Tabla nyc

If it were a corner with walls you might be able to construe it as private and romantic. But in their wide open layout it was more like being in no man's land. Unfortunately this vibe didn't hit me right away so we didn't request a move. And I got over it. A small-ish issue really. On to the food ...

... and we're off to a slow start because I can't really remember what this was. I grabbed a copy of their seasonal menu from the web site after we at there, but it didn't include this little starter soup. I'm sure it was nice ...

Tabla nyc pumpkin seed soup

The naan was quite nice. Fresh out of the oven, cheesy, comforting.

Tabla nyc naan

This next one was a surprise. I ordered the vegetarian tasting menu, which was going to take me out of my comfort zone a bit. I'm an on / off vegetarian, and when I'm on I am the world's worst vegetarian because I like about 4 vegetables and two types of fish. So 'salad of baby beets' was something I just hoped to get through. Didn't expect to enjoy it. But with the Roquefort cheese and ginger, I have to say it was pretty tasty.

Tabla nyc beet salad

I did hit a little speed bump with the Stuffed Jack-B-Little Pumpkin, featuring "early fall root vegetables". Let's say some root vegetables were tougher on my palate than others. But nice presentation.

Tabla nyc

Another semi-surprise was the Chantrelle & Potato "Risotto". To say I don't enjoy mushrooms is an understatement (like I said, I'm not a great vegetarian). But I was able to work around the biggest pieces and did enjoy the overall taste of the dish, including the coconut broth.

Tabla nyc risotto

Our desserts were the stand outs.

First, the Tahitian Vanilla Bean Cheesecake (with 'graham crumble, concord grape sauce and lemon eucalyptus sorbet). I thought this was great. Judy wasn't thrilled, but I loved it.

Tabla nyc - tahitian vanilla bean kufki

But she did like her white chocolate mousse. (Sorry, can't find the full detailed description on any menu.)

Tabla nyc - white chocolate mousse

Finally, always a crowd favorite, the mignardises.

Tabla nyc

All in all, it was a nice night out. I am sure people with more sophisticated palates and fewer self-imposed dietary restrictions would enjoy it much more than I did. (And you can check out a pdf of their menu here to judge whether it's right for you.) Given my own limitations and our relatively isolated table, it wasn't great value in my mind. But the service was very good, the presentation was terrific and the overall vibe was very nice. Just not in my personal sweet spot when it comes to dining options.

Mini-Review: Empanada Mama's (NYC)

Note: I'm writing this three months after my stay. My posting activities fell off drastically in November and December. So, take this more as directional recollections than a highly focused critique.

Empanada mama exterior

I first learned about Empanada Mama via an article in the NYTimes. Sounded interesting, so I flagged it for future reference. That came in handy last October when my wife and I were in NY visiting family.

Empanada mama

I liked the place right off the bat. Great colors, nice little design, good use of a small space.

Empanada mama

And the menu does the trick for me. Nice balance of keeping it simple - offering empanadas, arepas mainly - but still offering great variety.

Empanada mama menu

Empanada mama menu

We tried a few different things on this initial trip (I've since made two return runs during subsequent business trips). The Cubana arepa was pretty good. But for me, I could eat the Hawaiian empanadas all day (ham, sauteed pineapple pieces, mozzarella cheese). Good god, they are freaking tasty.

Empanada mama

Cubana arepa @ empanada mama

We also had a nice little view out to the sights of this stretch of 9th Ave. (between 51st and 52nd, which, by the way, seems to offer a phenomenal variety of food options from around the world all within a 2 block radius).

Empanada mama

Bottom line: I wish lived next to Empanada Mama's. Or, maybe that there were an Empanada Mama's right next to where I live. Either way - I wish I could include their Hawaiian empanadas in my diet more regularly.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Review: Broadway Cellars (Chicago)

Broadway cellars
Note: this also appears with my reviews over on Yelp.

After meaning to try Broadway Cellars for well over a year, my wife and I finally gave it a shot last Friday night. And it was great.

The place has a nice vibe. Stylish but not stiff. The decor is cool and contemporary, but has something of a personal or DIY feel.

Broadway cellars

I don't know exactly how to explain it, but it just didn't strike me as the rote implementation of a templatized corporate design or the pristine vision of some highly paid hotshot designer, but rather it's just the concept of the owners/management who may even have done it themselves and pulled off something pretty cool. (I could be totally wrong about this, but, for what it's worth, that's the impression I got.) Any slight imperfections kind of add to the charm. For example, it's hard to imagine an experienced design pro going with the unfinished wood wine racks in the back.

Broadway cellars

The artwork on the wall also provides a nice local feel. Applying the neighborhood coffee shop aesthetic to a sophisticated yet comfortable dining experience.

Broadway cellars

I suppose it has the risk of coming off as pretentious or contrived somehow, but both my wife and I felt like it worked. (Though, personally, I wouldn't be lining up to pay $425 for any of the pieces on display. That seems like a stretch. But then, I suppose having $50 price tags on them would run sort of counter to the semi-elegant vibe they are aiming for).

The mood is set from the beginning with the table setting. Sometimes the little details are everything, eh?


Here, the wine list is angled to reflect the votive light, the bread is warm and they set the oil and Parmesan dish up for you right off the bat. Voila. And the paper menu reinforces the casual, almost rustic kind of feel. The dishes may be sophisticated, but the atmosphere makes everything feel quite accessible.

We opted for the "Let's Hop a Cab" wine flight, despite my aversion to the cutesy name. One from California, one from Chile and one from Australia. Three 3oz pours for $15 - not inexpensive, but decent value for the option to sample such a range by the glass.

Wine flight

Our meal began with the crab cakes appetizer, which was excellent.

Broadway cellars

It took a little while to come out, but once we dug in it was clear that the time was more a function of perhaps a 'slow food' approach than any kitchen dysfunction. The dish was hot and fresh, the taste and texture of the cakes was sublime and the sauce added just the right spicy notes. Some places try to wow you with crab cakes the size or your head and some maybe crank out so many of them that you can tell they were made assembly line style yesterday morning, and others use so much oil that you might enjoy the first bite but need an iron stomach to get beyond two. These felt and tasted like they were made on the spot just for us. Really, really good.

For the main course, Judy ordered the seafood risotto and raved about it.

Broadway cellars

Seriously, every other bite triggered a "this is so good". She can be an easy grader at times, but she knows her seafood and this was the most exuberant she's been about a dish in a while.

I went with the Penne special of the night, which involved sausage and sweet peppers.

Broadway cellars

The sauce was nice, the sausage was good, but the Penne were a little overdone. The taste overall carried the dish, but it could have been excellent were it a bit closer to al dente.

Finally, though we were stuffed, our server got us to try the gelato.


Apparently it's locally made by a woman in her kitchen, very Recipe for Success style. It was good. I wouldn't say it was amazing, but it was definitely good. Of the three flavors we tried -- chocolate, graham cracker and cinnamon -- the cinnamon was the stand out. My wife was hoping for a bit more actual cracker in the graham cracker scoops and I agree it was maybe more subtle than it needed to be. But honestly, I was concentrating on the Selaks Ice Wine (just one of many nice postprandial options on their dessert menu) and the gelato was just an afterthought.

Mini Review: Zanzibar (Chicago)

Note: This also appears with my reviews over on Yelp.


I've lived across the street from Zanzibar's Bryn Mawr/Kenmore corner for 6+ years and it's great to finally have something useful and pleasant there. It's infinitely better than the depressing convenience store that used to fill this space (though that's an admittedly very low bar - an ATM and a newspaper box would've been a huge upgrade over that joint).

Last night Zanzibar had all the telltale signs of a just opened small business. Shelves not fully stocked. Customers outnumbered by an eager to help staff. Self appointed members of the neighborhood welcome wagon greeting / interrogating the owner. And a spotless, stage crafted look that will hopefully ease into a more 'lived in' feel over the coming months.


While their pastry and cake cases were a little thin last night, their ice cream counter was ready to go. I'd estimate they have two dozen or so flavors, all of which sounded pretty good. To his credit, the guy behind the counter offered me the try-before-you-buy tasting opportunity, but I felt confident with my order: one Espresso Oreo and one Snap-o-Lantern (spicy pumpkin ice cream with bits of ginger snap cookies).

Zanzibar ice cream

Both were excellent. Great texture and consistency - fresh and light. Nicely done.

Looking forward to having Zanzibar in the neighborhood.