Monday, April 15, 2013

Ten Great Restaurants in Four Days

There’s nothing like a food binge to remind you that some of the best restaurants are right here in Chicago. How’s that for an excuse to hit up ten great restaurants in four days?

I dream about some of these dishes and woke up yesterday morning craving a pig’s ear with my fried egg and toast.

I’m already planning my next restaurant marathon and most of the ten I’ve listed below will make the second round. 

I like to try new places but some of these restaurants cannot be beat when it comes to the reliability of the inspiring food, impeccable service and at-home feel.

Bon Appetit!

Shaw’s Crab House 

   Photo: Shaw's

While Jessica was into the best Apple tini she said she ever had, Shaw’s was great to share the recipe with us:

1.5 oz Hangar One Vodka
1.5 oz DeKuyper Sour Apple
Splash Sour Mix (equal parts lime juice & simple syrup)

Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker. Add ice. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds. 

Double strain cocktail into Martini Glass. Garnish with Maraschino cherry.

I was lamenting over the fact that there were no longer clams casino on the menu so you’ll have to make them at home.

Here’s a recipe from Rachel Ray that tastes a lot like Shaw’s.

Clams Casino
Rock salt or pickling salt
24 cherry stone clams buy them scrubbed, split them and loosen clam)
1 stick butter, softened
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon crab boil (Old Bay Seasoning)
1 teaspoon black pepper
A few drops hot sauce
4 slices bacon, cut slices into 1-inch pieces
Pour rock salt into a shallow baking pan or dish. Preheat oven to 500  degrees F.
Set clams upright into salt. The salt will steady them. Mix butter with shallots, spices and hot sauce. Dab each clam with 1 teaspoon of the mixture and top with a piece of bacon. Bake 5 to 7 minutes, until bacon is crisp and butter is brown and bubbling.

Tommy picked the winner of the night: Mahi Mahi Fish Tacos. 

Batter Fried Mahi Mahi Fish Tacos
Recipe Bon Appetit 2005

4 cups green cabbage, finely shredded
1/2 cup white onion, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon oregano, dried

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 large avocado (peeled and pitted)
1/2 cup cilantro
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper 

1/2 cup all-purpose flour (plus 2 tablespoons)
1/2 cup rice flour (plus 2 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (12 ounce) bottle cold beer
12 ounces mahi-mahi fillets (cut into 3x1/2x1/2-inch strips)
additional all-purpose flour
vegetable oil (for frying)
16 corn tortillas (6-inch-diameter)
8 large fresh cilantro
Lime wedge

For Coleslaw: Toss all ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Season slaw to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover and chill.).

For Sauce: Blend all ingredients in mini processor. Add water by teaspoonfuls to thin if desired. Season sauce to taste with salt. (Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover and chill.).

For Mahi-Mahi: Combine first 3 ingredients in large bowl; gradually whisk in beer. Place fish in large strainer. Spoon additional flour over. Toss fish in strainer to coat. Shake well, releasing excess flour. Mix fish into beer batter. (Can be prepared 1 hour ahead. Let stand at room temperature.).

Pour enough vegetable oil into heavy medium saucepan to reach depth of 1/2 inch. 

Attach deep-fry thermometer to side of pan and heat oil to 375°F Working in batches, lift fish from batter and drop into hot oil. Fry until crisp and golden, about 1 minute per side. Transfer fish to paper towels to drain.

Cook tortillas in large skillet over medium-high heat until warm and pliable, about 20 seconds per side. Stack 2 tortillas for each taco. 

Using tongs, place some slaw in center of each tortilla stack. Top with sauce, cilantro sprig, and fish. Fold edges of tortillas over filling. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Place 2 tacos on each of 4 plates. Garnish with lime wedges; serve.

Shaw’s still has that magic and the Oyster Bar is the only place in town to sip a Martini on a Friday night when the Chicago weather has done a one-up on you all week. 

Harry Carey’s
Getting into the pre-baseball season spirit, Harry Carey’s is known for their great Italian food. I happen to love people watching in the bar where there is an interesting mix of locals, tourists and the convention crowd.

We also LOVE their homemade potato chips. They are the base for this terrific snack to serve at home with the Cub’s game on in full view and a few Dos Equis chilling in your ice bucket. The amount of some of the ingredients is to your liking.

Loaded Bacon Ranch Chips
 ¼ Cup Butter
2- 3 Cups Monterey Jack Cheese
Parmesan Ranch Dressing
Green Onions, sliced for topping
Melt ¼ cup butter over medium heat. Reduce and stir in 1 cup Monterey Jack cheese until melted. Drizzle over homemade chips.
Drizzle a small amount of Parmesan Ranch dressing over the chips.
Put on some cooked and crumbled bacon and 1-2 cups shredded Monterey Jack.
Put in the microwave until zap the cheese is melted.
Top with green onions and serve.

Purple Pig
I’ve got to say that the Purple Pig just gets better with age and it’s one of our choice Chicago restaurants. In fact, we took a vote and everyone said it as their favorite this week. 
A consensus and no surprise since the restaurant delivers inspirational dishes at a great price. 

In fact, most of the new dishes we tried made me want to go home and attempt to recreate them in my own kitchen they are that good.

I love the communal table up front. It’s my favorite spot to share a feast with friends and sip a glass of wine or two. 

Speaking of wine, if you don’t know much about wine, wait until you glance at the wine list. It looks complicated. 

One of the best things about our lunch was the wine - a 2011 Domaine Skouras Almyra Chardonnay. My advice: Trust the waiter. I was extremely happy to find out that I fell in love with a Greek Chardonnay that sells for about $15 a bottle.

Some of the old standards tasted just as good as the first time we had them - The Bone Marrow and the Pigs Ear with Crispy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers & Fried Egg.

The something new: Pork Shoulder on Mashed Potatoes and the real surprise – the JLT.

 Pigs Ear with Crispy Kale
Recipe from LA Times
Servings: 6 to 8

Note: Pig ears can be found at Chinese and select Asian markets, and can be ordered from most butchers and meat departments

1 pound pig ears (about 2 ears)
4 gallons water, divided
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced onion
1 cup milk
1 cup Wondra flour
Frying oil
1 bunch kale (about 10 ounces), torn into 2-inch pieces
6 to 8 pickled cherry peppers, julienned
6 to 8 fried eggs
1 to 2 tablespoons oil

In a medium pot, cover the pig ears with 2 gallons of water. Bring to a boil and cook for 20 minutes. Strain and return the pig ears to the pot. Cover with another 2 gallons of water and add the carrot, celery and onion. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer and cook, loosely covered, for 3 hours.

Strain the pig ears and place on a baking dish. Refrigerate for several hours, preferably overnight, flipping the ears mid-way to make sure both sides are dry.

Fill a wide, heavy-bottomed pot with oil until it comes up the sides of the pot by 3 inches. Heat the oil until a thermometer reads 350 degrees.

While the oil is heating, thinly julienne the pig ears and dip them in milk, then dredge in the instant flour. Fry the strips in small batches until lightly golden-brown, 2 to 3 minutes, then strain, pat dry and place in a large bowl. 

Fry the kale until bright and crisp, about 30 seconds. Strain and gently toss into the bowl along with the julienned peppers. Season with 2 teaspoons of salt, or to taste. Hold in a warm place.

In a shallow frying pan, fry the eggs in a light film of oil until the whites are cooked but the yolk is still runny, about 3 minutes.

Divide the pig ears among 6 to 8 shallow bowls, and top each with a fried egg. Season the eggs with a sprinkling each of salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Mike Didka’s

I’ve not been to this place since it opened and much to my surprise, the food was a solid four stars. Leave it to the coach to put out the best.

Berkshire pork, valued for succulence, taste and tenderness, is heavily marbled and its high fat content makes it perfect for both long, slow cooking and high-temperature cooking.

For restaurant quality flavor, I cook it at high heat in a cast iron pan. 

1 2” thick Berkshire Pork chop
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
2 tsbp. Canola oil
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
6 sprigs thyme
1 lemon

Season chop with salt and pepper and let sit 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 500 degrees.

Heat a cast iron skillet on high. Add canola oil and when the pan almost smokes, add the chop and cook 5 minutes.

Flip the chop and place in the oven for 7-10 minutes longer. 

Note: Watch your cooking time carefully. I determined the perfect cooking time for my oven was 5 minutes on the stovetop and 7 minutes in the oven.

Pour off the pan drippings and return to the stovetop. 

Melt butter. Add thyme and lemon and brown for about 4 minutes.

Serve butter and lemon over the chop.

Another winner: The 15 layer meatloaf. I quit counting after layer four.

One of the other dishes we all loved was the Pot Roast Nachos.
Using leftover pot roast is an great method when it comes to winning over a whole new league of nacho fans. I know because I just became one.

This was the second time I had Pot Roast Nachos in a matter of weeks and I liked them both. The recipe below is from Plain Chicken.

8 -10 oz leftover Italian Pot Roast (recipe follows)
1/2 cup KC Masterpiece Southern Style BBQ sauce
2 tsp pureed chipotle peppers in adobo
4 oz tortilla chips
2 cups shredded cheddar jack cheese
2 oz. sour cream
2 1/2 oz sliced pickled jalapenos
2 oz tomatoes, diced small (no seeds)
1 oz scallions

In a medium saucepan, reheat the pot roast with the BBQ sauce and chipotle peppers.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place tortilla chips in a single layer around a large, round oven-proof dinner plate. Using tongs, spread the saucy meat around the tortilla chips. Squeeze out sour cream in a crisscross pattern over chips and meat(I used a sandwich bag and cut the tip off the edge of the bag). Then spread the cheese over the chips evenly to the rim. Top with jalapeno slices and diced tomatoes. Toast in 500-degree oven until cheese is melted completely (should toast quickly). Garnish with scallions.

Italian Pot Roast

1 (3 lb) beef roast
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic (or to taste)
1 (1 1/4 ounce) package au jus mix
1 (1 ounce) package dried Italian salad dressing mix
2 teaspoons black pepper (or to taste)
1 pinch cayenne (optional)
1 (12 ounce) can tomato juice

Place onion and garlic in the bottom of the crock pot, then place the roast on top of them. In a bowl whisk together the tomato juice with both packages of seasonings, black pepper and cayenne (don't worry if there is lumps, they will work out during the cooking). Pour the mixture over the roast. Cook on LOW for 8-12 hours or on HIGH for about 4-1/2 hours.

The Signature Room at the 95th

Located atop the John Hancock Center, The Signature Room at the 95th offers a remarkable view of Chicago…especially at night. 

We drank in the amazing view of the downtown skyline at a window table while celebrating an early birthday. 

This is a place for a special celebration. The drinks are a little pricy but the view is positively 5 star.


Give me a plate of Gyros and Saganaki, a bottle of Roditis and some Greek Salad and I’m an woman praying to the Greek Gods.

Dionysus, the god of winemaking and feasting and the ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology sounds like someone I would build an altar to. After all, besides my much beloved Roditis, I discovered 2011 Domaine Skouras Almyra Chardonnay this week. Needless to say, I’m am now a convert to Greek wine.

The Parthenon has been serving up seriously great Greek food since 1968 and it shows.
Their Gyros is absolute perfection.

4 ½ ounces, ¾ inch thick of Kasseri-style cheese or Talagani
Light Olive oil
1 Egg (beaten)
1/4 Lemon

Pour olive oil in pan – ½ “ depth.  Heat oil over medium high heat.

Put egg in one flat bowl and flour in another.

Dip cheese in egg then in flour to coat.

Fry in oil. Cheese should be crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.

When done remove with tongs and drain on paper towel.

Splash with brandy and light.

Squeeze lemon juice over cheese and serve.

Greek Salad
8 small ripe tomatoes, quartered
1 cucumber, sliced thick on the diagonal
1 small red onion, thinly sliced (they did not use)
18 Kalamata olives, drained
2 small handfuls purslane
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
5-ounce slab feta
1 teaspoon or so dried oregano
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, optional

Put the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, olives and capers into a serving bowl. 

Add the purslane or arugula; season with salt and a few grinds of pepper. 

Put the feta on top; crumble the oregano over with your fingers. 

Drizzle the olive oil over, as well as the vinegar if using. Serve with bread.


Best steak and lobster and birthday cake ever? One bite of the lobster and I remembered why I’ve been coming here for so many years. It’s so sweet. 

And the steaks? Gibson’s cooks their steaks at a scorching 1600 degrees so the outside gets seared flawlessly and the inside retains its juices. The Ribeye was textbook.

Half the recipe for cooking a perfect steak is the seasoning. In this case Gibson’s Roasting Salt:

1/2 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon fresh coarse ground black pepper
2 dried bay leaves, broken up
2 1/4 teaspoons garlic powder
2 1/4 teaspoons onion powder
2 1/4 teaspoons dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper 

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend for 30 seconds.

Transfer to a clean jelly jar or spice bottle, cover, label and store with your other spices.
For use on that great steak, coat steak with olive oil and sprinkle about 1/4 teaspoon of the roasting salt on each side just before cooking. 

Sixteen at the Trump
I loved Rebar when we went there but Sixteen was totally lacking in atmosphere as well as a wine selection. My $26 glass of wine was my least favorite wine of the weekend.
Know that the Trump will be at its best this summer when the patio opens up and maybe they will work to develop a improved wine list before then.


We’ve been going to Murphy’s for years and the brats are always a great choice just before a Cub’s game.

There have been notable restaurants springing up around Wrigley but we say if it’s game day, it’s Murphy’s. It’s a tradition.

They are now serving tater tots which I happen to think are really over-rated and if you can find a seat on opening day like we did, stay put. The crowd gets short of ridiculous the closer you get to game time. 

 RPM Italian
Life is good when Italian get’s this simple like the Italian fest or in my brother-in-laws kitchen. 

That’s what we loved about this place – it was elegant yet very uncomplicated like it’s owners, Giuliana and Bill Rancic, whose restaurant occupies the old Ben Pao’s space. 

We loved the style of this restaurant and the food was fantastic. We were also fortunate to get a reservation on this Monday night since they are booked out for months.

We shared a lot of food – could not agree on a salad so we ordered two which were both outstanding – and loved everything but the lobster ravioli. 

     Photo: RPM

My favorite dish was the Mama DePandi’s Bucantani Pomodoro which was a very basic red sauce on fresh bucantini pasta.

Mama DePandi’s Bucantani Pomodoro

One 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (about ½ cup)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
4 basil sprigs

¾ pound fresh bucatini pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves
Pinch of red-pepper flakes
1 tablespoon finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon torn basil leaves, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Make the sauce: In a strainer set over a medium bowl, drain the tomatoes. Crush the tomatoes with your hands, let the juice release into the bowl, and set aside the juice and strained tomatoes.

 In a medium skillet set over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the reserved tomatoes, sugar and salt. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have softened and the sauce has thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Add the reserved tomato juice and bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat, add the basil and set aside.
Make the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, according to the package instructions. Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of the cooking water.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet set over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and a pinch of red-pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Remove the basil from the tomato sauce, then add the sauce to the skillet. Simmer until warmed through. Add the pasta to the skillet and toss to coat, thinning the sauce with the pasta cooking water, if needed.

Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the Parmesan, basil and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the pasta to a serving dish and garnish with additional cheese and basil, if desired. Serve immediately.

The Bars we loved for a before dinner drink:

Four Seasons

 Del Frisco's for a VIP