Category Archives: Best bite

5 reasons why I love (Black Dog Gelato)

1. Sesame fig and chocolate chip gelato. Holy yum. How you can resist anything with the word “sesame”? Especially in a sweet and chocolate-chip laden application? Creamy, sweet and luscious, with the perfect fig flavor that lingers at the end of every bite and chocolate chips for crunch.

Sesame fig with chocolate chip at Black Dog Gelato


2. The rest of the flavors. I didn’t try them all (although they are generous with the samples), but the decadent goat cheese caramel cashew was also delicious, as was salted peanut (can you tell I am into the savory gelatos?)..but really you can’t go wrong with any of them.

An array of flavors...


3. Gelato cookie sandwiches. This one is vanilla gelato flanked by two oatmeal raisin cookies chilling in the sun before being devoured. They offer an array of rotating cookie sandwiches, as well as other fun treats like whiskey gelato bars rolled in bacon.

Oatmeal cookies and vanilla ice cream and a reflection


4. The hand-written thank you on the window from owner Jessie Oloroso. There doesn’t appear to be much signage yet, but this still drew me in..a sincere, genuine touch from a highly anticipated (and by the looks of the first weekend’s steady stream of customers), welcome neighborhood gelato spot.

Love the hand-written thank-you from the owner..


5. And other reasons why I love Black Dog? Two new wooden benches outside, hours until 11PM on weekends, hot pink walls, a warmer, cozier and more inviting use of the space than the previous Piccolo. Black Dog Gelato, 859 N. Damen, 773.235.3116

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Cookie Bar

Sign at Cookie Bar


The second I discovered the ice cream cookie sandwich at DMK Burger a few months back, I knew I had to investigate the origins of the perfectly chewy, delicious cookies that flanked the ice cream. OK, it’s an ice cream sandwich, can you really mess it up? Well, no, but the cookies still made the dessert, and when I heard they were the stars of the show at the brand new Cookie Bar in Lincoln Park, I had to head over. Before I found the place, I was expecting a tiny, bite-sized spot (like More cupcakes, noted my dining companion, or Hoosier Mama Pie), a little space for a relatively small snack. But Cookie Bar is surprisingly spacious. It’s not good or bad, just unexpected, and it doesn’t look like the space is fully being utilized (yet?). I was also a little thrown that the only disco ball-paraphernalia in the room is painted on the wall in the logo, rather than dazzling dizzily above as the funky Web site might have you believe. But no matter! We have come for cookies, and daily-changing fresh baked, dairy-free and gluten-free cookies there are.

Chipotle chocolate chip, Lisa Marie, crispy chocolate chip and potato chip chocolate chip cookies


I knew I’d love the chipotle chocolate chip just by the sound and dark red powder sprinkled on top of a moist, chewy and flat chocolate chip cookie, and did. An awesome combo that works for an ancho chili fudge pie, Mexican hot chocolate or any other chocolate-chili duo. The Lisa Marie Presley was also delish, a thicker, peanut butter cookie with chocolate chips, caramelized banana chips, peanut butter cups and more peanut butter. The crispy chocolate chip and potato chip chocolate chip (I wanted to see big chunks of potato chips in this, but only noticed crumbs) didn’t wow us as much, but this is the kind of place you go back and try varieties until you find your favorite; they’ve got oatmeal-chili-mango-macadamia, milk chocolate chip and ginger, black sesame, green tea, and holy hell, a balsamic caramel we didn’t even see on our visit.

Mint chocolate chip


We didn’t have room to swing these, but the gluten-free mint-chocolate also looked divine, and the dairy-free cookies on tap are made with coconut oil. Other bonuses..the hilarious non-bacon bakery statement on the Web site, almond, soy or rice milk options for Alterra coffee, totally nice owners, Callebaut chocolate in the cookies, and plenty of room for hightop seating by the wall of windows, OK, I take it back, some extra room is a good thing. Cookie Bar, 2475 N. Lincoln Ave. 773.348.0300

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Ah, elotes…

Elotes at Num Pang, NYC


I found my new summer snack. Elotes, or grilled corn on the cob served on the streets in Mexico and slathered with condiments from butter to sour cream and salt. They had a Cambodian twist, but I fell in love with the grilled corn on the cob at Num Pang, a Union Square sandwich shop I’ve gushed over before. They serve theirs with chili mayo, coconut flakes, chili powder and a lime wedge. Then just this past weekend..

Elotes at Juicy

Elotes came into my life again, this time in Chicago at Juicy. Owner Chris Dunstatter was grilling some up for the holiday, and was kind enough to send us a sample, generously slathered with butter and chili powder. It was an awesome way to start the Memorial Day weekend..and a snack that hopefully makes their permanent menu. Num Pang, 21 E. 12th St. NYC; Juicy, 694 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago

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Terragusto

Chef Theo Gilbert in the tiny kitchen of the new Terragusto


Like Mia Francesca and Manny’s Deli, Terragusto always felt like one of those staple restaurants around town that everyone and their proverbial mother had been to, but, well, me. A close friend raved about it for months, and finally got a small group together to check it out. It’s the kind of Italian food I love, fresh, daily homemade pasta, bright flavors, fresh, sustainable seafood and meats, quaint, simple room (without cheesy murals or wicker-wrapped chianti bottles stashed in every open corner), and plenty of food for a good price. We ordered the chef’s tasting (available at the new Terragusto location), a prix-fixe selection ($48) where a parade of antipasti, salads, starters, entrées, desserts and coffee are sent your way at the chef’s whim. You share everything with your tablemates, from the trout salad and white bean purée smeared crunchy crostinis, to the spinach custard flan, Rushing Waters Trout and Wagyu beef. But the highlight of our momentous meal was by far the cuttlefish ink pasta dotted with fat, buttery shrimp. Cuttlefish is more sustainable than squid, and when its ink is used to make the silky pasta ribbons, a briney, delicious treat ensues. The shrimp add bursts of color and sweet-salty touches to the perfect pasta dish.

Cuttlefish ink pasta with shrimp


Rushing Waters trout with potatoes

Besides the inky delight, I also loved our antipasti course, a melange of watery buffalo mozzarella slices, pickled veggies, egg salad, bright beet salad and cheese filled pastries.

Antipasti platter

Dinner continued with dessert, the best being a dark chocolate mousse with caramel and berry pannacotta. We left happily full, nothing compared to those stumbling out of Geja’s, nestled just below the restaurant. I’ll be back to give the chef’s tasting another go, and now to get to Manny’s and Mia.. 340 W. Armitage Ave. and 1851 W. Addison.

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Best eats of ’09

Well, folks, another year has come and, well, is almost gone. And in true Chicago fashion, tonight’s wind chill is predicted to dip well below zero! If you’re heading out, bundle up, stay safe and try keep warm while you devise a way to revisit my top 10 favorite eats of 2009. Man, this was hard to do the say the least, especially since the last year had me traveling and eating my way through NYC, Baltimore, San Fran, San Diego, Milwaukee, Des Moines (of all places), Los Angeles and Chile. BUT, most of my favorite eats still ended up in the Chi. Here’s the top 10 in no particular order:

1). Three Little Pigs Sandwich, Silver Palm, Chicago —This was by far the best BST (Big Sandwich Tuesday), the crew experienced this year, our only regret? Not ordering a few for the table.

2). Steamed Pork Buns, Momofuku, NYC…overrated you say? BAH they changed my life, for reals.

3). Burata with Lovage, Roasted Fennel, English Pea Purée and Garlic Toast, Nightwood, Chicago — I went here over the summer and still dream about this appetizer, I know the menu is ever-changing there, but this one’s gotta stay, at least in the summer.

4). Chocolate Sabayon with Homemade Nutter Butters, Bristol, Chicago — Not sure what’s more unreal, the silky, perfectly light and rich chocolate sabayon served in the mini parfait glass, or the crunchy homemade nutter butters on the side that are worthy of being boxed up Girl Scout cookie-style and sold in bulk.

5). Corned Beef Sandwich, Jake’s Deli, Milwaukee— OK, it’s corned beef, but it was seriously the best corned beef sandwich I had ever had this year. Worth the drive to Milwaukee, at least for the local Miller’s Bakery rye bread and hand-sliced beef.

6). Crispy pata, Sunda, Chicago — When I saw this dish I wanted to grab the boiled and fried pork shank Fred Flintstone-style and gnaw it right off the bone, but the dainty and delicate watercress salad and garlic-foie gras gravy on the side are far too refined for such behavior, (geez). Anyway, the tender, juicy and somehow still crispy pork falls off the bone, so no need to get all caveman on this entrée I hope they keep on the menu.

7). Chick-fil-A, Racine, WI — Why does everyone talk about how good Chick-fil-A is but no one actually makes the trek out to Racine to eat the hand-breaded sandwich and awesome waffle fries? Or do they? Actually, when I made my way up there, there were fellow Chicagoans sitting right next to me in the food court mall who had done that very thing. It’s close to Mars Cheese Castle and Apple Holler, so you really have no excuse not to go. And who knows WHEN the supposed “Aurora” location is opening. Can’t they just ease up on the Jimmy Johns and open a Chick-fil-A in my neighborhood and be done with it?

8). Farmers Cheese Biscuits, Hot Chocolate, Chicago — A mini Staub filled with warm cheese biscuits and honey butter. At Hot Chocolate. Nuff said.

9). The Ron Bennington Cupcake, Molly’s Cupcakes, Chicago — The publishing of this post last spring got the blog a on-air mention by Sirius radio personality and comic Ron Bennington himself, and rightly so, because this cupcake rocks. Cupcakes are over, huh? Well the last time I checked, crushed butterscotch, chocolate cake, chocolate frosting, butterscotch chips and a peanut butter-butterscotch frosting center definitely ARE NOT (see pic).

10). Alinea, Chicago — Really, my top ten list could be made up of my entire meal here last spring, but I’m going to devote this slot to a tie between the black truffle ravioli and the chocolate course. Both amazing, visually stunning, and just a small part of the meal that blew me away the most this year.

Have a safe and happy new year and here’s to more deliciousness in 2010! Eat something out of control this year? Still reeling from it? Sound off in the comments!

The Ron Bennington cupcake at Molly's


Farmer's Cheese Biscuits at Hot Chocolate


Chick-fil-A

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More Momofuku

Momofuku steamed pork buns

I mean, really. Did you think I would just casually drop Momofuku Ssäm in a previous post and not proceed to put up more mouth-watering shots from the meal? Out of three days in NYC, I managed to hit up 3 of the 4 Momo eating empires, including Ssäm and Noodle Bar (I’ll save Ko for another time if I’m lucky). We actually ended up at Ssäm first, thinking it was Noodle Bar, “a common mistake,” our server told us as we squeezed our way up to the packed communal dining table. Common, yet delicious as we proceeded to start with the heavenly creation that is the steamed pork buns. The soft spongy buns serve as the perfect grip for a generous, juicy chunk of pork belly, slather of tangy hoisin sauce, squirt of fiery hot sauce, crispy cucumbers and scallions. It’s chef David Chang’s signature dish, and so totally amazing, I knew I had a new craving on my hands; one that would continue to hit me throughout the impending Chicago winter. But we still had to focus at Ssäm, as there was melt-in-your-mouth cured hamachi with horseradish and edamame purée to try (divine), sides like fried brussels sprouts with fish sauce vinaigrette, mint and crispy puffed rice, and grilled branzini, a flavorful firm white fish entrée served with delicious smoked eel, zucchini and a marjoram pistou.

Hamachi appetizer


Grilled branzini


Fried brussels sprouts


For dessert (yes, we had dessert even after our appetizer of Milk Bar cookies), the Thai Iced Parfait was too intriguing to pass up. Of course, it was totally unexpected; a quenelle of perfectly tart lemon mascarpone nestled up to Thai iced tea custard in a long, rectangular shape. A pile of crunchy granules of almond tea held them together on the plate. Pretty. Delicious. Gone in 60 seconds.

Thai Iced Tea parfait


You’d think after all this, I woulda had enough Momo, but I’m not sure that’s entirely possible. I had a two-hour window my last night, and made a bee line to Momofuku Noodle bar to grab a relatively fast seat at the communal dining table. The place was packed, the servers worked the place like masters, and just like Ssäm and Milk Bar, a crowd of hungry diners huddled outside. Everything on the menu looked ridiculous (chilled spicy noodles with Szechuan spiced sausage, smoked chicken wings with pickled chile, sliced fluke with apple purée), but I knew I had to have a repeat performance of the famous pork buns, and without a doubt, a steaming, heaping, soul-soothing bowl of the Momofuku Ramen I heard so much about. I definitely may have dorkily clapped a few times when the massive bowl of pork belly, pork shoulder, bamboo shoots, scallions and a poached egg appeared. I’ve made the claim before that everything is better with the addition of an egg (or avocado), and when it’s broken up inside the hot, salty, pork bone-bacon-shiitake mushroom-flavorful broth and swirled amid slices of daikon, clusters of green onion and soft, silky ramen noodles that defy all memories of dry crunchy blocks of wavy noodles that broke into chunks as they were carelessly stacked around my college dorm room, this statement rings more than true. Wait, let me take that back. Everything is better with pork belly, and pork shoulder, their meaty, juicy, tenderness soaks throughout the broth, and you don’t know whether to slurp them down, or let them spread their flavorful love around the bowl. So you take a nibble, stir, gather a few slurps from the over-sized soup spoon, a few luscious grasps of noodles with your chopsticks and repeat, hopefully, every time you’re back in New York. Momofuku Noodle Bar 171 First, Avenue, Momofuku Ssäm Bar, 207 2nd Ave.

Momofuku Ramen

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Pizzeria Mozza

The pizza oven in action behind the bar at Mozza

The pizza oven in action behind the bar at Mozza

Speaking of those LA bloggers, Twitter pals and my general foodie friends, every single one of them told me to check out chef Nancy Silverton’s Pizzeria Mozza or Osteria Mozza while in LA. We didn’t get into the Osteria, but were lucky enough to get a table at the Pizzeria, which was, in a word, fantastic. Bustling and packed, but still comfortable, Bruce Springsteen blared, the wood-burning oven behind the small bar shuffled pizzas in and out, and we took on the task of deciding from the menu of 21 choices. Loving any and all things topped with eggs, I immediately looked at the egg, asparagus, stracchino, pancetta and onions, but alas, they were out! Besides the egg, I noticed housemade fennel sausage on a number of pies, so we then switched to the meat lovers; bacon, salami, fennel sausge, pancetta with tomato, mozzerella, leeks and scallion. The crust reminded me of a Neapolitan-style, slightly sweet and crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside. The edge rose to a soft golden puffs, while the middle got progressively thinner, but still crisp, and didn’t goop up with the added toppings. I am not a pizza person by nature, but this was by far the best slice I had ever had. I could’ve eaten the spicy fennel sausage all on its own, and the pancetta, bacon and salami just added more meaty, juicy layers on top of the next. Pizzas tend to be dominated by a thick crust, heavy sauces or goopy cheese, but this pizza achieved a balance of flavor and texture, and you could truly taste every ingredient, and their freshness.
Bacon, salami, fennel sausage, pancetta, tomato and mozzarella..yes all on one pizza

Bacon, salami, fennel sausage, pancetta, tomato and mozzarella..yes all on one pizza


For the second, we went with the white pizza, or bianca, which rounded out the order as it was topped with fontina, mozzarella, sottocenere and sage. What was amazing was that the trio of cheeses didn’t create a sloppy mess as three and four-cheese pizzas sometimes do; the delicate flavor of each came through with minimal greasiness. Even the sottocenere; a delicious cow’s milk cheese aged in ash as a way to preserve it. We also could’ve been happy just plucking off strips of salty fried sage on top.
Bianca pizza with sage

Bianca pizza with sage


But even before the parade of pizza masterpieces began, the antipasti deserved our attention, and although they were out of a few items, we did indulge in a shrimp, melon, chiles and chopped mint almost-ceviche which was just as amazing as it sounds with a Southeast Asian flair. Fat, juicy shrimp mixed in with large chunks of juicy melon, mint leaves and bits of chiles for spice. The other antipasti choice asparagus al forno with speck and Parmigiano-Reggiano. I noticed everywhere we went in Los Angeles the asparagus was out of control; not only because they were jumbo-sized, but incredibly fresh, impossibly green and perfectly cooked. These stalks were wrapped with paper-thin speck and covered with a generous shaving of Parm-Reg. Truly awesome.
Shrimp, melon, chiles and mint antipasti

Shrimp, melon, chiles and mint antipasti


Asparagus al forno, speck and Parmigiano-Reggiano

Asparagus al forno, speck and Parmigiano-Reggiano


We finished off with the ultra-creamy and delicious butterscotch budino with caramel sauce, flecks of Malden sea salt and rosemary pinenut cookies on the side, accompanied by a glass of Moscato. And as we left, tables still bustling, people still waiting to sit and pizzas still shuffling, we walked out and poked our heads into the neighboring Osteria, more high end, but the same wonderful Italian fare. 48 hours in LA is just not enough time to try everything! But I will be back to check the rest off my list. And OK, as promised, the Chi-town reporting continues next week. Pizzeria Mozza, 641 N. Highland, 323.297.0101

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Benjy’s Deli

Matzo ball soup with noodles

Matzo ball soup with noodles


An extra long weekend in Wisconsin most certainly had me in Milwaukee, Cedarburg and Oostburg for an especially fun camping weekend with old friends, but I definitely failed on the aforementioned posts. I didn’t make it to Tomaso’s for the alleged garlic bread pizza, nor did I try out the hamburger joints that have opened up all over town. I heard of a local Wisconsin market in Oostburg, but they were closed for the holiday weekend. I did, however, hit up one of my favorite childhood delis, Benjy’s, on the east side of Milwaukee. We literally grew up eating at the 40-year-old semi-dive that used to be called Benjamin’s. I pretty much can’t not get a bowl of matzo ball soup and hot corned beef on rye when I go, even though they offer breakfast all day and other typical deli delicacies. With local Miller bread, awesome pickles, thick, juicy corned beef sliced extra lean, homemade matzo balls and plenty of Dr. Brown’s soda stocked in coolers, it’s pretty much the ultimate deli experience. Oh, and uh, note the new camera! 4156 N. Oakland Ave., 414.332.7777
Benjy's sign on Oakland Avenue

Benjy's sign on Oakland Avenue


Corned beef on rye

Corned beef on rye


It was a long weekend in Wisconsin, but this is my only cheesehead post. I almost can’t believe the eating adventures that await this week: Mixteco, Nightwood (again!), an organic trout dinner at Rushing Waters, and pork and wine dinner at Bluprint…check back for tales of the impending deliciousness.

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