Category Archives: not known for
Two separate NRA parties had me hanging at the Gage quite a bit this past weekend, and I was only reminded of how much I love the contemporary American/Irish restaurant with a killer whiskey selection across from Millennium Park. Chef Dirk Flanigan’s menu offers up hearty pub grub from a scotch egg to a Guinness-battered fish and chips. But he also gets creative and complex with contemporary dishes like roasted saddle of elk, a melt in your mouth seared pole-caught Big Eye tuna with pancetta, Tuscan kale and salted Madeira ponzu, and braised rabbit salad. He’s a master of sauces, sides, game meat preparation and has perfected a Camembert-smothered USDA burger. But the one dish I am hooked on here is the caramelized lobster, not too unexpected, I guess, but still not well-known. I would’ve totally overlooked it on the menu (listed under third courses), but Gage owner Billy Lawless suggested it during a past visit. First off, I’m drawn to quinoa the second I see it on a menu, not only because it’s incredibly healthy, but the texture of the hearty granules take so beautifully to other ingredients like butter and lemon. OK, suddenly not so healthy, but delicious nonetheless. Tender chunks of lobster over lemon quinoa aren’t overly sweetened or ruined by the caramelizing, there’s just the right flavor of sweet while the salty succulent fresh lobster flavor still comes through. Chopped basil brings out the lemon in the quinoa while brightening up the dish with a bright, herbal fragrance and touches of green. Served as a mid-sized dish, it’s great to share but I’d rather devour a couple on my own. The Gage, 24 S. Michigan Ave., 312.372.4243
You only need a set of chopsticks to devour the wasabi garlic mashed potatoes from Sushi X in one sitting. Perfectly whipped and not too creamy with just a hint of wasabi and garlic, they’re the ideal side dish to a few maki rolls. Want something lighter? The salad with ginger-carrot dressing would be number two NKF. 1136 W. Chicago Ave., 312.491.9232
I’ll admit it, when it comes to sushi, I tend to stick to the same go-to spots (Sushi X much?). But I’ll always hold a special place in my heart for Kaze in Roscoe Village. It’s almost a special occasion spot, but not because it’s especially expensive, but because such care goes into everything on executive chef Macku Chan and his crew’s ever-changing menu, from sushi specials like East Coast white tuna topped with banana wasabi purée to white asparagus soup and shrimp tempura and arugula maki. But like any great restaurant, they don’t take off the original favorites, like sizzling sweet potato soup with lobster broth, fish entrées like black cod with bittersweet chocolate sauce, and maki rolls like soft shell crab and salmon. We stuck to these items on a recent visit, but also discovered a few hidden gems and the ultimate not known for. First off, I am a gomae junkie, and I’ve seen the spinach served warm, cold, doused in some sort of rich sesame seed sauce or neatly standing upright in it. At Kaze, it comes topped with crunchy sweet potato sticks and includes deep fried bananas which add yet another textural layer and a bit of sweet. But the biggest surprise came when our waiter convinced us to order the Japanese flatbread, a glorious creation we were told was going to take 30 minutes. We gave it a shot and didn’t know where to start as our server presented a flatbread that smacked of pizza: thin garlic and tomato bread topped with melted mozzarella, fresh figs, sundried tomatoes, tuna and white fish sashimi, microgreens and strawberry mayonnaise with a sprinkling of bonito fish flakes. We didn’t know whether to take a picture of it, eat or fight over it, and we ended up doing all three. It’s a special, so get it before it’s gone. And while you’re trusting me on the insane flavor combos the Kaze crew has the ability to dream up, finish up with the asparagus flan for dessert. Don’t ask, just do. 2032 W. Roscoe, 773.327.4860
Most people know that I am a diehard Twin Anchors devotee, but I also love the barbecue ribs from Fat Willy’s. They aren’t slathered in T.A.’s intoxicating zesty sauce, but the ribs themselves seem meatier, more tender and a lot smokier (but Twin will always win out for atmosphere). Besides the killer ribs, I recently discovered a hidden “not known for” gem at the Fat, the baked four-cheese macaroni. Penne pasta is loaded up with Cheddar, gruyère, Parmesan and fontina, and each hearty serving is baked-to-order until bubbly and golden brown. And luckily, the aluminum delivery containers travel quite well when it’s just too damn cold and wet for you to want to travel, well, anywhere. Fat Willy’s, 2416 W. Shubert Ave., 773.782.1800
If there was one food I could eat for the rest of my life it wouldn’t be cherry-flavored Pez, rather the sweet potato fries at Rockit. Yet everyone associates the River North bar/restaurant with their burgers. Along with the fries, there is actually one specialty burger (the restaurant’s recent “Burgerfest” award-winning one, in fact) that I’d like to mention as one of the lesser known highlights of the record-album-morphed menu, the lobster burger. First off, everything is better with avocado, and this burger piles it on with lettuce, tomatoes, and a thick juicy, lobster meat patty all on a soft bun with lemon crème fraîche and, of course, sweet potato fries on the side. Runner-up NKF menu items include the barbecue salmon and the bread basket (pretzel roll!). 22 W. Hubbard St., 312.645.6000
Oysters, crab cakes, sushi, fresh fish, seasonal salmon specials. These are the (relatively healthy) things Shaw’s Crab House is known for. But in the midst of devouring all of the above during a recent visit, I discovered they also make a mean side of mashed potatoes. The buttery-creamy concoction nears perfection, served in an silver, All-Clad pot, with a wad of butter thrown on top for good, calorie-filled measure. 21 E. Hubbard St., 312.527.2722
Yes, that is where our spoon dug in moments before.