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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Office

Quaint and secluded, The Office is one of my favorite watering holes in Chicago.  The more modern and trendy Aviary which resides above ground is now my second favorite.

The Office is a small space, which can fit maybe 14 - 16 people at a time, and you need a reservation or invite to get past the locked door (it's not hard to find a way in with Google).  The decor is something that fits my personality and style perfectly.  Take a recipe of wood, brown leather with a hint of fine scotch and you have a fitting description of what The Office looks like.  It manages to make you feel like you are in your own basement having your own private party (with an magnificent mixologist, more on that below).

The drinks at The Office are custom made to the tastes of each individual.  Tell the mixologist what you are in the mood for and he will create a alcohol infused potion that will take you there.  Sweet, refreshing, savory, woodsy, campfirey, the list is endless.  I would recommend you read up on your cocktail tasting notes to get the most out of your experience there.  The more color you can add to your cocktail request, the better your end result will be.  The quote of the night when I went with my wife after a drink she described was "a warm winter cookie that makes you drunk."

Overall, I would highly recommend The Office for everyone to experience.  It is not a place you go to on a weekly basis, however, it is a place you wish you could.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Cantina Laredo - Restaurant review


Cantina Laredo is a chain of restaurants that is in the business of serving their version of 'gourmet' mexican food.  The Chicago location is a great space with a unique 'out door / indoor' seating area.  The patio is open during the summer months which makes the space appear large and very open.

The restaurant features table side guacamole which was decent.  I ordered the cheese enchiladas with mole sauce which were excellent.  Their mole is comparable to some of the best I have ever had (the king of all moles' in my opinion is still at Red Iguana in Salt Lake City, Utah).

Overall, this restaurant is worth checking out if you are in the mood for some quality Mexican food and great outdoor seating.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Ghiradelli - Review


Ahh Ghiradelli.  I used to frequent the location in San Francisco, CA during my tenure there and would get excited as a child who had just won a ticket into Willy Wonka's chocolate factory at the prospect of visiting the store.  I have known about the existence of the Chicago location for a while, but never had the opportunity to visit it until recently.  The experience was nostalgic for me, as it transported me back to the times I used to visit the San Francisco location with my wife and share an Ice Cream Sunday there.

The Chicago location seems to have a similar menu to the San Fran location, and the product quality is consistent with what you would get at the original location.  The ambiance is lacking a bit, though that is probably because I am comparing it to my experiences in San Fran.  The San Fran location is located on a slight hill overlooking the bay.  The location cannot be compared to the Chicago location that overlooks a busy street.  Regardless, Ghirardelli - Chicago is worth the visit, just come hungry.  They offer a range of different sundaes and chilled drinks.  There is also an opportunity to purchase some of the Company's products at the adjoining store which are worth a try for any lover of chocolate.

Overall, well worth the visit and calories.  Don't be surprised if you find yourself coming here frequently after your first visit.

Quartino Ristorante & Wine Bar - Restaurant review

Dining date:  July 27th, 2013 & others

Quartino's has become my Italian restaurant of choice for the summer of 2013.  Quartino's has always delivered when I am in the mood to indulge in carbohydrates.  The menu is simple, yet highly effective for communal dining.  The service is attentive though not extraordinary.  Be forewarned, during the summer months the restaurant can get very crowded.  The restaurant has no problems fitting people into every corner of their restaurant.  Not all spots are comfortable, and I have found myself squeezed into an uncomfortable spot with very little room to maneuver myself.

The menu consists of traditional Italian fare, pizza's, pasta's etc.  The portions are small AND meant to be shared, so feel free to order extra entrees.  We typically order a pizza and a few different pasta's and share everything.  The food is of a decent quality, though falls far short of some other Italian restaurants in the city.  I find myself gravitated to the restaurant more for its ambiance and the ability to try a few different things over the quality of its food product.  I am not implying that it is bad, however, the food does taste like it has been mass produced to please their carbohydrate hungry patrons.

Overall, I would recommend this restaurant for its ambiance, and the ability to try a few different dishes without getting overwhelmed with large quantities of food like other traditional Italian restaurants.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Pump Room - Restaurant Review

Dining date:  July 20th, 2013

A quintessential Chicago restaurant, the Pump Room is a destination everyone in Chicago should visit at least once.  Established in 1938, the restaurant quickly became a celebrity hot spot.  The restaurant was recently re-opened (2011) and has now become more approachable.

The restaurant itself is very open and the lighting is some of the best I have seen.  The service was excellent and I found our waiter to be attentive and very knowledgeable about the food.  I also appreciated his recommendations, which I am sure he delivered because we informed him early on that this was our first time at the restaurant.  The true hallmark of a great waiter is someone who listens to his guests, and reacts accordingly.  In our case, we were newbies to the restaurant that needed some guidance, and he was quick to offer suggestions without being overly pushy.

The food itself is comparable to some of the best restaurants in the city.  Great care is put in appropriate presentation of all the dishes.  Any of the dishes when photographed could grace the cover of a food magazine.  Some of the culinary highlights include:

Watermelon salad with goat cheese -- A light, refreshing starter.  The watermelon and goat cheese combo bring together the perfect ingredients to get the taste buds firing.

Black truffle, fontina cheese, frisee, and chives -- Whole wheat flat bread with a generous helping of black truffles.  Would highly recommend if you are a fan of black truffle.

Fried chicken -- Both white and dark meat chicken fried perfectly.

Dessert -- The star of the evening.  I don't recall the exact name of the dish, but it was the perfect ending to a great dinner.  Essentially an elegant lava cake with ice cream.  The ratios of chocolate to cake to ice cream were perfect and expertly made.

Overall, I would highly recommend this restaurant for a special event.  This restaurant is perfect for birthdays, anniversary's and those days when you just want to dress up and go to a great restaurant.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Next Vegan - Restaurant Review

Dining date:    July 7, 2013

Grant Achatz's brain child Next's 8th menu focuses on a purely vegan cuisine.  This was my first visit to Next as my predilection towards vegetarianism precludes me from enjoying their other Prix Fixe menus.

The ambiance and atmosphere of Next is equivalent to the classiest restaurants in the world, toned down just enough to not make it pretentious.  I found the service to be attentive, however, the ever revolving door of waiters makes it difficult to single anyone out for exceptional service.  At times, I also found the servers to be robotic, a bit too scripted in their presentation and explanation of the culinary delights being presented.  Overall, the service was supportive of the culinary star, it neither detracted or added much to the experience.

Now on to the food.  The dishes keep coming out at a consistent pace, with just enough of a break between courses for your palate to refresh.  I do not re-call all of dishes, but that is part of the point.  You are not expected to recall all the notes played in a symphony, but the experience stays with you none the less.  Certain melodies stay with you, and in Next's case, a few dishes stayed with me, lingering in my memory as I write this.  There were some highs and lows, but overall Next excelled and truly showed the possible range and extent of culinary delights possible with a purely vegan tool set.  

I also requested the non-alcoholic beverage pairing for my culinary tour, a pairing I would recommend over wine to anyone partaking in this tour.  The beverage pairing was excellent and inspired as well.  Each drink paired perfectly with the dish, and elevated the flavors perfectly.  In certain instances I found the beverage pairing to be the star of the dish.

After much thought, I decided to keep this review spoiler free.  I believe previewing pictures of the tour before hand would detract from the experience, akin to knowing the ending of a movie before the opening credits.    I think it will suffice to say that the experience is well worth the price of admission and I would highly recommend this menu, and this restaurant, to anyone who likes to experience food crafted at the highest level.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Emperor of all Maladies -- Book Review

The Emperor of all Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Completed:  July 19th, 2013
Delivery:  Utilized eBook as well as audit book from

The Emperor of all Maladies is an excellent biography of cancer, with a very humane personal touch.  As an oncologist, Siddhartha Mukherjee constantly draws upon his own personnel experiences with the disease and seamlessly interweaves his accounts into the biography.

The personal stories interlaced throughout the narrative make this book about a dark disease much more approachable.  His biography begins as far back as 1600 BC  with the first evidence of the disease.  Chapter by chapter he goes down the history of the disease and its current struggle to find a cure.  He further discusses the trials and tribulations of many physicians and scientist as they struggled to gain acceptance of their theories behind cause and cure.  Especially enlightening was his discussion on the extent of gene mutation that ultimately leads to uncontrolled proliferation of cells leading to malignant tumors and cancer.  Mr. Mukherjee certainly doesn't shy away from the science, but his narrative is never dry or overly pontifical.

I would highly recommend this book to everyone, especially if you or a loved one are battling this disease.  It will shed some light on your journey and help you realize that you are not alone in your struggle.