Archive for the ‘Dining Away from the Desk’ Category

I have turned over a new leaf in my life – being more spontaneous, and embracing a personal journey of enrichment and awesomeness. You may have noticed I’ve been rather quiet this summer…and not in my normal manner of “Oh, kinda forgot I was a blogger there for a second.” This summer has been one of the strangest on record for me, personally. In a life lived in a fairly stable (not completely unshakable, but fairly earthquake-proof) way, there have been some big shake-ups, with strange feelings and emotions attached. Doubt, uncertainty and general sads aren’t welcome feelings in my personal house (unless I’m eating a sad late-night gyro, which I guess is a different denotation of sad), so I’m cleaning them out and shaking things up on my own terms. It feels good, and I’ll end it here with a particularly favorite and apropos movie quote:

With this new journey of personal enrichment, I’m looking at ways to get out of my comfort zone, which means getting out of my comfy pants and off the couch. For those of you who know me, you know how much I love my comfy pants. Nothing equals happiness quite like walking through the door at the end of the workday and going straight for pants without buttons, but for this personal journey, enriching my life means making some comfort sacrifices – and let’s be honest, it’s still dress season, so the dreaded buttons and zippers aren’t yet in full effect.

So what opportunity of afforded awesomeness lay in wait for me this week? Well, it was the chance for spontaneous Margarita Monday, a gift-horse I wasn’t about to look in the mouth, since margaritas are neck-in-neck with comfy pants on the love scale. BUT! Not only margaritas, but tacos – TAAAACCCCCCOOOOSSSSS!!!!!! ANNNNNDDDD – GUACAMOOOOOOLLLLLLEEEEE! Cue the mental happy dance; physical happy dance curtailed only because my new office has low cubicle walls and I’m just not sure everyone would appreciate such a spectacle.

Moe’s Cantina in River North extended a dinner invitation to a great group of food-minded folks to test out some new taco creations and margarita options, sponsored by Grand Mayan Tequila. It was a last-minute invite, the kind I might have passed over in a previous life, but spontaneity embraced, invite accepted, and an obviously excellent decision all-around.

Please note, the pictures I’m about to post are a mix of some of the professional dinner shots and some personal pics, snapped on what is obviously the best way to capture great moments in food – an iPhone 5S. I’m almost positive you’ll be able to tell which are my originals. Additionally, there were a few extremely unflattering photos of myself and my blogger pal mauling the tacos. As a matter of good taste, I have strategically left these photos to your imagination.

Let’s begin with the work of the art that is the Grand Mayan tequila bottle – it’s so pretty! Beside it is a cucumber margarita, which was a flavor I wasn’t expecting in a margarita, but was an exciting change of pace. I’m still more of a traditional rocks and (lots) of salt girl, but I had no problem branching out with this tequila treat.

Grand Mayan Tequila

Next up we have Moe’s special flour tortillas, which they import directly from Mexico. They come in raw, and are cooked to perfection. The chef said the most common way they ate these tortillas growing up was cooked on the stove and topped with butter…clearly a man after my own heart.

Los Garcias Raw Flour Tortillas

Moe's Cantina Flour Tortillas

I settled for nature’s butter – avocados in guacamole form. I can’t even tell you how amazing these tortillas are. They came in a nicely wrapped package, like a present, and smelled to me like French toast. They tasted incredible with or without the guacamole – which, by the way, was also excellent. We sampled three different kinds of guacamole with our chips and tortillas and my favorite was the first and simplest – made only with avocados, serrano pepper and salt. The tortillas were the perfect vehicle for guacamole consumption with the ideal amount of bite and tear – I could have happily made a meal solely on the tortillas. Asked if anyone wanted any additional of these terrific tortillas, can you guess who raised her hand?!

Let’s have some taco talk. Moe’s treated us to four different kinds of tacos, resplendent in their taco terrificness. The first we sampled, and consquently, my favorite, was the Chicken Mole with orange citrus slaw, red onion, cilantro, sesame seeds, served in a corn tortilla. The mole was the standout, rich, with a definite sweet flavor. I’m a big fan of sweet meats, so this was right up my alley.

Moe's Cantina Chicken Mole Tacos

The evening’s second taco was a crispy duck option with Sichuan peppercorn marinated duck, pickled red onions, habanero, radish and jalapeno slaw and hoisin sauce. This was the host’s favorite and another complete hit in my book. I don’t often eat duck, but when I do – well, let’s put it on a taco.

Moe's Cantina Chicago

Third taco – by this point I was feeling full to quite full, but not full enough that I wasn’t going to eat the next taco, because this taco was STEAK. Mmmm, steak – oh, and this one came on those amazing flour tortillas from earlier in the evening. Behold the Taco al Carbon: chopped sirloin, yellow onion and cilantro. Simple, but flavorful. This was my blogger friend’s favorite of the evening.

Moe's Cantina Tacos

Rounding out the last of the tacos was the Italian Brick Chicken – marinated chicken in thyme, rosemary and olive oil, pico de gallo, nopales, chilie morita sauce and heavy cream in a corn tortilla. As you can well imagine, at this point I was stuffed, and this poor taco only got eaten halfway. It obviously veered from traditional Mexican flavors, and it was either that or the fact that we were all full that no one picked it as their favorite taco of the evening.

Italian Chicken Tacos

And just when you think you’re so full you can’t possibly eat another morsel, the chef comes out with some churros. And then you think to yourself, “Well, self, looks like you saved justenough room for these churros.” And then you eat the churros, dipping them into the over-21 Nescafe and Grand Mayan tequila dipping sauce, happily lapping up the extra whipped cream and, duh, there’s always going to be room for churros and booze sauce.

Churros at Moe's Cantina

So what did I take away from this journey of spontaneity? I had an absolutely fantastic dinner courtesy of the gracious, welcoming and utterly hospitable folks at Moe’s Cantina in River North and Grand Mayan Tequila. I learned about cooking and mixology, I met new and interesting people, had a lot of laughs and a great deal of fun. All in all, it was an evening totally worthy of uncomfortable pants, though I have to admit and was very happy because of it, the ones I was wearing that evening didn’t have buttons.

If you’re planning to eat tacos in Chicago soon, go to Moe’s Cantina. They have locations in River North and Wrigleyville. Visit them on the web at www.moescantina.com. While you’re at it, order a margarita the way I would – on the rocks with lots of salt – and try it with Grand Mayan Tequila.

 

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There are many points in a blogger’s life that they’ll either a) be too busy to blog, b) will forget they have a blog, or c) don’t want to blog because their site is in terrible need of redesign, so it’s obviously easier to ignore entirely. In this case, all three of those points apply to my current situation, SO, let me tell the tale of an amazing evening at Weber Grill (quickly!) through photos.

If you haven’t been to Weber Grill, you should go. It’s particularly great for when your parents come to visit – it’s evocative of the original hipster Dad grilling out back drinking a beer (or a rum and coke, squeeze of lime), plus it’s DELICIOUS.

Without further ado, Weber Grill in photos:

Weber Grill Chicago Weber Grill Chicago Weber Grill Chicago Weber Grill Chicago IMG_3647 Weber Grill Chicago Weber Grill Chicago

Absolutely everything was beyond delicious, but the sea bass was the standout. On a very happy side note, it reminded me of this gem:

Weber Grill is located at 539 N State St, Chicago, IL 60654. Follow them on Twitter, or connect on Facebook.

Thank you to the good folks at Weber Grill for inviting the Windy City Blogger Collective for the Spring Menu Tasting!

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The TL;DR version: if you like meats, if you like bbq, if you like good bbq’ed meats, make the trip to Green Street Smoked Meats.

Green Street Smoked Meats has been on my to-do list for a few months. I had a chance to go a few weeks ago when my best friend was in town. Despite living in Nashville, she visits often enough that the list of places she hasn’t been to in my neighborhood is growing quite small. We both are the type of awesome ladies who like to try new things, so Green Street popped into my head and we were off to try some smoked meats.

We met another friend around 5:30 on a Friday, and the place was already half full. Oh, and the place is cool-done-right. The lighting is dim, the bouncers (are they bouncers?) look 10 years younger and 10x cooler than you’ve ever been, and the whole vibe is very let’s throw back some good booze and bbq. The seating is communal picnic tables around a central bar with a separate line for food. I advise the threesome team approach – one person holds the table, one person at the bar, one person in line for the meats.

Green Street Smoked Meats Interior

Photo credit: Thrillist Chicago

My friend and I started with margarita (fresh and punch-packing), and our other friend (a GSSM veteran) took care of the meat ordering. We ended up with the pulled pork, chicken legs, chopped beef brisket, potato salad and pickles. The meats are served with white bread and two sauce options are available on the side – a mild and a spicy bbq. As a happy accident, my friend intended to order the sliced brisket and ended up with the chopped – he said it was even better than the sliced; I’ve never had the sliced, but the chopped brisket was my favorite thing on the plate tray. I can’t speak to the chicken legs, as these were all for the BFF. I can say that we weren’t sure what’d we’d get since the menu just read “Chicken Leg – $6,” and it included 3 pieces of chicken. It looked great, but can’t personally confirm.

Green Street Smoked Meats BBQ

The meats are so, so good. I love my neighborhood bbq, Lillie’s Q, but Green Street is serious competition. The meat is smoky, flavorful, and really couldn’t be shoveled into my mouth fast enough. The chopped brisket is without a doubt my highest recommendation. The pickles were tangy and a perfect complement to the pulled pork on white bread. The potato salad – I mean, just look at it. It’s the perfect mix of mayo-y to potato-y. There are rolls of paper towels on the tables to mop up your messy, bbq’ed, potato salad’ed self.

Other notable items – there is a secret ramen shop in the basement, and there’s going to be a line. Conveniently, there are some (obviously cool) risers for people to sit on, which somehow reminded me of people waiting to perform in a middle school talent show. I kept waiting for them to bust into song. When you’re done eating, roll yourself out of the picnic table and finish your night off right with an old fashioned from the Doughnut Vault truck, parked right outside. I’d never had Doughnut Vault before either, so this trip really fed two birds with one scone.

All in all, if anyone ever suggests going to Green Street, just say yes. If no one suggests it, take yourself.

Author’s note: Green Street Smoked Meats is another in the list of Midas Touch Brendan Sodikoff restaurants. 

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Umami Burger is all the rage in Wicker Park these days, just like hipsters used to be – I think they’re on the way out, yes? I’m not cool enough to know what exactly has replaced all the skinny jeans, beards and PBR, but I’m guessing Umami Burger is a contender for that list, judging on how much hype this place is getting. Yeah, maybe instead of hipsters, WP will now be full of clean shaven dudes drinking cider and eating burgers. #BurgerPark. Weird.

But, Umami Burger! I’d wanted to go a few weeks ago when my #BFF was in town from Nashville, but we opted for Little Goat Diner instead. I got a chance to revisit my wish this past Sunday, when my jet-setting roommate (for reals, she’s a flight attendant) and I took a stroll down the street after reading all the Umami Burger Yelp reviews, and deciding against Antique Taco and Pot Pan.

Umami Burger Chicago

We got there close to 8 p.m. on a Sunday night, and there was a 25-30 minute wait. Not a problem in this neighborhood, kids. Take your pick from all the bars up and down Milwaukee. We opted for one of my favorites standby’s, Nick’s Beer Garden, had a quick drink and were texted by the hostess that our table was ready within the advertised wait time. Read on »

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It’s not exactly a secret that I’m #obsessed with Glazed & Infused Doughnuts. Based off the concept of Portland’s Voodoo Doughnuts and NYC’s Doughnut Plant, Glazed & Infused opened its original location in 2012 in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. In the past two years, the franchise has grown to 5 shops, with the Wicker Park location being the one I frequent…frequently. In a stroke of luck or quite possibly disastrous diet misfortune, the Wicker Park location is right. by. my. gym. And despite trying to lose ten pounds, is there a better reward after an hour on the treadmill? I think not. Yeah, I’m the one in line still sweating my ass off, ordering the Old Fashioned.

Glazed & Infused Doughnuts: Wicker Park

As a doughnut stalker, I “Like” Glazed & Infused on Facebook (fine, and Twitter and Instagram, and ha!, as I’m writing this post they just retweeted my tweet!)

and I gotta give a shout out to whoever’s running their social media. They do a great job of making me want doughnuts. I mean, it’s not exactly difficult, but still, kudos. They happened to mention their new fall flavors (Caramel Pumpkin Pecan, Pineapple Coconut, White Chocolate Cranberry, Seedling Apple Cider and Ham & Cheddar…say what?!), and I knew it wouldn’t be long before I had to try one of these new kids on the block.

Glazed & Infused Fall Flavors

So, there I was after the gym, sweating, waiting behind a group of giggly girls, giving me plenty of time to peruse the goods. After some hemming and hawing, and deciding that I guess I didn’t really need two doughnuts (Ham & Cheddar, you’re up next), I decided to give the Seedling Apple Cider a whirl. Good decision, Katie; you’re a genius.

Glazed & Infused Seedling Apple Cider Doughnut

 

I was pretty pumped when I noticed it looked like an Old Fashioned, because the website makes it look like the Old Fashioned’s less exciting cousin, the cake doughnut. Yes, definitely a twin of the Old Fashioned, the Seedling Apple Cider is my new favorite fall treat. An optimum blend of apple and cinnamon, with the quintessential perfectly crispy edges of an Old Fashioned make this doughnut taste like you’ve been posting pictures of autumn leaves, happy times at the pumpkin patch and your new tall boots/skinny jeans all over your social media accounts. Actually, eating it made me feel like this guy‘s twin sister (if you haven’t read Mr. Autumn Man on The Onion, please, please click over. You’ll laugh, I promise).

Well, there you have it, kids – my newest obsession. I think it’s time Glazed & Infused starts paying for my gym membership.

Eat More Doughnuts - Glazed & Infused

 

 

 

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I’m trying my first iPad review from the WordPress app – fancy!

So, I watch a LOT of crap TV; this is not news. What is news is that Top Chef is back with a new season on Bravo, and, man, do I not like that denim dress Padma’s wearing in the promos. I’d actually rate Top Chef in the classier category of crap shows I watch. If you haven’t seen it, it’s pretty great, and it’s produced a lot of celeb chefs over the seasons. If you come to my house, you’ll even find photos of Kevin and Mike from the Las Vegas season on my fridge from the time when the Top Chef tour rolled into town ON MY BIRTHDAY! Dreams really do come true, kids.

You can only imagine my delight when Healthy Chice teamed up with Top Chef to create a line of Cafe Steamers. Oh, the joy! I marched into Target last week with my “buy 2 HC meals, get a Top Chef Steamer free” coupon and picked up this Linguini thing and some other one that I can’t remember now because I’m on the train.

I was pretty pumped for today’s lunch, because dining at my desk is clearly the best part of the workday, and I was excited to try the Top Chef inspired entree. Since I’m totally back on track with Weight Watchers (since, uh, Tuesday), I was happy to see this only had 6 Points Pluses, meaning I can more liberally soak myself in booze later, or at least not feel as bad about it.

So…my take on the whole thing? A real snooze fest. I did my best Padma impression while I ate (totally flat and monotone) and tried to think what Tom Colicchio would say. I’ve come up with this: “pass the salt and the spray butter.” Yeah, forget about the perfectly seasoned dishes they make on the show – this dish would have fallen squarely in the middle of the pack in a Quick Fire challenge. It wasn’t bad, it was just very…expected. Snore.

I am still looking forward to trying that other one on my freezer, and all of them, really, so look forward to more chew and reviews (and possible tipsy train blogging!).

Healthy Choice Top Chef-Inspired Cafe Steamers, Chicken Linguini with Red Pepper Alfredo

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