Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: Part 1

So I just realized in sorting through some photos from the past couple of months that we've been dining at some really good places lately. Some are old favorites, but a lot of them have been new to us. Usually I will tell you about our restaurant trips in a weekend recap post, but aside from some of these restaurant visits most of our recent weekends haven't warranted an entire post. I blame our frigid Chicago winter weather for that... it doesn't lend itself to fun times in the city, but rather to naps, catching up on Downton Abbey and Girls, and apartment cleaning.

I love food.  And you know how much I love to cook.  That's pretty obvious at this point.  :)  But I also love dining out-- especially in a city like Chicago where the options are endless and almost always stellar.  So, here's a peek into where we've been eating lately, what we ordered, and what I'd recommend.  Frankly, we have tried so many places that I need to make this post a two-part series.

Happy dining, Chicago!

Paramount Room
Fulton River District/River West

This is a great neighborhood spot that we often forget about, which is crazy because the food is so good!  When you visit, don't be alarmed by the size like we were on our fist visit.  When you walk in it just looks like a tiny crowded neighborhood, but they actually have a huge downstairs dining/lounge area too.

The menu is smallish and has a lot of great options for sharing. My menu favorites are the tempura green beans that come with a really HOT dipping sauce (left) and the roasted beet salad.  Alex also loved the pork belly skewers. 
Paramount Room on Urbanspoon

The Fifty/50
Wicker Park/Ukranian Village

Fun fact: We discovered this place watching Adam Richman's Best Sandwich in America. Of course that meant we needed to try it! Our friend Tony and I both tried the sandwich that was in the running for the best in America: The 4-Courser (right). It includes pulled pork, gouda béchamel sauce, pickles, jalapeño chips, sweet potato chips, BBQ sauce, and a mac and cheese waffle on a pretzel bun. OMG. Order it, eat it, and then take a nap immediately following.

Another fun fact: They often run a Living Social deal for a Buffalo wing making class during football season here. I think we need to try that!
The Fifty/50 on Urbanspoon

Riccardo Enoteca
Lincoln Park

This place is tiny! They are the little wine bar brother to Riccardo Trattoria across the street and the whole place seats maybe 30 people.  Even with a reservation we waited a while to sit here.

The menu is pricey for a wine bar, but everything was delicious.  We started with a grilled veggie antipasti and then we each ordered a pizza, which were large enough that we had plenty for lunch the next day. My pizza had spinach and gorgonzola on it and it was really delicious. Alex ordered a nightly special with some sort of sausage and mushrooms on it.
Riccardo Enoteca on Urbanspoon
694 Wine & Spirits
River West/Noble Square

694 Wine & Spirits is definitely off the beaten path if you're not a neighborhood local.  The area is quieter and only dotted with a few bars and restaurants among mostly condos and small businesses. It's also not really in the West Loop, but also not really in Wicker Park-- I guess the area is Noble Square?  We were familiar with it because 694 is located across the street from the now defunct Red Canary, one of our former go to spots for a low key dinner and drinks.

This wine bar is small and intimate and has a very cool vibe.  The drink menu is pretty vast, but the food menu is limited.  We enjoyed a few glasses of wine and also each ordered a panini, which were very good. I tried one with turkey, dijon, and manchego (one of my favorites) and Alex ordered the grilled cheese with quince.

The pricing is a bit outrageous ($12 for a panini with nothing on the side) and Alex isn't into the wine bar scene so I'm thinking this is a place to return to with girlfriends-- especially to check out the apparently amazing roof deck that they open in the warmer months.
694 Wine & Spirits on Urbanspoon

Balena
Lincoln Park

This is one of the best new restaurants I have been to in a long time. We went with friends, which is a great idea as they operate in a smalls plates format so everything is perfect for sharing.

This is just some really fresh, creative, and delicious Italian food. Some of my favorites that we tried: the homemade focaccia with honey and ricotta (similar to my fave at Davanti Enoteca), spaghetti cacio e pepe (so good we ordered a second), Brussels sprout and pancetta pizza, and one amazing dessert: Affogato with homemade cinnamon sugar doughnuts (left). Go now!
694 Wine & Spirits on Urbanspoon

Taco Joint
River North

We just love this "urban taqueria." Their original location in Lincoln Park is tiny and the wait is always long so we were psyched to see this spacious restaurant open up-- and in walking distance from our place!

They serve delicious guacamole here and different varieties that include spicy smoky tomato sauce or fruit. And the tacos are available a la carte, which I love since I can never decide what I want! The Estilo Baja (Baja Style) fish taco is my favorite at both Taco Joints. Skip the mushroom taco (front right)-- it's a bit slimy. And don't miss their margaritas.  I haven't had one that I didn't love!
Taco Joint on Urbanspoon

Look out tomorrow for Part 2 of our adventures in Chicago eating...

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