Fulton River District
La Scarola is an institution in the River West neighborhood. Driving by, you likely wouldn't even know that it's there because it's street presence is so unassuming-- except for the hungry crowd of diners that you might see outside anxiously awaiting a table. A word to the wise: Call them and make a reservation. It's the only guarantee that you'll get a table in a reasonable amount of time. And it's worth the wait. This restaurant reminds me so much of restaurants in Italy: it's small, loud, crowded, and full of really fun energy. The staff is crazy and funny and the food is amazing.
The food at La Scarola is a perfect mix of traditional Italian dishes and Little Italy classics. We were lucky enough to dine here with a big group so we got to sample a few delicious appetizers and desserts in addition to our entrees. We shared a few orders of sausage and peppers, calimari, and bruschetta with each other. While I am not a calimari fan, the rest of the table devoured it so it must have been good. The sausage and peppers were tender, flavorful and perfectly cooked and the bruschetta was prepared in the simple Italian style that I love: fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil, olive oil on crusty bread. Simple and tasty.
For my entree, I went with pasta. La Scarola has several different options, but I ordered spaghetti with bacon and onions topped with a little crumbled Italian sausage. The flavor combination was so great-- sweet onions and salty bacon lightly dressed in olive oil. And a huge portion-- this was equally delicious the next day at lunch!
I actually dined at Nellcote for the first time for a girls dinner several months ago and never told you about it... whoops. Well, I recently went back for a girls brunch (same restaurant, different girls) and am going to tell you all about it. Because it was fabulous!
Nellcote is one of the prettiest restaurants I have been to in a long time. It's very Parisian elegant with some very modern West Loop touches. Think lots of white, fabulous chandeliers, sleek marble tabletops. It's just gorgeous.
And the food here is delicious. The menu is modern European with a focus on French dishes and flavors. I started with their Nellcote Bellini-- a twist on the traditional-- made with prosecco, St. Germain, Hangar 1 Kaffir Lime. I'm a huge fan of the first two ingredients and the addition of the third added just the right amount of sweet/tart flavor.
Normally I wouldn't order an appetizer at brunch, but the brunch share plate came so highly recommended by our waiter that we decided to give it a try. Excellent suggestion! The plate comes with a selection of perfect little brunch bites: fresh madeleines, soft baked brioche, serrano ham, gruyere cheese, tea-poached plums (SO good!), butter, jam, and lemon curd. For my entree, I had the quiche Lorraine and loved it. I was so happy to see it show up as an individual quiche and not a slice-- the presentation is just so much better! The crust was flaky and the filling creamy, which served alongside a single mixed green salad was a perfect brunch dish. Dinner here was great, but brunch was amazing. Grab your girlfriends and head in for a brunch plate and a Bellini ASAP!
Porkchop is currently the only BBQ joint you can find on Chicago's infamous Restaurant Row (a.k.a. West Randolph Street). It is located just on the edge of the very populated near western portion of the street, so it's a little less crowded and more laidback than some of the other restaurants you'll find in the area. It's casual with a cute bar that serves great cocktails-- specifically southern-inspired ones made with whiskey and bourbon.
The menu is simple, southern, and tasty. Alex and I have a few items that we always try when we see them on a menu: cheese curds, guacamole, and fried pickles, to name a few. Clearly, we like to enjoy healthy foods together. Lucky for us, Porkhop had the third item on their menu so we decided to start by sharing an order of their fried pickles. I was so happy to see them arrive in chip form as opposed to spears-- in my "professional" opinion, fried pickle spears are usually a hot soggy disaster. These chips were coated in a cornmeal breading (a nice southern touch) and cooked until just crispy and served with a green goddess dipping sauce. The sauce was a great departure from standard ranch and these were a tasty appetizer, albeit a little large for the two of us!
I tried the slow smoked BBQ chicken with sweet potato fries for dinner and it was very tasty, but the showstopper entree was really Alex's chicken & waffles. Look at that enormous portion! I tried a bite or two and the crispy chicken, fluffy waffle, and sweet syrup are such a delicious combo. Definitely worth a try!
DMK Burger Bar
Lombard, IL [suburbs]
This is not exactly the "west side," but it is west of Chicago... If you're a Chicagoan, then you likely know about DMK Burger Bar in the Lakeview neighborhood. Well, not so long ago my husband was working at an architecture firm that specialized in restaurant design and he had the pleasure of helping to design DMK's second location in the western suburb of Lombard. We don't often make it out to the suburbs-- except for trips to the outlet mall or in this case, a visit to the Farnsworth House-- but when we do, we like to stop in for a meal at DMK.
DMK was founded by David Morton (of the Morton's Steakhouse family) and renowned chef Michael Kornick as an elevated, but casual burger bar-- and I am all about it! Everything on the menu is fresh, they use tons of locally sourced ingredients, and the flavor combinations are totally unique for a burger place.
I usually order one of two burgers when we visit DMK: either the #5 Bison burger with fresh goat cheese, pickled red onions, and blueberry BBQ sauce or the #10 Turkey burger with smoked Swiss, tomato, arugula, and Dijonnaise. I love the flavors that the toppings add to both of these burgers-- tangy sauces with good cheese and fresh veggies on a soft baked bun. That's good stuff.
They have great sides here too that I would hate to not mention. I love their fries and that there are several options available. DMK's fries are ordered a la carte and are available in small and large sizes-- perfect if you'd like to share and sample a few varieties at the table. On this visit we ordered their salt and pepper fries with spicy house ketchup and also the Wisconsin cheddar and scallion fries, served dripping with a thick homemade cheese sauce. I would also give high marks to the bacon and bleu cheese fries, although we rarely order them because of Alex's aversion to bleu cheese. But, seriously... so good. Order them.