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Bridge House Tavern: Welcome home.

The secret garden along the river.

Sometimes living in the city is draining. But sometimes you have that moment where you are like, “Yeah, this city is awesome.” I had one of those moments on the way to Bridge House Tavern. Maureen got stuck in the elevator (note: I wasn’t stuck! It was just going really slowly and I had visions of it opening and it having gone too far, so water from the Chicago River would flood in and I’d have to swim to safety and would ruin my shoes.)

Bridge House Tavern is located along the Chicago River on the north side of the river and Clark Street, lower level. The restaurant itself is kind of small, not a ton of seating, but the deck is amazing. I think they had more seating outside than in and they had private cabanas. Nice touch.

The cozy interior.

It was just on the cool side of cool, so we sat inside. Inside is so cozy and welcoming. A fireplace, wood floors and stone walls made it feel like a lodge or a home. I started talking about how much I loved it and Maureen had to remind me we hadn’t even had the food yet.

Popcorn!

 

 

 

After reviewing the menu, we decided pretty quickly we had to try the popcorn. This isn’t just your average popcorn. It has honey, bacon, jalapeño, and smoked salt. And it was delicous. You could taste each of the flavors and they worked together, the sweet and spicy. Plus, bacon is just delicious on everything. My only complaint was the honey made it sticky but that was easily worked around by using a fork.

Beer cheese soup

Maureen and I both gravitated towards the beer cheese soup and wondered if we could split it. I mean, can you even split soup without having to share germs? The answer, my friends, is yes. Yes you can! They brought us out individual crocks of beer cheese soup, which was topped with Guinness, seasoned with chive batons, paprika and served with pretzel crouton. There wasn’t enough beer to give you a buzz (darn it!) but it added a nice depth to the soup. The pretzel croutons were so good and all in all, it was a nice start to the meal. Well, second start to the meal.

Shrimp poboy

Somehow we justified getting our own sandwiches, mostly because we could not agree on the same sandwich. I continued my personal quest to find the best shrimp poboy in the city of Chicago.

The shrimp were crispy and flavored nicely. The shrimp to bread ratio was a little skewed, as in too much bread. Unlike the one at China Grill, I could have used a little more sauce. It was good, but The Zodiac Room still wins.

Salmon BLT

Maureen: I don’t share Carrie’s love of shrimp (although I do like it, so calm down everybody), so I opted for the Salmon BLT. Confession: it just happened to be the sandwich that came with a bacon milkshake! What is that? I don’t even know! But when you see the words “bacon” and “milkshake”, I think you have to try it. I was super full from the soup (sooo good) and popcorn (good, but every bite made me sneeze), so I only ate about half of the sandwich. It was good, but I do like just normal BLTs a little better. The bacon milkshake was had globs of either dairy or bacon fat. It was tasty, but that kinda weirded me out. Overall, it was decent.

Creme brulee, fresh berries and cookies.

Carrie:

I thought Maureen’s bacon milkshake would screw up dessert for me, but thankfully she pulled through like a champ. We agreed on the creme brulee, served with fresh berries and freshly-baked cookies. Delicious. The berries and cookies were a nice accoutrements to what we thought would be a simple (but delicious) creme brulee. It was a nice ending to the meal.

Maureen: C is for cookie and that’s good enough for me (they were yum). The creme brulee was good too – the blueberries were a great touch.

Final takes

Carrie: I loved this place. It was intimate and cozy and would be a great place to take a group of people with whom you want to have a really good conversation. Also, a super awesome place to go in the summer, nice view of the river, lots of outside seating. The food was good too, but I think I was more in love with the environment/space than I was the food.

Maureen: I have to agree with Carrie. The food was fine, but the real star was the space. I had envisioned some large touristy vaguely British/Irish pub-style restaurant that thought it could get away with overcharging because it’s on the river. It’s, in fact, the complete opposite. It’s very inimate and comfortable. Some of the dining areas have plush seats (that Carrie and I were 99% sure were from West Elm). I’d actually bring people here for drinks and apps (and great conversation, but I mean, I’m there, so that’s a given.  . .), and would probably skip the entree next time.

Park Grill: Guess Where It Is!

So this was another one of those non-Friday Fancy Fridays, which means we needed to get in and out pretty quick. I suggested Park Grill because I thought it was a fast-casual type restaurant that would have elevated flavor profiles we could pass off as fancy.

I was wrong.

Real silverware ... take that, terrorists!

The Park Grill is a really nice (and genuinely fancy) restaurant that is tucked beneath the Bean in Millennium Park. When it first opened, I heard they would serve your food with plastic utensils. You know, because of the terrorists. I am happy to say, we win!

Maureen:

Have you noticed how many “Park” restaurants there are? There are a lot. I confuse this one with the others. . .and probably still will. Honestly, I expected a pretty generic experience leaning heavily on the fact that it’s tucked into a park with amazing view. From the moment I walked in, I knew how wrong I was. Are you seeing a theme?

Carrie:

It was hard deciding what to order because everything looked delicious. By some twist of fate, Maureen and I were on the same page so we split all three courses, which made for a nice meal that left me the perfect amount of full.

Grilled peach and arugula salad

First course was Grilled Peach and Arugula salad with bleu cheese, red onion, walnuts, pancetta vinaigrette. Um, delicious. The peaches were ripe and balanced nicely with the blue cheese. The red onions and walnuts added a nice crunch to the salad. The pancetta vinaigrette … oh, the pancetta vinaigrette. I need a minute. There were decent-sized chunks of pancetta in there, which tasted like bacon. Bacon.

Maureen:

I believe that with the first bite, I said “Carrie! There are little bacon chunks in there and they melt!” As we’ve established, I do not enjoy blue cheese. I mostly didn’t eat it on the salad, but the parts that stuck onto my fork, I didn’t hate! Also, anything with peaches is a winner to me!

Smoked ham panini

Carrie:

Second course was a Smoked Ham Panini with fig mustard and burrata cheese. It normally comes with an apple and watercress salad with ranch dressing, but since we had a salad to start they totally switched it out to handcut fries for us.

The panini was served warm and the cheese was an appropriate amount of melty goodness. I wished the fig mustard had a stronger flavor because it sounded interesting. The fries met expectations … I’ll say it like that. Good but not amazing.

Maureen:

Yeah, this entree was pretty forgettable. It was good, but am I gonna be blown away by a ham panini? No. Did I choose to order a ham panini anyway? Yes. I like them.  I was mostly excited about the fries and our little pots of ketchup. (restaurants: if you give me my own little container of condiment, you will have a fan. That fan will be me.)

Heirloom peach tart

Carrie:

Dessert was an Heirloom Peach Tart (yes, peaches again) with homemade caramel sauce and butter pecan ice cream.

I mostly tasted crust and had hoped for a stronger peach flavor. The homemade caramel was delicious (why don’t I make that?) and the butter pecan ice cream was a nice paring. I don’t think I’d order it again but that didn’t stop me from inhaling it.

Maureen:

I have to agree with Carrie, I love fruit desserts, and would have preferred a better balance of fruit and tart. The peaches seemed kind of like a garnish, rather than a key element. The ice cream was really good and I would have ordered it on its own.

Carrie:

I feel like I need to dedicate a paragraph to our server, Michael. He was awesome. We said we were torn and he walked us through the options, helping us decide. He gave us insights on portion size so we didn’t over or under order. He also had the kitchen split our dishes for us, so Maureen didn’t steal all the fries off a shared plate (what?! I never! Hmph). He kept track of us, sensed that we were in a semi-hurry and kept everything moving so that we successfully kept it to an hour lunch. The best.

Maureen:

There’s nothing more to say about Michael. He was just fantastic. Again, I expected a pretty generic experience, where the server just wants to turn over the table, but Michael made sure we were taken care of and happy. I also saw him being equally helpful to the ladies who lunch sitting behind us. Overall, every staff member we encountered was very friendly (and not in that annoying “I’m going to ask you eight times if I can help you with anything.” You know what I mean.)

Final takes

Carrie: I would definitely go back and, now that I know what it is, I would take clients here.

Maureen: It was a pleasant experience, and I think my parents would enjoy it. I probably wouldn’t come back if they weren’t in town though. Although, I usually avoid any tourist areas on the weekends, so it’s nothing against the restaurant.

 

Sweetwater Tavern: A Fancy Bennigan’s

Guess where we are?

We were supposed to have a special guest this week but yadda, yadda, yadda, she had to cancel at the last minute. Don’t worry, you’ll meet her very soon. But Maureen and I had to make a quick decision and decided on something that was located in the middle of our offices, Sweetwater Tavern & Grille. The ‘e’ on the end is how you know it’s fancy.

I’ve been to Sweetwater before. I actually fell and cracked my knee really hard on the freshly washed floor. They were very concerned about me (read: the potential lawsuit) and left me wishing I had fell before lunch instead of after, because everything would have been comped. But that’s neither here nor there.

The view from the patio

So we met there on a beautiful day and Maureen opted for patio seating. And when I sat down, I had a kickass view of the city. I would like to point out that Maureen chose her seat first, so this isn’t one of those cases that she often accuses me of  … taking the best seat. She had a view of a viaduct or something.

The menu is pretty standard bar fare … appetizers, salads, wraps, burgers and a couple entree-type dishes. I kind of wish we would have skipped the meals and just loaded up on appetizers. But that would be gross, so we ordered off the other part of the menu.

Santa Fe wrap

I opted for a Santa Fe wrap. It had ranchero style grilled steak or pulled chicken, tomatoes, avocado, corn and black bean relish, pepperjack, tortilla strips, southwest chipotle dressing. The waitress recommended the steak, so that’s what I got. At first bite, I really appreciated the crunch the tortilla strips provided. It was the corn and black bean relish that attracted me to the wrap and it did not disappoint. The avocado was in thick slices, which I found to be a bit overpowering and ended up removing about half of them from the wrap. Perhaps thinner sliced or maybe diced would have been better because avocado and steak is normally a delicious combination. I don’t really anything about the French fries, which probably means they were fine but not amazing.

Fish tacos

Maureen:

I usually come here when my bosses are like “Hey! Let’s take a long (liquid) lunch!” So, I had particular affinity for this place. I also admired how much outdoor seating they had. Btw, tip I got from a server there once – don’t leave your purse on the outside of your table because some less-than-honest people will come by and snatch it. I ordered the fish tacos (despite really wanting something that comes with tater tots. . .but we all must make sacrifices). The tacos had a lot of cheese, which in my mind isn’t compatible with fish (before you say it, I hate tuna melts). It also made the tacos much more filling than I was expecting. When I saw the chips, I had flashbacks to the mass-produced ones that you see the food service staff dump into the metal casserole bin. I was pleasantly surprised that they were fresh! The salsa was also nice and spicy and not that bland, overcooked goop you normally get at restaurants.

The obvious winner

Carrie:

There were only two desserts on the menu. One, a baked chocolate chip cookie served warm in a skillet, topped with ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate drizzle. The other carrot cake. The choice was clear.

So, the skillet cookie concoction is one of those things that cannot suck. It’s not possible. It’s just not possible. And this was no exception. The cookie part was so warm that it had a melty, doughy texture. The cool of the vanilla ice cream melted on top balanced the heat of the cookie, so it would have been nice if there was a little more of it. There was plenty of whipped cream but it wasn’t cool enough to take the edge off the heat of the cookie. It was really rich, so after a couple bites (okay, maybe a couple more than a couple) I was done.

Maureen:

“Cookie Skillet?! AHHH!!! COOKIE SKILLET!!!” – my inner monologue. There’s really nothing to say. There was so much whipped cream, that a confused Carrie prodded with her spoon and said, “Oh, ok.” once she discovered that there was, in fact, a scoop of ice cream as promised. There was also a useless mint sprig (get out of the way!), and despite being full from fish tacos, I ate my fair share of this delicious cookie.

Final take:

Carrie: Well, I don’t know. I enjoyed everything I had, but I wasn’t blown away. It’s a cool space, friendly waitstaff. I’d like to go back for happy hour to try the appetizers. We were in and out within an hour, so it’s good for a nice lunch during the week.

Maureen: Similar to Carrie, it’s decent, not pricey, but not memorable. Definitely a good place to get some drinks and appys … oh, and a cookie skillet.

Frango Cafe: Minty Fresh

Remember Marshall Field's? Tear.

It may surprise you to learn that Maureen and I have day jobs. We haven’t exactly figured out how support ourselves off this blog alone … yet, anyway. We were both out of the office on Friday, we had to do a make up lunch early this week. And because we are serious professionals, we wanted to find a place where we felt confident we could get in and out and back to work in an hour. After a serious brainstorming session, we decided on Frango Cafe.

Frango Cafe is located on the seventh floor of Macy’s on State Street, formerly Marshall Field’s. Frango Mints are most closely associated with Marshall Fields and, up until 1999, were made on the 13th floor of the flagship State Street store. They are delicious. When Macy’s bought Marshall Field’s, they retained the Frango Mint tradition. I personally consider the cafe a hidden gem in the city, because it is often overlooked for the more popular (and delicious) Seven on State food court. There is a hostess stand, you are seated (usually in an oversized booth, even if you only have two people) and served. Admittedly, it is not nearly as fancy as some of the other places we’ve been, but it’s charming, nostalgic (at least for this born-and-bred Chicagoan) and has a 95% percent success rate in getting in and out in less than hour. (At least in my experience.)
Maureen:
I first visited Chicago well after 1999, so I just remember the days when Dayton Hudson Corp (who own/ed? Target) owned Marshall Field’s. I also remember when the signs in the store said Randolph Ave and Wabash St after Macy’s took over (it should be Randolph St and Wabash Ave). Way to ingratiate yourselves to Chicago! Anyway, I digress. I had no idea his little cafe was in there! I trust Carrie though, so I was excited to experience all sorts of chocolate mint treats.

Chicken chili

Carrie:

Having been here before, I knew exactly what I wanted. I started with the chicken chili. It’s a creamy chili with black and white beans. There’s a nice spice to the flavor and a dollop of sour cream under the tortilla strips. So good. I insisted Maureen take a bite and she said it was serious chili. (Maureen’s note: I lived in Texas for a time. It’s a compliment). I wasn’t exactly sure what she meant by that but assumed it was positive. I mean, it’s not like I’m wrong about how great it is.

Ham and cheese on cinnamon bread. Can you see the sugar crystals on the bread?

For lunch I had the ham and cheese sandwich, but it wasn’t nearly as simple as that. They make a cinnamon bread that is out of this world and it only comes standard on one of their sandwhiches. Maureen ordered that one, so you’ll hear about it later. But, if you ask nicely, they will substitute the bread on any sandwich for no additional fee. The sandwich is grilled and served warm. I quite enjoy the sweet/savory combination and the bread is so good. Maybe I mentioned that before. Having had this sandwich before, I thought it tasted differently. And then I realized … the cheese, according to the menu, is Gruyere, and that’s the cheese I’ve always had. This sandwich came with American cheese. Can you see the layer of orange? I mean, it was still good but I prefer Gruyere. It would have been nice if it was acknowledged in some way.

You have a choice of sides and I chose the chips. They are salt and pepper chips, which I always enjoy, but this time I wish I would have thought of asking if I could have substituted the chili as my side instead of ordering them individually. Hindsight.
Oh, I should mention that you can get a half soup, half salad or sandwich and a dessert for a very reasonable price. The only thing is that you cannot get the cinnamon bread on your half sandwich. Just something to consider.

I forgot to mention the pickle.

Maureen:

Carrie mentioned that the turkey sandwich is apparently “what to get.” She hates turkey (what? how is that possible?) so she was going with ham. I got the smoked turkey with monterey jack and cranberry mayo on cinnamon bread. Lots of flavors, but Carrie assured me that they’re compatible. The bread is amazing. Something in the sandwich tasted off. . .to the point where I was concerned that the turkey might be bad. I think I just don’t know how monterey jack tastes by itself because I usually have either pepper jack or colby jack. I love that they serve the sandwich warm, because it makes all the flavors taste extra special. I opted for the potato salad because I love any type of picnic food (that includes macaroni salad, baked beans, grilled burgers, ambrosia, and jello/cool whip desserts. Sometimes I’m very not fancy). It was good potato salad – a nice balance of mustard and mayo.

Frango mint ice cream pie

Carrie:

What would Fancy Friday be without dessert? Not a Fancy Friday. And what would a visit to Frango Cafe without something minty? Sacrilegious. So we did what any God-fearing, Chicago-loving Americans would do and ordered the Frango mint ice cream pie.
It deceptively looks chocolate but I assure you, it is pure mint. And pure delicious. It’s not overwhelmingly heavy either, so it’s a nice ending to the meal.
Maureen:
I asked Carrie if we should order one or two. There is no good way to ask that question without the other person feeling like a jerk/pig if they say we should each get our own. I was just trying to figure out it it was a half gallon of ice cream with pie crust, like some restaurants give you, or if it’s manageable. I’m super happy I got my own. Carrie is spot on about the flavors, but it was also a nice softness. While I was eating it, I just kept thinking “Ice cream pie! Why don’t I eat you more often?!”
Final take:
Carrie: I love this place. When my family takes the train in from the suburbs, we usually eat here. It’s not exceptionally fancy, but it’s a nice meal for a reasonable price. And it’s tucked away in one of the busiest stores in Chicago and is surprisingly quiet and undisturbed. I’ve been here many times and I am positive I’ll be back again.
Maureen: Mom, Dad, I’ve found a new place to take you when we’re shopping! I really like how uncrowded it was, and how reasonable the prices were. Definitely a nice change from the long lines at the food court there.

Hoyt’s: Plenty of seating inside

We had a hard time deciding where to meet for Fancy Friday this week. We are in the second best city for restaurants (according to Esquire magazine) and, when it comes right down to it, we are kind of spoiled having our guests make the suggested picks. So please continue to spoil us and apply here. We need you.

See? Pretty!

A co-worker of mine saved the day and recommended Hoyt’s, which has a great outside patio that overlooks the river. It was really popular, actually, so we opted for the immediate seating inside. It’s nice inside too, actually, so totally don’t feel cheated if there’s a long wait for the patio and you end up inside.

The menu on this place is reasonably limited, and I mean that in a good way. There’s enough choices for everyone to find something they like but not so many like Cheesecake Factory or Grand Lux, where you feel like you need a year just to get through the menu. The waiter suggested the burger or the sliders and I wish I would have followed his recommendation.

Instead, I ordered the homemade ravioli. It was stuffed with spinach and was in, as described in the menu anyway, as a pesto-type sauce. It read well.

Thick ravioli ... and what? Vegetables?!

When it came, I was surprised to see carrots and zucchini in the sauce. I mean, I like carrots and zucchini, but I just wasn’t expecting them. And it took the dish from kind of a light ravioli to more of a rustic ravioli. Know what I mean? Anyway, I may have been able to forgive that if it was good but you could tell it was homemade. And I don’t mean that in a good way. The pasta dough was really thick and I couldn’t really taste the insides. The sauce was kind of more like a broth instead of a sauce. I don’t know. It just wasn’t satisfying and, I’ll admit I ordered the wrong thing. I should have ordered the burger or the sliders, which is what Maureen did. I don’t think there is a better transition than that, so take it away, Maureen!

Pay no attention to those sliders - check out that pickle jar!

Maureen:

I did a little website research before we went there, and saw a jar of homemade pickles next to a burger. I LOVE homemade pickles, so I wanted to make sure I had those! I also love pulled pork, so when I saw that on the menu, I was sold.

The sliders were a nice, small size, and they had a good meat/sauce ratio. They were also topped with a little slaw, which gave it a nice crispiness. The buns were topped with onion bits, which were also good.

I was a little taken aback by how small the pickle jar was, because it looked huge on the website (and looks huge here!). But then I was like “well. . .how many pickles do I really need?” They were delicious, but Carrie and I couldn’t help but notice that the burger came with both fries and pickles. Did they think I wanted pickles in lieu of fries? I mean it’s fine, because workouts and I are taking a break. But still. . .

Carrie:

Chocolate pudding. Can you find Maureen?

So, for dessert I really wanted the ice cream truffles. I have no idea what they are, but they sound delicious. I guess I’ll never know because they were out and I had to pick something else. The fact that I refused to budge on the ice cream truffles actually was the sticking point that caused Maureen and me to order our own desserts. And then I had to order something else. I ordered the chocolate pudding jar with whipped cream and fruit. Blueberries and strawberries to be specific, which happened to be my favorite. I am not a super huge pudding fan, but this dessert was really good. I love fresh fruit and it, combined with the whipped cream and pudding, was delicious. The pudding was rich and creamy. It looked so good that I pulled a Maureen and dove into it before taking a picture. Sorry!

Cappuccino, because it's Friday!

Lest you be concerned, I did order the cappuccino. It was illy, which is Italian for delicious.

Because Maureen’s dessert was in stock, it came out first … and with two spoons. There were lots of glares and near-pinky swears that I would share my dessert when it came out, which, of course, I readily agreed to. I mean, the odds are that she’s going to get filled up before my dessert arrives anyway, right? I’m kidding! I’m kidding! I’m happy to share, and let the record show that I kept pushing my pudding on her and, after a bite or two, she declined. I was a pudding pusher.

But Hoyyyyttt's. . .I don't wanna share!!!!

Maureen:

I have a soft spot for fruit desserts, especially when they are crisps or cobblers. I am constantly talking myself out of baking fruit pies because I know I’ll eat the whole thing in about 2 days! Anyway, just take a moment and look at this thing.

. . .

. . .

. . .

It’s in a skillet! And so much ice cream on top! The ice cream had a really strong vanilla flavor, which I really appreciated. As it melted, it got into the apple and crisp and I was hoping Carrie’s pudding would get here quickly. I love when there’s lots of crisp topping, and this definitely had that. I tried Carrie’s pudding, which was good, but a lot of dairy for me. I’m also not a huge pudding person, so it was fine.

(Carrie: Her apple crisp was really delicious. The ice cream tasted homemade and the crisp itself had hazelnuts in it. Mmmm. I would order it again.)

Final takes:

Carrie: I would go back for happy hour and stock up on appetizers and sliders. I am kind of bummed I ordered the wrong thing because everything else looked delicious.

Maureen: I would go back for pickles and dessert. And no, I’m not pregnant.

Frontera Grill: Kickin in the Frontera Seat

Lynne & Carrie

Our guest this week was Lynne Bailey.  Lynne, Maureen and I all used to work together many moons ago and have recently found a variety of reasons to hang out more often. Yay!

Lynne suggested Frontera Grill and, being fans of Rick Bayless, we agreed. (Yes, we love Top Chef Masters. It’s getting shameles at this point.)

Stealth Agua Fresca

Frontera only takes “a limited number of reservations”, so we knew we needed to get there early so we wouldn’t need to wait. Since I (Maureen) work closer to Frontera than Carrie, I got to go play the role of squatter. Carrie knew the plan, and gave me strict marching orders. I found a tiny table in the bar, ordered a delicious agua fresca (mango, lemon and mint!). . .then Lynne and Carrie arrived and we had no problem getting a table in the main dining room. So much for Stealth Maureen.

Carrie’s take:

Yeah, I was a little obnoxious with my instructions, but you have to outsmart the tourists … it’s the only way to win! I’ve never actually sat in the dining room before, so I was surprised at how easy it was to get seated. Maybe the novelty is wearing off? Nah … it’s still eight weeks out for a reservation at  Topolobampo.

We quickly agreed to order the guacamole, which we did post haste. I have to be honest, I thought the portion size was a little skimpy. I mean, the guacamole at Hub51 was huge. Huge. (P.S. I am so glad our pictures now focus almost exclusively on the food. I mean we looked like it was our birthday, except we were posing with tacos.) The guacamole itself was pretty good. Nice and creamy. But I think the kind I make at home is just as good. (Yeah, I said it!)

Weird leaves and radish. . .with guac

Maureen’s take:

I thought I had heard that the guac at Frontera is good. . .or maybe I just assumed it was because it was made by a Top Chef Master (ok, I’ll stop). Parts of it were perfectly smooth and a fresh mixture of flavors. Other parts of it were like eating a quarter of an avocado (i.e. not well blended). I had that moment of “Oh no, they didn’t calculate the chip-to-dip ratio correctly,” but the bowl was deceptively small (or those weird leaf things were thicker than I thought).  On top of the guac was this huge radish slice that we kept politely moving from one side of the bowl to the other. If I’ve learned anything from Chopped, I’ve learned not to put huge inedible garnishes on the plate, or that one judge will have a fit. I have to agree with him.

Lynne’s take:

The first thing I need to tell you is, I am definitely not a Foodie. I am happy to have a McDonald’s Chicken Snack Wrap or the Veggie Delight at Subway for dinner. When my friends invite me out to eat they NEVER let me pick the place. So, I was excited to be invited to join Maureen and Carrie at the famous Frontera Grill for their “Fancy Friday” lunch.
 
Before the spectacular chicken that I ordered (ed. note: more on that later!), we shared fresh guacamole and crispy chips. Naturally, it was wonderful.
 
Carrie’s take:

Camerones a la mexicana

 
I was torn between two things and had to ask the waitress for her recommendation. She told me to definitely go with the camarones a la mexicana. I put that in italics so you would imply the accent she used to say just those four words. I mean, the other option was a quesadilla, which she said just as quesadilla, but then she said camarones a la mexicana. Just in and out with the accent. I thought it was weird but I didn’t want to say anything because I am generally trying to be less bitchy overall but thankfully Maureen (in a very non-bitchy way, I might add) asked if we noticed. Whew! It wasn’t only me!
 
So, the camarones a la mexicana … it was grilled shrimp with fresh pico de gallo and roasted poblano peppers, served with black beans and a green salad. And the best part … homemade corn tortillas. If you have never had homemade tortillas, I assure you, you are missing out. I am fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood where if I cross the street to the south, I can get homemade corn tortillas and if I cross the street to the west, I can get homemade flour tortillas. Mmm. I felt it necessary to explain that because of what happened next.
 
Um. I totally spaced out the shrimp so I could eat all the tortillas. Let’s just say they are generous with the tortillas, which I realized after properly filling the first two. Then I spaced it out to one shrimp per tortilla, you know, to make it last. The flavor was good. Grilled shrimp is my new flavor thing (extra points if marinated in tequila first) and this did not disappoint. The salsa was fresh and served warm, which I liked. And don’t get me started on poblano peppers. I love them. They added a nice spice to the overall flavor. I always like their black beans and the green salad was a green salad. The dressing was light enough so that you could taste that there was something on it but not much else.

Taquitos de Pollo. And more of those leaves.

Maureen’s take:

 I’m usually partial to tacos, so I thought taquitos sounded delicious. To be honest, I thought it was a term that Jose Ole invented for their frozen drunk food, and that it wasn’t actually authentic Mexican food. Well, who’s the dummy now? (Me. I am.) They were served with a small salad on the side, which had this light, yet creamy dressing. I could have used the leaves cut down into smaller pieces, but it was good! The taquitos were on a bed of the guac (which was all smooth, redeeming the previous guac). The taquitos had what’s probably some sophisticated flavor or spice that I didn’t get, but man, whatever it was was throwing it off for me. The best way I can describe it is plastic-like. It pains me to say that, because Rick Bayless grows vegetables on the roof (or something. . .) and changes the menu every few weeks, so that everything you’re eating is fresh. Which is why I just think it’s my palette that’s wonky. But still. . .girl likes what she likes. . .
 
Lynne’s take:
 

Enchiladas de Mole Poblano

Before I got to the restaurant, I planned on sticking to some semblance of a diet (not the fast food one). That idea went out the window after I saw the menu. I didn’t see a plain grilled chicken breast on the list, but I did spot a chicken enchilada smothered in Bayless’ world-renowned mole. Remember, Bayless was chosen to be the chef for the White House state dinner for Mexico. Guess what he made? His signature dish of shredded chicken in mole sauce. I have sampled moles in Oaxaca, Mexico; I think this was the most complex I’ve ever tasted. I cannot determine which of the 20 spices I was ingesting; but the aftertaste of chocolate was easy to identify.

Chocolate cappuccino

Carrie’s take:

 Will she or won’t she? I know (at least one of) you are dying to know if I ordered the cappuccino. Um, yes. Because at Frontera there is something called chocolate cappuccino and, having had it at XOCO before, I know it is delicious. I think Rick Bayless personally turns the cocoa beans into chocolate each morning. (Or something. I mean, don’t quote me.)
 
Guess what? Still delicious. I usually have to add a little bit of sugar to a regular cappuccino but this one I can drink straight up without any accoutrements. True or false: I’ve walked over two miles just to get this coffee (well, and the churros) from XOCO. True.
 
I was so obsessed with the cappuccino, I almost forgot about the flan. We ordered flan to share, which was a duo of chocolate and vanilla. I love flan and this did not disappoint. It was smooth and creamy and had a nice crust on the top. I preferred the vanilla to the chocolate (I am a purist) but really did enjoy both.

Chocolate and vanilla flan

Maureen’s take:

Having had the sipping chocolate at XOCO, I knew we were in for a treat. I completely forgot just how amazing that sipping chocolate was, however. And now. . .that flavor with coffee! I really liked it, because it was a really good mix of chocolate, cinnamon, and coffee. None of the flavors overpowered the others. We were trying to decide on a dessert and the ladies liked the chocolate pecan pie, but I usually only eat pecan pie under duress. It’s just not my favorite. What I did think sounded good, however, was the flan. After eating lots of instant flan in Costa Rica, I was totally game for more, made by a Top Chef Masters-winning chef (oh crap, I said I’d stop. Sorry.) The chocolate one was good, but I kinda feel the way about chocolate flan as I do about chocolate cheesecake: save it for a drizzle on top, and let the dairy goodness shine through with other less-competing flavors. The caramel one made me want to stab the other two ladies with my spoon so I could have it all.

Mexican hot chocolate

 

Lynne’s take:

For dessert, we shared a duo of caramel flans; one was Mexican chocolate with huge raspberries and the other was authentic Mexican vanilla. Then, I topped off this gastronomic extravaganza with a Mexican hot chocolate. In case you’re not familiar, the restaurant grinds cocoa beans to order then mixes it with cinnamon and milk, and served with a froth on top.
 
Final takes
 
Maureen: I have to say that while I enjoyed the food, I wasn’t incredibly blown away. I actually enjoyed XOCO more! Also, I need to mention our server. While super nice, her accent would switch between Spanish and Midwestern with almost every phrase. I finally said something to Carrie, who said “I know! It was driving me crazy!!” Also, we’d ask a question and she’d leave halfway through. But she’d hear us and give us what we asked for, so maybe she’s just super busy and super efficient. Also, our awesome guest Lynne gave me her leftovers because she thought I didn’t get enough food (I did). The enchilada she gave me made an excellent dinner. . .and I should have ordered them. sigh.

I personally think she looks adorable.

Lynne: The food was wonderful and kind of to be expected, but the stand-up comedy duo of Carrie and Maureen was worth the price of the lunch and then some! (Ed. note: we were mostly sitting.) The sound at the restaurant is lousy so it was good that Maureen and Carrie regaled me with stories after the crowd started to thin. Funny, funny, funny. I laughed so hard I cried. Carrie took a picture of me that is probably extremely unflattering. Oh well, I guess you have to pay the price, right?

Can you see our check in her hand?

 Carrie: I didn’t even know Maureen was going to bring up the waitress! See! It was weird. Also, here is a picture of the lengthy conversation she had with the next table over after taking our credit card. It was a little stressful because we were all really ready to go (read: needed to get back to work) and they just kept talking and talking … I mean, I know they are customers too and I don’t usually mind that, but I am also very forgiving if a waitress says, “Excuse me, let me run their cards and I’ll be right back.”
 
We can’t really disclose what was discussed at Fancy Friday (thems the rules), but Lynne told the most amazing story. Just when you thought it couldn’t be outdone, it was. Then we shared a story that happened seven years ago and Lynne literally laughed for like ten minutes. It was the most satisfying reaction to a story I’ve personally ever received. It was a good, good time.
 
Okay, back to final thoughts. I enjoy Frontera. I typically get the steak tacos, which from what I remember are really delicious. I enjoyed my meal and might order it again. Probably try a different appetizer, I think. The only thing I would say is be prepared for a long wait if you go to any Rick Bayless restaurant. Oh, you know what? Forget everything I said … I’d get the mole. Lynne gave me a bite and it was amazing.
 
If you want to be a guest at a future Fancy Friday click here.

Terzo Piano: Not so Forte

Okay, this is awkward. I mean, you may have suspected but we didn’t officially address it or anything. But now it’s time … and we’ll only say it once so that you know that we know that you know.

Sigh.

Here goes …

Sometimes we Fancy Friday on days other than Friday. It’s just that sometimes schedules don’t allow, like this week, but we made a commitment … you understand. I feel much better now.

(If you want to see what Maureen actually did on Friday (although dinner, not lunch), check out her guest post on her friend Ilana’s Ice Cream blog. Ok, back to the show. . .)

The view from my seat.

So we ended up at Terzo Piano, which is the Tony Mantuano restaurant located on the third floor of the Modern Wing of the Art Institute. You may recognize Tony Mantuano from Top Chef Masters. I know we do. He owns several restaurants and I once had a client dinner at Spiaggia. It was the best meal I ever had in my life up to that point and since then. But that is a different review (hopefully someday soon). I was excited to try another one of his restaurants.

The view was incredible and they seat you so you can appreciate it. We had the option of sitting on the terrace but it was just on the hot side of warm so we sat inside. My new office is in the blue building on the left, the Borg-Warner building. Just a little fun fact for you.

Maureen's view

Maureen:

Doesn’t Borg-Warner sound like some Star Trek alien villain race is headquartered there? Just saying. . . be careful who you talk to in the elevator, Carrie! Anyway, the view was amazing! The space was a stark white, which helped the view stand out even more. I’ve never eaten this chef’s food before.  . .because I’m not Oprah or an Obama (eating at Spaggia might require us to get a sponsor for this blog. . .), so I had no expectations going in.

Mmm ... focaccia.

Carrie:

For starters there were two kinds of focaccia served with olive oil. One had a cheese melted on top and the other was more herby in nature. Both were delicious, though I preferred the cheesy one. It was fluffy and top was crunchy. Mmmm. And I will say this for the olive oil – it was so good it made me want to go to that expensive olive oil store in the Nordstrom mall on Michigan Avenue and go crazy. (Note from Maureen: I think it closed. boo.) There is such a thing as a quality difference!

Piatto Unico

Maureen and I ordered the same thing; something called Piatto Unico, which is three courses served on one plate for the comparatively reasonable price of $20. The Piatto Unico included today’s soup, a toasted sandwich with roast turkey, cremcotto ham, grilled frisee and mozzarella, Aleppo pepper spiced potato crisps and a cocoa nib brownie. The soup of the day was a pureed broccoli and cheddar cheese soup, served chilled. Please, no substitutions.

Okay. Well. I mean. I don’t know … I love Tony Mantuano. Love him.

<deep breath>

The soup had a nice flavor, but it really threw me off that it was chilled. This was told to us in advance (even though I don’t think Maureen heard that part) and I thought, “What the hey?” I mean, that chilled strawberry soup was amazing, so let’s give it a whirl. (No, I haven’t made the strawberry soup yet …) I forced myself to finish it, to be honest. It would have been so much better warm! It really would have!

The sandwich had turkey chunks and fancy ham. I need to be up front about the fact that I don’t like turkey. I just don’t. I know, I know, I’ve heard it all before and, yes, I am usually still hungry after Thanksgiving meal. The sandwich was okay. The fancy ham was nice and I like anything toasted. It just wasn’t amazing, I guess. I mean, we ate there yesterday and I can’t really remember anything about it. Whereas I still drool when I think of Shaw’s buffalo shrimp and that was months ago. Oh, I think I didn’t mind the turkey, which really is more of a compliment than it sounds.

Let me address the potato chips. If they sold these chips in a bag in that store in the lobby of my work building, I would have to add a line item to my monthly budget for them. I already spend $50 a month on blueberries alone, so why not chips? It would be so worth it, without the benefit of the antioxidants and vitamin C and whatnot. Hands down, the best thing on the plate.

The cocoa nib brownie was good but not spectacular. Maybe add a little gelato and serve it warm and I might feel differently. I don’t think it’s fair to judge a pastry chef on a brownie, though. Perhaps Gail Simmons would disagree.

Maureen:

Chilled soup: Somehow I missed that it was chilled when our server described it. I had a few spoonfuls and I stopped. It just wasn’t good. And I love broccoli. I agree with Carrie, most often, heat is a soup’s best friend. Otherwise you’re riding a fine line between soup and cold baby food.

Sandwich: I forgot what was in it by the time it came. The turkey looked kinda like pork (I think it was dark meat). It was fine, but tasted like museum food (you totally know what I mean).

Chips: They were pretty good. . .I wasn’t as over-the-moon about them as Carrie. They tasted how a museum smells (which is apparently like Aleppo pepper. . .who knew?)

Brownie: Tasty, and the cocoa nibs added a nice spicy flavor. It was a very gooey brownie, but didn’t have that overwhelming butter flavor that you get when someone is trying to make a moist brownie.

Final take

Carrie: I think the whole time I had food envy. We were seated kind of by the kitchen and I kept craning my neck to see what was brought out. It got to the point where one of the (very nice) waiters would hold the dishes out towards me so I could see them. Hum. I will also say that the menu is very fancy and very limited, so picky eaters beware! I really want to try one of the desserts because it has salted caramel and, well, that’s just delicious. Can you tell I am avoiding answering the question directly? I’d give it another chance out of my love for Tony Mantuano but my initial impression was just okay. The setting and location is impressive but the food left a little to be desired.

Maureen:

I left being kind of angry that I paid $20 for that. And for the amount of food, it was a good deal! I  just felt like the meal was kind of half-assed. Fancy ingredients, but wholly unsatisfying from both a flavor and fullness perspective (although maybe I would have been more full had I finished the soup). Maybe something else there is better? It just felt like a fancy tourist trap to me. . .it’s a super awesome space in one of the best museums in the world, and you want to feel like you’re eating amazing food, but it wasn’t. It just wasn’t.