Tuesday, August 28, 2012


          The first meal of my Chicago trip was the meal I almost missed because of a delayed flight. Thankfully I made it just in time for lunch at Blackbird, a James Beard award winning and one star Michelin restaurant. It was an excellent meal and a great beginning to the trip.

           I started with the cured fluke appetizer. The fish was sliced thin, wrapped around fresh vegetables, and the whole thing was sprinkled with sea salt. This was a really unique presentation, and I enjoyed the fresh clean flavors of the fish and vegetables.

          I also tasted the black cod pil pil. The cod was cured so that it produced what our server described as its own natural mayonnaise. It did taste like mayonnaise, but lighter and more natural. This was served with watermelon, tomatoes, and sun choke chips, which all complemented the fish perfectly.

           For my main course, I tried the short rib burger. This had a Korean twist with kimchee slaw, a sesame bun, and duck egg yolk. It was also topped with sharp cheddar and served medium rare. Normally I like my burgers a little more done, but I went with the house preparation and was glad that I did!

          The meal at Blackbird was an excellent, and a perfect beginning to the trip! I would love to go back and try them for dinner sometime, and hope that I get the chance next time I’m in Chicago.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Cafe Spiaggia

          I tried Cafe Spiaggia for lunch during my recent trip to Chicago. It was a great experience; both the food and atmosphere were spectacular. Trying to sample as many things as possible and eat reasonably healthy, we decided to share several of the appetizers and small plates.

          We started with salmon tartare, which ended up being my favorite course. This seemed like an Italian take on lox; it came on toasted crostini with creamy house made ricotta, cucumbers, and large chunks of diced raw salmon.

          We also tried the tuna tartare, which was delicious. The tuna came with fresh chickpeas, olives, shallots, capers, and basil. It was also served with crispy crackers to scoop up everything, but I liked the tuna so much I just ate it plain.

          Next was the rucola salad with arugula, shiro plums, goat cheese, and a balsamic dressing. Everything was incredibly fresh, and the plums were unlike any I’ve had with a consistency and flavor more similar to a peach.

          The final course was the brodetto. This was the largest of the dishes we ordered, and although it was an appetizer it could have easily been a light entrée. This was similar to a bouillabaisse, with a tomato broth full of baby clams, halibut, and ruby trout. This also came with grilled crostini for dipping.

          On our way out, we wandered into the main dining room which is only open for dinner. The view there was even more impressive, and the menu looked amazing. Spiaggia is definitely the top of my list for dinner spots my next trip to Chicago!

Sunday, August 26, 2012


          I recently took a trip to Chicago, where a friend and I planned our own Michelin tour with the goal of trying as many starred restaurants as possible in three days. Takashi was one of the restaurants we chose for dinner and ended up being one of our favorites. We ordered the Chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings, and truly enjoyed everything we tried. Throughout the meal we commented several times that the course we had just tried was our favorite, and then the next course proved us wrong.

          We started with an amuse of tofu in a slightly spicy sesame sauce with fresh soybeans on the side. This was served cold, it was light and a perfect beginning to our meal.

          Next was the crudo of baby octopus and scallop – octopus wrapped in scallop and prosciutto, served with cucumber, seaweed salad, broccolini, and eggplant. Eating the seafood in combination with each of the different accompaniments made each bite a new experience. Although they all worked well, my favorite was the eggplant which completely melted in your mouth.

          Our next course was the Wagyu beef tataki. This came with soy sauce on the side, cabbage, jalapeños, pickled red onion, and toasted garlic. The beef was served mostly raw, and just slightly seared on the outside. I loved the flavor of the toasted garlic with the beef and tried to make sure I got a little bit in every bite.

          The next dish was one of my two favorite savory courses of the night: sautéed scallops with soba gnocchi and celery root Parmesan foam. The scallops were delicious and fresh, the gnocchi light and fluffy, and all of the flavors worked well together.

          The soy ginger caramel pork belly was the other of my two favorites. The pork belly was some of the best I had, and it came with buns and greens to create mini sandwiches.

          Our final savory course was the roasted Indiana duck breast. This was seared perfectly and served with a duck rillettes roll (a mini spring roll) baby turnips, and green bean salad.

          Dessert was the egg, an actual eggshell filled with milk chocolate crème brulee and caramel foam. This was amazing; the crème brulee was light and airy and had a consistency more like mousse. It came with a strawberry macaroon on the side, which was the best macaroon I’ve ever had.

          Although we were seated at the other end of the restaurant, I thought I spotted Chef Takashi (who I of course recognized from Top Chef Masters) working in the kitchen and not so subtlety tried to get a better look and a picture. When he saw, he graciously came over and not only talked to us about the menu but posed for a picture with me. Although the food was the highlight of the experience, this was definitely a close second!

Thursday, August 23, 2012


          I rarely re-review a restaurant, but a place I’ve been 125 times is certainly worthy of a second review! Whenever I’m asked my all time favorite restaurant, I always recommend Tomasso Trattoria in Southborough. It’s slightly more than a half hour drive west of Boston, a drive I’ve made many times since moving to Boston. With all of the great places within walking distance it’s tough to get me to go anywhere that even requires a ride on the t, but I happily make the trip for Tomasso.

          Tomasso’s ever changing menu features local seasonal ingredients, prepared and served in traditional northern Italian style. My first review of Tomasso was not about a specific meal, but rather a general overview after many meals, wine tastings, and events (you can read more here) This review will focus specifically on the meal I had on my 125th visit.

          I went with a friend and we each decided to try the three course prezzo fiso menu for $35. We both ordered the same primi course, but decided on different pasta and main courses so we could try as many dishes as possible. We asked our server to recommend wine pairings with each course, which went perfectly with the food as always.

          As a special treat for my 125th visit, they brought over a salad of fresh tomato and creamy burrata. It was unbelievably fresh and flavorful, and they were complemented perfectly by the balsamic and fresh basil.

          The first course was a crostino of tomato, basil, and local ricotta. I thought about changing my order when I saw the special appetizer they were bringing out, but the tomatoes were so good I was glad to have two dishes that featured them.

          For our second courses we tried the risotto and casarecci pasta. The risotto was surprisingly the lighter of the two dishes, and the zucchini was definitely the best I’ve ever had. The casarecci was also delicious, both the pasta and sauce were fresh made from scratch, and the sauce was just slightly spicy.

         By the time our main courses came we were close to full, but that didn’t stop us from nearly cleaning our plates! The chicken had been brined so the inside was incredibly juicy while the skin was brown and crisp. The brine gave the chicken a little bit of a salty flavor that was balanced well by the bitterness of the mustard greens. The swordfish had a bit of a Mediterranean flair, and I loved the flavors of the fresh corn and tomatoes.

          Thanks Tomasso for another amazing meal! I can’t wait to come back for my 126th meal, and I’m already trying to plan my next visit!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Longman and Eagle

         I strategically planned my trip to Chicago so that I could hit as many Michelin starred restaurants as possible. This meant that if a place served brunch or lunch, I was most likely doing that rather than dinner. In my research I found three Michelin restaurants serving brunch, and as soon as I looked at the menu for Longman and Eagle I knew I had to go. The southern style classics looked amazing, and I spent the next day obsessing over whether I would try the chicken and waffles or biscuits and gravy.

          When we arrived by cab, I was surprised at how small and non-descript the place seemed. The reviews had described it as a hipster restaurant, but I wasn’t expecting the tiny dining room, jukebox, and extensive bourbon and craft beer selection. We also learned that they rent a few rooms above the restaurant to overnight solo travelers.

          Our server Jane came over and was extremely friendly; she offered recommendations and explained that they use local seasonal ingredients whenever possible. I told her the purpose of the trip, my dilemma on what to order, and even though they don’t normally do half orders of the biscuits and gravy she convinced the kitchen to make one for me so I could try that and the chicken and waffles. I was glad she did, because both were the best I’ve ever had!

         We started with an amuse of plum bread while we waited for our entrees. It was delicious – light, moist, and sweet.

         When the main courses came out, I tried the biscuits and gravy first. These were amazing; the gravy was thick, creamy, and a little spicy and went perfectly with the hearty biscuits. I almost devoured the entire plate within seconds, but forced myself to stop so I’d have room for the chicken.

         I was equally impressed by the chicken and waffles. The chicken was the most tender I’ve had, and the batter light and flaky. It was served with a thick waffle, topped with pork belly and sweet potato hash. The pork belly melted in your mouth and I had trouble not picking out the pieces out and eating it on its own. The chicken didn’t have a ton of seasoning, it was obviously meant to be eaten with the waffle and syrup but I enjoyed each of the components so much I ate them separately so I could completely enjoy each.

         I didn’t finish my meal, but I was impressed with how close I came and completely stuffed! When our server brought over a fresh donut to take on the plane I was tempted to try it right there but just couldn’t do it. It didn’t make it to the plane, we ate it a few hours later as snack and agreed it was one of the best donuts we’ve had. It was filled with homemade peach jam and topped with a cardamom and ginger sugar.

          Everything from the food to the service at Longman and Eagle completely blew me away. I will definitely try them for dinner my next trip to Chicago, and although I don’t repeat restaurant meals on vacation as a general rule this might become a regular Chicago spot for breakfast!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Charlie Trotter's

          When I heard Charlie Trotter’s was closing, I planned a trip to Chicago specifically to try it before I lost my chance. I booked my reservation not knowing it was the day before the official 25th anniversary. Between that and the closing a week later, the place was buzzing. The tiny bar in the lobby was full of people, and although it seemed like more of a service bar, they were serving glasses of wine while folks waited for a table (even with a reservation we were told they were running slightly behind).

          I was glad we were seated in the upstairs dining room, it seemed more quiet, and cozy. We chatted with some other diners who were from Chicago but hadn’t been in years and also wanted go before the closing.

          We were given the choice of two tasting menus, the vegetable or grand tasting. We both opted for the grand, although I was tempted to order the vegetarian to see everything they were offering for the night. I also opted for the wine pairings, but had to stop about half way through. The pours were generous, definitely not too much for most and not even too much for me any night, but I was tired and wanted to make sure I didn’t get too sleepy to enjoy my meal.

          The service overall was fantastic, but I got the impression it would have been even better had they not been so busy. When I was cold, they brought me a pashmina scarf but forgot my friend’s request for a lighter, no dairy dessert (although in the end she really enjoyed what came on the menu and I suspect was secretly glad).

           We started with the faroe island salmon roe with roasted salisfy, preserved shallots, and kumomoto oyster. This was a warm broth served with a single kumoto oyster, which was juicy and delicious. It sort of reminded me of Thomas Keller’s oysters and pearls, but it was definitely a unique and creative dish.

          Our second course was the Hamachi with squid ink, green tomato juice, kalamata olives, and avocado sorbet. This was the first time I’ve had Hamachi prepared any way other than sushi. It was rare, and delicious. I loved the flavor of the avocado sorbet and learned that I prefer the fish slight cooked. The combination of different textures in this dish was really outstanding, and we noticed the theme throughout the rest of the meal.

          The third course was a halibut with braised beef cheek, chicken liver purée, chanterelle mushrooms, and apple and onion profiteroles. I loved the combination of all of the flavors in this dish, the halibut was light and buttery, the beef and chicken liver added a salty component, and the apple and onion profiteroles gave it a hint of sweetness. This was another interesting and incredibly well executed combination of many flavors and textures.

          Fourth was the Muscovy duck with smoked coconut, spring onion, and Venezeulan chocolate. This also came with bits of duck confit and the combination of the confit with the sliced breast was fantastic.

          The fifth and final savory course was a lamb shank with curried sunchoke and New Zealand spinach. This also came with a slice of medium rare antelope. I’d never tried antelope before, and this was surprisingly not gamey and reminded me of lamb or venison.

          The first of the sweet courses was a little bit of a palette cleanser, a raspberry sorbet with lemon verbena cream and Chambord curd tart. This was similar to strawberry shortcake; the tart was dense like cake but the dessert overall was very light and flavorful.

          Next was the brown butter corn bread with Michigan cherries and corn gelato. The cornbread itself was light, not very sweet, and intentionally dry. When eaten in combination with the gelato it had the perfect amount of moisture and sweetness that you get with really good cornbread.

          The final course of the evening was the triple criollo Riviera cake with lemon balm puree and strawberry tonka bean sorbet. This was a dark chocolate cake that had more of a consistency like thick mousse or ganache. The chocolate itself was not sweet; it was eating it in combination with the strawberries and sorbet that gave it the sweetness. The strawberries were some of the best I’ve ever had, they were fresh and juicy, and the perfect ending to an amazing meal.

          After dinner, we toured the kitchen, which made an already incredible experience even better. We saw the chef’s table, several of the dishes we had just enjoyed being prepared, and caught a few glimpses of options from the vegetarian tasting we hadn’t tried. It was also the first time in a restaurant kitchen where we were not only allowed but encouraged to take pictures.

          I have mixed feelings about my experience at Charlie Trotter’s. I truly enjoyed the meal and experience, but I’m disappointed I won’t be able to go back. The staff did hint that he would be moving on to other new and exciting projects; I hope it’s the case and would love to try anywhere new that Chef Trotter opens!