A week of indulgence. The only way to describe the lavish, islandy, brewy, tasty, and then earthy and rustic dining and sipping experiences I had in Chicago this week. The week actually began Wednesday, but I’ll start with Thursday since I like the photo above the best. When my fellow blogger friend and kindred southern spirit, Brandy, invited me to dine compliments of Jellyfish (thank you, Jellyfish!), a chic pan-Asian cocktail bar and culinary wonder located across from Gibson on Rush in the Gold Coast, I was in without hesitation. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect other than the mouth-watering menu I took a peek at before visiting, but I was completely impressed.
Granted, it’s not every day a chef like the wildly creative, generous, and skilled Chef Jason Im chooses the menu, stepping out of the kitchen to deliver dishes himself tableside, but it’s an experience I’ll never forget. We started with well-balanced and memorable cocktails. Mine, The Corsage, was light, floral from the orange blossom mist and lavender bitters mist, and not too sweet. Brandy’s Lyons Mane with Partida Blanco Tequila, thai chiles, lime, Solerno blood orange, and lemongrass was also light with refreshing citrus notes and a bit of heat.
We started working our way down the extensive and unique menu with the seafood ceviche, light and bright summer bites with a nice earthy crunch of the taro root atop each dish.
We tried two sushi rolls, both complex, yet refined, with fish that was fresh and seemingly pure, and impeccably plated. I didn’t use soy sauce and was satisfied by the flavor wrapped into and on top of each bite of the rolls.
Between dishes, Brandy tasted this vibrant and brilliant beet-based cocktail, with beet ribbons garnishing the glass. The flavor had an earthy and subtly sweet essence, and the root-y concoction was somehow comforting.
We ended on two very sweet notes, one rich, and one creamy and fruity with a crunch. I love the caramelized banana bites kicking up the exotic factor of this decadent chocolate dessert.
Rewind a day to Wednesday evening, when I was at Bub City for a Texas McCombs alumni event (of course at a country bar). It happened to be the same night that the new tiki bar, Three Dots and a Dash, opened underneath the laid back and also themed spot. So, two Texas-Exes (Texas alumni) and I wanted to pop in for a moment to take a look around. When I asked the hostess at Bub City how to get downstairs, she secretively showed me a note that read, “Down the alley…”. And that’s the way you enter a very Caribbean, animated underground tiki bar in an urban metrocenter. And if you’re wondering why it’s called Three Dots and a Dash, I was told it’s Morse Code for ‘victory’, which was used during war times, but my research revealed it might mean S-O-S, a distress signal. Maybe it’s drinks will save you from distress? (I’ll get back to you on this.)
Here’s a glimpse of the very tropical ambiance, from the totem poles, to the coconut-shaped drinking cups, to the staff’s apparel.
The next weekend highlight was Takito Kitchen, another taco spot, this time in Wicker Park! I loved Takito Kitchen! The menu is inventive, flavorful, concise (easy to order), and accompanied by sharp cocktails. It’s modern, with redfish tacos encased in hibiscus tortillas that are not only made in-house, but made to order. I come from taco country in Texas and have never had a hibiscus tortilla – loved it!
The avocado pine-nut puree is a perfect way to start a meal (a new, creamier, lighter take on dense guacamole) accompanied by the crumbly but addictively tasty crackers, as well as the salsa trio, including one with tomatillos, pistachios, and serranos-almost like a spicy pesto. More, please! Another starter dipper, my favorite bc of the kick, was the tomato, hibiscus, and ghost pepper salsa. I forgot to snap photos of all the tacos because we gobbled them up but we also cut them in half so everyone could taste the variety we ordered. Can’t forget my Caliente Margarita – the only place I’ve found a spicy Margarita in Chicago so far – and it was spot on!
The next day, a coworker was celebrating his birthday with the very reasonable and oh-so-fun $10 brewery tour at Chicago craft brewery, Half Acre Beer Company in North Center, off the Montrose brown line stop. I took the opportunity to visit a local craft-brewery, and I’m so glad I did, despite the early wake-up on a Saturday since you have to wait in line starting at 10/10:15am for an 11am tour start.
The tour comes with a pint glass that is now happy in my kitchen. It also housed beer tastings throughout the tour of the modestly-sized production facility, adjacent to a retail store and tasting room (if you want to bypass the fact-loaded tour).
The Daisy Cutter is Half Acre’s most well-known beer, described as a California pale ale, the Summer Rules No Rules pale ale was a bit too hoppy for me, and I was a fan of the lighter and citrus-y Sky Devil Saison.
I was fascinated to learn that Half Acre is celebrating their sixth year, and they chose to be located in a neighborhood so the locals could visit the tasting room or retail store to get to know their beers and brand. It’s amazing how all of their beer is made and bottled in a one-room warehouse! I also learned that Half Acre prefers cans to bottles because they are lighter, easier to move and handle, less expensive, and aluminum cans now all have a required food-grade lining so the beer never touches the aluminum.
The last delicious and simply delightful dining experience of this epic week was at Restaurant Beatrix, the newest Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group dining destination that secretly popped up in River North recently. I dined with two new friends, and we loved our experience. The service was attentive and so friendly. The friendliness even overflowed into the other patrons as we made friends with the table next to us while eye-ing what they ordered as their food arrived before ours. Before leaving, we already had menu items picked out for our next visit. The music was current, lighthearted, and not a distraction (unlike many restaurants in the area). The open and very clean kitchen, low lighting, and natural wood furnishing and lining the open space with mid-century modern style chairs and decor, made for a very relaxing and pleasurable dinner setting.
The concept seems to be healthy and refined comfort food that’s also modern and unsuspecting. Beatrix makes fresh juices that you can add your alcoholic preference to for a flavorful cocktail, or drink on their own. My heaping fresh salad was simple and simply delicious with blueberries, grana padano cheese, light lemon vinaigrette, and very tasty and simple roasted herb chicken mountaining over three types of grains, including quinoa.
We even got to meet the sous-chef and taste the flourless chocolate cake, thanks to our friendly table neighbors, who didn’t finish it. (Who doesn’t finish such a treat?!) It was so decadent and pure-fect. Pure and a perfect way to end our relaxing dinner.
I’ll leave you with one last sweet tid-bit from Restaurant Beatrix and a truly delicious week, the name comes from the founder of the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group, Rich Melman’s grandmother (I think grandmother), who he called Bea. Also, Beatrix means voyager, and the restaurant is adjacent to the new Hyatt Place River North hotel, so the restaurant and coffee bar serve as a resting and replenishing place for travelers passing through (as well as locals, obviously!).
After all that, how did I end the week? I had a salad and broccoli for dinner.