I was browsing though sfgirlbybay's blog yesterday and saw a link to the NPR article that argued that macaroons were the new cupcake. I'm going to have to disagree with NPR and side with sfgirlbybay on this one. Cupcakes rule and they always will.
I'll admit, macaroons can be quite cute and make for great decorations, but they don't offer the same flavors and versatility as cupcakes do. Plus, there's nothing I love more than sweet little cupcake shops.
Chicago has its fair share of cupcake shops, but none compare to Sweet Mandy B's at Webster and Racine. I made a trip last week to Sweet Mandy B's to celebrate Fat Tuesday with a friend. What better way to celebrate th holiday, right? I opted for a dreamcicle cupcake, while she went with a banana and chocolate chip cupcake. I think my favorite Sweet Mandy B's cupcake remains to be the carrot cake cupcake or plain vanilla cupcake with chocolate icing. Yum!
Here are some photos of the new renovations at Sweet Mandy B's. It's such a sweet place to sit and talk with friends.
If cupcakes aren't your thing, Sweet Mandy B's has great cakes and sugar cookies as well!
I live in a tiny little studio and I didn't have a huge budget when it came to buying furnishings for my place. I fell in love with the verdigris loveseat from UO and was thrilled to learn that it was within my budget.
Although it's not the most comfortable, I love the look and color of this tuffed loveseat and it's something that I hope I can smuggle into my future homes as a statement piece in a low traffic room.
I've had a slighlty difficult time trying to decide what exactly I want to do with it. What kind of color scheme would it work with? What type of furniture would compliment this piece? Can I combine this loveseat with modern designs?
Does anyone have ideas of what I could do with this beautiful couch?
I've been itching to go back to Graham Elliot since I first visited this past July. I had a really great experience the last time I was there and really loved the new-American, deconstructed approach to cooking. Since July, Chef Bowles has certainly been all over the food scene with a cover on Time Out Chicago, plans for a new sandwhich shop in Chicago called Grahamwich, and the recent announcement that he would be returning to Top Chef Master 2. He also spent some time in Italy, so I was curious to see if that trip would influence his Winter menu. I couldn't withhold my cravings any longer, so on Saturday I finally made a trip back to this Chicago hot-spot.
Imagine my excitement upon walking in and seeing the master himself, Chef Bowles, standing right at the host stand. He extended a friendly greeting to both of us and already I could justify a trip to GE. We arrived early and had enough time to enjoy one of their famous drink concoctions at the bar. I had a very girly Rose Petals cocktail with Prosecco, Pinot Gris and lemon flavoring. It was quite delicious and a great starting off point for the night.
The last time I was at Graham Elliot I was with four other girls, so we had a nice sampling of several things on the menu. This time, we looked at the a la carte menu, then looked at the tasting menu, and agreed that everything on the tasting menu sounded phenomenal, so we went that route.
Here's a look at the lineup...
baby romaine / parmesan fluff / white anchovy / brioche twinkie with garlic marscapone filling
chive marshmallow / crispy pancetta / potato skin
haricot vert / blood orange / marcona almond / brown butter
I really enjoyed everything on our menu, but the only course that really stood out to me was the scallop almondine. It's so amazing how the components on their own may not taste so great (in this case, the almond and brown butter sauce), but when combined with everything it tastes wonderful. I'm a total sucker for scallops and these little guys just melted in my mouth. I really loved how the citrus from the blood oranges complemented the dish as well. The pot roast was delicious as well. It was some of the most tender meat I've ever tasted.
We also had a 2006 bottle of Hitching Post to go with our meal. This California wine was a blend of Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah. Initially, I thought it was going to taste too sweet, but then the sweetness opened up to a spiciness which was nice. It wasn't as smooth as the Pinot Noirs that I tend to gravitate towards, but I enjoyed it none the less.
Overall, I was certainly impressed with the meal and still very turned on to Graham Elliot, but I probably enjoyed my experience slightly more in the Summer. The portions on the tasting menu are somewhat small and I didn't leave as full as I would have liked. I think it also helped that in the Summer I got to experience about ten different dishes as opposed to five because I was with such a bigger group. Graham Elliot makes eating food fun and you've got to respect a Chef that takes the time to walk around and converse with his patrons.
It's been close to a month and I still have written about my experience at Montagna at the five star/five diamond Little Nell hotel in downtown Aspen.
Time to fix that...
My best friend Shannon has been working at the Montagna for about 6 months and I was thrilled to finally experience the fine dining at this Aspen hot-spot this past January. The staff at Montagna really pulled out all the stops for us during our 7-course meal.
And now, for my next trick, I will make you drool...
Chicken liver pate with whole grain mustard and house made peach preserves
Spicy Thai rock shrimp
Crab salad, topped with avacado, served over lemon panna cotta
Curried Califlower Tortellini with pulled short ribs, olives, and roasted red peppers
Chef's take on spaghetti and meatballs, which included Yukon-gold potato gnocchi, Sicilian Meatballs, fresh parmesan and a tomato basil sauce
Wagyu beef with potatoe purée and parmesan foam
Pear Tart, chocolate peanut butter cup with roasted peanut ice cream, and sorbet and gelato selection of mango and passion fruit with marinated pineapple and white coffee with cocoa nibs
My experience at Montagna was very enjoyable and it was great that Shannon's connections allowed for the chefs and sommelier to spend a lot of time with our table to explain the food and wine pairings to us. The Thai rock shrimp was my absolute favorite. Since that meal, Shannon has learned to make this dish and she has promised to send me the recipe. I can't wait to try it myself! I also really loved the flavor combination of the crab salad as well. Shannon was hoping that the chef would prepare some bacon panna cotta, but the lemon panna cotta was just as delicious. Montagna was my first experience with Wagyu beef as well, and mmm mm mmm, it was so delish and just melted in my mouth. By the time we got through the sixth course, my mouth was bursting with savory that I was dying for something sweet. I had my heart set on ice cream and was thrilled to see a selection of gelato and sorbets. We had about 5 flavors total, but unfortunately I only remember three. I was totally hogging the white coffee gelato.
No meal is complete without wine, and we sure had our fill thanks to Jonathan, the sommelier. Montagna boasts 20,000 wine bottles and has earned Montagna the Wine Spectator Grand Award. He did an excellent job at pairing our meal with four delicious wines and never left us with an empty glass. Our selections included a nice, bubbly Prosecco (that unfortunately I didn't catch the name of), Dr. Loosen Riesling, Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir, Cask Cabernet and Innocent Bystander Moscato. I really enjoyed the Pinor Noir and Moscato. The Cabernet was interesting and the fullest bodied wine I have ever had. The flavors were insane and completely exploded in my mouth. I was riding on 4 hours of sleep and it was almost too intense to drink much more than one glass that evening.
One of the highlights to the night was the wine carafes that the sommelier brought with the Pinot Noir and Cabernet. This picture doesn't quit do justice, but the carafe on the left was hand blown to feature two faces looking at each other in the center -- one black, one white. Kind of like the Michael Jackson of wine carafes. The other, was my favorite. It was blown to resemble a coiled up snake with it's head perked up (think snake charmer). The best part was that when you rotated the carafe in a circular motion it made a blowing sound, or "hiss".
I've been lucky enough to experience some really great meals over the past year and I'd like to think that my palette is getting more and more developed with each new meal or wine I try. Eating 7-course meals is certainly something that I can't do very often, but I love the experience and I have a great appreciation for chefs, sommeliers and wine makers that have devoted their lives work to this scrumptious passion.
This theme felt appropriate with Restaurant Week rolling out in Chicago tomorrow and ending on February 28th. Last year's Restaurant Week was so successful that the number of participating restaurants went from 144 to 160 and they have extended the offer from 8 days to 10. Participating restaurants offer 3-course prix-fixe lunches for $22 and/or 3 or 4-course prix-fixe dinners for $32. That's less than the cost of a single entree at some of these restaurants.
I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend and Valentine's Day!
Last night I celebrated by being treated to what easily turned out to be the greatest meal of my life. It was so delicious, that is has to described before the flavors slip away.
Let's start by taking a look at the menu...
This was a great start to the meal. It was very light and refreshing and filled with really strong flavors. I especially enjoyed the sunflower sprouts. They tasted exactly like sunflower seeds. That was the start of my new love affair with micro-greens.
Remember when I said that the chorizo stuffed dates wrapped in bacon were the greatest thing I ever put in my mouth? Well I lied. This dish takes the cake. Apparently this is one of Bonsoiree's signature dishes and I can certainly see why. It's the little guy pictured at the bottom of the menu. The dish was so unbelievably warm and savory. I couldn't get enough of it. My only disappointment was that they didn't serve about 10 of them.
This course was (appropriately enough) my third favorite dish of the night. It was amazing how much flavor can be produced by different varieties of one ingredient. They were a little slippery to grab with the metal chopsticks, but this course fit in perfectly with the others.
I've always been sort of hit or miss with duck, but this preparation was certainly a win. The duck confit was sitting in the bowl of soup and complimented the flavors very well. The ratatouille was also prepared really well and the popcorn added a nice crunch and spice to the dish.
Abalone was a new experience for me and man could you taste that smoke! It tasted like it had been smoked for 12 days as opposed to 12 hours, and I mean that in a good way. I was a little surprised by the texture. It almost reminded me of the texture of a mushroom. The menu says it was prepared with fresh cherries, but we received fresh plums with the dish. I don't know how the cherries would have tasted, but the plums were great, especially with the finger lime.
Talk about yum! I'm a total carnivore and the wagyu beef totally got the job done. I had wagyu beef for the first time a few weeks back in Aspen and loved it then, but it was a little salty for my taste. Last night was perfect. I can't quite figure out why the peruvian potatoes were so good, but that was hands down my favorite part of the meal, after the motoyaki. A forkful of wagyu beef, potatoes and the honey pesto was total perfection. The honey stood out as a very welcomed addition to the course. As much as I love savory, it's nice to have just the right amount of sweet thrown in as well. The parsnip cake helped out with that too.
Cheese has always been one of my favorite foods and the selection last night was very interesting. I wish I could remember the names, but they went way over my head. What can I say...the wine was starting to kick in! They included a peppercorn cheese, a creamy cows milk cheese, one comparable to parm and finally one made from goats milk. They were served with a currant jam that tasted just like raisins.
Finally, came dessert. The chocolate truffle and green tea milkshake were delish, but I probably could have done without the cookie. It's not that I disliked it, I'm just not a huge dessert girl and ending with a cookie just didn't seem right. It did taste a little bit better dipped in the milkshake though :)
Bonsoiree is a BYOB restaurant, so I was in charge of selecting the wines. I was quite proud of my selections!
We started with Cakebread chardonnay, a recommendation from my sister. It was such a nice wine. I don't drink much white wine, but this was a perfect balance of being not too sweet and not too dry. It tasted fresh and went well with our first few courses. This bottle cost about $40.
For our second bottle, I selected Yangarra shiraz from Australia. I had this wine over the summer at Graham Elliot and remembered really loving it back then, so I wanted to try it again. I was impressed once again! The flavors were very strong and buttery and just really hit the spot after drinking the chardonnay. The Yangarra was very reasonably priced at under $20.
So are you drooling yet? The meal was incredibly amazing and the service was great as well. I am by no means a picky eater, but can't believe I made it through 8 courses without stumbling upon one thing that I did not love. I know two people that claim Bonsoiree as their favorite restaurant in Chicago and I think I might have to add myself to that list. What a great way to celebrate the holiday!
I really need to chill out on the spending, but it is really difficult for me to go very long without getting something for myself. Lately, I've really been putting an effort into getting pieces that will last, whether it be for the closet, home, whatever. The last two weeks I've done a pretty good job at keeping the spending to a minimum. Take a look at what I bought...
I bought this sweet vase last week from aspoonfulofcharm's Etsy shop for just $5.00. I'm not quite sure where I'm going to put it, but it was too cute to pass up for such a cheap price. It reminds me of something one of my grandmothers might have had.
I'm a big fan of Jennifer Ramos' blog, Made By Girl, and i noticed today that she had new prints up at her Etsy shop. Once again, I couldn't resist, but I am thinking that this will look really great in my next apartment that exists only in my imagination :)
I felt like a total celebrity today when I did my daily check of Design*Sponge. What a joy to find that my very own surname was featured in Sanna Annukka's sneak peak. What's even more exciting is that my parents have the exact same pub mirror hanging in their basement. I might have to hold out for a bit, but that mirror has just been added to my "no brother and sister you can't have this, it is mine when mom and dad don't care anymore" list. So far that list just consists of this mirror and my mother's china. Is that a morbid thing to plan for??
The auto show rolled into Chicago this week and I was lucky enough to go yesterday with my team from work. While I'm by no means a car enthusiast, I did enjoy looking around at the different vehicles.
And leave it me to fall in love with the most insignificant part of the show...
While waiting for the launch of GM's new Diamond Edition 75th Anniversary Suburban, I absolutely fell in love with the old school Suburbans. How rad are these? (and yes, I'll own up to using the term "rad")
1935, 1941 & 1976
This might be my first car -- affordable & cute! (and presumably safe).
I feel like I need to make up for the last post and be a little bit more schmoopy than usual; especially since Valentine's Day is right around the corner. Lately, I feel like I've been coming across some really sweet proposal stories so I thought sharing some of my favorites would be a nice way to celebrate the holiday.
My Early Muir Owl
I went to a wedding two Summers ago and fell in love when the bride walked down the aisle to "Hoppipolla," so I did a quick Google search of "wedding+Sigur Rós," and stumbled upon this beautiful video...
The song in this video is "Sæglópur" by Sigur Rós. You can learn more about the proposal story here.
Will You Do Me The Honor... x2
Such a cute proposal story of the husband-to-be asking his future wife's daughter to do him the honor of being his step-daughter. Then, he proposed to his wife.
If this story doesn't make you misty-eyed than I don't know what will!
I'm a total sucker for anything black and white, so I obviously fell in love with this music video. It was created by German motion-designer Joerg Barton with no budget for a class project. I love the fluidity of the design.
It seems my mind is distracted by the snow that has been falling all day in Chicago. We've gotten between 7 and 10 inches and it doesn't seem to be letting up.
On days like today, it can be quite crucial to bundle up as much as possible, which often times leaves me looking a little like this...
While I strive for warmth, and not style, it is always exciting to find cute winter weather accessories. This season, my go-to accessory has been my knit ear warmers from Lori's Shoes. I immediately fell in love and bought them in both black and cream. I wear them everywhere!
I've been seeing these around town at Akira as well.
My other go-to Winter accessory is these rockstar gloves I got from my sister. They might not be the warmest, but they're so adorable and I can still use my iPhone. She bought them at Shopbop, but it looks like they're sold out.
Growing up, I have always loved art, and specifically, art history. I think that is a type of passion that stays with someone forever. I welcome it and I wish that I could celebrate this passion more often. My main desire is to develop a decent collection of artwork for my home some day. The trouble with that dream presently is that I live in a tiny studio, it is not a permanent home and I have a hard time affording essentials, let alone pieces of art. Bum deal. I guess that explains why I'm still recovering from the fit of jealousy I had with my sister Erin when she showed me the two pieces of artwork she received from Gallery D for her Christmas present. Erin fell in love with two of Dodson's pieces at an art festival and was thrilled to receive them as a gift. What a great present! ("Kinetic Interlude" was one of the paintings she received).
I can't decide if she was being thoughtful or rubbing it in my face a little bit more, but Erin sent me a link for Gallery D's new website yesterday and I am hooked. I really love that the collections are categorized in warm and cool colors. She opted for warm color scheme, but I've always loved the serenity of cool colors. You wouldn't know it from our personalities though -- joking!
Dodson refers to his style as "visual music" and says, “Like listening to good music, I want everyone to visually enjoy my work. Everywhere you look you see contrast and to put them into a harmonious result is my challenge.” Love that.
These are a few of my favorites, but take a look at the site for yourself...
Moonwater 2 30"x40"
Black Thistle 30"x40"
Dance Company 30"x40"
Steel Magnolias 46"x48"
Urban Examination 30x40
The Recital 30"x40"
The Dancers collection would look so cute in a little girls' bedroom.
I have now lived in the city of Chicago for 53 months and I would like to think that I've become quite familiar with this wonderful city. Lincoln Park has been my little haven since I've moved here, but over the years I have really appreciated exploring the various neighborhoods nestled in this Windy City.
There are so many wonderful places to explore in the city and I haven't even come close to seeing all that I hope to see, but here is a list of some of my top spots in Chicago...
Millennium Park is a total tourist trap, but still worth seeing. My favorite thing to do at Millennium Park is ice-skating in the winter. You get a great view of the city from the rink and it's just an overall nice way to spend a day.
If the cold isn't your thing, then I'd suggest checking out a concert at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. I saw Wilco several years back and had a total blast. Although it can be hard to see the stage, the sound at this venue is amazing. If you plan to sit in the lawn, be sure to bring some blankets and snacks and it will make will make the evening even more enjoyable.
"Cloud Gate" (or "the Bean") is also a must see element of Millennium Park and it can be enjoyed year round. The reflection of the city looks amazing and is well worth the trip.
As a Missouri girl, I love, love, love good barbecue. Smoque has more than met my criteria for good barbecue in the city. This Irving Park gem has grown quite a following and it is a rare sight to not see a line out the door. The menu at Smoque is fairly straightforward, with choices between pulled pork, brisket, chicken and ribs. Be sure to save room for some of their sides as well. The french fries are to die for and I also love their mac & cheese and peach cobbler. If you decide to dine in, expect to be elbow to elbow with total strangers. Smoque is BYOB though, so that makes the cramped experience slightly better.
I've never been to to Bonnaroo, Coachella, Austin City Limits or any other big music festivals, so I don't have much to compare it to, but Lollapalooza is always follows througha party on Chicago's front lawn.
I went to Lolla for the first time in 2005 and I've made it back every year since with the exception of last year -- which I don't want to talk about. This early August festival typically falls on the hottest weekend of the summer, but is totally worth the discomfort. The line-up boasts 130+ bands over a span of three days. Multiple stages are set-up in Chicago's Grant Park and the diversity of alternative, hip-hop, punk, dance and kids acts makes this event appealing to a wide-range of audiences. After several successful years, a deal was signed to keep Lollapalooza in Chicago through 2018.
Part of the excitement of Lollapalooza is the announcement of the acts. Lollapalooza 2010 is set for August 6-8 and headliners are expected to be announced in early March.
When people think of Chicago baseball, they tend to think of Wrigleyville. As a Cardinals' fan, I despise this area, but regardless, people tend to underestimate the charm and passion of US Cellular Field. Although the stadium is a little outside of the city on the Southside, it's just a quick ride from the loop on the red line.
The great thing about the Cell is that there is really not a bad seat in the house. Unlike their neighbors up North, the Cell has avoided excessive use of poles that can obstruct views of the game.
Once inside the stadium, be sure to check out the Beers of the World stand located in the 500 level. There are over a dozen options like Guinness or Stella Artois for $0.50 more than a Miller Lite. The Cell also boasts great options for hot dog lovers; they even have a veggie-dog for those herbivores out there!
Finally, if you're looking for a souvenir to bring home, visit the custom shirt/jersey shop early in the game and it will be ready for you to pick up at the end of the game.
It's hard to single out one nice dining spot in Avec, but the chorizo stuffed dates wrapped in bacon at Avec might single handedly be the best thing I've ever put in my mouth. This tapas-style French wine bar also boasts five-star ratings at a $$$ price tag -- not bad.
The first time I went to Avec, I was with my foodie friends and we indulged to say the least. We shared about seven dishes between three people. In addition to the dates, the salmon and black rice dish really stood out. The fish was cooked to perfection and the seasoning was just right. Of the seven courses, two of them were complimentary because we bought a round of shots for the chefs. (FYI, They also love PBR).
Avec has an impressive wine list as well and I love that you have the option of ordering mezzas. The Gramona Gewürztraminer and Francois Labet Pinot Noir were two nice wines that stood out with my meal.
I can't talk about Avec without mentioning the decor as well. The wall of green wine bottles at the back of the restaurant is to die for; I would love to have that in my home. Avec is quite small and they don't accept reservations, but the clean look and delicious food makes the wait worth it. I had a friend that went and shared a table with two gentlemen who were kind enough to share their wine and food dishes with her, so the tight spaces can have its perks.
There is nothing better than Chicago in the summer, and part of the appeal is the various neighborhood festivals around the city. The options are endless and there is something for everyone, so you have to check it out yourself.
I am sure that there are a million great salons in Chicago, but Salon U has treated me so graciously for the past four years that I have to mention it. I have been getting my hair cut, colored and highlighted by Stephani during that time span, but I would trust my locks to any one of the the stylists at Salon U. The service at Salon U is so welcoming and they always take your coat and offer a beverage (even beer and wine!)
I can speak personally from my experience with Stephani that she develops great stylist/customer relationships. She always remembers where I have left off in my adventures in dating and I love hearing about her wedding plans. On top of that, I always leave ecstatic about my new look. I've gone from dark to light to dark again and my hair feels as healthy as the first time I stepped in.
Salon U is located at Lincoln and Lill (in Lincoln Park) and offers very competitive prices. I love that they use Kerastase hair products as well.
This is Chicago and people love to drink. I thought it was only natural to include a spot for drinks in the city, but I had a hard time choosing just one.
The rooftop at Zed451 stood out immediately as a place that I really enjoyed throwing back drinks at in the summertime. The atmosphere is ambient and cozy and worth checking out.
I still have yet to visit Roof at the Wit hotel, but I hear it's a fun place with sick views of the city. Roof opened last Summer and the lines were always outrageous, so I never felt a strong desire to check it out. I work right next door to the Wit now and I have this itching to check it out once the weather improves.
If you're looking for indoor options, check out Violet Hour in Bucktown for some amazing concoctions. The bar at Nacional 27 is quite impressive as well. I went and ordered my go-to Effen black cherry and water and was in awe to see that my drink was garnished with an actual black cherry! Yummy...
No, I didn't contradict myself and my distaste for Wrigley Field. I still hate the Cubs, but I do love Wiggly Field, the dog park located just north of Sheffield, Lincoln and Wrightwood. If I had to pick my "happy place" in the city, this would be it. What's greater than spending a day watching little monsters run around and play with each other? This park is usually pretty packed with critters and I've also noticed that it works as a great first date spot for dog owners.
Confession I've never been to this bikram yoga spot in Lincoln Park. It's not from a lack of interest; it just hasn't opened up yet. The Chicago School of Hot Yoga is set to open its doors in the Spring of 2010 and I couldn't be any more anxious. I tried bikram yoga about a year ago and totally fell in love. Trouble is, it can get quite expensive and the studio was a little bit of a hike to get to. I'm dying to start it up again.
Chicago offers many options for the active and adventurous, but bikram yoga happens to be my favorite.
Just as a note, I built out this list on my flight from Denver to Chicago. While I adore each place on this list, there are surely some of my top spots that I left out. It's so hard to choose just a few! I heart this city...