Siena Tavern – A Hot Spot with Good Food!

This is definitely a hot spot in town right now, and actually has been for some time!  During happy hour the bar is packed and most nights you’ll likely need a reservation to get a table.  I’ve been several times and while I’ve read some less than stellar reviews, I have not been disappointed by anything I’ve tried, though some things are certainly better than others.

The service is very good; during my second visit one of our dishes was delayed due to a kitchen issue and the manager came over to apologize; we were having a “girls” night out so had not even really noticed.  Without even being asked,  they took the charge for that dish off the bill.  I consider that to be over and above service.  In general, both the wait and bar staff is very attentive, and knows the menu, including the wine list, well.

For an unusual salad I’d recommend the Farro Salad.  The mixture of Farro, marinated calamari, shrimp and vegetables is topped with a  mustard vinaigrette.

IMG_0430They have a good selection of pasta, most with a unique twist.  If you are a mushroom lover, I’d recommend the Pasta in a Jar.  The pizzas are also good and are a nice size for sharing; my favorite so far is the Prosciutto Pear.

I think the most unusual thing on the menu is the Coccoli, which is a combination of crispy dough, Stracchino cheese, prosciutto and truffle honey.  It is absolutely delicious and melts in your mouth.  Just be forewarned, it is very rich!

A tasty side dish is the Sticky Parmesan Potatoes; they taste much more interesting than the menu makes them sound.

While the 6 plus inches of snow and ground definitely mean that patio season has quite obviously ended, they do have a decent patio, which I’ll look forward to visiting again next summer!

http://www.sienatavern.com

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Bridge House Tavern – Great Food & a Great View!

Est102Bridge House Tavern opened just over two years ago right down on the Chicago River. It has a fantastic outdoor space great for lazy summer afternoons and evenings. The indoor space is very nice and especially cozy in the wintertime. The menu includes some unique options for appetizers and entrees, including daily specials, and changes seasonally.

This is one of those places you go over and over; the food is always excellent and both the wait and bar staff are extremely customer focused. It’s the ideal place hang out with friends for an afternoon or evening and enjoy the beautiful city view!

They have some very interesting cocktails which are great for summer afternoon drinking; my two favorites are the Pink Lemonade and the St. BHT.  Cocktails come by the glass and by the carafe – the perfect option when you want to stay for a while! They also have a decent wine list, though a better selection by the bottle than by the glass.

I absolutely love popcorn, so the Bacon Jalapeno Popcorn is one of my favorite things on the menu. The spice from the jalapeno is tempered nicely by the sweet from the honey. And who doesn’t like bacon, which gives it that nice salty taste you expect from popcorn.

My other favorite is the Salmon on Toast; smoked salmon is one of those things I have a love/hate relationship with, this one I absolutely love!  The mix of honey smoked salmon, mascarpone and candied onions really almost melts in your mouth.

A couple of my other favorites include the Tavern Chips and the Wild Mushrooms. The chips are smothered in blue cheese, bacon and mushrooms; definitely not healthy but well worth the indulgence!

I could write for a very long time about how fantastic the food is at Bridge House, however that might get boring so I’ll say that honestly, I’ve been there more than a dozen times and I’ve never had anything that I didn’t like or wouldn’t order again.

IMG_0389As the weather gets warmer, boats cruising down the river pull up and dock at Bridge House, which makes for some good people watching.  On Friday and Saturday evenings, the upstairs terrace is open and provides a great spot to sit and relax on the couches. You can have drinks and a limited appetizer menu.

In the summer they also do a $29 mimosa brunch on Sundays, which can make for a very fun afternoon. The brunch menu is just as tasty and creative as the regular menu.

If you’ve not been I highly recommend stopping by to check it out, you won’t be disappointed!

http://www.bridgehousetaven.com

Derby – A Lincoln Park Beer Garden

IMG_0425I recently had my first dining experience at Derby, which used to be Charlie’s Ale House (it has been Derby since late 2011).   They have a nice secluded patio with ivy covered walls which is set back from the street.  This makes it a good place to hang out and relax on a warm summer afternoon.  The cocktail menu includes some unique options; my drink of choice was the  Afternoon Delight,  a mix of fresh brewed sweet tea, Stoli Strawberry and lemonade – I could drink these all day!!  Just be forewarned, they are stronger than they taste!

Overall the food was good, though not out of this world.  I’d go back again, probably more for the beer garden and the drinks, however two appetizers noted below really stood out and I’d be interested in trying some of the other things on the menu.

I was with a couple of friends so we sampled several different things.  Best dishes we had were Fresh Baked Bavarian Pretzels and the Sweet Corn Tamale Cakes.  We actually like both of these so much that we had a second order of each!

The pretzels were nice and warm, soft on the inside and just a little bit of crunch on the outside – exactly the way a fresh pretzel is meant to be.  The beer cheddar sauce was my favorite of the dipping sauces.

The Sweet Corn Tamale Cakes were delectable; definitely one of my favorite dishes of the summer.  In theory this is a relatively simple dish, a cornbread cake topped with avocado, pico de gallo and a slightly spicy sauce, with salsa verde for a base.  All of these combine for a light and slightly spicy bite that literally melts in your mouth!

Two of my dining companions had the Seared Tuna Salad and said it was good, but nothing special.

The Buffalo Mac & Cheese was made with Gouda, so the mac & cheese part of the dish itself was pretty mild.  That was  nicely offset by spiciness of the buffalo chicken and sharpness of the blue cheese.  I prefer a more traditional mac & cheese so this dish was not particularly to my taste but had good flavors and the rest of the group enjoyed it.

The Hummus was ordinary, a lot like something that you’d get from the grocery store, with no real unique flavors.

While they promote themselves as having Southern food, I consider it more along the lines of  upscale “bar food”.  That said, the food at Derby is far better than average bar food, however if you are looking for Southern comfort food,  I’d suggest The Southern in Bucktown as a better option.

http://www.derbychicago.com

Prasino – One of Chicago’s Best Patios!

Prasino (pronounced Pra-see-no) means green in Greek.  This Wicker Park restaurant opened in August of 2012 and has become a neighborhood favorite, as well as an attraction for foodies from around the city.

They focus on using organic, locally sourced ingredients whenever possible.  The menu is very diverse and includes everything from sushi rolls to flatbreads, and is a combination of small and large plates.

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The patio is a huge draw; Division Street is known for its wide sidewalks and all the restaurants take advantage of that – Prasino is no exception.  The beautiful patio runs the length of the restaurant is on nice days there is typically a wait to be seated.  They have a combination of tables and some nice couches, which are a fantastic spot to sit and relax if you are just having drinks or appetizers.

I live in the neighborhood and have  had the pleasure of dining at Prasino at least two dozen times.  I’ve never had anything that disappointed me, so I’ll talk about a few of my favorites in this post.

The have a small selection of maki rolls, my favorite of which is the Polar Bear.  It combines super white tuna with crab and avocado.  It’s a nice combination of flavors in a unique roll.

According to our waiter, the Lobster Stuffed Avocado is one of their signature dishes.  It is very creamy but not too rich.  It goes very nicely with many of their white wine options.

They have five taco options, including the unique combination scallop and pork belly (I have actually not tried this one).  I love the fish tacos;  they have good flavor and come with a slightly spicy salsa.  I actually prefer them without the salsa so I can more of the flavors of the other ingredients.

IMG_0402The four different flatbread options that are all very good.  My favorite is The Farm which is topped with a blend of soft cheeses and truffle honey.  It is a little bit rich but a nice mix of flavors and goes well with any of their salad options, and is also nice with the French Chardonnay they serve by the glass.

Sunday brunch is another big draw at Prasino!  The menu is unique with several very decadent choices including the Lobster Omelette with Hollandaise.

The wine list is very extensive, both by the glass and the bottle, including some unusual selections that are hard to come by on restaurant menus.  My favorite is the ZD Chardonnay, which is a very traditional oakey, buttery California Chardonnay.  According to the staff they are the only restaurant in Chicago to serve this Chardonnay by the glass.

They also have a good selection of specialty cocktails, including some unique mimosas that vary seasonally; and a nice craft beer selection.  They make their own soda which is fizzy and flavorful.  I had them add vodka to the strawberry lemonade which made a great afternoon cocktail!

It is definitely worth a trip to the west side of the city to check out Prasino!

http://www.prasino.com

Howells & Hood….A great alfresco spot on Michigan Avenue

IMG_0365This massive new restaurant in the Tribune Tower is named after the architects of the building.  I’ve been by a few times in the past month or so, and the patio is always full, even in the middle of the afternoon (granted it is usually a Friday afternoon when I’m in that area).  This time we decided to wait for a table, which only took about 10 minutes, though I have to caveat that by saying while it was a sunny day, it was only about 60 degrees at the time.  The hostess led us to a table at the very back of the patio, so I had a chance to see the entire space, which is huge.  There is an outdoor bar, and plenty of options for dining in either shade or full sun.

Overall, the food was good as was the service.  The menu is pretty varied, however definitely not the place to go if you are looking for something really healthy.  I had the BBQ Pork Sandwich, which comes with an onion ring and french fries.  Both the fries and the onion ring were great; crispy and well seasoned.  The pork was very tasty too, with what I’d consider to be just the right amount of BBQ sauce.

They have a huge selection of beer on tap, and a nice wine and cocktail list.

I think this would be a fun place for happy hour with a big group on a sunny day.  According to their website, they have a Blues brunch on Sundays, which could definitely get me to go back for a second visit!

http://www.howellsandhood.com

City Winery

IMG_0379City Winery opened the in West Loop neighborhood last summer.  This is a winery, a restaurant, a bar and a music venue all combined into one unique space.  They also have a very nice patio.

I’ve been twice since they opened and while I’m a pretty big fan of their food, I have to say I’ve been a little disappointed by the wine thus far.  I would say that their wine is average; on this visit I tried the Pinot Noir Rose.  It was a nice Rose, with good flavor, but nothing I’d tell you to run out and try right away.  My friends both had the Cabernet Franc and neither one of them particularly cared for it.

This is another good spot for sharing small plates.  They have a lot of different options including some really good flatbreads and a daily crudo.

We tried three different things on this visit – the  Crudo which was tuna with avocado moose, the Mushroom Flatbread and the Dipping Flight.  Of the three, the mushroom flatbread, a combination of seasonal mushrooms and a goat cheese béchamel,  was my favorite.

IMG_0376The tuna was also very good;  the avocado mousse gave it a nice twist and the tuna was very fresh.

We debated a little bit on the hummus – the platter comes with three different types, traditional, white bean and Muhammara.  White bean hummus is one of my favorites, and while I liked the taste of this one, the texture seemed a bit off to me.  I prefer it to be more creamy than this one.  Muhammara is a red pepper hummus that also includes walnuts and breadcrumbs.  All three of  us agreed that we liked this one the best.  It had a great flavor and nice texture.

Overall, I like City Winery and will definitely go back for another visit and a more extensive sampling of their wines.

 

http://www.citywinery.com/chicago/