Friday, April 18, 2014

Devon Seafood Grill or Buffet Buddies

The Slow and Savory Review

With the two biggest brunching holidays of the year fast approaching (Easter and Mother's Day), Brandy has been inundated lately with questions about her recommendations.  "We want to go somewhere with top quality ingredients, but without the prices to match."  "Is it better to go with a bigger group and just share a bunch of dishes?"  "Buffet or a la carte?"  "Sweet or savory?"  "Cocktail bar or juice bar?"  It has been an endless stream of inquiries for weeks.  Though Brandy can't deny that she enjoys being looked upon as an expert in the subject ("I have credibility in very few areas of my life, but its nice to be recognized for an expertise in side potatoes and fruit cups," she has been known to say), she does find the indecisiveness of her admirers a bit triffling.  "People just need to relax," she says, "The easiest way to pick a restaurant for brunch is to simply look at the menu on the web site and see if anything is appealing, then call to make a reservation.  You're asking to be sorely disappointed if you show up somewhere you've never been before with every second cousin you have and expect to be seated right away on Easter morning."  The one thing she will advise, however, is that when dining with large groups, Brandy does prefer a buffet.  "There's always something for everyone at a buffet," she says, "Classics and signature dishes, hot and cold, sweet and savory... a good buffet will anticipate the desires of the vast majority of its clientele and provide as such.  And on holidays, it makes things a little smoother and quicker for everyone, especially those whose tummies have been grumbling all throughout church services."

It came to Brandy's attention that Devon Seafood Grill in the heart of the Gold Coast had recently launched a brunch buffet of their own, and in the name of research, a few weeks ago she decided to bring along one of her most treasured companions, Babka (world famous Polish super model) to test the waters for all her curious readers.  The pair first entered what looked to be an empty, yet sunny bar area and were quickly escorted downstairs to a wider, more cozy dining area adjacent to the kitchen and a short walk from the buffet itself.  Though it was a little dim in the dining area ("It's fine for me.  Sunlight does horrible things to my skin," Babka drawled as she removed her $400 sunglasses), Brandy felt it was nicely decorated without being too flashy.


Quickly, a server came over to introduce himself and offered to take their drink orders.  The selection of teas, coffees, and cocktails was pretty tantalizing to say the least, so Brandy decided to go with a coffee cocktail called The Butternut, which combined Frangelico, butterscotch liquor, and brandy (the liquor, not the person).  Babka chose the Bellini, which was made in a pretty traditional manor with peach schnapps and prosecco.


The buffet itself had a great mix of old favorites and signature dishes, all with a good splash of some of the best seafood in Chicago.  On the sweet side, there was beautiful scones and muffins, as well as made to order mini waffles with a selection of spreads and syrups.  The cold items consisted of some fresh and easy salads, like a nicely dressed Caprese and a savory Greek pasta.  On the hot table, there was some very hearty biscuits and gravy alongside staples like eggs, bacon, and sausage, as well as beautiful fresh crab meat stuffed mushrooms, a creamy chicken picatta, almond crusted tilapia, and Brandy's favorite dish of the day, lobster mac and cheese.  On the higher end side there was the premier hot bar with a custom omelet station, fresh carved prime rib, and some absolutely succulent king crab legs with drawn butter.
 

Devon’s seafood was also on full display (literally) with a cold bar showcasing freshly shucked oysters, sushi, shrimp cocktail, and some of the most beautiful sliced fish anyone is likely to see on offer anywhere.  Smoked trout and salmon, seared Ahi tuna, and peppered mackerel were just a few of the fresh and luscious looking seafood selections, all accompanied by gourmet condiments like capers, pickled ginger, spicy mustard, and seaweed salad, all made freshly in house.  "I simply adore high quality fish like this," Babka said as enthusiastically as she could (her managers had requested she refrain from moving her face too much to avoid marring her flawless skin).

Lastly was Brandy's favorite part of any brunch buffet, the dessert table.  Smartly, the chef had decided to go with lots of small, flavorful bites, knowing that diners would already be pretty much stuffed by the time they got to the end of their meals.  Served in sweet little mugs were some rich and creamy treats like orange scented and chocolate panna cotta, which went perfectly with the selection of gem like little cookies.  The chocolate truffle cake and moist carrot cake were there as well for those smart enough to save some room (like Brandy), and for those looking for a lighter bite (like Babka), there was the beautiful, but intense key lime tarts as well as juicy chocolate covered strawberries.

Devon Seafood Grill is now offering brunch every Sunday, including Easter Sunday April 20th, from 10:00-3:00 with a very reasonable price tag of $45 a person (not including cocktails) or $16 for children 12 and under, which seemed to give Brandy an idea.  "Babka, dear, you know some talented makeup artists, don't you?" Brandy asked her friend.  "Yes, of course," Babka responded.  "I've been hearing about all these so called 'Ewe Tibers' and what not who can do anything with makeup," Brandy asked, "Could one of them make me up to look like I'm under 12?"  Babka, throwing care to the wind and allowing her face to crack into laughter, responded, "Brandy dear, my friends are makeup artists, not miracle workers!"

The writers of this blog were invited by the restaurant to dine free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

The Short and Sweet Review


Devon Seafood Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 11, 2014

Koi or Dim Sum More, Please!

The Slow and Savory


It's funny how ritualized people get about their weekends.  "I have to have a drink after work on Fridays," some say, while others proclaim, "I can't get out of bed until at least 10:00 on Saturdays or else the whole weekend feels off."  Obviously, Brandy's routine must include a brunch of some sort, which is perhaps why she has forgotten over the years that so many others worship at a different alter every Sunday morning (that is to say, actually worshipping at an actual alter).  She was reminded of this fact by a new friend she met recently in the grocery store (they were both reaching for the last bag of chestnuts), who goes by the name of Bernais Bamboo.  Ms. Bamboo, it seems, is a Sunday school teacher at a local Unitarian church, where she cheerfully struggles through teaching the core moral lessons of every religion to her little flock of angels, which Brandy quickly found out after asking her to brunch.  "Oh, Sundays are a sacred day for me," she responded, "That's my time to mold the little ones into law abiding and kind citizens of the world."  "Yes, yes.  What about a Saturday then?  I suppose it wouldn't be a tragedy to brunch on a Saturday," Brandy sighed, which Bernais seemed agreeable to.

Brandy chose to take Bernais to Koi in Evanston for a new kind of brunch experience.  "They just started a dim sum style service here," Brandy explained, "Dim sum is a tradition in China and other Asian countries where families will stay at a restaurant for several hours, even all day in some cases, snacking on a variety of small dumplings and other dishes that are brought around on carts."  "How lovely!" Bernais exclaimed.  The inside of Koi was open and sunny with a soothing water wall off to one side as well as a cozy fireplace.  Those combined with some of the metal and wood accents gave the place a very balanced, peaceful sort of feeling.  A smiling waitress swept in right away to offer them some cocktails (a mimosa for Brandy and a Bloody Mary for Bernais) as well as pots of artisan tea (chamomile for Brandy and jasmine for Bernais).

Then came the onslaught of offerings.  Brandy and Bernais had been provided with helpful picture guided menus on their tables, but with over 60 options, it was hard to take everything in before servers began appearing with trays and carts full of beautiful little plates.  Trying to keep up as numbers were rattled off (the servers would point at each dish and say something like, "I have #10, #16, #47, #48, and #49 here."), Brandy and Bersain selected round after round of extraordinary one or two bite delights.

Several things quickly jumped out as favorites among the bunch.  First, there was the BBQ Pork Shou, a sort of baked hand pie, almost like what the English refer to as Cornish pasties, which had a transcendent, buttery, flakey crust, and a very sweet, almost dessert like filling of tender barbecued pork.  Similarly, there was the BBQ Pork Bao, a steamed dumpling with a soft, bread like exterior.  The Mango Shrimp Toast provided a lovely contrast in textures with its supple, melt away base of fried mango, and its topping of minced and spiced shrimp.  The Edamame Dumpling, which was another steamed offering with a thin rice paper wrapper and a smooth bright green filling, made for a very nice sort of pallet cleansing interlude between richer bites.  "It's so adorable!" Bernais squealed, referring to the edamame dumpling in her hand, "I just want to make a little face on it out of sesame seeds!"  Brandy also really liked the Fried Tofu Skin, which had a more interesting crispness to it than the other fried options, with a clean and crisp mixed vegetable filling.

The dishes seemed to alternate between the extremely flavorful, and those that were a little more simple.  The Crystal Dumplings and the Shrimp Dumplings, both of which were steamed bites in rice paper wrappings, were a little bland without much spice or seasoning to them, as were the Shrimp Balls, a fried dish, which at least had the benefit of being interesting texturally.  The table had been provided with a small helping of both chili oil and plum sauce, which did help to jazz up some of the less exciting offerings, but Brandy soon wished for a few more sauces to experiment with.  "A little spicey mustard or sweet and sour sauce might have helped to break things up a bit," she remarked.  The Beef Short Rib also proved to be one of the least favorites, if only because the flavorful and tender meat got lost in a bowl of mostly broth, bones, and fat.

There were also several sweet options mixed in with the savory bites, which Brandy appreciated immensely.  The Egg Tart, a simple custard in a neat little crust, was perhaps a little less sweet than imagined, reminding Brandy less of a creme brulee (as their server described it) and more of a particularly creamy quiche.  The Sugar Cane Cake was a interesting experience in texture, as it had a very pleasing gelatinous and chewy mouthfeel,  even if the flavor was just a very subtle sweetness.  The absolute favorite for both Brandy and Bernais was the Coconut Bun, which almost resembled a pretzel, but was actually an unbelievably soft and pillowy steamed bread filled with the most luxurious coconut custard and topped with sesame seeds.  "Oh my stars!" Bernais moaned after taking her first bite of the confection, "If there is anything to prove the existence of God, this might be it.  I need to take a box of these to my Sunday school kids!"

Brandy very much enjoyed her dim sum experience at Koi and could have happily stayed the entire day in order to try all 60 dishes on the menu if Bernais hadn't had to get home and plan her lesson for the following day.  "But I am very glad to have done something a little out of my weekend routine!" she said cheerily, "In fact, I'd love to make dim sum part of my weekend routine from now on, if you'd like to join me."  "Sadly, I cannot," Brandy sighed, "For I am held to another ritual, that of journeying forth, forever in search of the brunch-time adventures Chicago has in store."  "Ok then," Bernais chirped, "Then I guess I won't have to share that coconut bun the next time I come here!"

The writers of this blog were invited by the restaurant to dine free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

The Short and Sweet Review
Koi Sushi & Chinese on Urbanspoon

Food News: Culinary Arts Program Competition Re-Cap


Bunny and Brandy have always been big supporters of up and comers in the field of culinary excellence, so one can imagine how thrilled they were to discover an event that happened in Chicago this past weekend which awarded scholarships to high school students looking to become all star chefs.

On Saturday, April 5, 2014, 20 finalists representing Chicago public high schools re-created the intensity of a four-star restaurant kitchen where they faced off in a savory and sweet challenge.  Within a two-hour time limit, each competitor prepared, from memory, a two-course French meal: hunter’s chicken with tourné potatoes and dessert crepes with pastry cream and chocolate sauce.

Students were not only be critiqued on their dish’s taste and presentation, but also on their organization, sanitation, work flow, timing, techniques and skills. This year’s esteemed judges were:

  • Chef Duncan Biddup – Kinmont
  • Exe. Chef Todd Downs – Charlie Baggs Culinary Innovations
  • Chef William Johnson – Dine
  • Chef Jim Ortiz – Frontera Grill (C-CAP Alum)
  • Chef Nicole Pederson – Found Kitchen
  • Exe. Chef James Samson – Renaissance Hotel
  • Chef Patrick Sheerin – Trencherman
  • Chef Garrick Turner – The Shedd Aquarium (C-CAP Alum)
  • Richard Grausman, C-CAP Founder
  • Susan Robbins, C-CAP President

The competitors were chosen on the basis of their performance in the preliminary competition, academic records, a personal essay, and their desire to pursue post-secondary education and to forge careers in the food service industry. Students were competing for scholarship awards and opportunities including full- and partial-tuition scholarships to premier local culinary colleges and to some of the most prestigious culinary schools in the country. The ten schools represented included: Clemente, Dunbar, Gallery 37, Harper, Juarez, Prosser, Richards, Roosevelt, Simeon, and Washington.

The results of the C-CAP Chicago Cooking Competition for Scholarships were announced to participants at the annual C-CAP Chicago Awards Breakfast yesterday, Monday, April 7, 2014 hosted at the Signature Room in Chicago.

ABOUT C-CAP CHICAGO
Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) works with public schools across the country to prepare underserved high school students for college and career opportunities in the restaurant and hospitality industry.  

In the 2013-2014 academic year, C-CAP Chicago impacted the lives of approximately 2,500 students in 19 public schools working with 32 teachers in job training and internships, teacher trainings, college and career advising, product donations and culinary competitions that lead to culinary school scholarships.

A national nonprofit founded in 1990 by well-known culinary educator and author, Richard Grausman, C-CAP manages the largest independent culinary scholarship program in the United States and since inception has awarded high school students more than $40 million in scholarships and donated more than $3.1 million worth of supplies and equipment to classrooms. Many C-CAP alumni, now graduates of top culinary schools, are working in leading restaurants and hotels throughout the nation.

For more information about C-CAP, visit www.ccapinc.org.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Eduardo's Enoteca or Out of the Barrel, into the Cask

The Slow and Savory Review

It's the time of year that every Chicago resident dreads: that awful guessing game that is the transition between winter and spring.  Does one wear their rubber boots or brightly colored sneakers?  Short skirt or furry leg warmers?  Fashionable hat or functional hat?  Brandy has been known to give up on trying to predict the weather altogether, siding instead for hunkering down inside her home until she can be absolutely certain what the temperature outside is.  "I'll have no part of this back and forth business, thank you very much," she says, "If there's one thing I can't stand its indecisiveness.  I won't tolerate it in people standing in line in front of me at the coffee shop, so I certainly won't stand for it in Mother Nature."

Brandy's dear friend, Bailey Blue, who always tries to see the upside of every situation, decided to try and get Brandy out of the house one weekend morning, saying, "I know its a little unpredictable out there at the moment, but isn't that part of the adventure?  You gotta take the good with the bad, the hot with the cold, and the sweet with the savory, as someone wise once told me."  Brandy, who knew a manipulation tactic when she saw one, finally relented.  "Alright, fine.  What we need is somewhere that is both warm and cozy, yet light and fresh.  That way, we're prepared for whatever the weather may throw at us."  So it was decided to head to Eduardo's Enoteca, just off the Clark and Division Redline stop, Brandy hoping that the intimate atmosphere of a wine bar might provide just the sort of dichotomy she was looking for.

Brandy and Bailey instantly adored the interior of Eduardo's.  The slanted ceiling was done in warm, dark woods, giving the feeling of being inside of a giant wine cask, where as the stone tile floor suggested a Mediterranean patio.  Brandy and Bailey were taken to a nice sunny table at the front of the restaurant, where they could truly appreciate the design.  "Reminds me of my time in Napa," Brandy sighed, wistfully, "I spent many a night inside a wine barrel back then."  "You mean inside a wine bar?" Bailey asked.  Brandy did not respond.

To start off with, Brandy went two fisted with a pair of very contrasting drinks: to quench her thirst for freshness, she ordered the Green Field, a mix of freshly juiced apples, spinach, cucumber, lemon, and ginger, and to quell the demon's lust for trouble, she ordered a Pearseco, a mix of Prosecco sparkling wine, cinnamon syrup, and pear nectar.  The Green Fields juice had a lovely, smooth consistency to it, a perfectly balanced sweetness, and vibrant lemony zing that really refreshed and awakened the palate.  The Pearseco was very light with a good hit of both the pear and cinnamon flavor, giving it a very unique flair and finish.  "So which one do you like better?" asked Bailey, we had settled for a flavorful chai tea as her beverage.  "They're both lovely in their own special ways, my dear," Brandy said between alternating sips, "One is good for the body, and one is good for the mind."  "Which one is which?"  Again, Brandy did not respond.

They opened the meal by splitting an order of Apple Pancetta Pancakes, a combination that seemed a nice twist on the trendy habit of restaurants everywhere to add bacon to everything.  The pancakes themselves were fluffy, but with some weight to them, and fairly massive in size.  The toppings, which consisted of thin slices of green apples and small chunks of pancetta, had been caramelized to perfection.  The apples still retained some of their tartness, which matched very well with the rich, crunchy, candy coated pieces of pancetta, reminding Brandy why the bacon trend was started in the first place.

Bailey opted for the Smoked Salmon Board and a side of fresh seasonal fruit.  The salmon came lovingly served on some olive oil brushed crostini and garnished with capers, tomatoes, red onion, and arugula.  Bailey loved the freshness and delicacy of the salmon with its slight saltwater brininess and smokey finish, as well as the subtle pepperiness of the arugula and bite of the onion.  She also really loved the touch of the olive oil on the crunchy crostini, which she said was a welcome change from the more expected addition of cream cheese.  "It's much more light and fruity with the olive oil, I think," she mused, "But still very satisfying as a breakfast entree."

Brandy went with one of the over baked omelets known as the Piedmont, which came filled with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and Taleggio cheese.  Brandy found that the omelet had a very unique texture and look to it: the eggs were extremely light and airy, allowing the earthiness of the mushrooms, the sweetness of the onions, and the pungency of the cheese to really shine through in a nice, clean way.  "I'm half tempted to pick the thing up and eat it like a taco," Brandy said, "But I think that might destroy its delicacy...and mine."  The house potatoes that came on the side had a lovely crispy, fried exterior without being greasy at all, and small bits of onion helped to create a bit of variation in flavor from bite to bite.

Lastly, Bailey and Brandy ordered a slice of the Tiramisu, which their cheerful waiter ("Suspiciously cheerful, if you ask me," Brandy had whispered, "No one should be that smiley this early in the morning.") informed them had been hand made by the owner's mother.  The marscapone cream was thick and rich with a firmness almost more like a cheesecake than any tiramisu Brandy has ever had before.  The pockets created by the lady fingers made for lovely bursts of intense coffee flavor, which only added to the richness of an already decadent dessert.

All in all, Eduardo's Entoteca made for a nice little mix of the sinful and the saintly with their variety of light and fresh fair as well as their devilish delights, and with top notch service and a sweet, cozy atmosphere, it was hard to convince Brandy to go back out into the cold and rainy streets.  "Look at it this way," Bailey said in a last attempt to get Brandy to rise from her seat, "With the way things have been, it could be 80 degrees outside right now for all you know!"  Brandy was not convinced, nor amused, by this theory.

*The writer's of this blog were invited by the restaurant to dine free of charge in exchange for an honest review

The Short and Sweet Review
Eduardo's Enoteca on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Gage or The Orange (Mimosa) and the Green (River)

The Slow and Savory Review


There's nothing quite like Chicago on St. Patrick's Day.  For the last few years, Brandy has managed to avoid the hordes of drunken Chi-rish revelers who crowd up the bars and brunch joints every mid March with their tiny green hats, shiney green beads, and puddles of frighteningly green bodily fluids.  "If Chicago could hold its liquor half as well as it thought it could," Brandy often moans, "I wouldn't mind these sort of arbitrary drinking holidays.  But if my proud Celtic ancestors were to see how these Yankees behave on such a sacred holiday, they'd probably charge the masses with flaming arrows and claymores in full tartan regalia, just to teach them a lesson!"

But this year, Brandy could not resist the siren's song of celebration when her dear friend Bailey Blue came calling.  "I've never been to see the river get dyed for St. Patty's Day!  We should go!"  "It's not St. Patty's Day, first off.  It's St. Paddy's Day," Brandy sighed, "And you'll not be getting me out amongst those beer soaked crazies first thing on a Saturday morning."  "Oh please?  We can go have an authentic Irish brunch afterwards!" Bailey pleaded.  As Brandy's moral code strictly forbids turning down any invitation to brunch, this seemed to seal the deal, and it was decided that after the river dying, the pair of them would adjourn to The Gage for some nosh and slosh.

The Gage was in full swing when they entered, with plenty of fun seekers already crowded into the front bar area.  Luckily, Brandy had made reservations ahead of time, so they were taken to a table in the back room straight away.  "Good thinking," said Bailey as they sat.  "I wasn't about to fight all those inebriated idiots for a seat!" Brandy sniffed.  From what Brandy could see of the restaurant, it looked to have a surprisingly casual feel for somewhere so prominently located in the heart of The Loop, but it also had a more sophisticated feeling than a typical Irish pub.  A group of fiddlers were playing music at the front of the restaurant to the delight of the crowd, and a wandering bagpiper really helped to bring in the festive atmosphere of the day.


Bailey and Brandy jumped in head first with the day's special drink, a sort of punch made from mead, blueberry, white whiskey, and citrus juices called the Kiss Me, I'm Irish.  The drink had a lovely freshness to it, but disguised its potency behind its subtle sweetness and infinite sip-ability.  "I don't know that it's necessarily Irish, per say," Brandy commented, "Other than that it is red headed."

The women then split an order of the House Poutine, which perhaps wasn't authentic to the holiday, but definitely felt in the spirit.  The gravy had a wonderful flavor to it that didn't overpower the rest of the dish.  Brandy was very impressed by the perfectly melty cheese curds, while Bailey wondered that the fries had remained crispy, even under the tasty gravy.

They then moved on to bowls of some Irish Potato-Ale Soup.  The presentation for the soup could not have been more beautiful, with the liquid portion being poured tableside over a bowl of brown bread croutons, chunks of bacon, and pickled ramps.  Though both Brandy and Bailey found the soup a little on the thin side, it did have a nice subtle flavor of beer, and the mix of textures in the garnishes truly made it something special.

Bailey picked the Corned Beef Sandwich for her entree, as she felt tradition had to be heeded on such an occasion.  The sandwich came on toasted marble rye and decked out with pickled cabbage slaw and Guinness soaked Swiss cheese to give it a Rueben like flavor profile.  Though Bailey said she couldn't really find any Guinness flavor to the cheese, she did love the tangy slaw and the incredibly tender corned beef, which melted like butter on the tongue.  The dish did come with a side of more house made fries, but Bailey found herself unable to partake in any more potatoes for the day.

Brandy decided on the Guinness Braised Brisket Pot-Pie.  The crust of the pie tasted more like a buttery biscuit to Brandy, which she didn't mind in the least, finding it stood up well to the tender brisket, stout scented gravy, and sauted veggies within.  Unlike the cheese on Bailey's sandwich, Brandy could definitely taste the Guinness throughout this dish, which lent an almost coffee like earthiness.  Brandy also loved the simple side of braided and peppered cabbage along with some roasted carrots.  "I'd proudly wear the tartan of any Irishman who presented me with this dish!" Brandy proclaimed.

As the Michigan Avenue Parade was in full swing outside, Brandy and Bailey decided to hunker in doors a little while longer and ordered up some dessert and one last round of drinks, namely a flight of Irish whiskies, which they happily sipped and discussed.  The special dessert of the day was something simply called Whiskey and Stout, which turned out to be a sort of parfait ("It's called a trifle, for goodness sake!" Brandy proclaimed) made out of chocolate and Guinness cake, whiskey spiked cream, and Irish cream ice cream on the top.  "I feel woozy after the first bite!" Bailey laughed, though the two glasses of punch and whiskey flight she'd had previous to dessert probably contributed as well.  The cake was beautifully moist and rich, balanced perfectly by the airy cream layers.  Overall, the dessert was certainly decedent, but such a perfect end to a brilliant meal.


After rising (just barely) from their table and heading for the door, Bailey and Brandy found themselves so in the spirit of the holiday that the green clad rabble at the front bar no longer seemed like advisories to be avoided, but jovial chums to be joined.  It may have been the amazingly efficient and friendly service (an accomplishment worth noting, as St. Patrick's Day is one of the busiest days of the year at The Gage), it may have been the clean hearty flavors of the food, or it may have been the massive amount of booze they'd ingested, but the pair simply couldn't bare to leave the delightful atmosphere of The Gage, so with a mighty yell of "Slainte!" from Brandy, they settled down in front of the the fiddlers and danced the afternoon away.

The Short and Sweet Review
The Gage on Urbanspoon