Friday, March 25, 2011

Medici or The Writing on the Walls

The Slow and Savory Review:

There's not many people who can appreciate a rainy day quite like Bunny and Brandy can.  Gloomy days tend to make Our Ladies rather home sick for Old Blighty, you see.  "It's days like this," Brandy sighs whenever the clouds roll in, "That make one want to make a cup of tea, light some candles, put on a bit of Mozart, and read a Sherlock Holmes story."  But Bunny decided that for once, this rain-induced longing for all things English was not going to get to them, so she suggested they head to Medici on 57th in Hyde Park for a nice homey brunch.

Medici's stone front is at once imposing and heart warming, presenting visitors with a cheerful relief of a gargoyle scarfing down a pastry while being watched by a pope.  Once inside, Our Ladies were given the choice of sitting up stairs or down, and despite Brandy whining about her bad knees, Bunny chose the upstairs so that they may have the benefit of a view from above.  The upstairs was a warm spot, both visually and literally.  The walls which weren't exposed brick were covered in both graffiti and hand painted murals, and the hard wood floors were pleasantly squeaky.  Our Ladies were told to sit themselves wherever they liked, so they chose a nice table by a window so that they could gaze out upon the rain.  The unfortunate side effect of the seats they chose was that Brandy got squished in between the wall and the table, but otherwise they felt right at home.

First order of business was to obtain some warm beverages.  Brandy chose the Mexicana, a Mexican spiced hot chocolate, while Bunny chose the Chocolachino, a more adult version of traditional hot chocolate.  The Mexicana tasted of warm cinnamon mostly and was a wonderful compliment to a rainy morning, while the Chocolachino was rich and delicious with just the right amount of coffee flavor to make it sophisticated.

Following that, Our Ladies chose some items from the bakery to start off with.  Brandy picked the apple croissant, which was warm, flaky, and fresh tasting with the apples inside still having a nice texture to them.  Bunny chose the cinnamon roll, which turned out to be a bit more of sticky bun.  The inside was dotted with raisins and all together the confection had just the right amount of sweetness.

When it came time for the main courses, Bunny picked a rather interesting entry from the lunch options, a Strogenoff Burger, which came complete with mushrooms, onions, and a dollop of sour cream.  While this combination sounded good on paper, the over all effect of the dish was not as impressive.  The burger, while enormous, didn't offer much meaty flavor, and was completely enveloped by the density of the bun.  The burger itself was not as warm as it could have been and a little over cooked,  The shoe string fries on the side were lovely and crunchy with excellent flavor.

Brandy picked the New York Strip breakfast, which came complete with two eggs, potatoes, and toast.  The steak was very over done (Brandy had asked for medium and got a steak with no pink left in it at all) but had a good char on the outside.  The eggs were perfectly done with runny yolks aplenty.  The potatoes were also very well done; crunchy and flavorful without being greasy.

Hot drink, pastry, and main dish as well as tax and tip came out to just about $20 a person.  Along with cheerful and prompt service, Medici provided Our Ladies with the invaluable feeling of being happy to be where they were.  All feeling of home sickness having left them, Our Ladies journeyed out into the rain arm in arm, full stomached, and rather content, an emotion the English have yet to fully master.

The Short and Sweet Review:

Medici on 57th on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 18, 2011

Angelina Ristorante or Luck of the Italians

The Slow and Savory Review:

Americans have this strange relationship with St. Patrick's Day which baffles Bunny and Brandy.  Back home in jolly old England, St. Patrick's Day is just a day where one goes to the pub and has a pint (that's pretty much every day in England, though).  But here in America, it is apparently legally required that the entire population drink to the point of sickness, dye everything green from their hair to the rivers, and insist on celebrating their Irish "heritage" (which in most people seems to amount to a second cousin who once visited Dublin while back packing across Europe) by asking random strangers to kiss them.  Our Ladies thought they could avoid some of these strange rituals by going to Angelina Ristorante, an Italian restaurant, for brunch this week, but sadly the Irish had even invaded that corner of the world. 

Angelina's interior mixes old world charm with modern day sophistication.  Rare, signed, and ancient wine bottles line the walls just under several retro style black and white photographs of people eating in various joyous and absurd ways.  The room was awefully loud, which wasn't helped by blaring music that was forcing people to shout over each other in order to have a conversation.  A lovely bar was set into the back corner of the room, hung with dramatic curtains to enhance its intimacy.  Upon entering, Our Ladies were greeted by tables of glassy-eyed hung over youths, adorned in green plastic beads.  "Surprised they managed to get up this morning to go to brunch even," Bunny huffed when they were informed it would be a little bit of a wait for a table.  "My dear Bunny, these children never went to sleep.  They came straight from some 6:00 am bar, no doubt," Brandy chuckled.  She found the competitive nature of American drinking habits rather amusing. 
After about ten minutes of standing in the doorway, a table literally appeared (after a very kind server brought it out from some dark corner) and Our Ladies were sat.  Unfortunately, as this was a make shift space, Brandy's chair intruded into the middle isle of the restaurant, and any time a server, patron, or otherwise decided they needed to pass, Brandy would get jostled. 

Upon glancing at the menu, Our Ladies discovered brunch to be Cash Only, which hadn't been indicated anywhere else.  "Would have been nice to have a warning at least!" Bunny squeaked.  Drinks were very reasonably priced (such as $5 for a mimosa or Belini, or $9 for a Bloody Mary with a beer back) and there was also the option of having one brunch entree and unlimited mimosas for a flat $21, which seemed reasonable.  Bunny opted for a single mimosa, while Brandy (for once) chose not to drink an alcoholic beverage in protest of the St. Patrick's crowd and ordered an iced tea.  For Brandy's entree, she chose a breakfast sandwich, made with smoked mozzarella, Canadian bacon, and scrambled eggs on a croissant.  Bunny went with her old stand by, the Benedict, choosing the Florentine option from the three on the menu.  After ordering, Brandy made a quick dash to the next door Jewel for some cash and gum.

Bunny's mimosa arrived in a lovely tall glass and was more than a bargain at $5.  She reported that it was well balanced with not too much of one or the other ingredient.  Brandy's iced tea (which was a surprisingly expensive $4.50, presumably to make up for the cheapness of the alcoholic drinks) had a pleasant fruitiness she wasn't expecting.

Bunny found her long awaited Benedict to be very bright in flavor.  The eggs were wonderfully cooked, and the spinach lovely and fresh.  The potatoes that accompanied the dish were a tad greasy, decently spiced, but very ordinary.

Brandy's sandwich was dominated by the smokiness of the cheese.  She felt a veggie of some sort, as simple as a bit of tomato or lettuce, would have helped liven up the bite.  The croissant was good on flavor, but not very flaky, and the eggs were good, but a little greasy as well.

Since portion size was on the small side, Our Ladies decided to split a dessert.  They ordered some chocolate bread pudding, which came with vanilla bean ice cream.  The texture was wonderful, not too dense, but rich enough to be satisfying, and the chocolate flavor definitely came through.  The only improvement would have been, perhaps, a different, more exciting ice cream to accompany it.

Though the portions and plating were a little underwhelming, Angelina did present Our Ladies with drinks, entrees, and a dessert for two for just under $20 a piece.  Their advice; come early to get the good tables, bring cash, and in the words of Brandy to a group of young men in green plastic hats standing just outside the door, "Stop pretending to be bloody Irish and celebrate your own heritage, you wankers!"

The Short and Sweet Review:

Angelina Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 11, 2011

Uptowner Cafe or Let Down Town-er Cafe

The Slow and Savory Review:

There's not too much Bunny and Brandy expect when going to brunch.  A nice variety of menu choices, a cheerful staff, and a comfortable place to sit is all that can make a morning fantastic.  But since Our Ladies had their affluent friend, millionaire Barry Black, with them this week, they were hoping to impress.  "Nonsense, I don't want you to make any fuss for me," Barry tutted, "I want to slum it for once, so to speak."  Unfortunately, Barry's idea of "slumming it" is eating caviar without creme freche.  Still, Our Ladies had high hopes for the Uptowner Cafe, having heard buzz about town that this was the place to go for a good breakfast at a low, low price.

The interior of the Uptowner did not bode well.  Most of the restaurant is dark and windowless, with the fact that the walls are painted a dreary grey not helping to liven the atmosphere.  But local art on the walls helps to add some color and the warm wooden booths that line the walls are a step in the right direction, even if the cushions are un-attached and tend to shift under the movements of a fidgety eater like Brandy.  The menu seemed to offer up the average in terms of breakfast choices; eggs, bacon, cheese, potatoes, and the various combinations of said ingredients.  Barry decided on the simplest of breakfasts (eggs, hash browns, bacon, and pancakes) in order to blend in with what he referred to as the "Natives."  Brandy opted for the Farmer's Breakfast, a combo of scrambled eggs with hash brown, covered in cheese and onions, with a side of ciabatta french toast.  Bunny gravitated more towards the lunch side of the menu and ordered a Reuben Sandwich with a cup of Chicken and Wild Rice soup.

While the two waitresses serving Our Ladies and guest were very polite and friendly, they did seem to forget about them for quite a while, also forgetting to bring silverware, fill water glasses, and even forgetting part of Barry's breakfast when the food was finally delivered.  Barry took all this in stride, saying "This is good service compared to some 5 star restaurants I could name!"

Brandy's breakfast was just as rustic as its name would imply.  The hash browns were nicely shredded and crunchy, but very greasy, leaving behind quite the oil slick on the plate.  The French Toast was bland and dry to say the least.  A tasty and filling breakfast, yes, but nothing special.

Brandy's Reuben was reportedly nice and melty, with a generous portion of sauerkraut.  The corned beef was also nice and not too fatty, but the whole sandwich was a bit greasy as well, and the soup was rather bland.

Poor Barry Black, whose digestion can only handle food served from a mother of pearl spoon, wasn't able to eat much of his breakfast, but from the look of it, it could have fed the entire table by itself.  The pancakes were massive, the bacon thickly cut, and the eggs well cooked.

The Uptowner Cafe leaves much to be desired, both in atmosphere, service, and actual food.  Middle of the road all the way, and just about average in terms of price (most dishes range from $7 to $9, which is a bit pricey for eggs and potatoes).  Barry Black could not have been more pleased with his "rustic" brunch, but Our Ladies know they could have done better.

The Short and Sweet Review:

The Uptowner Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 4, 2011

Janik's Cafe or Hipster's Paradise

The Slow and Savory Review:

Bunny and Brandy have encountered many strange things during their journeys through Brunchland; men in women's clothing, blob monsters, and even a donut with bacon on it, but during this week's brunch at Janik's Cafe in Ukrainian Village, Our Ladies encountered a new species of being known as "Hipsters."  Apparently, the Hipster is a sort of young person who, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, does nothing and knows everything.  They are often spotted wearing thick black framed glasses (whether they are prescribed or not), striped long sleeved shirts under "retro" style screen printed T-shirts sporting names and logos of bands no one has ever heard of, long scarves wrapped thickly around their necks, skin tight trousers, and sporting bushy beards (in the case of the males) and long hair parted in the middle and haphazardly styled (could apply both to the males and females).

Upon entering Janik's Cafe, one is greeted by colorful local art, handwritten signs proclaiming the day's specials, all the free newspapers one could eat, and lots of small tables spaced throughout the room.  One will also be greeted by the dull eyed stares of a dozen or so Hipsters.  Bunny was quite alarmed by this reaction, but Brandy assured her they meant no harm.  "I read an article in National Georgraphic about these types," Brandy whispered, "I think they're appreciating us ironically."  "Impossible," Bunny scoffed, "They're Americans.  They don't know what irony is."  Our Ladies then made their way to the counter to place their orders.  For Bunny, a Mixed Berry Smoothie and a Tuna Melt Sandwich with a side of macaroni salad.  For Brandy, a Pineapple Smoothie and a Crab Cake Sandwich, accompanied by a bowl of Cheesey Potato Soup.  They were given a table number and told their food would be brought out to them in a trice.

Our Ladies tried to ignore the continuing stares of the Hipsters by studying the menus along the walls.  All too late, Brandy discovered the sign about $5 cocktails, including bloody mary's, jack and cokes, and mimosas.  After about 10 minutes, the dishes started arriving.  First, the smoothies, thick and delicious.  Bunny's Berry Smoothie was a bit more flavorful, as Brandy's only tasted a little of pineapple and a lot of cream.  "More of a milkshake than a smoothie, really," Brandy said, "That'll teach me to try and be healthy.  Next time, I'm asking for a Jack and Coke smoothie."

Brandy's Potato Soup proved to be much better than expected.  Loaded with perfectly cooked chunks of potato, and laden with delicious cheesy goodness, the soup was surprisingly fresh and satisfying on such a dreary Chicago morn.  The sandwich, on the other hand, was a little disappointing.  The crab cake was in drastic need of crunchiness.  The interior was good on flavor, but just too mushy for Brandy's liking.  She did, however, appreciate that the sandwich was completely customizable, from the bread and cheese to the toppings.  The tartar sauce the lady at the counter had suggested for the sandwich was definitely needed, as without it, the crab cake would have been even more bland.

Bunny's sandwich, the Tuna Melt, was more of a Tuna Warm.  The tuna salad itself was very good, but the cheese was definitely not melted, nor was the sandwich very warm at all.  The macaroni salad, however, was quite tasty.  Bunny explained that it wasn't too vinegary, a huge pet peeve of hers when it comes to macaroni salad.

At the end of the day, Janik's Cafe provides one with lots of comforting food for a very low price (most dishes don't even graze $10).  If one is able to endure the side glances of the dozen or so Hipsters circling around the condiment caddies, a quick, cheap, and filling brunch is to be found.  Tip from Bunny and Brandy, if the Hipsters are getting too close for comfort, tell them you used to be in a very obscure band they wouldn't have heard of and they will wander off to look up your band's album on Amazon Marketplace using their iPhones (ironically, of course).

The Short and Sweet Review

Janik's Cafe on Urbanspoon