Brunch at Nico Osteria – Gold Coast

Nico Osteria BarLocated in the Thompson Hotel Nico Osteria is a restaurant that pays attention to detail. From the perfectly lit dining room, open kitchen, just rustic enough appeal for an osteria to the beautiful tile floor and great service.  Not a surprise as this is a One Off Hospitality Group restaurant (think Avec, Blackbird, Publican, The Violet Hour). Just being in the space was wonderful although I suspect brunch is much more laid back than dinner.

The rustic Italian dishes are seafood focused – whole fish, mussels and crudo. The brunch menu continues this theme with lobster, oyster, crab and clams. I inquired about tea and our server came over to “discuss” what I would like. I appreciated the thought that he put into finding just the right tea for me. We settled on wonderful almond tea, the green almondine.

Another suggestion we took was the Meyer lemon mimosa. There are times I feel it is a shame to ruin perfectly good champagne with juice but the freshness of the juice complemented the sweetness of the bubbly.

Nico Osteria Meyer Lemon MimosaAlong with the requisite latte order we were ready to dig into brunch.

Nico Osteria LattePastry Chef Amanda Rockman delivers a warm flaky Cornetti (croissant) served plain, ham and provolone or chocolate.

Nico Osteria Individual CornettiThe escarole and gem lettuce salad is equal parts fresh and crunchy and richly decadent with a drizzling of creamy dressing and chunks of avocado coupled with chopped cara cara orange, slices of spicy pepper and topped off with Sicilian pistachios.

Nico Osteria Escarole and gem lettuce saladThe fluffy soft-scrambled eggs were perfectly creamy. The caper topped  peperonata was served with toasted focaccia chock full of green olives along side a healthy serving of prosciutto.

Nico Osteria Soft-scrambled eggs  I fell in love with the focaccia, here’s a close-up:

Nico Osteria FocacciaThe Salone Nicco right off the dining room looks like the perfect spot for a quick cocktail or night-cap. I will be returning soon to experience the dinner side of things.

Brunch at Bread and Wine – Irving Park

Bread and Wine Whiskey glazed cinnamon rollWith Easter approaching I found Bread and Wine thanks to OpenTable’s Chicago restaurants page featuring openings for Easter brunch. Housed in a former laundromat (with parking in front!) the space is a cozy wood filled room with a bar, chef’s table and small retail space stocked with wine and locally made snacks.

Welcomed warmly we were led to the patio to enjoy the rare sunny spring day. The imbibe list is full of craft beer and drinks like the Bitter Goddess perfectly sweet and sour with Avinyo Brut Cava, Cynar and fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. Coupled with unlimited refills of Intelligentsia and we were off to a great start. Continue reading

Brunch at La Sirena Clandestina – West Loop

La Sirena Clandestina Dining RoomLa Sirena Clandestina feels cozy yet open with large front windows that allow the morning light to come streaming in. There is not shortage of rustic wood highlighted by brick and teal walls. The stools, netted light fixtures and mermaid artwork give it a retro vibe.

I love a classic American breakfast but La Sirena Clandestina brings a nice change of pace with its Latin/Brazilian/Japanese take on brunch. There are so many interesting mixes of flavors in each dish. It reminded me of Myers + Chang or what I imagine Fat Rice would taste like if they served brunch.

Let’s start with the fact I found my favorite empanada in Chicago. I’ve been around the Empanada Block, from Chicago to Colombia and these won my heart. I suspect it has to do with the fact they are baked instead of fried. The phyllo-like dough was so light and airy felling similar to meringue when it melts upon hitting your mouth. Filled with baked bacon, sage and cheddar and it was clear why the whole table declared these empanadas the best.

La Sirena Clandestina Breakfast EmpanadaRabanada is a Brazilian-style fried french toast. This version was loaded with dulce de leche and bananas then dusted with powdered sugar and topped off with Cachaça, the most popular distilled alcoholic beverage in Brazil. Made from sugarcane it brought the dish to a whole other level of sophisticated sweet taste.

La Sirena Clandestina Rabanada French ToastPushing aside reservations that the breakfast sandwich was a “boring” choice I went with it after the server said it was one of his favorites. Reminiscent of a torta this hunk of sandwich is served on massive thick and crispy ciabatta encasing fried ham, fresh avocado, egg, and cheddar. Boring this is not.

La Sirena Clandestina Breakfast SandwichThe breakfast sandwich was served with the best potatoes I’ve had in a while. The outside was super crispy like bacon and the inside was nice and soft. Heavily seasoned with chunks of garlic this might not be a good choice during a date but it would be worth it if you did.

La Sirena Clandestina Breakfast Sandwich PotatoesThe Okonomiyaki is a Japanese pancake served with an ingredient combination that will leave your mouth happy and wanting more. Octopus, bacon, kewpie mayo, bean sprouts, green onions and sesame taken together in one bite will literally make you smile. Kewpie is a Japanese mayo and made with rice vinegar making it slightly sweeter than regular mayo and twice the umami taste in a creamier texture.

La Sirena Clandestina OkonomiyakiThe shrimp Baiano was another new dish to me. The taste and texture of the La Sirena Clandestina Shrimp BaianoThe polenta worked nicely with the bite of the green onions and habenero rounded out with some richness from cashews.

Finally a Kale salad that is a bit different. This was lovely with roasted poblano dressing, cotija, toasted pepitas, radish and jalapeño. We opted for the chicken but you can have shrimp as well.

La Sirena Clandestina Kale SaladLa Sirena Clandestina is a perfect brunch spot and I am looking forward to trying the dinner and drink menu I am hearing so much about. If it’s as half as good as brunch I’ll be sending all my friends there.

La Sirena Clandestina Bar

Breakfast in Soho – Jack’s Wife Freda

Jack's Wife Freda Entrance

Jack’s Wife Freda is a cute little spot in Soho on Lafayette Street. We walked by and noticed the charming white and green awning and took a peek inside to find a bright yet cozy space with leather bench seating along the walls and a long communal table in the center. Arriving just at opening ensured us a seat and it steadily filled up by the minute.

Jack's Wife Freda Interior

We ordered a cappuccino (Stumptown, yay!) while we looked at the hand drawn menu and contemplated the origin of the restaurant’s name. The menu has Continue reading

Best Pancakes In Atlanta – Ria’s Bluebird

Ria's Bluebird Logo

Image via riasbluebird.com

Ria’s Bluebird was the last restaurant on my southern road trip and it was a great way to end a memorable trip. It was recommended by an Atlantan that swears by their pancakes being the best in the Atlanta. Located in Grant Park across from the historic Oakland Cemetery Ria’s is colorful and eclectic just like its clientele. The vibe is laid back and you get the feeling you might be the only tourist because everyone seemed to know each other. It makes sense, Ria’s has been in business for thirteen years and has a cult following.

Everything is from scratch as you would expect down home cooking to be. Ria is also committed to using local ingredients and an inventive cooking style so as she says, “I don’t have boring food.” I am a witness to that.

Continue reading

Tweet, Let’s Eat! – Uptown, Chicago

Tweet Patio

There is something for everyone at Tweet. Gluten-free, full bar, great beer selection, healthy options, comfort food options, Mexican dishes, vegetarian and vegan options, huge portions, toys brought to the table for kids, free Wi-Fi, plenty of parking on Sheridan, outdoor seating. You get the picture. Continue reading

Macanese Cuisine at Fat Rice – Logan Square

Fat Rice Poster

Fat Rice is the restaurant everyone and their mother has been talking about recently. I wanted to see for myself if this number four rated best restaurant in America 2013 (according to Bon Appetit) lived up to the hype. Waiting for an hour for a table can be a pain but the set up at Fat Rice makes it bearable (does anyone take reservations anymore?). Meaning there is a dedicated server for the people waiting in the outside seating that will promptly feed you drinks.

Fat Rice Outdoor Seating Fat Rice Building

The menu is based on food from Macau serving “Euro-Asian comfort food.” What that means is a mix of great flavors with roots from Portugal, Asia,  India and Spain and a whole lot of lemongrass, garlic, sauces, curry, sausage, vegetables, noodles and seafood.

I started with the Kalimotxo, described as “sangria-like” with Luberri Rioja “Biga”, coca-cola and lemon. It was a tasty twist on sangria and the cola actually works with it. Continue reading

Brunch @ Perennial Virant – Lincoln Park

Sunday’s are always good for sitting outside and enjoying a Bloody Mary and some brunch. I decided to check out Perennial Virant in Lincoln Park because every time I pass by the patio is packed and everyone always looks like they are having fun.

If you don’t mind a crowd this is the place to be on Sunday…check out my video to see the food and restaurant. (Sorry, it was a bit windy when I filmed!)

Housemade Sausage: two eggs cooked your way, homefries with cheese curds, toast…cheese curds were amazing! And I’ve had some good cheese curds in my days in Madison, Wisconsin.

3-Egg Skillet: roasted broccoli, mushrooms, onions, capriko cheese…left us wishing there was more.

Bloody Mary: Nice and spicy

 

You Need to Get Yourself to Lula Cafe – Logan Square

Photo: Marina Karassellos

Saturday brunch outside in the sun is one of the best ways to start your morning in Chicago. I didn’t even have to experience the usual long wait, the stars must have been aligned. I hope there are few more days for outside dining, we’ll see. Brunch line-up:

Strada ­­— savory pain de mie bread pudding with eggplant, bacon, basil, spinach, and provolone. The salad was a nice balance to the richness of the strada. As always bacon makes anything taste better but it also added a nice crispness to the softness of the bread and veggies. Highly recommend.

Breakfast Burrito with avocado, onion, pepper, potato, eggs, and cheddar; with sour cream and salsa verde. I am a sucker for a breakfast burrito but this one is definitely in the top ten. Every ingredient was fresh and the eggs cooked perfectly which can make the difference between an okay burrito and a great one.

Lula has a Monday night farm dinner (menu example, here). Many vegetarian friendly items as well. I hope to be back soon to try their dinner.

Lula Cafe – 2537 N. Kedzie Boulevard Chicago, IL 60647

Shut Up And Bake

Bleeding Heart Bakery is not for the faint of heart. Sorry for the kinda-pun but it’s true. Exhibit A: Deep-fried doughnut breakfast sandwich. Yep, a donut that is tempura battered and deep-fried with a fried egg and choice of meat and cheese.

BHB’s new West Town cafe is a beautiful and spacious diner with great artwork, murals and vintage touches.  I cannot wait for the rooftop next year. Cassie, our waitress/new BFF, broke down the large menu in terms of what we should get for first-timers. I also have to say, for Day 2 this place had it together. Everything ran smoothly and everyone that worked there seemed like they had been doing it for years. You might recognize the owners Michelle and Vinny Garcia from various Food Network competitions and their Roscoe Village and Oak Park bakery locations.

Cassie recommended swapping out one of the chai’s on order for The Dim…a banana split mocha…behold:

Next up, Housemade Biscuits & Gravy. I don’t usually get B&G so I wanted to try something different. These were good; some cayenne on top so there is a little kick to the thick and rich gravy. You could tell the biscuits were made from scratch, hearty but flaky. Had the eggs over easy.

My favorite dish of the meal, Veruca Salt Waffle: salted caramel mouse and vanilla anglaise. This was one of the best savory and sweet dishes I have tasted. The warm gooey caramel melting into the sea salt = complete gratification. The waffles were a perfect slight crisp on the outside and light and fluffy inside.

Last up, since it was “healthy”, the Caramelized Grapefruit. Basically crème brulée grapefruit. Sugar combined with tart thirst-quenching juice was the perfect way to end the meal.

Great relaxed vibe with a slight edge. Good for brunch anytime of the day and if you don’t have much time, order sweets/donuts/cakes and coffee from the to go counter. Vegan, vegetarian options and local and organic farm ingredients used. Also open 57 hours straight from Friday until Sunday so if you get some food craving late-night, head there. The A/C was cranked so if you get cold easily might want to bring an extra layer.

Cute bathrooms too:

Will I be back? Yes. Should you go? Definitely.

Join the Punk Rock Brunch at Bleeding Heart Bakery and Café - West Town, 1916 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL 60622