Dinner, River North

Japonais

Japonais
Dinner
Neighborhood: River North
Address: 600 W Chicago Ave. Chicago, IL 60654
Phone Number: (312) 822-9600
Website

Price Range: $30-55
Our Rating: 4 out of 5

What We Tried: Edamame, Tofu Miso, Calamari and Quinoa Salad, Sashimi Caesar Salad, Kanpyo Maki Roll (sweet gourd), Shrimp Tempura Maki Roll, Duck Confit Fried Rice with Organic Farm Egg, Salmon Sushi

Our Take: “Allez Cuisine!” Though I didn’t actually get to hear The Chairman say the words of his great uncle unto me, and we weren’t technically in Stadium Kitchen, our experience at Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s River North restaurant Japonais felt pretty authentic.

According to our very knowledgable waiter, Chef Morimoto spent the first three years of his training to become an itamae (sushi chef) just learning to make sushi rice so it’s safe to say the food at Japonais is pretty authentic.

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duck confit fried rice

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calamari quinoa salad

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shrimp tempura maki roll

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kanpyo maki roll

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salmon sushi

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sashimi caesar salad

 

One thing that is not traditional about the restaurant: the décor. While it definitely had Asian influences, the atmosphere in Japonais was very cool and contemporary, fitting for a dining spot with reportedly great nightlife. Several tasting rooms are available, as well as a raised sushi bar overlooking the open kitchen, making this space ideal for large parties and special functions, but just as fitting for a special date night.

We also learned that Maki Rolls are what Americans traditionally think of as sushi rolls, while actual sushi is just the piece of seafood over rice. Sashimi is the same as sushi but without the rice. Our favorite dishes of the night were the Calamari Quinoa Salad (perfectly crisp calamari and light tangy dressing) and The Duck Confit Fried Rice seemed promising, but lacked flavor other than just duck fat.

All in all, we found that only a true sushi or seafood enthusiast could appreciate the high quality and authenticity of this renowned restaurant. As for four twenty-somethings grabbing a bite before The Bachelor, we would’ve been just as satisfied (and $20 richer) if we’d gone to a commonplace seaweed salad/miso soup/two rolls for $15 type of place.

-Meredith

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Dinner, Lunch, River North

Maxwell’s at the Club

Maxwell’s at the Club
Lunch, Dinner

Neighborhood: River North
Address: 1500 N Kingsbury St., Chicago, IL 60654
Phone Number: (312) 527-5800
Website

Price Range: $20-45
Our Rating: 3.8 out of 5

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grilled shrimp, mushroom soup, grilled artichoke

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blackberry sauce on fleek

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a+ for presentation

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but this salad was the real winner

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macaroons.

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i scream, you scream

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tres leches

What We Ordered: Coconut Snowball cocktail, Red Wine Flight, Lemon Drop, Wild Mushroom Soup, Grilled Shrimp, Grilled Artichoke, Kingsbury Salad with the addition of Seared Ahi, Asian Soba Noodle Salad with Glazed Roasted Salmon, Turkey Breast Medallions, Roasted Butternut Squash (side), Bananas Foster, Tres Leches Cake with Ice Cream, Chocolate Fondue

Our Take: Sometimes, choosing a restaurant in Chicago feels a little bit like having a closet full of nothing to wear. A place is too crowded, too fancy, too casual, the menu is too big, too small, too standard or too experimental, they either don’t accept reservations, or you needed to make a reservation six weeks ago. Where we live in River North, there are very few restaurants in the immediate vicinity, and we usually end up walking a mile or more to dinner. It’s not that we mind the exercise ‚ÄĒ especially when it is warm, we will walk around the city for hours ‚ÄĒ we just have to put more effort into researching a destination. Until recently, we had yet to find a go-to restaurant in the area.

Enter Maxwell’s.¬†Maxwell’s at the Club¬†is the ‘sophisticated yet casual’ restaurant inside the East Bank Club. Though the East Bank Club is members-only, Maxwell’s is open to anyone. We had no problem making a reservation for¬†6:30 pm¬†on a Friday, when the restaurant was filled with families, groups of girlfriends, and couples enjoying the Italian buffet.

We were tempted by the buffet (make your own pasta station, several types of salads, whole cloves of roasted garlic, gelato bar), but decided to order off the regular menu to “get the full experience.”

Feeling fancy, we began with a few of the signature cocktails. The coconut snowball had a small scoop of vanilla ice cream in it that was rolled in toasted coconut…any girl’s dream, right? As a bonus, our wonderful waitress filled our martini glasses table side, and left us with the carafe so that we could keep on going through appetizers. It was like the adult-version of getting a milkshake at Red Robin. Which is not a bad thing.

The Grilled Shrimp was the clear winner of the appetizer course. The shrimp were juicy and flavorful, and the roasted oyster mushrooms and leeks added a delightful woody flavor to the dish. The grilled artichoke was cooked perfectly, but could have benefited from some aioli or a little seasoning. The Wild Mushroom Soup was good, but nothing to write home about.

Ordering the Turkey Breast Medallions was a leap of faith. There is a reason you don’t see this dish often: Anyone who has ever cooked a Thanksgiving turkey can tell you that keeping this bird from drying out is a challenge, especially in medallion form. While juiciness wasn’t the dish’s star quality, the blackberry sauce really saved it. The roasted sweet potatoes, though, were perfectly cooked and deliciously seasoned.

The Kingsbury was definitely the superior of the two salads – think Cobb salad but more inventive. Adding the seared ahi made the salad more substantial, and the portion was generous. The Asian Soba Noodle Salad was pleasant as well, but pretty run of the mill, and rather small.

Maxwell’s boasts an impressive dessert menu, and we really loved that they offer mini desserts for those nights when we’re feeling closer to “go home” than “go big.” On this particular night, though, we were going big. As was kindly suggested to us by the manager, Charles, bananas foster is Maxwell’s best dessert. The bananas and caramel are served warm in a gravy boat, so that you can let your ice cream achieve your exact desired meltiness before diving in.

Maxwell’s has live music almost every night of the week, too‚ÄĒwhen we went, a jazz band was playing Christmas music. The band was incredibly talented, and added the perfect ambience to our meal. With its country club vibe, Maxwell’s is the perfect place for a casual-yet-classy meal with the family on a weeknight, or girlfriend’s on a Saturday. We will be back!

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Breakfast and Brunch, Lakeview, River North, Streeterville, The Loop

Yolk.

Yolk.
Breakfast, Lunch

Neighborhood: the Loop, River North, Streeterville, West Loop, Lakeview
Address: Multiple
Phone Number: Multiple
Website

Price Range: $6-14
Our Rating: 4.6 out of 5

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Margarita Frittata

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Tuscan Frittata

What We Tried: Tuscan Frittata, Margherita Frittata, Build-a-Skillet (Among many other things, during many other visits)

Our Take: Yolk is Switzerland. Neutral, but in the best way possible. You can’t not like Yolk, because it has something for everyone. It has trendy food items for your hipster friends (Cajun Portobello Scramble) without being too off the wall for your Plain Janes (Two Eggs and Meat). It has crazy big portions for your guy friends who forget they no longer play football (2X2X2X2 Combo) while still catering to your “I’ll just have half a grapefruit, thanks” friends (half a grapefruit). Something for your Sweet Brunch Enthusiasts (Banana Blueberry Crunch Cakes), as well as your Savory Brunch Enthusiasts (Countryside Skillet). Something for your Health Nuts (South Beach Greek yogurt bowl) and your Couch-Potato-but-Still-Unfairly-Skinny friends (Red Velvet French Toast with a Cinnamon Roll¬†on the side) ((It’s going to catch up to them some day)).

Get the picture? Yolk likes everybody, and everybody likes Yolk.

My Tuscan Frittata was everything I love about food. Sun-dried tomatoes, red potatoes, chicken, fresh basil, goat cheese… so good. Seriously even better than¬†Sunny Side Up‘s amazing frittata. Plus each egg dish comes with a side of toast, pancakes, or english muffin, with only a slight up charge for specialty pancakes (worth it).

The only way this place could improve is with homemade jam and an amped-up muffin game (not worth the splurge for true muffin lovers).

The decor is somewhere between Ann Sather and Hot Chocolate. Not especially hip or eclectic, but bright, sunny, and pleasant. Again, Switzerland. Overall, Yolk is a great place to start your day.

-Meredith

p.s. Bonus points for anyone who finds the two very subtle Parent Trap references hidden in this post.

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Breakfast and Brunch, Bucktown, Dessert, Dinner, Lincoln Park, Lunch, O'Hare, River North

Goddess & Grocer

Goddess & Grocer
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Neighborhood:¬†Bucktown, River North, Lincoln Park, O’Hare
Address: Multiple
Phone Number: Multiple
Website

Price Range: $7-12
Our Rating: 5 out of 5

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Love this Bucktown location

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Perfect people watching post

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Yes, it’s impossible to choose

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So much yes

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Yes, THAT Jeni’s

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Cutest seating upstairs

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Carolyn ‚̧ al fresco dining

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Homemade granola bars

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Tofu never looked so good

What We Tried: Too many things to try to remember

Our Take: Living around the corner from a¬†Goddess & Grocer is both a blessing and a curse. Ex: It is a blessing the morning after you had a little too much fun¬†at Big Star (not speaking from experience or anything). It is a blessing¬†when you’d rather avoid a night like the one at Big Star and just want to eat dessert and watch a movie with your roommate. It is a blessing when you host a dinner party and forget to defrost the chicken (Again, not speaking from experience). It is a blessing when you and your roommate decide to go on a 5 hour¬†walk without any particular food stops planned. It is a curse when you lose all motivation to cook anything ever (which we do.¬†Cook, that is. Just so you know.).

Anyway, G&G is a mecca for delicious prepared, made-to-order, and packaged foods. Their sandwiches are¬†to die for. The¬†make-your-own options are unique (read: not your typical Subway fare), and they don’t charge you an arm and a leg for each individual topping. The prepared foods are just as inventive,¬†like the aforementioned Lemon Thyme Chicken. The packaged options, like granola bars, are also awesome and usually artisanal,¬†all natural, or locally made (like pints of JENI’S!!!!). All of the locations are well-decorated and trendy, but we’d especially recommend the Bucktown spot for its knockout¬†salad bar (think Whole Foods level) and rooftop dining. Basically,¬†you’ll be mad you didn’t know about this place sooner.

-Meredith

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Bars, Dinner, River North

25 Degrees

25 Degrees
Lunch, Dinner

Neighborhood: River North
Address: 736 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60654
Phone Number: N/A
Website

Price Range: $10-20
Our Rating: 2 out of 5

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What We Tried: Number One Burger (Caramelized Onion, Vella Tomato, Aderkasse Reserve, Bacon, Arugula, Thousand Island), Craft Your Own Burger (Caramelized Onion, Portobello Mushroom, Cottonwood River Cheddar, Garlic Aioli), Craft Your Own Burger (Caramelized Onion, Roasted Red Pepper, Avocado, BBQ Sauce), Fries, Onion Rings, Sweet Potato Fries

Our Take: If there is one thing that this place has going for it, it is a decent vibe (repurposed garage, exposed brick, etc.). The buck pretty much stops there, though. Let’s start with drinks. The menu suggests you ask your server about the month’s “craft beer” selections. Now¬†I am a loyal Michigander and celebrate Oberon Day like it is birth of my firstborn, but I don’t think having Oberon on your way-too-short-for-a-burger-bar beer list along with Stella and Miller Lite makes it a “craft” beer list. We ended up settling on a few Revolution Rosa Hibiscus Ales (one of like 2¬†legit craft beers), which was not exactly what we were looking for when asking the waiter but whatevs.

Then we got to the burgers. I asked the waiter for a smoky cheese suggestion (my favorite’s gouda). To my surprise, he didn’t suggest the smoky mozz (too obvious), but a cheddar instead. I went with it because he’s the expert, right? Wrong. It was tangy and way overpowered the other flavors in my burger¬†(not that there were many).¬†Instead of long strips of deeply caramelized onions and a marinated or seasoned portobello, I got a few chopped up and quickly saut√©ed onion bits and some flavorless shrooms. Then there was the meat itself. Word to the wise: While sirloin is a great cut of meat for a burger, it’s also very easy to butcher (hehe).¬†As in, you can’t just leave it on the grill as long as you want. My medium burger didn’t even have a trace of pink. The bun was a non-factor.

Finally, sides. The fries were just okay. They had good flavor and crispiness, but with the skinny kind you have to either go limp and greasy or dark and crispy. These fries were a very unappetizing pale shade. The sweet potato fries and onion rings were fine, I guessss. Sorry for the diatribe, but I felt strongly about this one. We thought about going back¬†to try the boozy milkshakes, but just poured bourbon over our Ben and Jerry’s instead.*

*This actually happened.

-Meredith

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Breakfast and Brunch, Dessert, River North

Firecakes

Firecakes
Breakfast, Dessert

Neighborhood: River North
Address: 68 W. Hubbard Street, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone Number: (312) 329-6500
Website

Price Range: $1.50-5
Our Rating: 4.6 out of 5

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Enticing Signage

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Malted Milk Ball is next on the list

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Donut Ice Cream Sandwich

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Almond Joi Donut

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What We Tried: Donut Ice Cream Sandwich, Almond Joi Donut, Chocolate Hazelnut Long John

Our Take: Donut miss the Ice Cream Sandwich! The thin layer of ice cream moistens the already spongy donut creating a heavenly cool treat. The layer of fudge¬†is just the icing on the cake (quite literally). The Chocolate Hazelnut Long John was also out of this world. The Almond Joi was nice as well, but passable comparatively speaking. We sat on the quaint little patio for about an hour just people watching and enjoying our donuts (let’s be real, the donuts were gone in like 2 minutes). We’ll definitely be back for more!

– Meredith

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Bars, Dinner, River North

Bull & Bear

Bull & Bear
Dinner (Also serving Afternoon and Brunch), Bar

Neighborhood: Old Town
Address: 431 N Wells St, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone Number: (312) 527-5973
Website

Price Range: $9-20, additional $5-14 per alcoholic beverage
Our Rating: 2.5 out of 5 for dining, 4.5 of 5 for bar scene

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$30 Pitcher of Homemade Red Sangria (looks better than it tastes)

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Southwestern Salad: blackened grilled chicken, crisp romaine, napa cabbage, black beans, monterey jack (not pictured), aged cheddar, pico de gallo, tortilla strips, cilantro, chipotle lime vinaigrette

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Asian Skirt Steak Salad: mixed greens, green bean, cherry tomato, carrot, red & yellow bell pepper, crispy wonton strips, honey-miso vinaigrette

What We Tried: Homemade Red Sangria, Asian Skirt Steak Salad, Southwestern Salad, Grilled Steak Tacos

Our Take: Subpar. Our first time at Bull & Bear was for a mid-week dinner out, and we were less than impressed. The homemade Sangria (far inferior to the sangria at Citizen) reminded us of our raspberry Kool-Aid days, and really, who actually enjoyed Kool-Aid? The salads were definitely light on the toppings despite their appealing descriptions (ex: compare the Asian Skirt Steak Salad description with the picture), and the tacos were just¬†okay.¬†We did end up returning later in the week for a fundraiser bar event, and to our surprise ended up having a great time. It was a great scene with even better specials. All in all, Bull & Bear is not a lost cause,¬†as long as you don’t actually eat there.¬†

-Meredith

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