Since the fall of 2009, I have been traipsing, tasting and touring the great city of Chicago. I have wined and dined with an aim to eat right from Andersonville to Lakeview, the Pilsen and all around the Loop. I can't possibly remember every location or each bite, but I know that I've had Polish near Midway; French by Maude, One Sixtyblue, Bistro Margot, Bistro Campagne, Red Rooster, Bistro 110, Kith and even Kin; Burger at Paramount, the Counter, Kumas, DMK and among Five Guys; Vegan with Karyn both cooked and just raw; all of Rick Bayless; had to "Go 4 Food" in Chinatown; went from farm to table with a Girl and a Goat, at a Gilt Bar, Nightwood and The Publican; watched the chefs at Avec and Davanti Enoteca; learned to fly at Blackbird and Bluebird; picked pasta at Tocco, Coco Pazzo, Spiaggia's, Rasta Pasta, Terragusto, Roseangelis and Francesca's; did prix fixe at Sola and Moto; ate with chopsticks all over town from iNG, Urban Belly, New Tokyo, Sunda, Joy's, Jeannie's, Pingpong, Shanghai Terrace to Le Colonial; loved Lou and Gino and Spacca Napoli pizza; got whimsical with Graham Elliot; pie and home brew at Piece and Nella Pizzeria; fell in love at Great Lakes; noshed on Chicago hot dogs and lobster rolls at Fish Bar; cruised the Mediterranean in Greektown, Casbah Cafe and A La Turka; chicken pot pie where ever I could find it; Hot Chocolate, a Green Zebra, Toast, Orange and a taste at the Kitchen; tried Rockit, Table Fifty-Two, The Drawing Room, Hugo's Frog Bar, Belly Shack, Carnivale and MK; tapas at Cafe Iberico and Cafe Ba Ba Reba; met Fred's at Barneys; south of the border at Big Star, Mi Tierra, Zapatista, Cesars, Cafe El Tapatio, Chilam Balam and even Chipotle, or New Mexican at Abiquiu Cafe; Indian at Marigold, Standard India and Hemas; Fat buns at Ann Sathers; cheese with my wine at Webster's, the D.O.C., The Tasting Room, Bin, Bin 36, Volo, 404, Eno, the Purple Pig and sipped champagne at Pops; BBQ at Chicago q, Smoque and Chicken Hut; bellied up to the bar at Jacks, the Gage, Schubas, Cooper's, Minibar, Mystic Celtic and Wilde; meat at ZED451, veggies at Spring, cold queso at Bandera and brunch at Gemini Bistro; hearty at Hearty and HB; BYOB'd when we could and we can't remember the rest!
While I dined around for fun, my other objective during this two year quest was to eat right. And now that I'm trading my residence in the City of Big Shoulders for an apartment in the Big Apple, it's time to give a final answer to the question: can you eat right around Chicago?
The answer is...yes, but only sort of. Chicago is packed with marvelous cuisine with amazing chefs cooking up remarkable food. And I feel strongly that if you're going dine at their establishment and spend the $$$, you should eat what they are best at creating, the way they created it. So, I'm not ever going to advocate trying to change a chef's recommendation to suit your diet, unless you're at a restaurant where your dinner was cooked, not prepared (you know what I mean) or if you have a dietary restriction. I know that's hard to hear from a dietitian, but if you want a dish drastically changed, then you may want to make it at home. Problem is, many chefs are making mouthwatering meals that are delicious, but high calorie and heavy in fat without being nutrient dense or very creative. To my dismay, sometimes it's like they're not even trying, just tossing in more butter. But rather than skip the top dishes across the country or request grilled chicken everywhere you go, here is what I - a person that dines out for dinner not just for special, wants to taste the tastiest menu options, is determined to remain a healthy body weight - has to say for you to eat right around:
Ever look at the main course options on a menu and cringe at how massive they sound? Think to yourself, "is this for the week, or just this meal?" I do. In fact, I frequently find the side dishes more appealing and less overwhelming. After all, instead of a side of a cow or a pork's butt, I'd rather have a side of vegetable fabulousness; I want a nutrient-rich mouthful, not a fried, fattening gut full. In a recent visit to the amazingly awesome Gilt Bar on 230 W Kinzie St, I did just that - ordered it all on the side. It proved that I could eat right (with a few watch outs), enjoy an assortment of tastes and pack in a variety of nutrients.
This is a brief post and really just to alert you to an opening and meal deal in Lakeview. It's called, Ukai Japanese Restaurant, 1059 Belmont, a block-ish from the red line. They are having a grand opening deal that you should check out - $25 for 7 courses. Nutty. There are some great reviews on Yelp as well. We enjoyed it...BYOB and the food was solid. There are plenty of veggie choices and I think you should know about the 7 course deal before it expires! I don't have a lot to say about its nutritional attributes - it's sushi - but think you should have a taste and enjoy a meal deal!
Yes, that's right, I had a vegan lunch with Vital Juice. You know that I love veggies, but I think you may have picked up on my fondness of all things dairy and noticed that I include meats and seafood in my weekly fare (not daily, but weekly for sure). Just to make sure we are on the same page, vegan means sans animal for wining, dining and living. For those that proclaim vegetarianism as you enjoy a piece of salmon, this is not the case for vegans - vegans opt out of wearing or eating anything that contains any trace of animal. It is also the premise and practice of successful Chicago restaurateur, Karyn Calabrese of Karyn's Raw, Karyn's Cooked and the location of my vegan lunch - the most recent addition and style-y - Karyn's on Green.
I left the confines of my home office and put on a dress for this lovely lunch outing because I was invited, along with other Chicago bloggers, writers, dietitians and fitness folks and ChicagoNow's Mark Beier from Chicago Fit Club, to the Chicago launch of Vital Juice. You don't drink this juice, you read it. It's a website and daily email that gives you the lowdown on new and healthy eateries, workout hot-spots, spas and wellness events in Chicago. Partnered with Karyn's creative cuisine, it was a healthy and tasty mid-day break. Check it out...
I dream of sitting in a piazza, sipping Prosecco, eating a fresh Neapolitan-style pizza with a fork and knife (yes, my dream includes an uncut pizza that I eat from the center out with a fork and knife). I'm remarkably comfortable in the heat of the late day sun and I don't have a care in the world. The summer breeze makes me feel fine. If I'm dining like this, in a piazza, then I must be on holiday (sounds more luxurious than vacation). A girl can dream and a Chicagoan can easily find a bit of this Italian bliss in their backyard. One of my many favorite Chicago locales for a summer's afternoon pizza and Prosecco is Spacca Napoli Pizzeria on Sunnyside and Ravenswood. Chicago Magazine agrees as Spacca Napoli is 15 on the July 2010 Best 25 Top Pies in Town. Following an 11 mile run on Saturday, we took our weary wings to this authentic, friendly Ravenswood neighborhood gem. We capped the day with my favorite gelato from Paciugo Gelato in Lakeview. Benissimo!
Salads don't have to be boring and drab. In fact, they can make a tasty, nutritious meal, especially during the warm summer months. I think you should trust me on this because if you've been following my dietary habits, I'm not a salad pusher. I need a colorful, exciting salad made with a ton of veggies and interesting flavors, not just a pile of iceberg lettuce, chicken pieces and cucumber slices, to call it a meal. In fact, I think that it can be a disappointing diet disaster when its bland in color, smothered in cheese, bacon, croutons and bad tasting dressing. Fortunately, there is a way to do salad well with a variety of fresh veggies, unexpected flavors, bright tastes and herb-rich, spicy vegetable oil based dressings (not a creamy mess of saturated fat). I recently enjoyed a salad at John's Place in their comfy, neighborhood, outdoor space. Check it out and maybe you'll get an idea to spice up your own salad at home or at your next dining stop!
Last night, we headed to the Lower West Side of Chicago, called Pilsen, for a farm-to-table, mind-blowing dinner at Nightwood Restaurant. I had very high nutrition hopes and great food expectations. So many restaurants leave me feeling lovelorn; I desperately wanted Nightwood (with its dance club sounding name) to be the one. Like I was considering a prospective mate, they had everything I was looking for. A menu that is updated daily, based on season and availability, makes the knees of my bees weak. When they boast simplicity, I imagine varied and colorful, hand-cut veggies, fresh herbs and robust, unpretentious flavors so that you make that m-m-m-m-m-m face with each bite. I fantasize about a nutrient dense, farm-fresh meal with the perfect wine pairing and all the vegetables I can eat...finished with a delicious dessert that can't be skipped. After this birthday dinner for Mitch, I have very little to say about Nightwood Restaurant except: I think I'm in love.
If you haven't seen Future Foods on Planet Green, with Moto's chefs, Homaro Cantu and Ben Roche, it's time to tune-in. If you haven't eaten the food that gave them the cred and recognition to take their molecular gastronomy to the little screen, then it's time to dine-out!
Moto is heralded for its crazy creativity, innovative food creations, gastronomic whimsy and of course, fantabulous taste. Talk to anyone that's dined at this West Fulton locale and they're likely to report that they enjoyed bite after bite, of course after course, of unexpected, inventive tastes. Moto serves a prix fixe menu of 10 or 20 items with optional wine (and sometimes beer) pairings. With this many courses to consume, can you eat right at Moto? Or will this future food make you fat? I can't possibly do justice to each course - describing each bite in the detail it deserves - but I can tell you whether each dish serves up a diet disaster.
When you're dining at Topolobampo and you choose the tasting menu, you may be challenged to Eat Right with Ease if you lick your plates. If you taste, rather than clean, then Rick offers a variety of foods that will provide you a nutrient-rich dining experience. If you choose to skip the tasting menu, then you can Eat Right with Ease at Topolobampo because there are many non-fried, vegetable rich, mild and spicy options for you to enjoy a la carte!
Tomatoes and pasta, pizza and beer, tomato soup and grilled cheese, tofu and vegetables, cereal and milk, almonds and dates, chicken and pot pie, wine and cheese - all simple, culinary partnerships that I adore. With the latter in mind and an aim to eat right, I enjoyed an evening out at the Tasting Room in Chicago's West Loop. There are many wine bars speckled around Chicago and I have a special fondness for a few of them, including the Tasting Room (as well as Eno at the InterContinental on N Michigan Ave). Believe it or not, I do believe that you can eat right around wine and cheese. On the heels of my Tasting Room taste, I thought I'd share what I look for in a delicious, somewhat nutritious wine and cheese experience.
Chicago's SundaNew Asian on 110 W Illinois Street is co-hosting a dinner for the UNICEF Tap Project this Friday night and I'm totally going. I'm going for a couple of good reasons. First, the proceeds support UNICEF's water and sanitation programs to bring clean and accessible water to millions of people around the world. (Check out the project's website - it's quite compelling.) Second, after cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, there will be a four-course family style menu created by Executive Chef Rodelio Aglibot that includes an open premium bar. And they said something about surprise celebrity guests...maybe Oprah will be there!
The total cost, and I mean total - beverages, tax, gratuity - is $100 per person. For those that stay-up after 10 pm, the ticket price also includes VIP entry to the after-party at The Underground, located at 56 W. Illinois Street and there will be a Grey Goose open bar until midnight. You're welcome to just attend the after-party portion of the night by donating $25 at the door at The Underground from 9 pm-11pm, but then you miss the food!
Sunda New Asian FRIDAY, MARCH 19th, 2010 7 pm - cocktail reception with hors d'oeuvres 8 pm - seated dinner 10 pm - after-party at The Underground
For more information or reservations contact Jamie Weil via email at Jamie@rockitranch.com or at 310-270-3054.
For several years now, work has taken me to NYC, so whenever I went east, I would squeeze in a cream puff run to a Japanese bakery chain called, Beard Papa's. As luck would have it, in late 2009, Papa brought their love to Chicago's loop on the pedway level of Block 37, Suite
on 108 N. State.
It may seem like bearded papas have little to do with the most decadent, delicious, puffy, creamy, delightful handfuls of the tastes dreams are made of, but, whatever the name, Beard Papa's cream puffs are amazing. (According to Metromix, it is named after the owner's grandfather's beard.)
I love Beard Papa's puffs for the pleasure it provides, but as a dietitian, I am very fond of its modest calorie contribution. If you choose the traditional cream puff, it will cost you a mere 220 calories, 13 grams of fat and 7 grams of sugar. While a chocolate dipped is offered, the bare naked cream puff is perfect, just the way it is.
I know. The word, hearty rarely implies, "low-fat", "light", "low calorie", "veggie-rich". Actually, I'm pretty sure it conjures images and mouthfuls of warm, yummy, comfort foods, just like Mom used to make, and smother in gravy. Yes, it makes me hungry too. That's why I had to taste what the Food Network famed partners, Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh, were serving at their Chicago restaurant, Hearty. Can you eat right and hearty?
Like I said, I am scared of prix fixe menus, therefore Chicago's Restaurant Week makes me nervous. I also rarely dine on Michigan Ave., so I figured I'd kill two birds with one stone (such a violent adage) and dine at Cafe Spiaggia at 980 Michigan Ave. during Chicago's Restaurant Week. Given that I my menu picks were fixed, was I able to eat right?
I've decided that Chicago's Restaurant Week isn't a fair way to
determine if a restaurant provides eat right options. I've also
decided that it is a good way to enjoy an expensive meal at a
discounted rate, but it might not highlight the most amazing culinary creations on the menu.
Spiaggia earns an Eat Right Rating of Eat Right with Options. Although the prix fixe items were right off their usual menu, I
think I'd have to choose my own meal to know for sure.
I love being escorted to my table, assessing the area like I'm buying a house - looking for quiet neighbors, great view, comfortable weather.
Yes, I'd love water - tap please.
I love cloth napkins.
I love opening the menu for the first time, evaluating it for the tastes I crave, knowing that I can choose anything I want.
I love contemplating the wine and when the server has a suggestion and describes it with descriptors that are meaningful, not just "fruity" or "dry".
I love the anticipation - will the server be personable, will we love the specials, will I remember my meal, will we comment on the way out, "that was the best meal we've had in a longtime".
I love that you have to look right at your dinner mate when you talk and because of this intimacy, you learn so much about each other and solve so many of the world's problems (but only if the food is good).
I love that the size of the table matters to me and that I like to look out the window, rather than into the restaurant.
I love it when the server truly loves food and respects time rather than being too rushed or moving too slowly. I love it when they tell you that you should try this, or that they don't think that is all that - and you can tell that they mean it. And I love it when they're right and you share a look that says, "wow, that was a little bit of heaven in my mouth".
I love it when the food makes me proclaim, "holy shit, you have to taste this," or "this is just stupid," or "I think the Chef loves me," or "AMAZING!" or when I can't say anything at all because I'm weeping.
I love dining out for these reasons, and so many more.
Therefore, it is with a heavy heart and abashment that I confess: I am scared of Chicago's restaurant week and I'm scared of prix fixe menus.
I had a lovely Tom Kha Kai soup (sometimes called, Tom Kha Gui) for dinner last night. Although I wasn't inspired enough to talk about the restaurant, it did get me thinking about coconuts. I've noticed that coconuts have been getting more attention in the past few years; such as questions about the fat in coconut oil or milk, and coconut water as a beverage. And I've been asked, "what's the difference between coconut water and milk, and are they good for me?". Here are my answers...
It's Valentine's Day and for those that think this is a real holiday, you may be planning a night out with your mate, partner, spouse, luvva or someone you'd like to do it with (have dinner, that is). While peacocking may be your attention-grabbing tactic of choice, there are other things that may get you (and your partner) in the mood. Here is a list of foods that are not your typical "aphrodisiacs" (I left out oysters) but have been considered for their sexual prowess. Word of caution - unlike most of the nutrition tips I provide - the science is a bit "loose" when it comes to foods that turn you on [insert bad joke here] - and I've focused on foods you eat, rather than the science behind sexy scents. Lastly, I've included a couple of things that may help you want to "do-it" over the long term and their supporting science is more robust.
I frequently order meatless meals at restaurants. It makes me very happy when a chef does veggies right - full of flavor, cooked with care and creatively combined. Because of this, I know it's possible to serve a gorgeous, fulfilling, memorable vegetarian meal. In fact, I will go so far as to say that some of the loveliest meals I've eaten have been rich in vegetables and poor on meat. Given my adoration for vegetables, I was eager to dine at one of Chicago's few vegetarian and typically venerated restaurants. I was so looking forward to it! I had heard so many good things about this local establishment that I was salivating at the mere thought of the farm-fresh, seasonal, expertly-crafted vegetarian fare. Who would do vegetarian better than an acclaimed vegetarian restaurant, right? Who would be more creative, seasonal, sustainable, diverse, cutting-edge and skilled at preparing delicacies with vegetables??? I'll tell you who...chefs at other restaurants.
My experience at this vegetarian restaurant was just OK. It was not the amazing, veggie-tale experience that I dreamed of as a dietitian. Maybe my hopes were too high...I wanted a place that would turn any meat-eater on...make Mitch fall in-love...exude creativity and culinary amazement. It just didn't. Here are my comments:
I remember when my family switched from Sunday morning doughnuts from Purity Supreme to these large, shiny, rings of chewy, dough-love served fresh from the oven from this hole in the wall called, Bagel Alley in Nashua, NH (it had just opened and it was wickedgood). Bagel Alley is still a hometown favorite, serving up bagels the size of your face to carb-lovers across Nash-Vegas, New Hamm-shah.
I moved from Nashua in 1990 and ended up in Chicago in the summer of 2009 by way of Durham, NH - Boulder, CO - Albuquerque, NM - Columbus, OH - Arlington, MA (no, I'm not running from the law). I have chomped on some great bagels over the years, albeit not daily, but with the same fervor and adoration as I did as a Spring Street Junior High and NHS student. The roll-with-a-hole at Beatniks Bagels in Boulder, Wolfe's Bagels in Albuquerque and Bagel World in Salem, MA deserve a nod, but my bagel love started in "The Best Place to Live in America" (1987 & 1997). And now I seek a suitable ring of yeasted wheat dough in Chicago. My favorite so far is The Bagel on Broadway for it's entire diner (below), but I am looking for recommendations.
Before I head to the diner part, you should be aware that bagels bring in anywhere from 200-500 calories per serving depending on their size. If a 123 gram bagel has about 350 calories, barenaked, then I estimate that a Bagel Alley-sized bagel is a light 600 calories without a bit of spread. Hey, they're wicked good - live free or die - but remember that when having a bagel (have one once a month or once per week, but not daily).
Perfect for a group or party, the Colombian-style steakhouse is a fun and spirited option for a night out with a bunch of people. I visited one of the Chicago options called, Las Tablas Colombian Steakhouse this past week (not on my Meatless Monday, of course). If your group of friends decides to take up one of their large tables, will you be able to eat right?
With the Le Cordon Bleu Challenge slated for tomorrow night (it's not too late to get tickets!) at the venerated Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago, I was able to "sit down" (via email) with the Vice President of Academic Affairs and Student Services, Chef Marshall Shafkowitz, to get his POV on healthy dining out, teaching today's chefs, pork belly and his Chicago favorites. He includes some great insights that we can take to the menu - like how much we order or what to ask about the food being offered. He also assures us that chefs receive training in nutrition, but reminds us that we are the keepers of our food choices when we sit down to dine.
Here is more detail about what he had to say in response to my burning questions and some not-so-serious gripes (e.g., pork belly and butter, ha-ha). I've bolded the statements I really like and find useful.
Did you know that removing meat from your diet just ONCE PER WEEK can help reduce your risk of chronic disease - you know, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and even cancer? And, it reduces your impact on the environment by reducing your "carbon footprint" by saving water and fossil fuel. I've decided to join the brigade led by the non-profit initiative, Meatless Monday, in coordination with Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health and encourage you to join me!
To get your Meatless Monday started, here are some ideas for dinner tonight!
Please note, I haven't made my way to Karyn's yet (the vegetarian hot spot in Chicago) but stay tuned...
In honor of the recent engagement of our friends, Susanne and Evan, we dined at Duchamp on 2118 N Damen in Bucktown. It's a comfortable place, lots of wood, fine lines, unpretentious service and for the warmer months, seats about 100 on their side patio. Like so many popular Chicago restaurants, Duchamp's reviews focus on their top notch burger or their drippy, indulgent delicacies, so I was concerned about their eat right options. But thankfully, Duchamp achieved an Eat Right Rating of Eat Right with Options...or at least some.
Here's the scenario: your friends call to see if you want to go watch the game...at a sports bar. You fidget, your palms start to sweat, you crinkle your face in despair - you want to go, but can't stomach the thought of hot wings and ribs, greasy napkins sticking to your stained fingertips, loosening your belt for relief and filling your gut with all that is melted and fried. If you skip it, you miss out on a night with good friends and there's nothing on TV now that So You Think You Can Dance is over (and Jacob didn't win). The horror if you go and try to eat right: the "healthy", wilted iceberg lettuce salad, non-fat, taste-free, Italian dressing, mocking your every bite, oozing with melancholy and restriction. Aaah, what's a sports fan to do??? Get a hold of yourself...you can do it.
It's a new year and after eating around Chicago restaurants in the past four months with the intention to tell you all about it, it has become apparent that I need a rating system. Why, you ask? Because I have eaten at so many restaurants in this dense Chicagoland of food that leave me satiated, even satisfied, but nutritionally uninspired. I'd like to share the experience, but need to qualify my recommendations - without telling you to avoid a tasty, but nutritionally-challenged locale. Rather I'd like to give you a heads up that some establishments may not fit if you'd like lots of "eat right", but delicious options.
While I am certain that this Chicago restaurant in Near North is amazing year round, I'd like to recommend it as a "must-visit" this holiday season. Le Colonial's elegance, warmth and romantic ambiance creates a stunning dining experience on a cold, winter's eve. Combined with their attentive staff and delectable, French-Vietnamese cuisine, Le Colonial is an ideal end to a bustling day of shopping, or a welcoming setting for a holiday celebration. You'll find comfort in their space as well as in the their menu; you will also find it quite easy to eat right.
I took out-of-town visitors (my parents) to Lincoln Park's The Counter this past weekend. People have been buzzing about their burgers (along with other Chicago burger joints) so I thought I'd give it a try even though famed burger spots are often greasy and cheesy with a side of fried belly fat. Oh joy, oh yum, The Counter offers more than just diet destroying fat calories!
Chicago's River North just got a little spicier, thanks to Rick Bayless, famed and acclaimed Iron Chef owner of Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Frontera Fresco and five fabulous cookbooks. I've dined at Frontera Grill (although I haven't told you about it, so I must return) but was looking forward to Xoco with a wee-bit of trepidation. Yes, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to eat right at this quick-service, "hot-from-the-fryer" el restaurante. Not to worry, Eat Right Around lectores, Rick Bayless did not disappoint my drive for good health.
I recently experienced a restaurant first - the server in a small, Lakeview Italian restaurant called Angelina Ristorante pushed vegetables on me! I nearly fell off my chair and I may have teared up a bit. You know I love a nutrient-rich meal and the best way to do that is to eat veggies galore.
Amidst the warehouses of Chicago's West Loop sit some spectacular dining spots. On Fulton Market you will find Moto and its more casual sibling, Otom (see, it's spelled backwards?). While Moto is now on my "must-eat" list, Otom has a big check mark...been there, loved it, ate right.
Otom has an understated but elegant interior, and the staff is warm and friendly. I think it's so wonderful when restaurants have a knowledgeable and approachable staff. I think that being able to describe the menu and comment on specific dishes is a real value-add. And a kind, approachable demeanor makes the meal. (Note to restaurant managers/Chefs: please let your staff try the food they are serving; we need their advice.) Sorry for the tangent, it's been on my mind. Thankfully, at Otom, the server smiled easily, knew what he was talking about and didn't look sideways when I asked for some details. Off to a great start!