House of Skip

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Frontera Grill, Chicago

What does it mean when one guy has 5 eateries in Chicago, with 3 all on one city block? That he's probably pretty good and in demand. This is certainly true of Rick Bayless and his Chicago establishments.

On a Saturday night at 5 pm there was already an hour and 45 minute wait for a table at Frontera Grill, the casual Mexican bar and restaurant that is right next door to the more upscale and spendy, Topolobampo and on the other side XOCO, a small torta shop. Considering we were on vacation and there was room to wait at the bar we put our name in.

Tamarind Margarita
We absconded a small high top table in the bar and ordered drinks and an appetizer. I started with the tamarind margarita which was very yummy, but too sweet to have more than one of, so after that I switched to the same thing my companion was drinking which was the Topolo margarita, the most popular drink at both Frontera and Topolobampo. For our appetizer we had the amazing and really delicious Oyster and Ceviche platter. I am not a huge oyster fan, so the plan was my companion would eat the oysters and we would share the ceviche. He talked me into trying an oyster and if you follow me on Twitter you may have seen my post were I proclaimed that it wasn't totally gross! Ha, Ha. Still a little slimy and watery for me and my texture issues but I would try them again. The ceviches were excellent.

Topolobampo Margarita
There were three ceviches served to us, Frontera Ceviche which was Hawaiian albacore, lime, tomatoes, olives, cilantro & green chile, Tropical Tuna cocktail which was Sashimi-grade Hawaiian bigeye tuna, tomatillo guacamole, honey Manila mango salsa and Herb Green Ceviche with fresh Pacific yellowtail, spicy roasted tomatillo, lime, cilantro, and avocado. They were fresh and yummy, a perfect way to start our meal.

The wait was actually shorter than the told us and we were seated after just about an hour of waiting. We continued with the signature margaritas and looked over the rest of the menu, boy it was hard to make a choice.

Black Mole with Lamb
I finally decided on the Mole Trio which had a mole poblano enchiladas, lamb in a black mole and vegetables in a green mole. The enchilada was most like traditional moles I have had before, smoky and a little sweet. The black mole with the lamb was my favorite of the three, a little spicy, but also sweet, it was dark and yummy and went perfect with the lamb. The green mole reminded me of green curry, it was creamy, a little spicy and very similar to green curries I have had.  The presentation was super cute, the three moles all came in their own little cast iron bowls on a long narrow plate. Very cute, very yummy and so Skip was very happy.

My dining companion was equally happy with his duck dish.He had ordered the Duck with Pasilla-Huitlacoche Sauce: Red chile-rubbed duck breast, pasilla-huitlacoche sauce (garlic, dark beer). Field corn torta, sweet corn esquites, anejo cheese, shoots salad. The sauce was really tasty and the duck tender, really a classy dish that you wouldn't find at any other "Mexican" restaurants.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Lou Malanti's

Pizza. It can be a big debate. What is pizza? Who has the best? Is it Philly, New York, Chicago, Trenton style tomato pie?

If you are not new to House of Skip you know that my companion and I are connoisseurs of tomato pie and are die hard DeLorenzo's fans. We've tried other local pizza places and agree we like tomato pie better than "pizza" and while we think other joints do a good job, DeLorenzo's will always be #1 to us.

So, while in Chicago we felt it was our duty to try deep dish. We can't claim tomato pie is king without trying the competition.

The verdict? Well, let's talk about it.

There are various places in Chicago to get "deep dish" there are probably as many local arguments there as there are on the East Coast about who is better or who is the originator. Well, according to most Pizzeria Uno (now known as the chain bar/restaurant Uno) was the original deep dish pizza place in Chicago but another just as famous and possibly disputed as doing it better is Lou Malnati's. After much research and contemplation, my companion and I decided on Malnati's.

We had shopped some of the places near our hotel on the Gold Coast and were getting ready to hit the Magnificent Mile and so we thought we'd stop for lunch at Lou's. We were seated and found that the interior did remind us of Uno's, which means that maybe they were trying to copy the original. We started with an antipasto salad since we were pretty hungry. It was a nice salad, it came out in a serving dish and our waiter kindly served our first plate for us each. The lettuce was chopped small, it was full of tomatoes, salami, cheese, pepperoncini, onion, olives and my personal favorite, giardiniera (spicy, pickled veggies).

We enjoyed our salad and then the main event arrived, we had ordered a small (9'inch) with black olives. This size was perfect for us because it gave us both 2 decent sized pieces. The sauce-yummy, the crust-thick and chewy, the cheese- too much. Now, you may have been able to guess (although I did keep an open mind) that I do still prefer a thin crust. The deep dish crust is tasty, but as a personal preference, and my companion agrees, we like that crispy cracker think crust of tomato pie. The sauce was fantastic, nice chunky pieces of tomato, Italian seasonings, garlic, it was definitely good. I could have done with less cheese, but I know that is also a personal preference and that many people look for and enjoy that long draw of cheese that comes off when you bite into a piece of cheese pizza. But, that is one more reason I prefer tomato pie, I like think crust, good sauce and little cheese. And for me, Chicago deep dish only delivered on sauce.

This is only the opinion of Skip and her trusty dining companion. If you like cheese and thick crust, fly to Chicago and grab a seat a Lou Malnati's, you'll love it. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed my lunch, but my heart will always belong to tomato pie.

Places to check out in Chicago (according to Skip)

Looking for something sweet? Apparently Chicagoans like Starbucks even more than us East Coasters, there was one like every other block in Chicago, most likely next to a Walgreens. This was great for my coffee addiction, however if you are looking for a sweet treat, try something different than the 1 million calorie frapp or pound cake at the 'bucks and head to More.

More Cupcakes. Another spectacular place that my companion and I saw on a food show. This cute cupcake boutique displays their delish treats in a glass case like they are jewelry. Each cupcake is beckoning you with it's fluffy icing and a trinket on top to tell you what is inside, like the Bacon cupcake that has a little piece of crystallized, sugared bacon on top? Lovely. I did not chose the bacon cupcake, despite my love of pork, as I had just had bacon pancakes (that's another story for you to look forward to). I instead went with the salted caramel, an amazing vanilla bourbon cake with molten caramel on the inside and a pinch of decorative salt on top of incredibly fluffy icing. My companion got the s'mores which was a chocolate cake, with a marshmallow filling, cinnamon butter cream icing and a toasted marshmallow on top, based on the facial expressions and moans I can only assume it was as amazing as my cupcake.

We were lucky enough that More was around the block from our hotel, if you find yourself in Chicago, seek.them.out.

How about some whiskey? We found ourselves in Chicago during the NATO Summit, there were police barricades, protesters, helicopters and traffic. We were tired, we were hot, we were a little frustrated. What on earth do you do then? You drink whiskey. Well at least Skip and her companion do. We found ourselves at Longman and Eagle to take a load off.

The list of whiskey's, scotch's, bourbon's and rye's at this place was amazing. They had whiskey flights which looked cool, but we were in the mood for something refreshing so our mixologist recommended some cocktails for us. We each had a variation on something called a daisy which is a classic cocktail with whiskey, simple syrup, some flavoring like grenadine and something bubbly like club or seltzer. Mine had some kind of fruit juice in it and my companions had a rosemary syrup in it. I liked his better so for our second round I got that and my companion had the bartender make him something else, I think it had lemonade in it, but after all that whiskey who can keep track? They also had a good selection of craft and local beers so I could not leave without trying one. I had Goose Island (which is a Chicago made beer) which was called Matilda, it is a Belgian style ale, it was refreshing and had unique flavors.

Longman and Eagle does serve food, but we arrived just as the kitchen was closing from brunch (around 3 pm) and before they were ready to open for dinner (5 pm) but they do offer bar snacks and we had a lovely assortment of marinated olives that we chomped on while drinking our whiskey drinks.

Kuma's Corner, Chicago, IL

Lot's of people claim to have found unique places, but there is no place more unique than Kuma's. And if you don't agree, I'll punch you in the face. Oh, sorry, I got a little swept up in the moment there.

Kuma's Corner is a bar/burger joint in Chicago's Avondale neighborhood that has a focus on heavy metal. Yes, you heard me right, heavy metal. But don't let the tattooed staff, loud music and threatening signs (like the die emo die sign taped to the thermostat) scare you from having one of the best burgers of you life.

Kuma's isn't great just because it is a bar that plays heavy metal and serves burgers. It is great because they serve ridiculously good burgers with insane toppings and then name them after heavy metal bands.

In addition to the burgers, they also have some great craft beers on tap. My companion had an IPA, sorry I do not recall where it was from. I had something called Zombie Dust from Three Floyds which is a brewery in neighboring Indiana. It was very nice, it had a refreshing citrus character to it.

On to the burgers, I know you are dying to hear about the burgers!!

So, if  you recall all the burgers are named after heavy metal bands and as my luck would have it one of my favorite bands happened to have a burger named after it that had one of my favorite things on it! The Led Zeppelin burger is topped with pulled pork, pickles, bacon and cheddar. WOW. A burger with pig and more pig. I couldn't resist. My dining companion went with the High on Fire burger which had Siracha, Prosciutto, Roasted Red Pepper, Grilled Pineapple, Sweet Chili Paste.

The burgers a huge. I cut mine in half because I could barely lift it up in one piece. You can choose to have fries, chips or a side salad with your burger. Since we were on vacation, we both ordered the fries, but I could barely touch mine since my burger was so massive. The burger was perfect, full of flavor, they don't just throw some gross, hockey puck on there since they are topping it with so much stuff, they still give you a quality burger. The pulled pork was amazing, I could have eaten a mound of that by itself. They also didn't over do it with the cheddar or bacon, it was just enough to give you a taste of it with the pulled pork and the burger. Oh my goodness! I almost forgot to tell you! They serve all burgers on a pretzel roll! YUM-O! So, my companion's burger was no slouch. The prosciutto was piled on high and was super tasty, the pineapple and roasted red pepper were the perfect sweet and cool contrast to the spice of the siracha and chili paste.

Since it is so super cool, Kuma's gets packed. We got there pretty early (we were starved from our travels) and got a seat at the bar, when we left there was a line out front. Get there early or prepare to wait, but it is worth the wait. 

Many people asked us why we chose Chicago for our vacation. Food. That is why. Places like Kuma's that we've seen on more than one Food Network/Cooking Channel shows that offer a unique experience and delicious food. Take a journey of your own and as always, tell Skip about it!

  2900 W Belmont Ave Chicago IL

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mustache Bill's Diner, Barnegat Light

No mustache required at this cash only, tiny diner on Barnegat Light. Mustache Bill's has been featured TV shows, such as Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and is also a James Beard winning restaurant. I know you are thinking the same thing I was, a diner won a James Beard? Shocking, but outstanding food comes in all styles and forms.

Now, I did not set out to Bill's because of all these things, I didn't even know all that before going there. My dining companion plotted out a day trip for us, doing what we love to do, drink wine! And this is where he planned for us to have breakfast to start our journey, so I got in the car and went. My companion is lucky I like him so much, what a long drive for breakfast (and without any coffee, grr!).

Bill's looks like a normal diner, booths, tables, counter. The place is fairly small, well at least the main dining room is, you can also be seated on the porch. We were greeted kindly by our waiter who then brought us coffee, directed us to the special menu on the wall and gave us time to look over the menu. The menu has your typical diner breakfast items, but also some unique combinations and choices. The specials board also has some great omelet creations and other yummies.

I had an omelet from the special board that had sausage, zucchini, and tomato. It was really delicious. The sausage was flavorful without being spicy and the veggies were nice and fresh. My dining companion had a sweet tooth that morning and went for the cinnamon raisin french toast. It was awesome, not some kind of super fancy, crazy big slices, just regular cinnamon raisin bread made into yummy french toast. By the smile on his face and the empty plate, I'd say my companion enjoyed every bite. 

There was a discrepancy with the bill, but our waiter was super cool and very apologetic about it. We probably wouldn't have noticed if the two of us hadn't commented earlier on how reasonable the prices were there, so the bill seemed kind of high for an omelet, french toast and two coffees. Well, because I ordered an omelet from the special but then asked them to omit cheese from it, he had trouble putting in the computer system the use and ended up charging for it twice instead of once. It is an understandable error and we didn't think it was a big deal, but we appreciated how apologetic the waiter was about it. We got our new, correct check and we were on our way, still happy and very full.

So, don't take Guy Fieri's word for it or mine for that matter, check Bill's out for yourself. Mustache optional, but I believe shirt and shoes are required.

Have fun!

Mustache Bills Diner
W 8th St at Broadway
Barnegat Light, NJ 08006

Friday, May 4, 2012

Checkers Bistro

So, on our freedom from taxes celebration and PA wine tour, we had to also stop for lunch. We had tasted wine and learned a lot at both Lancaster County Winery and Mount Winery. Our next stop was Checkers Bistro in Lancaster City. I know what you are thinking and I thought the same thing, is my dining companion taking me that cheesy, drive-thru fast food place? No, Checkers Bistro in Lancaster is the exact opposite of that joint.

Checkers is an unexpected treat. It is a hidden little gem, that is nowhere near touristy Lancaster and not even on a main drag of the city either, but nestled on a side street not near much else. We walked in and were shocked, it's simple brick exterior does not prepare you for the hip bar and bistro that lies inside.

The menu gives a new definition to creative and innovative cuisine. They have a variety of small plates in addition to the lunch entrees as well as some very interesting pizzas. We each ordered a glass of Tempranillo, we had an idea of what we wanted to get so we knew we'd want a nice red. We picked the waitresses brain about what to get and what would be a nice lunch if we ordered small plates to share. So, with her help we decided on three things Peking Duck Tacos, Seared Diver Scallops (both on the shared plates list) and Prosciutto and Fig pizza. We were so excited about our lunch we were practically drooling when we ordered.

These were three of the most unique dishes I have ever had.We started with the duck tacos and the scallops. It is also worth mentioning that presentation is very special here, the waitress brought out the food on plates which were set on a low stand and then used two forks as a tongs to dish the food onto individual plates for us. Very classy. The use of the wonton wrapper as a taco shell was brilliant, it really drives home the fusion of Asian and Latin flavors in this dish. The duck was delicious, full of flavor, not drowned in bbq sauce, just enough to give you that tang. The micro greens were not only adorable but also yummy, providing a nice refreshing feel to the rich taste of the duck and guacamole. The scallops were also spectacular, they were seared perfectly with a lovely caramelization on the outside. The leeks were such a nice touch, they were soft and creamy and were a really nice touch to the dish. But make a note, you'll need some mints cause they stay on your breath! haha!

So, while we were there, we had struck up a conversation with our waitress, where she was from, what brought her to Lancaster, were we were from, talking travel, food, wine, all of our favorite things. It is always nice when you are some place where you can talk and enjoy yourself, luckily given it was lunchtime and they were busy, but not crazy our waitress had time to put up with our banter. Next up was our pizza! We were so excited to try this pizza and it did not disappoint. Cracker thin crust that was super tasty, topped with extremely thin sliced prosciutto and sweet, delicious figs. The roasted garlic added to the sweetness of both the prosciutto and the figs while also giving the pizza a savory flavor.

All of our chit chat with the waitress ended up getting us a special little treat to end our lunch with, a lemon zest sorbet. It was cool, refreshing, slightly sweet, slightly tart and just the perfect ending to a super special lunch.

Checkers Bistro was an unexpected surprise, if you are in the Lancaster area and looking to have an exceptional lunch or dinner, stop in and be amazed.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Aneu Bistro and Wine Bar

Finally free from taxes! Some of you may be aware my companion is a tax man and so we hadn't done much wining or dining for quite some time. So, once tax day had come and gone we planned a day of eating, traveling and drinking wine from local wineries. This particular journey took us to the interesting land of Pennsylvania.

We started with breakfast, the most important meal of the day (especially when you plan on drinking all day). So, we stopped at Aneu Bistro and Wine Bar, I know, I know, you're saying, "Skip, you ate breakfast at a wine bar!". Yes, yes we did but surprisingly we did not drink any wine or other alcohol for that matter. Shocking, I know, I can't say I wasn't tempted, but coffee was much more important to me at the point and time. Those of you that know me personally know that I am not much of a morning person, despite the fact that I regularly wake up at an early hour. So, my companion plotted out our day with a drive into Berwyn, PA for breakfast at Aneu on our way to our PA winery tour.

Even tough Aneu is an established wine mecca, they are open for breakfast during the week and brunch on the weekends. We happened to be traveling on a Friday and arrived at Aneu bright and early, we were the first customers and the only customers the whole time we were there. Our server seated us and I'm pretty sure it's probably just him and the cook until lunch time. The place is gorgeous, very hip, very shabby chic with unique and inspiring decor. The bar is awesome and I bet it is hopping in the evening with lots of wine flowing and yummy bites to eat.

We sat down and were quickly served coffee, we looked over the breakfast menu which is not long, but is interesting. Pancakes, waffles, eggs, all the usual suspects were there. My companion was in a celebratory mood and went a little wild and ordered a Belgian waffle with fresh fruit. I ordered the egg scramble which was sausage, scrambled eggs, onions, peppers and potatoes topped with cheese. My companion loved the waffle, it was fluffy and the edges were crispy and he just loved it. It was a nice treat for him and he would typically not use butter on a waffle, but they had cinnamon butter and it was heavenly. My egg scramble was great, the sausage was crumbled, a little spicy, the onions, peppers and potatoes were so soft and caramelized, so yummy.

I have to also point out that the coffee at this place was delicious. It had a nice flavor and aroma too it. My companion and I don't often agree when it comes to coffee because I like a dark roast where he is more of a medium roast or flavored coffee guy, but we both thought the coffee at Aneu was great.

Our waiter was also great. He kept apologizing for the food taking long, but honestly we didn't notice or really care that it took a little long to get our food. We were really enjoying the coffee and having the place all to ourselves. But because of his concern and not charging us for coffee as his apology (totally unnecessary) he got himself a nice tip.

So, I would highly suggest Aneu for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. I would love to go back and check out their wine list and dinner menu. If you get there before me, let me know how it is!