Barrelhouse Flat

Most people will be going to the newly opened Barrelhouse Flat for Stephen Cole’s vast array of old school artisanal cocktails and punches served to you table side.  They do make the perfect Brooklyn cocktail with rye whiskey and orange bitters, and serve it in a frosty glass.  However, I will be going there for the food – delicious bites of deviled eggs and a sweetbread snack.

Double deviled eggs with ham and tobacco onions.

Blue cheese and mushroom beignets with peppercorn gastrique.

Pig face poutine with roasted fig, shallot and hand cut fries.

Bacon Popcorn.  Salty, buttery and smokey.

Dips and Spreads:  French onion, chipotle sweet potato (with a kick) and snappy cheese (quite snappy with horseradish).

Sweetbread bites with Green Goddess.

What Italians do on a Sunday

It’s no mystery as to what Italians do on a Sunday (or any other day of the week) – eat, drink and cook. Repeat. Best recipes are family ones passed on from generation to generation.  However in our family, my grandmother and aunt passed them all on to us – with just the ingredients and NOT the amounts. Including cookies.  So improvising and eyeballing are part of the formula.  Italian Wedding Soup was a favorite childhood dish growing up, so here we go.  If Next was making my renditions of childhood favorites it would surely look like a menu they served on the set of the Sopranos.

This is a sidebar before we get to the cooking.  Zing Zang bloody mary mix (the first time I knowingly enjoyed this was with my hot Italiano boyfriend in New Orleans).  Roro fell in love with it at Chicago Gourmet.  You really have to do nothing except maybe add a squeeze or two of lime or lemon.  You can find it at Binny’s or Mariano’s.  We added these amazing Green Pear Tomato Pickles from Froelich’s in MI.  My grandfather used to pickle all the leftover green tomatoes from his garden every year, so these are a very nostalgic item.  I am not sure he would like I added them to a Bloody Mary.  Shockingly, my grandparents were not big drinkers.

The key to any successful Italian Wedding Soup are the meatballs.  Ground beef and pork combo, Italian unseasoned breadcrumbs, Parmesan, minced garlic, eggs and chopped parsley.  No recipe, but those are the ingredients.  Roll into meatballs about 1.5″ in diameter and bake in oven until about halfway done so they are not dry, about 7 minutes.  I wonder how many meatballs I have made in my life?  Thousands???

Saute onions and carrots in olive oil until about halfway done in a huge pot.  Add beef stock and water to taste. Season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil.  Add the meatballs for a bit and simmer.  Bring to another boil and add the pasta.  This time we used acini de pepe, little perfect pearls of pasta.  Cook until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Add one head of shredded escarole.

Serve in wide bowls and garnish with grated parmesan cheese.  And don’t be stingy with the cheese either, Aunts Do and Millie wouldn’t like that at all!

Ladies who Live it up at Lunch

Girlfriend lunches are the best – you can fully catch up in 45 minutes on all the latest gossip, boy talk, shopping and work news effectively over a meal.  And when you have the chance to try the newest lunch items at NoMI Kitchen by Chef Ryan LaRoche, well then that’s a huge bonus.  The new items let you coast fearlessly into fall with rich flavors, cheesy goodness and a little bit of a crunch.

Forest Mushroom Soup with Sophia goat cheese and a thin sliver of a sourdough crouton.  Our server told us it was delicious and he was 110% correct.

JLynnePR selected the Artisan Grilled Cheese with snow white cheddar, country bread, black truffle butter and roasted tomato soup.  It was a mile high. 

I will always go for a fancy version of a Reuben.  The NoMI Reuben with pear sauerkraut, gruyère cheese on marble rye with hand-cut frites. 

The birthday girl The Schwanz-a-razzi feasted on NoMI’s Signature Sushi Platter – spicy tuna roll, salmon sushi and yellow tail sashimi.

For dessert the Chocolate Crunch Bar – which thankfully The Schwanz-a-razzi snapped since I had to sneak out for a meeting.  Supposedly it was amazing, so I guess I’ll just have to go back and see for myself.

Crunch Photo Credit: Rachel Schwanz

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La Grenouille – The Big Thing

Dining at La Grenouille is like waking up in the middle of a delicious dream.  So for the venue of the Best Wedding Ever and Best Weekend Ever, Part Deux, it was the perfect setting for the bride & groom to say “I do.”

That same weekend, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal, contemplating What’s The Next Big Restaurant.  Before we get ahead of ourselves, however, let’s start with what makes dining an “experience” in the first place, no matter what the occasion:  service, as well as great food.

I’m all for the Spotted Pigs (NY) and Big Stars (CHI) of the world; in fact they are totally my speed.  Great food, casual atmosphere, fun service and ice cold drinks.  But I do reminisce about my days when I started in the business and was lucky enough to dine at the original Le Cirque in NY (while I was an aspiring foodie in college back in the 80s & 90′s), Spago on Sunset and Mugaritz in San Sebastian (still a bit new fangled, but they also had their service down to a science).  There is something about the experience at these newer places that can often be amiss, as well as missed, in these more modern offshoots of culinary civilization.  How long should you sit with an empty coupe before you are asked if you would like another cocktail?  Should you get clean plates between saucy courses? Should your server pass your pop quiz about the specials for the night?  When is the right time to clear the table? Am I being rushed here?

I had never been to La Grenouille in Manhattan, but have walked past it probably 100 times on my way to Fred’s.  When the bride & groom broke the news of where the nuptuals would take place, I could not be more excited.  Red velvet banquettes, lush and opulent floral arragements, gilded mirrored bathrooms (PS – very James Beard House-esque) and most of all, fine French cuisine and spot-on service.  This is “the” Big Thing.  They get it right.

Passed appetizers – gourgeres, light and cheesy.

Amuse Bouche
Le Potage Saint Germain
“Saint Germain” Split Green Pea Soup

Main Course
Poularde au Pot Henri IV
Poached Organic Chicken with Turnips, Carrots, Leeks, Potatoes,
Pearl Onions Served with “Guérande” Coarse Sea Salt
It was first presented on silver platters table-side …

Then carved and served.  The sea salt was delicious and crunchy.

Gâteau à la Noisette et Chocolat, Glace Vanille
Hazelnut and Dark Chocolate Cake, Vanilla Ice Cream


Charles Masson, Proprietor, was the perfect host and gentleman, even making sure I had an umbrella on the way out the door to the after party at The Monkey Bar.

What a perfect night.  Merci.

The Waverly Inn, Manhattan

The Waverly Inn is enchanting and easy, all at the same time.  For a fashionable rehearsal dinner this was the place to be, in their intimate back garden area, where we felt secluded and able to revel in all the wine.  It is special when a restaurant can serve a large group of guests, but yet you still feel as though you are seated in the restaurant, and at The Waverly Inn you are always lucky to be tucked into a table for the night.  Also, lucky for me, my close friend was seated next to me so we could share the choices and he didn’t care if I took photos of his food.  He’s a good friend.

First course – Crab cakes with fennel, salsify and mandarin orange.  I wish more restaurants would use salsify, I wonder why not?

Tuna Tartare with lime, sesame and avocado.

Roasted Amish chicken with morels, mashed potatoes and herb salad.  Morels were perfect as was this gorgeous seared chicken.

Prime New York strip steak grilled with herb butter (compound butters need to make a huge comeback – for the flavor they add as well as the color), potato cake and spinach.  Very Chicago of you, Waverly Inn …


*GUEST RAZZI – Stacy Johnson from Food Mafia

Stacy knows a thing or two about great restaurants, it is always fun to be with her when she is trying new places, or even if she is just out for a night on the town.

On a recent trip to Chicago (she’s a jetsetter), she landed for lunch at Prosecco.  She would like for us to note – the orecchiette with white truffle oil and black truffle cream was fantastic!

Avocado salad – Avocado, grilled and diced baby lobster tail and prawn, sweet pepper, scallion, basil oil and balsamic glaze.

SALMONE con LENTICCHIE e SPINACI – Grilled wild-caught salmon, braised lentils, baby spinach and lemon-scented olive oil.

ORECCHIETTE TARTUFATE – Fresh disc-shaped pasta, wild mushroom, asparagus, sun-dried tomato, black truffle cream, shaved Grana Padano and white truffle oil.

Here is a link to the page and info on Food Mafia:  

Stacy – see you soon!

Belly Lunch Spot

LOVE to go to Urban Belly, but hate when the J-Bomb goes without me.  But he loves his lunch missions, and this is one of his top picks.  Udon with spicy pork, pineapple and bean sprouts in corn broth.  As a kiddo he used to live in Japan, so he is an expert when it comes to the noodles.  I’d take his word for it!  J – when are we going!

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Prost! at Pierrot Gourmet

The Schnitzel Mission continues – and perfect timing with Oktoberfest.  Chef Kai Lerman’s Oktoberfest Menu at Pierrot Gourmet at The Peninsula in Chicago celebrates in authentic splendor, with the entire room recreated into a German/Austrian Brau Haus.  And this menu runs through the end of the month, so steins can be raised at least EINZ more time!

A Spaten and a Hacker-Pschorr in LARGE glass steins.


Wiener Schnitzel - veal schnitzel, potato salad, lingon berries and mustard.


Braumeister Teller – Swiss brat, sauerkraut, potato salad and mustard.  This sausage was oozing with chessy goodness.


And to end the meal, we got to sample the macarons the hotel is known for, as we decided to forego the Black Forest cake – until next time!



While all my friends decided to go to the gym on a recent trip to Manhattan, I decided to have lunch at The National, mostly becase it was conveniently located in our hotel.  I got to spend a few hours with the fun bartender as he was setting up for the day, while enjoying a bloody mary and a chorizo omelette.

Meringue desserts are wonderful.  And this pavlova was a delicious combination of toasted almond gelato, toasted almonds as garnish, fresh peaches and Campari caramel.  It could not be passed up.  It tasted even better than it looked.