Chicago SMAK: Standard Market Grill

New city. New neighborhood. New pool of restaurant options.

I had been to Standard Market Grill once before for beers and a Hawk's game. The atmosphere is great - an open kitchen theme, dining and bar areas, with outdoor seating along Clark Street. The energy was great - young couples getting dinner and drinks, families eating dinner, people watching the game. Clearly this is a restaurant for anyone and everyone. It was quickly put on my list of restaurants to go back to and actually eat at.

Standard Market Grill

So when my brother came down to Chicago to visit me for a weekend, I recruited him to give Standard Market Grill another try with me. After a 2-hour commute into the city (the joys of working in the suburbs and living in the city), we walked over the SMG for a quick meal before walking to the beach. The entire ordering process was very confusing at first. Did we sit down at a table on our own? Did waiters take our orders? But why are there registers there at the counter? After putting two and two together, we realized that the ordering was similar to that at Panera - order at the front counter, receive a buzzer, get your food. I feel like this is a strange set up for what feels like a sit-down restaurant.

the napa

THE NAPA | goat cheese, salted focaccia, tomato bacon jam, arugula

The food was good, but not the best that I've had. I ordered The Napa - a hamburger topped with goat cheese, tomato bacon jam and arugula atop a salted focaccia bun. The burger itself was good, not real complaints there. The side however, I was less than impressed. I am a sucker for sweet potato fries so I was very excited to see that they had this as an option. Unfortunately they came out rather mushy and overdone. Overall, I had a good food experience but I definitely think that there is room to grow or improve.

Since When is There a Saturday Post?

Wait a second. Why is there a new post on Saturday?, I am sure you are asking yourself right now.

Trust me, I was asking myself that same questions as I sat down this morning to write. I woke up this morning and I was making my normal pot of coffee. I chose Stumptown today. If you haven't tried it, you are really missing you. I know that Heritage General Store sells it, so if you live in Chicago, please do yourself a favor and make the trip to Lakeview. I find so often that it is easy to take advantage of what we've been blessed with. I talk about New York City all the time. About how amazing the food is, about the people, the atmosphere, the energy. But I don't live there anymore. So why do I dwell on that? It's useless.

Chicago

I don't know why this morning, of all days, but I am enjoying my coffee and all I can think about is how lucky and I am to be living in a city that offers so much. Culture, art, sports (Go Blackhawks!), history, food. Why am I not taking full advantage of everything that I have within my own backyard?

So, today I am not giving you a new recipe to try out, or necessarily reviewing a restaurant, bar, or coffee shop. Instead, I offer up some advice - live life to the fullest. It is easy to fall into a groove and get comfortable with your surroundings and schedules. Don't do that. Try new things. Meet new people. Eat strange food. Talk to people you'd never normally come into contact with. What's the harm?

So with this in mind, I have come up with a list of restaurants that I need to go to and experience. I am sure that my bank account will not like me for this, but nonetheless, here is a running list of places I need to try...I am sure I will add more each week:

Au Cheval

Perennial Virant

The Girl and the Goal

The Boarding House

Sushi Para

GT Fish & Oyster

The Summer House

Geja's Café

Hash House a Go Go

The Purple Pig

City Winery

The Dawson

The Pump Room

The Aviary

The Publican

Big Star

Antique Taco

The Southern

Filter Café

Violet Hour

Gilt Bar

Dear Lord how am I not 400 pounds? I will definitely have to keep up with my workouts while trying all of these restaurants/bars. If you're in the Chicago area and have any other suggestions, please let me know. What are your favorite go to restaurants or bars in Chicago?

Kopi Luwak - The World's Most Expensive Cup of Coffee

I finally did it, I broke into my limited supply of Kopi Luwak...

Kopi Luwak

Commonly known as Civet Coffee, the cat-like creature eats only the ripest coffee berries. Unable to digest the beans, they are excreted and then collected to clean, process, and roast to what will become the rarest coffee in the world.

Here is a quick video that takes a look at the search for these sacred scat:

[vimeo 14913066 w=500 h=281]

Civet

Trust me, once you really begin thinking about the process that these beans go through, it's hard to imagine that it has created something worth ingesting. I completely understand and agree with you. Especially after watching the video above, why would anyone want to drink this? My main reasoning was to say that I had tried it, to check it off my bucket list.

French Press

This specific tin I purchased online from Dean & DeLuca for the very cheap price of $70 + tax and shipping. Overall, I spent about $85 for 4 cups of coffee. Dean & DeLuca provide a lovely description of this coffee, making it sounds as though it were made out of pure gold: "Kopi Luwak, or Wild Thai Civet Coffee, is the rarest, most unique and highly coveted coffee in the world. The sweet, ripe 100% Arabica coffee cherries are digested and fermented by wild civets, before being collected by the Akha-hillside tribe of Doi Chaang Village in Northern Thailand and roasted to perfection in Vancouver, British Columbia."

Kopi Luwak

Here's the million dollar question: Is it worth the cost?

I would say yes. Not because it is the best cup of coffee I have ever had, but for the experience itself. Don't get me wrong, the coffee was strangely delicious and incredibly smooth, without any bitter taste. But at the end of the day, was it better than any cup I could have gotten at Intelligentsia? Or Stumptown? I am not sure. My first inclination would be to say no. I truly believe that the price reflects the exotic process through which these beans go.

Would I buy another four cups of Kopi Luwak? Only for a very special occasion.

 

Chicago SMAK RPM Italian

The hype around RPM Italian was big. Bill and Giuliana Rancic are partners. The food is amazing.It would be safe to say that I was concerned that the actual experience would not live up to everything I had heard. It seemed like the shoes would be too big to fit.

RPM ItalianTouché RPM, touché. What I witnessed Monday night was perhaps the best culinary experience I have had in a very long time. The attention to detail, to flavor combinations, to presentation and service. RPM hit everything spot on. The only thing that I found to be distracting was the completely inappropriate apparel worn by some of the patrons - booty shorts and a see-through lace top are not appropriate for this venue. Take your Lollapalooza costumes back to Grant Park.

Our waitress was one of the best that I've ever had - helpful yet not overbearing, friendly, laid back, an all around pro. Walking us through the menu, she was able to get an idea of what flavors and dishes we were interested in and made suggestions from there. All of the pasta is made in-house and it definitely helped push our dining experience above and beyond our expectations. Below is our menu:

Watermen & Tomato

Watermelon & Tomato ricotta salata, black olive

This was the biggest shock of the night - the combination of tomatoes, watermelon, ricotta cheese, and chiles? I definitely didn't image that powerhouse combination would be as brilliant as it was!

Zucchini Fritti

Zucchini Fritti herb dip

In the words of our waitress, "Who needs potato chips anyways?"

Prime Beef Meatballs

Prime Beef Meatballs

Hands-down Chicago's best meatballs. From the instant it touched my tongue, the meat melted and the flavors overwhelmed my taste buds (in a very good way).

Potato Gnocchi

Potato Gnocchi sausage, rapini, chili flake

This gnocchi was about ten billion times better than the dried gnocchi I purchased at Mariano's earlier this summer. Perhaps it is time that I learned a homemade gnocchi recipe...

Mama DePandi's Bucatini Mama DePandi's Bucatini pomodoro, basil

This was the perfect basic red sauce pasta. The basil was incredibly fresh and added a burst of flavor to the fairly simple pasta dish.

Tartufo

Tartufo hazelnut gelato, chocolate shell

Have you ever had Ferrero Rocher? This was similar, but about ten times better. The hazelnut flavor wasn't overpower and the combination of soft gelato with the crunch of the chocolate shell was the perfect way to finish our dinner at RPM Italian.

If you live in Chicago, or are visiting anytime soon, I implore you. Call ahead, make reservations and spend a little extra money for an amazing dinner at RPM Italian.

Door County SMAK: Al Johnson's

Okay, so we've had our fair share of Door County posts over the last week. I promise you this is the last one, for a while at least.

Al Johnson's

If you have heard of Door County before, it is safe to say that The name Al Johnson's may have come up in conversation. This Swedish restaurant is located in Sister Bay, Wisconsin and is famous for having goats atop its grass roof. This is absolutely the first thing most people mention when talking about the restaurant.

goats on the roof

Complete with a store, Al Johnson's has everything needed for a complete 2-hour Swedish overload. The absolute must however is to wake up and sit down for a breakfast of coffee and Swedish pancakes. Similar to crepes, these pancakes are more dense and moist than normal pancakes. Once you go Swede, you'll never go back! Most important is to top your pancakes with lingonberries - a berry native to the forests of my native homeland.

The other Swedish staple most think of is meatballs. Pour a little gravy on top and eat them with your pancakes and I am not sure you could get a more perfect balance of savory and sweet. Unfortunately, I cannot say that I was thrilled with the meatballs at Al Johnson's.

butik

No matter what meatballs Al Johnson's prepares, the restaurant will always hold a dear place in my heart, perhaps solely due to my extreme pride in my Swedish heritage. I've included a recipe for Swedish pancakes before, so please be sure to try them out and let me know what you think.

Swedish Pancakes 

Ingredients:

6 eggs 2 1/2 cups milk 2 tablespoons sugar 1 1/2 cup flour 1 teaspoon salt 1-2 tablespoons butter

Instructions:

  1. In a large mixing bowl, stir ingredients together until batter is no longer lumpy.
  2. Preheat a non-stick electric skillet to medium heat.
  3. Pour a thin layer of batter on skillet, and spread to edges. Cook until top surface appears dry. Flip to other side and cook for another 2 minutes, or until golden brown.
  4. Roll each pancake up, and serve.

Door County SMAK: Fred & Fuzzy's

Door County is known as the Cape Cod of the Midwest. Small coastal towns. Cottages on bluffs overlooking the water. Local coffee shops. There is a reason that this coastal community has quickly become one of my favorite weekend getaway destinations. You come here and forget all about the hustle and bustle of your regular schedule. You sleep in most mornings, enjoy a cup of coffee while looking out over the water, spend the afternoons in the sun, and then go out in the evenings for dinner and drinks. Fred & Fuzzy's

Fred & Fuzzy's Waterfront Bar & Grill is located in Sister Bay on Pebble Beach, just off Highway 42. Tucked back amidst a resort, this restaurant overlooks the water and is the perfect spot to enjoy the sunset as you are finishing up dinner and enjoying a drink or two.

Corned Beef Reuben

The items that fill the menu consist of your standard bar and grill food - burgers, sandwiches, wraps, jalapeño poppers, a few salads. The cherry margaritas and Moscow Mule, along with the brews from Wisconsin, are worth the visit alone. Being a foodie, I would like to see higher quality food, but can appreciate what it is - bar food. In my opinion, the real star of this restaurant is the atmosphere.

Fred & Fuzzy'sI would highly recommend going to Fred & Fuzzy's if visiting Door County - it is the perfect spot for an outdoor meal. I have never had a bad experience and have been very happy with the service that we receive. A note to keep in mind: during the hot summer days, this restaurant can get crowded, so don't be surprised if you have to wait.

Fred & Fuzzy's = 8/10 SMAK Approval Points