I usually just go for the pizza, or maybe a sandwich; I’ve even come to love the powdered sugar-dusted coffeecake. But for some reason, the gelato at Labriola Bakery and Cafe in the Oak Brook Promenade is also worth noting. On a recent visit, they had a few tempting flavors. You know, the usual stracciatella (chocolate chip) or nocciola (hazelnut), and there’s nothing wrong with those. But we were encouraged to try one of their relatively new flavors – Belgian cookie. What I thought was going to be a sugar bomb, turned out to be an almond-y creamy treat on a warm, late Spring afternoon. Mangia!
While every other new restaurant in Chicago lately features either tacos, burgers or Neapolitan pizza, it’s refreshing (albeit, quite a bit more expensive) to see Henri trying to bring back the era of luxe dining, in a room where you can actually have a conversation with your dining companion(s). Chef Dirk Flanigan – who still oversees The Gage next door – is flexing his French skills, in both technique and ingredients, and one of the menu’s stars seems to be the steak tartar. I’ve been seeing this assemblage of raw beef, seasoned with capers, a little egg yolk and accompanied by toast or chips, at a number of places recently, including Duchamp and Leopold. But the version at Henri is simply splendid. If you are going to splurge a little, and you need your red meat quota, this is the dish to get.
Thanks to the fine folks at Vosges, and nearly every County Fair in the Midwest, chocolate-covered bacon is no longer seen as a bizarre love child of bittersweet and smoky. The combo is seen almost as frequently as brandade or arancini, and bridges the gap between sweet and savory, especially at the breakfast table. At Kanela Breakfast Club, in a space that used to house the first Orange in Lake View (where Top Chef competitor Dale Levitski cut his teeth), a couple of Greek guys have reinvigorated the morning meal, by offering their own version of chocolate-covered bacon waffles, accented with a bit of bacon “dust.”
Note: in the video, I refer to them as Kanela’s, but in truth, there is no apostrophe “s.” Apologies on the premature pluralization.
Visiting the Hopleaf in Andersonville is an education (and appreciation) in the nuance and complexity of Belgian beer. With more than 100 by the glass, Michael Roper has assembled a list that can humbly be described as mind-bogglingly impressive. But don’t rule out the food.
A few years ago, Roper installed a kitchen, with a menu that matches up extremely well with all kinds of beer. His go-to dish, though, is the moules frites – steamed mussels with crispy, Belgian-style french fries (and a requisite side of garlicky aioli). They come steamed either in a Belgian white ale, or a “style of the day.” An order for one will cost $12; orders for two, $21.
A few weeks ago, I listed my Top 5 roasted chickens in Chicago. I think at the time, I was limiting my options to chickens that were actually roasted in ovens – sealed in their warm cocoons, juices dripping, skin crisping – and left off any rotisserie birds since they don’t really spend much time in an oven, per se. But one look at the operation at Brasa Roja on the Northwest Side, and you quickly realize the Colombians also know a thing or two about transforming chicken into utter deliciousness, even if they don’t seal it into an airtight box.
With a handful of locations in the city (also known as El Llano), the owners have mastered the art of deep marination, slow, circular roasting and then quick-finishing directly over the charcoals, just to crisp up the skin. It’s almost hypnotizing watching the birds rotate ever-so-gently on the custom-made rotisserie, but when you bite into the smoky, juicy bird, you quickly realize this isn’t a dream.