Archive for  March 2012

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11 see the shawnee national forest

Located in southern Illinois, the Shawnee National Forest lies between the mighty Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. It has some of the most beautiful scenery in the Midwest.   A great way to see some of the unique rock formations, caves, spectacular bluffs and canyons, is on horseback.   Horseback riding is a tradition in this part of the state, and, Wendy of Honey Bee Stables provides a great guided ride.  She knows all the great spots to see, and, the interesting facts of the area.   Southern Illinois’ mild winters make riding possible all year-round. Every time of the year is beautiful in the forest.    A great advantage of winter riding that I noticed, was, no bugs!     You can design you own ride, a ½ day or full day.   We rode most of the day, and, enjoyed a great picnic lunch.    Book a ride today: (618) 638-8059

Enjoy Southern Illinois!

Carol

12 apprentice meets italy

A week after their opening, RPM seems to be moving in the right direction.  The newest addition to the Lettuce Entertain You family, RPM is the combined effort of Bill and Giuliana Rancic (R), Doug Psaltis (P), and RJ, Jerrod and Molly Melman (M).  RPM.

Interesting fact: I wrote about Levy Restaurants’ newest spot Bar Toma last month.  An ode to Italy, if you will.  Here we are a month later, with the Lettuce group showing off their “Piazan” side.  Guess I’m not the only one that loves this cuisine, right?

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Meeting with the ‘Thursday Night Girls Group,’ a few of us went early to enjoy a glass of wine at the bar, which takes up more than half of the old Ben Pao space.  From the outside, it’s very nondescript, looking almost dark.  Inside, white walls and black ceilings play well together, creating a modern minimalistic décor and an overall comforting environment.

We love Italian and this menu was very approachable and great for sharing.  Because we’re a group of 8 that wanted to try a little bit of everything, we enjoyed a few of the ‘primi’ (fresh ricotta, charred pepperoni pizza, zucchini fritti, prime beef meatballs), salads (RPM Caesar wedge, arugula, shaved artichoke) and homemade pastas.  The table favorite for pasta was a cacio e pepe that was such a simple combination of olive oil, cheese, pepper and lemon, but packed such a tasty punch.  Naturally, we had to try “Mama DePandi’s Bugatini Pomadoro” as well, and felt like we could come back for ‘comfort food.’  We did not make it to the entrée section at all, but I did happen to see their spaghetti and meatballs walk by, with the meatball the size of a small child’s head!  This group normally skips dessert, but we were sold on the homemade gelato (coconut, pistachio and rice pudding), giant tartufo, and my personal favorite, roasted black mission figs, crushed amaretti cookies and mascarpone crema.  We devoured it all, without any guilt.

As this is the newest Chicago hot spot, finding a reservation outside of 4:30 or 9:30 (even with the assistance of a concierge) will be tough, an ‘in’ would be grabbing a seat in the bar area, where you may also order off the menu.  I hear the “VIP” table is one of the round banquets in the back/center of the room that you need to pass by before heading into the main dining room.  Keep an eye out for Bill & Giuliana at this spot anytime they’re in Chicago.  So, does that mean Trump is “fired”?

Bellisimo!        Monika

Amber Tillett & Monika Lotter – Chicago
When we decided to launch Flight Chicago, a backstage-pass tour of Chicago’s hottest restaurants, we went from casual food lovers to professionals.  With yin and yang backgrounds and viewpoints, we like to think of ourselves as one whole enchilada.  Monika was born and raised in Chicago, Amber came here from North Carolina.  Together, we’re able to look at the Illinois food culture as both a native and a visitor.  We  love dressing up to hit the glittery new downtown spots, but also get a thrill biking to remote mofongo stands in way-west Humboldt Park.  We’re all over the place, and we can’t wait to take you with us.

13 restaurant week

I originally had a fear that I would miss out on this year’s Chicago Restaurant Week deals, but thankfully managed to grab a coveted seat during the frenzy.  If you aren’t familiar with CRW, it’s when the masses come out to try out restaurants they have not been to yet or take in great deals.  When else can you get a $22 lunch or $33-$44 dinner, both prix fixe?  Pretty great right?

A friend made me very jealous having gotten a reservation for the much-buzzed ING  (third brainchild of chef Homaro Cantu, following Moto and Otom), gushing on her great experience.  Have no fear; I am saving myself for a celebratory dinner there soon.

I invited said friend to Roka Akor with me.  They opened last summer on the corner of a building that had been newly constructed, but left uninhabited for at least a year in an area that’s truly become a dining Mecca over the last few years.  Roka Akor has a sister restaurant in Scottsdale, AZ that’s been around since 2008.  We walked into this very sexy feel of a space with lots of warm wood accents complementing the modern feel.  Our server explained that Roka Akor is steakhouse and “roka akor” means to ‘cook around a fire,’ based on the Japanese words “ro” (social gathering place), and “ka” (heat/warmth/fire).  We were seated kitty corner to the fire pit and were able to see the food cooking in front of our eyes.  For my next visit, I’ll grab a seat at the bar surrounding the pit – as long as I don’t mind smelling like grilled meat for a while after.

We were amazed at the turnout, as it was pretty full for a Thursday night.  Guess you can say we lucked out with getting a 4-course tasting for the $44 price tag.  The food just kept coming out, a feast for kings with each bite tastier than the last.  Each dish is meant to share, so we started with steamed edamame and white miso soup.  Next we had a crispy butterfish roll and a seasonal Japanese wild mushroom and green bean salad.  We were a bit overzealous and ordered an additional roll, the dynamite scallops, but we managed to finish those as well, since they were just that yummy.  Third course was the salmon teriyaki and the glazed pork ribs.  Dessert, yes dessert, was light and beautiful.  The green tea custard had a banana element and sugar crust, almost like a crème brûlée.  The poached pear and tapioca pudding with sweet red bean had candied citrus that combined perfectly and was irresistible.

I’d definitely return for a swanky night out at the bar and a few rolls to boot, along with some great cocktails to share among friends.

Don’t stop there people…

Don’t be upset if you missed CRW 2012, as there are plenty more food events to look forward to.  Next up is Chicago Chef Week  from March 18-23.  Launched in 2009, now with over 50 participating restaurants, it’s the next “chef fest” on the bill.  Later this fall, from September 28-30, Chicago Gourmet  will take over Millennium Park and bring The Hamburger Hop  with it.  The Chicago feeding frenzy never ends.

Bring on the Chefs!        Monika

Amber Tillett & Monika Lotter – Chicago
When we decided to launch Flight Chicago, a backstage-pass tour of
Chicago’s hottest restaurants, we went from casual food lovers to
professionals.  With yin and yang backgrounds and viewpoints, we like to
think of ourselves as one whole enchilada.  Monika was born and raised
 in Chicago, Amber came here from North Carolina.  Together, we’re able
to look at the Illinois food culture as both a native and a visitor.  We
 love dressing up to hit the glittery new downtown spots, but also get a
 thrill biking to remote mofongo stands in way-west Humboldt Park.  We’re
all over the place, and we can’t wait to take you with us.