Archive for the ‘Restaurant Reviews’ Category

After three years of attending the Aspen Food and Wine Fest, I’ve learned to love the fact that you never know who you may bump into.

It almost feels like summer camp, but instead of team sports- we compete with how much pork we can consume at one sitting. (This actually happened between Me Jason Vincent and  Michael Votaggio). My tight jeans are telling me I won.)

This year was a little different. My guy Jason Vincent was named 2013’s Best New Chef and I could not have been happier for the fellow phish fan.

Jason knew I would be at the event, so he asked me if I would help with his tasting on Saturday morning. No brainer. So I joined Danny Grant (best new chef last year) , and Jason Hammel ( LuLa Café)  and it felt more like a party than work.

Food and Wine friends Dana Cowin and Kate Krader stopped by to say hello and Kate marveled at the fact that Chicago was so well represented and that we’d help out our friend at his table.

Team Chicago w/Dana

Team Chicago w/Dana

After the Grand Tasting I high tailed it over to the Jerome hotel to start prepping for my event with Jamie Bissonnette from Toro Restaurant in Boston. The two of us were working a pop-up tapas bar at the Jet Set store hosted by Brady from Cochon 555.

 The turnout was amazing and it would have been a perfect event- except for the fact that the Hawks lost to the Bruins and Jamie wouldn’t let me forget about it.

Sunday kicked off with judging the Cochon 555 event. I got to hang with Jason again and Andrew Zimmern was chatting with us while we all tasted 30 different pork dishes from some of the best Chefs in the country. Yes 30- I disgust even myself sometimes.

The competition was solid and my friend Cosmos from Publican Quality Meats and Missy Robbins were stand-outs for me. (Missy I need that recipe for those meatballs!)

Missy's Dish

Missy’s Dish

Cosmo's dishes

Cosmo’s dishes

 But it was Adam Sobel from Rn74 in San Fran who was crowned The Prince of Pork, and it was a well-deserved win.
adam's dish

adam’s dish

After three days of non stop eating, laughing and having feeling like an old man due to the crazy altitude…I couldn’t wait to come back to Chicago. Cheers Aspen, until next year.


Tuesday night I needed a hug.

I had just gotten done doing a Bikram Yoga class and was calm for the first time all week. Then I checked my phone and read a text : “You read the Time Out review?”.


I’d been stressed about this review, like I am for all of them. It doesn’t matter how many tweets, handshakes, compliments, and good reviews we get (all though we love them- ha!)…one bad review can put me in a dark place for weeks.

I bit the bullet and read Julia Kramer’s review , my panic increasing by the moment. I respect Julia as a food critic, and winced at some of the comparisons.

But as my eyes found the final paragraph, I cheered up a bit. A bit. The Big Baby , is my favorite thing on the menu and I’m glad she was also a fan.

It’s a dish that reminds me of where I came from, and I have that goal with all of my food- to remain authentic, while finding new ways to become a better chef.

So I chose to focus on the positive and had some fun with it and tweeted this at Julia.
Thank god she got the joke and played along. Not bad for a hotel Chef, right?


Black Bottom Sundea

If you try one dessert at Little Market this has to be it.

It’s a warm brownie with two brandied cherries, soft serve ice cream, salted caramel, candied peanuts & two more brandy cherries on the top.

I didn’t find inspiration for this creation while traveling and trying restaurants, and it’s not a play on a childhood favorite- I actually have no idea how I came up with this dish. But I love it. It’s one of my favorite desserts, and the simplicity probably has a lot to do with it.

we started with the ice cream, who dosent love soft serve, Grace added the peanuts and caramel, but the kicker is the cheries, makes it kind of an adult sundea!

Salty, sweet, warm, crunchy, liquor- it appeals to every sense of taste. (Ok so I added the liquor part)

And as I sat enjoying one of these bad boys post friends and family service….I realized that most of Little Market’s menu has this same theme- be simple and be awesome

Little Market Brasserie

Posted: October 30, 2012 in Drinks, Food, Restaurant Reviews

The beauty of social media is that it can make you look really cool. In fact, it can create just about any illusion you’d like it to.

I’m a perfect example. The past few months I’ve posted status updates and photos from Austin, NYC, New Orleans and Miami… and while it looked like I was vacationing like a champion- in reality I’ve been traveling with my business partners researching concepts for Little Market.

We’ve been tweaking the concept well before it opened as PT Pop Up, and I’ve been dying to talk about how excited I am to get back to working with American classic dishes. But one of the good things about getting older is I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut and wait to present ideas until the concept comes to life.

Well my friends, the *shit* as they say, is together. I’ve been testing and tweaking dishes for months and I’m really excited to share them.

If you were one of my loyal regulars at Butter or Perennial, then I think you’ll appreciate the dishes you’ll find at Little Market.  But I like to think of the Little Market’s concept as;  a super hot girl dressed down with no makeup on, in sweat pants. The girl’s the same- she’s just not as daunting to approach.

I hope you’ll all swing thru when we open in early winter…until then I’ll be in the test kitchen making sure every bite is delicious.

Originally Posted in August 2012

El Quim de la Boqueria (market)

Boqueria Market:

Get the cuttlefish with the fried egg. It’s a little place so you have to stand and wait for a table, but it goes fast worth it!

Also in the Boqueria Market check out Pinotxo Bar and Kiosko Universal

Bar Canete

Carrer de la Unio 17 #930 029 425

This is a fun spot for tapas off Las Rambles.

Tapac C24

Diputacio, 269 #934-880-977


Everything is amazing, but I really loved the MC foie burger and potatoes with egg and chorizo.

Lolita Taperia

Tamarit, 104 # 924315231

This used to be Albert Adria’s tapas bar- and it’s still very good but it’s always packed.


Avenida del Paralel’ in Barceona where the 41º22’34” parallel north line passes through.

Very difficult to get a reservation, but a must see if your traveling to BCN!

It is the latest restaurant from Albert Adria, so you know its going to be something special.

Three People and Music

Corsega 231-233 #677887565

This is my friend Mateo’s restaurant- we cooked together in Spain. His patatas bravas put anyone else’s to shame and his tuna tartar is off the charts. Total hidden gem.

Moo Restaurant in the Hotel Omm

Rosselló 265 # 93 445 40 00

This is an extension of the Roca Brothers, whom I worked for at their 3 star restaurant in Girnoa.It’s really awesome food and gives a insight into their creativity.


Industria, 79 #93 207 61 15

I used to work here with Chef Jordi. This is a pricey 1 Michelin Star spot- but it’s well worth it. Make a reso.

Dining in Madrid

Posted: October 30, 2012 in Drinks, Food, Personal, Restaurant Reviews, Travel

Originally posted in July 2012

Everyone always asks me to recommend restaurants in Spain for their trips. I finally decided to put a list of my favorites and some cant miss spots! Here is Madrid, Enjoy!



C/ Pelayo, Madrid 915 226 413
good tapas nothing fancy or crazy

Good for a quick lunch or a beer and some bites

Le Cabrera 

C/ Bárbara de Braganza, 2 Madrid 913 199 457
awesome cocktail bar with great tapas,

cool scene make a reservation

Estado Puro 

Plaza de Canovas del Castillo, 4, Madrid913 302 400

(its in the NH Hotel in the Paseo del Prado)

Chef Paco Roncero’s new tapas restaurant. sit out side if you can, he is a El Bulli guy so some
tapas are creative and some traditional.

try the patatas bravas here! and cod fritters. make a reservation

Orio Restaurant

C/ Fuencarral, 49 Madrid902 520 522
good place for lunch, tapas are ready on the bar,

help your self, ask server for plates

Fuencarral Street

great for shopping, cool stores, funky boutiques! The street then spills
on to Gran Via and then over to Sol (the center of Madrid) in Sol watch for pick pockets
i have never had a problem but just be aware

La Latina Neighborhood 
The Best Of Madrid
The whole idea in this neighborhood is to bounce around
go from place to place, have a few bites and on to the next one
here are some cant miss spots!

Casa Lucio

C/ CAVA BAJA, 35 Madrid, Spain 913 653 252
One of the most famous restaurants in Madrid. MUST MAKE A RESO!!
try the potatoes with the fried egg, everything is good here

Casa Lucas

C/ Cava Baja 30, 28005Madrid, 91365 0804
Tapas bar, good wines great food
Best Foie Gras mousse i have ever had, also try the chicken with corn mousse tapas

San Miguel Market

Plaza San Miguel 1 Madrid, 915 427 364
Huge market, great stalls to eat at, just walk around and eat
opens at 530am and closes at 8pm

Fine Dining Restaurants

Sergi Arola Gastro

C/ Zurbano, 3 Madrid,913 102 169
$$$$ but very good, I worked for Sergi for a year when he was at La Broche.
May be a lunch spot , check out the web site must make a reso

La Broche

C/ MIGUEL ÁNGEL, 29-31Madrid,913 993 437
Tasting menu restaurant, $$$$ I used to work here! the chef is a great guy
he lived in the states and speaks english.

Barcelona & San Sebastian coming soon!

Originally posted in June 2012

Walking into Applebee’s was an experience in itself.

Having no idea we would wind up at such a dining establishment took me and many many others by surprise. But when in Rome (I’m not in Rome BTW) we went.

We were greeted by the matrie’d  ( girl at host stand)and sat immediately at what we’ve come to refer to fondly as “the chefs table” (it was just a regular table).  We knew we were in for a treat when Jen our server, stopped by to greet us .  Judging from her faded REO Speedwagon tattoo we knew she liked to have a good time, but more importantly deliver five-star service.

Dunno if it was the many, oh so many choices on the menu (with pictures!) or the dancing in 105 degree heat at last night’s Phish show, but my head was spinning! (still hung over)
My dining companions and I settled on the 2 for 20, which I guess is there version of “Restaurant Week”.(it’s nothing like restaurant week) We were treated to a “pre fix”  menu, but for a MUCH cheaper price.

I opted for the “Summer Squeeze Slushy” spiked with some kind of local vodka ( it was in a Plastic unmarked bottle in the bar well)  and the chicken and bacon quesadillas. My dining mates ordered the mozzarella sticks and the buffalo chicken wings.

Course #1 arrived in a timely manner( 45 seconds after we ordered) and the presentation was beautiful- the way they stacked up the chicken wings and drizzled the sauce over (thrown into a basket with parchment paper liner) was the work of a craftsman.  The chicken must have been local and organic ( frozen from china) and the buffalo sauce homemade ( if you consider a factory home, then yes).   My quesadillas came next, crispy flour tortillas with melted cheese that must have been from a small dairy farm nearby (government cheese came to mind). The bacon could have been crispier but I was happy with the dish overall. (That was bacon)

Next came Matthew’s; double crispy shrimp ( fried bread crumbs around a shrimp tail) with a spicy cocktail sauce, (ketchup with lemon juice) the shrimp were crispy and so fresh tasting of the sea ( a sea of oil spill)

We decided not to get deserts.. we were so full ( I can get GMO ice cream anywhere) and asked for the check. The place was busy when we left so good thing we got there early (they have AC that’s why everyone is there).

Over all I liked my experience ( I guess if I hadn’t eaten in a month the food was edible.. then again I have not slept yet)   We are excited for our brunch ( eggs over easy) at Perkins tomorrow (more diarrhea) it was a tough reso to get but I put in a call to the chef. ( I don’t know the chef, or anyone for that matter but we’re hoping that Tiger Wood’s Perkins friend is our server).
********** 10 star, forks and diamonds rating

My Next Post

Posted: October 30, 2012 in Drinks, Food, Personal, Restaurant Reviews

Originally posted in May 2012

I went to dinner with my brother Matthew at Next Sunday night. You can imagine my excitement for the ElBulli menu as I have lived and worked in spain for a few years. I was anxious to see what dishes Chef Dave Beran and Chef Grant chose for the menu and why, but I think my brother was more anxious to get his first taste of Spanish molecular gastronomy.
As soon as we were seated our server, John Schafer, made us feel relaxed and comfortable. Not only was he and the entire staff extremely knowledgeable, but he also brought an element of comedy to the table. It was refreshing and made the experience that much more enjoyable. He had us laughing the whole night kind of fucked with us at points, but in a good way. Seeing the chefs run food to the tables and explain the dish also heightened the level of our experience. It was good to see Chef Renee so excited about the plates he was serving and telling the stories behind the dishes.
With twenty-nine courses and a pairing for nearly each course, we cruised through the meal in just under 4 hours. My favorites were: spherical olives, very fun to eat; suquet of prawns, very clean traditional flavors;



potato tortilla foam, so light; chicken liquid croquettes, explode on the palate; chocolate in textures dessert, another famous dish I would see all the time when I was a young cook. We even got a little taste of the Sicily menu from Chef Dave at the end.

We had a such a good time, it was worth every penny.


From the last course “Goodbye Hands with passionfruit marshmallows”)





playing with my food

Originally Posted in Feb 2012

Since Tavernita opened, like any chef – I’ve had a grand total of no days off.

Ok…that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. And the last thing I want to do I cook when I have a night off from the kitchen.

Thankfully some of my friends have taken care of me in style with some amazing food.

On Monday night I went to my friend Doug Psaltis’s new place RPM. I’ve known Doug for a few years now and knew of him when he was a chef in NYC.

After hearing amazing buzz about the opening, I couldn’t wait to try his food. I went with Juan Florez who is my friend and a manager at Tavernita, and let’s just say we didn’t leave hungry.


From the crudos to the pastas and squid ink pasta and the artichoke flowers – it was all amazing and we were treated like kings by the staff.

Last night I got to go to Balena- and I’m still stuffed the next morning. Chris Pandel has been a friend since back in the day and The Bristol is one of my favorite spots.

Not to mention, it was crazy seeing the space’s transition from Landmark having worked for the Boka guys for years.

I went with some of my partners in Tavernita; Paul and Alfredo and we literally must have tried every dish on the menu, including the desserts.

Normally I don’t like to feel full, but Pandel and Amanda Rockman’s food and desserts were so amazing that we couldn’t stop eating. Highlights were definitely the duck liver pasta, huge pizzas and white bean bruschetta.

And Amanda really should have won Top Chef Just Desserts- her mini sundaes alone blew our minds.

When the Trencherman opens, I’ll add that to my list of favorite new spots. I know Pat and Mikey Sheerin will turn it out like no other.

Plus, Chris Curran is opening Stout Barrel House  right around the coner from us. Could definitely be my new watering hole after a long service at Barcito!

Damn it’s a good time to be a chef in Chicago. Nice work guys I am happy for all of you.

Brotherly Love

Posted: October 30, 2012 in Food, Restaurant Reviews

Originally posted in Nov 2011

And it’s out again. The Michelin list of Bib Gourmands.

 Now we can all debate who should have made the list, or who deserved a star instead.

I’m not trying to sound biased- but where was Mercadito?

At Aspen’s Food and Wine festival almost everyone agreed that Patricio’s shrimp tacos were the hit of the event.

And it’s easy to walk out of Mercadito full, with a bill under 40 dollars. That is if you go easy on the tequila.

If anyone from the guide is reading, I ask you to sit down for a meal there, and try the shrimp taco.

It’s bib worthy.