Archive for the ‘Travel’ 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.


Boston Little Market

Posted: November 8, 2012 in Drinks, Food, Travel

With less than a month until Little Market opens, the little hamster is running faster than usual in my head.  I have so many ideas and finishing touches to add to the already successful dishes that Chris and I have worked on.

I see Little Market as a neighborhood spot where people can stop in after a long day of running errands or work and feel right at home.  Most of the menu will be classic dishes that everyone has tried, so it’s very important to me that our food exceeds expectation.

One of the menu items is a classic lobster roll, and while we’ve tried several in Chicago…we also felt a quick trip to Boston was necessary.

Alfredo and I went and packed in as many local favorites  as we possibly could in a day and a half.





Finding Balance on the Road

Posted: October 30, 2012 in Food, Personal, Travel

I’m so stuffed from lunch, and I’m in line…to eat again. You’ve gotta love Texas!

Alfredo (my business partner) and I are on a tour de force across America doing research and getting inspired for new concepts for the Mercadito Hospitality group.

Currently we’re eating our way thru Austin, TX and the food scene is booming. We have been to everything from food trucks to BBQ to cocktail bars to taco stands.

But trust me- it looks a lot more fun on Instagram than it really is- especially if you’re trying to stay in shape. We hit at lease 2-3 places for lunch and 3-4 for dinner and always a midnight snack. You can imagine that calories catch up with you fast.

So about a year ago I made a valiant effort to start losing weight and trying to stay healthy. But being a chef I want to taste everything!  Once I asked Steve Dolinsiky how he manages to eat out all the time and stay so fit. His response? Portion control- only taking a bite or two of each dish and moving on.

That may work for him, but if something tastes good I will eat the whole plate. So to combat the eating sprees I decided to hire personal trainer, Chris Grayson of USI in Lincoln square. I work out with him twice a week and do Bikram as often as I can, sprinkled with a Brazilian jiu jitsu training.

In between food research trips I rely on quinoa to keep me full, I make a huge batch and eat small portions during the day. I was turned onto quinoa at Protein Bar and I swear by it.

But just when I think I’ve found a balance that works for me…we hit the road and stumble upon a place like Gourdoughs, the doughnut food truck.  To quote Homer Simpson: “Mmmmmm doughnuts”.

Sorry Chris…it’s my job…I promise to work it off next week man.

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!

Chicago Via Aspen

Posted: October 30, 2012 in Drinks, Food, Lifestyle, Personal, Travel

Originally posted in June 2012

The Mercadito Hospitality team hopped a plane to the Aspen Food and Wine Classic Alfredo Sandoval, Natalie Kalb, Tad Carducci and I all decided to enjoy ourselves at the festival instead of working like we did last year.




I highlighted my top 10 favorites from last year here
but it seemed like this year was more about spending time with culinary comrades from Chicago.




The first night kicked off with an AMEX party at Matsuhisa where we ran into ABC 7’s “Hungry Hound” Steve Dolinsky and his wife Amy. We talked about plans for the week, and about the seminars Steve was moderating; they are such nice people!

I then met up with my boy Mike Sherrin and Carrie Leung; they are so much fun. They were our partners in crime most of the weekend.



I also saw Danny Grant and crew hanging out at the Casa Dragones Tequila Party. Danny won Best New Chef this year, we were all so excited for him.

On to the food. Some of the best food we had was at the Greek House (Diamond Imports) with Sarah Gruenberg from Spiaggia. She had and array of Italian food from salt-crusted fish to handmade pastas, Colorado lamb loin, and shrimp skewers. The food was so good we canceled out reservations for that night and stayed to eat more with Sarah.







I caught a few minutes of Grant Achatz’s panel about “Small Changes, Big Results.” He touched on the ticketing system at Next and how it came about. It was very interesting to hear.

I got meet to meet Jason Vincent from Nightwood and was stoked to find out we both share the same obsession, Phish! That was awesome, but even more so was being there when he won Cochon 555.




I got to have some wine with my friends Maggie & Michael Murzanski who I never get to see or hang out with. It was a perfect ending to a long adult summer camp.

I’m glad to be back, but even more glad I to hang with friends from Chicago outside Chicago.

Vegas Baby

Posted: October 30, 2012 in Food, Lifestyle, Personal, Travel
Originally posted in July 2011
Last week my business partner’s and I went to Las Vegas for some meetings and to research some restaurants.
Highlight’s included eating at: Julian Serrano’s, Nine in the Palms, Jose Andres’s, Nove, and Lotus of Siam.

While all the meals were amazing- I have to say Lotus was my favorite. I love that you can choose the spice level 1-10. We kicked it up to a 7!

I also discovered my new favorite drink- a fresh Paloma. Going to ask the Tippling Bros how to make it our own and put it on our menu.

I feel energized and ready to keep crank out tastings for Tavernita’s menu.

Here’s Larry Silver, Alfredo Sandoval and me at the Nine kitchen table. Photo taken by Yves who works at Merc in Miami.




Originally posted in June 2011

1. Rolling 5000- yes Five THOUSAND croquettes alongside my Tavernita family. Everyone pitched in and while it seemed impossible at one point- you can see the below finished product.


2. Meeting Bizarre Foods chef Andrew Zimmern who was awesome enough to tweet out a compliment about my day #3 dish of mushrooms with a sous vide egg.

Here was his tweet and photo:  @andrewzimmern Sous vide 63 degree eggs for 2000 ppl



3. Getting behind the bar with the Tippling Brothers at the pool party on Sunday after all of our work had been completed. That’s Tippler Tad in the headdress!


4. Attending Jose Andres opening event which was outside and showcased the beauty of Aspen.

I ran into Gail Simmons who told me she was excited for Tavernita- which was a huge compliment for me and a fun story to tell my mom, who is a fan of Top Chef!

Here’s a sample of the Iberico we feasted on.


5. Shaking the hand of Jacques Pepin. Some people got to meet Sinatra- I got to meet the chef!

(Wish I had a photo of this moment!!)

Originally posted in May 2011

10 best things I loved about the Tavernita Restaurant Spain trip

  • 10 Pintoxs




  • 9   Shrimp Bisque with rice paper at Fuego Negro
  • 8   Kill Bill Cocktail at 41 Degrees 
  • 7   Tapas in La latina neighborhood Madrid




  • 6   Entrecôte & Dover Sole at Branca in San Sebastien




  • 5   Sardines at 3 People Food & Music with Chef Matteo Pancetti




  • 4   Baby Cuttlefish at El Quim de Boqueria
  • 3   Potatos, Fried Eggs and Chrizo at Tapac24




  • 2   Tuna Belly Painted with Iberico Ham Fat at Tickets




  • 1    Albert Adria writing us a menu at Tickets



Tapas Y Pintxos

Posted: October 30, 2012 in Drinks, Food, Lifestyle, Personal, Travel

Originally posted in May 2011

small plates, bites, snacks….no one does these better than Spain.

the little bites of food are called different things in different regions, but are similar in taste and apperance.

in madrid the group walked into a modern bar with a glass case and most were surprised to find they could walk right up to the case and take what they wanted. plates were on the bar and all the customer needs to do is save their toothpicks and be honest with what they had.

we enjoyed mini rounds of crusty breads with tuna mixtures, vegetables and jamon. kelli´s favorite was a mini pie shell filled with a tuna mixture and topped with a sardine as well as a toothpick topped with basil and sundried tomato.

my partner larry silver and i cant get over the richness of the meats…only one bite of jamon and you´ll see the difference immediatley.

after a walk around shops and a little siesta we sat at another spot-this one served us. we had similar small plates and this time tried the patats bravas and tortilla (similar to an egg quiche).

everyone drinks a beer here mixed with lemonade- and while that may sound gross let me assure you it´s refreshing and wonderful.

in san sebastian the little streets are filled with pinxto bars to wander into and stand and eat….picking things right off the bar.

here we sampled more tortillas, and mini breads with crab, tuna and salmon mixtures.

the tortillas in san sebastian were some of the best we have sampled-with different layers of filling and delicious cold.

the mini sandwiches are wearing thin on some- others in our group eat them for snacks and even breakfast. most have either jamon and cheese with tomato spread or just cheese and tomato spread… and they take the place of a typical american breakfast…no cereal here!

now we are off to do a little hike to burn some of this off…next blog will be about the amazing markets in madrid and barcelona!