Millennium Park, Chicago

Chicago Gourmet – 10th Anniversary Celebration!

Millennium Park, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Chicago Gourmet 2017

Chicago Gourmet is just about the best day of the year for anyone who loves great food, an array of wine, beer and spirits, the beautiful setting of Chicago’s Millennium Park, and, let’s be honest, fun.

Millennium Park, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Chicago Gourmet 2017

This year’s iteration, which is also the food and wine festival’s 10th Anniversary, was no exception, and lived up to all expectations. Beautiful weather, bountiful food and drink tasting opportunities, and friendly revelers enjoying the great weekend abounded.

Millennium Park, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Chicago Gourmet 2017

After planning this event for the 10 past years, Bon Appétit, who produces the event, has it down to a science. Plenty of seating, room to roam, friendly and helpful staff, all contribute to a successful event. Some lines for tastings can get long, but they move quickly with most all attendees being patient and courteous.

Millennium Park, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Chicago Gourmet 2017

Some of my favorite bites and sips from the event were:

  • Seafood Stuffed Pasta Shell from Dirk and Terry Fucik at Dirk’s Fish & Gourmet Shop.

  • Tuna Taco from John Gatsos at Tavern on Rush.

  • Cold Cucumber and Seafood Salad from Alisha Elenz at mfk.

  • Papaya Salad from Jintana Charernsook of Jin Thai Cuisine.

  • Fried Chicken from Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp at Honey Butter Fried Chicken.

  • RumChata Cupcake from Brown Sugar Bakery.

  • Ube Cookie from Warm Belly Bakery.

  • Mini Butter Cakes with Vanilla Ice Cream from Mastro’s Steakhouse.

  • Salted Caramel Fudge Brownies from Mindy Gohr at Bittersweet Pastry Shop.

  • Sparkling Rosé from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Washington.

  • Champagne from G.H. Mumm Champagne, France.

  • RumChata shots.

Millennium Park, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Chicago Gourmet 2017

A number of live cooking demonstrations, seminars and book signings also took place throughout the weekend, along with morning and evening special events. The city was definitely abuzz with all of the activities.

Millennium Park, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Chicago Gourmet 2017

Did you attend Chicago Gourmet? What were your favorite bites and sips?

Millennium Park, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Chicago Gourmet 2017

See you there next year!

Tastefully,

Christina

West Loop, World Cuisine

Proxi – Taste the Nations Without Leaving the City

I love everything about Proxi, the new restaurant from the folks behind the perennial favorite Sepia.  The decor, ambiance, service and food are all exquisite, and a perfect place for a drink and small bite at the bar, or a full service sit down dinner with friends or with a business prospect.

West Loop, World Cuisine

Photo: Eater at Proxi

The menu is inspired by bold flavors of multi-cultural street foods using pristine ingredients executed perfectly. The decor, with over-sized leather booths, are separated by a lively and bright central bar, a great spot for happy hour or pre-dinner drinks. Brass-framed mirrors, rustic wood floor planks, and custom-designed cement tiles had me spending as much time taking in the decor as I did enjoying the food.

West Loop, World Cuisine

Photo: Eater at Proxi

Quality cocktails abound, including the Revive & Recover, a Pisco-based drink with Luxardo Aperitivo, lychee and lemon, as well as the El-OTAY!, a margarita of sorts with grilled corn infused tequila, agave, lime and Tajin salt. Spanish style Gin & Tonics have a nice spot on the menu, and the beers, ciders and wines are well rounded and do not disappoint. Our server was fantastic, and we fully trusted her to curate a drink pairing throughout our meal.

West Loop, World Cuisine

Photo: Proxi on Yelp

If you only try one bite, be sure it is the Tempura Elotes. A sophisticated take on the Mexican street food, it is, in one word: magical.

West Loop, World Cuisine

Photo: Proxi on Yelp

The Roasted Eggplant is smooth, creamy, and evocative of Middle Eastern babaganoush or Indian baignan bharta, served with warm and soft pita bread.

West Loop, World Cuisine

Photo: Proxi on Yelp

Two excellent seafood starters are the Baby Octopus and Raw Tuna, with the tuna surprisingly being my favorite, with cooling coconut milk, lemongrass and a refreshing ginger sorbet.

West Loop, World Cuisine

Photo: Proxi on Yelp

If you’ve never tried Fried Fish Collars, you are missing out. They have been my favorite food of the year, and this iteration, with a Thai garlic-chili sauce, took me right back to Thailand and did not disappoint.

West Loop, World Cuisine

Photo: Proxi

The Black Pepper Pork dish is interactive and fun, requiring some hands-on lettuce wrap making skills. Labeled bottles of sriracha and hoisin sauce add some flavor to the butter lettuce, peanuts, apple and mint accompaniments.

West Loop, World Cuisine

Photo: Proxi on Yelp

Definitely save room for dessert. Among my favorites were the Pot de Creme and Tres Leches. While decadent, both are still light and refreshing enough to follow a flavorful meal, perfectly rounding out an excellent international experience.

West Loop, World Cuisine

Photo: Proxi on Yelp

Proxi is open for dinner seven days a week. Reservations are highly recommended, especially on the weekends.

Proxi

565 West Randolph Street, Chicago, IL

Tastefully,

Christina

Mexican, Logan Square

Quiote – Inspired Mexican Cuisine in Logan Square

After visiting Quiote recently, it quickly became one of my favorite new restaurants, where I enjoyed one of the best meals of the year. Stylish and modern, this small-plates Mexican restaurant is an ode to the agave, the flavors of the various regions of Mexico, and the stories of the artisans and producers behind it all. And, if Mezcal is your drink of choice, this place was made for you.

Mexican, Logan Square

Photo: Chritiques at Quiote

The Logan Square restaurant comprises a basement mezcal bar, a street-food-inspired lunch, and a dinner service with composed modern Mexican plates, effectively making it an all-day dining establishment offering everything from coffee, to tacos, to short ribs, to your favorite late night cocktails.

Mexican, Logan Square

Photo: Chritiques at Quiote

The decor is minimal and the space simple, allowing the flavors of the food to shine. Steer clear of the cocktails if smoky Mezcal is not your thing, and instead focus on the well-curated wine list. The dining room serves modern Mexican cuisine, complemented by local ingredients and rotating seasonal menus, inspired by the regions of Mexico and their unique flavors, ingredients and dishes.

Mexican, Logan Square

Photo: Chritiques at Quiote

We started with the Pan y Tostada, featuring buttered and toasted bread from Publican Quality Meats and housemade tostadas, along with a salsa verde and some of the world’s best butter.

Mexican, Logan Square

Photo: Chritiques at Quiote

The tostada is again featured in the Crab Tostada, served with mustard seed, black lime, hot sauce, and watermelon radish, which was one of the best bites of the evening. The flavors all balanced perfectly against each other.

Mexican, Logan Square

Photo: Chritiques at Quiote

Avocado Salad, with Brussels sprouts, tomatillo salsa, and quinoa, all lying below a bed of Cotija cheese, was surprisingly light, bright and and flavorful, and perfect for veggie lovers and meat eaters, alike.

Mexican, Logan Square

Photo: Chritiques at Quiote

The Mexicali Shrimp, effectively two shrimp tacos, with mojo de ajo, sun-dried tomato and jalapeño, was a table favorite and a second was quickly ordered.

Mexican, Logan Square

Photo: Chritiques at Quiote

The sleeper hit and the favorite amongst the meat eaters was the vegetarian Tamal Oaxaqueno, with mushrooms, salsa morita, and crushed peanuts. The melt-in-your-mouth Short Rib, with green chile caldo, sungold, turnips and radicchio was also enjoyed.

Mexican, Logan Square

Photo: Chritiques at Quiote

Luckily, despite trying most of the menu, we saved room for the housemade Churro, served warm with Pioncillo ice cream, banana, and chile peanut butter. It was incredible.

I look forward to visiting Quiote again, especially when the menu changes to feature new seasonal ingredients.

Reservations for dinner are highly recommended. Visit during lunch hours for tacos, and on Sunday for a Mexican brunch. The Mezcal Bar is open late night. Everything is closed on Tuesdays.

Tastefully,

Christina

Quiote

2456 N. California Avenue, Chicago

Travel, Where to Eat

Travel Guide: Luang Prabang, Laos – Where to Eat?

Now that you know where to stay and what to do while visiting Luang Prabang, Laos, only one thing remains: where (and what) should you eat?

Travel, Where to Eat

Photo: Chritiques at 3 Nagas Restaurant, Luang Prabang, Laos

Lao cooking is based on the consumption of sticky rice as a staple. Deftly rolled into a neat, small ball, sticky rice is served with almost every meal, and is eaten with the hand. Other essential ingredients include kha, or galagal – a ginger-like rhizome with a peppery flavor, also found in northern-Thailand curries, as well as nam paa, or fish sauce. Dishes are generally cooked with fresh ingredients that include vegetables, poultry, pork, beef and water buffalo. Eating is communal and an important social occasion, and all dishes are eaten at the same time, with food made in quantities sufficient for having twice the number of diners.

Travel, Where to Eat

Photo: Chritiques at 3 Nagas Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor, Luang Prabang, Laos

Popular Lao dishes include tam som – a spicy salad made of sliced green papaya mixed with chili peppers, garlic, tomatoes, ground peanuts, crab, lime juice and fish sauce. Other popular items include laap, a spicy dish of minced meat, as well as tom khaa kai – chicken soup with galangal and coconut milk, and khao laat kaen, or curry, served on a bed of long-grain rice.

Travel, Where to Eat

Photo: Chritiques at a French Bakery in Luang Prabang, Laos

Laos is an excellent place for breakfast, chiefly because of the French colonial legacy. French bread is freshly baked each day, and good coffee, grown in the hills of southern Laos, is also available. A day started with croissants and omelets is a good day, indeed.

Travel, Where to Eat

Photo: Chritiques at 3 Nagas Restaurant for Breakfast

We were lucky to stay in a hotel, 3 Nagas, that houses one of the best restaurants in Luang Prabang. 3 Nagas Restaurant highlights what is local and fresh that day, from water buffalo meat to Mekong River fish, to mushrooms grown along the riverbanks. The food, service and setting at 3 Nagas Restaurant is exquisite.

Travel, Asia

Photo: 3 Nagas Restaurant in Luang Prabang, Laos

We started with the Signature Cocktail – Tom Yum Luang Prabang – which was spicy, sweet, refreshing and perfect. This was followed by Khaiphaen Jeund – Mekong riverweed which is evocative of a tasty sesame-dusted dried seaweed, and quite possibly the best replacement for potato chips, along with delicate and light fresh summer rolls filled with a heaping amount of vegetables. One of the best bites of the evening was the Mee Gouy Phan – eggplant purée wrapped with fresh rice noodles & vegetables.

Travel, Where to Eat

Photo: Chritiques at 3 Nagas Restaurant in Luang Prabang, Laos

The communal style of Lao dining was evident when we were served four different dishes: Tom Sompaa – fish soup with lemongrass and galangal; Phanaeng Kai – minced chicken cooked in coconut milk & curry; Khoua Pak – stir-fried vegetables and mushrooms with oyster sauce; and and most delectable steamed mushrooms in banana leaf with lemongrass and Lao herbs, also known as Mhok Het.

Travel, Where to Eat

Photo: Chritiques at 3 Nagas Restaurant in Luang Prabang, Laos

We completed our meal with not one but two fantastic desserts: tapioca in coconut milk with seasonal fruit, and an incredibly refreshing rosella sorbet, made in-house.

Travel, Where to Eat

Photo: Chritiques at 3 Nagas Restaurant in Luang Prabang, Laos

3 Nagas also houses the former Royal Family’s official ice cream parlor, which has been reimagined and continues to beckon hotel guests and passers-by to enjoy incredible homemade ice cream. I recommend coconut.

Travel, Where to Eat

Photo: Chritiques at 3 Nagas Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor, Luang Prabang, Laos

For fantastic baguettes, salads, sandwiches and croissants, stop in at the lovely Le Banneton, a French bakery located just steps from 3 Nagas Hotel. We shared a delicious smoked salmon tartine, served on a freshly baked baguette, and a Mediterranean salad. Luckily, I also grabbed an almond croissant to go, which served as the perfect breakfast treat the following day.

Travel, Where to Eat

Photo: Chritiques at Le Banneton, Luang Prabang, Laos

Finally, the real treat to look out for is the excellent and cheap local product, Beer Lao, which we enjoyed during our cruise along the Mekong River.

Beer Lao, Travel

Photo: Chritiques in Luang Prabang, Laos

While the food in Laos is similar to its Thai and Vietnamese neighbors, Lao cooking still exhibits its own unique characteristics, and reflects French influences, making all Lao dishes flavorful, local, seasonal, healthy and delicious.

Tastefully,

Christina

Laos, What to Do, Travel

Travel Guide: Luang Prabang, Laos – What To Do?

Now that you have the perfect place to stay while visiting Luang Prabang, Laos, what will you do while you are there? A host of varying activities, that is for sure. From the relaxing to the adventurous, Luang Prabang offers something for everyone.

Travel, Southeast Asia

Photo: Chritiques at Le Spa at Sofitel, Luang Prabang, Laos

No visit to Southeast Asia is complete without a visit to a spa – or multiple visits – for an incredible massage. Unlike in the States, the opportunity for affordable, quality massages and spa treatments are endless, and, after days of sightseeing, carrying luggage, and hopping on and off planes, we were ready to get pampered.

Laos, What to Do, Travel

Photo: Le Spa at Sofitel Luang Prabang

As a benefit of staying at 3 Nagas, we were able to visit Le Spa  at the Sofitel Luang Prabang for 50% off. $25.00 US for an hour long massage? Yes, please! While this is still more than double the price you would pay at the many options you will find throughout Southeast Asia, private robes, showers, rooms and quality of service set it apart from the rest. Enjoying one of the best massages I have ever experienced, anywhere, it was definitely worth the “splurge.”

Travel, Cafe

Photo: Chritiques in Luang Prabang, Laos

Now that you are relaxed and rested, it is time to see the sights. Luang Prabang is one of the most intriguing, magical and romantic cities in Asia. Added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1995, the city is filled with fine old temples, and its quiet streets are lined with handsome colonial buildings. Getting around Luang Prabang is quite easy on foot or on bicycle, so take some time to stroll the main streets around town, stop in the local shops, and dine in the lovely cafes. The air conditioning will be a great break from the heat, and you may just find the perfect souvenir to bring home.

French Cafe, Travel

Photo: Chritiques in Luang Prabang, Laos

Close to the tip of the peninsula, on the banks of the Mekong, is Luang Prabang’s most renowned temple, Wat Xieng Thong, or Golden City Monastery. Built in 1560, the temple epitomizes classic Luang Prabang style, and combine gold and deep red that gives it a regal atmosphere.

Travel, Things to Do

Photo: Chritiques at Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang, Laos

Also in the compound are various monks’ quarters, a boat shelter, and a building housing the royal funeral carriage.

Travel, What to Do

Photo: Chritiques at Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang, Laos

A cruise along the mighty Mekong River is not to be missed. The importance of this river to the Lao people and their country should not be underestimated. In addition to depositing fertile alluvial silt, the river is a major artery of trade and travel and source of fish, and the main populations of the country is located along the Mekong.  While transport infrastructure in Laos has improved, the river remains a practical means of moving goods and people effectively and efficiently. It also provides a perfect view of the beautiful countryside and a taste of the daily life of Lao fisherman and children playing along the banks of the river.

Mekong River, Travel

Photo: Chritiques in Luang Prabang, Laos

From river to mountain, Mount Phu Si is a rocky 330 foot tall hill that dominates the center of Luang Prabang and provides the most magnificent views across the ancient city. Best at sunset, the steep hike up the 328 winding steps is worth it for the view of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers encircling the historic UNESCO-protected peninsula that lies at the heart of old Luang Prabang.

Travel, What to Do

Photo: Chritiques at Mount Phu Si, Luang Prabang, Laos

Perhaps the most remarkable site to be seen in Luang Prabang is the early morning sai baat, when devout citizens gather at dawn to greet lines of saffron-clad and barefoot monks receiving their alms. Lines of as many as 400 monks make their way around the narrow streets on a daily basis, collecting mostly sticky rice and sweets, which will comprise their one daily meal.

Travel, What to Do

Photo: Chritiques during Alms Ceremony, Luang Prabang, Laos

If you are lucky enough to visit Luang Prabang during its dryer seasons, take a walk along the  bamboo bridge that stretches along the Nam Khan River. The bridge is removed during rainy season, as the tides become too high to safely cross, and is then again rebuilt once the tides recede. Remarkably, the bridge is quite sturdy, and makes a visit to the villages across the river an easy task.

Travel, What to Do

Photo: Chritiques on the Bamboo Bridge in Luang Prabang, Laos

Finally, several waterfalls are in the vicinity of Luang Prabang, allowing for a half-day excursion. Kuang Si Waterfalls are about 20 miles south of town, and are multi-tiered falls with limestone formations and crystal-clear pools, worthy of a refreshing swim.

Travel, What to Do

Photo: Chritiques at Kuang Si Waterfalls, Luang Prabang, Laos

Our three days in Luang Prabang were not nearly enough, but allowed a good taste of the culture and plethora of activities available to visitors. Even with the endless array of options, sitting at a streetside cafe and soaking in the people and the place is the best activity of all.

Tastefully,

Christina