Unless you’ve been living in a cave the past few years, you know that Roy Choi brought SoCal foodies the Kogi Truck with kimchi quesadillas and short rib tacos while spawning a national food truck craze. Choi followed up his Food & Wine Best New Chef nod in 2010 by opening a casual rice bowl concept in Palms, Chego and the picnic style Culver City eatery, A-Frame.
Choy’s latest venture brings food from the islands – think Hawaii and Caribbean – to the old Beechwood spot in Venice after Top Cheffer Jamie Lauren’s departure earlier this year to open Vodvil on Fairfax.
Choi can be seen most nights mingling through the lively bar area clad in a Grateful Dead T-shirt with the signature sideways turned baseball cap. The entire esthetic has been changed and the main dining room now holds cozy booths and a rum bar which is separate from the main bar and outdoor patio. The color scheme is pale colors with plastic floral bar stools but somehow skirts the typical island kitschy decor.
The menu is still evolving, “These are flavors that Californian’s are not familiar with,” says Choi when describing a tender, slow-roasted sous vide goat dish as “intense.” The goat was actually pretty mild in flavor and made a great ‘taco’ with strips of pickled mango and lettuce cups. Other dishes worth a try include Diablo prawns with a rum glaze; ‘what a jerk wings’ that are double coated and fried with a spicy kick and fried pigs feet with sugar cane and chili vinegar. A standout is the soft Cuban torta with pork terrine, prosciutto, provolone and pickled Jalapeno with a side of green papaya slaw. Hot tip: order a bowl of ‘black velvet soup’ with black beans coconut milk and ginger oil for dipping the sandwich. End with the sweet and salty fried plantains.
New hotels in Chicago have been springing up in the past year from the upscale Elysian in the Gold Coast area to the trendy Public by Ian Schrager of Morgan’s Hotel Group. Rounding out this new crop is the first North American outpost of the Radisson Blu Aqua property from Carlson in Europe. It’s modern, affordable and accessible on Columbus off lower Michigan Avenue. The sleek Filini bar can be seen from the street and should be a strong lure on a chilly night with Italian small plates and pizza.
Upstairs the Filini restaurant features more communal tables and an open air kitchen with Chef Christian Fatoni who hails from legendary New York eateries Le Bernadin and Le Cirque. You will find plenty of pasta, seafood and Osso Bucco Milanese on the menu, you’ll also find one of the best roast chickens. It might sound simple but to pull off a juicy bird with perfectly crispy skin is not an easy feat and Chef Fatoni has mastered the one that most home cooks try to make and never quite succeed. The trick, according to Chef Fatoni, is to pan roast the chicken before placing it in a 500 degree oven for about 25 minutes.
Although it’s not brand new, another top table in town that I’d recommend booking if you only have a few days in Chicago, is the Michelin-starred Sepia. The below image is an example of an array of bar snacks from a mini-croque to meatballs. The main dining room has several private areas with a few draped booths where Michelle Obama likes to dine. We also discovered one of the best desserts in the malted chocolate mousse on peanut butter crunch.
The Girl and The Goat is must for the lively bar atmosphere and if you’re prepared to sit at the communal table, you just might snag a seat without a reservation, otherwise you are probably in for about an hour wait. The roasted cauliflower, ham frites and the goat leg are good bets for sharing plates to order when you do sit down.
If you are having trouble getting into any of Rick Bayless’ eateries, particularly his new street food venture, XOCO, try jutting across the street to Michelin-starred Naha for lunch. Highlights include organic Carnaroli risotto with braised oxtails or the BLT made with such a thick slab of slow roasted bacon it’s more like pork belly, and the duck jus onion rings.
You can walk most of this off shopping on Michigan Avenue, viewing the Modern wing at The Art Institute or hitting the blues bars on Rush Street, but if you grow tired of the chill factor in the winter months, take an architectural cruise on Chicago’s First Lady. In about 90 minutes, you’ll learn all about the famous buildings including Trump Tower.
When you finally do head to the airport, if you happen to be flying out of O’Hare, be sure to stop at Hot Doug’s for a real Chicago style dog with peppers for your last bite. You’ll want to come back to banter with the jovial owner Doug and to try the rattlesnake special or the ‘Elvis’ with polish sausage. Just leave plenty of time or have a taxi standing by as there is usually a long line out the door.
The dinner was in celebration of his new book Rustic Italian Food and Vetri joked that the title had no yet been taken as he pulled a margherita pizza out from the wood burning oven. The communal table was set up outside next to a fire-place where we feasted on Sal’s old school meatballs, tuna ricotta fritters, rigatoni with chicken livers and roasted lamb shoulder. Dessert was a creamy olive oil cake. All the recipes can be found in Vetri’s new book.
After the meal, we all shuffled into the living room where Vetri and his old Philly pal musician and signer-songwriter Phil Roy played about 5 songs on acoustic guitars. We hope that Vetri and Roy will take that show on the road sometime in the near future.
After years of wanting to start my own blog, I registered comeflywithme in 2009 as a place to put all my lifestyle, travel, food and design writing. Then I decided to take a job with NBC LA as the Food Editor for a new site they were launching called The Feast, which was acquired several years later by Daily Candy. While I still travel frequently and contribute to many print and on-line outlets, as well as content consulting for brands, I’ve spent much of the last decade making lists of my favorite foods, interviewing chefs on video, and constructing hundreds of food-porn-slide-shows and videos of restaurant openings, every recent food and drink experience I’ve had is documented here. In addition, I’m the Editor-in-Chief for www.thecaratdiet.com which is a luxe lifestyle site owned by the California Jewelers Association covering everything from bling to booze. In 2014, I co-launched West Hollywood Lifestyle Magazine to cover the astounding people and places of that creative enclave of Los Angeles with a global appeal. You can also find my work on Wallpaper.com, Robb Report, AFAR, The Hollywood Reporter and BravoTV.com, among others. Thanks for reading!