Illinois | Lincolnwood | Mexican | Tony's Top Ten11 Apr 2017 10:24 pm

Our visit on April 10, 2017 confirmed that Wholly Frijoles continues to offer some of the best Mexican food in the Chicago land area. This week’s special mixed meat and seafood grill included shrimp, skirt steak, chorizo,  salmon, chicken and vegetables along with the usual guacamole, pinto beans and rice with tortillas – WOW! reservations are not accepted, but you can call to be placed on their waiting list at dinner time – it is worth the wait.

Family owned by an ex-Lettuce Entertain You employee, this is a special place. It’s BYOB.

I decided to check the place out in October 2004 since they expanded – the quality remains well above average and the dishes are well prepared/creative. Since I was dining alone, I have stocked numerous half-bottles of good red wine for just such occasions – the meals here are worthy of good wine.

My favorite is their chicken specialty of the house which is served with mashed potatoes – carbs are worth it here! The person at an adjoining table was a chef and was there to check it out as well – looks like the restaurant’s name is getting around. This is also the perfect place for a small get together or celebration. The service is personal but not pushy – so far I know no waitperson’s name (hope they keep it that way – they usually don’t want to see my family videos or photos either).

Anyway, give this place a try – we need to keep it a successful family business.
$

3908 West Touhy Ave.

Lincolnwood, IL
(847) 329-9810

BYOB

Winemaking23 Sep 2016 05:35 pm

I started making red wine back in 2005, and I thought I would summarize my red wine vintages to date (all Regina California Juice purchased in 20-liter batches from Santa Fe Distributors at 35th and Racine in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago). I added whites at the end as I will try another white for 2016.

#1 Red -2005  “California Burgundy” (I have no idea what the actual grapes were – you are not supposed to use the French name – I mistakenly thought it was Pinot Noir)

#2 Red 2006 Pinot Noir

#3 Red 2007 Zinful Pinot Noir (a blend)

#4 Red 2008 Myratage (Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot)

#5 Red 2009 Southern Rhone style blend (Syrah & Granache)

#6 Red 2010 Zinfandel

#7 Red 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon

#8 Red 2012 Syrah

#9 Red 2013 Tony’s Super Tuscan Blend (50% Merlot & 25% Sangiovese & 25% Syrah)

#10 Red 2014 Merlot

#11 Red 2014 Red Blend (75% Merlot & 25% Sangiovese)

#12 Red 2015 Dark Red Blend (Zinfandel & Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah)

#13 Red 2015 Pinot Noir

#14 Red 2016 Red Blend (67% Syrah and 33% Valdapenas – name given to Tempranillo in USA)

#4 White 2016  Sauvignon Blanc

#3 White 2008 Pinot Grigio

#2 White 2007 Sauvignon Blanc

#1 White 2006 Chardonnay

 

 

Enjoy wine and drink responsibly.

Chicago | Illinois | Main | Tony's Top Ten26 Mar 2015 07:32 pm

This East Rogers Park spot brings sophisticated tapas to a  restaurant desert – not too much around except the spots on Granville and of course The Waterfront Cafe in the summer. But this place deserves a top rating using any criteria you can think of (like great food freshly prepared, reasonable prices, and an upbeat atmosphere).

The tapas we have tried (and loved unless a comment is made below) include:

  • Gorgonzola mushroom sauce over corn cake
  • Brussels Sprouts sauteed with dried cherries and bacon with balsamic glaze
  • Jalapeno Gnocchi ( light as a feather)
  • Twisted eggplant (this is one of my favorites)
  • Chicken meatballs (a little dry but tasty)
  • Stuffed mushrooms with Monterrey Jack, spinach and tomato sauce
  • Stuffed chicken breast
  • Chicken and potato curry (another favorite)
  • Grilled beef skewer (tender and juicy, cooked to perfection)
  • Beef tenderloin with blue cheese sauce (scrumptious)
  • Spinach salad with raspberry vinaigrette, tomatoes, red onion and feta
  • Beet salad
  • Salmon with Panko crust with tomato tapanade

 

Wine and beer choices are sufficient (try the German Riesling and California Meritage, and the stout)

Parking can be an issue, but a little bit of patience always works – and be careful to observe the non-parking areas between the 4-6 PM rush hour.

You can look on Facebook for special deals.

1146 West Pratt Boulevard

Chicago, IL 60626

(In the Loyola University neighborhood)

Closed Mondays

(773)856-3486

Italian | San Francisco | Tony's Top Ten05 Dec 2013 09:37 am

This one makes my Top Ten!

Chef/Owner Sergio Giusti brings his home cooking knowledge from a small town near Firenze – and his food is some of the best Italian food I have eaten outside of Italy. He spent time in Chicago for years and knows all of the better Chicago Italian restaurants and their chefs (La Scarola, Piccolo Sogno, Bruna’s, Coco Pazzo, etc.) – I am sorry he left Chicago!

This small, noisy restaurant in a happening part of San Francisco (you definitely need a reservation most nights) has an exciting ambiance (more like a New York spot) – but why not go where the in-crowd goes? One of his specialties is gnocchi with a light cream tomato sauce – the gnocchi melt in your mouth. The roast chicken is perfectly prepared with the right spices and tenderness. The Veal Saltimbocca Alla Romano was tender with just the right amount of prosciutto and fontina cheese.

Salt alert: none needed here – Sergio does not mask the flavor of his cooking with too much salt – what a concept.

Next time I will have the Malanzane Alla Leonardo Da Vinci – my quest for the best Malanzane continues.

Wine list is thorough but not ridiculous; nice Barbera de Alba and Dolcetta de Alba choices along with other great Italian wines.

Also, the prices are very reasonable.

1429 Stockton Street
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 392-8585
Firenze by Night website

Chicago | Illinois | Italian | Tony's Top Ten30 Aug 2013 12:00 pm

Still one of the best restaurants in Chicago – last visit was wonderful with pasta tasting menu to accommodate my fish allergies although seafood fest was in full swing – but other 3 diners enjoyed the standard seafood themed dishes. Wine choices are of course exhaustive and somewhat pricey (but this is a heavy-hitter kind of a place); nevertheless, I did some homework and found a wonderful Gattinara (my fondness for friends in Alba near this wine region makes it  special for me) and Barolo by the glass.

Service was more than excellent, timing was perfect from 730 to 1100 pm (we were celebrating), and everyone in the place is professional.


Our favorite for special occasions; also try the cafe’.
The tasting menu in the cafe’- with truffles (when in season) and selected wines – is a must.

One Magnificent Mile
980 North Michigan Avenue, Second Level
Chicago, Illinois 60611
(312) 280-2750

Southwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Oak Street

Their web site has information about their specialty dishes, as well as excerpts of other reviews of the restaurant.

Winemaking21 Oct 2006 08:09 pm

Here we go again! George and I were off to 35th and Racine for our (now) annual trek to get our California wine juice. October 8, 2006 was a perfect day for the outing. This time 60 liters of Pinot Noir, and 20 liters of Chardonnay. We’ll see how my first white survives my methodology; let’s hope for the best.

Our outing included a stop at Freddy’s for the ultimate Italian sausage sandwich, and sharing a glass of George’s burgundy from last year’s vintage. I actually mis-labeled my first vintage in that the California juice used was actually a blend of Pinot and other varietals. Oh well, this time truth in labeling will be the case as the Pinot Noir was a little more expensive than last year’s blend. Supplies again from Paul on Taylor Street (the 5 gallon glass fermenting vessel and other odds and ends).

Nothing to do now for a couple of months but wait.

Cedar Rapids | Iowa | Tony's Top Ten01 Aug 2006 09:51 pm

OK, so I am having an omnivore’s dilemma after reading Michael Pollan’s book (of same title). So why not have pork tenderloin in Iowa where (maybe) the pig lived (& died). Get your food close to the point of production. Kidding aside, he raises some interesting dilemmas and makes you think just a little bit more about the lunacy of the food systems we use on a daily basis.

But back to the review of this 20+ year old restaurant. I remember the very best pork tenderloin, grilled to perfection, when I used to come to Cedar Rapids years ago on business. They haven’t lost their touch. The medium well slab of meat was perfetcly grilled – moist yet charred just enough. Salad was ok, and wine choices fair. A loaf of crusty white bread starts you out, with a honey butter that compliments the crust – tear the bread apart to enjoy the crust – keep that knife away – save it for the meat. Wine choices are limited but adequate. A Santa Barbara pinot noir and a Napa cabernet sauvignon worked well with the salad & entree. Side of vegetable medley was steamed (and not overcooked – wow). This is generally a place for the well healed – lot’s of talk about money all around me. This is a very comfortable, quiet, low noise place; please don’t forget to take your cell phones outside for calls if you must – I was impressed that the only cell phone which rung during my visit was mine. How impolite.

3847 1st Ave SE

Cedar Rapids, IA

(319)364-6124

www.winifredsrestaurant.com

Winemaking21 May 2006 06:00 pm

It all began on Sunday, October 2, 2005 with a drive to the south side of Chicago to 35th and Racine. Truck semi-trailers loaded with many varieties of grapes, juices and wine-making supplies lined the perimeter of this usually vacant lot in an industrial area of the city. I have never seen so many guys wearing sleeveless Tee shirts and smoking cigars in my life. So George and I each bought 60 liters (just a little less than 16 gallons) of California Regina pinot noir grape juice, a demijohn (or corboy) glass fermenting vessel with brass discharge valve, and miscellaneous necessities for an initial $230.00 investment. Then the fun began (but first Italian sausage sandwiches and eggplant at Freddy’s — see my separate review).

Transfer of three 20 liter plastic pails of juice to the demijohn was fairly uneventful though messy. Placing the fermentation lock on the demijohn at the very beginning was a mistake, which was discovered after one day of very active fermentation with a resulting mess on the floor. We should’ve listened to the guy who said to cover the opening with towels during the first several days of fermentation. George confirmed that he had a colossal mess (mine was somewhat puny by comparison). Not all a bad thing though — the whole house smelled like fruit and agriculture. By the way, sanitary procedures were followed throughout the process — with an engineering degree I was ready for the challenge.

A few days later fermentation slowed to a more reasonable rate and the fermentation airlock was set in place with gases escaping frequently but non-violently. By October 20th one gas bubble per 40 to 45 seconds escaped, by November 11th one every 1 to 2 minutes, and by November 14th one bubble every 9 minutes. Fermentation was going well and an alcohol check with my new vinometer showed 13 degrees (% alcohol by volume) on December 15th. The wine tasted good (to my surprise). Patience, patience. Time for Santa and the New Year.

Sanitizing the pails in preparation for the first (and only) racking was simple — clean out the containers with sodium metabisufite in preparation for transferring the clear wine from the demijohn leaving the lees (cloudy, heavy sediment) behind. Starting the siphon flowing is fun — was almost high by the third pail — guess I’ll have to perfect my siphoning technique next time. Then cleaning out the demijohn and sanitizing it before re-introducing the racked wine. There wasn’t much product loss in the lees but added a small amount of CA pinot noir to top off the ferment vessel. Oxygen is our enemy. This advice was received from Kacz who owns an organic winery in Sonoma. He also gave me some corks during my visit to his vineyard in January 2006. What a brotherhood.

Before the trip to CA, I added oak chips in a cheesecloth pouch on January 2, 2006. These were in place until March 9th; therefore my label states “somewhat oaken” (you’ll have to judge for yourself).

Now just the waiting and occasional tasting.

Bottle preparation was easy — just drink over 6 cases of red wine before bottling. We had 6.5 months for the task at hand, and we did it! A procedure was developed to remove the old labels (soak in soapy water for a few days and scrape off and rinse – with the neat bottle water nozzle bought at Bev Art). All bottles were sanitized well before bottling day on April 21st. (Next year I think I’ll buy new bottles and spend time saved on making a second variety of wine — a white one.)

My first attempt to insert a cork into a bottle for George to take with him on his family trip to Ohio (it was his Italian family tradition to make wine which he so generously offered to teach me) was one of the biggest challenges in my short/long life. The hand corker should have been easy to figure out, but I was too compulsive, in too much of a hurry. I later discovered how to use the device so subsequent corking would have been easier. I indulged though in the Ferrari Tappatrice A Colonna stand corker — what a beautiful piece of equipment! Corking is no longer a challenge, just a pleasure.

Friday, April 21st was the big day. Excitement and fear filled the air. My helpers Christina, Caren and Thom were up to the task, switching jobs and maintaining a happy atmosphere though I have to admit the evening’s work was a challenge.

First, the filling of the bottle with the special filler device. It’s supposed to fill each bottle just to the right height — the only problem was we had different shaped bottles so one setting didn’t work for all. So we had to manually adjust the fill levels. So far, so good. Then the bottle was corked, and exterior wiped clean. Next application of the label, and finally the shrink-wrap seal with the heat gun. Sure glad I had the heat gun for paint stripping — no puny hair dryer for me. A long evening but a satisfying one. Thanks again to my fellow vintners.

I would also like to express thanks to George — I had so much fun with him throughout the whole experience. He has taught me a lot and I am looking forward to next year’s vintage, Tony’s Second (and Third with the addition of a white). Also thanks to Paul at Chiarugi Hardware on Taylor Street in the old Italian neighborhood — see you many times in the future to shoot the bull and buy more supplies. Bev Art in Beverly and Kacz in Sonoma were inspirations as well. And last but not least, thanks to Allistair in Canada (his calmness and matter-of-factness helped me throughout my winemaking); some day I hope to taste the Borolo he makes at home.

Tony’s First Vintage

  • 2005 California Pinot Noir
  • Regina Juice – all natural – Fargo Estate Fermented – somewhat oaken
  • 13 degrees alcohol (% by volume)
  • 67 bottles produced
  • unfiltered – contains sulfites

Chicago | Illinois | Italian | Melanzane | Tony's Top Ten11 May 2005 08:02 pm

Look out – you have some new converts. Our first visit to La Scarola was on a late Monday evening thinking the wait would be short. Guess we didn’t time things quite right, though the pleasant wait staff (and bartender) made waiting almost a pleasure. A good selection of reds by the glass helped pass the time.

Though the place has been around for awhile, for some reason we resisted this near north west side gem. Our starter was sausage and peppers served with good artisan bread and the usual butter, olive oil, grated cheese and red pepper sides. I like the options though tend to shy away from some of the fats whenever possible. I’ll take my fats in the sausage!

The egg plant parmagiana was a knock out – on a par with Donatella’s. Rigatoni pasta (al dente – amen!) with broccoli and goat cheese tossed with shallots and garlic was delicious with subtle flavors combined to make a memorable dish. A thrown-in side of linguini with vegetable red sauce was taken home – and it too was al dente enough to be edible the next day; what a deal.

The place is a bit cramped – but everyone is smiling and friendly. It was a pleasure to enjoy the experience with no pressing time constraint.

Next time will look at the wine list, and try a meat dish to satisfy my hunter instincts. There is a sharing charge which I don’t approve of in these days of weight watching and portion awareness.

$$

721 West Grand Ave. (just east of Milwaukee and Halsted)
Chicago, IL 60610

$5 valet parking (let’s hope it stays that cheap)
(312) 243-1740

www.lascarola.com

Champaign | Illinois | Italian | Tony's Top Ten28 Apr 2004 08:47 pm

Our second dinner (and later lunch and brunch – couldn’t get enough of this place) during the Ebert Overlooked Film Festival brought us to this cutely named place – our first impression of the name wasn’t very positive. Well, well – what a pleasant surprise. Sitting at the bar for dinner on a Friday night couldn’t have been more fun – Champaign locals are interesting and low key, and proud of their town.

My Chicken Gordon Bleu, with lots of extra sauteed vegetables, was nicely prepared in the Milanese style. My guest’s fish entree with vegetables was also delicious. All entrees are really large enough to share. The lunch menu was also varied but had few protein-only items. Brunch offered exceptional omelettes.
This is our favorite place in Champaign.

Wines by the glass were well priced, and the wine list adequate, though we didn’t really peruse the entire list.

$$

114 West Church
Champaign, IL 61820
near the Amtrak Station
(217) 359-7377

opened in 1983

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