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Delicious and Healthy Breakfast: Walnut Avenue Cafe, Santa Cruz

17 Jul

Kicking off our road trip from San Jose down to San Diego, California, hubby and I were in search of a hearty but healthy start to our day. We found it at the Walnut Avenue Cafe in Santa Cruz.

My veggie scramble was fantastic. I hate it when scrambled eggs are too buttery, this was not it. And it came with a fruit cup and rye toast. The scramble may look simple, but it was so perfectly prepared.

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Hubby ordered a build-your-own omelette, stuffed with chorizo, onions, bell peppers, and avocado. 

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Check out all that avocado inside!! And, the side of potatoes were some of the best breakfast potatoes I’ve tried. Again, simple, but perfectly prepared.

We shared a plain, fluffy waffle too. Yum! What a perfect breakfast. I only wish I had ordered a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. The large glasses looked amazing at the other tables.

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The Final Word: A solid breakfast/brunch here, with simple ingredients done well. I would definitely come back!

Info: Walnut Avenue Cafe, 106 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz, CA 95060 USA

Walnut Avenue Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Chicago Restaurant Week 2016: Catch 35

21 Feb

For Chicago Restaurant Week at the end of January, hubby and I decided to check out Catch 35, a slightly splurgy seafood spot near the river. During Restaurant Week, you can nab some pretty good prix fixe deals at top Chicago restaurants, and Catch 35 offers two dinner options – a $33 menu and a $44 menu.

Ambiance-wise, Catch 35 has a bit of a personality disorder. It’s a very long restaurant, and the front section evokes a bit of a classy jazz lounge/bar feel. There’s a shiny black grand piano surrounded by high top tables with views out the front window towards the water. A long bar stretches towards the back of the restaurant. Across from the bar are a few casual-looking tables positioned fairly close together. After the bar comes a brightly lit display case showing off fresh cuts of fish, and a few more tables. It’s like you’re in a fancy fish market. Walking deeper into the restaurant, you then go up a few steps. It’s here that you’ll find probably the best and most comfortable tables. There are a few booths on one side, and tables for four on the other. Then up a few more steps, and now you’re officially in the largest section of the dining room. Maybe it’s going for a fine dining feel, but it’s more like 90’s hotel meets Senior’s night.

Despite its confused look, Catch 35’s food is anything but. Everything is plated nicely, and more importantly, tastes pretty awesome.

Catch 35

Kicking off the start of a fantastic meal, my husband started off with a creamy and flavorful lobster bisque.

Catch 35 - beet salad

I got the beet salad, which was a huge portion with tons of beets, topped with creamy goat cheese and crunchy pistachios. 

 

Mahi

For my entree, I had the perfectly cooked mahi mahi served over roasted root vegetables and red grapes (part of the $33 menu). Catch 35 has a pretty good wine selection, and I had a terrific and sweet riesling from Mosel, Germany that went well with my meal.

 

Brussel sprouts

We shared a ginormous side of roasted Brussel sprouts, and also the short rib hash (not pictured). Actually, we probably didn’t need the side dishes – our entree portions were well-sized, but we just couldn’t resist. With a name like Catch 35, you might be tempted to stick to seafood only, but the short rib was fantastic. I highly recommend the short rib hash, or any other dish with short rib in it. 

 

Chilean sea bass

Hubby got the Chilean sea bass – yum! (part of the $44 menu).

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We each got our own molten chocolate cake for dessert. It was soooo good, though very rich. One portion would have been enough to share!

The Final Word: Solid seafood and wine selection. The service could be more attentive, and the decor is not the most chic, but I would come back for the nicely prepared dishes.

Info: Catch 35, W. Upper Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL 60601 USA

Catch 35 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Overhyped: Girl and the Goat, Chicago

14 Jan

Girl and the Goat is a much talked about, trendy West Loop spot. Walk in without a reservation on a Saturday evening and you could be faced with a 2 hour-long wait. So of course, I had to check it out.

Hubby and I got a 5:15 pm reservation on a Saturday – a little early for dinner, but the place was packed already. We were seated directly behind the hostess stand – not an ideal spot, as hungry diners hanging by the bar seemed to hover over our table. It was a little difficult at times to ignore their conversation – as it was pretty much right over our heads. A row of two-tops opposite the aisle beside us, with bench seating, didn’t appear to be significantly more comfortable given the scant 3 inches between each table. 

Hubby is much more of a food snob than I am – he found the meal to be just ok. He wouldn’t return for the price. He didn’t think the elements of each dish went together very well – the Brussels sprout leaves in the grilled octopus dish were too bitter for example. I didn’t mind the Brussel sprouts, though I didn’t feel like they added much to the dish either in terms of flavour. I guess they’re good for adding some colour. We both agreed that the octopus itself  was cooked excellently though.

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Perhaps because it’s winter, the dishes were quite heavy – everything we ordered was paired with cheese or a creamy sauce. A gigantic plate of wood grilled broccoli came atop a blue cheese dressing for example. The dressing brought a great sweetness to the crunchy broccoli, but I do think the dish could have come with less of it. The “spiced crispies” were basically Rice Krispies, an interesting twist but…c’mon, it’s Rice Krispies. If you’re charging $13 for broccoli, you could do a little better than pulling the garnish out of a cereal box. 

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Hubby really enjoyed the goat empanadas topped with feta. I found them alright – tasty but not outstanding or particularly memorable.

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The wood oven roasted pig face is the restaurant’s top seller, according to our server. It was definitely interesting. Pork jowl, cheek, and tongue formed into a sausage patty provided a texture reminiscent of pork belly. This is a stick-to-your ribs breakfasty dish.

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The dish is best enjoyed with the elements all mixed together into a mess:

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Service was spot-on that night and I was satisfied at the end of my meal. Hubby, because he’s a big, hungry guy with the appetite of two pregnant women, was still hungry after our dinner….but didn’t want to order any more food because most dishes were quite heavy and fatty. 

The best dish of the night was the perfectly pan roasted drum fish with thinly sliced autumn crisp apples (ok I’ll buy that idea), and a Szechuan vinaigrette (a questionable pairing).

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The Final Word: Glad I tried this place once, but it was overpriced for the experience. Service is great, but seating is crowded and the dishes try a little too hard to be unique.

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Info: Girl and the Goat, 809 W. Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60607 USA

Girl & the Goat Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Battle of the Brunches, Part II: Bongo Room

22 Aug

Last week, I kicked off the Battle of the Brunches in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood, and showed off the good eats at Big Jones. This week: does Bongo Room have what it takes to beat Big Jones?

Right when we entered the restaurant, the Bongo Room impressed me with its bright space and modern look. The Andersonville location is the second Bongo Room restaurant in the city, and it’s quite new. There’s a nice patio out back too, though we chose to sit indoors (as my pasty and pale husband worried he’d burn to a crisp).

We kicked off our meal with coffee (okay) and a cappuccino – which unfortunately, was rather bitter, and came in a pretty small cup – sorry, a mug with the trendy “crinkle” look can’t make up for this.  I even had to add some sugar to the drink, which I never do with my cappuccinos! Okay, so we were off to a slow start in this battle…IMG_20150613_124646901

I had the chorizo potato and avocado omelet – it was very yummy (how can you go wrong with chorizo and avocado?), and served with a side of yet more potatoes – something different could have upped this dish, especially since the potatoes were rather bland on their own. IMG_20150613_125700660

Hubby had the beef tenderloin and cremini mushroom Benedict. The generous portion of beef was very nicely cooked, and the eggs were perfectly poached. However, the side of potatoes was like mine – looked good but tasted bland.IMG_20150613_125648629

I was initially excited to try Bongo Room because of the photos of creative and over-the-top pancakes and French toast plates I had seen online. So Hubby and I finished our meal with an order of chocolate French toast. We asked for the French toast to come later, after our savory dishes. I was only halfway through my omelet when the French toast arrived (sigh).

Slices of chocolatey bread were sliced thick (yay!), but there was only a hint of egg batter on each slice (boo). It was as if we were simply eating warm slices of chocolate bread. The dish was very filling, as the toast was surrounded by a ridiculously large amount of thick maple cream. At least you won’t go home hungry…

French toast

We had barely begun digging into the French toast when the check came. “Whenever you’re ready,” quipped the waitress. Did she open her eyes? We still had a giant plate of unfinished food in front of us. No, we were not ready!

Overall, Bongo Room’s food looked much better than it tasted – while the presentation was great, most things were underseasoned. Service was so-so and rushed at times. Bongo Room, you seriously need to up your game.

So, you’ve probably caught on already, that the Bongo Room has lost this Andersonville Battle of the Brunches. With good-looking but average-tasting food, and below-average service, our experience at the Bongo Room felt overpriced. There will be no return trip to this joint!

Info: Bongo Room, 5022 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60640 USA

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