Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Toro Sushi

Toro Sushi is a little gem in Lincoln Park that I wish I could say was undiscovered.  There was a time back in 2005, 2006 that it was but then social media and word of mouth took over!  Now if you want to eat at Toro on a Friday or Saturday night, get ready for a minimum two hour wait.  But, that wait is worth it.  Stop in, put in your name and phone number (they will call you and give you 15 minutes) and head next door to D.O.C. Wine Bar, or down the street to Duke's or the Tin Lizzie. 

Once that phone call is received, get ready for some unreal sushi.  If you can sit by the bar, that is ideal to get a better feel for the place.  Personally, I am all about the rolls but Toro has wonderful nigri and sashimi if that is your preference.  What sets Toro apart is how fresh their seafood is and how creative their chefs are.  Go to Toro ready to be impressed and if you have never had sushi, open up!  You will be so glad you did.

Only a few tables around the bar!

Mussels in Tiffany Sauce

Salmon with roe and raw yolk

Kamikaze Roll
Kamikaze Hand Roll

Sunny Roll

El Fuego Roll
Holla Jalapeno Roll
Super White Crunch Roll
Miami Roll
OMG Roll
Fried Green Ice Cream

2546 N Clark St; Chicago, IL 60614

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Super Brew: Denver vs Seattle

The Broncos are favored by 2.5 points in tomorrow's Super Bowl against the Seahawks.  I wanted to see how they match up in a craft beer challenge.  Denver has 25 breweries and Seattle has 26, sounds like a close matchup!  Let's see below: 

Top brewery:  Great Divide (Denver) vs Elysian (Seattle)

Elysian in Seattle, cheering on the Seahawks?

Great Divide Brewery
Great American Beer Festival medals

Great Divide's beers

WINNER:  Great Divide Brewery just rated their best beer per state and it just so happened that Washington's was from Fremont Brewing Company in Seattle and Colorado's was from Great Divide!  

Yeti Imperial Stout from Great Divide

Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Star from Fremont Brewery in Seattle

WINNER:  Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout


Fremont Brewing Company

Big Time Brewery & Alehouse

Maritime Pacific Brewing Company

Naked City Taphouse

Big Al Brewery


Strange Brewing Company

River North Brewery

Bull & Bush Brewery

Crooked Stave Brewery

WINNER:  Denver Breweries


Falling Rock
Beveridge Place Pub

WINNER:  Falling Rock

It looks like a runaway victory for Denver, although Seattle does have a great craft beer scene.  But, how could any city compete with the town that hosts the Great American Beer Festival?  Denver is the epicenter of craft beer.  Congrats on your victory! We will see if the Broncos can get a win as well.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Simply It: Lincoln Park


Simply It has been bringing authentic Vietnamese cuisine, usually found on Argyle Street, to Lincoln Park for over six years now.  When they first opened I asked their owner, admiringly referred to as “Uncle”, why Lincoln Park?  He said he saw an opportunity because there were Thai, Chinese, and Sushi restaurants in the neighborhood, but no Vietnamese.  He wanted more people to experience the wonderful, distinct flavors that Vietnamese food offers.  I had long been a fan of Tank, Pho 888, Hai Yen, and the restaurants on Argyle Street, so I was skeptical about Simply It.  At the same time, I was worried that even if the food was good, their location would be an issue.  For years, it was a turntable for restaurants, opening and closing.  Recently moving to Lincoln Park from Lincoln Square, getting to Argyle was a process, so I was eager to try Simply It.  

The food didn't disappoint and the atmosphere put it over the top for me.  “Uncle” is such a wonderful guy and you can tell he wants you to have a great experience.  The staff is very attentive and friendly as well.  As an added bonus, I have received a free desert every time I have been to Simply It.  A story I like to tell about this great restaurant is when I used to call and order Pho to go.  I would start my order and then request the beef on the side and add extra jalapenos.  Instantly I hear “Uncle” say, “Jeff”!  He knew who I was based on my order.  Try Simply It and become a regular as well.



  • Shrimp Rolls:  Shrimp and assorted vegetables wrapped in rice paper and served with plum sauce.  Ask for jalapenos to be added!
  • Saigonese Crepe:  One of their specialties!  Crepe filled with shrimp, chicken, mushroom, onion and bean sprout.  Served with a chili lime sauce.
  • Grilled Lemongrass Beef:   Make your own rice paper rolls!  Mix the beef with veggies and roll in the rice paper.
  • Shrimp Papaya Salad:  Shrimp tossed with shredded papaya, topped with peanut and a chili lime garlic dressing.

  • Pho:  This is a Vietnamese specialty soup with noodles, fresh herbs, lime, jalapenos and a choice of beef.  I recommend flank steak or brisket.  There is no better soup on a cold night!
  • Pumpkin Soup:  Pumpkin with shrimp and scallions.
  • Pineapple Calamari:  Calamari stir fried with pineapple and cashews.  It is then served in a pineapple!
  • Clay Pot Chicken: Chicken simmered with ginger and served in a clay pot.  Traditional dish.  There is also a catfish clay pot option, that I have not had, but sounds great.
  • Coconut and Mango Beef:  Exactly what it sounds like and served in a coconut!
  • Simply It’s Special Noodles:  Glass noodles (vermicelli) with veggies, scallions and a light brown sauce.  I recommend adding crab or beef. 
  • I have never actually paid for a desert here but are served every time!  Hopefully you will be able to try the green tea ice cream, amazing!  I would recommend a bubble tea smoothie.  Again, this is part of the experience!  Try mango, lychee, papaya, or……avocado, it is surprisingly great.
For all of the dishes, I would recommend a Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, or hoppy Pilsner.  All will complement the spice.  If you have never had Vietnamese food before, go there with an open mind ready for an experience.  Ask questions, tell the server what you like, and share dishes so that you can try more.  I guarantee you will be back to Simply It!

Their inviting dining room

Make sure you say hello to "Uncle"!
Shrimp spring rolls in rice paper

Traditional Vietnamese Beef Pho

Shrimp Papaya Salad

Pineapple Calamari

Clay Pot Chicken

Fried Bananas with Green Tea Ice Cream

2269 Lincoln Avenue; Chicago, IL 60614

Monday, January 20, 2014

Growler Archive: Russian River Brewing Company

Great menu!  Check out happy hour, wow!

My wife and I visited Russian River Brewing Company on our honeymoon.  We traveled Highway 1 from Sonoma to Manhattan Beach.  It was an epic journey filled with wonderful wine, great food, and unbelievable scenery.  Visiting Russian River was a must for us!  Being a craft beer fanatic, this felt like a pilgrimage to the home of Pliny the Elder & Pliny the Younger.  Pliny is so good that a co-worker and I have paid $35 in shipping to have a 12 pack sent to Chicago! 

Row 2 Hilll 56 (Simcoe Hops Pale Ale) & Saison Blonde (Farmhouse Ale)
 When arriving at the brewery, we could not believe how unpretentious it was.  Their location is right downtown Santa Rosa in Sonoma County amongst other businesses.  We walked in and even though it was packed, a bar seat in the middle of their extremely long bar was open.  When the guy next to us heard we were on our honeymoon, he got up and made me take his seat.  Beer fanatics are friendly, and his next Pliny was on us! 

The knowledgeable bartender walked us through their menu and offered us a few sample tastes.  My wife ordered the saison blonde and I chose the Row 2 Hill 56 Pale Ale.  My plans were to take a growler of Pliny the Elder to go, so I wanted to try a few others.  The simcoe hops in Row 2 Hill 56 (states the exact location of their hops) were amazing.  The saison had a nice balance of wit, fruit, and crisp.  She loved it. 
With my beautiful wife
My second beer was the Blind Pig IPA.  If Pliny is the Double IPA, I wanted to see how their regular one stood up.  Big citrus and pine flavor with caramel notes.  Extremely smooth.  I loved this brewery!  My wife and I also took samples of their wine collaborations: Temptation (Sour in Chardonnay barrels), Supplication (Brown Ale aged in Pinot Noir barrels), and Consecration (Belgium Style dark aged in Cabernet barrels).  We were in Sonoma after all!  What flavors!  Russian River took their great beers and added the region's wines for three of the most unique beers you can find.  
The Sampler!
Of all of the breweries I have visited, Russian River Brewing Company rates at or near the top.  Their hype did not disappoint.  Another thing that made this brewery remarkable was that their workers and patrons had no idea how renowned it was.  I mentioned their ratings on beeradvocate & ratebeer and they just said, "cool".  If you have the opportunity to visit this brewery, do not hesitate!  If you are planning a trip to Sonoma or Napa, add it to the agenda.  Santa Rosa is just north of Kenwood and south of Healdsburg.  A world class beer is a great compliment to the region's wines.  We can't wait to go back!

Growler of Pliny the Elder.  See the Swing Top?  Having fresh Pliny was incredible!  And, the growler is the most unique one that I have in my collection.

Map: review of Pliny The Elder: review of Russian River Brewing Company: Review of Pliny The Elder:

Friday, January 17, 2014

Caro Mio

If you are looking for a romantic, Italian BYOB check out Caro Mio in Chicago's Lincoln Square/East Ravenswood Neighborhood.  I have been coming here since having my birthday dinner in 2005.  That night my grandmother, Ilomay, requested an item not featured on the menu:  linguini with clams and red pepper flakes, and the owner did not hesitate.  She told me, between sips of her sauvignon blanc, that it was the best she had ever had!  Well that did it for me, I was hooked and have been since.  Over the last few years the restaurant has expanded but the food has not fallen off one bit.  Enjoy the candlelit feel of this restaurant with that special someone or come with a group and have an epic Italian feast.  Be sure to call for a reservation though, as this restaurant is in high demand. 


  • Enjoy the complimentary olive oil, freshly minced garlic, and crushed red peppers served with sliced bread
  • Caprese salad 
  • Polenta al sugo: grilled polenta topped with a ragu sauce

  • Gnocchi rossini: gnocchi stuffed with creamy pesto and asiago cheese (Pair with a pinot noir)
  • Cavatelli con salisiccia: cavatelli and italian sausage baked in a creamy pesto sauce (Pair with a sangiovese) 
  • Suprema di pollo: chicken stuffed with provolone and prosciutto and served with ravioli and gorgonzola sauce (Pair with a chardonnay, preferably oak-aged)
  • Beef brasciole:  a rolled tenderloin stuffed with garlic, parm, parsley, white wine, and marinara (Pair with a chianti)
  • And of course ask for the Ilomay special (Pair with a sauvignon blanc)!  I am sure they would have no problem making it for you. 
  • Tiramisu:  soaked in espresso and mascarpone cheese
  • Lemon tartufo:  lemon gelato with a limoncello liquer center
  • Espresso sorbet
  • Finish with a cappuccino!
Phone:  (773) 275-5000

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Gateway Beers

You probably spent your college days drinking Keystone, Natural Light, PBR, The Beast, and Schlitz like me.  You graduated college, got your first job and moved up to the big three:  Coors, Miller, and Bud.  Then, something extraordinary happened, you decided to try a gateway beer and discovered.....FLAVOR!  This blog is an ode to the gateway beers and also a challenge to those still in your first romance to take the next step on your craft beer journey. 

My first gateway beer was Corona.  How great did that lime taste!?!?  I, of course, dabbled in Guinness around St. Patty's day and carbomb shots.  But, my first gateway beer that really opened my eyes was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.  I loved it!  What was this floral smell?  The bitter taste? I was hooked.  Luckily, I was working as a waiter at the time and was able to branch out.  But, for those who are still in your first relationship, below is a guide.

GATEWAY BEER----------------------------------------------------------------CRAFT BEER CHALLENGE

Blue Moon-------------Allagash White or Avery's White Rascal (If you really need an orange, you can ask)

Sam Adams Boston Lager-----------------------------------------Great Lakes Elliot Ness or Abita Amber

Corona-----------------------------------------------------------------5 Rabbit from 5 Rabbit Cerveceria

Guinness---------Old #38 Stout from North Coast Brewery or Left Hand Milk Stout (On Nitro Preferably)

Newcastle Brown------------------------Bell's Best Brown or Downtown Brown from Lost Coast Brewery

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale---------------Dales Pale Ale from Oskar Blues or Zombie Dust from Three Floyd's