October 22, 2020

“The Final Table” on Netflix

In my quest to be lightly entertained, I parceled out one or two episodes nightly of the cooking competition, “The Final Table,” on Netflix.

Teams of two culinary professionals from Europe, Asia, Australia and North America are tasked with making signature dishes from different cuisines. Single episodes each feature culinary nods to India, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Italy, Japan, France and the United States.

The first round of dishes are judged by three people from that particular country — two celebrities and a food critic. In the episode’s second round, called The Final Plate, teams must fashion a dish highlighting one ingredient, and judged by a celebrity chef from that evening’s country.

The Final Table

One team is eliminated per show with the series winnowing down to four competitors who compete against each other for the honor of being seated at a table with the nine celebrity judges.

I did not fall in love with this show immediately, but if you like food and restaurants, you may want to persevere. Throughout the show, clips highlighting famous chefs and competitors, alike, are fascinating. Learning about different cuisines and ingredients is another benefit.

For local bragging rights, Chicago’s own Grant Achatz is the celebrity chef representing the United States. His restaurant, Alinea, and other world-famous dining establishments mentioned in the series now go on my dream dining list.

Mon Ami Gabi French Restaurant in Lincoln Park and elsewhere

I wanted to do something special on my birthday so having a Lettuce Entertain You gift card from an adult student of mine really came in handy.

Mon Ami Gabi was my restaurant choice since I had a yen for French food. Some people are opting to use the outdoor patio in front of the venerable Belden Stratford apartment building (pictured above), but we chose to order carry-out and dine al fresco in the park next to Lincoln Park Zoo.

I ordered a filet mignon in a pepper and creme fraiche sauce along with side dishes of green pea and Leek mash and sautéed mixed mushrooms. Magnifique! I don’t eat beef that often, but this was a beautiful cut of meat. My husband wanted the hamburger with blue cheese on a brioche bun, paired with crispy frites. We polished off the meal with blueberry crumble à la mode and chocolate mousse with Chantilly cream. Surprisingly, the high quality vanilla ice cream stayed cold until we were ready for dessert. We brought our own silverware and napkins, so make sure you request those if you are not taking carry-out food directly to your home.

Most people do not realize there are five Mon Ami Gabi restaurants: the Chicago original named after beloved chef Gabino Sotelino, OakBrook IL, Reston VA, Bethesda MD and the Las Vegas Strip. The Vegas outpost is a favorite for locals and visitors alike with premium outdoor seating overlooking the fountains at the Bellagio Resort. The bottom photos are from a charming lunch I had at the Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

https://www.monamigabi.com/

Starbucks Reserve Roastery in previous Crate and Barrel flagship on Michigan Avenue

Did you know that Chicago currently has the largest Starbucks location in the world? The Seattle-based corporation took over the former Michigan Avenue flagship store of locally-owned Crate and Barrel November 2019.

The venue is five floors with 43,000 square feet of space. To ease traffic within the store, one can use stairs, escalators or elevators to shift between areas. And the crowds have indeed shown up. Opening week, people lined up outside in the cold waiting for admittance.

With the copper piping and modern coffee bar decor, this struck me as the Willy Wonka factory of coffee bars. Not only is this a coffee shop and retail outlet, but a cocktail bar with signature drinks devised by local bartenders and an Italian-style sandwich shop. Local art is featured along with very clean-lined modern furniture and decor.

I am not a coffee drinker, but if I were, I would take note that Starbucks touts its Reserve products to be of the rarest and best quality, often from single-origin coffee concerns.

When the hordes die down, you might want to grab a beverage or snack and watch the world go by from one of the many stylish levels at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery. Window seat preferably.

https://www.starbucksreserve.com/en-us/locations/chicago

JB’s Deli in Andersonville

This is my blog day for writing about things I had avoided but have eventually come to love. JB’s Deli in Andersonville is located in a pharmacy which telegraphed “quirky” to me. I walked past the place for a good twenty years, not giving it a second glance.

A neighbor recently showed me a roast beef sandwich from this Andersonville delicatessen. The generous portion of sliced beef looked delicious ensconced in bread, tomatoes, lettuce with a dill pickle and side dish.

I finally made the trip myself. There is limited seating in the deli area, but renovation is in progress for a side room with additional seating.

The menu boasts all of the items you expect to find at a good deli; pastrami on rye sandwiches, lox platters, matzo ball soup and freshly made bagels. The prices are a little high, but the enormous sandwiches are worth every shekel.

Andersonville is about to make Catalpa from Clark to Ashland into a town square. This will undoubtedly increase traffic to this little deli since it is across the street from this future development. In the meantime, when in the mood for a pile of pastrami or beef, head to JB’s Deli for a heroic sandwich. Mazel Tov!

Magic Lounge in Chicago’s Andersonville

If you want a most unusual and fun evening, call now for tickets to see a show at the Magic Lounge, in Andersonville’s SoFo neighborhood (south of Foster).
Be forewarned that weekend tickets need to be ordered weeks in advance as the venue has exploded in popularity. And rightfully so.

The exterior has no official signage but there are some poster images of magicians to mark the 5050 N. Clark Street entrance. Upon entering the vestibule, commercial washers and dryers make one question the address. Please persist for one of the machines is actually a door leading to a delightful bar with a magician doing tricks for cocktail patrons. If you are lucky enough to secure a show ticket, you will be ushered through another trick door that leads to a surprisingly spacious cabaret-style theater replete with a red-curtained stage, a theater organist, banquette and bar seating along with a petite balcony for celebratory groups. This venue is a big draw for bachelor, bachelorette and corporate parties, but you will also see local couples, small groups of friends and people of all ages out for a good time.

While waiting for the show to start, one can order nifty cocktails and very tasteful small bites and I mean that in both senses of the word. Imagine prosciutto wrapped dates with gorgonzola cheese, pork belly or beef tenderloin sliders, potato pancakes with apple mustardo and caraway yogurt, or a sausage board with cheese, peppers, caperberries and rye bread. Then again, your sweet tooth might enjoy a Katherine Anne Confection Truffle with flavors like Creme de Menthe, Hazelnut, Sea Salt Caramel, Citrus or Vegan Raspberry Champagne.

During the pre-show, a handful of magicians go from table to table giving up close sleight-of-hand displays. To set the mood, an organist plays tunes that are so square they are hip, and dons the hat of emcee to introduce both an opening act and a featured entertainer. The night we were there, both entertainers were not only adept at magic, but laugh-out-loud funny. Selected patrons are invited to the stage to participate in several of the tricks which adds to the hilarity.

What we saw was the Signature Show, but the Magic Lounge also offers David Parr’s Cabinet of Curiosities on Wednesdays, a Family Show on Sundays, Music and Magic on Mondays and Tuesdays. For an additional charge, after the Signaure Show, you can move to a smaller theater called The 654 Club behind the Blackstone Cabaret for a more intimate magic experience.

What can I say? The Magic Lounge’s offerings would be a perfect evening for anyone who wants an extraordinary experience with comedy, music, food and magic. When can I go back?

https://www.chicagomagiclounge.com/welcome/

Chicago Grind in Andersonville

A favorite coffee bar hangout in the Andersonville neighborhood is Chicago Grind, at Berwyn and Broadway, featuring coffees and teas from Metric Coffee Roasters and Benjamin Tea.

Husband and wife team, Reem and Jim Dababneh are frequently behind the cash register and food counter as they fill orders for beverages, pastries and savory food items. My favorite meal option is the vegan quinoa kale salad with nuts, cranberries and red peppers. They have even brought the “to-go” order outside when I have my dog.

The artisanal flatbread sandwiches have been top notch with gluten-free options available. Gourmet salads are another meal option, along with all sorts of enlightened treats from Maier Bakery, Alliance Patisserie and the gluten-free Defloured Bakery.

The Dababnehs are also owners of the very successful Pizzeria Aroma, just east near the Berwyn el stop. They will be moving that restaurant to another spot in the ‘hood, so I will keep you posted.

Chicago Grind is a handy spot for business meetings, lunches, breakfasts on the run or casual beverage breaks in the outdoor cafe. That is if it ever warms up enough to sit at sidewalk tables again!

http://www.chicagogrind.com/