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Seeking Retro Tiki (Chef Shangri-La? new Trader Vics?)

An old family favorite, Beyond the Reef on the southwest side, closed a few years ago, and I'd like to find an old-fashioned (i.e., 60s/70s-reeking) "Polynesian"/Tiki bar and restaurant in the Chicago area, one that serves Chinese food.

I've heard about Chef Shangri-La in North Riverside, but a few reviews I read on Yelp indicated bug/cleanliness issues. Has anyone on here had any experience with this place? Heard that Hala Kahiki in River Grove is fun, but they don't serve food, apparently.

Any other recommendations?

Also, any news on Trader Vic's supposedly reopening?

Oct 15, 2007
Steve Sanders in Chicago Area

Pats going downhill

My complaint above is about the South Loop Pat's on Clark St.

Jun 21, 2007
Steve Sanders in Chicago Area

Has Chez Joel gone downhill?

I just got back from a very disappointing meal at Chez Joel on Taylor St. I wondered if anyone else has had any recent bad experiences there?

I ate outside on the patio, where less attention seems to be paid than in the dining room to the tabletops and overall ambience. Rather than put down new butcher paper, the waiter appeared to simply brush away some crumbs. My candle was never lighted. Service was moderately attentive, though I had to ask for utensils and a napkin when my salad arrived.

The salad -- mesclun with goat cheese -- was underdressed (better than overdressed, I admit, but still lacking in flavor). The house vinaigrette seemed very nice, but it needed a little more presence.

The steak frites was the big disappointment. I had it at Chez Joel for the first time last fall and remember thinking the sirloin was one of the best I've had. The next time I had it, the flavor wasn't quite as good. This time it was gray (my request for *charred* medium wasn't honored) and almost tasteless, lacking in flavorful fat, a bit too perfectly portion-cut in a way you'd expect to see in a chain restaurant. The haystack fries were greasy.

The glass of cotes du Rhone was served too warm -- obviously kept in a too near the kitchen, rather than at the coolish cellar temperature at which a red wine ought to be served.

Finally, the sort of chocolate-mousse cake I ordered for dessert was attractively presented, but seriously lacking in the sort of intense, pure chocolate flavor I'd expect from something like this in an authentic bistro. It looked and tasted like something brought in from a large producer.

I thought Chez Joel was quite a find when I first went there last fall. And it's gotten good reviews from Zagat and the local foodie boards. Was this just a very bad night, or has the place seriously slipped in recent months?

Jun 20, 2007
Steve Sanders in Chicago Area

Pats going downhill

Pat's consistently delivers cold pizzas, and tonight I waited 90 minutes. Moreover, they typically have a bad attitude on the phone. Their pizza is decent, but it isn't worth the crappy, indifferent service.

Jun 17, 2007
Steve Sanders in Chicago Area

Dinner near UCLA/Bel Air

Out of towner with business at UCLA, staying near intersection of Sunset/405. Looking for great dinner places within a reasonable drive. Most likely be dining alone, so prefer places more on the sedate/cozy side, and good wines by the glass are a plus. Recs for French, Italian, Chinese especially welcome.

Also, if I were to take a trek to Chinatown, what place would be most worthwhile?


Good Eats Near Midway?

Sadly, Tatra Inn has closed. If you're interested in Lithuanian/Polish/"Bohemian" food, an option is Mabenka, 79th and Cicero, just down the street from where you'll be. Or instead heading east down 63rd St is what's apparently a hole-in-the-wall Middle Eastern gem, Steve's Shish Ka Bob:

Jan 29, 2007
Steve Sanders in Chicago Area

Selling out at Trotter's Express

A coworker told me about the Friday seafood chowder at Trotter's Express, 200 W. Monroe. So I ambled over at about 12:40 looking forward to trying it, and the guy behind the counter (apparently the manager) said it "always sells out by 12:05." I said it seemed sort of absurd to consistently sell out of a popular lunch item 5 minutes into the lunch hour, and he noted that they open at 11. Rather than buy an overpriced CT chicken caesar or whatever, I walked over to Cosi, muttering to myself that I had no intention of disrupting my work schedule in the future for the privilege of fighting, Tickle Me Elmo-style, for a ration of Charlie Trotter's gruel.

If it's true they "always" sell out at 12:05, is this (a) intentional scarcity, or (b) bad production management?

Jan 26, 2007
Steve Sanders in Chicago Area

Carbonara and Tony Bennett at La Fontanella

La Fontanella, in the "other" Little Italy on South Oakley, is small, old-neighborhood and old-school in a genuine, unaffected way: worn wood floors, salmon-colored stucco walls, red- or green-checked tablecloths underneath the white butcher paper, cook-and-dishwasher sounds coming through an open door that leads back to the kitchen. And Tony Bennett (older Tony Bennett) on the speakers. You don't hear nearly enough Tony Bennett in Italian-American restaurants anymore, IMHO.

After snorkeling my way through some unforgivably bad "carbonara" a few weeks ago at La Vita in the "big" Little Italy (see, I was curious to try La Fontanella's version, based on a few favorable mentions on this board.

Most restaurants don't seem to realize that the basic ingredients of carbonara are simple, mainly eggs and pancetta (or bacon). Too often, restaurant carbonara is a cream-laden, pasty mess. (Rosebud describes their carbonara, which I haven't had, as featuring a "creamy parmesan sauce." I thought that's what Alfredo was.


Anyway, La Fontanella's was much closer to my understanding of good carbonara: a pile of spaghetti which has not been overcooked, coated with egg, no real sauce to speak of, just slippery enough to be twirlable on the fork, with a generous helping of pancetta thrown in.

I have to say I think the dish was on the bland side. There was nothing really objectionable about it, and it was probably a cut above as neighborhood places go. But my sense was that they probably use Sysco-grade pasta, pancetta, and parmesan, and that better-quality raw materials (and maybe some pecorino; and crisping up the pancetta first by browning it in a bit of good olive oil; a few grinds of black pepper; and more garlic, which I recognize is a controversial suggestion where carbonara is concerned) would have made for a more memorable dish, and one for which I'd return more often. La Fontanella does carbonara in a simpler, better style than most places; with a little extra effort, it could be outstanding.

The place was quiet, with only a couple of other diners late on a weeknight. Service was cordial and dignified. The Placido pinot grigio was simple but well-made, clean, and quaffable. The pasta, an appetizer (roasted red peppers with fresh mozzarella), two glasses of wine, and spumoni ran me $42 plus tip.

Jan 24, 2007
Steve Sanders in Chicago Area

Dinner near Binny's Lakeview/3000 N. Clark?

Thanks for the recommendation of Sapori, which I tried. The shellfish in the risotto pescatore tasted pristinely fresh. Service was very friendly, and the owner, Anthony, is a sweetheart.

Jan 23, 2007
Steve Sanders in Chicago Area

"Ristorante We" @ the W Hotel on Adams?

Any recent experiences or insights? I had a steak there about a year ago that was mediocre, but it's a convenient spot for a late dinner in the Loop, so I was thinking of giving it another go. Does anyone eat there other than hotel guests needing a convenient place for a solitary meal?

Jan 23, 2007
Steve Sanders in Chicago Area

Dinner near Binny's Lakeview/3000 N. Clark?

I'm attending a tasting tonight at the Binny's at 3000 N. Clark. I don't know that part of the north side, and I'll be taking the L rather than driving, so I'm looking for a nice, quiet place, preferably American or Italian, for a decent dinner afterwards very close to Clark/Wellington/Halsted. Thanks for any suggestions!

Jan 23, 2007
Steve Sanders in Chicago Area

Dinner at La Vita: tasteless, gloppy "carbonara"

The garlic may have been my own innovation when I've made it at home. :-) Still, I don't think ordering a standard dish, even if not on the menu, ought to subject you to a dish that's way beyond the pale of what's acceptable, especially since I asked the waiter twice if he was sure they wanted to attempt it, and when the restaurant's web site promises "world-class Northern Italian cuisine" for the "sophisticated diner." Also, it's not new either to me (I've been there twice before, though not recently) or in longevity (it's been around 10 years).

Jan 12, 2007
Steve Sanders in Chicago Area

Best Steak in Chicago?

It's definitely not a steakhouse atmosphere, if that's what you're seeking, but last week I had one of the best steaks I've had in a long time at Chez Joel, the little French place on Taylor St. Unlike most steakhouse steaks, it was sensibly sized (10 oz sirloin, the menu said), perfectly cooked, every bite tender and flavorful.

I've actually heard people say they thought Gibson's was overrated. How do people feel about the beef at Capitol

Jan 12, 2007
Steve Sanders in Chicago Area

Dinner at La Vita: tasteless, gloppy "carbonara"

OK, so maybe it was my fault by asking for something not on the menu.

I stopped by La Vita on Taylor Street ( for a late dinner, and asked the waiter if there was any chance the kitchen could whip up a spaghetti carbonara. No problem, he assured me.

A good carbonara, to my mind, means al dente spaghetti nicely coated with egg, studded with coarsely cut bacon or pancetta, and redolent of garlic and imported cheese.

What I got, sadly, was a huge $13 soupbowl of ... glop: overcooked spaghetti (really spaghettini), drowning in what must have been at least 10 fluid ounces of beige-ish, utterly flavorless cream sauce, oddly like a bechamel, with a very few specks of what I assume was pancetta and some grudging slivers of mushroom. If there was egg, garlic, or cheese in this dish, I couldn't tell.

I don't think I've ever had a restaurant carbonara that I thought was very good. It's too often pasty, or made with too much cream, or adulterated with pointless peas. But for a place that apparently aspires to be a stylish little white table cloth nook on the city's best-known strip of Italian eateries, this was a pasta dish worthy of Applebee's.

The caesar salad was acceptable, though the dressing tasted a bit too much of dijon mustard, and the anchovies I'd asked for showed up late, in a separate little dish of oil still half-congealed from the fridge. Lightly toasted, thinly sliced bread was dropped on the table indifferently by a passing busboy.

As for wines, my glass of Minini pinot grigio ($6) was interesting for its very prounced flavor of pear. A La Cappuccina soave ($6) was unremarkable.

Aiming to cut my losses, I skipped dessert.

The waiter was pleasant, but the service seemed rushed, probably because I had come in late (which I really don’t think should ever be an excuse in a fine dining restaurant if they agree to seat you in the first place).

La Vita looks like it was done by the interior decorator for a W Hotel, with lots of wood, brushed stainless steel, and purple fabric. Unfortunately, the food isn't nearly as chic as the ambiance tries to be.

This is $40 I wish I had back.

Jan 12, 2007
Steve Sanders in Chicago Area

Best pizza (for delivery) around UIC/University Village?

Does Giordano's have thin-crust and is it any good?

I started eating their stuffed when they were a family-owned, neighborhood place around 63rd and S. Kedzie in the '70s. Oh, for that pizza again. Ever since they went chain or franchise or whatever they are now, I've stopped eating it: they obviously changed the recipe to accommodate mass tastes and/or mass production, and I find it bland and uninspiring.

Jan 07, 2007
Steve Sanders in Chicago Area

Dark, cozy, and *quiet* Italian near downtown/south loop?

Bruna's is my idea of an Italian restaurant, but I'd like to find something similar a little closer to downtown or south loop/Little Italy. From reviews I've read, Volare sounds promising on food, but crowded and noisy. I like the food at Tuscany, but the noise is deafening.

I'm sure people will say that quality=crowded, and quiet=nobody eats there. Am I asking for the impossible: great food, good service, but a cozy room where I could enjoy a meal in (relative) a sedate atmosphere with my ipod and a book? Maybe a lesser known Little Italy place? Thanks.

Jan 05, 2007
Steve Sanders in Chicago Area

Best pizza (for delivery) around UIC/University Village?

Recently moved to University Commons just south of UIC, near 15th and Halsted. I'd love people's thoughts on the best options for pizza places in the area that deliver. (Tried Connie's and think their pizza is bland and overpriced.) I generally prefer thin crust. If anyone's experienced it, I've loved Pizza Express in Bloomington, IN, and Pizza Man in Milwaukee. Would love to find something comparable.

Jan 02, 2007
Steve Sanders in Chicago Area