Next and Aviary

I started this blog with the best of intentions to post all of the time, and well, obviously, I didn’t.  Towards the end of my pregnancy, I became exhausted, and just stopped.  My darling baby boy is now 4 months old, and with the exception of a pretty hairy first two weeks, it hasn’t been nearly as exhausting as I’ve thought, but I never got back in the blogging habit.  Sad, too, as I’ve had a few culinary adventures, including dining at Next and Aviary, which were as amazing as advertised.  I didn’t take pictures; mostly because no one else was, and I didn’t want to make a spectacle of myself, but also because I just wanted to enjoy myself, and eat the food while it was hot!  Pictures of the set menu are not hard to find, either, and are far better than I could have taken.

Since descriptions of the food are easy to come by, I’ll tell you a bit about my experience there.  First, the tickets.  I signed up for Next’s email list a year ago, when it first opened, entitling me access to their ticket site on the day it opened.  With an assist from their Facebook page, where people were posting their experiences, I managed to snag a table for two.  I had few to no difficulties, but was one of the lucky ones, as many people couldn’t get through.  After that day, even people with access were stymied.  More people were getting access as the supply of tables was dropping off, until the point that tables were snatched instantly once released, due to the number of people were trying all the time.  The experience was not unlike buying Cubs tickets online, back when people still liked the Cubs.

We arrived by taxi for our 6 PM Thursday reservation.  The experience started when the hostess saw us coming and opened the door for us.  We checked our coats, and the evening began quickly.  As every order is predetermined and paid for, our first course and first drinks arrived rapidly.  It probably goes without saying that the food was flawless, especially the duck and potatoes main course.  The presentation was also lovely — my only quibble was that many courses had several small bites, and it was hard to remember from the descriptions provided by our server what everything was.  Also, even though the room was not loud, it was sometimes hard to hear everything he said.  We did get souvenir menus at the end of the evening, but they provided no more description than the bare bones description on Next’s web site.

Most of the wine was wonderful.  For almost every glass, they left the table on the bottle so I could top off my glass if I chose.  I don’t know about others, but I didn’t take much advantage of this.  There was plenty of wine coming, so I topped off a few glasses that I liked the best, and let my dining companion taste them as well, but I didn’t go to town on the bottles.  The non-alcoholic pairings were mostly very successful and all very original.  These were the kinds of “mocktails” that I kept hoping to find while pregnant, but my hopes had generally gone unsatisfied.  Several of them were tea-based, and I’m not a huge tea drinker, but they were very good.

Dinner included complimentary water and coffee service.  Sparkling water was available, and any kind of coffee/espresso-based drink was also available with dessert.

Our dinner was on only the fourth day that Aviary was open.  At the end of our meal, I asked if there was any way we could get into Aviary.  They told us to wait, and next thing we knew, we were escorted through the door adjoining the restaurants and seated at Aviary, movie-star style!  We were, of course, stuffed, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.  You still have to wait a good while to get into Violet Hour, which has been open for a few years now, and I expect no different from Aviary.  I had the Sassafras drink, which tastes kind of like a root beer float, but is totally clear.  They have a long list of savory/sweet “bites”, which truly are bite-sized.  You are to order to multiples of three.  Because we were so full, we ordered only three, but they were each wonderful.  I snapped a quick picture of the food with my iPhone:

Bites at Aviary

So, I’m back on the blogging wagon.  Next time I’m at an awesome place, I’ll try to take better notes.  Please check back, I really mean to update often … and perhaps I’ll even do that Evernote post I’ve been threatening you with for months!



Sorry for the prolonged absence.  I am nearly 35 weeks now, and I have been TIRED.  I’ve done a little cooking and a little eating, but the big tech news is that my T2i arrived today, so perhaps my pictures will be improving.  As far as cooking goes, I made a stracciatella semifreddo today for the big dinner tomorrow … and I am cooking (with my brother-in-law) an umpteen course Thanksgiving feast for at least 12.  I am posting this today mostly to bind myself to the necessity of a great big Cook post soon.  Thanks for your patience!

Update on the No-Groceries Challenge — Angel Hair Pasta with Shrimp

So, the challenge has continued.  I still haven’t been grocery shopping, but an email from Whole Foods informing me that Honeycrisp Apples are on sale today may get me over there today rather than tomorrow.

Tuesday night was the most “creative” meal of the week.  I was inspired by this post from Dinner, a Love Story, which I keep an eye on from time to time, but this is a dish I’ve made many times before … the post just reminded me that I probably had the ingredients on hand.  So I made an old stand-by — pasta with shrimp (if I have any) and veggies (whichever ones I have, if any), with a “sauce’ of garlic and olive oil.  First, I’d like to say that pasta and vegetables with garlic and olive oil is one of my favorite things on the planet.  They actually make it to order in the cafeteria at my office, and I get it several times a week.  If you’re not afraid of carbs, it is reasonably healthy, and very delicious, considering the time/effort/cost.  I am not a tomato-lover, I don’t eat red meat, and I neither love nor hate cream sauces, and tend to keep them for special occasions, so garlic and olive oil is the perfect sauce for me.  Continue reading

Cooking (and Eating) Without Shopping

My baby shower was last weekend.  Most of my readers either were hostesses or attended the shower, so thanks all!  In any case, it’s not really the shower’s fault, but in the excitement, I did fail to do a Whole Foods run this weekend.  Yesterday, I found myself too lazy to do it, and today, I find that I have recharacterized “lazy” to “adventurous”.  Can I feed myself lunch (since I’m working at home) and dinner with minimal take-out/frozen dinner cheating until the skim milk runs out, and I must acquire more in order to caffeinate in the morning?

Yesterday was Day One.  I had some prepared Asian pasta from Whole Foods and ate that for lunch.  Even though it was bought the weekend before, it had kept perfectly well.  For dinner, I did actually cook, although not to the level where it gets a full-blown “Cook” post with pictures.  I cut a few shallots into wedges, cut an entire yellow onion into half-slices, threw in some whole, unpeeled garlic cloves, and the remainder of the broccoli florets I had bought for the quinoa recipe.  Onto a half-sheet pan with olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper, and into the oven at 425 for about 35 minutes.  About ten minutes before it was done, another half-sheet pan went into the oven with the remainder of some frozen organic breaded garlic shrimp.  These veer pretty close to the frozen dinner category, but they are organic, so I don’t consider that overly egregious cheating.

In any event, YUM.  I love whole roasted garlic.  They pop right out of the skins and taste almost like candy.  Super caramelized and sweet.  I had some tartar sauce with the shrimp and ate it all up.  Unfortunately, outside of some garlic, onions, shallots and leeks (notice a trend), I am now out of veggies for dinner (and those are not exactly main-course veggies).  Except that I do have an artichoke, which I will have for dinner either tonight or tomorrow night.

Lunch today was a cheat — Noodles and Company.  Couldn’t help myself, was out running errands and it’s yummy.

I’ll keep you posted.  I definitely have dinner for tonight and lunch and dinner for tomorrow.  Thursday, I might go to work, thus making it possible to acquire lunch, and I have dinner plans Thursday night.  Can I make it until Saturday?  I’m thinking the odds look good, unless the milk goes bad.

Kith & Kin

It’s finally here, the long-awaited premier “Eat” post.  The honored restaurant is Kith & Kin, near DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus.  It’s been around for about a year, to glowing reviews, and often is referred to as one of the many new “gastropubs” — but it seemed more like your typical fairly high-end restaurant to me.  Perhaps, if the reasoning in this story about the replacement of their head chef is to be believed, that’s a recent evolution.  I can’t say, as this was my first visit.  Continue reading

Caramel Croissant Bread Pudding

It’s so strange that my posts have leaned to the sweet rather than the savory.  I have done much more cooking of dinner than of dessert over the last few years.  Nevertheless, the last thing I made was another dessert, and of the kind that I typically lean towards, involving no mixing, no rolling … no dough, essentially.  It’s Caramel Croissant Bread Pudding, and it is fairly heavily adapted from Nigella Lawson.

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Quinoa Primavera — a house specialty

Quinoa Primavera is a recipe I adapted from the Whole Foods web site about a couple of years ago, when I’d read one of many articles about quinoa-as-wonder-food (“It’s the only grain that is a whole protein!”) and decided to make it.  This actually predated by quite a bit my recent cooking extravaganza, and I’ve made it five or six times since, which is pretty notable because there are so many recipes in my Evernote backlog that I rarely make anything more than once.  But this has so many virtues: it can be made with any veggies you have lying around, the chicken can be cooked directly from frozen, and quinoa can sit in the fridge forever … very little planning required. On top of it, while there is some prep involved, the cooking itself couldn’t be easier, and the meal couldn’t be healthier.  And it is delicious and colorful and reheats perfectly.  What more could you ask for?

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Cauliflower Soup (a tasty but embarrassing tale)

Last night, in the mood for some comfort food, I made some cauliflower soup.  I didn’t invent the recipe, and it is such a straightforward recipe that it seems odd to “credit” anyone with it, but in the interest of being upfront, I was inspired by this David Lieberman recipe which I found by way of Smitten Kitchen (who is awesome, read her).  My adaptations, however, were inspired by Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, who has taught me many things, among them, to always roast rather than boil, even for soups — per this example.  (Sadly, I have not yet acquired the fortitude, nor a large enough stockpot, to actually make my own chicken stock, as she is constantly urging.)

Before I get into the recipe, just a note.  It occurred to me upon re-reading the Olive Oil Muffins post that although my narration interwoven with the recipe was hopefully an entertaining story, it doesn’t really make it easy for readers to use the recipe in their own kitchens.  Perhaps it would be better to do a straightforward recipe and annotate it after?  I’ll keep experimenting, but let me know what you think works best.  (Having not received any comments yet, that “you” is rather on the hopeful side, I know.)

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Blueberry and Raspberry Olive Oil Muffins

I’m so excited … my first cooking post.  With pictures, even.  The pictures were taken with my iPhone, as probably most of them will be until such time as I acquire a Canon EOS Rebel T2i (six months and waiting for the price to come down on that thing … luckily, Black Friday is conveniently timed about a month before Baby Boy joins me).

This is my adaptation of a Giada De Laurentiis recipe.  I also added a lovely, light lemon glaze, adapted from Martha Stewart.   As my first cooking post, it will also serve as a bit of an introduction into my cooking style.  Without further ado …

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