Archive for the tag “downtown chicago”

Irazú

WHAT: Irazú
WHERE: 1865 N. Milwaukee Ave.

OUR RATING: Do It!

Picture 24Named after the mighty Irazú Volcano in Costa Rica, this lively, spirited and eclectic restaurant allows you to enjoy the unique cuisine from this little sampled country in Central America. Flavourful, mild and lots of fruits and vegetables clearly mark these dishes out as deriving from the lush rainforests of that country, which houses an astonishing 5% of the world’s biodiversity, while being only 0.25% of the Earth’s landmass.

With a colourful and light-filled interior and exciting buzz, you’ll be just itching to try to many rare delicacies that come at phenomenally reasonable prices.

Picture 26Adam: Locked between the Mesoamerican and Andean cultures, with a good dose of Spanish colonialism mixed in, Costa Rica (literally Rich Coast) is most certainly true to its name when it comes to food and Irazú provides all the bounty that this nation has to offer. Brought straight to your table and served casually, steaming plates of traditional foods whirl in, with all the colour and verve of this canopied country.

Casado with tilapia

The menu is vast, offering breakfast items, appetizers, vegetarian options, tacos, empanadas, burritos, sandwiches and even shakes. The forefront of the menu, however, are the Costa Rican dinners. Being in the mood to try the most authentic dish on the menu, I opted for the Casado, a traditional full-plate meal.

Casado with steak

Choosing from steak, chicken or tilapia, you can really appreciate the full force of this diverse cuisine through this dish. I went with steak and was not disappointed. A heaping portion served with black beans, sweet plantains, a cabbage salad, rice and an over easy egg to top it all off, the portion was very large and I felt truly stuffed when finished. I actually had my meal upgraded to include gallo pinto instead of rice, a mixture of rice and beans which is exclusive to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Watch out though: they won’t tell you this upgrade costs a buck when they offer it, although it’s worth all one hundred cents.

Potato Tacos

Alicia: One of the many things I love about Irazú is how vegetarian friendly they are. Some of the guests we went out to dinner with ordered the restaurant’s famed potato tacos: crispy corn tortillas filled with mashed potatoes (flauta-esque) and served with guacamole and mole sauce. The dish was gigantic, and also served with yellow rice, beans, deliciously cooked sweet plantains and a cabbage salad. Beware: the mole is not vegetarian, but it’s possibly one of the most delicious moles I have had in the city.

Avena Shake

What I wanted to try more than anything was Irazú’s Avena (Oatmeal) shake made with milk, which was the most deliciously complex consistency with beautiful hints of cinnamon. It was sweet and savory and an entire meal in itself, so I’m glad I only ordered a salad to go with it. They have a ton of other interesting shake flavors, including Pinolillo (Corn Meal) and Tamarindo. Definitely an adventure for the tastebuds!

Palmito Salad

Oh, and by salad, I don’t mean just any ordinary salad. I ordered a large (and boy was it large) Palmito Salad: Heart of palm steaks on a bed of cabbage slaw, tossed with beets, avocado, tomato, radishes, cilantro, splashed with vinegar, lime and olive oil. The salad was perfectly dressed and the dish in its entirety was a refreshing and adventurous journey. The vinegar and lime cut through the hearty heart of palm steaks and the slaw provided a fun crunch with every bite. I would order this dish again in a minute, but it’s imperative you go with someone else so you can steal a few of their delicious sweet plantains.

Picture 25Final Thoughts: In a meal that’s like a rainforest on a plate, without any of the more slippery animals, Irazú immerses you in the warm embrace of the jungle. Excellent portion sizes at good prices, this BYOB (no corkage fee!) is a particular Chicago experience you can’t miss.

Primebar

WHAT: Primebar
WHERE: 155 N. Wacker Dr.

OUR RATING: Skip It!

(primebarchicago.com)

(primebarchicago.com)

Situated in Chicago’s Loop, Primebar defines itself as a contemporary ale house, offering food, beers and cocktails. As soon as you walk in it’s clear the clientele who frequent Primebar are the Loop’s business men and women who probably work in a shiny skyscraper Downtown for a law firm and who pop in this place for a lunch meeting or after work happy hour. If you don’t fit this bill, or even if you do, we suggest skipping this spot and dining elsewhere for a happier happy hour.

(primebarchicago.com)

(primebarchicago.com)

Alicia: I must admit that Primebar’s urban interior with leather booths, tiled floors, salvaged lighting and recycled wood is very inviting, and we were lucky enough to snag a quaint table in the back room with lovely sepia portraits and a very warm and romantic feeling. But that isn’t the first impression you get from walking into the place. As soon as you do, you’re berated by dozens of plasma televisions and a loud and aggravating crowd of off-work women in pencil skirts and men with two drinks in their hands shouting at each other over high tables.

I was excited to be able to escape the main room, however, and gladly ordered Primebar’s strawberry fresco salad with spinach, strawberries, spiced pistachios, queso fresco and a lemon vinaigrette. At $10 a plate, I didn’t think this was a bad deal. And when the salad came to the table, I was pleasantly pleased at the large portion size. But after taking one bite, I was sorely disappointed.

(primebarchicago.com)

(primebarchicago.com)

Not only was the lemon vinaigrette muddy and sour, but the salad was drowning in the stuff, and there were barely any strawberries (and no pistachios) to try and salvage the mess of a salad. The spinach was crisp and fresh, but you couldn’t really separate it from the disaster of a dressing, so needless to say I couldn’t really stomach the whole thing.

Adam: I must say that I completely agree with Alicia: Primebar looks fairly excellent from the outside and on first inspection, but none of that care is reflected in its clientele, wait staff or food, all of which are uninteresting and brash.

I ordered the prime rib sliders, complete with arugula, swiss cheese, horseradish cream and fried onion strings. Let’s be frank: prime rib has a reputation to uphold, as does arugula (the ancient herb of Virgilian fame, who claimed it was an aphrodisiac). Unfortunately, a prime rib sandwich at Primebar is apparently just a roast beef sandwich, with a touch a wilted arugula and a smidge of horseradish cream (which certainly was not worth its weight in gold, as the Delphic Oracle told Apollo). The one redeeming feature of the dish was the fried onion strings, which they really should have called onion frites, for that is what they were.

(primebarchicago.com)

(primebarchicago.com)

Additionally, service was a tad spotty, with our waitress being talkative, yet obviously a dullard of the first class, and not very present. She certainly managed to ruin Alicia’s salad by not placing the cheese on the side as asked, although Alicia is too polite to mention this above.

Final Thoughts: Ultimately, Primebar was less prime than bar and far more irritating than an eatery should be. Regular food that doesn’t suit the opulence around you, we’re sure that all the furnishings were done Disneyland style, with a touch of paint and faux wood. Not on our radar and not on yours anymore.

Pizzeria Via Stato

WHAT: Pizzeria Via Stato (Part of Osteria Via Stato)
WHERE: 620 North State St.

OUR RATING: Do it!

(photo courtesy of osteriaviastato.com)

If you want to enjoy a casual meal in an intimate and traditional setting, Pizzeria Via Stato, the lunch section of Osteria Via Stato, is the perfect combination of downtown dining at lunchable prices. From delicious pizza to healthful salads, we’re sure this pizzeria will pique the fancy of even the most seasoned traveler of the Italian peninsula (and, trust us, we’ve both trekked through it).

The room was a bit dark, but tread a nice border between being intimate and fun, almost with an upscale tavern feeling. Your table, made from recycled wine boxes, is laid in a simple style, with the essential Mediterranean garnish of bread (crusty and warm!) and olive oil. As far as prices go, salads averaged at around $8, sandwiches around $10 and pizzas around $12.

Adam chose to order the simple mushroom tavern pizza. Topped with tomato sauce, mushrooms, vidalia onions, and mozzarella, this pizza’s crisp and light crust proved a welcome change from the heavy (and, might we say, stodgier) offerings of the deep dish available elsewhere in town. Although not identified specifically, the mushrooms seem to have been the common white variety and added an earthy level to the overall flavors. This was complemented by the sweet vidalias that lent this uniquely Italian dish a hint of the American. The mozzarella brought the whole confection back to its Italian routes. Overall the pizzas were generously sized and more than enough for one person (we would consider either splitting or taking some home in the future).

(photo courtesy of osteriaviastato.com)

Meanwhile, Alicia ordered the chopped salad with romaine, roasted chicken and a sweet mustard vinaigrette, which was amazingly delicious. The salad was gigantic and the roasted chicken practically melted in your mouth along with the sweet mustard vinaigrette, which fortunately did not overdress the romaine. All of this was complemented by the lovely crunch of fresh celery. They went a little heavy on the parmesan cheese, but other than that, it was definitely a must-order.

Experience an Italy more intimate than Little Italy and try Pizzeria Via Stato!

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