Tapas Barcelona in Evanston

On Saturday night Peter and I enjoyed dinner at one of our favorite tapas restaurants, Tapas Barcelona in Evanston.

Tapas Barcelona in Evanston

Evanston, home of Northwestern University, is a beautiful lakefront city just north of Chicago, chock-a-block full of great restaurants.

It wasn’t always that way.

My very first big-girl, post-graduation apartment was in Evanston. My pals Clare, Catherine and I shared a snazzy apartment featuring 3 bedrooms and white shag carpet. Quite “au courant” in 1979. This palace cost us each a mere $154 per month if you can believe it.

Back in those days, Evanston was mostly dry – no bars or liquor stores and only a couple of restaurants with liquor licenses. As I recall, there was The Keg, where Northwestern students brought their visiting parents and we could not afford, and The Spot, a pizza joint which was our second home.

Gone are those restrictive days and Evanston is now a nightlife hot spot.

Tapas dining is a wonderful solution for people like me who have trouble choosing just one dish on a menu. The variety of small plates let diners sample hot and cold dishes ranging from olives and veggies to meat and seafood.

We started with a glass of Martin Codax Albariño from the Rias-Braixas region of Spain.

Martin Codax Albariño

Albariño is a dry white wine that pairs well with seafood. My very favorite domestic producer of Albariño is Hendry Wines from Napa.

The typical recommendation for tapas dining is to select three to four dishes per person. Even with a party of two, this allows for a tasting of six to eight different menu items.

Every single item we enjoyed from the Tapas Barcelona menus was delicious. Here were a few of our favorites.

Patatas Alioli – “Rich garlic potato salad with black olive mayo.”

Perhaps the best potato salad I have ever tasted. I’ve never heard of black olive mayo before but I am a huge fan.

Tapas Barcelona asparagus and potato alioli

Esparragos con Tres Salsa – “Fresh asparagus with avocado, tomato and trio of sauces.”

We almost passed up this dish figuring, meh, it’s just asparagus… This deliciousness could never be described as “just” anything. The cold asparagus was cooked to the perfect tenderness, the tomatoes were flavorful and the 3 sauces (each a variation of aioli) compelled us to scrape the plate clean.

Tapas Barcelona crab stack

Aguacate con Cangrejo – “Fresh crab meat with avocado, cucumber and tomato.”

This beautiful and tasty crab stack was light, fresh and yummy. It was a perfect pairing with the Albariño.

Now for our favorite dishes from the “hot” side of the menu:

Tapas Barcelona goat cheese and tomato sauce

Queso De Cabra Con Tomate – “Baked goat cheese in tomato sauce, nicoise olives, garlic bread.”

Served in a piping hot skillet, this tomato sauce was sweet, a touch spicy and had enough acidity to balance the creamy goat cheese. My only complaint? There was not quite enough of the garlic bread to sop up every last drop of the sauce.

Tapas Barcelona crab croquettes

Croquetas del Dia – “Todays fried croquettes with alioli.”

These “Croquettes of the Day” tasted like the best crabcake tucked inside a thin, crispy crust and resting on yet another delicious aioli.

Among an entire menu of culinary successes, the Crab Croquettes stole the night.

Now it’s your turn. Do you like tapas dining? Do you have a favorite restaurant? A favorite dish? I’d love some recommendations for next time!

(Oh, and by the way, I received no compensation from Tapas Barcelona. They had no idea whether or not a super powerful and influential blogger was in their midst. And nor did I.)

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Say Cheese! Grilled Cheese That Is.

Hi, everyone. I’m sure that many of you, like me, are recovering from staying up too late watching the Academy Awards.

Lots of folks who are much more knowledgeable than me will weigh in on all things Oscar so I will just present a quick recap.

Chris Rock – I think he did a great job in a difficult situation. I think he handled the lack of diversity with an appropriate balance of outrage and good natured ribbing.

I agree completely.

Best Dressed: Brie Larson, Naomi Watts and Julianne Moore

 

All alone on the worst dressed list because it was JUST.THAT.BAD: Heidi Klum

 

Seriously, what was she thinking?!?!

Having seen none of the nominated movies, I’m not qualified to comment on any of the winners except to say that a) I’m happy for Leo and b) NEVER will I ever see Mad Max: Fury Road or The Revenant.

mocadeaux

Now with that out of the way, let’s talk about something that’s been on my mind:

Grilled Cheese

Although I’m certain that none of the nominees enjoyed a grilled cheese sandwich on Oscar day, lest they have to go up a Spanx size or risk not fitting into their couture gown, we mere mortals are lucky.

We can indulge.

Grilled cheese is truly the perfect food. Whenever I see it on a menu, its ooey-gooey deliciousness beckons and I become blind to everything else.

Throw in a bowl of tomato soup? Heavenly bliss.

Over the weekend, Peter and I popped into a new-to-us spot nearby for lunch. I was inspired to try Rock House based upon this enticing photo on their Facebook page.

Rock House Glenview Facebook Grilled Cheese

Imagine my delight when upon entering the restaurant, we were greeted by this sign:

Rock House Glenview Grilled Cheese Menu

Build your own grilled cheese? Be still my heart!

My creation consisted of cheddar and provolone cheese, pesto and roasted red peppers on sourdough bread.

The sandwich was delicious and I am considering going back every day this week.

Grilled cheese is one of those foods for which an infinite number of recipes exist.

A Pinterest search for “grilled cheese” produces an avalanche of results. (One tip, though, do NOT do this search on an empty stomach. The pictures will make you so hungry that you will want to gnaw off your leg.)

Yummy Food board

Grilled Cheese leads my Yummy Food board on Pinterest.

The plethora of recipes, of course, is due to the infinite combinations of ingredients that can make up The World’s Most Perfect Food (tied with pizza).

In the starring role: the cheese. American, Cheddar, Provolone, Swiss, Pepper Jack, Brie, Gorganzola and on and on and on.

Perhaps you want to add some meat. Bacon is probably the most popular add-on but many recipes include pepperoni, sausage, salami, ham, turkey and short rib. Personally, I would draw the line at ground beef because adding a ground beef patty to a grilled cheese would pretty much turn it into a cheeseburger. Not for me; I’m a purist.

The “extras” are where one could really go crazy in creating a grilled cheese sandwich. Peppers, onions, tomatoes, greens, olives, pickles, spinach, mushrooms, pesto, siracha, BBQ sauce, mustard. You name it, someone has probably included it in a grilled cheese sandwich.

And finally, the bread. My husband prefers what he calls it, “crappy white bread” (aka the Wonder bread from our youth). My favorite is sourdough. But whether you choose white or wheat, brioche or Texas toast, the bread must be sturdy enough to hold up to all the ingredients you choose to shove into adorn your sandwich with.

In doing research for this post I became intrigued by the number of grilled cheese cookbooks.

The Gourmet Grilled Cheese Cookbook

(Affiliate Link)

This particular one caught my eye. The Gourmet Grilled Cheese Cookbook.

Taking a peek inside as Amazon allows you to do, I found that this book contains recipes for such gems as “Loaded Bake Potato Grilled Cheese” and “Lobster Grilled Cheese” and “Buffalo Chicken and Blue Cheese Grilled Cheese”.

The Gourmet Grilled Cheese Cookbook is currently winging its way to my house – hopefully via an Amazon drone – so I can start planning a Grilled Cheese Party. According to Pinterest, Grilled Cheese Parites are “a thing”.  A pretty fabulous idea I might add.

So, if you were to attend my Grilled Cheese Party, what ingredients would you want to have on hand? Are you a “crappy white bread” lover or do you prefer something fancier? Are you a purist who draws the line on too many ingredients? Do you have any grilled cheese cookbooks?

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Wine And Wisdom In Salt Lake City

Hi folks! I’ve just returned from a weekend in lovely Salt Lake City where I attended the Build Your Blog Conference. My head is spinning and my to-do list is a mile long.

Build Your Blog Conference

The very, very best part of the trip was sharing it with my fabulous pals, Katie Clooney (Preppy Empty Nester) and Kelly McKenzie. Each of these ladies has written their take on the conference. After you finish enjoying my post, head over to Katie’s and Kelly’s for their story.

My assignment for the trip was to scope out restaurants. The sole criteria set forth by the gals was: a good wine list.

With the help of Open Table and a search for Notable Wine Lists in Salt Lake City, I came up with a couple of great places.

First up:

Martine Salt Lake City

The Martine Cafe, located at 22 East 100 South in downtown Salt Lake City, serves contemporary American food with influences from around the globe. The offerings range from bar bites and tapas to salads and entrees. The menu also includes a fixed price dinner of 3 or 4 courses.

The folks at Zagat called Martine Cafe the “best, most unique and innovative cooking in town” and called their wine list “imaginative”. 

The wine by the glass list is not terribly lengthy but there are some terrific wines to choose from.

I loved the 2013 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir from Oregon. Katie ordered the 2013 Poseidon Chardonnay from Carneros (Napa/Sonoma) and Kelly enjoyed the 2013 Zepaltas Sauvignon Blanc from Lake County in Northern California.

Something for everyone!

The food and wine were exactly what we were looking for. And, the restaurant was only a short walk from the Little America Hotel in which we were staying.

The next night we headed to what Open Table called the #1 wine spot in Salt Lake City.

BTG Wine Bar Salt Lake City

Excuse me, BTG Wine Bar

Does your sign say that you have OVER 80 wines available by the glass?!?!?!?!

Ummm… Can I live at your restaurant?

The BTG Wine Bar (located at 63 West 100 South in downtown Salt Lake City) does indeed have over 80 wines on their list. Every single one of these wines is offered in a 2 ounce pour, a 5 ounce pour and by the bottle. Check out the wine list on the restaurant’s website.

The wine list also includes approximately 25 flights to choose from.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a wine flight is a tasting of several wines (usually 3) in smaller pours. Flights are presented with the lightest wine on the left, progressing to the heaviest wine on the far right. They are a great way to try three different wines rather than committing to a full glass of one particular wine.

The beauty of BTG Wine Bar’s 2 ounce pour is that diners can create their very own flight, which is exactly what I did.

BTG Wine Bar make your own wine flight

My flight was made up of:

  • 2009 Soter Estate “White Label” Pinot Noir from the Yamhill-Carlton area of the Willamette Valley in Oregon
  • 2012 Duckhorn Merlot from Napa Valley
  • 2010 Ladera Cabernet Sauvignon from the Howell Mountain area of Napa Valley

Win! Win! Win!

Katie and Kelly went with white wines: the 2014 Delaporte Sancerre from France and the 2013 Mer Soleil Gold Reserve Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands area of Monterey County, California.

The BTG Wine Bar offers a few small bites but diners can also order any of the scrumptious Italian dishes from their sister restaurant, Caffé Molise.

We spent hours playing hooky from the conference enjoying the BTG Wine Bar. It was a night to remember and one which we will think of each time we use our souvenir wine glasses.

BTG Wine Bar

Even the Lucky H Bar & Grille in the Little America Hotel had a decent wine list. We spent a lot an appropriate amount of time in the hotel bar. The wines of choice:

  • Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay from California
  • Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Ranches Chardonnay from Sonoma
  • Fleur de California Pinot Noir

(Note that no vintages were listed. This usually means you are drinking the most recent vintage.)

Our one teeny, tiny wine fail from the weekend occurred on our final night at the HUGE EPIC AFTER-PARTY GALA.

At registration, we were each given one drink ticket to be used at this HUGE EPIC AFTER-PARTY GALA.

Katie, Kelly and I joked that we should collect tickets from the teetotalers in the crowd. No point in those tickets going unused…

dressed up for the Gala

A stop for a photo at the “step and repeat” and then we were off to the bar to redeem our tickets. We had worked hard and were ready for a little glass of celebration.

That’s when the ugly rumor started circulating the room.

“The drink ticket covers a glass of flavored soda. No wine is being served.”

Wait…What?!?!?!

Not good.

Immediately after dinner we scurried off to the comfort of the Lucky H Bar (not so much the Grill part, just the Bar), spending the rest of the evening celebrating and reviewing what we learned over the weekend. Joined by some new blogging pals, we toasted to a successful conference.

But alas, all good things must come to an end.

When the hotel bar staff starts to recognize you and greets you with, “Ladies, will you be having the usual?”, it might be time to pack up and head home.

Have no fear, Salt Lake City – we will be back! I’m especially talking to you, BTG Wine Bar!

How about you? Have you ever been to a place with such a large wine-by-the-glass menu? Do you like wine flights?

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Retirement is Exhausting – Part Two

Retirement in our house means constant activity – diving head first into all the fun things that cross our path.

Last week, I told you about our adventures with Buddy and Bruce.

This time it’s all about food.

First Bites Bash 2016

First Bites Bash kicked off Restaurant Week in Chicago.

The Union Station Grand Concourse was transformed into a beautiful party setting with over 60 food tasting stations and a couple of dozen more spots serving beer, wine and spirits.

The food was the star of the show at this event.

This will come as a shock to many of you, but I’m not even going to talk about the wine.

First Bites 2016 Union Station

The 60+ stations featured restaurants from across Chicagoland, each serving a bite representing their culinary genre.

Most of what we tasted was amazing but a few bites really stood out.

In no particular order, here are the restaurants whose food we liked the best.

These are places you should put on your list when visiting the greatest food city in the country, Chicago.

May Street Steakhouse

May Street Steakhouse First Bites 2016

Cinnamon, chipotle and coconut Allen Brothers beef tenderloin fajitas

An unexpectedly delicious combination of flavors, each complementing the other without any one taking center stage.

May Street Steakhouse, 1146 West Cermak Road, Chicago.

Vermillion

Vermillion First Bites 2016

Quinoa chickpea Venezuelan arepa, mango slaw and a duo of mango-chipotle mole & chimichurri mint chutney

A brilliant depiction of this great restaurant’s Indian-Latin flair.

Vermillion, 10 West Hubbard Street, Chicago.

Bar Siena

Bar Siena First Bites 2016

Sweet corn ravioli, chiodini mushrooms, truffle butter

I’m a sucker for any dish that features sweet corn. This dish was both light and hearty. How is that possible?!

My darling goddaughter commented on my Instagram post that she had enjoyed this dish at the restaurant and gave it her double thumbs up endorsement.

Bar Siena, 832 West Randolph Street, Chicago.

Remington’s

Remington's First Bites Bash 2016

Lobster Deviled Egg

Lobster. Deviled. Egg.

Enough said.

Remington’s, 20 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago.

Gibson’s Bar & Steakhouse

Gibson's First Bites Bash 2016

USDA Gibson’s Prime Angus Beef Tartare

This one is for you, Katie Clooney.

I’m not generally drawn to tartare but this bite just looked so inviting. Bright, flavorful and served at the perfect temperature, Gibson’s beef tartare was a definite hit.

Gibson’s prides itself on being the only restaurant group with its own USDA certification.

“Our beef is breed specific, Black Angus, and raised on sustainable farms in the Upper Midwest. Our beef is corn fed for 120 days and aged for 40 days, providing maximum flavor and tenderness.” – via Gibson’s website

Gibson’s Bar & Steakhouse, 1028 North Rush Street, Chicago (plus several suburban locations).

South Branch

South Branch First Bites Bash 2016

PB&J – smoked pork belly, date jam, crumbled goat cheese, candied walnuts and micro celery

This dish was probably the winner for me. So whimsical and so very delicious. Truly tasted like PB&J – the best PB&J you’ve ever had.

South Branch, 100 South Wacker Drive, Chicago.

Bar Pastoral

Bar Pastoral is a fabulous little restaurant that happens to be in my sister-in-law, Kate’s neighborhood. In fact, just a few days before the First Bites Bash, Peter, Kate and I had dinner at Bar Pastoral.

Peter enjoyed the lamb meatballs with butternut squash tomato sauce and Zingerman’s cream cheese. That very same dish was served at Bar Pastoral’s station at First Bites Bash.

Sadly, I didn’t get a photo of this beautiful and yummy dish.

Bar Pastoral has a great wine list and offers an amazing selection of cheeses (there’s a cheese shop attached to the restaurant!).

Bar Pastorale Cheese Plate

We enjoyed this cheese plate at the restaurant. Each cheese was brilliantly paired with a jam or spread.

When you order the cheese plate at Bar Pastoral, my advice is to rely on the staff’s recommendations. The selection is vast. These folks know how to put together the perfect combination of flavors and textures.

The menu at Bar Pastoral offers a variety of dishes from mac and cheese to hanger steak and from charcuterie to salmon.

The perfect neighborhood bistro.

Bar Pastoral, 2947 North Broadway Street, Chicago.

These are just a few of the remarkable restaurants in our great city. For a complete list of the First Bites Bash participants check out Choose Chicago.

No one paid me to say this.

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