Bavette's Bar and Boeuf

Brendan Sodikoff is no stranger to Chicago's dining scene. How is it that each of his restaurants have an almost similar concept (cue words: rustic, vintage, sexy) with familiar menus and yet each of them are equally successful and yet popular? One would have thought that Chicagoans might tire of the same "old" concept by Brendan Sodikoff but no, no. We say bring it on. First it was Gilt Bar, then Maude's Liquor Bar, and then Au Cheval. Now comes Bavette's Bar and Boeuf. Not quite a restaurant, Doughnut Vault which is also his brainchild, became the talk of town on doughnuts. I've lost count the number of times we've been to his restaurants and from our observation, there is just something about the way Brendan Sodikoff runs his restaurants that make it onto the list of favorites among Chicagoans. He has a great eye for selecting who helms the kitchen with a forward vision of the menu, and the employees are well trained. He also promotes his staff from within (at least, this was what we noticed at Bavette's where experienced employees from Gilt Bar were promoted and brought into Bavette's).


Oh I am so, so in love with Bavette's. You enter by the inconspicuous door into a tiny space where the host or hostess greets you. Then he or she opens another door inside and you will find yourself in the classic and sexy Bavette's which exudes the aura of a speakeasy in 1930s New York City except that it is in Chicago and tucked behind an inconspicuous door recognizable only by the equally inconspicuous sign that says Bavette's on the door. Just gotta love the dress code for bartenders and male servers-- long sleeved collared shirts with the sleeves folded up to the elbows, tie, and a vest. Classic and sharp, and the folded sleeves add casualness to it.

Cocktails range from the classic to contemporary concoctions. I've found my favorite drink which is the Old Overholt whiskey cocktail and have never moved on to another drink since.

Best lobster and lamb chops I've ever had, says my dad during one of T and my visits to Bavette's when we brought my parents along who were visiting. Isn't there always a sense of accomplishment when you rave about a place and the people you raved to share your sentiments too, especially your parents? Ahhh. The seafood tower (comes in two options differentiated by portion size) is a perfect way to start off the night as an appetizer. Seafood on ice is usually not heavy and hence will not fill you up which makes it an even better choice for starters if you are in a group. The tower comes with various types of oysters, lobster, salmon ceviche, shrimps, and crab legs.

The lamb chops make the night memorable. Prepared and served medium rare with just enough au jus, the meat is succulent and tender. We learnt that Colorado lamb chops are used and instead of entirely removing the fat like what other restaurants usually do, Bavette's keeps a thin layer fat over the meat to help flavor the meat more during the cooking process. The lamb chops come with two piece; each piece is from the left and right rack.

Side dishes are always overlooked but oh my, the baked sweet potato really is something. Once it's brought to the table, who can resist the urge of heaping the very soft sweet potato with melted butter and brown sugar onto their plate? We haven't seen any restaurants offering roasted tomatoes as a side dish; we've however seen a lot of grilled tomatoes in British pubs as part of the English breakfast which we love so much. Credits go to Bavette's again for expanding beyond the more predictable side items (although they do the "predictable" side items so darn well!). The coleslaw is refreshing and light, with just enough dressing.

Other noteworthy dishes that we have tried and are not pictured:

Berkshire pork chop: Berkshire is what wagyu is to beef; the marbling of the pork chops helps to render the fat which increases the flavor of the meat.

Salt cod brandade: We liked very much the fact that we could actually taste actual cod meat in the brandade instead of being all mushed up. Great starter item.

Beef tongue: Prepared like a pot roast, it comes with slivers of carrots and rhubard in a deep flavored sauce.

Smoked whitefish caesar salad: I don't incorporate salads into my diet as much as I should (T is the opposite here) but this I will want to eat everytime.


I want to say to people Go, go, go. Or maybe I shouldn't... it has only been a couple of months since their opening and it's already proving quite difficult to make reservations. So the more people know about it, the more difficult it would be for us to snag a table for prime time seating. Oh, but that would be selfish.

218 West Kinzie Street
Chicago, IL 60654

2011 TimeOut Chicago Magazine Best Restaurateur Nominee, Brendan Sodikoff



When the lights go out on The Las Vegas Strip, where do the chefs and restaurant staff go to eat?

Raku, it is.

We tend to to think that people working in the restaurant industry generally have pretty high standards and discerning tastes when it comes to food in restaurants. Before our visit, we held pretty high standards for Raku and were not in the least disappointed. Raku has what it takes to be a gem in Japanese cuisine. It opens up the world of Japanese cuisine to people who understand that Japanese cuisine is not all about sushi. In fact, no, Japanese don't eat sushi everyday.

Do yourself a favor and order off the daily specials menu. In fact, order the specials and the items on the regular menu which are darn good as well. The specials are written on a portable blackboard which the server brings to the table and then describing each special in detail. On the night we were there, the list of items on special was impressive in number. As the night went on, some of the specials were sold out and T noticed that some new specials were then added onto the blackboard.

Bai gai, Japanese sea snails

Such beautiful snail shells! Our server told us that the snails are first cooked for 7-8 hrs until tender and then steamed to order.

Seigo, Japanese sea bass

Seigo, Japanese sea bass

Seigo, Japanese sea bass

How the fish specials work is that we choose one type of fish from several options on the list (our pick was Seigo, a type of Japanese sea bass). Each order is for a whole fish. We then choose 2 out of 3 methods of preparation: sashimi, grilled, fried. Based on our chosen method of sashimi and grilled, half the fish was delicately sliced into sashimi and the other half was grilled to perfection (head and tail included). Now, when fish is grilled, no skin is wasted as it is always grilled together as well. At Raku, no skin should be wasted as well when preparing sashimi. The portion of the fish that is used for sashimi is first skinned and then the skin is grilled. The resulting curled and charred skin is a palate teaser in itself because of it's delightful taste in mini bite sizes (how much skin can you get out of half a fish, anyway?).

Kushi, Kobe beef tongue

We have no qualms in eating beef tongue but the best part for anyone who is wary of this might like to know that the texture of this Kobe beef tongue in no way feels like it is, well, tongue. Take out the word tongue and tell someone it is Kobe beef and it could be believable. The yakitori stick is drizzled with sauce that is intensely flavored with beef that even just a little smear on the beef tongue renders it perfect.

Kakuni, pork belly

The pork belly is braised until very tender that finishing the entire dish (meat and fat included) should not elicit any guilt. We normally don't include fats from meats in our diet but will make an exception for this.

Raku tofu

Its namesake Raku tofu is a must-order item on the regular menu. The Japanese take their tofu seriously as evidenced by restaurants in Japan which focuses its cuisine solely on different interpretations of tofu. At Raku, tofu is made fresh in-house everyday and the texture is the best we have ever had to date. Unlike any other we've had, the tofu is very, very creamy in texture. It isn't firm nor is it soft. It is creamy and rich in texture. The Raku tofu is served pure as it is with a side of shredded fresh ginger, scallions, and bonito flakes. It is meant to be enjoyed with sprinkles of green tea salt made with mushroom and seaweed. Drizzle lightly with soy sauce and savor the purity of the tofu.

Agedashi tofu
If you can't get enough of tofu, get an order of the agedashi tofu. Alternately, Raku allows a half order of Raku tofu and a half order of the agedashi tofu. The housemade tofu is slightly fried on the outside and sits in a bowl with dashi broth. Salmon roe, tiny mushrooms, seaweed, and scallions accompany the tofu. A tiny smear of Japanese chilli paste sits on the side of the bowl.

Juicy deep fried chicken

The name Juicy Deep Fried Chicken on the menu does not lie. It is really what it says it is. And better. This is Raku's take on karaage (deep fried chicken cutlets). The chicken is unbelievably moist and fried until it just crosses over the line from rare to cooked. When overcooked, chicken can be quite a pain to eat. I don't know how the Raku chefs timed it that well, but this is sure some juice pieces of chicken.

Oden, fish cakes

Select several types of fish cakes such as hanpen (cotton soft fish cake), chikuwa (hollow tube fish cake), and satsuma age (fried minced fish). Non-fish items include daikon (radish), pork intestine, beef tendon, and bean curd skin with mochi. Extremely popular in winter and considered as comfort food during the cold season, the items are served in warm dashi broth.

If you are visiting Las Vegas from out of town and have no access to a car, hop into a cab from your hotel or on The Strip. Raku is just a short ride away. When you are finished with dinner, call for a cab to take you back. No hassle. Be sure to make reservations.

5030 Spring Mountain Rd
Las Vegas, NV 89146

2012 James Beard Nominee for Best Chef in the Southwest, Mitsuo Endo
2011 James Beard Nominee for Best Chef in the Southwest, Mitsuo Endo
2009 James Beard Nominee for Best New Restaurant


Retreating in Las Vegas

As part of our yearly ritual, we spent the last weekend in Las Vegas. As much as this 9th trip to Las Vegas was part our summer tradition, it took quite a different turn from our previous trips.

Firstly, walking the Strip, late night partying, Cirque du Soleil shows-- been there, done that. This time, we spent most of our time relaxing in the hotel and vegetating by the pool.

Secondly, we usually stay at different hotels during each visit to Sin City. Last year, we loved the Encore so much that we promised to return there on our next trip. And we did. Most of our time last weekend were spent on the grounds of the Encore and the Wynn. The Encore itself is such a gorgeous hotel and the added benefit of being a hotel guest at the Encore or the Wynn which allows access and use of amenities at either hotel is a fantastic selling point. Both towers are connected to each other and Steve Wynn must have envisioned to build a city within a city when the place was constructed. Even if you don't want to try your luck at the casino table, it is hard to stay away from the luxurious pool and world class restaurants on the hotel grounds.

This trip where we almost "did nothing" was one of our most relaxing moments, ever. Now we just wished we could live that fantasy life in Las Vegas just a little longer.

For a detailed review of the Encore, read the original review here.


Next: Sicily

Time travel. World travel. Next makes it possible. Grant Achatz and Dave Beran and team make it possible. Again.

First, it was Paris 1906.

Next (no pun intended) was Tour of Thailand.

After that came the whimsical Childhood which we unfortunately missed.

Then, it was tribute time to the legendary El Bulli that closed its doors in Spain in 2011.

With the world's recognized chef who helms this restaurant that functions with a changing menu every few months and with a drastically different cuisine and theme each time, where will they bring us to this time?



Take away the fancy china and sparkly silverware of a fine dining restaurant. Next is not trying to portray that this time round. It is time to get down homey and transporting guests to the likes of a home in Sicily where good food comes from the hearts of the people. Colorful hand painted and down-to-earth plates and platters greeted us throughout the meal.

Arancine, fried risotto balls
Caponata, eggplant and vegetable salad
Panelle, chickpea fritter
Carciofi Alle Brace, roasted and charred whole artichokes

Risotto turned into fried balls? I am an instant convert and a fan. The arancine sets an excellent tone to the start of our Sicily journey. In fact, the biting into the arancine remaines one of the most memorable moments for me. The ball is deep fried to crispy perfection on the outside. Taking a bite into it, the risotto inside remains warm and soft without being overly gelatinous. In the risotto is lamb tongue.

T is a big, big fan of the caponata. The team at Next clearly did something right when they can make an eggplant lover love this vegetable even more.

For those who have not had panelle, be warned that this popular Sicilian street food is addictive.

The best part of eating the carciofi alle brace is digging into the heart and then making your way to the outer layers which are more charred. Whether you use your fork to scrape or teeth to pull out the edible parts, it is equally a delicious experience though using your teeth enhances the experience of being just like at home.

Arancine (fried risotto balls)

Caponata, eggplant and vegetable salad

Panelle, chickpea fritter
Carciofi Alle Brace (roasted and charred whole artichokes)

#2: Bucatini con Bottarga, Bucatini with tuna roe

Bucatini has always been one of our favorite types of pasta noodles although it sure does take a wee bit more effort to consume just based on the fact that these noodles are both hollow and slippery which means it could be a tad bit of a challenge trying to twirl the noodle with our fork. But here, we will gladly take our time and savor the noodle string-by-string. The bucatini con bottarga is served with delicate pieces of tuna roe.

Bucatini con Bottarga, bucatini pasta with tuna roe

#3. Gemelli con le Sarde, sardine with curly pasta noodle

The star here is the delicately grilled sardine sitting atop the noodle. Every bite of the fish feels precious. The edible wildflowers here obviously do not scream tradition but are instead a good reflection of how Next interprets this dish as its own yet without compromising the taste of authenticity.

Gemelli con le Sarde, sardine with curly pasta noodle

#4. Pesce Spada con di Ceci, grilled swordfish

The grilled swordfish steak is intense not by taste but by texture. The texture of the fish is incredibly dense which makes a great solid meal in itself but after having several courses prior to this, the dense texture of the swordfish makes it hard for us to finish the very generous piece. The execution and presentation is ingenius-- a big fat bunch of seasoned basil leaves, charred on the outside, is draped over the swordfish to finish seasoning the dish. A plate of chickpeas was served along side.

Pesce Spada con di Ceci, grilled swordfish


#5. Spalla di Maiale Brasato, braised pork shoulder

When it comes to food, I am the type of person who saves the best for the last. Although the order of each course served is obviously beyond my control, but it is definitely on my side. The final savory dish of the night, the braised pork shoulder, remains the highlight of the night and very possibly the best dish of the night. The feeling of not being able to finish the dense swordfish from the earlier course especially after several courses from earlier on? Did not apply here. Nope, not for this braised pork shoulder. The meat is so tender, it falls off the bone easily. Who needs a knife when a fork alone does the job alone in pulling the meat apart? The spicy tomato sauce brought it up to the next (no pun intended) level. Grilled zucchini and edible flowers accompany the pork on the side.

Spalla di Maiale Brasato, braised pork shoulder

Grilled zucchini, edible flowers

#6. Granita di Arance Rosse, blood orange sorbet

With all the indulgent courses from earlier, this palate cleanser cued the mood for dessert time.

Granita di Arance Rosse, blood orange sorbet

#7. Cassata, traditional Sicilian Easter cake

This traditional Sicilian Easter cake is brought as a whole to the table and then introduced, before being brought back into the kitchen. Slices are brought out and served to each person. In true Sicilian homestyle, the marzipan covering the cake includes a bright green color and then embellished with candied orange rind and nuts.

Cassata, traditional Sicilian Easter cake

Cannoli, tube pastry filled with cream
Ravioli Fritti, fried ravioli
Cubbaita di Giugiulena, sesame seed brittle

How to end such a great night? As always, it seems simple enough for Next. Crisp, delicate, and buttery mini pastries.

Cannoli, Ravioli Fritti, Cubbaita di Giugiulena

Where in the world will Next bring us to in a couple of months with the upcoming change of menu.....? Stay tuned.

953 West Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607

2012 James Beard Award Best New Restaurant
2012 James Beard Nominee Best Rising Star Chef, Dave Beran
2011 Time Magazine 100 Most Influential People, Grant Achatz
2011 TimeOut Magazine 5 Stars for Next
2011 3 Michelin Stars Chef, Grant Achatz
2008 James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef, Grant Achatz
2007 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Great Lakes, Grant Achatz
2003 James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef, Grant Achatz
2002 Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef, Grant Achatz