Take A Bite & Sip: Dinner & Cocktails at Earls Lincoln Park in Chicago

Setting and menu

Back in mid-November I had the opportunity to head out to Chicago with my cousin Lauren, and some friends. Having never been to the Windy City, I was really excited to head out, although for just two days, to explore a bit of the city’s famed food culture.

I had previously interviewed executive Stephen Andrews about the newest opening of Earls Kitchen + Bar in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, and I found this quick trip to be the perfect time to stop into the restaurant to eat, drink, and be merry.

B-flat by Ricky Alvarez, #ArtOfEarls

The restaurant was situated in a hip shopping and dining area in Lincoln Park right on North Clybourn Ave. The space was quite large, with a lovely outdoor dining space, specially equipped with weatherproof furniture, fire pits, and heating lamps to keep guests warm when it is brisk out. Upon entering, the aesthetics of the exterior melded into the main dining room, featuring two bars, one massive with all around seating for those that prefer a more casual outing, and a smaller bar near the entrance to cater to patrons present for a sit down dinner, or more formal outing.

Muddy Waters by Erik den Breejen, #ArtOfEarls

Unique artwork was ever present, including a huge wall installation in the bar area entitled B-flat by Vancouver-based artist Ricky Alvarez, which was created using a plethora of trumpets. Also of note was the Muddy Waters collage by Erik den Breejen in the main dining room, comprised of Muddy Waters lyrics that create a portrait of the famed Chicago musician.

The staff greeted us, gave us the lowdown on the space and Earls as a chain, and quickly seated my cousin and I at a dining table. We were given a full description of items on the menu, and were treated to all courses. Here is what we ate!

Appetizers

We began our evening with appetizers to share, and specialty cocktails. We shared three appetizers including the Korean Hot Wings, Dynamite Roll which was made of shrimp,  mango and avocado sushi, sriracha mayo, black sesame and unagi maple, and a Corn poblano dip topped with jalapeño and served with fried bread. Everything was delicious, but the wings were definitely off the chain, containing the perfect amount of sweet and spice.

Bees Knees cocktail

Cocktails came our way about every fifteen minutes, and I can definitely say that I was tipsy by the end of the evening.  I will highlight my favorites, one being the Bees Knees cocktail above. Comprised of Aviation Gin, Cointreau, honey, fresh lemon, and angostura bitters, I was quite surprised that I loved this cocktail so much as it was gin based. I usually go for rum or tequila based drinks.  I had two of these.

Paloma cocktail

The Paloma cocktail was a not-so-classic Paloma recipe, comprised of Espolon Reposado Tequila, fresh lime juice and Jarritos Mexican grapefruit soda. Both Lauren and I enjoyed this cocktail as it was super fresh, not too sweet, with a deep tequila flavor. Reminiscent of a vacation somewhere tropical, like Tulum.

My entree: Salmon

Entrees were so hard to pick as all the offerings were amazing, but our plan of action was to pick two completely different plates so we could share. We went the surf & turf route, with Lauren choosing a Chimichurri Skirt Steak, and me choosing a Mediterranean infused Salmon plate.

The earthiness of my dish muted my salmon in a nice way. The grains, legumes, and tomato-based sauce that the salmon steak laid upon brought about a medley of flavors to the salmon that I was not used to, but in an exciting way.

Lauren’s entree: Chimichurri Skirt Steak

Lauren’s chimichurri skirt steak was just delectable. The Earls chain only uses the best beef, “Certified Humane Creekstone Farms Black Angus Beef free of antibiotics with no added hormones”, and boy does it show. Served in an iron skillet, the beef was so fresh and tender, cooked perfectly with baby potatoes, and pan roasted cherry tomatoes. I can definitely see now why this is a favorite among patrons.

Lemon Meringue cocktail

As with our appetizers, more cocktails came with dinner. A standout for me was the Lemon Meringue cocktail. Comprised of Skyy Vodka, Limoncello, and meringue foam, the cocktail tasted almost as good as Lauren’s mother’s family famous lemon meringue pie. A feat indeed.

Silly Wabbit cocktail

Lauren’s favorite cocktail of the evening, which I also enjoyed, was the Silly Wabbit. Comprised of vodka and fresh carrot juice with a few other ingredients, Lauren described the drink as a “nice cool breeze” and gave her that feeling you get after having a great work out at the gym. The carrot juice makes you feel super healthy, but don’t be fooled; the vodka has a kick!

Sticky Chocolate Toffee Pudding

And then came dessert. We had a bit of a sampling. The pumpkin pie was delectable and reminiscent of something your grandma would make. Spiced just right and topped with fresh whipped cream, it was a treat. The Sticky Chocolate Toffee Pudding was a staff favorite, so we decided to try it as well. The combination of warm pudding cake atop chocolate and toffee sauces, paired with vanilla ice cream was pretty much the best of both worlds. I like the balance of sweetness and textures.

Upon completing our meal, we were greeted with, you guessed it, more cocktails, and treated to a unique tour of the restaurant’s kitchen and prep spaces with Senior Sous Chef, Jovahn Sandhu.

Saucy!

Since I am a complete food and kitchen nerd, the kitchen tour may have been even more exciting than the food and cocktails! Jovahn introduced us to the kitchen staff, and showed us all of their stations; every thing from sauce and condiment prep, to meats, to baked goods and more.  It was really intriguing to see how many moving parts are needed to get the final meal on your plate at super fast speed.

Even more exciting for me, was taking a step into the refrigerators. I cannot truly gauge the amount of square footage the refrigerators took up, but with racks and product, you could still fit a small dance party of folks within. Above you see all the containers of sauces, that are prepped fresh each day before dawn.

Zests for cocktails

As I am a bit of a cocktail snob, it was great for me to see where all of the zests for the cocktails you saw above, and more, were stored. These things that may seem so small, are so important to the diner’s overall experience from a taste and time perspective. I was so geeked it was probably embarrassing, especially as my drinks were starting to hit me during the tour. Despite all this, Jovahn and crew were super detailed and helpful, giving me all the information I was seeking, and then some.

Cousins!

We finished our tour with some insight on the bar culture of Earls from Lounge Manager, Taylor Happy, who had been present throughout our meal, helping with suggestions. He showed us the outdoor seating and fire pit, as well as the outdoor seating near the entrance. With a garage door between the inside and outside, summer patrons can feel like a part of the indoor action with a quick raise of the door.

When in downtown Chicago, definitely make a stop at Earls Kitchen + Bar. With a menu to appeal to all tastes and a friendly, knowledgeable staff, it is sure to be a dining experience you will never forget!

 

Earls Kitchen + Bar, Lincoln Park

1538 North Clybourn Avenue, Unit A108, Chicago IL
Get directions via Google maps
tel.   312-929-3952   fax.   312-929-4049

 

All photos by Andrea K. Castillo

I received a complimentary meal at Earls Kitchen + Bar.

Take A Bite & Sip: Up On 20 at the Hyatt Herald Sq. Offers Food & Drinks With A View

View of Up On 20. Photo: Real Hospitality Group

Let me paint a picture for you. You’re in the middle of Herald Square in Manhattan on a late weekday afternoon. You may be in the area for work, or visiting for a few days. You are in desperate need of food and drink that doesn’t completely break the bank, and isn’t an Applebee’s either. You are coaxed with huge signs from chain restaurants in the area, but how about if you wanted to be slightly off the main street, and able to catch spectacular views while you are it? Let me introduce you to Up On 20.

Located on the roof deck of the Hyatt Herald Square, Up On 20 is the hotel’s rooftop lounge. I visited on a grey Thursday to check out the location’s food and drink offerings, along with its views. As the weather wasn’t the best, the space was not packed, which made me feel better about having a meal solo. I was greeted by a lovely waiter/bartender and told him I was there for a review. He wasted no time to get me seated and really give me the lowdown on the space.

View from my seat of the Empire State Building. Photo: Andrea K. Castillo

The hotel itself opened back in the fall of 2014 and Up On 20 is newly opened for the summer season. I found a cocktail table near the perimeter of the space, to better gaze at the city’s architecture below me, including the Empire State Building.

I snapped a few touristy photos of my surroundings, then got to the menu. The waiter gave me a few suggestions which I trusted as he seemed to be quite the foodie himself. I started with a rum cocktail called “The Old Virgin” which had a base of dark rum and prosecco, with lime and simple syrup. The drink definitely had a kick, but if made with a tad less lime, the finish would have been a little smoother.

All the food. Photo: Andrea K. Castillo

My food platter consisted of white fish sliders with avocado, NYC-style fresh pretzels with fresh sesame mustard, meatballs with hoisin sauce, and shrimp ceviche paired with kettle chips. I would call the cuisine style “New American Fusion” as it melded flavors from both the Americas and Asia alike. So what did I think of the food? Let’s go one by one.

  • White fish sliders with avocado on whole grain bun: fresh flavors and overall great ingredients for a slider. As the fish is quite plain, a smokey or spicy element would have made this top notch.
  • Pretzels with fresh sesame mustard: pretzel consistency and mustard was very good. A bit too much salt on the pretzel.
  • Meatballs with hoisin sauce: great meatball consistency with sauce pairing. No complaints, but had to bring the rest home because of the portion size.
  • Shrimp ceviche with kettle chips: REALLY liked the shrimp ceviche as it had pineapple in it and reminded me of the ceviche back in Belize. The kettle chips were good, but went soggy quickly as I visited on a rather humid day. A good alternative would be fresh tortilla or plantain chips.

Drea vs. Food. Photo: Andrea K. Castillo

I had a lovely experience at Up On 20, and would definitely want to go back on a sunny day. The open atmosphere makes it great for everything from after-work drinks, birthday parties, business meetings, and a casual date. Prices are mid-range, with cocktails in the mid to upper teens, and food made to share. If you are in Herald Square anytime soon, definitely check it out. Address below.

 

Up On 20 at the Hyatt Herald Square

30-32 W 31st St

New York, NY 10001

*All photos by Andrea K. Castillo

I received a complimentary meal and drinks at Up On 20.

Take A Sip: Drinks & Recipes To Ring In The New Year Right, Feat: Piper Heidsieck, Jameson Black Barrel, Ciroc & More!

As we are on the heels of bidding the year 2014 adieu, it is time to gather our things and prepare for New Year’s Eve festivities! A proper party consists of a lovely outfit, great company & music, bites, and cocktails of course! We’ve rounded up some of our favorite drinks and cocktail recipes, spanning all categories of spirits, so you can start the new year off right!

CIROC: Ultra Premium French Vodka

Let us begin with vodka, as across the board, I’ve noticed vodka to peek the fancy of many different personalities. For your celebration, a light and citrusy vodka cocktail freshens the palate without weighing you down with too much sugar.

Our Pick: Ciroc 75

CIROC reminds everyone to please celebrate responsibly.


JAMESON BLACK BARREL: Irish Whiskey

If you have been keeping up with our spirits & cocktails posts, you would have noticed that we are fans of Jameson Black Barrel, a smooth aged Irish Whiskey that makes for a great cocktail.

Our Pick: Whiskey Buck


DON JULIO AÑEJO: Aged Tequila

I first discovered Don Julio Añejo whilst on a work trip in Vegas. We asked the bartender what the best tequila they offered was, and I’ve been hooked ever since. As an aged tequila, it is darker in color with a smoother finish, unlike white and gold tequilas that have more of a bite. This variety is great on the rocks, but for a holiday, spice it up in a margarita.

Our Pick: Spicy Margarita


MOUNT GAY BLACK BARREL: Barbados Rum

For us, rum is one of those things that is always on the menu (because Caribbean blood). There are endless ways to enjoy rum during the year and holiday season, but to bring in the new year, we suggest to keep it simple with this updated Dark & Stormy cocktail.

Our Pick: Black & Stormy


PIPER-HEIDSIECK: Champagne

Champagne goes without saying for New Year’s, so why not celebrate with a glass of bubbly from one of the oldest champagne houses in the world? Their Brut offering is a classic champagne that is sure to height the fancy of your entire party. If you feel like dropping a bit more cash and being EXTRA fancy, their vintage varieties are some of the most awarded.

Our Pick: Brut


A Life In The Day of Andrea wishes you a lovely year ahead. Please drink responsibly 🙂


#AlifeinthedayinToronto: Coffee Goodness at Rooster Coffee

The entryway of Rooster Coffee

A trip in the life in the day of Andrea is not complete with necessary amounts of caffeine, so I wanted to share a cute coffee joint in Toronto with you all. Located on King Street E near the corner of Berkeley St., Rooster Coffee House is an understated yet super cool coffee shop that is filled with all the caffeinated beverages your heart could ever dream of. We passed the location on the way back to the apartment, and as I was in need of a serious caffeine fix, I ran in once I saw the word “coffee” on the business’s sign.

Art displayed throughout the shop by local artists

Upon entering the doors of the coffee house, we were greeted by a warm environment, filled with various canvases of original artwork from local artists, as seen in the photo above. The shop’s menu was displayed on chalkboard with all offerings handwritten in a artistic manner.

Full view of the space, including the super chic bar area

As we moved up in line, I decided to order one of my favorite coffee drinks, an Iced Red Eye, sweetened with half and half. My wait was short, and I was able to better view my surroundings, and get the password to the WiFi, which was written on another chalkboard further back in the cafe.

The goods

A few minutes later I received my seriously caffeinated beverage, and was quite pleased with the outcome. The photo above shows my drink and the “coffee condiment station” (I just made that up). My drink was a perfect caffeine pick me up for the night I had ahead, which included a concert and more. Definitely a great place to meet up with friends, work, or just chill out.

 Rooster Coffehouse

343 King Street E.

Toronto, ON

416-995-1530

I would most definitely recommend Rooster Coffee to my friends in caffeine and open work spaces. They have good hours and sell pastries and sandwiches alongside their coffee beverages, which is also a plus. Definitely pass by if you are in the area, and be sure to check out all my favorite spots in Toronto on my TripleSpot list.

*Photos by Andrea K. Castillo

#AlifeinthedayinToronto: Take a Bite & Sip at 416 Snack Bar

Real wine, real candles

I hope you have been enjoying my Toronto tales! I wanted to circle back to my first evening. As I had mentioned in prior posts, my first food stop was Patois. After this, my friend and guide Jahmal had to leave me, and gave me detailed directions of where to walk to get a real taste of the city, along with the location of one of his favorite spots where he would meet me later on in the evening; 416 Snack Bar.

Korean Fried Chicken

Located on Bathurst Ave, steps away from Queen Street E, 416 Snack Bar totally felt like home when I walked in. The lights were dim, soul music played in the background (from a DJ in the back right corner), and the crowd was eclectic and calm. Since I had some time to kill, I figured I would have a little drink, and a small bite from their food menu. I kept it simple and ordered a cider, and the Korean Fried Chicken (pictured above). The restaurant used chicken thighs for their recipe, as opposed to white meat, and seasoned generously with soy, ginger, sesame seeds, chives and other flavors.

Tourist Photo 🙂

In my time at the bar, I made a few new friends, and was really able to take in the atmosphere as I had gone there solo. It was kind of a big deal for me, because I had never really gone to a bar/restaurant alone before, especially not in another country! Just goes to show that we live and we learn, right?

Once we exited, I asked Jahmal to take this lovely tourist photo of me, seen above. As someone who takes photos, I’m never in much photos, so I made sure that I got snapped in front of as many cool spots as possible during my trip.

416 Snack Bar

181 Bathurst Ave (near Queen St. E)

Toronto, ON

Phone: 416-364-9320

info@416snackbar.com

Be sure to check out 416 Snack Bar if you are out and about in Toronto. Also, check out all my spots in detail via my TripleSpot list, Enjoy Toronto w/ AKC!

 

*Photos by Andrea K. Castillo & Jahmal Sang

#AlifeinthedayinToronto: Take a Sip at The Beaconsfield

A view of the bar, fully stocked with top-shelf everything

Located on the corner of Queen St W and Beaconsfield Ave, stands a bar unlike any other, aptly named The Beaconsfield. The bar and restaurant is steps away from the famed Drake Hotel, and boast a beautiful exterior, housed in the historical Molsons Bank, with a cobblestone patio hugging the space’s perimeter. We stopped by the watering hole to end off a chill evening with friends.

Crystal chandelier, that added to the old-school vibe

Upon entering The Beaconsfield you are immediately transformed into a space that is both luxurious and inviting at the same time. Crystal chandeliers hung from high ceilings, and all the attention was on the bar, fully stocked with various spirits, bottled beers, and fine wines; they are known for their impressive tequila selection.

My drink of the evening, dark rum with a splash of pineapple

Soon after our arrival and my admiration of the space, we all ordered drinks. I kept it simple and ordered a dark rum with pineapple on the rocks. The guys had beers and vodka drinks for the most part, and we sat back to unwind with great tunes in the background (lots of Drake and Majid Jordan on the playlist to be exact). I had an unfortunate encounter with a man whose horrible “I like the way you drink your drink” pick-up line scarred me for the rest of the evening. Thankfully, I was diverted by friends who conjured up aimless conversation to save me. Phew!

I would definitely recommend The Beaconsfield for groups of friends who want to chill out, or even a date as there are some super low-key tables in the back of the space. I found out after that they have a full food menu, which you can view here. I will definitely be back!

Beaconsfield
1154 Queen St W
Toronto, ON M6J 1J5
(416) 516-2550
Be sure to check out more of my favorite spots on my Enjoy Toronto w/ AKC TripleSpot list!

*Photos by Andrea K. Castillo

Take A Sip: The Garret

View of the fully-stocked bar at The Garret.
View of the fully-stocked bar at The Garret.

Tucked away in an unexpected location in the West Village lies a newly-opened cocktail bar, and its name is The Garret. Housed above the Five Guys on the corner of 7th Ave South and Bleecker, The Garret is far from a dive bar, but a “refined drinking establishment”. Once walking up a set of stairs at the back of the burger joint, you are transformed into a space reminiscent of a crazy uncle that has a unique take on luxury.

A custom piece by Bradley Theodore below the mantle.
A custom piece by Bradley Theodore below the mantle.

The vibe in the space is that of an old-school salon, featuring brick walls, eclectic framed photographs, vintage books and hourglasses, paired with luxe tufted leather seating. You are given the feeling of exclusivity in the otherwise bustling neighborhood.

One such special element of The Garret is the special painting above by graffiti artist Bradley Theodore, known for his now famous street piece in Little Italy, Anna and Karl.

The night ambience.
The night ambience.

When the night falls, the space transforms from its bright feel during the day, to a sophisticated amber glow, made possible by light reflecting off the bar’s copper ceiling. Draperies on the vast windows stay open so patrons can view the streets below without feeling like they are on-the-spot. The lighting really sets the mood, and is perfect for impressing a date, in case you were wondering of course!

A show-stopping chandelier illuminates the space.
A show-stopping chandelier illuminates the space.

There are many unique design elements that make The Garret special, but the show-stopper is definitely the chandelier in the photo above. It hangs from a vaulted skylight strategically over the bar to illuminate the menus of patrons. The menu features hand-crafted cocktails from master mixologists, paired with an impressive craft beer menu, that is fairly-priced for its attention to detail.

Check out some more photos below from The Garret below. They are now open for business. Head over to their website for more!

*Photos by Andrea K. Castillo 

Take A Sip: Cas Rum Popo

CASRUMPOPOborder

One day in the holiday season of 2011, a young ambitious Belizean-American woman by the name of Andrea K. Castillo decided that she wanted to make tradition of learning how to create Belizean treats, and to make them well. In earlier years she perfected Belizean fudge, which is most likened to a more solid, yet crumbly, form of caramel, and in the year of 2011 decided she would perfect the holiday beverage of Rum Popo.

In layman’s terms, Rum Popo is the Belizean version of spiked egg-nog, homemade of course. It is in the same category of Puerto Rican/Dominican Coquito, Trinidadian Poncha Crema, Haitian Cremas, and Jamaican Rum Cream. The project for the first year was made strictly for family and close friends in recycled liquor bottles, in 2012 the first sales were made in the same packaging as the year prior, and now, in the 2013/14 holiday season, the product was named “Cas Rum Popo“, a tribute to the family name, and branded in a clean scale with fresh bottles.

casrumpopobotttles5
Cas Rum Popo in bottles, ready for customers!

The consistency of Cas Rum Popo is quite smooth with a bite from the overproof rum and spices used to balance its sweetness. It is consumed in the holiday months from mid-November to as late as February. All bottles of Cas Rum Popo are sourced from local businesses in Brooklyn, including the bottles from the longstanding Rappaport Sons Bottle Co. in Williamsburg.

If you are in the NYC Metro area and would like more info on purchasing, please e-mail casrumpopo@gmail.com, and follow on Twitter and Instagram @casrumpopo!

Take A Bite and Sip: Qathra

Qathra as viewed from the street

Situated on Cortelyou Road in the Ditmas Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, Qathra is more than just a coffee shop. Having lived off off of Cortelyou Road my whole life, but a few blocks south in Kensington, I’ve noticed the transformation of the strip, mainly in the category of food & drink. I had read a Daily News article a few months back that mentioned Qathra as being one of the best coffee shops in Brooklyn, so of course, I had to make a visit to see what all the hype was about.

I brought my cousin Ashley along, as she is an avid coffee drinker as well. We picked quite possibly the ugliest day to make a trip; a cold, rainy evening, but not to fret, this was all in the name of coffee! Upon arrival, we were welcomed into a warm space that uses lots of natural woods, slate, and brass elements in their structure. The ambience was friendly and relaxing, filled with the perfect amount of table and chairs for guests to dine, drink, or do some research (WiFi is availble).

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Take a Bite and Sip: Apartment 138

Apartment 138 signage

On a street called Smith, in a neighborhood of many names (Carroll Gardens/ Cobble Hill/ Boerum Hill) in the borough of Brooklyn, lies a stretch of retail and culinary wonders. The mix of chain retailers and boutique shopping and eatery spaces make Smith Street special, and uniquely “Brooklyn”. On a recent jaunt to the strip, I attended a calendar release party with some friends at men’s streetwear boutique Rime. After catching up and canoodling with folks, we decided it was time to grab some sustenance. We strolled down the street and came across the lovely, Apartment 138.

Given its name, Apartment 138 is decorated in the style of a high end apartment in the neighborhood of Brooklyn in which resides. Select walls are covered in damask wallpaper, wood furnishings are present throughout in a deep chestnut color, and the lighting is warm and homey. I immediately fell in love once inside because the space was beautiful and the staff was lovely to boot! We sat at the bar and ordered snacks and drinks. My order? A jalapeno margarita and truffle mac & cheese (odd combo, I know). I was delighted to find out that they made their own jalapeno tequila by soaking fresh jalapeno in tequila and having it sit for days. This made the flavors that much more potent than a pre-infused jalapeno flavored tequila; this was the real thing! The amount of spicy, sweet, and citrus in the cocktail create a special medley of flavors for the palate, which i thoroughly enjoy. My truffle mac & cheese was also quite delightful, although I was unable to enjoy it as much as I would have liked. My inner fat-girl was so excited that I started eating it before it cooled off and in doing so, burnt my tongue (insert laugh and any other jokes you may have here).

The bar

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