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Rhea Recommends Chicago: The Deep Dish

10 Aug

It's Better Backstage

Seeing as I had the absolutely fabulous opportunity to hang in Downtown Chicago this past weekend, you’re getting the (deep) dish on some of my trip highlights.  Between the music, the culture of Chi-Town and a BYOB brunch to rival some of NYC’s best,  I‘ve got some awesomeness to share with y’all you all.

Let’s talk eats… obviously, I managed to get a BYOB brunch in there (2x).  Yolk in South Loop (S Michigan Ave btwn E 11th St/E Roosevelt) was legit.  We rolled up with bottles of Prosecco, ordered some orange juice to-go and hung out/drank in the courtyard while waiting for our table.  Once we were called, we had some top notch egg dishes in skillets, omelets and sammies – everything costs under $10 and includes your choice of pancakes (a HUGE order), an English muffin or toast.  Oh, and there’s NO CHARGE for Egg Beaters or whites.   Kick ass deal.  This girl LOVES it.

Music?  Yeah, there was music.  Holla for Lolla(palooza) – some of my favorite eargasm-able artists rocked the crowd.  My highlights include:

Foster the PeopleHoudini

PhantogramWhen I’m Small

Manchester OrchestraI’ve Got Friends

Local Natives Cubism Dream

Fitz and the TantrumsDon’t Gotta Work It Out

Foster the People @ Belve Lounge

Culture, ok, there’s some of that too.  Chicago-natives and tourists alike will enjoy the Architecture Tour ($25-35) – it’s a 90 minute expedition through the Chicago waterways checking out the buildings that make Chi-Town architecture truly remarkable.  You get a little history, learn some fun facts – and hey, you’re on a boat!  It’s definitely another attraction I deem worthy of looking up for – c’mon kids, your neck can handle it.

Marina City (Bertrand Goldberg)

After a long day of adventures in the windy city, treat yourself to a delicious little dinner – I’m a big fan of the inexpensive family-style Italian fare at Quartino.  Thin crust pizza may not be Chicago’s signature slice, but the folks at Quartino know how to make a mean crispy pie.  Not in the mood for Italian?  Not a problem! Sign onto Savored.com and get hooked up with 30% off the total bill at the city’s hottest restos.   Over and out; it’s been real, Chicago.

The Master Party List

21 Feb

We Like to Party.

When it comes to birthdays and other celebrations, most people love a good party, but can do without handling the logistics. Here to take the guesswork out of planning your next fiesta is Rhea Recommends’ Master Party List:

Best Large Group Party (Up to 30): Kumo Sushi takes the cake on this one. They have a massive party room in the back that’s easy to reserve. Plus with their $31.99 all you can eat and drink special, your party-goers will be full and drunk well imbibed in no time flat. Sake Bomb!

Best Party for a Mid-Sized Group: There’s something about eating at a big round table that makes any celebration better. My two fave round table options perfect for 8-10 heads? Mario Batali’s Otto (which also happens to be one of my top spots in NYC) or Chinatown Brasserie – both have large round tables and dishes built to share for the table.

Best BYOB Dinner: Birthday celebrations can get pricey, so bringing your own bottle of wine (or 6) can really help keep prices down. Round up your crew and head to the excellent Italian spot 11B or if you’re feeling Thai food, try Sticky Rice in the LES.

Biggest Shizz Show: Tortilla Flats. Tequila, Cinco de Mayo decorations year round, and more (very cheap) tequila. You’re going to have one hell of a good time and one hell of a headache the next day. Embrace the cheesy décor and let your inhibitions go.

Best Cocktails w/Light Bites: The Dove serves up excellent cocktails and has the perfect seating accommodations for a group ordering small bites with their drinks. Try to reserve the window seat! Another great option is Lunasa – they have very simple bar fare but the draw is the awesome backyard with picnic tables – it’s an excellent warm-weather option.

Best B-Day Brunch: No birthday is complete until you’ve met with your friends the next day to rehash the idiocy of the evening prior, and brunch is the perfect venue. For full on debauchery, I’d say Sunburnt Cow is the way to go, but if you’re looking to class it up a bit, you can always go with Essex… or any of the excellent options I’ve laid out for you here.

Whatever it is that you’re celebrating, cheers to you!

BYOB Thai That’s a Winner: Catch de Fish

17 Feb

When our plans for BYOB Sushi fell through due to a reservation malfunction, I jumped into planning mode, quickly trying to think of a spot that allows you to b.y.o. and was close to our E.Ville location.  The light bulb moment came as I remembered hearing about Catch de Fish, a cute Gramercy (3rd Ave @ 15th St) Thai + Seafood spot that would fulfill all the requirements of our evening’s dining aspirations.

We called ahead and, sure enough, they could seat us upon arrival AND we could in fact bring in our own wine and/or sake.  I thought given the late change in plans we couldn’t ask too much of this place, but I was quite wrong!  The corner resto is sleek inside and has an upscale feel (that doesn’t mirror the menu’s prices).  We were seated right away and got started with a Crabcake (served w/spicy mayo – be still our hearts) and the Classic Thai Salad (the peanut dressing was awe-some).  With an order of Spicy Lemongrass Soup, we were more than good on apps.

For our entrees, we went simple with an order of Chicken with citrus, herbs + spices and Tofu Steaks prepared much the same.  Both were tender and excellent served over a variety of fresh steamed vegetables, though next time I might go for something a little more exotic than the Tofu.  They definitely know how good their sauces are because they brought out sides of Spicy Mayo and Peanut Dressing before we could even ask!

Bottom line – next time you’re thinking BYOB dinner for a pregame, or even a date night on the cheap, don’t make Catch de Fish your backup plan; it deserves to be at the top of your list.

Much Ado About Fondue: Taureau

10 Jan

As soon as I heard about Taureau, the new-ish East Village (7th St btwn 1st and A) BYOB Fondue resto, I knew I was going to have to check it out.  Need me to back up?  Yes, I’m talking about a restaurant that is BYOB – with no plans of changing that status, and serves Fondue – with every intention of changing your life with its cheesy goodness.  Like what you hear? Good, let’s proceed…

Taureau’s an intimate dining experience whose seating arrangement has diners packed in at close proximity and whose cheeses pack in a major punch of flavor.  The small tables are all equipped with a heated top to keep your bowl of melted cheesy goodness at optimal temperature for dipping whatever you order from the menu – be it animal, vegetable, or mineral breadable.  Each order includes a very basic green salad, as well as an unlimited order of croutons.  Speaking of unlimited, EVERYTHING you order to dip in your vat of cheese is bottomless – as in, eat as much as you want and another order will miraculously appear on your table.

Delicious Dishes

The star of the evening was The Soprano fondue – Parmesan aged 18 months and blended expertly with White American.  The flavors of these 2 very different cheeses blended quite nicely and made for a very versatile dipping sauce.  For our veggies, we had cauliflower which was steamed to perfection, sweet potatoes (which were just OK – but could be great with a different variety of cheese) and my personal fave, the mushrooms – there were a ton of perfect bite-sized pieces and they complimented the fondue oh-so well.  As for meat, there is the option of having raw, marinated meats brought out that you cook in oil on the table, but due to my veggie status, we didn’t opt for any of those carnivorous options.  My guest researcher did have the Salami and Chorizo from the cured meats section of the menu – the Salami was apparently very good, or so I’m told.

While the cramped cozy seating would lend itself easily to multiple posts on “Overheard in NY”, the delicious situation happening in my mouth made it easy to tune out our next-door neighbors.  Couple that with servers that were helpful, plus the attentive hostess, and you’ve got a slam dunk of a resto in my book.  And hopefully, that dunk is straight into a bowl of delicious cheese at Taureau.

Know before you go: Taureau is cash only, now taking reservations for dinner (highly recommended) – call 212.228.2222. Bring your fave bottle of wine and be prepared to have your socks knocked off – our bill clocked in at under $60.  All I’ve got to say is next time, I’m leaving room for dessert…

I’m in, You’re in – We’re all in for Cherin!

30 Dec

Happy Hours and Hours

Cherin Sushi in the East Village (6th St btwn 1st/2nd Aves) really is an oldie but a goodie.  The long + narrow sushi den has been my go-to byob spot for years now and it’s no mystery why; good cheap food, a relaxed atmosphere, and laid back service make for a consistently enjoyable evening out.

This place is still BYOB (with a small corkage on the weekends), but now that they have their liquor license, they’ve really stepped up their game.  The specials are absurd; all day Monday and from 5-8pm Tues-Thurs almost any 3 rolls on the menu are $9.95 and the drink specials are excellent as well (beers are $2.50/house sake is $3/wine is $4).  The specials are great if you’re looking to get a fun night on, but don’t necessarily want to get “all-you-can-drink” crazy.

It Rolls On and On and On

Beyond the low prices, the food is actually good.  They do some interesting spins on the classics like providing a bed of sea salt for the edamame or offering a spicy variation of the miso soup (which is just great, btw).  The rolls are small but bite-sized, which I prefer and they’re all really creative.  Even the vegetarian rolls bring something to the table (the Crunchy roll with apple in it is my JAM).   My friends rave over the Sushi Surfer roll, which has banana, eel and crunch in it, and the Gillian roll, which is made with tuna, shrimp and avocado on top of crunch & real crab meat.

Cherin is good for a party of 2 or a larger party of up to 10.  The smaller restaurant can get loud but it’s never too much, which I appreciate as a break from the louder party scenes of most sushi spots with cheap drink deals… plus, your server is always a holler away.  I recommend you check it out next time you want a reasonably priced dinner that won’t make you feel like you’re pinching pennies.

Cherin Sushi – now accepting reservations, highly recommended for the weekends – (212) 388-1348.

Paint, Drink and Be Merry: Little Shop of Crafts

9 Dec

I Heart Little Shop!

I’m always looking for ideas to have a low key night activity that’s outside the norm, which is why finding Little Shop of Crafts made me so incredibly happy.  By now, I’m a repeat-offender guest at the UES location (73rd St btwn York/1st Ave) of this arts & crafts super spot.  I’m constantly coming up with new project ideas as an excuse to go back – you can never have too many mugs!   All you have to do is pick a piece of pottery, choose the colors you want to paint with and you’re ready to go.  The prices are reasonable (you’ll usually spend $20-30) and they’re on Groupon every now and again, so keep an eye out for that to save some moola.

My favorite part of Little Shop is that Wednesday-Friday from 6:30-10pm is adult night – translation: free glass of wine! While they could definitely be a little more generous with the amount of wine they give you, the fact that they offer it at all is nice, and you can always opt to BYOB as my friends and I usually do.  The party room in the back is also a great idea for a grown-up party – I did my 25th birthday there and the “kids” loved it.

No matter what the occasion, Little Shop is the perfect evening of relaxation and always a good time when you’re looking for something different to do – now head on over and get to work on your masterpiece!

Impressive Italian @ Eleven B(YOB)

19 Nov

Won't you join us for dinner?

Eleven B may be my favorite Italian joint in NYC.  Now don’t get me wrong; this place is not gourmet, nor is it going to find itself featured in the New York Times anytime soon.  But what this resto offers is better, in my book – a welcoming restaurant with great tasting classic Italian dishes, friendly wait staff, and LOW prices.  Oh, and did I mention?  If you’re drinking wine or beer – bring it in with you (no liquor, ya booze hounds).

Location?  You guessed it, East Village – Eleventh St and Ave B.  Walk inside; the tables are all candlelit and the walls are lined with shelves of books that give it a real rustic feel.  To add to the ambience, the guys serving you (often the owner himself) are straight out of the Sopranos, except instead of relishing in a life of organized crime, they love serving big portions of delicious Italian dishes.

Eggplant Extraordinaire

I’ve come here with a party of 2 and a party of 10 and either way they do a great job.  For larger parties, you can ask and they’ll make dishes family style for the table to match the size of the group – they also offer prix fixe options.

Last night, I was dining with the lovely Miss Aimee – we split the beet and goat cheese salad (LOVE it) and the eggplant parmesan, which is huge AND comes with a side of pasta or salad.  We also both managed to stop at Trader Joe’s Wine store beforehand so there was the issue of what to do with all that wine…

Bartender, I'll take a sparkling water!

Bottom line, whether you’re looking for a cheap date night or to do a group dinner/pregame extravaganza that’s NOT sushi, this place is legit.  Our total bill was $24 – yes, it is that great.  GO NOW!

Eleven B (on 11th and B) – make a reservation for large parties or if you’re going on the weekend – (212)388-9811.

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