Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Icosium Kafé

When I walked into Icosium Kafé, I thought it was going to be Crepe & Coffee Palace. It was a bit confusing. I guess ownership had recently changed. Nevertheless, the Algerian tapestries on the wall were aesthetically pleasing and not what I had expected to find inside of a creperie. I honestly had no idea what to expect. I think that's what generally happens when you're the only lunchtime customer...

A server approached my table with a minted ice water as soon as I sat down. She was friendly and helpful, but after having the menu open for only a few moments after she left, she returned. When you only have one customer, I guess it's difficult to not be overbearing.

I went with the Icosium Crepe, the Cheka Chouka ($9.99), which was preceded by a vegetable soup with something hard and bone-like at the bottom. Perhaps it was a bone chip? Anywho, I would call the flavors indistinguishable and bland and even though it was free, I didn't see its value. Some hot sauce accompanied it as did some pesto-ed pita bread, but neither really improved its quality.

The crepe itself benefited from an interesting presentation and lots of diverse flavors. The fresh ingredients combined to create cool textures and the portion size didn't leave me too hungry. There were roasted peppers, fresh basil, goat cheese, caramelized onions, fresh roma tomatoes, pine nuts, roasted garlic, baby spinach, and Icosium dressing (balsamic). Four word summary: sweet + savory + cheesy + balsamicky.

As luck would have it, some free baklava came out after my crepe and I wish it had been tastier. The flaky dough and cashew and pistachio were nice, but something left a foul aftertaste in my mouth. Once again, a free dish didn't necessary mean a good dish.

Looking back, Icosium Kafé didn't provide a great crepe (nor a great deal), but if you've got a hankering, this is a good enough spot until you find a better option. I will be going back, but I doubt this favorable status will last. Better creperies in Chicago? Let me know.

Icosium Kafé - Lincoln Park - (773)404-1300 - 2433 N. Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614 - Public transportation: bus 22 or the Fullerton stop of the Brown/Red/Purple Line.

Icosium crepe, Cheka Chouka - $9.99


Cora Shaw got the idea for iCream while pursuing her MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. At the beginning stage of a group project in her New Venture Strategy class, she proffered a unique - and improbable - concept. The idea? Combining liquid nitrogen with various base liquids to make on-the-spot ice cream, yogurt, or sorbet.

The path wasn't easy; in fact in the beginning, iCream could only open for three days before closing for the next eight months to repair and re-engineer the intricate electrical and cryogenic equipment. But, ultimately, Cora Shaw and her business partner Jason McKinney have made it work. For more of the story's details, go here.

iCream is the next step as far as frozen treats are concerned. It's entertaining, fresh, and can be tailored to satisfy any of your sweet tooth cravings. There's non-fat and low-fat frozen yogurt, low-fat and soy and regular ice cream, hot pudding for the cold months, and even made-to-order Italian sodas. Oh, one last thing: any item can be made sugar-free.

For your personalized creation, there are four steps. You pick your treat, choose a flavor (29 options), select up to three add-ins and toppings (29 options), and then color your creation (eight options). I ordered a "cinnamon something or other" regular ice cream as per Cora's suggestion. The texture was excellent - it wasn't icy at all and the oreo + graham cracker crust were well blended into the cinnamon and coffee ice cream. I could've chosen a color for this creation, but I left it chaste.

As much as I enjoyed my visit to iCream (and chatting with Cora), it isn't quite perfect. The aforementioned creation that I got was kind of expensive for a small. It cost me $5.27, but in Cora's defense, it's an 8oz small while other ice cream places only give you 6oz. I guess you're paying for the novelty, the quality of the ingredients (many of which are organic), and the fact that it's a small business. But still - pret-ty pret-ty pricey.

That said, I still think that the interior design could be improved. To start, it's cold and plain and kind of dirty. I noticed some stains on the walls and leftover dirty napkins near the entrance. The florescent lighting doesn't help either, though it may have been chosen to reflect the scientific (or futuristic) side of iCream because it does evoke a sterilized lab (or a minimalistic ice cream store in 2050)...

I will be going back and I suggest you check it out before iCreams are as common as Cold Stone Creameries. That way, you'll secure yourself some bragging rights.

iCream - Wicker Park- (773)276-2100 - 1537 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 - Public transportation: bus 50 or 56 or the Damen stop of the Blue Line.

small ice cream w/ two flavors and two add-ins - $5.27

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Birchwood Kitchen

In Buenos Aires, people often talk about something called onda (vibe(s)). Mala onda means bad vibes and buena onda means good vibes. Birchwood Kitchen is a perfect example of a place that has buena onda. Right when I walked in, I felt it. The neighborhood, the space, the employees - all of it = buena onda.

The food at Birchwood Kitchen ain't bad, but it ain't great either. Mining the menu for delicious eats shouldn't prove too difficult, yet it's probably not going to be an effortless task either. I ordered a mushroom sandwich and a side of chipotle chickpeas and went one for two. Batting .500? Not spread-the-word worthy.

The mushroom sandwich with its creamy mozzarella, red bell pepper puree, basil and sourdough reminded me of a tasty margherita pizza. The shrooms saved it from blandness and the toasty bread gave it a crispy, crunchy texture.

The chipotle chickpea salad cleared my sinuses. There were too many red onions and the powerful chunks would've benefited from finer chopping. The cilantro, on the other hand, was subtle and nice and complimented the chipotle element quite well without overpowering its smokiness. In the end, the abundance of mayo killed the dish for me and reminded me of a potato salad made with chickpeas.

Birchwood Kitchen is a fine option for people in the immediate vicinity, but, for those who have the ability to travel a bit further, I just cannot give it an enthusiastic recommendation. And unfortunately, due to the format of this blog, I have to give it a forth rating.

Birchwood Kitchen - Wicker Park- (773)276-2100 - 2211 W. North Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 - Public transportation: bus 72 or the Damen stop of the Blue Line.

mushroom sandwich - $7.25
chipotle chickpea side - $2.50

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Irazú made a good first impression. Walking in from the cold, I loved how its holiday jazz and colorful interior provided warmth and nostalgic comfort. It was kind of weird. I knew the meal would be satisfying even before I saw a menu.

The people behind Irazú are casual about the decor and, unfortunately, about the food as well. That's not to say that the Costa Rican cuisine is bad - it's just that it could be better. The dishes I sampled were strong for the most part, but would've benefited from some refinement.

The shake above clearly illustrates an exception to my "No Artistic Photo Edits" rule and there's good reason: it's truly as good as the reviews say it is. You can have it made with regular milk, soy, or water and I'm sure each way is delicious. It's like an incredible horchata smoothie with oatmeal and everything about it seems to be in perfect harmony. Its thickness won't clog your straw, but it won't rush through it. It won't give you a sugar headache, but it won't disappoint your sweet tooth. It's so well balanced; it's like no shake you've ever had.

Ah, the deceptive chifrijo. It looks like a moderately sized appetizer from the picture, but I assure you, this is a coy beast of a dish. Beneath the dark sauce and avocado slices lie tasty fried pork chunks, rice, black beans, and a variation of pico de gallo. Add the chips and you've got yourself something that is not light. The dish starts off excellently, but once you make it through the pico de gallo and crispy lardons (aka the top layer), you're left with more black beans and rice. If there were a smaller quantity of these two things instead of an abundance, the dish would be much better and less filling...

My meal ended with a single taco tico, which is a "crispy tortilla filled with skirt steak topped with cabbage, mayo, ketchup and Lizano sauce". To me, this was just a microwaved frozen taquito buried in cabbage and way too much sauce. Perhaps if the sauce had been reduced along with the cabbage, it would've been fine, but c'mon, look at the picture!

Though imperfect, Irazú is a place I can recommend without reluctance. The menu has options for everyone (including an entire vegetarian section), delightful flavors, and it's cozy and Costa Rican to boot. Look, the squeeze bottle salsas are weak and some culinary areas could use more effort, but having said that, I will still be back.

Irazú - Bucktown - (773)252-5687 - 1865 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 - Public transportation: bus 56 or the Western stop of the Blue Line.

oatmeal (avena) shake - $3.00
chifrijo - $6.50
taco tico - $1.95

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Delightful Pastries

Delightful Pastries? Ha.

Let's do this in as few words as possible, from the beginning to end. One sentence per line.

Painfully slow service just to buy a single cookie when there weren't many customers present.
Inattentive employee working behind the counter.
"One chocolate chip cookie, please."
Was given a chocolate chip cookie with nuts.
Oh, awesome, it's pre-packaged.

Aren't the cookies supposed to be fresh at a bakery?
"Four dollars and fourteen cents."
For a single, pre-packaged cookie?
Are they crazy?
Maybe the cookie is amazing.
Don't judge too early, Dantaniel.
I take the first bite.
Oh, okay, this is sweet and chewy, but wait, what the-
The middle is raw.
How could I, in good conscience, return when there are so many better cookies out there?
I will go forth.

Delightful Pastries,
Sure, you have a great location, but even that, paired with your attractive aesthetic, is not enough to overcome your high prices and gross product.

Delightful Pastries - Lincoln Park - 1710 N. Wells St, Chicago, IL 60614 - Public transportation: bus 72 or the Sedgwick stop of the Brown Line.

chocolate chip cookie w/ nuts - $3.75 (w/o tax)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Cipollina may blend easily into its neighborhood, but remember that its neighborhood is Wicker Park and the only way to truly blend in is to be different. To me, it evokes nearby Lucia's albeit with a less traditional style and a more contemporary space. It's a fresh take on the Italian deli format with more interesting sandwich choices, gelato, baked goods, artisanal Italian products, and an espresso bar.

The half café, half deli setup works aesthetically, but the food could be better. I've been twice at this point and nothing I've had has been close to flawless. A cold side of brussels sprouts was overdressed and far too bacon heavy, and both an Italian sub and a prosciutto sandwich fell on the dry side. That's not to say any of this food was bad though; it just wasn't incredible.

The prosciutto, parmesan truffle butter, arugula, calabrean pepper sandwich (pictured above) stood out on the short menu because the combination of ingredients seemed interesting to me. I loved each individual component (especially prosciutto and arugula) and wondered how they would play together when placed between bread. I cannot say the combined flavors were an absolute success - the prosciutto clashed with the truffle - and yet, the result was fresh and spicy and tasty. More moisture would've been appreciated as well as something to tone down the super salty prosciutto; I mean, serving salty Vitner's potato chips is just overkill. I wonder how far over my daily sodium allowance I went...

Back or Forth? I will be going back.

Cipollina - Wicker Park - (773)227-6300 - 1543 N. Damen St, Chicago, IL 60622 - Public transportation: bus 72, 50 or the Damen stop of the Blue Line.

prosciutto - $7.25 (w/o tax)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Susie's Drive Thru

Is the customer service great? No. Is Susie's über clean? No. But is the food delicious? Yes.

Susie's Drive Thru has been around for over 35 years and luck has nothing to do with it. It's situated on a noisy stretch of Montrose Ave replete with burnt rubber and fuel smells and it ain't pretty by any means. Enter the cramped, outdated interior and you'll see only three small stools and extensive menus lacking descriptions. It's hard to tell if they even want you in there, but honestly, they're going to survive with or without your business.

A moody woman asked for my order and while I wasn't ready (there are so many options!), my eyes must've been on the garlic Italian sandwich, for that is exactly what I requested after a short stalling period. I immediately regretted my decision though, thinking that I was going to get something akin to an Italian sub. But then, I was asked if I wanted it dipped and I knew things were looking up. I said "yes ma'am" and waited. Meanwhile, at the ice cream station, another employee made my caramel milkshake, another item I ordered without enough thought. I mean, when there are 65 milkshakes with names like Bermuda Triangle, Oreo River, and Summer Blast, it's hard to make up your mind.

When my order was up, I walked outside to a cheap, wobbly table. I unwrapped my damp, steaming sandwich and was thrilled to see that it was just a garlicky version of an Italian beef.

The beef was tender, thinly sliced, buttery, moist, well seasoned, messy, and heavenly. The sandwich seemed so plain, but it was truly so flavorful. I knew after the first bite that I'd be returning, even if it meant I would have to endure rude service.

The super sweet caramel shake was satisfactory. It tasted like soft serve ice cream blended with a few caramel syrup squirts. The whipped cream on top added a good creaminess, but something in the milkshake equation left a funky aftertaste in my mouth which could only be killed by more milkshake. Twas a vicious cycle. I also would like the option of whipped cream; I don't think it should be mandatory.

Back or Forth? I will be going back. But, because Susie's food list goes on and on with supplemental flyers too, I'd like to have some kind of explanation of the items made available...

Susie's Drive Thru - Irving Park - (773)395-9434 - 4126 W. Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60641 - Public transportation: bus 78 or the Montrose/Irving Park stops of the Blue Line.

garlic Italian (beef) - $4.78 (w/o tax)
caramel milkshake - $3.67 (w/o tax)