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)