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No NYE Plans? It’s not too late…

Posted on December 28th, 2010 by

Friday night is New Year’s Eve. On the brink of 2011, you have some big decisions to make. Will you stay in your PJs and play Wii all night long? Perhaps a low-key affair with friends? If you are the type to venture out, here are two ideas for great places to ring in the new year.

NoMI at the Park Hyatt gives you two choices (and price points). This lovely space is filled with art and design, sure to impart a sense of elegance for your special evening. For $150 each, you can have an indulgent and decadent 5-course menu from Chef Ryan LaRoche along with treats from renowned Pastry Chef Frederic Moreau. If you want to bump up your evening a bit, grab some friends and reserve a spot at Elevate on the Eve. For $395 each, (parties of 4-6 only), you’ll have an 8-course tasting menu including fresh truffles and phenomenal wine pairings. With a magical view of Michigan Avenue and Historic Water Tower Square, this has all the makings of a wonderfully memorable occasion.

For an entirely different experience, check out the celebration over at Carnivale. This nuevo latino eatery has it all. Get your dancing on with a live DJ, stilt walkers, and samba pros. At midnight, there will be a champagne toast and a balloon drop. It couldn’t be more different from NoMI, but there’s something for everyone out there!

Regardless of your plans, all of us here at Concierge Preferred wish you a safe and happy holiday weekend. In the mean time… Party On!!!!

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Thanksgiving Out

Posted on November 23rd, 2010 by

Personally, the smell of a turkey roasting is the one and only signifier that the holidays have arrived. I love planning the menu, prepping the food, and slaving until everything is just right. But let’s face it, it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. There’s no need to think that you can’t have Thanksgiving if you don’t cook it yourself. Why not spend the evening out on the town? This week we focus on some great picks for Thanksgiving Out.

Elate
This little gem is tucked away in the Hotel Felix in River North, and I would trust that chef with any holiday. For $55, adults enjoy a multi-course meal of your favorite traditional foods. Best of all, the desert is a Pumpkin pot de creme. If it is anywhere near as good as his peanut butter version from last summer, you are in for a treat.

Big Jones
This southern restaurant won’t skip on the delicious fat that adds so much flavor to the meal. If you are on the north side, this Andersonville favorite is a great option. For only $46, you’ll enjoy a great four-course meal.

The Chicago Diner
Though they are fully reserved, carry-out would be a great option here. This entirely meat-free restaurant is offering their 28th annual Vegan Thanksgiving meal. It isn’t my style, but there is no reason why food restrictions need to keep you from enjoying the holiday!

I hope that whatever your Thanksgiving is this year, it is a happy one. May your souls and tummies be filled with joy!

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Seven on State

Posted on October 18th, 2010 by

Believe it or not, holiday shopping is just around the corner. Soon, we’ll be hearing winter tunes, sipping gingerbread lattes, and watching the yule log on TV. The good news is that if you are shopping downtown, there are some amazing eats to distract you from the piles of receipts you will amass.

Tucked away on the seventh floor of Macy’s State Street is Seven On State, the best of all possible food courts. Here you can sit at real tables, in real chairs, and eat fantastic food. They have servers come around to refill water and soft drinks, and the chow is not your average food court fare.

The most popular stop at Seven on State (and possibly my favorite) is Frontera Fresco, brought to you by Chicago’s beloved Rick Bayless. This king of mexican fare delivers fresh tacos, quesadillas and more. The food isn’t greasy and is absolutely packed with flavor. The chips and guacamole make a great side.

Next door is Marc Burger, from Marcus Samuelson. You can’t go wrong with his great meals, but if you want something a little different, try the chicken sandwich with avocado mayonnaise. Yum!

Not to be outdone, Takashi’s noodles is the presence of Takashi Yagihashi. His ramens are sure to be the perfect warmer as the cold weather starts to set in.

Also on the floor are sandwich and salad stations. They may not have flashy TV chefs behind them, but they still deliver great food, and the lines are often much easier to manage!

All in all, you can’t go wrong at Seven on State. Make sure to stop in next time you are shopping, but be aware that they are only open for lunch.

Seven on State is located on the seventh floor of Macy’s – 111 N. State Street.

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September 1: So many jazz clubs, so little time

Posted on September 1st, 2010 by

The Chicago Jazz Festival gets underway Thursday afternoon and sails into full swing Friday. But the festival expands into a five-day event if you count the annual Jazz Club Tour. And you should: for $30, participants get unlimited transportation to more than a dozen Chicago nightspots, which waive the cover charge for you to check out the venues and the jazz artists playing that night.

Organized by the Jazz Institute of Chicago more than twidth=wo decades ago, the Jazz Club Tour extends from 6 p.m. till midnight Wednesday, September 1, and from the Green Mill (4800 north) to Red Pepper’s Masquerade Lounge (a blues-and-comedy club at 8700 south). Patrons purchase an identifying Club Tour button at any of the clubs, which gets you into the clubs and onto the four bus routes run by Chicago Trolley Co. And the bus rides themselves provide enough camaraderie to almost justify the evening on their own.

Among the artists playing tonight are gypsy jazzers Alfonso Ponticelli and Swing Gitan (at the Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway); quartets led by trombonist Russ Phillips and saxist Scott Burns (Andy’s, 11 E. Hubbard); saxman Eric Schneider with pianist Willie Pickens’s trio (Jazz Showcase,  806 S. Plymouth Ct.); on-the-edge bands led by saxist Edwin Daugherty and trumpeter Corey Wilkes (Velvet Lounge, 67 E. Cermak); and the post-fusion groups Prosaic and Crawl (at Reggie’s Music Joint, 2109 S. State).

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32nd Chicago Jazz Festival: music on the lakeshore, fans on Cloud 9

Posted on August 31st, 2010 by

The longest-running admission-free jazz festival in the country, the Chicago Jazz Festival launches its 32nd edition on the lakefront width=this week. It features the mix of local stars and national names – including vocalists Kurt Elling and Rene Marie, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, smooth-jazz hero Nick Colionne, pianists Ramsey Lewis and Brad Mehldau, saxophonist Henry Threadgill, and flutist-composer Nicole Mitchell (this year’s artist-in-residence) – that has made the event an adventurous jewel in the city’s culture crown.

This year’s festival gets underway Thursday at noon with afternoon programming at the city’s gleaming Pritzker Pavilion, followed by Friday’s split-venue schedule: six afternoon sets at the Chicago Cultural Center (Randolph and Michigan), followed by a full slate at Pritzker that evening.  There’s even jazz that’s technically not part of the festival, when the piano icon Ahmad Jamal – who came to prominence in Chicago in the late 1950s – performs with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra on Thursday evening at Pritzker.  (The Jamal concert is presented through the Made In Chicago series at Millennium Park.)

On Saturday, the Jazz Festival returns to its traditional stomping grounds in Grant Park, with four stages, a midway filled with diversions and comestibles, and an art show leading from Jackson Blvd. to Buckingham Fountain. This year marks the return of the “Young Lions” stage, dedicated to high-school and college bands, and the debut of a new “smooth-jazz” stage.  It all adds up to 18 different performances Saturday and again Sunday, warmed by typically gorgeous late-summer weather (that’s the forecast), and splayed against unbeatable backdrops – the lake by day, the skyline by night. You’d be hard-pressed to think of a better way to mark the unofficial beginning of autumn (Labor Day weekend).

The Chicago Jazz Festival, presented by the Mayor’s Office of Special Events and programmed in its entirety by the Jazz Institute of Chicago, takes place September 2-5, from noon till 9:30 each day, at numerous locations.  All programs are free of charge.  The complete schedule can be accessed here.

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Old Town Delight

Posted on August 30th, 2010 by

I’m still new in town, and though I’ve been exploring the city all year, I am constantly finding myself discovering new neighborhoods. Each nook and cranny in this city has something to offer, and my newest discovery is Old Town. I recognize that by definition, Old Town isn’t new, but hey, it is to me.

For my evening out, my friends and I selected Old Town Social, a great bar/restaurant that is full of surprises. From the street it doesn’t look like too much, but when you enter, you realize how enormous the space is. The handsome furniture and unique eating areas make it comfortable and interesting. I was ushered to my table in a front lounge area. Surrounding us were beautiful chairs sitting in front of a fireplace, beautiful antique cabinetry, and other tables far enough away that we could easily have a conversation. After ordering some drinks and appetizers, we dug into the menu. Traditional bar food with a twist is my best description. The spicy duck wings needed little coaxing to fall off the bone. The chopped salad was fresh and crunch. The duck-fat potato chips were light and crunchy. The brisket sandwich (with onion rings embedded within) was to die for, but the big trump of the night was a fresh tagliatelle. Who knew bars made fresh pasta?

It is also crucial to point out that with the exception of the pasta special, all of the above dishes were under $10. Pretty impressive given the quality of the ingredients.

Pair these delightful bites with amazing drinks, and you can see how I was won over. The sweet tea lemonade (while it is girlishly pink) made my evening. Their beer and wine list is also extensive, so there really is something for everyone.

As we left our lovely dining nook, my friends and I were absolutely amazed at the transformation of the main space of the restaurant. What was relatively quiet when we walked in for dinner was now a hip, happening bar. Jam packed wall-to-wall with well-dressed ladies and gents, it caught us completely off guard. While the crowd wasn’t really my favorite scene (personal preference only!), we were absolutely undisturbed, and really unaware of this noise while eating. Kudos to Old Town Social for breaking up their great space so well so that a perfect evening can truly be had by all.

Old Town Social is located at 455 W. North Avenue at the corner of Cleveland. Nearest el is the Sedgwick stop on the brown line.

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Pepsi Tall Ships Ahoy!

Posted on August 26th, 2010 by

More than twenty majestic and historic tall ships from around the world were showcased at Navy Pier with the kick-off Parade of Sail on Lake Michigan, held at 4 p.m with an official opening ceremony at 5 p.m. The ships billowing sails form the pageantry like none other. A select few Chicagoan’s even had the chance to sail on a tall ship DURING the Parade of  for a breathtaking view of the ships as they sailed past Navy Pier. Find out more information here.

The Pepsi® Tall Ships Chicago 2010 will continue from August 25 — 29. Ships will be docked in three Festival locations at Navy Per: Nautical Mile (North Dock), Canada Cove (NW Wall at the front of the Pier) and America Alley (SW Wall at the front of the Pier). In addition to the ships themselves, the Tall Ships festival will also offers fun activities for kids in addition to international entertainment at three stages.  Nightly fireworks will add to the excitement, as well.

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Last weekend for those (Summer)Dancing Shoes

Posted on August 26th, 2010 by

The 14th annual Chicago SummerDance series sails into its final weekend for 2010 with a typical slate of terpsichorean variety, width=featuring music and instruction that spans the new world – from the tango of Argentina to traditional Caribbean salsa to some good old-fashioned American pop music of two generations.

SummerDance, run by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, each year offers an extraordinary schedule of dance parties — four times each week, a total of more than 40 programs.  Every program comprises a one-hour group lesson (conducted by dance professionals) and then two hours of live music allowing participants to put those lessons into effect.  It all takes place outdoors, on a mammoth 4600 square-foot dance floor constructed of recycled materials, at the Spirit of Music Garden in Grant Park (601 S. Michigan Ave. at Harrison).  And all events are free.

The festival’s final week begins the way it started, with tango: lessons taught by the American Tango Institute followed by the Argentina Tango On Stage Ensemble, playing music of tango’s “golden age.”  Friday The Ragtops offer an evening of 50s and 60s oldies.  Friday, it’s traditional salsa courtesy of Nabori, following salsa and merengue lessons from May I Have This Dance;  Sunday afternoon closes the summer in high style with lessons in jitterbug and East Coast Swing conducted by the Fred Astaire Dance Studio, with music from the Sam Burckhardt Nonet (as good for pure listening as they are for dancing).

Sure, you can dance all year long.  But this week is the last time you can do it under the stars.

Thursday through Saturday, the lessons start at 6, and the band takes over from 7:30-9:30.  Sunday afternoon, lessons start at 4, with the music for dancing from 5 till 7.

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Good Southern Cookin’

Posted on August 15th, 2010 by

A quiet romantic spot it is not, but The Southern is a hip new restaurant in Wicker Park. They have an enormous patio and a fun bar, backed up by some great beverages for your imbibing pleasure.

Their host of delicious southern drinks include a mint julep, a presbyterian, a southern belle, and my favorite, the stormy monday. It is a perfect mixture of black rum, ginger beer (not ale!) and lime. It goes down pretty easy on a muggy summer night. If you’re in a party mood, they have punchbowls for $56 which serve up 10-15 drinks.

The food at The Southern is nothing to ignore. Sadly, I was not able to try their fried chicken dinner (serves 6-10 and must be called in 48 hours ahead). Their fried chicken sandwich was my only option, and the crunch was spectacular. The sandwich is drenched in gravy, and the vinegary collared greens gave it some real tang.

The two highlights of the menu, though, are the johnny cakes and the piggly wiggly. Both are fun to say, and deliver a serious taste punch. The johnny cakes are made of delicate cornmeal, but don’t crumble or crack. You fill them with chow chow (pickled cabbage relish) and a wildly smokey pork to create a little sandwich. The piggly wiggly is a tremendous, bone-in pork chop in an apricot sauce garnished with peaches, fennel, and a wheatberry salad. Textures were great, and the flavors were wonderfully balanced.

So if you’re into the Wicker Park scene, you simply must check this place out. It was packed when I was there, but everyone was having a great time. If you get the chicken dinner, tell me how it is!

The Southern is located at 1840 W. North Avenue in Wicker Park. Street park is avaialble, and it is in close walking distance to the Damen stop on the Blue Line.

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Goat-y Goodness

Posted on August 3rd, 2010 by

I had the distinct pleasure last week of dining at one of the city’s newest hotspots, Girl and the Goat, run by Top Chef winner and hometown hero Stephanie Izard. There’s a reason why these tables are hard to get, and there’s a reason why Stephanie won Top Chef. The food was absolutely stellar, and this eatery promises to become a serious stronghold in Chicago dining.

I was immediately surprised by the sheer size of the space; the dining room was expansive, but tables are still heavily in demand. Servers throughout the restaurant were pleasantly casual and friendly, but quite informed about some of the more, shall we say, unusual dishes on the menu.

First off, Girl and the Goat is a small plates restaurant. They suggest getting 2-3 plates per person, and the plates range in price from $7 – $17. Portions are reasonable, but this estimate is pretty spot on. At my table, we started with a recommended appetizer—a smokey whipped fat back, served like butter with fresh mini-biscuits and carmelized onions. As promised, these tiny sandwiches tasted almost exactly like bacon cheeseburgers, but more delicate.

Other highlights of the evening included the surprising kohlrabi salad, mixing this crunchy green with blueberries, almonds, and olives. The grilled baby octopus is not to be missed, but the star of the show was the grilled lamb ribs served with grilled avocados. The tender meat was perfectly seasoned, and the small portions were just enough to satisfy without going overboard. Sadly, we didn’t have room to try the crispy pig face, but hopefully it will still be on the menu when I return.

Lest you think desserts would be forgotten in this constantly varying menu of delicacies, you simply must save room for the fudgesicle. In the bottom of the bowl is a cold, rich fudge topped with a thin olive oil wafer that brings some well-placed salt to the table. On top, a mini scoop of ice cream, and at tableside, servers pour a warm stout sauce over the entire bowl. The combination of flavors was extraordinary, and there was not a drop left.

In conclusion, run, don’t walk, to Girl and the Goat. You can try showing up and waiting, but if you can get a reservation, it is strongly advised. Oh… and bring as many friends as you can muster. The more people at the table, the more dishes you can try!

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