Monthly Archives: September 2013

SOFI scores a 2.8

This is northern Italian cooking.   Some dishes were very good, and others were not so good.

To be fair, SOFI would have scored between a 3 and a 4 except that the Critic didn’t like his Cavatelli cacio e pepe. The search continues.  And, we found the service to be not pitched right.  We think our server was new in the profession, not particularly familiar with Italian cooking in general, and was, consequently, a little stiff and awkward.  This should improve.

We ordered: Cozze Livornese (mussels), Ruchetta baby Arugola, Cavatelli cacio e pepe, Coste brasate (braised short ribs), and grilled scallops on special.

Cuisine and style of dining: Northern Italian with a cozy/rustic ambiance.  The chairs are a little uncomfortable, though.

616 S. Dearborn, Chicago, IL

Visited on August 17, 2013.



One of our review rules is that each reviewer has 24 hours to decide on a rating, and it can’t be changed afterwards.  This is one restaurant that the Blogger desperately wants to downgrade but it’s too late.  And why?   You can just feel its embryonic franchise-iness.

This food is neither Italian nor Italian-American, but is in the style that has become very popular, which is gratefully anchored with wood-burning ovens. (See review of Tufano’s for real Italian-American food).  It might be called New Italian American cooking.  You’ll find the recent trends of cheese and salumi boards and small plates here.  And it certainly updates the typical pasta-pizza palate that we’re used to.  Surprises on the menu like ricotta and honey reminds one of Sicily and makes you realize that the best Italian food isn’t so much cooked as it is assembled.

We ordered:  Warm Tuscan Kale: the Blogger loves kale and this was no exception. Everyone else prefers it cold; Cacio e Pepe: it’s pasta, of some variety, pecorino, and pepper. The Critic is on a search for the best version of this dish. This isn’t it; Marscapone polenta and ragu of the day: the ragu was bolognese. ; pizza D.O.C. (denominazione de origine controllata is a guarantee that a product is produced in a certain region in Italy with certain methods.) This was a very, very good pizza with tomatoes, basil, and fresh mozzarella cooked in a wood-burning oven.

Cuisine and style of dining: Italian and cozy, rustic with lovely doors that open onto the street.

1359 W. Taylor St., Chicago, IL

Visited on August 4, 2013.


Okay. We’ve been here about a million times, including the previous generation. It’s a family business.  They know us.  They know our friends. They know what we order.  The food is good solid Italian-American food which is not the same as Italian.

We usually order: Tufano special salad which is head lettuce with a bunch of delicious stuff in it; the fried calamari; the mussels in red sauce as an appetizer and with linguini for the main course, the eggplant (one of the best in the city); shells and broccoli with olive oil and garlic; great vegetarian option; the cavatelli;  the raspberry tartufo; sometimes a nice meatball on the side. Great neighborhood atmosphere.  Great value.  It’s the real Italian-American deal. Cash only.

Cuisine and style of dining: Italian-American and just what you’d expect.

1073 W Vernon Park Place, Chicago, IL

Visited on too many times to count.

MOODY’S scored a 4.8

In the interest of full disclosure, Moody’s was new to two reviewers and a favorite of the other three.  The two heard from the three that the servers aren’t always as gracious as one would like, but, apparently, that’s part of the charm.  On the night we were there, our server was perfectly pleasant.

Go for the outside on a nice summer night. Order hamburgers and beer and onion rings.  The rating would be lower if it were winter and we had to sit inside where it’s cavernous and dark and one reviewer thought it smelled funny.  If you like good burgers, beer, onion rings, a nice outside space on the cheap, then you’ll like Moody’s.

We ordered: Burgers, Beer, Onion Rings, and a Diet Coke.

Cuisine and style of dining: American/pub food and picnic tables in the backyard.

5910 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL

Visited on July 20, 2013

AU CHEVAL scored a 4

Somehow we got the impression that our server didn’t like us and was dishing up a little attitude. Hard to believe because we’re a likable bunch. But that’s not the reason why we were really split about this place.  It doesn’t take reservations and we arrived early (5:30) because we’re a party of five and that can be tricky.  We were seated immediately but were crammed into a booth that was clearly meant for four.   (That made the evening a little uncomfortable.) The food was — on average — good, but the Money  felt  the value was a little skewed.   On the other hand, it has a nice atmosphere.  The bottom line is that we would return if we were looking for a fun bar with some interesting bar food.

We ordered: Bread & Butter Pickles; delicious. (We like pickles and pickled things.) Chili Con Carne with Corn Chips; fun and delicious and served with a bag of Fritos. (Kind of reminded us of the bolognese fries at THREE ACES); Burgers:  delicious and topped with an egg; Salmon (on special); well-prepared.; Mille Feuille; totally boring.

Cuisine and style of dining: American/bar food and cozy booths.

800 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL

Visited on July 13, 2013.

AVEC scored a 5.2

AVEC doesn’t take reservations so arrive early if you don’t want to wait.  Our party of five arrived at 5:30 on a Saturday night and were seated immediately.  Within minutes people were waiting. The room is sleek and modern, long and narrow with bench seating along one wall.  It’s a small plate kind of communal seating restaurant.

On the downside, we had extraordinary long waits between dishes which was partially attributed to our ordering patterns.  Still.  The kitchen did seem to be having a hard time keeping up.   We left three hours later at 8:30.  If it weren’t for this, AVEC would have scored higher.

We ordered:  “Deluxe” focaccia with taleggio cheese, ricotta, truffle oil, and fresh herbs: taleggio is a soft, mild but rich cheese and when ricotta is fresh all you need is it, a little honey and good bread. This was delicious and not heavy cheesy as you might think.  Truffle oil added complexity but wasn’t overpowering. Not sure why it’s called “deluxe.” Squid ink pasta alla chitarra with steamed mussels: the pasta was cooked perfectly as were the mussels which are very easy to overcook, just another 30 seconds and you’ve ruined them. If you’ve never had squid ink pasta, you should have it here; Wood-oven roasted pork shoulder: delicious in that hearty,  deep flavor kind of way; Chorizo stuffed medjool dates: versions of stuffed and wrapped dates are turning up on menus everywhere.  These were a stand-out; Seared shrimp with corona beans, radish top pesto, roasted radish and limoncello viniagrette: why throw out the radish tops when you can make a pesto out of them? Limoncello is a sweet, strong, lemony after dinner drink popular in southern Italy. Delicious; Nutter Butters: can’t go wrong; Affogato: not something that’s easy to ruin. Espresso over ice cream: bitter, sweet, hot, cold. Yum.

Cuisine and style of dining: Mediterranean, small and large plates, and semi-communal seating on spartan benches.

Visited on June 29, 2013.

615 West Randolph, Chicago, IL

BIG JONES scored a 5

Big Jones has the distinction of being our inaugural restaurant.  We agonized later whether we had improperly inflated the rating but decided, no.  It deserves every bit of its “5.”  Even though we agreed that the place lacked atmosphere, it was crazy spotless which always wins huge points with one reviewer who would like to be the person who ensures that every glass and utensil placed on every table in every restaurant is crud and smudge free.

Big Jones would have gotten a better rating if they had accommodated our request to sit outside.  They said they probably wouldn’t open the outside and our party of 5 was probably too large when we called for last minute seating.   The outside was open but don’t know about the size issue. The feeling was that they weren’t going to put themselves out.

We ordered: The Pickle Tasting: really good and more than just pickles. Farmhouse Chicken and Dumplings circa 1920:  Best-Dressed Guy loved it, but cautioned not to be put off by its grey color. Crawfish Etouffee a la Breaux Bridge, circa 1940: Early Guy wanted it to be spicier. Shrimp and Grits: the best the Cook has had. Bittersweet Chocolate pot de creme for dessert: loved by all

Cuisine and style of dining:  Southern and tables and chairs.

 5347 N. Clark, Chicago, IL

Visited on June 16, 2013.