New Finds and Old Favorites in Chicago

I try to make it in to Chicago as often as possible, but no matter how often I do go there I always seem to find new things. In this case, it wasn’t only the restaurants that were new to me. I was meeting with my publisher, Dale Winespeare, at Cocktails and Joints for the first time.

We checked into our rooms at The James Chicago, a hotel I always loved for its modern comfort. This time they gave me a two bedroom suite, which I settled quickly in before meeting Dale to go to Tavernita, a new restaurant with an exciting new cocktail program.

Tavernita doesn’t just make unusual cocktails for individual customers, they make cocktails for kegs. They also make their own sangrias and sodas, and serve wine on tap. We were lucky enough to get to try a little bit of everything and I was quite impressed.

I liked the Booty Collins, consisting of green tea-infused Absolut Vodka, passion fruit, lemon and cayenne. I also loved the nutty flavor of the Comandante Big Nose with hibiscus-infused Cruzan Rum, macadamia liqueur, falernum, lime and nutmeg.  The Jay & Tay is gin and tonic, in this case Plymouth Gin blended perfectly with a homemade tonic – that contains agave syrup and allspice.

I preferred the Red Sangria (which has some Hennessy Cognac in it) to the white. As for the sodas, the Ginger Chile Ale is a must try, made with fresh ginger, guindilla orange and blossom honey.

We tried a sampling of food, including the Croquettes, little sandwiches filled with ham and cheese, and Greg’s Meatballs, which are made from beef and pork and have a hazelnut romesco sauce which is quite spicy. My favorite food item was the Grilled Queso, with aged cheddar, tomato marmalade and brioche toast. Dale enjoyed the snapper, with artichokes, basil and pine nuts.

We headed back to The James where I met with Jamie to learn more about some of the exciting programs the hotel has going.  She told me about the seasonal menu changes at David Burke’s Primehouse, as well as the Tails in the City program for pets, and the Paul Frank PJ program for kids.  There is also now something at The James I find particularly fascinating, the In-Room Cocktail Experience.

All of the rooms at the hotel now have supplies, including a glass with recipes, to make your own cocktails. For under $30 (not including the liquor), you can receive all the mixings and garnishes for some of your favorite drinks. You can even learn how to make them right with a private mixology lesson.

Dinner was at III Forks, restaurant in the new Lakeshore East neighborhood. This large, modern place was very busy (even during the week), and it’s no wonder with a huge wine list, interesting cocktails and a varied menu that is also filled with great steak options. They also have a rooftop where you can get drinks and snacks, with a breathtaking view of the Chicago Skyline.

Dale started with an amazing crab cake and continued with the Chicken Fried Steak, a dish that he couldn’t possible finish. I had the onion soup and Tenderloin Tips, which were definitely tender and flavorful. We shared some sides, the best of which was the Sweet Potato Hash (I took the leftovers and couldn’t wait to have them the next day) and Six Cheese Potatoes.

It was tough to even think about dessert, but we were glad we sampled the cheesecake and pecan cake before heading back to The James for the night.

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