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Toque of Chicago
A Little Escape from the Real World

By Odyll Santos

It might not be easy to get away from the real world these days, what with post-Iraq war jitters and an uncertain economic recovery hovering over our heads. But there are places to escape and good food and drink to comfort your mind and soul and keep your palate entertained.

The Beef at Kinzie Chophouse
People in the meat business say steak is the preferred form of beef. Steak restaurants in the land of meat and potatoes believe steak is king. But somehow, steak lovers some of them big spenders from the Age of Stock Market Exuberance —aren't heading out to their favorite steakhouses often. How can a restaurant keep them coming back?

By adding more beef to the menu. Well-known River North steak specialist Kinzie Chophouse, operated by Frasca Hospitality Group, added a new steak to its menu earlier this year. It's the ““Kinzie Cut," which rivals the choicest steak in taste and tenderness, but costs less than those expensive cuts.

The Kinzie Cut, from corn-fed Midwestern cattle, is a “flat iron steak. It's a unique cut that comes from the shoulder blade of the cow, a part usually used for pot roasts and stews. At a half-inch thick, about 12 inches long and weighing in at 16 ounces, the Kinzie Cut is a huge portion. With its marbled meat and robust flavor, it's a desirable option on a menu that features luxurious entrees like Prime Rib, New York Strip and the Porterhouse along with non-steak choices like Dijon and herb-crusted lamb chops, jalapeno barbecued pork tenderloin and sesame-crusted Ahi tuna. Beautifully grilled and served with potatoes, carrots and yellow squash, it has an intense beef flavor that goes well with the recommended glass of cabernet sauvignon from the restaurant's award-winning wine list.

The Kinzie Cut alone makes for a sizable dinner, but a customary approach to the evening feast may begin with a salad like one made with baby greens topped with chicken, candied walnuts, green apples, blue cheese and an apple vinaigrette. Then move on to the Kinzie Cut. But try to save room for desserts like the classic crème brulee, homey Dutch apple pie and the popular chocolate terrine, which combines layers of chocolate chiffon, chocolate mousse and chocolate ganache, served with a raspberry sauce. It makes for a decadent close to dinner.

Kinzie Chophouse

400 N. Wells St.,


Doing the Mambo
In the frigid Chicago winter or the heat of summer, dining and drinking to a Latin beat usually evokes a sultry “Oooooh." Whether you can dance the mambo or not, visit the Mambo Grill in River North. The Pan-Latin restaurant, another one operated by Frasca, offers a taste of Latin America, from Brazilian seafood stews and Argentine steak dishes to Caribbean and Mexican specialties. Its beverage menu, with classics like margaritas and mojitos, is even more exciting. Mambo Grill boasts of the largest rum and tequila selection in the country.

Guests can order flights of tequila and mescal, a way to savor the unique flavors of these spirits, both made from the agave plant. Flights come in two ounce shots of tequila blanco, reposado or anejo. Blancos, light-colored, un-aged tequilas held for less than two months before bottling, offer crisp, young flavors. Reposados, rested for two months to a year in oak barrels, have a robust, slightly woody finish. Anejos, amber-colored, full-bodied tequilas aged in small, white oak barrels for one to six years, offer a smooth, long finish.

Mescals can be made all over Mexico, but those at Mambo Grill come from the state of Oaxaca and are very limited in production. A flight of mescals may feature Chichicapa, San Luis del Rio, Tobala and Crema from the producer Del Maguey.

Rums by the flight also are available, with many bottles from Barbados, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and selections like Diplomatico Rum from Venezuela, Zaya from Guatemala, Ron Coba 12-year-old from Mexico, Flor de Cana from Nicaragua, and Pyrat Rum Cask, 23 years old, from St. Maarten.

So have your flight and dinner, too. Graze through a collection of inventive appetizers, ensaladas, and ““platos." Friends can share mariquitas, crispy plaintain chips with a pineapple mango salsa and a black bean sauce. A nicely seasoned guacamole comes with blue corn chips and salsa de arbol. Try Dominican bombas de camarones, fried potato croquettes stuffed with shrimp, chipotle peppers and cilantro, served with a pineapple mango salsa. Sample some vegetarian empanadas, little turnovers stuffed with roasted corn, mushrooms, onions, cheese and cilantro, served with jalapeno tomato salsa and guacamole. For a bit of heft, order the tequila-marinated skirt steak, charcoal grilled and served with skinny malanga and potato fries.

Oooooh, indeed!

Mambo Grill

412 N. Clark Street,


A place to hang out
In the posh Gold Coast area, wine, food and the good life naturally command attention. That"s not to say beer wouldn't appeal to Gold Coast residents or visitors. They're likely to head to Jake Melnick's Corner Tap, an unabashedly casual alternative to the Magnificent Mile's luxury restaurants. The pub, operated by Levy Restaurants, celebrated its first birthday this past August with a giant beer mug birthday cake, live music and a variety of entertainers and attractions over four lively nights.

Jake's has been a friendly neighborhood hang-out for a year, and it has been a popular spot. In the cold nights of winter, its tables are packed with patrons, and in the summer, guests spill out to a sidewalk seating area.

Jake's has had some rather interesting events in the past, a memorable one being a beer tasting dinner several months back. It featured dishes made by Jake's Chef Matt Bishop and beers from Two Brothers Brewing Company of Warrenville, Ill., the state's oldest and only fully functioning microbrewery since 1996. Operated by brothers Jim and Jason Ebel, it specializes in rare and seldom brewed beer styles.

It's a bid to urge beer lovers to set aside the familiar Miller and Bud and explore something more. The deep amber-colored, easy-drinking Domaine DuPage French Country Ale, is a getting-to-know-you type of beer whose cider-like flavor goes well with bratwurst poached in butter and beer. Prairie Path Golden Ale, a thin, clear, golden straw colored beer, has a light bitter taste with a hint of hops spiciness, which complements the dinner's white cheddar soup. The reddish brown, complexly flavored Brown Fox Session Ale has tastes of citrus, hints of black licorice and a certain sweetness that makes it a match for roasted pork tenderloin stuffed with roasted peppers and mushrooms, served with mustard sauce. The night's clincher: beer with chocolate. Dessert is a killer chocolate ganache tarte with a glass of deep brown-colored Northwind Imperial Stout, a beer that aspires to match Ireland's famous full-bodied Guinness.

Jake Melnick's Corner Tap

41 E. Superior St.,




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