Duck Over to Chicago’s Duck Duck Goat

The Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) were my favorite!

The Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) were my favorite!

My anticipation was high to try Stephanie Izard’s new restaurant, Duck Duck Goat (857 West Fulton Market). Like in Duck Duck Goose as a kid, I have been waiting patiently but eagerly to get a knock on the head for my turn. Thankfully, no sprinting was involved, but I did have to book a reservation a couple weeks in advance for Tuesday at 10pm.

The interior is fun and trendy with Chinese-inspired decorations, but we focused most of our attention on the menu. One strange quirk is that the house specials — highlighted in red text — are different on each menu. I don’t know if they’re testing ordering habits or if it’s a typo, but it’s quite confusing!

The highlight of our “reasonably authentic Chinese food” was the Xiao Long Bao, or soup dumplings. They came with pork and crab, and they were delicious.

Ham Sui Gok (rice dumplings with goat)

Ham Sui Gok (rice dumplings with goat)

Another favorite was the Ham Sui Gok or rice dumplings with goat. (When you visit Duck Duck Goat, you have to try something with goat, right?) I’ve never had anything quite like this – the crust was soft but just a little crispy.
Octopus, Cucumber and Peanut Salad

Octopus, Cucumber and Peanut Salad

The Octopus, Cucumber and Peanut Salad was a refreshing break from the heavier foods with a light sauce.
Cheong Fun XO

Cheong Fun XO

The sausage and rice noodle rolls in the Cheong Fun XO dish were worth the price of admission. They may be the best noodles in Chicago, combined with grilled cuttlefish, shrimp and XO broth.
Chongqing Chicken

Chongqing Chicken

The only dish I didn’t like was the Chongqing Chicken. It’s a Sichuan-style chicken with chilis, and it’s typically quite spicy. The dish lived up to the spicy, but the other seasonings were too strong to enjoy the heat.

The service was average. We asked our server for recommendations, and she shrugged and said it’s really our personal taste. She almost forgot to ask for our drink order, and let us order too many dishes for just the two of us.

The food was quite good, but it failed to live up to my (perhaps too high) expectations of Izard. As a former Top Chef winner, she’s one of the hottest chefs in Chicago, and she opened Girl & the Goat in 2010 and Little Goat in 2012.
  • Restaurant: Duck Duck Goat
  • Address: 857 West Fulton Market
  • Price: About $40/person (served family style, so everything is shared)
  • Favorite Dishes: 1) Xiao Long Bao, 2) Cheong Fun XO, 3) Octopus, Cucumber and Peanut Salad and 4) Ham Sui Gok
  • Rating (Fun Scale): 4 out of 5 stars

Best Korean Food in Chicago

Seoul South Korea

I visited Seoul, South Korea, last year and I’ve been craving Korean food ever since. The perfectly seasoned meats cooked right in front of you, the bulgogi, the kimchi, the bibimbap… I can’t get enough!

Luckily, Korean fusion is on trend in Chicago with bopngrill, bellyQ and Parachute. But sometimes a gal just wants to scrap the fusion for the real deal. My favorite thing to order at traditional Korean restaurants is beef bulgogi and a seafood pancake. If you’ve never had Korean food before, they typically bring the raw meat to your table, and either the server or you cook it, while you enjoy lots (and lots!) of side dishes. The sides come in little bowls and are filled with pickled vegetables, tofu and other unknown delights.

My list of Korean restaurants to try is a mile long, but these are my favorites in Chicago so far:

Da Rae Jung (5220 N Lincoln Ave)

Beef Bulgogi at Da Rae Jung

Beef Bulgogi at Da Rae Jung

Many of the traditional Korean restaurants in Chicago are located in strip malls, and so is the case for Da Rae Jung. The interior is quite small with only a few tables. Their beef was tender and flavorful, and the meat cooker had a ring around it for water so we had a nice soup with our rice. We only ordered one meat and got 8 side dishes. The seafood pancake was fresh and soft, not crispy like I prefer. The waitress didn’t speak much English, but helped show us how to cook and eat the food.

Gogi (6240 N California Ave)

Beef Bulgogi at Gogi

Beef Bulgogi at Gogi

At Gogi we ordered two meats, a seafood pancake and got 12 side dishes. One thing to note here: You have to order two meats for them to cook it in front of you, so bring a big appetite (and a couple friends!). Gogi wins on tender meat and good sides. But it’s a tie on the pancake – Gogi’s is crispy, but Da Rae Jung’s had more pieces of seafood. Gogi’s seafood pancake was also spicy with jalapeno. It’s a bigger restaurant and a little fancier, but less of a mom and pop. They also have a service button, just like we saw in South Korea!

San Soo Gab San (5247 N Western Ave)

Seafood pancake at San Soo Gab San

Seafood pancake at San Soo Gab San

You know it’s going to be a good meal when they run out of table space! So far, San Soo Gab San is my favorite Korean restaurant in Chicago. The beef bulgogi is delicious, and the seafood pancake is crispy and has lots of seafood. They also win for side dishes: 17 different sides!

So many side dishes at San Soo Gab San!

So many side dishes at San Soo Gab San!

The only issue I had at San Soo Gab San was almost creating a “scene” and offending my servers: I accidentally started to walk across the raised seating area with my shoes on, which I learned (by all the yelling) is a big no-no. It’s an interesting seating area in the restaurant, where you don’t sit on chairs. It almost looks like people are sitting on the floor, but it’s actually built-in chairs. It’s the mullet of tables: business up top, party underneath. Anyhow, lesson learned!

Any other Korean restaurants I need to try? I’m making a list, and eating it twice!

Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry

Robot Revolution at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry

Robot Revolution at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry

My dad is an engineer, so my brother and I joke that we’re each 50% nerd. (Love you, Dad!) Maybe it’s genetic that I enjoy visiting museums, especially ones like Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

I always skip the regular exhibits, which are a bit dull unless you like old train sets and farm equipment. I recommend heading straight to what’s new. In the past, I’ve enjoyed their exhibits on Dr. Suess and Walt Disney, which combined childhood whimsy with revealing stories about the person behind the magic.

(Fun fact: Did you know that Theodor Geisel pronounced his pen name, Dr. Suess, as though it rhymed with voice? “Soice” or “Zoice.” Isn’t that fun to say? 🙂

Their newest exhibit is Robot Revolution, which is perfect for this engineer’s daughter. When you enter the exhibit, it feels like a robot playground. I played my way through the room, from the eye-tracking robot to the blackjack dealing robot. Here were my favorites:

Museum of Science and Industry Robot EMYS Happy

An EMotive headY System (EMYS) robot display a happy emotion

The EMotive headY System (EMYS) robot displays human emotions by moving three disks and his eyeballs. The EMYS robot can express six emotions: Happy, Afraid, Disgusted, Angry, Sad and Surprised. (His eyeballs pop out for Surprised!) The emotions are simplified but still convey the meaning in a cute and non-threatening way. By expressing emotions, EMYS robots will better be able to integrate into our lives — like Rosie in the The Jetsons.

The PARO Therapeutic Robot looks like a baby seal

The PARO Therapeutic Robot looks like a baby seal

I also liked the PARO robotic seal, designed to comfort sick or aging people by responding when someone holds or pets it. It can distinguish individual voices and learns how to respond based on individual’s reactions. This type of robot also makes an appearance in episode 8 of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, titled “Old People.”

Robots aren't just for factories. They could be for blackjack tables too!

Robots aren’t just for factories. They could be for blackjack tables too!

The Robot Revolution is not included in the general admission ticket, so you have to pay $11 extra and have an assigned entry time. The downside is you have to wait a few minutes in the regular exhibit area. But the upside is that the robot space isn’t too crowded, so you can interact with each robot.

  • Place: Museum of Science and Industry
  • Address: 5700 S. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago IL 60637
  • Price: $29 ($18 for basic museum entry + $11 for Robot Revolution)
  • Favorite Part: Robot Revolution, on display through Jan. 3, 2016
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 for special exhibits (2 out of 5 for basic museum entry)

You really really really wanna try EL Ideas

Chef Phillip Foss of EL Ideas, making ice cream

Chef Phillip Foss of EL Ideas, making ice cream

Our dinner started with bandana-wearing Chef Phillip Foss interrupting the song “Wannabe” to introduce himself and EL Ideas. Clearly, this Chicago restaurant was different. So in the spirit of our delicious and entertaining experience, here is my review:

Ode to EL Ideas… and the Spice Girls

Yo, I’ll tell you where to eat, where you really need to eat,
So tell me where to eat, where I really need to eat.

If you want pretentious, forget this post.
If you want delightful, better make it Chef Foss.
Now don’t go wasting your precious dough,
Get your act together, and you’ll have fun, just go.

If you wanna see chefs cooking, you gotta go with your friends.
A dozen courses last forever, they never end.
If you wanna eat grilled cheese and soup bites, give EL a whirl.
French fries with ice cream are inspired by his girl.

So here’s the story from A to Z:
You wanna try EL Ideas? You gotta listen carefully.
It starts with a dish you must lick (try not to get it on your face).
And OMG it’s BYOB.
Walk around in the kitchen and take pictures for free.
And as for dessert? Ha, you’ll see.
Damn my stomach’s full, but I’d eat it all again.
Damn my stomach’s full, but I’d eat it all again.

If you wanna try EL Ideas, you gotta, you gotta, you gotta, you gotta,
You gotta eat, eat, eat, eat!

Be prepared to lick your first dish of Roe!

Be prepared to lick your first dish of Roe!

In all seriousness, EL Ideas was one of my favorite restaurant experiences in Chicago. Chef Phillip Foss is able to integrate everything from foie gras to m&m’s, from King Salmon to tomato soup in his menu. Most Michelin starred restaurants are formal and fancy, but EL Ideas offers the same quality of food without the dress code. It feels more like a dinner party, since everyone gets the same course at the same time.

  • Restaurant: EL Ideas
  • Address: 2419 W. 14th Street, Chicago, IL, 60608 (Even though it’s named EL Ideas, don’t take the El. It’s pretty far off the beaten path, so I’d recommend Uber.)
  • Price: $155/person + tax and service charge
  • Favorite Dishes: 1) French fries & ice cream with potato, leek and vanilla. 2) King Salmon with eggplant, sesame and nasturtium. 3) Foie gras with huckleberry, granola and yogurt.
  • Rating (Fancy Scale): 5 out of 5 stars

One-Mile Walking Tour of Outdoor Chicago Art

The Chicago Picasso

The Chicago Picasso

Chicago is famous for art, thanks to the Art Institute of Chicago. But you don’t need to pay an entrance fee — or even go indoors — to see impressive art. Here are five of my favorite pieces of outdoor Chicago art and sculptures, all along a one-mile walk to the Art Institute of Chicago.

Monument with Standing Beast

Monument with Standing Beast

1) Monument with Standing Beast (100 W. Randolph St.): Some say this sculpture by Jean Dubuffet looks like Snoopy in a blender. It’s supposed to incorporate a standing animal, a tree, a portal, an architectural form and a bowling pin. Just kidding about the bowling pin… but that’s the only thing I’ve found so far!

The Chicago Picasso

The Chicago Picasso

2) The Chicago Picasso (Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington St.): Dedicated almost 50 years ago, this is my favorite sculpture in Chicago. Picasso never talked about his inspiration for this piece, so we are left guessing. Is it a woman? A bird with wings? If you look carefully, you can even see the silhouette of a nose, lips and chin (on the left in the photo above).

Miro's Chicago

Miro’s Chicago

3) Miro’s Chicago (69 W. Washington St.): Directly across the street from the Picasso, wedged in between a government building and a church, is Joan Miro’s sculpture. With its arms raised skyward, the artwork feels mystical, especially because the secret space is quiet amid the bustling city.

"The Four Seasons"

“The Four Seasons”

4) “The Four Seasons” (10 S. Dearborn St.): I only recently discovered this gem by Marc Chagill, and I’m so glad I found it. The mural is on all sides of a rectangular box and has different scenes of people and birds, trees and buildings. If you look closely, you can see the artist’s name and 1972… even though the mural was dedicated in 1974.

Calder's Flamingo

Calder’s Flamingo

5) Calder’s Flamingo (50 W. Adams St.): With a pop of red, this sculpture definitely stands out in the gray cityscape. I like snapping pictures of this piece from different angles, because it feels like it’s constantly changing as you walk under, around and and up close.

Map it out:

chicago art map

Here is a map of my one-mile public art walk… from the James R. Thompson Center all the way to the Art Institute of Chicago.

Best Mexican Food in the West Loop

Cauliflower at Bar Takito

Cauliflower at Bar Takito

I tried Bar Takito for the first time last night, and it reminded me that we have some great — and not so great — Mexican food options in the West Loop.

First up, la comida deliciosa!

Bar Takito (201 N. Morgan St.): I love sharing small plates, and Bar Takito is perfect for that. My favorite dishes of the night were the ceviche and the cauliflower with peppers, arugula and olives.

Mas (800 W. Washington St.): Again, sharing plates is easy at Mas, and their taco combinations are fantastic. The doraditos de tinga was my favorite taco, but I’ve never been disappointed with my order.

Cemitas Puebla (817 W. Fulton Market): My favorite thing to order here is the chalupas. I also order the guacamole with chips, and I can never finish the whole thing.

Ceviche at Bar Takito

Ceviche at Bar Takito

Mexican restaurants to skip:

Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Food

Alaskan King Crab at Grace

Alaskan King Crab at Grace

There are only two Chicago restaurants with the impressive and enviable Michelin three stars: Alinea and Grace. I haven’t visited Alinea yet, but Grace is hands down my favorite fancy restaurant in Chicago.

Located at 652 W. Randolph St., Grace Restaurant is near all my favorite West Loop restaurants. The outside of the building is so inconspicuous that I walked past dozens of times before noticing the simple glass door engraved with “Grace.”

Food served on a log? Delicious.

Food served on a log? Delicious.

They offer two options for the nine-course tasting menu: Flora and Fauna. The menu has changed since I visited, but I tried the Fauna menu and loved these dishes:

  • Alaskan King Crab, kalamansi, cucumber, lemon mint: Not only is this visually impressive, the combination of flavors with the crab is to die for.
  • Sweatbreads, ten grains, caperberry, sage: This dish was so warm and comforting, I wanted to order a gallon to take home with me.
  • Miyazaki Beef, romaine, peanut, Vietnamese herbs: I loved the different textures in this dish, and the beef was so tender.

Willis vs. Hancock: Which skyscraper has better views?

View of the Chicago skyline (and Willis Tower) from John Hancock Center

View of the Chicago skyline (and Willis Tower) from John Hancock Center

Chicago has the best skyline in the US. (Yeah, I threw down the gauntlet, NYC.) To get the most sweeping views of the city, you need to go up high in the sky, and the two best places to do that are the Willis Tower and the John Hancock Center. But if you have one afternoon… which one is better?

Building Height

The Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower) is the tallest building in Chicago at 1,451-feet. To put that in perspective, my dad is 6’3″, so that’s 232 dads stacked on top of each other. The Hancock Center is only 1,127 feet tall or 180 dads.

When you visit the Willis Tower, you can head up to the 103rd floor, but the Hancock Center only allows the public on the 94th, 95th and 96th floors.

Winner: Willis Tower… by 52 dads and 7 floors

Cost of Admission

General admission to the Willis Tower Skydeck is $19.50, and the the Hancock Center 360 Chicago is $19. Both options involve lines and sharing the views with lots of tourists and families.

You’ll still have to wait in line for the Hancock Center’s 96th floor Signature Lounge, but once there, you can sit and enjoy the views with a delicious cocktail for $15. Or skip the line altogether and reserve a table for brunch at the Hancock Center’s 95th floor Signature Room. For $45, you have a buffet starter, entree and dessert table.

Winner: Hancock Center. On the rocks.

Sweeping (and Somewhat Terrifying) Views

Let’s be honest, both buildings have beautiful, sweeping views of the Chicago skyline in every direction. The Hancock 360 Chicago also has a new TILT experience for those who want to pretend they’re slowly falling forward.

The Willis Tower has the Skydeck, where you can stand on a glass box over the city. I stood on the glass box for… um, 3 seconds until I had quite enough, thank you. Who can forget last year’s nightmare-come-true when tourists thought the glass was cracking beneath their feet? (Thankfully, it was just the protective coating and they were never in danger.)

Winner: Hancock Center

Bottom line: Skip the screaming kids at the Willis Tower, and head directly to the Hancock Center for drinks and time to enjoy the beautiful Chicago views.

Parachute, Chicago’s hottest new restaurant

Pork Belly and Mung Bean Pancake

Pork Belly and Mung Bean Pancake

It’s been getting rave reviews, so it’s not much of a leap of faith to try the new Korean fusion restaurant: Parachute. The tricky part is getting the reservation.

My boyfriend booked for us two months in advance. We wanted to go on a Tuesday night, and the earliest they had available was 8:30pm. We arrived right on time, but we had to wait 20 minutes for a table. Normally, this would drive me crazy (why make a reservation then?), but a quick look around the restaurant shows they literally have 40 chairs in the entire place. So we waited, willing the other diners to eat quickly.

My three favorite items were:

1) Pork Belly and Mung Bean Pancake (pictured above). Savory pancake with a splash of pineapple sweetness, the layers of flavors are unexpected and delicious. I wish we had ordered two!

Baked potato bing bread, bacon, scallion and sour cream butter

Baked Potato Bing Bread

2) Start your meal with the Baked Potato Bing Bread. They had me at ‘bacon.’ This starter is the baked potato version of bread. If you make it to Parachute, you must order the bing bread with bacon and scallion — topped with sour cream butter.

Pavlova, corn pastry cream, coconut, blackberry, lime

Pavlova, corn pastry cream, coconut, blackberry, lime

3) For dessert, order the Pavlova. The meringue crust is crispy and melts in your mouth. The coconut cream and blackberry center is delightful with a hint of lime.

Make the jump — make a reservation — and trust Parachute to deliver your taste buds safely to the ground.

Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History

Field Museum of Natural History

Field Museum of Natural History

Well, it’s Day 4 of my 31 days of writing, and I’m already behind. But I had a good reason! My cousins were in town for our third annual “Cousins Weekend,” and we were busy exploring the city.

While they were here, I had one requirement: We must visit the Field Museum of Natural History. I’ve been there a dozen times, but I just can’t get enough. Here are my favorite parts of the museum:

Sue the T. rex

Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex

Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex

The first thing you have to do is stop to say, “Hello,” to Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex. She’s right inside the entrance in the Stanley Field Hall, so you can’t miss the largest and most complete T. rex ever found. Sue was found in South Dakota and is named for Sue Hendrickson, the paleontologist who discovered her. After an intense custody battle over her rightful owner, Sue was sold at auction for a sweet $7.6 million.

Sue's skull

Sue’s skull

Sue’s head is actually too heavy for the skeleton on the main level, so make sure you go upstairs to see her skull and impressive dental work.

Hall of Gems

While you’re upstairs, stop in the Grainger Hall of Gems to add a little sparkle to your life. (Diamonds and turquoise and gold… oh my!) First on display at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition, the rare jewels know how to make an impression. I’m continually fascinated by the rainbow of colors in the gemstones. You’ll find yellow diamonds, red sapphires, and opals that shimmer like the summer sun reflecting on Lake Michigan.

Inside Ancient Egypt

Inside Ancient Egypt

Inside Ancient Egypt

The Egyptian exhibit begins on the main floor with a mock tomb of Unis-ankh. Within the walls of the tomb, the museum feels weirdly quiet, and you’ll feel the urge to whisper to your companions as you explore the hieroglyphics. Mummies are just wrapped with mystery, but this exhibit does a good job unwrapping the culture.

Special Exhibits

The special exhibits are what continue to pull me back into the museum, so be sure to check them out when you visit. The Vikings exhibit ended this weekend, and I enjoyed learning about the Scandinavian people from A.D. 800 to 1000. The word ‘viking’ is actually just an Old Norse word for a commercial trip or raid. The people we know as Vikings were farmers and traders who would sometimes go out on ‘a viking.’