The Dish: Roots Restaurant’s San Francisco Cioppino in Milwaukee

Resident Foodies say: Roots is a family owned restaurant in Milwaukee, opened by Chef John Raymond in 2004. Roots is in the local (farm to table) movement and has its own garden right down below its patio, which supplies much of the vegetables for the dishes.

Last December, Roots hired a new executive chef, Daniel Jacobs, who worked at a number of excellent Chicago restaurants, including Green Zebra, Spring, Tru, and North Pond. The current menu is fun and eclectic, with a fusion of various cuisines including Asian, Italian, and American.

Last night, one of the dishes we tried was the San Francisco Cioppino, a fish stew of Italian-American origin famous in SF. It was delightful! The dish consists of mussels, shrimp, fish, scallops, saffron arborio, and fennel~tomato broth
. All were perfectly cooked, and the broth tasted like nectar from the gods. We especially loved the vivid red-orange color of the stew, especially in the cast iron skillet.

Review: Why Alinea with Chef Grant Achatz Is the Best Restaurant in the United States

Resident Foodies say: Chef Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago is a master artist with food. His dishes are creative beyond belief, leaving you dazzled and amazed. The plating of his dishes are beautiful to behold–like a painting or sculpture of edible material. It’s no surprise that Alinea is rated by some as the best restaurant in the United States, if not the world. Alinea’s so good that it can eat The French Landry for lunch.

From the moment you walk in the door of Alinea, you realize you are in for an other-world experience. The front door leads you to a dark passage way in which the floor is grass. Yes, grass. It’s almost pitch dark, and a wind chime sounds lightly in the background. On the left is a tub of lemonade to whet your palate. Then, mysteriously, a door opens, emitting light into the corridor. You have arrived.

All of the dishes are unique, with interesting composition, plating, and taste. Chef Achatz definitely pushes the boundaries of culinary delight–he is an artist at his craft. Alinea is perfect for special occasions. It’s pricey and dinner takes 4 hours, but you will discover new possibilities with food and have a memory you will never forget. Some of our favorites include:

(A) Burn morels, ramps, asparagus, smoked date served on stones
(B) Hot potato, cold potato, black truffle, butter
(C) Black truffle explosion, romaine, parmesan served on silver spoon
(D) Squab inspired by Miro (served on spoons to reflect on silver pitchers)
(E) Blueberry dessert with buttermilk, sorrel macadia (liquid nitrogen to start), served with a straw to sip from center
(F) White Chocolate dessert strawberry, english pea, lemon (liquid nitrogen to start)

Be sure to check out our photos and videos of the tasting at Alinea below.

Steelhead roe with coconut, curry, yuzu

Oyster leaf mignonette, king crab with passion fruit, heart of palm, lobster with carrot and chamomile, top neck clam with shiso, soy, daikon

Woolly pig with fennel, orange and squid

Scallop acting like agedashi tofu

Otoro with thai banana, sea salt, kaffir lime

Burn morels, ramps, asparagus, smoked date

Hot potato, cold potato, black truffle, butter


Black truffle explosion, romaine, parmesan

Squab inspired by Miro (spoons appear melted in reflection)

Anjou pear with onion, brie, smoking cinnamon

Ginger five other flavors

Blueberry dessert with liquid nitrogen, buttermilk, sorrel, macadamia

Balloon dessert with helium, green apple

White chocolate dessert with liquid nitrogen, strawberry, english pea, lemon

The Dish: Vegan Portobello, Sausage Burger at Native Foods in Chicago

Vegan portobello sausage burger

Resident Foodies say: If you like vegan food, you will absolutely love the vegan fare at Native Foods in Chicago. It tastes so good, you can’t even tell it is vegan food.

Our favorite dish is the vegan portobello, sausage burger. You can select the side, and tonight we chose the irresistible sweet potato fries with chipotle dipping sauce. Chef Tanya describes the dish on the menu: “Juicy grilled portobellos, our homemade Native Sausage Seitan, caramelized onions, pomodoro, sweet roasted garlic, creamy pumpkin seed pesto and mayo.” The portobello is the star of the sandwich. And the sweet potato fries are sweet and savory, a delectable combination.

This weekend, Native Foods will have a special item–drunken tofu banh mi sandwiches! Can’t wait.

The Dish: Balena’s black squid ink pasta (Tagliolini Nero), with crab, sea urchin, chile; and heritage polenta with tomato sauce and Dante

heritage polenta with tomato sauce and Dante

Arugula with Dante

Resident Foodies say: We tried out the new restaurant Balena (meaning whale), the next in the line of Boka group restaurants. The restaurant has a rustic, but chic decor, with open beams and modern lighting in a spacious room that combines a bar and dining area with a very open feeling.

Chef Chris Pandel has put together an impressive menu of homemade Italian pastas and pizza, which are meant to be shared. We tried the black squid ink pasta (Tagliolini Nero), with crab and sea urchin. Gotta love black pasta, especially when homemade! The crab and sea urchin were delicious, too. The dish was a winner, although didn’t need the basil.

Perhaps even more yummy was the Heritage Polenta with butter, Dante cheese, and tomato sauce. Putting tomato sauce on polenta is a match made in heaven–providing a tasty comfort food that is downright irresistible. The arugula salad to start the meal was also pretty amazing. Our only other quibble is that the basket of “Peter’s bread” (Walnut Bread, Ramp Crostini, Roast Garlic Semolina, Lemon Pepper Challah) that is homemade and heavily touted by the server was not complimentary. What other Italian restaurant charges $5.00 for bread?

Bottom line: Balena is even better than the hype. We loved it.

Is Corey Lee’s Benu better than Thomas Keller’s French Laundry?

Resident Foodies say: It’s the two year anniversary of our first pilgrimage to Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry in Yountville, California, currently one of only two 3-Michelin starred restaurants in the Bay Area. To our chagrin, we found the food to be mediocre that weekend and the service even worse–after waiting for 1 hour after being seated to receiving one morsel of food or bread. C’mon, kitchen, it’s not that difficult. Click here for our 2010 review of French Laundry.

Later, someone on the inside advised us that the reason The French Laundry may have been so bad on that July 4th weekend was that Chef Corey Lee had left to start his new restaurant Benu. Lee was the former Chef de Cuisine at French Laundry, and his departure left the kitchen at The French Laundry in transition–read: utter disarray-at the time.

Well, this past weekend we decided to try out Chef Lee’s Benu in San Francisco on the 2 year anniversary of our dismal food weekend at French Laundry. Happily, the experience we had at Benu was fantastic. We all were blown away by the creativity and taste of the 18 plates in the food tasting. There’s no surprise that Food and Wine Magazine named Lee (35 years old) one of the best new chefs of the year.

Each plating was visually beautiful. And the flavors were amazing, with an unbelievable crescendo building up all the way through the dessert. After several wonderful dishes, we did not think Chef Lee could top the last dish, but Lee kept proving us wrong. Each dish in the 18 courses kept amazing us with the creativity and distinctive flavors. Based on a head to head comparison, we believe that the young upstart Benu is already better–in terms of plating, creativity, and taste–than the old vanguard The French Laundry. It will only be a matter of time before Benu claims its third Michelin star, and The French Laundry quite possibly loses one. Benu is on the cutting edge of culinary creativity. Chef Lee deserves all the accolades he is now receiving. Bravo, Benu!

18 Course Tasting at Benu

thousand year old quail egg, potage, ginger

oyster, pork belly, kimchi

potato salad with anchovy

monkfish liver, peach, daikon, brioche

brioche for dish above

wild salmon 2 ways: fillet, cherry, hot mustard, roe, eggplant chip, perilla

salmon second way

eel, feuille de brick, creme fraiche, lime

tofu, basil, xo sauce

mozzarella, basil, xo sauce

hearts of palm, shrimp, yellow chive, lovage

salt and pepper squid

foie gras ciao long bao

chicken velvet, abalone, abalone mushroom, chrysanthemum

sablefish, lobster, black bean, corn

duck, celery, scallion, Shaoxing wine, black truffle bun

beef rib, wood ear mushroom, lettuce, pine nut, fermented pepper

“shark’s fin” soup, dungeness crab, Jinhua ham, black truffle custard

raspberry, tonic, lavender, olive oil

spice cake, blueberry, yogurt, oatmeal ice cream