Best Bites and Sips of Summer 2015
Hate to shatter the illusion, but summer is ending soon. With August more than halfway over and Labor Day right around the corner, we'll be in full-fledged pumpkin spice latte before you know it. Before that happens, now is an apt time to recall some of summer's best bites and sips so far. Here are the greatest dishes of summer in Chicago 2015:
Pisco Punch at Tanta: I've consumed my fair share of cocktails this summer, believe you me. And none come close to the sheer blissful refreshment of Tanta's seasonal pisco punch. One of their rotating draft cocktails, the all-important pisco punch is perfectly indicative of Tanta's vibrant style, both in color and in bracing flavor. Upon a recent visit to this Peruvian bastion, I tried their latest version made with watermelon and paprika. It's equal parts lustrous and luscious, made with Porton Pisco, watermelon water, lemon juice, and a splash of paprika syrup for spice.
Watermelon Agua Fresca at Antique Taco: In other quenching watermelon news, one of the standout agua fresca flavors at Antique Taco this month just so happened to be a watermelon version. Since watermelon is most deliciously consumed in beverage form, it makes perfect sense. This booze-free beverage tasted like a drinkable Jolly Rancher, with a potent punch of tang to help mellow the sweetness. It gives lemonade a run for its money at summer's signature quaff.
Fried Clams at LUXBAR: Growing up in Southern New Hampshire, a stone's throw from the Atlantic, I became accustomed to nautical comfort foods like fried clams. Unfortunately, they're a rarity around these parts, but thanks to some recent additions to LUXBAR's menu, I am finally back in touch with one of my all-time favorite summer foods. The fried clam strips come courtesy of chef Michael Shrader, who displayed his oceanic talents at the defunct Urban Union. Here, he again reminds us of his skill set with some masterful seafaring creations. A dusting of Old Bay on these crunchy morsels brings a bit of heady heat and aroma, while a side of lemon aioli brings each bite to vivid life. For East Coast expats like myself, it's a nourishing taste of home.
Lamb Ribs at Ada Street: The award for prettiest plate of food this summer goes to the lamb ribs at Ada Street. The clandestine Bucktown eatery again displays stunning culinary dexterity with these fall-apart tender ribs, sort of an upscale riff on all-American cookout fare, served in a mildly spiced bright orange sauce with pickled onions and slivered chilies.
Lobster Roll at Luke's Lobster: The theme of the summer is New England nostalgia, as evidenced by the aforementioned fried clams along with my next entry for sensational summer bites. This one comes via Luke's Lobster, a New York City-based concept that dropped anchor in the Loop a couple months ago. In a city woefully lacking in solid lobster rolls, the restaurant has been a welcome addition indeed. Served in authentic, pillowy New England-style buns, the lobster rolls here are no joke; decadently buttery, plump, lemony, and altogether cooly refreshing. Chase it with a swig of their Maine blueberry soda for the perfect lunch combo.
Fish House Jelly at Punch House: Last summer, I shouted out Punch House's sno cones. This summer, my adoration is all about the jelly. Like a glorified Jell-O shot, this crafty basement bar is serving up one of the most innovative and exciting cocktail creations I've seen in a while. And like I said, I drink a lot of cocktails. This one, dubbed the Fish House Jelly, features a jiggly gelatin-infused Fish House punch with mint and some spiced whipped cream.
- Matt Kirouac