Monday, December 4, 2023

Smoque Steak

-Grubbing in Chicago  
Smoked Steaks in Avondale

When Smoque BBQ first opened 17 years ago it was before barbecue had really taken off across the country. It was the first place in Chicago doing Texas style barbecue. There wasn’t many other spots like it but nowadays there’s places doing Texas barbecue everywhere from here to Timbuktu. So how big of a stretch would it be to ask if smoked steak is the country’s next big food trend? I only ask bc that’s what owner of Smoque Barry Sorkin and his team are doing at their new spot in Avondale.

Recently Opened in Avondale 

Smoque Steak opened to lots of hype this past May. The team behind it wanted to open a steakhouse that felt elevated but also affordable and most importantly one that was different. They made it different by choosing to make the steaks in a way no place else is doing. The steaks are smoked, slow cooked, and then seared. They’re served in a sleek space that feels like a night out type of spot. We arrived to a full house that definitely had a great steak house vibe going for it - there was energy in the air. Also of note was the musical playlist which was on point for a Saturday night. They were playing 90’s hip hop and R&B but they switch the genre up often or so we were told. You're greeted by a QR menu at the table which I don't mind but I do miss holding a menu. While beef is always the main character at a Steakhouse the salad also plays an important part. We got a Caesar salad to start and it played a great supporting role. It was a massive portion that could feed four as a starter. 

Caesar Salad at Smoque Steak 

Opening a steakhouse without options for a non meat eater isn’t a good idea in today’s day and age. Smoque has a few non red meat selections including lobster and grits, a piece of lightly smoked salmon and even a cauliflower steak. Erica ended up choosing the spicy shrimp pasta and was very satisfied with it. The portions here are generous and proper for a steak spot. Though it’s not described as so the pasta is basically a spicy shrimp scampi with five nice sized pieces of shrimp sitting atop linguine mixed with garlic, lemon, and white wine plus a spicy melted butter. 

Spicy Shrimp Pasta 

The smoked and seared steaks are offered a handful of ways including a fairly priced bistro steak ($19) which is an 8 oz cut of chuck. Their most expensive offering is the 16 oz boneless ribeye ($52). There’s also a strip steak ($45) and a filet ($52) but I chose to roll with the steak frites ($30). Outer cut skirt steak is one of my top two or three cuts of beef. None of the other steak options come with anything but there’s plenty of steakhouse quality sides you can order separately. But the steak and frites comes with fries plus a red chimmichuri that I opted to get on the side as I wanted to try the steak as is for my first few bites. So you get a really nice cut of 8 oz outer skirt steak plus fries and a side of sauce that otherwise costs $3 as an add on to your steak. Not a bad deal at all but how does it taste? Honestly my first thought was “like beef jerky.” There’s a butcher in Michigan City called Langhe's Old Fashioned Meat Market that makes a warm steak jerky unlike any other and that’s what I thought of when I took my first bite of beef from Smoque Steak. It’s pretty good but that said I’m not ready for smoked steak to replace grilled or broiled steak or any of the more traditional ways but it’s a nice change of pace. The menu says the fries are fresh cut but I couldn’t tell if they were or not. It’s usually easy to do so but I don’t know about the ones from here. They weren’t awful but they seemed too in unison to be fresh cut. Overall we had a good visit even though I don’t love a smoked steak as much as I do a char grilled steak. This is still a place that I’ll likely return to by my own choosing. It’s reasonable and it’s unique and I like that combination as far a modern steakhouse goes. 

Steak Frites at Smoque Steak

Smoque Steak
3310 N Elston Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 219-1775

Monday, November 27, 2023

Eating BIG in Liguria

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Exploring the Italian Riviera

After a week in the Piedmont we were off to spend some time in the Italian Riviera. We chose Santa Margherita Ligure as our base. It’s a port town just a few miles up from the playground for the uber rich - Portofino. If you’re not pulling up to Portofino in your own yacht you’re much better off staying in a town like SML where there’s smaller crowds but more on offer and it’s half the price and still just as nice. The Italian Riviera is by no means undiscovered so it’s regularly busy as it’s one of the prettiest places on earth with its colorful fishing villages backdropped by mountains. But Summer is peak season. All of the towns on the Italian coast are pretty similar but each of them has their own charms. I found Santa Margherita to be the perfect launching pad for exploring the rest of the region. It was really easy to hop on a train and get to just about any town you want to explore or any beach you want to rest on. Speaking of beaches those are a big draw as is evident with the beach clubs and the resorts that line the coast. Boating is a big activity too and you can rent your own or hire a driver with a boat to take you out on the water or drop you off at one of the many beaches accessible only by water. As far as the local cuisine goes Liguria is rich in regional eats. Pesto is perhaps the most well known of them all but as you’ll see in this report there’s lots to go along with it. Here's what we had: 

Sights from Liguria

More sights from Liguria

San Giovanni Cucina & Barbecue (Sassello)

I adored the supper club vibes at this steak house up in the mountains of Liguria. The ride there? Not so much. Holy shit that was some real gut wrenching stuff but once we arrived, all was well. My brother got the “Barbacoa” platter of meats which features a little of everything that they grill over live charcoal. I got the Picanha, a cut of beef more common in South America though Italians are also common over there so it was no surprise to find it’s a popular cut in Italy. The filet isn’t a cut that I typically mess with but any piece of beef grilled over coals and blanketed in mushrooms is pretty much going to please. How many different ways can I tell you all of the pastas in Italy are awesome? 

Pastas at San Giovanni (click pics to enhance)

Steaks at San Giovanni 

Bar Gina (Sassello)

After Fathers Day steak some gelato was in order and there was a spot in town that’s been around since 1947. The orange and ginger gelato from Bar Gina was the most original flavor I tried all trip. It was so good. Sasello is a cute little town in terms of its layout of narrow alleys and porticos leading to old stone buildings paired with a mountainous landscape but there wasn’t much else to see or do.  

Gelato at Bar Gina

Il Pescetariano (Santa Margherita Ligure)

It’s not impossible to find food during the late afternoon around here but there’s only so many options. Most spots open a few hours for lunch and a few hours for dinner and are closed in between. So there weren’t a ton of choices when we first arrived into Santa Margherita Ligure around 4pm. Luckily for us a fried seafood boat I had scouted opens at 5p (most restaurants open at 7p) so we walked over to feed some hangry kids. Il Pescetariano is a docked boat that sells Fritto Misto to passerby’s. “Fried Mix” is a mix of fresh fried fish and vegetables. You can order a cone of just squid or you can get it mixed which means it comes with calamari plus fried shrimps and fried fish. It was just what we were looking for as far as something quick and delicious. Both nieces said this was their favorite food of the trip. We ended up coming here a total of three times as it was quick, convenient and fantastic.

Fritto Misto by the sea at Il Pescetariano

Ristorante Da ö Battj (Santa Margherita Ligure)

I’m not sure what was better at this iconic seafood restaurant in the hills overlooking Santa Margherita Ligure - the signature shrimp scampi or the views. Ristorante Da ö Battj is a place that attracts locals looking for a special night out. It’s the type of spot where you can feel the energy in the air. We were here to try their famous langoustines but started out with a simple but succulent order of the seafood pasta. Langoustines are essentially mini lobsters and although the recipe at Battj is top secret you could taste a ton of butter mixed with lemon and possibly anchovies in this mesmerizing dish. There wasn’t a table in the restaurant without an order of the shrimp scampi sitting on it. Since 1963.

Seafood Pasta

Scampi at Ristorante Da ö Battj

Panificio Fiordiponti (Santa Margherita Ligure)

Focaccia is perhaps the most famous regional dish from Liguria. It’s replicated all over the globe but few spots outside the Italian Riviera can match the quality of the product from Liguria. In its purest form focaccia is called “classica” which is when it’s nothing more than a thick layer of lightly salted flatbread with a light crust and a surface full of indentations that hold the oil. From there the possibilities are endless as far as the toppings. The most popular are typical pizza toppings like red sauce and cheese but olives, anchovies and onions are also common. I searched online for the best focaccia in town and found a few bakeries including Panificio Fiordiponti. It had a line upon my arrival which is always a good sign. I quickly made my way inside where I grabbed a number and waited for it to be called. I was here to try the focaccia di Recco which is a regional specialty from the nearby town of Recco. Focaccia di Recco is a cracker thin version of focaccia with crescenza cheese. At first it was made only on All Saints Day but high demand made it regularly available at bakeries throughout the region. It was crispy, flaky, and cheesy and I was ready to go try some in Recco which I did but none of the spots there were better than this one which I caught coming out of the oven. 

Focaccia di Recco at Panificio Fiordiponti 

Ristorante Padò (Santa Margherita Ligure)

We hired a local boat captain to take us out on the water for a few hours one afternoon and he led us to not one but two of his favorite restaurants in town. I wasn't sure about his picks in part due to his young age but he led us to some good spots. The first was Ristorante Padò located on the marina. When we got there the place was empty but that’s bc everyone was sitting outside across the street right on the water. It was also a bit later on a Sunday so the town wasn’t as busy but all in all we had a nice meal here. You can’t really seem to go wrong with the pasta in Italy and that theory proved true for here where we all all picked our own plates. I went with the calamarata curry as that’s not a pasta I’d seen before. It gets its name from its shape which resembles rings of calamari. Padò tosses theirs with shrimp, mussels, tomatoes, squash and curry spice. I misspoke in the Milan post when I said there was only one sit-down spot we returned to as we came back here for a night cap bottle of wine and another round of the curry pasta following dinner the next night. So you know we liked it.

Calamarata Curry Pasta at Ristorante Padò

Panetteria del Corso (Santa Margherita Ligure)

Panetteria del Corso was another highly favorable spot for focaccia so I walked over to grab some for everyone one morning. Focaccia is sold by the weight (kg) but the slices are all similar in size so I pointed to a few and was on my way. Needless to say each and every slice here was remarkable.

Focaccia at Panetteria del Corso

Ristorante Da Giorgio (San Fruttuoso di Camogli)

We had lunch one day on the accessible by boat only, San Fruttuoso di Camogli. There’s three spots to eat at in this little piece of Italian paradise and Don Giorgio is the spot you want to go to. Only thing is you kind of need to know somebody from there or at least know someone who does. This was the other spot our local boat driver had recommended and he made a call for us the next day and we were on our way by ferry to what might be the best seafood meal I’ve ever had the pleasure of consuming. The menu consists strictly of what was caught in the morning which on our visit was tuna, baby octopus, local langoustines, and clams. From there they prepare it all a few different ways knowing that there’s not a lot that has to be done with seafood this fresh. For example a piece of charcoal grilled tuna was one of the best pieces of cooked fish I'll ever consume. It was smoky on the outside and pink in the middle. Oh my god it was so good but it doesn’t stop there. The tartare served with a smear of pesto was also up there for the best raw tuna I’ve ever tasted. Baby octopus isn’t common back home so I don’t have a ton to compare it too except it was like the best fried calamari I’ve ever had x 10. Definitely the most expensive I've had at $40/euro an order but you’ll be hard pressed not to get another plate after you finish it off. The pastas were some of the best seafood pastas I devoured on this trip or any trip for that matter. Clams with Ligurian pesto - langoustines in a rich seafood stock - trofie with pesto, potatoes and green beans - each as pleasing as the last. When taking into account the company, the food and the views, this was a memorable meal on all fronts. 

Seafood at Ristorante Da Giorgio (click pics to enhance)

Pasta at Ristorante Da Giorgio

Gelateria Centrale (Santa Margherita Ligure)

Gelateria Centrale is famous for its Pinguino (penguin) which is a cone of gelato coated with a thin, crunchy layer of dark chocolate. They've been making them since 1973 but the store itself goes back to 1946. They had a banana gelato which seemed like the perfect pick for a pinguino. Good call. 

Pinguino at Gelateria Centrale

Tratorria dei Pescatori (Santa Margherita Ligure)

I had read somewhere online that Trattoria dei Pescatori was where locals in Santa Margherita go to eat fish in vintage digs. By this point we had tried most of the spots I wanted to so we came here and sat across the street on the water where we had a very nice dinner. Nothing fancy here as far as the food goes but it’s all fresh and well prepared. We started with an order of fritto misto (fried squid and vegetables) before moving to our entrees which was a seafood pasta for Erica and Liguria style sea-bream for me. My fish was baked with tomatoes, potatoes, olives and it was a simply delicious dish.

Dinner at Tratorria dei Pescatori 

Cantina Reggiana (Chiavari)

By this point most of the party had left and it was just us and my parents and although we passed on the Cinque Terre we still took a few daytrips from Rapallo. The first of which was a car ride to Chiavari. The charming seaside village just south of Genoa is home to just under 30,000 people year round plus the tourists who come for the warm Mediterranean climate and beaches to go with it. We enjoyed a walk around Old Town which still sports a very medieval feel. We had lunch at a seafood forward spot ran by an elder Italian lady named Reggiana. It was a small space and they were hosting a large group of locals but they were happy to rearrange some tables to accommodate us. Service was warm and welcoming and the food was fantastic. We started out with an order of fried squid and a plate of shrimp scampi with Gorgonzola sauce, the latter of which is one of their signature dishes. We weren’t sure what to expect with the scampi but it ended up surprising all of us. Langoustines were coated in a creamy, melted gorgonzola that was a revelation of sorts. Entrees were ginormous portions of spaghetti mixed with seafood and an excellent bowl of minestrone soup mixed with pesto.

Lunch at Cantina Reggiana

Mitili e Mitili (Rapallo)

With Rapallo being our resting place for the next few nights we walked around town to see what was around one evening. It’s a larger town than Santa Margherita so there was a bit more on offer in terms of food and drink. We found this cute oyster bar while walking around. Mitili e Mitili is ran by a family of oyster farmers from La Spezia. We got raw oyster from Italy and France plus steamed mussels and some smorrebrod (open faced sandwiches) with local seafood. We also had some fantastic service.

Seafood Spread at Mitili e Mitili 

Yasso (Rapallo) 

I had a satisfying doner sandwich at this spot in the old town square. It seemed to stay open later than most places and online reviews were favorable so I had a late dinner here and found myself wishing we had similar spots to this back home. My doner was served in a wrap like a burrito and although I'm satisfied with our taco options at home I would happily trade a few of them to Europe for some kebab shops like Yasso. Even the frozen fries in Europe satisfy in a way they don't back home. 

Piadina Doner Kebab at Yasso 

Rapalà (Rapallo) 

There's a ton of tourist type restaurants in these popular beach towns. It's not always the case but the places with the best locations (those on the water) tend to be a bit more touristy in both food and price. Rapalà is off the main drag but still in the heart of the historic city center. It seemed to attract a mix of customers including groups of well informed tourists. The menu was pretty much your typical Ligurian classics though there was a seasonal aspect to it too which is what got us in. We started our dinner with a plate of raw tuna paired with stracciatella cheese making this the second time we had a dish consisting of seafood and cheese in Italy. Maybe it's a Ligurian thing? Erica had tagliolini  con frutti di mare that she said was pretty good but everyone agreed I ordered the best dish of the night which was fresh paccero pasta (tubes) sitting on mashed beans with baby octopus and pecorino cheese. A plate of roasted leg of lamb with mashed potatoes, gravy and thyme was the runner up. 

Dinner at Rapalà (click pics to enhance)

Gallo Nero (Rapallo)

Here's another late option in Rapallo. You can find Gallo Nero in the middle of the historic square where it fills up with students and other locals into the night. They're known for their focaccia sandwiches and I noticed quite a few people were ordering focaccia burgers and I couldn't resist in trying one with barbecue sauce. The beef could've been better but it worked out well otherwise. 

Focaccia Burger at Gallo Nero

Ristorante "La Vedetta" (Rapallo)

We took a break from all the fresh seafood to indulge in some red meat and more carbs. La Vedetta is an old school Italian steak house nestled up in the mountains. I loved how it looked so we made plans to come here on the drive out of  Liguria to Milan. La Vedetta gets packed with large parties on the weekends so you'll need a reservation. Locals come for T-Bone steaks grilled over live charcoal to a nice medium rare consistency and served with fresh cut fries. This is where I got to try pansotti for the first time. It’s a local pasta that translates to “potbellied” in description of the way it’s served - like a fat packed ravioli. It’s filled with bitter herbs and doused in a creamy walnut sauce. Lasagna Genovese was just like the lasagna back home but comes served in a sizzling hot pot. After all of that heavy eating some house made mango sorbet was the perfect finish to an enchanting meal. Dal 1962. 

Lunch at Ristorante La Vedetta 

Cavour modo21 (Genoa)

If you’re familiar with the food and the flavors of Liguria you knew this next post was coming. I’m not even a big pesto person but I am a big regional eater and pesto is about as Genovese as it gets. We took a daytrip to Genova aka Genoa and hit up one of the city’s most well known pesto purveyors. Cavour modo21 has won many awards for their special blend of Italian herbs and oil. Our friendly waiter insisted I get it with the trofie pasta which it clings to better than the rest. It’s mixed with potatoes and green beans and it really was some of the best pesto I’ve had but I rarely get it in the States and I doubt that changes with this being the center of the pesto universe - it ain’t gonna get better. The sea-bass ravioli was also a winner with a rich and decadent creamy shrimp stock sauce. Fritto Misto seems like it’s hard to mess up in these parts as it’s always fresh and very lightly breaded. Seafood salad was a surprise hit but I always love a mix of tuna and beans. A piece of grilled tuna was also good but not like the one from the previous day. All in all a really nice meal at a seemingly unfair price (cheap). This place gets packed with a mix of locals and tourists so best to reserve ahead.

Lunch at Cavour modo21 (click pics to enhance)

Semmu Friti (Camogli)

Semmu Friti is a fritto misto specialist in the old fishing village of Camogli. It’s the type of spot I would eat at often if I lived in Camogli. Speaking of which I could totally picture myself spending extended time in this relaxing little resort town. I loved the layout of it. Lots of highly-stacked and vivaciously-painted houses sitting on the mountain overlooking the ocean. It was my favorite town on the coast. I didn’t have a bad batch of fritto misto on this trip though some were better than others. 

Fritto Misto at Semmu Friti

Ristorante La Camogliese (Camogli)

Ristorante La Camogliese is an old school spot with a spectacular backdrop. At the end of the year I'll list the best pastas of this Italy trip and the spaghetti alla acciughe from here will be included in the list. It was a simple prep with pomodoro, olives, fresh anchovies that I could not stop eating even though I was full from a ton of food including a plate of Fritto Misto with fried shrimps that can rival those in the Low Country. I might like grilled squid more than fried at least when it’s well charred like it was here. A piece of fresh amberjack was also well prepared. But the best part of it all was our table overlooking the sea. The restaurant itself is basically perched above the beach. I loved Camogli.

Lunch at Ristorante La Camogliese (click pics to enhance)

Gelato e dintorni (Camogli)

Last stop on the Italy trip! Well not on the trip itself but here on the blog. I hope you enjoyed the roundup. I enjoyed reliving it all by putting these posts together. We walked over to Gelato e dintorni after lunch at the previous stop. I love Italian ice but had never had granita in Italy before this trip. I tried a bunch of spots and now I want to go eat it in Southern Italy where it originates. The key to identifying a good granita is to make sure it's scooped by hand and not dispensed from a slushy machine and also to look for spots where the menu is hand written as flavors change often when you're using what's in season. Pictured below was a mixed fruit granita that kind of reminded me of the fruit cocktail Italian ice at Mario's in Chicago which made me a bit homesick. That's it for this trip. 

Granita at Gelato e dintorni

Previous Stops:

Click HERE for a google maps guide to all the spots I hit up plus places I didn't get to check out.

See ya next time @chibbqking


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