Jinan’s Irish Pub

Very Irish decor

Very Irish decor

Friday some of us celebrated St. Patrick’s Day early by going to the Irish pub here in Jinan, in the mall across from the old stadium. I was surprised to see a children’s birthday party in progess at the pub. There was a table with about a dozen 10 year olds. At the far end of the pub a big screen showed Despicable Me 2. So the atmosphere didn’t quite match the decor.

The woman who served us spoke English well and was very attentive. There weren’t many people there. I don’t think this mall gets the same traffic as more central shopping areas do and that affects business.

Since it was Friday and Lent, I had the tuna panini. The beef stew with mashed potatoes looked good, though the portion was on the small side. Other friends got shepard’s pie and fish and chips, which again looked good. I loved my indulgent Bailey’s milkshake. What a great idea! They had Guinness stout and lots of beers. One friend had a Belgian beer, Delrium Tremens, which came in a glass with the brand’s pink elephants. Another friend ordered a different beer and that came in a special glass. While I don’t care for beer, these unique glasses have captured my imagination.

The prices were on the high side, but that’s how it is when you go for imported food. It was a nice way to end the week. If you go, go for a restaurant rather than bar experience.

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Inspiration Kitchens

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I had a great brunch on Saturday at Inspirations Kitchens’ 3504 W. Lake St, near Garfield Park. It’s a restaurant where homeless people are trained for careers in restaurants. The atmosphere was bright, artsy and cheerful. The service was swift and caring.

You can check out their menu here. We began with hot cider, which was perfect on a cold January day after getting through the polar vortex. I had the broccoli quiche with a salad, which was light and tasty. My friends had banana bread with bacon French toast and sorghum marshmallow cream or a frittata with potatoes. The food was well presented and prepared; prices reasonable.

I rarely see chess pie so since my entree wasn’t sweet, I ordered and shared the pie, which was just the right size, not a huge slab or tiny slice. If you’ve never had chess pie, it’s a Southern dessert, more or less pecan pie without the pecans.

Tips at Inspiration Kitchens go towards the restaurant training program and for vouchers for low income families so they can go out for a restaurant meal. There’s free parking beside the restaurant and a location in Uptown.

More information on Inspiration Corporation:

Review: Club Lucky

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Club Lucky has a retro 1950s look and feel. It’s an Italian restaurant in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood. On Friday and Saturday it’s crowded and reservations are a must. We went on Sunday and getting a table is a breeze. (We did have reservations.) The menu features loads of appetizers, salads, pastas, seafood, steaks and poultry. My sister suggested we share a meatball salad, which sounded weird to me. Everyone liked it and it’s a new favorite for some. I’m not big on meatballs so I just had the salad and was satisfied.

I liked my chicken tortellini with English peas and vodka sauce. The serving could easily serve two. Other tempting dishes were the steak sandwich, roast chicken and fettucini with chicken, asparagus and roasted cherry tomatoes. We finished by sharing tiramisu, which was good, though not out of this world.

The service sufficed. Our waiter was polite, but missed the boat taking dessert orders. He later apologized explaining that he was detained giving people directions. We’d finished eating the birthday slice of tiramisu for my sister. While I probably would have ordered some dessert, that moment had passed and we were ready to go.

All in all, a fine place for Italian. Valet parking is $8. Good for groups or dates.

Restaurant Week: Tesori

In Chicago it’s Restaurant Week from Feb. 1 – 10. Participating restaurants, some of which are very pricey like Ruth Chris and the Peninsula Hotel, offer a three course lunch for $22 and a three course dinner for $44.

Yesterday I met some friends for lunch at Tesori at 65 E. Adams. We had a great lunch. I loved my butternut squash soup and dessert, a chocolate pannacotta. My artesian ham sandwich was fine. My friends enjoyed their lunches as well. The veal and lobster ravioli pleased. The orange cake looked good too. Our service was fine and the atmosphere has a casual elegance.

I was surprised that two of my friends didn’t know about Restaurant Week. Many cities do this in the winter and it’s a great way to kick the winter doldrums.

Thanksgiving in Jinan


Yes. I’ve just returned, completely sated, from Thanksgiving at the new Hyatt in downtown Jinan. The food was plentiful and so scrumptious. Probably a hundred dishes easily. I don’t want to tell you about everything I tasted as my gluttony would be fully exposed, but there was salad, several soups including curry pumpkin, which I didn’t try, and young pigeon, which I did. Turkey, ham, roast beef and duck, sauces for all, pastas, including lasagna, roasted vegetables, steamed vegetables, hot pot, sushi, cheeses galore, breads, rolls, sausages, Chinese foods. Any gourmand would be pleased.

Then for dessert there was pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheese cake, pumpkin mini loaves, chocolate souffle, chocolate mouse, chocolate tarts, chocolate cakes. Fruits baked in a wide array of pastries or wrapped in crepes. Gelato – six flavors. Fruits – melons, plums, pears, grapes, apples, citrus of every sort.

I’m so glad the Crowne Plaza’s staff didn’t know what Thanksgiving was. The Hyatt was the place to come.

Also, Thursday was Ladies’ Night in the bar so the women got free cocktails and we all enjoyed the singer and piano player in their chic bar. Tres bien.

Water Banquet

Water Banquet restaurant

In Luoyang in Henan, one night my friend Kristyn and I went to a restaurant known for its water banquet, a local culinary tradition. The water banquet is a 24 course banquet with the courses coming one after another flowing like a river and mainly consisting of soups. Now there was no way we were ordering the full banquet, but we wanted to see what this was all about.

First we had some trouble finding Zhen Bu Tong Fandian, the water banquet restaurant, since the Lonely Planet’s map was off by several blocks. It shows the restaurant by the river. It’s closer to food street, if that helps.

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The waitresses wear Tang dynasty gowns and hair styles, but they seemed either shy or jaded about them. All turned away anytime a customer try to take their picture.

We were given the English menu, which is 70% shorter than the Chinese one. Our first two choices, both described as Luoyang favorites, were gone. It was only 6pm and we were among the earliest diners. Oh, well.

We ordered pork, a special rice and balsam pear salad. We realized we were taking a risk on all of them. First we got the balsam pear salad and I thought it tasted like cactus salad would. Quite bitter. Next the pork came it had a great broth, but was so fatty. We amused our neighbors as we tried to use chop sticks to remove the fat. Finally came the glutinous rice. Very pretty, but excessively sweet.

Though I left unsatisfied food-wise, that’s part of life in China. I enjoyed the atmosphere and the entertainment. They have a man sing periodically in traditional dress. I’m not sure what he said, but the

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Panera Cares

After getting my hair done at the Aveda Institute, I went to the Panera on Diversity and had a pleasant surprise. It’s now a Panera Cares. Huh?

Panera now has four Panera Cares outlets. They offer the same menu, but a different pricing policy. The prices listed are suggested donations. If you can’t afford that, pay what you can. If you can’t pay anything, you can do an hour of work and get a meal.

If you can afford more, you can donate as you see fit. The restaurant looks like any Panera and the offerings are identical. This store is near Broadway and Diversey and area where rich and poor live side by side.

Panera offers healthy food and I like that they see the need to serve all people in a clean, attractive setting. Their flyers note that 1 in 6 Americans lives in a family that’s “food insecure.” The TED talk below explains the reasons below.

Bon Appetit, Jinan

Last Friday was Sports Day. Usually, I love to take the day off and travel since it’s the only long weekend that isn’t a national holiday and thus there’s a chance that you won’t be with throngs of people. But we got so many polite invitations to participate in the shot put and various races that it seemed wrong to leave town.

I couldn’t bring myself to go to the event though. I’m just not into sports that much and I figure the kids don’t need us there, they are having their own fun.

So I went to Starbucks where I met the owner of Bon Appetit, a new Italian restaurant in the Lushang Shopping Center across from the older stadium. The chef/owner recognized me as did his son. We got a complementary size pizza as an appetizer. I split a thin crust vegetable pizza and my two other friends enjoyed pasta and salad. The portions were satisfying and the service attentive without being annoying. I was impressed by the good English most of the staff spoke. The prices were high for Jinan, but that’s to be expected for imported food and Bon Appetit imports the cheese, flour, etc from Naples. So if you split a pizza expect to pay 70 rmb and pasta and salad will be about 80-95 rmb. By U.S. standards that’s a bargain. The problem is we soon get used to Jinan prices and a Chinese meal in our neighborhood rarely costs more that 20 rmb.

Orange: Breakfast with A Peel

A flight of coffee-chocolate pancakes

If you’re a fan of breakfast or brunch, like I am, you must check out Orange. In Chicago they have several locations.

They’re famous for frushi, i.e. fruit sushi. So my friend Maryann and I ordered some. Just the right little taste of coconut milk infuses the rice which is topped with fruit. Cute, yummy and creative.

Frushi

Feeling adventurous, I tried their pear cucumber juice. I liked it, but I doubt I’d order it again, well, not before I sampled some other combinations. The possibilities are almost endless. Mix and match orange, strawberry, pear, pineapple, watermelon, bananas and more.

Pear Cucumber Juice

Maryann was pleased with her rosemary infused French toast, which I was tempted to try. However, I went with the week’s pancake flight special: Coffee – Chocolate pancakes in four forms. One set had Kahlua, another chocolate chips. All were scrumptious and fun. Each week they announce a different flight of pancakes, which could be based on a theme like the Super Bowl this week.

Next time I go, I think I’ll try their Chai French Toast. Street parking’s easy to find. They’re open from 8 – 3, kind of late for a breakfast place, fine for me, but some early birds won’t wait.

Brunch at Butch McGuire’s

Penguins

I went to Brunch at Butch McGuire’s Tavern on Rush St. Sunday. The restaurant cum bar is an Irish pub with lots of character. Old time regulars might complain that Butch’s son doesn’t have the same panache or avuncular host/manager, but I’d only gone there a few times and was happy with the atmosphere and service. The bar tenders add a flair with their white shirts and ties, dressing up the place. Yesterday was the last day for the Christmas decorations: colorful, twinkling lights, Disney characters, penguins and a PG-13 Santa.

Car Bomb French Toast

I had Car Bomb French Toast, thick cut bread dipped in a batter with Bailey’s and Guinness. The syrup was infused with Jameson’s. I couldn’t resist the tongue in cheek name. The French toast didn’t have a strong alcohol taste, though the addition of the whiskey was a good twist.

Santa, what are you reading?

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