Oasis: A Rough Amidst Diamonds

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Head downtown to Madison and Wabash. What do you see? About a half dozen jewelry stores, of course! But if you go inside Wabash Jewelers, skip the tennis bracelets and head straight to the back, you will find yourself at Oasis. We admit, this joint looks out of place. Oasis looks like it was excised from the food court of a suburban mall and transplanted in the back of this Jewelers' Row mainstay. Despite its looks, Oasis serves up some great Mediterranean and Middle Eastern classics in large portions and affordable prices.

The first thing I noticed about the menu was lots of vegetarian options! I had a delicious falafel sandwich served in a warm pita and chock full of expertly spiced diced veggies and tzatziki sauce. This giant pocket of food was a bellyful and cost about $6. Brynn's marinated chicken special was also huge. A gigantic portion of chicken was served over rice, stewed and seasoned chickpeas and fresh lemony hummus. Seriously, this dish can feed two hungry people. Gordon enjoyed a lamb gyro that had the same pita-veggie-tzatziki combination as my falafel sandwich.

The best part of our Oasis dinner was the freshly baked baklava. Every Tuesday, a basket of fresh baklava is sold in individually wrapped portions. These golden treats were pretty much perfect. Flaky and sweet but not too sweet like some baklava is because it has been practically soaked in honey. A tasty dessert; my only complaint is that the two pieces per portion are not big enough! Make sure if you try out Oasis, go on a Tuesday.

In today's review:

Location: 21 N. Wabash

Grocer, Butterfly, Toffee, YES

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hop off the blue line Grand stop and you will find yourself in a neighborhood you might not understand. Brand new luxury apartment buildings shouldered by overgrown dark alleys, boutique eateries next to abandoned and boarded up appliance shops. Despite the confusing atmosphere, this area of W. Grand Avenue has a lot to offer hungry passers-by. Yesterday, the three of us wound up on this side of town hoping to sample some gourmet pizza concoctions at Coalfire. Little did we know, this pizzeria is only open for dinner at 5pm, and not for lunch.

Disgruntled, we kept walking and stumbled across the Green Grocer, a specialty market store owned by a couple from the neighborhood. The Green Grocer offers a wide array of all natural food products as well as locally grown vegetables and meats. Gordon stocked up on some fresh salsas, Brynn purchased some chai spiced caramels that were out of this world, and I ogled the locally made Mayan hot chocolate mix. And of course, we all indulged in the vegan baked goods samples. Talking to one of the co-owners, we discovered that the Green Grocer offers free weekly food preparation classes, one upcoming lesson is about how to can your own preserves. As with all specialty stores, expect to pay a bit more for the higher quality. A great place to go for the out of the ordinary snack or unique treat. Next time you are headed to a party, pick up some spicy salsa or five-cheese garlic spread and treat your friends to a tasty all natural appetizer.

At the suggestion of our Green Grocer friend Cassie, we walked east on Grand to a Thai and sushi restaurant called Butterfly. From the street, Butterfly appears quite unassuming, but like I mentioned before, this whole street is full of surprises. Inside, the decor mimics the colors of the Monarch butterfly with high-backed black chairs and orange upholstered booths. Vases filled with stalks of bamboo and stone Buddha statues give the place a fancy but not rigid atmosphere. The restaurant feels like a great first date kind of place. For an appetizer we enjoyed Thai escargot with garlic bread. Or should I say Gordon enjoyed the escargot while Brynn & I enjoyed the grilled garlic bread. The curry sauce was creamy and spicy with hints of coconut, and its bright orange color complemented the interior decor. Being the vegetarian of the group I ordered a good old Thai classic: Pad See Eew with tofu. The dish features wide flat noodles, broccoli, snow peas, and scrambled egg. The thick and savory sauce brought all the flavors together nicely without being greasy. Gordon and Brynn will add their words on their entrees soon.

On our walk back to the train we passed a shop that we could not refuse: Terry's Toffee. When you walk into the Grand Ave. location of Terry's Toffee you notice that the shop itself is incredibly tiny. But, they sure know how to use space wisely! A display table offers sample chunks of each available flavor of rich and homemade toffees that range from the classic British recipes to funky combinations. The Chai-cago Spice flavor features dark chocolate covered toffee infused with chai flavors of cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom. My favorite flavor was definitely Lavenilla which -- as the portmanteau alludes -- is toffee infused with lavender and vanilla flavors then dipped in white chocolate. A masterpiece! Looking around the small shop, we noticed posters advertising the Oscar awards. Upon asking the owner, we found out the Terry's Toffee is so special and delicious that gift bags are given to the Oscar ceremony's celebrity presenters. The autographed 8x10s of smiling Hollywood celebrities on the wall attest to this toffee's nation-wide fanbase. All three of us left with a couple goodie bags for friends and family... or ourselves. I definitely grabbed a bag of Mazel Toffee for my Bubbie. Milk chocolate and matzah pieces surrounding toffee chunks = perfect for Chanukah!

In today's reviews:

The Green Grocer

Location: 1402 W. Grand Ave.

Location: 1156 W. Grand Ave.
Tel: (312) 563-5555

Terry's Toffee
Location: 1117 W. Grand Avenue
Tel: 312.733.2700

Our Favorite School Year Tradition

Monday, September 15, 2008

Over the last school year, my two dearest friends Gordon & Brynn have accompanied me to various restaurants in the Chicago area every Tuesday afternoon. It has become quite a tradition, carrying on into this brand new school year. Since I am no longer in school -- and have a shiny diploma to prove it -- I can stop writing essays and get to blogging. Tomorrow is our first official adventure of the school year, so I am sure there will be much to discuss.