Chuck’s: A Kerry Simon Kitchen ‘Hard Rock Hotel’ Chicago

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Spring time has finally arrived in Chicago and the streets are busy with hungry locals and tourists in search of something good to eat and all of Chicago’s best restaurants are ready with new spring menus to entice them. I recently had the pleasure of dining at Chuck’s: A Kerry Simon Kitchen to sample their spring menu and experience their brand new outdoor dining area.

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As I stepped through the doorway off of Michigan Avenue I was immediately greeted by a lovely hostess who politely guided me past sleek modern furnishings to my table. Chuck’s: A Kerry Simon Kitchen’s sophisticated décor features black lacquer and gold metallic accents while the floor-­to­-ceiling windows in the sleek bar area lend a bright and airy feel to the space. During lunch the sound system is silent, but beginning late in the afternoon and late into the evening the space is filled with classic and garage rock beats; this is afterall the Hard Rock Hotel Chicago. The vibe here is hip and modern, but also mellow and comfortable.

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If you stop in for a drink after work, be sure to check out the brand new summer patio area directly on Michigan Avenue. Filled with florals and greenery provide a cozy oasis, this is the perfect spot to take in the vibrant downtown ambiance while sampling the new spring menu.

Chuck’s is Iron Chef champion Kerry Simon’s Chicago kitchen, and his answer to the crowds of music lovers who flock to the Hard Rock Hotel looking for a great place to eat. Rolling Stone magazine has even dubbed him the “Rock n Roll Chef”. Both owner Kerry Simon and Chuck’s Executive Chef Scott Simon were born in Evanston, on Chicago’s north side, and grew up with a passion for good food and rock and roll, and this pedigree shines in every detail and every dish served up at Chuck’s.

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting with Executive Chef Scott Simon and dining at Chuck’s to sample their menu and experience their twist on traditional dishes, and their fresh, organic ingredients.

Food

Summer Strawberry Salad
candied pecans, goat cheese, dried cranberries, strawberry vinaigrette

This salad is summer on a plate. The sweetness of the ripened strawberries mixed with the tanginess of the dried cranberries was a wonderful combination with the sweet­ crunchiness of the candied pecans. The strawberry vinaigrette was light and not overpowering. The creaminess of the goat cheese smoothly twirled these flavors together with a acid-­balancing richness.

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Heirloom Tomato Salad
arugula, mozzarella, balsamic glaze, roasted pine nuts

I knew I would love this salad when I saw all the elements on this plate, especially the variety of tomatoes which varied in both sweetness and acidity providing a perfectly balanced dish with the added fun of trying all of those tomatoes! The sweet and vinegary tang of the balsamic glaze mixed with the spiciness of the arugula and the rich sweetness of pine nuts. This wonderfully flavored tomato salad will sure be a hit especially if you enjoy tomatoes as much as I do.

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Scottish Salmon
mint summer vegetable quinoa, jalapeno cilantro cream

The Scottish salmon was buttery and mild, and prepared moist, flaky and well ­seasoned. The salmon was served on a bed of mint summer succulent vegetable quinoa that brought not only a vibrant array of colors to the dish but also a bold, herbal taste. The presentation was topped off with a lovely, cool jalapeño cilantro cream. A light and delicious dish!

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Caprese Burger with Tuscan Fries
heirloom tomatoes, balsamic reduction, mozzarella, pesto aioli

Delicate slices of rich heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella served on top of Chuck’s delicious burger, topped with a powerful balsamic reduction and fresh pesto. I loved the sweetness from the balsamic reduction mixed with the pesto aioli. This all­around perfect blend of summer flavors provide a massive upgrade to your summertime backyard burger.

Tuscan Fries
rosemary, parsley, parmesan

Anyone who knows me will know I’m not a fan of potatoes unless they are served as crispy fries, in which case I will eat them all! Chef Kerry’s Tuscan fries are perfectly crisp, just like the tots. Fresh rosemary, parsley and parmesan coat these delicious fries, and the level of seasoning seems just right. A very nice compliment to the delicious Iron Chef burger.

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Iron Chef Burger with Tater Tots
extra sharp cheddar cheese, red onion jam, fancy sauce

Back in 2005, Chef Kerry Simon, the man known as the “Rock ‘n Roll Chef”, stepped into Kitchen Stadium and bested the legendary (and intensely likable) Iron Chef Cat Cora in an epic burger battle. It was this burger that propelled him past Iron Chef Cora, earning him the title of Iron Chef. The Iron Chef burger is topped with extra­sharp cheddar cheese, onion jam, bacon, and a fancy sauce. When asked how I’d like it cooked, I requested it prepared as the Chef feels it’s best eaten, which is medium ­rare. This is no pre­made sirloin patty but an exquisite slab made up of prime cuts of beef. Prepared from brisket, short rib, and chuck, which are ground to a medium ­coarse texture and was delectably juicy and tender. Wonderfully seasoned and grilled to perfection with a perfectly pink center. The bacon was crispy and did not overpower the flavor of the beef, but provided a salty­smoky flavor as accompaniment to the rich flavor of the burger. The fancy sauce is a sweet mayo­mustard sauce that cut through the richness of the beef. The red onion jam is a brilliant and welcome substitute for the usual raw or grilled onions, and gave a mouth-­watering sweet oniony tartness to the burger. The big, soft, buttery brioche bun was a very nice touch and elevated this beyond any burger I’ve ever tasted.

Tator Tots
salt, togarashi

The side of tots were fried to a golden, crisp perfection, and seasoned with a dash of togarashi seasoning, providing just the right amount of spice. These were fantastic, and then I forgot to ask to take the rest with me, so I’ll be returning shortly for another plate of these!

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Charred Edamame
ginger salt, lime, togarashi

First, were you wondering what togarashi is? More often referred to as the shichimi togarashi, it’s a Japanese condiment which is normally a blend of seven ingredients, with emphasis on spicy chili peppers! Normally available in mild, medium ­hot, and hot, this seasoning can transform any dish and that’s exactly what it did for the charred edamame. The edamame were perfectly charred which gave them a hint of smokiness, the uniqueness of the ginger salt, the tanginess from the lime, and spice­ blend from shishito peppers. This edamame is a must try with a great spicy twist on these usually boring beans!

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Crispy Creamy Shrimp
sweet chili glaze, apple & celery slaw

This is crispy creamy shrimp, what else needs to be said? First the shrimp are lightly fried, then tossed with a sweet chili sauce, and then tossed with aioli, and served on a bed of crisp, tart apple celery slaw. The sweet chili glaze and the creamy aioli sauce cling to the lightly breaded shrimp creating an amazing flavor combination that I must have been missing out on! I’ll be honest, I ate all of these delicious sweet, creamy, little shrimps, every last one of them. And then nearly licked the plate.

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Dessert

Junk Food Platter
“hostess style” cupcake, caramel popcorn, cookie, brownie, cereal treat, cotton candy

My eyes must have been huge when I saw my server Johnathan bringing this very large plate to my table. All I could see from a distance was a giant ball of pink cotton candy and my face lit up like a kid on Christmas. When it was placed in front of me, I was delighted to find every one of my favorite childhood treats on that plate. Alongside the freshly spun cotton candy was a play on on cracker jacks tucked in a mini Chinese take­out box, cookies, brownies, “rice crispy” style treats made with cocoa and rainbow pebbles, hand­made whoopee pies, and a “hostess­style” cupcake with the white frosting loops across the top. The cupcake was deliciously moist with just the right level of richness, improving on the original everyone knows. The cereal treats were gooey and fresh, made with marshmallows just like Grandma use to make and the brownies were just like the home made ones my mother used to make. It was great experiencing the sweetest treats of my childhood all in a single sitting! This is a great dessert to order whether you have children with you or not, but you should definitely have someone along to share it with! I certainly didn’t eat it all in one sitting (thought the thought crossed my mind!) but I did take it home with me, and nibbled at it for the next couple of days, leaving not a single crumb behind!

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Drinks

The upscale modern, yet casual bar has a nice selection of craft beers and cocktails to enjoy after work, and though I was still technically at work, I had the pleasure of trying two new cocktails from the spring menu.

White Peach Sangria
seasonal fruits, juices, wine and spirits

This wonderful summer concoction features 14 ingredients. Yes, you heard me correctly but don’t be alarmed! Thirteen ingredients are placed into a large container and refrigerated for 24 hours. The next day, they top off the concoction with lemon/lime soda and serve in wine glasses garnished with lemon/lime slices. Tangy, fruity, fresh and delicious, this is a great summer drink.

Blackberry Thyme Margarita
tequila, agave nectar, lime, blackberries, fresh thyme

Who doesn’t enjoy a delicious margarita? How about a margarita with fresh herbs? The sweet yet tart blackberries mixed with the lime, agave nectar, and grand marnier gave this margarita the perfect summertime flavors. The thyme added just a hint of savory to this fruity margarita along with a nice fresh and herbal note to the drink; while the blackberries lent their deep berry flavors and a gorgeous hue.

These are two perfect cocktails you will want to enjoy on the patio while people watching.

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Chef Simon has created a wonderful menu prepared with fresh, organic ingredients embellished with creative and exciting twists while staying true to his love of American classics. You will find Chef Scott Simon visiting tables, talking with guests about the food and the restaurant. I found the ambiance, the staff, the service, and of course the food were all stellar, and exceeded my expectations. Chuck’s hit the mark on every dish, and I’ll be back soon for more.

A special thanks to my waiter Johnathon for your friendly, attentive, impeccable service, and welcoming smile.

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