Sitting on the plush bench waiting for the clock to strike 6PM, I peered into the kitchen to see what the chefs were creating. As I looked around the soaring ceilings and funky chandeliers, I was reminded of another restaurant’s decor. The color palette and plush feel was reminiscent of Cheesecake Factory. Sure enough, I later discovered that Grand Lux Cafe is owned by the same company that produces the never-ending menu and restaurant that is Cheesecake Factory.
I was invited to sample the new menu at Grand Lux Café (600 N. Michigan Ave.) along with other food and lifestyle bloggers in Chicago. Before sharing highlights from the new menu and drinks, I wanted to share a bit of insider info on what it’s like to dine with food bloggers if you don’t know one. I have learned through dating and generally being alive and dining with normal people that I break important etiquette rules when dining.
- My phone is usually on the table.
- I take photos. Several of them. From different angles. At times, the food has gone cold by the time I got “the shot.”
- I occasionally take photos of my girlfriend’s or friend’s dinner.
I would argue that I’m still present during the dinner. I rarely have my phone out to text friends or see what other people are doing on social networks.
When you are invited to a blogger dinner you are surrounded by your fellow “eccentrics.” Everyone has their camera ready. We confirm what the hashtag is for the restaurant or new menu. Dinner conversation can range from nerdy blog talk about SEO strategy and content calendars to inquiring about cooking technique or preparation tips as each dish comes out.
In order to be a great food photographer, you don’t need a great camera. You need to have a solid core to contort and stabilize your body to capture the food in the perfect light and angle.
For food bloggers, your plus one is often your phone or camera.
Here’s a rundown of what you can expect on the new menu at Grand Lux Cafe.
The Asian Nachos were a fun fusion dish with fried wontons taking the place of tortilla chips and a peanut sauce topping the chicken, cheese and green onions. The crowd favorite among these three appetizers were the pastrami tots. Bite-sized and crispy, they come with homemade pickles. If everyone there didn’t have cameras and a blog I could’ve downed the entire plate of croquettas.
It’s not a party without some drinks. I managed to sample three of the four. The Venetian is Bombay Sapphire with blood orange juice and lemongrass. The Grand Manhattan is Knob Creek Rye with some lemon. The Blood Orange Martini is Tito’s vodka, aperol and blood orange juice. I learned in college not to mix mixed drinks, but when you’re at a tasting dinner you have certain obligations to your audience. All of the drinks were tasty. Blood Orange is the hot fruit this season and you’ll be seeing it on a lot menus and at farmer’s markets.
Never fill up on the bread! Everyone has heard that advice on how to tackle buffets, but what do you do when the appetizers served are not bread? The apps and drinks prepared my stomach for what was about to be making its way down the food chute. The chefs created some mini versions of burgers and sliced wraps for us to sample without gorging ourselves.
They started us with a few salads which featured refreshing citrus dressings. I was impatient in photographing the slider versions of the burgers. They continued the pastrami theme and rounded out the mix with a Korean sriracha burger, grilled salmon burger and Korean fried chicken burrito. You know I love all things served in a tortilla, so that was my favorite among the burger options.
For lunch, Grand Lux Cafe has their take on bento boxes. They run about $15 and you choose between four decent portions of protein. Each bento comes with four foods (soup, salad, protein, veggie). The proteins you can choose from chile-crusted steak, salmon, parm-crusted chicken or garlic herbed chicken.
I know how much people love dessert so I’ll go with the bigger photos for this section. They served beignets with three dipping sauces, each were good. A few women ordered coffee. When the waiter asked if I wanted coffee I flashed back to when Leann and I were in Rome and I had go-go juice when I shouldn’t have. I didn’t sleep until 3 or 4AM. Since then I have learned to forgo coffee after noon. But then the waiter brought out the coffee and it wasn’t merely bean juice. It was Irish coffee with Bailey’s and whipped cream. The blogger crowd was starting to tap out from being full. That’s where the Bachelor Basics steps in to help make food disappear. One large, pillowy donut hole isn’t enough to trigger my shame and self-loathing. I snagged a few more as people started to file out. I needed to ensure I had something to balance out the caffeine I just ingested.
Here’s the final array of the food we sampled and portions you can expect when lunching or dining at Grand Lux off Michigan Avenue. Unless you bring your entire extended family you may not see all these dishes. Thanks for the invitation and the night sampling some fine food and cocktails. An even bigger thank you to the waiters and chefs for tolerating us weirdos snapping pictures of all their food. If it’s any comfort to them, I do the same stuff at home.