When you become a parent there are lots of things that become harder to manage. For instance, being able to go out to dinner and actually enjoy yourself.
With the kids around there’s always something to deal with, whether it’s cutting food, blowing on something because it’s lukewarm (which is too hot for our daughter), breaking up a fight, or in most cases, just making sure they actually eat enough so they aren’t complaining that they are hungry the second we walk out of the restaurant. It’s a delicate dance that we go through every time we decide to take the kids out to each.
Sure, we could just give in and give them a tablet to watch while we enjoy our meal, but that’s not really our style. Crayons and toys are their main source of entertainment during meals out, and if that isn’t enough to entertain them, then they are shit out of luck — and our night just gets that much harder.
But it is what it is.
That’s why we always look forward to the nights when we can secure a babysitter and head down into the city for an uninterrupted night of fun with friends… even if we’re still home and in bed by 11pm, and not 2am like it used to be, it’s still nice to have a break every once in a while to hang out with other adults.
And that’s exactly what we got to do last weekend when we met up with our dear friends Nick and Meredith for one of the most fun nights I think my wife and I have had in a really long time.
Aba Restaurant Chicago – Mediterranean Small-Plate Foods
I don’t know much about the history of Aba Restaurant in Chicago’s Fulton Market District, but it seems like it’s a newer restaurant. My wife had to make our reservation for 4, on a Saturday night at 6:15pm, 2 months in advance to ensure that we were able to get a table. And since the weather in Chicago is so unpredictable in September, she didn’t make the reservation for the patio, but thankfully we lucked out and were able to secure a table outside when we arrived.
Speaking of the patio, I want to talk about the actual space before we get into the food. This restaurant is absolutely beautiful… and I normally don’t say that about restaurants. The main dining room is lit in a way that provides the perfect ambiance for dinner, while plants and trees seem to catch your eye at every turn, almost making it seem as if you’re dining outside, even though you’re not.
Flanking both ends of the dining room are full bars, with one of the opening up to the patio.
The patio wraps almost the entire length of the restaurant and around the corner, providing ample seating for quite a few people, as well as private parties. It also has an awesome view of the skyline looking towards the Sears Tower (always the Sears Tower to me, never the Willis Tower).
Seating on the patio consists of mainly normal tables and chairs, but there are also a few couches for a more relaxed/lounge feel.
We did not sit on the couches and eat our dinner though, I hate being super low to the ground and having to lean over to a table in order to eat… we sat in regular chairs like normal people.
Cocktails and Alcohol
We arrived a bit early for our reservation, and had to wait a few minutes for a patio table to open up, so while we waited we decided to grab a drink at the bar.
Drink prices ranged from $7-10 for beers and about $12-28 for cocktails. So pretty standard city prices. And there are also plenty of wine options for those that prefer wine.
I cannot remember which beer Meredith got, but I know that my wife got some sort of a wine in a can, while Nick and I opted for the Rooftop Rager cocktail… which seemed to be pretty popular just by looking around the room.
The Rooftop Rager consists of Tito’s Vodka, chareau, gancia aperitivo, strawberry, lemon — I don’t know what chareau or gancia aperitivo are, but the drink tasted good enough for us to drink multiple glasses throughout the night. It was sweet with almost a weird minty taste at the back end…
Ugh, ok, I’m starting to sound super snobby in this review, what is going on…
Food – Grilled Octopus, Eggplant Hummus, Skirt Steak, Kebabs and more
Alright, let’s get into what everyone wants to know about… the food.
After our previous dinner outing at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reba, we wanted to make sure that nobody left that table hungry, so we were determined to order whatever we wanted to try without holding back. And I think we succeeded.
Especially since we all kept asking each other if everyone was satisfied throughout the meal. Nobody was leaving hungry this time.
This is a small-plate establishment, so the server recommended at least two dishes per person to ensure that we had an adequate amount of food to satisfy our hunger… so eight dishes was our goal.
We started out with the Green Falafel with avocado tzatziki, garlic tahini, and dania spice. Right up my alley… (not really).
I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had falafel, but when we come to places like this, with small plates, I make it a point to try, at least, a little bit of everything we order. And this was no exception… and it wasn’t too bad.
I would say that something in the dish was a bit too spicy for my liking, but it may have just been the sauce. So if you’re not into spicy, I would avoid the sauce a bit. Other than that though, it was quite delicious. A bit crunchy on the outside and soft and mushy on the inside… which is, I guess, what falafel is? Who knows… but it wasn’t bad, and I think everyone at the table enjoyed it.
Next up was the Charred Eggplant Spread with house yogurt, lemon, and California olive oil, which was better than I was expecting honestly.
I’m definitely not a fan of eggplant and yogurt isn’t my favorite thing in the world, so I was a bit hesitant when this spread contained both of those items, but it wasn’t bad. I would say though, that whatever pita bread they gave with the spread definitely helped its cause, cause that shit was absolutely incredible. I think I probably ate an entire basket of that bread throughout the night on its own, it was that good. The spread itself wasn’t overpowering with the eggplant, as far as I could tell, and tasted more like a partially flavored yogurt than anything.
But that bread though… come on. I’m drooling over here just thinking about it. Don’t pass up the bread if you eat here, seriously, take it from a guy who doesn’t like food…
In addition to that spread, we also ordered the Village Salad (pictured above with the eggplant spread) which has mighty vine cherry tomatoes, Persian cucumber, red onion, feta, and greek vinaigrette. I can’t eat raw tomatoes so I distanced myself from trying the salad as a whole, but I did give those Persian cucumbers a shot, along with the vinaigrette, and enjoyed those quite a bit. They tasted similar to normal cucumbers, just a bit smaller and maybe a bit sweeter, but that could have just been the dressing.
Ok, so I guess I lied a bit about trying everything we ordered, because there are definitely some things coming up here that I didn’t even try. The first being the House-Made Stracciatella with marinated tomatoes, sherry vinaigrette, croutons. Which was basically just a plate of mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and croutons. But that amount of straight up cheese worried me a bit so I stayed away.
I think the rest of the table enjoy it though, as the plate was basically gone by the end of the night, so it couldn’t have been bad…
Next up we threw down for a couple meat based dishes with the Grilled Skirt Steak with shawarma spice, and cucumber & tomato salad, as well as the Lamb & Beef Kefta Kebab with lemon, olive oil, and tzatziki.
I would have to say, out of those two, that the skirt steak was probably my favorite. I had a nice glaze on top of it that was pretty flavorful, and it definitely hit the spot.
As for the lamb & beef kebab, it was decent, but I thought it was a bit dry. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be that way, but it seemed to fall apart as you tried to pull it off of the skewer, and that dryness could definitely be felt as it entered your mouth.
The rice wasn’t bad though, and I didn’t try the sauce.
For our last two dishes we went with the Charred Halloumi with turmeric, pequillo peppers, watercress, and champagne grapes, as well as the Grilled Spanish Octopus with baharat potatoes, tomato-fennel ragu, and preserved lemon aioli.
Can you guess which one I liked more?
If you said the Octopus, you would be right… because I didn’t even try the other one.
We ordered the Halloumi based on the recommendation from our server, and honestly, I don’t think anyone at the table was very impressed with it. It actually made us question our server’s taste, and prevented us from ordering dessert because he made recommendations… ha!
Well, that was part of the reason… we decided to head to Jeni’s Ice Cream for dessert instead, but that’s not important.
What is important though is the fact that the grilled octopus was pretty good. Not in a “I would order it for myself for an entree” sort of good, but good enough that I had a few chunks of it, while my wife polished off the rest of it.
As with the octopus we had at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reba a couple months ago, it just tastes like fried calamari without the fried breading. The consistency was fine, it’s tough, but not super chewy, and the sauce around it was pretty good as well.
Again, not something I would order on my own, but worth trying if you’ve got a taste for octopus tentacles.
And that was it for our food adventure at Aba last weekend… but that’s not where our night ended.
After dinner, since it was only 8:15pm, we couldn’t go home yet, so we decided to head over to Punch Bowl Social for a drink… that might have been a mistake, but it was quite memorable.
Punch Bowl Social – I’m Sorry
I know I always say that this blog is about me being unapologetic and expressing my opinions on the food I eat and the drinks I have, but I do always try to find at least something good about the things I consume… however, I don’t know if I can say that about Punch Bowl Social.
The space is really cool; there’s bowling, video games and some pool tables. It’s big and spacious. The bartenders seemed nice… but if this place is known for their specialty punches, they should think about rebranding.
I’m sorry, but they were pretty disgusting.
I think we were all buzzing a bit from the drinks at dinner, but we wanted to just cap it off with one more beverage before getting some ice cream, hanging out for a bit and then heading home, so we made our way upstairs to Punch Bowl Social where they serve alcoholic punch… as well as a bunch of other stuff that we didn’t care about.
The menu has four punch varieties on it at a time – The Watermelon Polo Bowl, It’s a Mer-Man’s World, Connoisseur’s Cup and the Featured Punch, which this night was something called Sweater Weather.
Now, I don’t know if the samples that the bartender made us were just bad, or what, but they were all disgusting. Some more disgusting than others, but there was no way that any of us were going to order a full glass of any of these monstrosities.
The only one that tasted semi-ok… and it still wasn’t good, was the Sweater Weather one, which basically just tasted like Fireball… even though the bar doesn’t stock Fireball… so I guess it tasted like Jack Daniels Tennessee Fire…?
Either way, since none of us had any desire to order a full glass of any of the punches, we decided just to take a shot and leave. We felt bad having the bartender make us the samples, which we drank, even though they were disgusting, so we didn’t want to leave without buying at least something… and the fact that we probably looked like loud idiots in the bar area didn’t help either.
So having not taken shots in years, I took my 2nd shot of the week on Saturday night.
We then proceeded to head towards the exit, but not before stopping to take a photo in the photobooth for $5… which turned out both amazing and awful at the same time.
It was then over to Jeni’s Ice Cream to cap off the night with dessert before making our way home.
The night was a hell of a lot of fun and I can’t wait until we do it again soon. The food was awesome, the atmosphere was great, and the company was even better. And despite the questionable punches at Punch Bowl Social, we even had a good time there, for all of 20 minutes.