Cajun Connection – Utica, IL

Last night, I attended our monthly “Mom’s Night Out” and this month we tried Ron’s Cajun Connection in Utica, Illinois.  I had been to Cajun Connection once before with Mike a few years ago for a date night and having only ordered fried catfish (being from Southern Illinois I’m picky about my fried catfish!) I wasn’t super impressed and had not been back. However, my friend Jocelyn really wanted to go to Cajun Connection and kept talking about etoufee — which I’d never heard of — so we decided to give it a whirl.

The owner, Ron, drives to Louisiana each week and brings back fresh seafood from the gulf. Cajun Connection is widely acclaimed around our area and will be featured on WGN-TV’s Chicago’s Best soon!

I went into the evening deciding to order whatever Jocelyn ordered and to push myself outside of my comfort zone.  There really aren’t many foods I won’t eat (bugs, hazelnuts…) so I figured I’d be okay no matter what I tried.  I ordered the pick two combo with shrimp etoufee and blackened catfish, gumbo as my appetizer, and (not pictured) key lime pie for dessert.  It was delicious!  The gumbo was rich and flavorful, the etoufee was amazing (I have no idea what was in it, but it was delicious) and the catfish was really tasty as well.  The food surpassed my expectations.

The place itself is a bit strange — very old and eclectically decorated.  The waitstaff is subpar, at best.  We were waiting over 30 minutes to be seated as a party of 5 (and there were tables available, they just had to put them together) and they didn’t want to seat us until everyone was there.  We also waited forever to receive our drinks.

As for kid-friendly, I’m sure my kids would be intrigued and they have more typical kid-fare like chicken tenders and fries.  I wouldn’t shy away from taking them there and there were several families there when we were.

Overall, it earns 3 1/2 Wooden Spoons.  The food itself is wonderful (branch out and don’t order the fried food) — the atmosphere was strange and the service was lacking.   Thanks to Jocelyn for making me break out of my comfort zone and discover some tasty new-to-me flavors!  Of course, the highlight of the night wasn’t even the food — it was chatting and laughing with other moms! 🙂

Cotto A Legna – Geneva, IL

On Saturday, we were visiting Mike’s parents and they gave us the opportunity to escape sans children for a few hours to have dinner.  Our original destination was Bien Trucha to use a giftcard we received at Christmas 2011 (yes, that long ago!) but the wait was an hour and a half and we just weren’t willing to wait that long.  We will make it there again soon, hopefully!

We eventually decided to try Cotta A Legna — a wood fire pizza restaurant near the train station in Geneva, Illinois.  We originally walked by the location over a year ago and commented that a pizza and wine bar sounded right up our alley.  Cotta A Legna earns 3 1/2 Wooden Spoons overall.  The food was good but it isn’t one of those places that I’ll crave going back to.

Mike ordered a glass of wine and I had water.  We ordered the chevice and honey salmon brushetta as an appetizer.  We each had one piece of each.  The chevice bruschetta included roasted tomato, sweet crab, and shrimp and was dressed with lemon aioli and argula (photo above).  The honey smoked salmon bruschetta included gorgonzola, roasted apples, caramelized onions, aioli and micro greens.  Both of the bruschettas were very good and the French bread it is served on is delicious.  I could easily eat only bruschetta as my meal.

We also ordered a pizza.  We originally ordered the truffle pizza that was advertised as their special but our waitress said it was not the truffles they had intended as the shipment did not come in.  We changed our minds and went with the basic margherita.  The margherita pizza included tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and olive oil.  We were able to see the wood fire grill from our table where they were cooking the pizzas which was neat and the crust of the pizza was delicious – however, the wait time for our pizza was bit long.  The pizza overall needed more sauce — or dipping sauce — to add a bit more flavor.

The restaurant has a fun vibe, but the employees don’t seem particularly happy to be there.  Our waitress was sufficient but nothing to write home about — and everyone walking by seemed to be in a hurry.  It definitely was subpar for service even though the food was quite good.

It isn’t a place I’d take my young kids — probably not until they are at least 10 — just due to the overall atmosphere.  It’s definitely a pizza place with a more grownup feel.

As far as cost, our dinner was very reasonable — but there were pricey options as well. Our bruschetta appetizer was 12.50 for 4 pieces.  The pizza (8 pieces total) was 10.00 and Mike’s wine was 8.00 bringing our total with tax to only $32.79 — which I think is completely reasonable for a nice dinner out.

Cotto A Legna is worth checking out — for their extensive wine list, yummy pizza crust, and bruschetta — but only earns 3 1/2 Wooden Spoons due to subpar service, unhappy employees, and wait time.

Corner 230 — Ottawa, IL

Mike and I had the opportunity to escape for a few hours sans children on a Saturday afternoon.  I had Abby scheduled to sit so we could attend the Illinois Vintage Wine festival with friends — but our friends bailed leaving us with an afternoon to ourselves with a sitter. We debated going to the wine festival but decided we’d have more fun just going to dinner.

Our first stop was August Hill Winery in Utica where we enjoyed a glass of wine.  I highly recommend the warm spiced caramel apple wine. After enjoying our wine we stopped into the chocolate shop and popcorn shop in Utica.  Both great spots!

We headed over to Ottawa to try Corner 230.  I’d heard good things about Corner 230 from friends for several years and was excited to try the tapas restaurant.  I’m not sure what I expected, but Corner 230 is basically an upscale bar with really good food.

Mike ordered a glass of Cabernet and I had a Diet Coke to accompany our appetizer of blue cheese guacamole.  The bleu cheese guac is topped with bacon and served with pita chips.  We both agreed the guac was delicious.  Five wooden spoons for sure.  Mike and I are both ridiculous guac lovers and this one had great flavor.

We ordered two entrees — the fish tacos and scallops — to share.  The fish tacos are served with lettuce, pico, cheese, and a secret sauce — and fries.  These were good, but Mike and I have both had a lot of fish tacos, so they didn’t seem all that special.  I’d give the tacos three wooden spoons.  The scallops however, we loved.  They were in a lemon butter sauce with sautéed spinach and roasted red peppers.  The scallops were perfectly cooked — and if you’ve ever watched Top Chef, you know what a feat this is!  Five wooden spoons for the scallop dish – and definitely an entree I’d order again!

For dessert, we ordered the flan brûlée.  In case you can’t tell from the photo, we enjoyed it.  I’m a dessert perfectionist, so this one I’d give four wooden spoons.

Our total bill, including the wine, was $40.66.  Very reasonable for very good food — especially considering we had an appetizer, two entrees, and a dessert.  Our experience was very good and our waitress was friendly.  It isn’t a place I’d take our young children — I’m not sure they would eat any of it — and the bar area isn’t really kid-friendly — however, it’s definitely a spot Mike and I will be frequenting in the future.  Overall, Corner 230 earns 4 1/2 wooden spoons.