May 31, 2005

twisted spoke

Twisted Spoke on Ogden: Our second latenight dining attempt was more successful than the first, due to use of internet and phone to make sure the sumbitch was open before attempting to breach the premises. Tallasiandude had a burger, which was excellent: nice soft juicy flavorful meat that didn't overwhelm the toppings despite being large & thick. I had the sloppy joe, which was very well done but stylistically disappointing for me: it tasted like chili, while I feel that sloppy joes should be sweeter and more distinct in their flavor from chili. The fries that came with both were fantastic, dark golden brown and crunchy, with strong potato flavor. Props to the fry-man, 'cause I don't usually like fries that thick but these were great! AND all the ingredients they use are organic, which is just a warm fuzzy all around.

Posted by foodnerd at 01:14 AM | Comments (0)

May 30, 2005

adrift in chicago

It's been really frustrating this weekend: I haven't been able to get me & tallasiandude to decent restaurants. I am accustomed to having good places to eat at my fingertips for any situation or location, but I haven't been here long enough to have places in my head, and the places I DO know I'm not sure where they are or when they're open. So we've ended up dragging ass all over town only to find closed doors, or dithering for an hour trying to figure out where we want to eat, or just giving up completely.

For instance, tallasiandude wanted to try Italian beef, after hearing it described in delicious detail by H & J. So we tried going to Man-Jo-Vin, at Belmont & Damen, only to find it closed (i think for the holiday weekend). By then we were pretty hungry, and still wanted to try & make it to a dance before a movie, so we tried to find something quickly along Belmont or Clark. And didn't, really. We ended up at the Golden Nugget on Clark, which provided a serviceable BLT & grilled cheese-n-tomato, and a decent waffle with ice cream & strawberries. Acceptable, but not exactly what I had in mind for impressing my guest with the culinary marvels of this fair city.

After the movie, I wasn't sure what might be open around 9pm on a Sunday, but we were downtown so I thought we could check out the Billy Goat Tavern & get a burger. Closed. It was getting later and we were growing crankier, so we capitulated and thought we might try the big open patio at Pontiac Cafe on Damen in the midst of the Wicker Park madness. What is not apparent about the Pontiac from a mere drive-by is that it is an insane meat market, which isn't *so* bad in itself, but staff is annoyingly self-important and the menu was tedious and expensive. We blew it off, and tried to go to the yuppie noodle bar across the street (which had just closed), and by this time we felt even older & lamer than we did when we walked into the Pontiac's swirling morass of horny 20-something hipsterflesh, so we retreated to the all-nite low-rent diner Lorraine's, on the corner of Damen & Chicago, where we had powdered mashed potatoes, powdered orange drink, fried chicken, squishy white bread & butter, a pork chop sandwich, and a pizza puff straight from the fryolator. Pizza puffs are a weirdly ubiquitous food here, and I had to try one. They're pizza topping enclosed in a dough packet & deep fried. Not bad, really, especially late at night. Lorraine's is deeply sketchy, with dirty dishes & marginally functional staff. We felt infinitely more at home there than we did at Pontiac.

But recall that this saga began with a craving for Italian beef. So we got a little more organized this morning, and looked online and called ahead. Johnnie's is closed for the weekend. Al's is closed. Max's is closed. Man-Jo-Vin is still closed. So we decided to look for local, possibly-of-dubious-quality Italian beef. All of the handful of purveyors along Chicago & Damen were closed. So we went to plan B: the DeMar coffee shop, where we had a great waffle and respectable eggs & hash browns the other day. Wait for it, wait for it.... closed.

So we gave up and went to Mr. Taco around the corner on Marshfield, despite not really wanting Mexican, and sat in the open air patio. Happily, the chips were light & crunchy and came with great green & red salsas, and the tostada al pastor was really good. The other gorditas & tacos were fine too, and the orchata was yummy. But it weren't no Italian beef, and poor tallasiandude was fed, but unsatisfied.

As a foodwhore, i feel it to be my responsibility to make sure my friends not only eat, but eat well, at every meal, and the amount of compromise, capitulation and sheer futility over the last few days have been making me crazy, feeling guilty & inadequate. Pathetic, I know, but there it is. I gonna have to get busy learning where shit is in this town.

Posted by foodnerd at 09:44 PM | Comments (5)

May 29, 2005

red hen ciabatta

I got a loaf of ciabatta at the Red Hen Bakery, and then neglected it for at least a week (i at least had the presence of mind to stick it into the fridge while I flew around the midwest to client meetings, then to Boston for a drive back out to Chicago with a carfull of my crap). This morning I dug it out for some breakfast and it was all stiffened up with a wet top where the salt topping was -- sadness and despair! But pleasingly enough, it came out of the toaster all golden, light and crunchy. I guess you can't keep a good loaf down. Or something. *giggle*

Posted by foodnerd at 02:25 PM | Comments (0)

May 28, 2005

lao sze chuan

Last night tallasiandude & I took a trip to chinatown with H & J to check out Lao Sze Chuan. I think next time I will get the hotpot, since it is renowned for that, but this time we just ordered up a buncha stuff to see how it was. We didn't order particularly wisely, since we got a few things called "house special" which turned out to get us a lot of similarly chili-rific sauces. But the salt & pepper spare ribs were dee-licious, and the dong po pork was very luscious and tasty (if in no way resembling the dish I know as dong po pork -- this one had LOTS of chili pepper in a bright red sauce). And there was a dish of stirfried young soybeans with a salty-sour pickled vegetable, and the fish head soup had lots of lovely seafood, if not very much in the way of actual fish heads. Worth another exploratory mission.

Posted by foodnerd at 11:35 PM | Comments (0)

May 27, 2005

hae won dae

jackpot! Korean BBQ in Chicago appears to come standard with real charcoal braziers, which take an already fabulous eating experience and push it over the edge into a whole new realm of yum. From what I read, most of the Korean bbq places here use charcoal, and our dinner at Hae Won Dae certainly did.

We got kalbi & spicy pork bulgogi, both excellent, though the pork might have the slight edge for sheer deliciousness. The charcoal gave the meat a strong smoky flavor, mmmmmm. There were 9 dishes of pan chan, including really outstanding cabbage kimchi with a wonderful sour edge, raw marinated crab legs that were new to us and delicious though a bit hard to manage since they're goopy with chili sauce outside and goopy with runny marinated crabflesh inside, spicy cucumber, spicy daikon, nice soft salty seaweed, flat thin slices of slightly-sweet daikon, omelet slices, potato salad, & yellow takuan pickles with extra chili & sesame dressing that were fantastic.

We also ordered some duk bok ki as a starter, which were nice & soft but not as spicy as we expected, given the warning we got from our server. Dinner came with rice & a mini-hotpot of soup that seemed to me to be chigae (tofu, miso, veggies, jalapenos). And we got a new flavor of soju that claimed to be flavored with green tea -- you could have fooled us, not that we didn't knock it back with some vigor nonetheless.

So yeah: soju, charcoal grilled meat, and spicy-ass pickles, in enough quantity to feed a party of four, just for the two of us for our first meal in chicago. It was a good night.

Posted by foodnerd at 10:04 PM | Comments (2)

May 09, 2005

Rudy's Taste

Also near my new house is Rudy's Taste, a relatively new place with a tripartite specialty: Guatemalan, Cuban-Caribbean & Mexican. It's on Ashland between Chicago & Division.

I have been hearing about jibaritos, a Puerto Rican sandwich which I didn't know about before I came to Chicago, but ye cats, what is not to like about a meat and cheese sammich on a FRIED starch? Apparently Rudy's Taste is known for them, which makes sense considering the reason I went in there in the first place was the neon sign reading JIBARITOS. I got the cubano this time, though, just because I was craving one. I was not disappointed -- it wasn't the best ever, but that's no crime, because it was really good and full of the proper flavors: salty roasty meat, mayo, mustard, pickle, toasty bread, a bit of melty cheese, and a tangy salsa on the side. The cubano was just the ticket for breakfast after a beery evening on the roofdeck with the new upstairs neighbors.

Why the place was empty during prime brunch hour on a Saturday I have no idea. The coffee was pretty mediocre, but that's easily fixed (or just get coffee elsewhere -- there's a foofoo coffeeshop pretty much on the same block -- and have one of the awesome-looking juices instead). And I'm pretty sure it was Rudy himself who waited on me, and he seemed like a very sweet guy.

I will be going back for dinner and to try the Guatemalan specialties (apparently Rudy is Guatemalan, his dad is Mexican, and his wife is Cuban, thus the triple combo) and the jibarito. Stay tuned.

Posted by foodnerd at 08:27 PM | Comments (0)

May 08, 2005

carniceria laura

So the nearest market to my house is a mexican carniceria/grocery called Carniceria Laura, on Ashland just north of Chicago. It's a cute little full-grocery market, with a mini-restaurant in the back and a monstrous meat counter. There's all manner of beast products (tongues, large cuts of beef, etc.) and a smaller hotcase that has roasted pig and the biggest damn chicharrons I have ever seen. I am so going back to get some of those.

They have a whole wall of dried chile peppers and herbs and so forth, plus anything you could want in packaged Mexican goods, including horchata concentrate. Oh yeah.

I bought some necessaries, and a bottle of that great Tamazula smoky hot sauce, which made a really great guacamole, and a packet of locally made tortillas that were still warm in their paper package on a late weekend morning (er, early afternoon, whatever). The tortillas were awesome, full of soft corn flavor, and i put some of the leftover steak in there with the guacamole, to great effect. Yum!

Posted by foodnerd at 08:12 PM | Comments (3)

May 07, 2005

back in the groove

My body and mind are so much happier with me now that I have a proper kitchen and have taken a couple of fruitful trips to the Whole Paycheck and the local mexican and asian markets. I scored some ramps, since I had never had them and my friend H has been obsessing about them lately, AND they were looking pretty nice in the market, and $2.50 is cheap for a thrill.

I turned them into two salads, three really if you count the green salad I made for dinner one night with garrotxa cheese, ramps, green leaf lettuce, grape tomatoes, & carrots. The ramps & garrotxa complemented each other well and their nuttiness went well with the sweet tomatoes and carrots. Anyway, the ones in the picture are a barley salad with grated carrots, sliced celery, grape tomatoes and ramp greens in a simple vinaigrette, and a french green lentil salad with currants, ramp whites and peppadew peppers in similar vinaigrette. Lord, I love those damn peppadews! This lentil salad is my favorite -- all nutty sweet vinegary goodness. The combination really works, and it's so simple. If you haven't got any ramps, you could swap in shallots to good effect, I would think.

I served these (to myself) with a skirt steak panfried rare with a cilantro chimichurri. Ahhh, vegetables, fiber, meat, fresh flavors! Whew.

Posted by foodnerd at 07:56 PM | Comments (3)

May 05, 2005

foodnerd challenge #1! cream of chicken rice soup (now with prize!)

In the course of our discussion of the nasty cream of chicken rice soup I had the other day, cindy & i decided this dish was worthy of a blogverse challenge: We want to see your non-gloppy, non-gluey, non-bland cream of chicken & rice soup. There is no reason this worthy old-fashioned dish should be consigned to the lowest circles of food-service purgatory. It should be rich, creamy, full of chicken flavor, warming & comforting. Preference will be given to the traditional flavor profile, but variants such as avgolemono are still more than welcome. Whip up your asskicker of a soup, post it and let us know about it, let's say by the end of May, since by then it should be too warm most everywhere to really need any more thick warm savory soups. Do we need to offer a prize, or is pride of craftsmanship and triumph over processed ickiness prize enough? :-)

(Update: I am buying a remaindered-but-new copy of the Second Union Square Cookbook to offer as the prize. This is the book that had the unbelievable salad in it that my friend made for his dinner party, so I think it should be worthy for the creamy-chicken-soup champeen. I also have added a mail link to my sidebar, so you can more easily alert me to your soupy posts: foodnerd at-this-domain. Hurray! Can't wait to see what you all get up to.)

Posted by foodnerd at 01:37 PM | Comments (5)

May 04, 2005

signs of spring

today I ate my leftovers for lunch on the roofdeck atop my office building. it was warm and sunny and it made me happy.

Posted by foodnerd at 01:43 PM | Comments (0)

May 03, 2005

swapping addictions

My drug of choice is caffeine. Since I've gotten to Chicago, I've been drinking the office coffee, because it was there and it was free, and I had no caffeine-procurement facilities of my own. But as the days went along, I drank more and more of it, and found myself unable to think without an afternoon infusion as well as a couple big mugs in the morning. It was getting ugly. I needed to get back to my usual morning mug of strong black tea, the Irish kind that gets the job done right but doesn't cause the rest of your bodily systems to completely freak out.

But I couldn't find it anywhere. Argh! Can't cave and get crappy Lipton! What to do? LTHForum to the rescue. A thread there happened to discuss where to get british foodstuffs, and named an Irish shop named Tara. I got there, but too late -- it had already closed since it took me 8 million years to get there on the el. But there was mention also of a Jewel up the street from there with a tiny corner catering to the construction workers and bar staff in the neighborhood (which IS chockablock with Irish or at least Irish-style bars). And blessedly there was my box of Lyons brand tea. A little bit reconfigured, in a cubic box rather than flat, because they've reshaped the bags from flat & round to pyramidal, but I brewed some up today, it tastes just as I remember it, and all is right with the world. Thank heavens, and god bless my little addiction.

Posted by foodnerd at 01:51 PM | Comments (0)

May 01, 2005

gratitude & celebration

Last night I was finally able to thank J & M in person for letting me stay in their empty apartment for 3 weeks (egad!). It was such an unbelievable godsend -- I had no idea it would take so long to nail down a roommate situation, and I would never have been able to impose on H & J for such a long time without expiring from the guilt. How to thank people for such a favor, you ask? Well, duh: cook for them!

That covers the gratitude; we also had much to celebrate, since H just received confirmation that she's got the job she wants and has worked so hard for these last months, I've finally gotten an apartment lined up so that I can leave the lovely-but-distant apartment of J & M for a place of my own, and on top of that, it's finally May, finally spring, finally warm.

Having had the presence of mind to bring my kebab kubideh recipe with me, a wonderful spring recipe if ever there was one, I settled on that as the main dish, thinking to complement it with some sort of salad, and do fallen chocolate souffle cake for dessert, since it is idiot-proof and i am an idiot when it comes to baking. But as H & I went along in the kitchen, we got a little excited and ended up with two additional courses. I love cooking with friends -- it is such a joy. Here is what we ended up with:

amuse-bouche of blanched favas roughly mashed with goat's milk feta, with a bit of salad, oil-cured black olives, and peppadew peppers (thanks to the delightful cook sister! for the tip on these little red balls of sweet-spicy deliciousness), drizzled with a bit of olive oil, lemon & salt. This dish was H's brainwave, and a mighty success in my opinion.

cool soup of carrots and a bit of potato steamed in the onion juice leftover from the kebabs, pureed with hot hungarian paprika, lemon, sherry vinegar, yogurt, cream, salt & pepper. And dill, let us not forget the fresh dill. Best to let this sit a little while (at least 30 min) to let it cool down and blend flavors, but easy as can be.

buttered basmati rice, the always-lovely kebabs kubideh with their saffron butter coating, grilled tomatoes, and sumac to sprinkle over. Also a yogurt salad/sauce of greek yogurt, salted diced cucumber, dried mint & ground black pepper.

true salad course of green leaf lettuce, arugula, thin sliced radishes, thin sliced fennel, dill & cilantro, and a mustard-lemon not-vinaigrette with a bit of the peppadew juice in it. There is a word for a salad dressing made with lemon in place of the vinegar, but it is escaping me at the moment.

and of course, the chocolate cake, but we could not just stop there, so we cut up some fresh strawberries and mixed them with port and sugar to serve alongside with the sweetened vanilla whipped cream. (I have yet to discover a situation in which berries and various fruits are not made insanely more delicious by the addition of a sweet dessert wine. Yow!)

We also had some port and some of J's pisco with grapes with our dessert, so we were well and truly sedated by the time we were done. I adore evenings like this, with friends old and new, with delicious ingredients, and with a menu that allows relaxed confidence enough to take a bit more time to provide the little flourishes that make a meal special, but also allows ample space for creative improvisation at the spur of the moment. I am very happy this morning.

Posted by foodnerd at 12:04 PM | Comments (2)