January 30, 2006

silver palm

After the game, the ELF, Mr. S & I tried to go to Perez, so they could experience the yummy mexican cooking that so consumes me these days, but it was CLOSED. Oh the horror! the trauma! What to do? QUICKLY, internet, where to eat?

The Silver Palm. Eating inside a restored train car is never a bad idea, and this one has the advantage of having excellent french fries. The food is nothing truly spectacular, but I will go back for the fries alone, and to go with them, the deep-fried perch was very nice, the ribs were decent, the grilled calamari starter perfectly fine, and the roasted-vegetable sandwich a nice change of pace, with parsnips and beets instead of peppers and zucchini. And they have a good selection of belgian and other european beers, which is always appreciated.

In related news, the jumbo dogs at the United Center are really good -- I haven't had a full-on chicago dog since I moved here, and I remember anew how much celery salt and two kinds of pickles can do for a hot dog. Mmmmm.

Posted by foodnerd at 06:14 AM | Comments (0)

January 29, 2006

i think i have a new favorite restaurant ever

This weekend my friend ELF showed up with her fiance Mr. S and some charity-auction hockey tickets (uh, go Blackhawks!), and wanted to get a little taste of what Chicago could offer a traveling foodwhore. Not just any foodwhore, but one that's been living in Manhattan the last few years, making good progress through the restaurants there -- she's got a long list of places I must go when I next visit. So, duh, I took them to Blackbird.

Which did not disappoint. (At this point, after C's eaten there probably 10 times, maybe, I knew there was nothing to worry about.) ELF & Mr. S were digging the tasty deliciousness, and agreed with me about the atmosphere being strangely cozy despite the stark lines and cold color palette of the decor. Perhaps the Allman Brothers Greatest Hits on the CD player helped that along -- ELF's favorite part was that not only was she eating spectacularly delicious scallops and pork and fried capers, she was singing along to "Jessica" and bouncing in her seat. The restaurant gods were totally in the haus working their mojo for the ELF last night. And there's also the thought that Blackbird is in Chicago, not NYC, and simply by virtue of that fact we lose a lot of the more egregious pretentiousness that can afflict a restaurant as good as this one is. (I certainly couldn't say for sure, since my fine-dining in NYC consists only of a few trips to Babbo.)

We took a page from C's playbook and got a first course of the charcuterie plate to share, which was even more delicious this time than last: enough cocktails were consumed yesterday that I don't remember exactly what things were, but there was a savory salty sausage, a country-style pate with pistachios & a rim of lovely white fat, and crispy lamb's tongue, with some fabulous pickles cut into julienne. ELF & Mr. S are digging the extra starter course concept, and I suspect it may be repeated sometime in their near future. :-)

Second course was the venison pastrami again, equally spectacular as last time; another scallop dish, this time smoked scallops seared with brown butter, a couple shavings of black truffle, and marcona almonds, which were the flavor pairing that pushed this version over the edge -- chuck a few chopped marconas over your next seared scallop and see for yourselves, yum; and a seared foie gras with duck confit wrapped in crepes, with sweet bits of things alongside: a molasses-y schmear of sauce, some fruits & sweet winter veggies. And two homemade marshmallows -- too sweet really to go with the dish, but hilarious anyway, and delicious as a mini/early dessert course. They brought us a little glass of sauternes to go with this last dish -- we weren't sure if they do that for everyone, or if they just liked us for some reason, but it was very much appreciated, as it went perfectly with the dish.

We were drinking a chateauneuf de pape, which was good, but I am a lightweight these days and couldn't drink much of it since we'd spent the afternoon hanging out in the Green Mill and the fancy sky-bar in the W having cocktails and conversation. Maybe ELF will remember what the hell it was, so I can tell you all.

For mains we -- and I do mean we, since we did full-on plate rotation so everyone got some quality time with each dish; these are my kind of people, ELF & Mr. S -- had a pork combo dish with sauerkraut, involving braised pork belly, a sausage of some kind, tiny potatoes, slices of pink apple & quince, and some tasty mustard. We had lamb t-bones, which are adorably wee versions of cow t-bones, but just as thick, and perfectly rare inside and crispy outside, and surrounded by cranberry beans, a spiced yogurt sauce, some crumbled sausage that tasted like merguez, and fantastic sweet-pickled red onions. And we had the guinea hen in yuzu glaze, because I remembered how fucking fantastic was the one bite I had had of C's the last time I was at Blackbird. Oh my god. This dish is so so SO good, it's just ridiculous. The yuzu is like a meyer lemon only even more floral and a bit stronger, so it's perfect with the delicate bird and crunchy skin. The cauliflower was whole this time, not pureed, and there were also some fresh baby artichokes underneath, which were delicious -- is it baby artichoke time already in California?? Hot damn. Everything we had was great, but this poultry dish is the star, as far as I am concerned -- I couldn't get enough. Our server agreed with me; she said it was her favorite by far... and she was diggin' the Allman Brothers too, so clearly she is a woman of discernment and taste.

The waffles with chocolate and bacon were still on the menu -- the woman next to us got them, at which point I got all excited and barged in on her meal to tell her how yummy it was going to be -- but we ended up with papaya & coconut sorbets (with some marmeladed limes underneath, mmm), gingerbread blini with brandied cherries and buttermilk ice cream, and churros with peanut butter and fried bananas. And a glass of moscato di asti, because the ELF *hearts* moscato di asti.

I don't know how they do it at Blackbird, but whatever it is, just don't ever stop. YUM.

Posted by foodnerd at 10:47 AM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2006

chocolate salty... wafers? doesn't have the same ring to it

While we are discussing fabulously excessive things to eat, check out the chocolate covered potato chips I read about on cheat eat. heh heh heh. Next time I have chocolate fondue, i am so doing this.

Posted by foodnerd at 07:00 AM | Comments (0)

go, vikings!

oh my heavens to betsy: Danish Viking Smoked Sea Salt. Look for the endorsement by Dr. Biggles of Meat Henge on the home page! All those who give gifts to the FoodNerd, be ye apprised of this fine product. :-)

Posted by foodnerd at 06:31 AM | Comments (0)

January 23, 2006


C and I went to Naha last week [really it was early december, i'm lame. -fn], since we couldn't get a table at Topolobampo.

The space is beautifully serene, in a just-hip-enough sort of way, but it did make me think that it was carefully designed to be fashionable-but-bland in just the right way as to make your haute-couture outfit really stand out to best advantage. So, you know, not really my scene, but I can dig it, and the room dividers made of crazy branches stuck into planters were really great.

Our first courses were both terrific, my mixed-beet salad with blue cheese and C's romaine with red pepper & serrano ham. Simple but interesting on the tongue, and very well executed. We'd both had separate evenings of wretched, wretched meat-laden excess a few days previously, so we craved salad, rather uncharacteristically. :-)

The mains were less successful. The bay scallops were tasty enough, but a bit soggy of crust in their buttery sauce, and almost too rich, or too numerous. I like my scallops crusty and crunchy on their exterior, and nearly raw inside, and these little guys were perilously close to overcooked. Still, not a BAD dish, just not a raving success. C's dish was night and day -- a boring bland piece of monkfish sitting next to what may be the single most delicious bit of porkbelly I've ever tasted, and that includes the Tung Po pork i had in LA last year, which put me into paroxysms of joy. Weird, and we couldn't quite figure out what the idea was in combining the two.

The desserts all sounded good, but what i really wanted was the goat-cheese cheesecake from one item and the lemon-verbena icecream from another item. Being greedy and unwilling to compromise, I asked the waiter if I could combine them (I recognize that sometimes the kitchen has very specific quantities on hand and mix-matching can screw up the logistics). He came back and told me that the chef said I could mix them, but that he strongly recommended against it. As if I'd let THAT stop me. Pshaw. The two together were SO GOOD, two sides of a dairy coin, both light but creamy, one with a floral tartness and the other with a savory undertone. I think these might be on the menu frequently, since H had the goat cheesecake also on her trip to Naha, and loved it just as much. If you find yourself there, on a business dinner or a fancy date or whatever, the best way to proceed is to get a salad and the goat cheesecake (or the lemon verbena ice cream, or both), and a nice bottle of wine, and either ignore or laugh at the expensively-dressed yuppies all around you.

Posted by foodnerd at 06:53 AM | Comments (0)

January 22, 2006

La Bonita Ixcapuzalco

Went out to La Bonita last night with H&J and H's mom LL, and had some high-quality mexican eats. The strength of this place is its sauces: the mole on the enchiladas pollo was rich with anise, and the rough tomatoey sauce pooled around my lamb chops was much spicier than it looked. Really I think the lamb was the best, but that's very much personal preference, and a testament not only to the sauce but also to the perfection of the cooking of those little chops -- succulent and tender, with lots of crispy salty edge bits to gnaw off the bone. Oof - yummy.

Everything was delicious, from the creamy avocado sauce swaddling the seafood cocktail to the tangy tomatillo sauce on LL's chile relleno to the desserts: fresh coconut-nut-caramel pie, coffee-tinged flan, chocolate pecan bars, pineapple upside down cake. (One weird thing was the large bits of cinnamon stick apparently stuck into the coconut pie as garnish -- they blended in with the nuts & caramel and you ended up eating them by mistake, which wasn't so pleasant.) Avoid the creamy fruit-tequila after-dinner drinks that taste like Nestle Quik, and stick with the excellent before-dinner margaritas & tequilas -- we should have known better than to try something called "Tequila Rose."

But don't let my harshing on the silly drinks put you off -- the cooking is excellent and worth a trip.

Posted by foodnerd at 11:13 AM | Comments (0)

January 20, 2006

crafty nuts

made some spicy-sweet peanuts for holiday gifts -- the convenience store on the corner had only tiny little mini-cartons of peanuts, and since i was making these in a snowstorm, I bought them in sheer desperation. But they turned out to be the greatest, because you can cover the mini-cartons in paper and then you have instant gift boxes! I love the ones covered in grass-print paper, but my proudest achievement is the hibiscus one, since that one's covered in an ad clipped from a magazine. I *heart* free crafts. The recipe is based on the spiced nut recipe in Gourmet a couple of issues ago, but since i have no corn syrup and wanted them savory-spicy, i used chili powder and cumin and paprika and hot sauce along with the butter and sugar and spoonful of honey.

Posted by foodnerd at 08:52 PM | Comments (0)

January 19, 2006

siam rice & noodle house

Not long before the roommate upped stakes to Florida, I went with him and some of his friends to Siam Rice & Noodle House for some Thai food reputed to be the genuine article. (The roommate and one of the friends are of Thai extraction, so their standards are high -- I just look for the yum, they look for "like mom makes.")

The big draw is the traditional sticky rice, which arrives in a little woven steamer with a lid. It is seriously sticky, and the way you eat it is to pick some up in your hand and roll it into a little ball, just like you did with Wonder Bread when you were a kid. This is, as you might imagine, intensely satisfying to do. It's also very tasty rice, kind of nutty, and with a chewy elasticity to it that is fun to eat. You dip your little rice nugget into whatever else it is you're eating -- we had spicy beef salad, some chicken larb that didn't pass muster with the Thais in the group (but i thought was not too bad), and some grilled chicken wings. The food is excellent, better than pretty much any Thai food I've had so far -- less sweet, more savory, which is how I think it's supposed to be, based on my experiences watching the roommate eat, and learning to cook pad thai from a Thai woman in Boston a few years ago, who said that no Thai food in the entire Boston area was worth eating.

A word of warning: do not be confused by the other place named Siam Cafe up the street. That place seemed pretty good too, since we stumbled in and read the menu before getting a cell phone call from our friends waiting for us in the correct restaurant, but the place we ate was called Siam Rice & Noodle House.

There's also a banh mi place a few blocks north on Sheridan that I've heard is awesome, better than Ba Le, so I will have to head back up there sometime soon.

Posted by foodnerd at 05:02 PM | Comments (0)

January 16, 2006

mmmm, meat!

My friend M came to visit last weekend, and on the way home from Midway we were reading the Reader trying to find a place to eat breakfast (brunch really, since it was after 11am by that time). I'd sort of set my heart on Pilsen, since the Ashland bus goes right through it and what a perfect excuse. Happily the Reader did part II of its regional-mexican feature that week, and we settled on Sabas Vega Carnitas, at Ashland & 18th.

Oh my heavens to betsy. Yum. Yum. Did I mention, yum? We were the only gringas in the place, but everyone there is friendly and there's enough english spoken to get the job done. It's mostly a takeout place, which means that you can walk in there and buy two pounds of top-notch carnitas or barbacoa for your next party, or tubs of birria and menudo, for which I will be returning sometime soon -- readers of this blog know about my minor obsession with birria and posole -- and on weekends they do table-service also. We had two tacos apiece, plus some pickled nopalitos and some velvety soft refritos. Every table gets some homemade tortilla chips & bowls of very good thin red and green salsas, plus some pickled carrots & jalapenos. I got coffee, the cinnamon-infused mexican kind I am growing very attached to, and our lovely waitress kept that mug full -- for which I am endlessly grateful, since I stayed up the night before till 3am reading the new Neil Gaiman novel.

There's pretty much two taco choices, carnitas & barbacoa, both fantastic. The barbacoa is redder and saucier than some that I have had, moist and delicious. The carnitas is savory & rich, toothsome pork cooked in its own fat but in no way greasy, and if you order it in a taco be prepared for its glorious immensity. That thing was the biggest taco I've ever seen, practically a small burrito.

THAT is my kinda fuckin' breakfast. YUM.

Sabas Vega Carnitas & Restaurant
1808 S. Ashland Ave.
Chicago, IL 60608

Posted by foodnerd at 10:50 AM | Comments (0)

January 13, 2006

i am weak

i got stuck standing out in the sleety rain for 30 minutes this morning, waiting for the bus, and I haven't been truly warm since, so when a coworker decided to order delivery from Perez, I had to join her even though I'd brought some lunch. I had them bring me their "goat soup" special, which turns out (and I can't believe it took me this long to figure it out) to be birria, my favoritest of soups. Well, one of them anyway. I am so happy now. I've eaten half the soft melting goat meat, and slurped up all the broth -- i will be sad later, when i go to eat the rest of the meat and there's no soup to go with, but I couldn't help myself, it was so good and hot and spicy and tangy and rich with fat -- and gobbled my way through 3 of the best tortillas in the universe. Make that 4 of the best tortillas in the universe. mmmmmmm...

Posted by foodnerd at 02:16 PM | Comments (0)

one other thing

I *heart* Frontera Grill, but the tortillas at Perez are better. Way better. :-)

Posted by foodnerd at 12:16 PM | Comments (1)

January 12, 2006

hero worship

C is in town again this week, and last night we went to Frontera Grill. I was pretty excited to try it out at dinner time, and it didn't disappoint. We had to wait for a table, of course, but a) C & I only just met and see each other like once a month, we had plenty to talk about, and b) Frontera has the best fucking cocktails in Chicago as far as I can tell, so this was not a problem. The mezcal margarita is pretty rockin', and I got the barkeep to show C the little laminated mezcal-info thingy, and C had a pretty great super-tart no-frills margarita, so yum.

One of the things I enjoy about C is his habit of ordering two starter courses, followed by a course of mains, and we did this again last night. First in line, a trio of ceviches: one tomatoey and reminiscent of my favorite treat at Maxwell Street Market, one limey and light and full of squid and shrimp, and one, our favorite, also limey and tangy but more assertive, and full of halibut -- ceviche fronterizo. We'll totally get the single order of this one next time.

Then we had sopes de chilorio, crispy little masa cups with soft pork flavored with toasted orange peel and ancho, which i loved but C found a little too spicy and a little too reminiscent of his detested winter squash, at which point i had a minor giggle at his expense. :-) Also we got a huarache de barbacoa, which totally rocked the house: a perfect blend of corn base, smear of bean, and soft moist goat, topped with a little old cheese and a tangle of radish and pea shoots.

We'd ordered a Gigondes (woo, yay me, remembering the name of the wine without writing it down on an envelope even!), which went awesome with the barbacoa but fought with the spicy pork. C had a great conversation (several conversations, really) with the sommelier, who was really cool, helpful, friendly and knowledgeable. During the course of one of these conversations, I happened to mention that Rick Bayless is my hero and I think he is so excellently nerdy about his food -- so she went in the back and sent him out. Yikes! So last night in the middle of my dinner, I shook Rick Bayless's hand and told him some mangled foolishness about how great I think his stuff is. C pointed out later that what I should have said was that when he took on Bobby Flay in Iron Chef America, and lost to him by one point of plating, he was ROBBED -- Bayless totally spanked Flay in that battle. Flay's plating is so irritatingly late-80s NYC southwestern, and Bayless's dishes in the battle were straight-up brilliant in concept, execution, and look, without any flouncy flourishy bullshit. But I am lame and failed to do so. :-)

Anyway, after Senor Bayless was gracious enough to spend a couple of minutes with his adoring public, we moved on to mains. I had smoked duck breast in a delicata-squash/ancho sauce, with roasted green beans and more duck rolled in a soft masa polenta-ish stuff and sliced. This masa/duck thing, whatever its official name is, was totally the star of the show -- YUM. C had a green pork posole, which was delicious but much much lighter than either of us were expecting. He felt he probably should have ordered a different wine, though the one we had worked well enough. C may have to henceforward be referred to as WineNerd in this blog. Hee hee hee!

We got the mezcal-spiked hot chocolate, which WineNerd enjoyed as much as I was hoping he would, even though it wasn't as strong as the one I had last time. And we had blueberry-tequila and nectarine-brandy ice creams, with hot cajeta sauce (goat milk caramel, clearly homemade with cinnamon & vanilla in there dancing around with the goatiness). And as we were leaving, the sommelier came by with little food-wine-pairing pamphlets they'd made up to help people learn how to match wine with Mexican food, which was supercool.

The food is always foremost in my evaluation of a restaurant, and Frontera totally makes the grade. But it's the geeky devotion of one man and his love of fresh food and Mexican cooking that shines brightest at this place -- how many celebrity chefs do YOU know who are in their first restaurant's kitchen most nights? -- and makes me love it even more.

Posted by foodnerd at 12:51 PM | Comments (6)

January 10, 2006

in the interest of scientific inquiry, or spicy lamb stew

Yummy thing to do with leftover lamb leg roast (and random contents of kitchen, because you are trying an experiment in which you eat for a month without actually buying any food you didn't already have):

Cut off all leftover meat you can. Saute a little onion in olive oil, add 2 sliced carrots and a bunch of Penzey's Turkish seasoning mixed with a bit of smoked paprika and cayenne, and a bit of salt. Add a can of diced tomatoes, a can of beans, a big handful of currants, and the lamb, plus a 1/4 cup or so of water. Cover and simmer till meat falls apart and everything is tender.

Sorry, no photo - i keep forgetting, and it's almost gone because it's yummy. Very good with thin slices from stale baguette that went with the roast dinner, toasted till crunchy. Make stock from the denuded lamb bones. I'm planning to put whole wheat rotini, beans and meatballs into mine.

Posted by foodnerd at 01:15 PM | Comments (4)

January 09, 2006

amen, sister

The Food Whore has a post that pretty much sums up my life. That and the comment from The Condiment Whore. Is there Condiments Anonymous?

BTW, I haven't given up on blogging. I have a huge backlog of stuff from the holidays and more, I've just been way too busy and distracted by all the other stuff going on in Real Life. Sorry, y'all. Stay with me, back soon.

Posted by foodnerd at 01:46 PM | Comments (1)