July 31, 2006


It is 5:30pm here in Chicago, and it is over 100F outside. Heat index is 107F. This is RETARDED. Make it stop.

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

hot chocolate

My roommate gave me a gift certificate to Hot Chocolate for my birthday, which was awesomely nice of her... particularly in view of how excessively yummy the food turned out to be there.

In an effort to try as many of the desserts as possible without totally overloading on sugar all at once, we started with a cup of the dark hot chocolate. Which was thick, silken with melted chocolate, and perfectly balanced between sweet and bitter. And with a homemade marshmallow on the side.

Then we got a salad of green & wax beans, perfectly cooked and dressed in a honey dijon vinaigrette, tossed with some halved heirloom grape tomatoes, and sprinkled with blue cheese. This dish is spectacular, just delicious and nicely composed. Highly recommended!

We also got an herbed flatbread with a dip/spread of deviled egg filling, and a chopped salad "nicoise" of seared tuna, new potato, avocado, egg, olives, asparagus and greens in a green goddess dressing. These were tasty but not so extravagantly good as the bean salad.

Then we got a crock of macaroni & cheese made with some fancy artisanal gruyere & cheddar, which was just absurdly rich and delicious. In the middle of summer it was wonderful, and I can't wait to have some more in the middle of winter. It went really well with the faintly smoked German Schlenferla helles lager beer we'd acquired in a fit of adding excess to already excessive pleasure.

Then it was time for dessert. Tallasiandude had wanted to get three, but we were getting rather full by this time so we restrained ourselves to two. The obvious choices among the many lovelies were the warm brioche donuts, and the dark chocolate souffle cake with salted caramel ice cream and pretzel.

Sadly, the donuts were a disappointment, tasty enough but undercooked in the middle and sort of overwhelmingly doughy. But the unbilled "garnish" -- a copious spill of caramel corn -- more than made up for it, being rich, buttery, crunchy, salty & sweet, and a total knockout when dipped into the hot fudge sauce that came with the donuts.

The warm chocolate souffle cake, on the other hand, is a triumph. The cake is heavy and thick in flavor but light in texture, and sits in a pool of dark caramel sauce that ties the cake together with the salt-caramel ice cream. The pretzel takes the form of a pencil-thin squiggle of handmade, generously salted pretzel laid over the top as a lacy garnish. Really great, just up my street -- chocolate, caramel, salt & sweet, rich and light at the same time.

They have a nice little menu, a great selection of desserts, a great list of unusual beers, and a very comfortable atmosphere done up in shades of brown, just sleek enough to stay on the good side of casual but still be glamorous. We'll go back.

Posted by foodnerd at 07:53 AM | Comments (0)

July 30, 2006

blackbird birthday

tallasiandude came to chicago to visit for my birthday -- yay! -- and i made reservations at Blackbird for us. He'd been getting a little tired of hearing me yammer on about how awesome it was, without ever taking him there. He's not generally excited about fancy-pants restaurants per se, but I knew he'd like this one... and he did. :-)

The amuse-bouche was not a soup this time, as it has been on all my previous trips, but rather a morsel of roast mackerel in a bit of broth with minced green olives and radish sprouts.

For wine, we followed the server's recommendation of a 2003 Alsatian Grand Cru riesling from Bernhard (and I only know this by looking at the photo), which was, as promised, lovely with the range of food we'd ordered, and nicely dry and almost sparkly. We got drunk, because we are getting to be lightweights in our old age. Hee.

Among the many reasons I love the tallasiandude is that he was completely down with adopting my new habit of ordering two courses of appetizers. So we started with a tuna tartare on a schmear of avocado with jalapeno, watermelon, heirloom tomato, what seemed to be strips of jicama (but were rather chewier -- we both couldn't figure out what they were), mache, and crushed coriander seed. And some sort of savory vinaigrette that I believe involved cured meat. This dish was freaking fantastic, with different explosions of flavor with each bite as watermelon met coriander met tomato met tuna. Damn. This one will probably be on the menu all summer, and it is worth a trip.

We ordered the suckling pig, which this time came with pickled ramps (woo, ramps!), rhubarb mostarda, braised chard, and a parsley salad in vinaigrette. I think this is the best version of the pig I've had so far, and it was extremely well prepared, too, with extramoist meat inside a very crispy crust. Yum.

We also ordered the duck breast + livers, but instead what arrived was smoked trout with roe and deep fried morels. The server told us there was a computer mixup, and to keep the trout while we waited on the duck... so bonus for us. The trout & roe was delightful, and how could smoked fish not be, really? The deep fried morels, oddly, weren't my favorite -- deep frying seemed somehow to overpower the mushrooms, though tallasiandude loved them utterly.

The duck did arrive shortly thereafter, with a fan of rosy breast slices flanking a row of deep fried duck livers nestled in a salad of cabbage, watercress, endive, chewy chunks of pancetta, and pickled sour cherries. The cherries caught me by surprise with their pungency, but once I knew what I was dealing with, I really enjoyed the contrast they made to the richness of the fried livers and the gentle meatiness of the breast. Tallasiandude thought they were a bit much, but I really dug 'em.

The two entrees were both fucking rockstars. Tallasiandude indulged an uncharacteristic yen for cooked salmon, and ordered the filet of pale king salmon atop a pool of creamy sweet corn and tender chopped broccoli, and topped with sweet dungeness crab and a tangle of baby greens and a bit of bacon. All these flavors worked shockingly well together, with the broccoli being the biggest surprise, perfectly complementing the crab and the corn and the fish and somehow serving as the flavor that tied everything together.

I indulged, period, in the pork belly. Holy crap! This is like a piece of bacon that went to finishing school -- a long meaty slab of crisp, well-seasoned pork belly with PERFECTLY rendered fat, with a salad of celery root & baby greens, a pool of tangy sweet-sour vinaigrette, and an outrigger of chanterelle mushrooms and tiny crunchy sweet-corn beignets in a drizzle of honey. Everything about this dish was perfect, delicious, pleasurable, joyful. This is why I eat.

We managed one tiny bit of restraint in our meal at the end, and shared a single dessert of dark chocolate mousse with sweet cream ice cream and a pile of fresh local sweet cherries, and a glass of rather nice port. But then there were the wee little sweets that come with the check -- one was a mini whoopie pie, one was a fruit jelly (yum), one was a dark truffle...

As we paid our bill, our server thanked us and told us we really know how to dine -- a bizarre and random thing to say, but a welcome compliment indeed. Since as far as I'm concerned, we really DO know how to dine... as do at least some of the other patrons of Blackbird, like the two men next to us, who were in raptures over some of the same dishes we'd eaten, and spent most of their meal alternating between gossip and discussion of fabulous meals past and present.

It was a glorious meal, made the more glorious by being able to share it with my sweetie-pie, and by having him love it just as much as I did. Yay.

Posted by foodnerd at 12:09 AM | Comments (0)

July 24, 2006

pork store!

How can you not love a place called The Pork Store? It's so wonderfully to the point.

It is even more delightful when it in fact purveys very fine pork chops, browned perfectly and served up with extremely good hash browns, fluffy pale biscuits, eggs, and good coffee. Yeah, baby!

And when you can find such a place in the middle of all the madness of the trendy Haight, and consume those chops and coffee in the company of good friends new and old -- i was there with tallasiandude, MissLudmilla & MonkeyBoy, the Wandis, and Cindy from FoodMigration, plus her sweetie-pie Randy -- it may be as near as it's possible to get to the Platonic ideal of breakfast.

Posted by foodnerd at 08:58 PM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2006

sea salt

Also while in Oakland, we went to a seafood place called Sea Salt, a comfortably arty spot with good fresh ocean-critters in delicious, just slightly out-of-the-ordinary preparations. Not so out of the ordinary, I suppose, for the Bay Area, but we can't all live in culinary paradise.

The photos all came out dark and blurry, since I haven't the patience to set the camera properly for low light conditions -- this being the situation that spurred MonkeyBoy to suggest the mini-tripod -- and it was an awfully long time ago now, but we had some spectacularly garlicky little squids with white beans, crab cakes on a sparkly relish of corn and peppers, a caesar salad with anchovies, a salmon tartare with some sort of handmade potato chips (recommended!), a bit of king salmon with horseradish sauce, roasted asparagus with mimosa'd egg topping, fish and very tasty chips with a spicy thai dipping sauce, a very good braised mushroom dish, and a dessert of tropical sorbets topped with a tuile in the amusing shape of a swimming fish.

Posted by foodnerd at 08:58 PM | Comments (0)

can't fail grits

While in Oakland in May, we went to Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe just over the line in Emeryville, around the corner from the Pixar compound, and had a bit of brunch. It happened to be the day we were slated to eat an early dinner at Oliveto, so I wanted to eat less than I normally would in an establishment well known for high-quality hashbrowns and bacon. (The last time I was there, food poisoning or no food poisoning, I had waffles and fried chicken.)

So i ordered up the grits with cheese and sweet pepper hash/relish/whatever it was -- whatever it was, it was sweet and tangy and spicy and utterly delicious with the clean white grits and melty cheese. It was the breakfast version of that cocktail favorite, pepper jelly & cream cheese on a cracker. If you can stand (or beat) the wait, Can't Fail is a great place for a sunny brunch outdoors -- i felt hopelessly Californian while I was there. And that's a good thing.

Posted by foodnerd at 08:56 PM | Comments (0)

July 16, 2006

oakland korean

Since hedge is Korean, and her friend H is also, we allowed them to take us to H's favorite Korean place in Oakland: Sahn Maru, 4315 Telegraph Ave. ('Cause you know how we hate the Korean cooking - NOT.) Wow. Yum. We got a dish of cold pork and oysters with kimchi pickled vegetables, which was much tastier than the version of that dish I'd had at WuChon in Somerville. We got some seafood noodle soup for tallasiandude, to address his noodle craving.

Hedge ordered a stew that she tells us is a guilty pleasure in Korea, since it came to exist because of desperate poverty during the war, when people were hungry enough to pick through the castoffs on the army base and throw whatever scraps of hot dog and spam they could find into the stew pot. It actually tastes great, the oily savoriness of the spam and sausage making a nice contrast with the tangy kimchi and broth.

There was also one item in the array of very good pan chan that truly rocked my world. It was a dried-then-reconstituted turnip shred in a spicy chili-powder brine. The dried turnip gave it a sweet chewiness/crunchiness that knocked me out. Delicious!

And as the sweet at the end of the meal, this place brings you a cold cup of sweet spiced liquid, with a few chinese dates and pine nuts floating on the top. It's completely unexpected and completely refreshing, just the thing you want after a rich spicy meal.

Posted by foodnerd at 08:53 AM | Comments (1)

July 15, 2006

i am never going outside again

It is so disgustingly hot and humid here in Chicago, I can't bear it. I went out in the dark of the evening, barely even around the corner to Damen & North, and even still, I was so uncomfortable on my way home that I opened the door to my house swearing, stripped down to my underwear and immediately ate some frozen cherry juice slush. Once I could stand to be near myself again, I took a shower. And I swear, I am not going outside my air conditioned apartment again until it's sane again out there.

Posted by foodnerd at 11:53 PM | Comments (0)

house of beef

On the road to Yosemite during our last trip a few years ago, we drove past a mysterious boxy building with no identifying marks except a sign reading "HOUSE OF BEEF." Of course I found this endlessly entertaining. But we didn't have time to stop on that trip, so this time around we were thrilled to discover that the House of Beef was still there, in a slightly less mysterious guise -- it was now identifiably a retail establishment. So on the way back to SF from the park, we stopped to investigate.

You gotta love a place that just leaves a smoker sitting outside on the sidewalk, unattended, with tantalizing smoky meat wafting its enticements to lure passersby.

Turns out it's a whole restaurant, filled with memorabilia and antique tools, where you can get massive portions of marinated tri-tip beef, along with unlimited trips to the salad bar and mediocre pie. The beef is pretty good, though it has that weird salinity that most commercially-marinated meats have (and i don't generally care for), and the french fries were awesome.

There's also a whole gift shop/butcher shop attached to the rear of the place, where you can buy the signature marinated tri-tip and a whole range of other meats. House of Beef will also custom butcher any sort of meat you wish to bring them -- your own cattle, deer you might shoot on your trip to the Sierras, etc. I picked up a couple of ribeyes and some pickled green beans as a hostess present for MissLudmilla and MonkeyBoy, which were reportedly very tasty indeed.

Unfortunately, the House of Beef is located at a slightly confusing spot in the route to Yosemite where you need to make a turn, and we got so distracted by the ineffable mystery of the House of Beef that we missed the turn. However, while driving around (and around and around, it was a little frustrating) the region, we were endlessly amused by the town of Manteca. The idea of a whole town named LARD is just wonderful. Next trip we'll have to stop there for some food.

Posted by foodnerd at 08:51 PM | Comments (0)

July 12, 2006

sick and wrong

I am such a total freak. I just got a shipment from Penzey's Spices today, and the freebie they threw in was a sample of Country French Vinaigrette mix, which is a blend of salt, sugar, mustard, herbs and pepper. I put a little in my palm to taste it. And then I put a lot in my palm and licked it off for a snack. It's like the best flavor crystals ever, without all that annoying potato chip to get in the way.

Posted by foodnerd at 07:33 PM | Comments (1)

July 07, 2006

small scale meat conveyance

Heh heh heh. Last night I flew back to Boston with two checked bags, both of them stuffed full of a variety of encased meats from Paulina Market. I dropped $236 on pork brats, veal brats, sheboygan-style brats, cute little white bockwurst with chives, fat stubby little garlic knackwurst, hungarian wieners with garlic & paprika, and smoked italians. And a pound of homemade bacon. My luggage still smells like sausage, and I *can't wait* till tomorrow when i get to grill all that shit up for my friends. This year, we will NOT run out of the good stuff so fast.

Posted by foodnerd at 09:00 AM | Comments (3)