An Update

My most dedicated reader(s) by now have probably realized that I have have been on hiatus for sometime.  I mention this not out of the hope that my absence has been noticed, but from knowledge derived from looks of consternation and casual harangues on several occasions re: my negligence toward this site.  Initially, I was afraid to return and post for fear of being reminded of how long it has been since my last update (self perpetuating anxiety) but take consolation, gentle reader(s), your lobbying has not been in vain.  

I would first like to put forward some reassurance that I have been eating well.  Perhaps so well that it has contributed toward my laziness, but I will keep myself from digressing lest I turn this so-called “eating blog” into a blog about my own poor blogging habits.  It is necessary to remind myself that this is actually aimed to be a writing project centered around my own wonderful eating habits.  I am compelled to provide a link to another review I’ve since written for the weekly, this time for Chef Philip Foss’s project, EL ideas: http://chicagoweekly.net/2011/11/30/elevated-taste/.  Not only was I afforded the privilege of dining here last November (though in a sense, I suppose I also needed to “afford” myself the privilege) but I also shared my meal with the youngest patron to have ever attended dinner at EL ideas.

I also was lucky enough to talk with Chef Grant Achetz of Alinea et al. last Saturday at The Aviary.  I suppose the law of large numbers dictates something along the lines of “as I approach complete conversion of my checking account into beverages from The Aviary, my chances of accidentally seeing Grant Achetz increases linearly” though I don’t think I’m wrong to paradoxically point out that my ability to do so is both impeded and expedited by the consideration that one round of drinks for a group of four translates to approximately 10% of my net worth (here, I wish I were exaggerating.)  Anyway, I saw Chef Achetz standing behind the swinging double doors which lead to the stairway to the WC and The Office.  Of course, I couldn’t be entirely sure it was him and not someone else or a Martini-induced mirage until I got closer, so I excused myself from the table to use the restroom and went up to talk to him.  I introduced myself and said a few words about how much food means to me.  Apparently he had just finished the second practice dinner for the Next el bulli menu (the new season starts tonight) and was considering some adjustments.  He was incredibly kind, and though my qualification for describing someone as such generally translates to “willing to tolerate me for a few minutes” (which, to his credit, he did) he was also thoughtful, quiet, and modest.  We talked for a little bit and he shook my hand before I continued on my way and went down the stairs.  I dissolved into a pool of giddiness and cocktails immediately afterward.

I will post more in the next few days, specifically for dinner at Next and dinner at Ruxbin on Tuesday night, but I figured I should get something up in the meantime.

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A Review for Lao Hunan

http://chicagoweekly.net/2011/11/16/the-peoples-spice/

A review I wrote for the Chicago Weekly.  An upgrade, if not an update.

I’m currently writing a review of my experience at EL ideas tonight which will likely be published in the forthcoming issue of the Weekly.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone (all four of my friends/family members who follow my eating blog.)

 

-L


Updated Short List

Old List:
  1. Girl and the Goat
  2. Nightwood
  3. Piece
  4. Great Lake
  5. Next Restaurant/Alinea (this is more of a fantasy dinner)
  6. The Publican
  7. Hot Doug’s
  8. Birrieria Zaragoza
  9. mk
New List:
  1. Next
  2. The Publican (have reservations for post-Thanksgiving Sunday brunch)
  3. Hot Doug’s – so far away and ridiculous hours
  4. mk – interesting but not urgent
  5. ruxbin
  6. Arami
  7. GT Fish & Oyster
  8. The Pump Room
  9. The Bedford
  10. Perennial Virant

Same deal.  Look out for my review of Lao Hunan in this week’s issue of the Chicago Weekly.


You are Gorgeous and I’m Coming

http://chicago.eater.com/archives/2011/11/03/franks-n-dawgs-peking-duck-dawg.php

Just read about this on Eater Chicago.  Going to try on Saturday.

Adapted from Frank O’Hara’s “You are Gorgeous and I’m Coming” by me.

You are Gorgeous and I’m Coming

Vaguely I hear my stomach rumble in the car of the Red Line El
It gurgles nervously and softly like I do when I’m embarrassed
normally I don’t notice the sound but today I’m hungry
concrete Rimbaud obscurity of hunger which is simple and very definite
ever recurring, yes even after dinner last night, the death of fullness
Leaving Hyde Park itself may destroy you in the pure air
to be further satiated, fed, filled but emptying, exposed to food

With thoughts of dinner last night falling away as an acceleration of rumbles thundering and shaking
aims its aggregating force like the Metro towards a realm of encircling travel
rending the sound of adventure and becoming ultimately local and intimate
repeating the scales of a primal craving which is constantly refreshed by the
endless originality of hot dog makers the air the stumbling quiet of breathing
newly the heavens’ stars all out we are all for the Peking duck hot dogs


Goat Week @ UChiFood

A busy weekend for UChiFood: Girl and the Goat on Friday and Birrieria Zaragoza on Saturday.

I left from Hyde Park around 7:30 Friday night with two friends and arrived at Girl and the Goat (hereafter referred to as GatG) around 8:30, without a reservation.  We were quoted a 45 minute wait and seated within about 30 minutes.  With one dining restriction to consider (no pork) we quickly set to work making our menu selections.  After some discussion, we decided to start with the Bloody Mary Bread and order two selections from the Veg, two from the Fish, and one from the Goat.  We ordered the chickpea fritters, hen of the woods ragout, hiramasa crudo, mussels with lamb chorizo croutons, and the goat belly confit.

The bread was very good, soft, dense, and fresh from the oven.  I don’t miss free bread service at most restaurants and this was a much better way to start the meal than serving a recycled mixed bread basket.  There are three choices to select from – the bread we chose came with a Worcestershire butter and celery pickle relish.

Next came the chickpea fritters.  The flavors were great, but the textural and temperature contrast between the different components of the dish really allowed for it to stand out.  The cool mozzarella balanced out the crisply fried fritters and the dish was rounded out by the caponata (mix of fresh chickpeas, eggplant, and other vegetables.)  I would order this dish again.

We came very close to not ordering the hiramasa crudo after seeing the plate delivered to the couple next to us.  It looked to be a few thin slices of yellowtail topped with a sauce and meager accompaniments ($16).  After taking a bite, the couple insisted that the dish was a “must order,” so we decided to try it on their recommendation.  This dish stood out that night as being one of the only courses which tended toward restraint or minimalism.  The yellowtail was excellent, it was topped with small green chili slices, a sort of cream sauce, and confit pork belly.  I enjoyed it, but there were about eight bites to share between the three of us.

After the crudo came the hen of the woods ragout and the mussels.  The ragout was very creamy (almost like a bisque) with a nutty spice which lent the whole dish a sort of sweet kick.  It was an odd combination of flavors which brought out the sweetness in the mushrooms and the sweet potato agnolotti.  My table probably enjoyed this course the least and I don’t think I would order it again.  It seemed as though many of the dishes at GatG were focused on delivering on flavor rather than balance and I think that was most apparent in this course.

The mussels were very good.  They were exceptionally large PEI mussels (some of the largest I have seen anywhere) served with lamb sausage croutons in a wonderful broth.  This was probably my favorite course of the evening, along with being the best value ($12.)

We rounded out the meal with some confit goat belly with crab ‘n’ lobster (?!)  The goat belly was excellent, well cooked with some crispy parts (think carnitas.)  The accompanying crab and lobster was strange, but not untasty.  The whole dish tasted good, but I was still confused about the flavor pairings afterward.

Declining dessert, we settled the bill and ended up paying around $32 per person, less than I was expecting to pay.  I was anxious that GatG would not be able to meet up to the hype, but I was not disappointed.  All in all, a very reasonable night out with ambitious flavor pairings and interesting dishes.

I give GatG  four stars:

On Saturday, I ventured out to Archer Heights to try Birrieria Zaragoza.  Birria is a mexican stew from Jalisco so a Birrieria is an establishment which sells birria.  Birrieria Zaragoza has a narrowly edited menu, which includes birria in two portion sizes, quesadillas, salsa mocajate, birria tacos, and tomato consomme.  The restaurant closes at 7:00, and in typical college fashion we arrived 20 minutes late (at 6:40.)  Despite our last minute arrival, we were treated incredibly graciously.  When I tried to order a beer, I was informed that they did not serve alcohol but were a BYOB establishment and we could run out and buy beer a few blocks down Archer.  We placed our orders for salsa and a quesadilla and plate of birria each an left to find beer.  After walking several blocks, we arrived at the store they had directed us to only to find that it was closed for renovation.  We ended up walking around for several blocks in an attempt to find beer and ended up at 7-9-11 25 minutes after we’d left the restaurant and picked up a 12 pack of Pacifico.

When we finally, sheepishly walked back into the restaurant it was already 10 minutes past 7:00.  Our friend who had stayed had been talking with the owner, Johnathan, for half an hour.  The kitchen had held off on bringing out our food until we came back.  Rather than being annoyed, our waitress was concerned that we’d gotten lost.  We were served within a few minutes of getting back and the food was absolutely outstanding.  The quesadilla was perfect, especially with the home made fire roasted tomato salsa, onions, limes, chilis, and cilantro.  The birria was like a plate of the best, most succulent pot roast I’ve ever had.  The tortillas were hot and fresh – tender and pliable so as not to break under the heaping portions of goat and consomme piled on.  After we’d finished our meal, we stayed to talk with Norma, Johnathan’s wife.  The restaurant is family owned (almost all of the staff are family members) and the emphasis on authenticity and service is commendable.  Birrieria Zaragoza is another restaurant which has received lots of hype and recognition, but this dining experience completely blew my expectations out of the water.  The food is outstanding, but beyond being talented restauranteurs, the members of the Zaragoza family are some of the warmest, funniest people I have met in Chicago.

I will definitely be back soon – taking care to arrive earlier and with beer on hand.
I would be incorrect in giving Birrieria Zaragoza anything less than five stars:

Coming up this week: I attempt to knock another two restaurants off my shortlist, Nightwood and Piece.  And maybe going blonde in between.


My Personal Short List of Chicago Restaurants for this Quarter

At any given point, I have a list of restaurants I plan on trying in the near future.  This is a list of restaurants on my short list (generally defined as restaurants I am embarrassed to admit I haven’t visited yet.)

  1. Girl and the Goat
  2. Nightwood
  3. Piece
  4. Great Lake
  5. Next Restaurant/Alinea (this is more of a fantasy dinner)
  6. The Publican
  7. Hot Doug’s
  8. Birrieria Zaragoza
  9. mk

In conclusion, if anyone wants to go to any of these places with me some time during fall quarter, drop me a line.


Kuma’s and Davanti – Burgers and Beer

I figured I would do a post on burgers for a few reasons:

  1. I had a burger at Kuma’s and Davanti Enoteca this week.
  2. Burgers are delicious, affordable, agreeable, and low key and thus good for early-fall-quarter catch up dinners.
  3. I have not updated in a while and sometimes when this happens I get yelled at (I’m starting to think the only thing less cool than having an eating blog is having a poorly maintained eating blog.)
This is problematic.

Burgers are delicious.

Kuma’s

I landed back in Chicago last Wednesday and somehow the stars were in line and I ended up going to Kuma’s a few hours after I arrived in Hyde Park and ran some errands.  We left at 9:00 and arrived some time after that, happy to find that there was no wait.  This was my second trip to Kuma’s and the time before our five-top waited about an hour for a table [This was thankfully a shorter wait than the touristy-looking couple who had arrived before us were made to sit out.  The rumors about wait-time discrimination appear to be true, though ymmv.]

I had an unmemorable beer while I pored over the menu and anxiously considered my options and tried to avoid being pressured into ordering Mac’ n Cheese.  I ended up ordering the Plague Bringer, mostly because I had seen it on TV two days prior, which inspired me to return to Kuma’s in the first place.  I ordered another beer – this time a Dogfish Head Midas Touch, which was good.  I tried the milk stout as well, which I also liked.

The Burger: is hefty.  A 10 oz. patty on a pretzel bun with various toppings (in this case, roasted garlic mayo, tortilla strips, hot sauce, garlic, Pepper Jack, and sliced jalapenos)  Served next to a bed of fries – I think these are fresh cut, different from the waffle fries I was served when I came a few months prior.  The fries were acceptable, at the very least they did not distract from the burger (unlike the perfectly crisp fries I had Friday at Del Seoul – a difficult act to follow.)  The burger was spicy hot, by which I mean it hurt me to eat it.  My eyes watered and I saw stars along the dimly lit bar.  In my relatively limited experience, Kuma’s burgers are juicy, a characteristic which is complemented well by the soft and dense pretzel rolls.  The burger toppings are also assisted by the bun (the canvass of the meal) and its springy cushioning – Kuma’s burgers are large, but not top heavy.  The bulk of the mass is concentrated in the bottom half of the bun and everything is held in place by the spongy bun.  Overall, a great burger.  I ended up paying about $30 for two beers and a burger, which is not unreasonable considering I hadn’t eaten that day as I had been traveling.

Davanti Enoteca

I first visited Davanti Enoteca in mid-November of last year, soon after they first opened on West Taylor.  The experience was memorable – we arrived on Saturday around 6:00 as a hungry party of eleven, waited 90 minutes for a table, and left as a happily content party of ten.  This time, I came for dinner with a friend and we arrived at 6:30 on a Monday to no wait.  As it was a Monday, my friend and I both ordered the burger and a beer special for $10, and decided to start with an order of the “vasi” (Tuscan toast and toppings served in small mason jars.)  We went with the buratta, olive oil, and black pepper vasi, which was tasty but not transcendent.  Buratta is an exceptionally creamy and delicious form of mozzarella (sort of a purse of mozzarella filled with ricotta cream, roughly the size of a fist) and the vasi was simple and good but did not exceed my expectations for buratta.

The burger and beer were exceptional.  I had the burger the last time I came and was very happy with my decision.  This time, I had essentially the same burger, plus a pint of Peroni, for a buck less.  I’m not really sure how an $11 burger + $6 beer = $10 burger and beer but that it exists is more important than how.  To be honest, I did not expect a great burger from an Italian wine bar, but the Davanti Burger hits all the right notes.  It’s a decently sized burger (6 oz?) topped with bacon jam, cheese curds, roasted tomatoes, arugala, and garlic mayo.  I’m sure everyone can agree the bacon jam is amazing, but the cheese curds really did it for me in this case (confession time: I am a sucker for ooey melted globs of fat).  The bacon jam adds some extra flavor beneath the patty while gracefully resolving the issue of having to chew through too-thick-too-thin-too-chewy-too-crisp bacon in a burger.  The fries were shoestring, which I do not prefer.  I am not especially particular about my fries but shoestring fries are a pain in the butt to eat.  It take a bit of work to gather four suitable toothpick-like fries and dip them in ketchup together and the reward is only about half of a regular french fry.  That having been said, I ate all of them.

Both burger beer experiences were very good, though in distinctly different ways.  Kuma’s takes its burgers very seriously, as evidenced by their aggressively worded list of rules posted throughout the establishment.  Davanti is more laid back and friendly (the manager stopped by our table after we had settled the bill and thanked us for coming, +1.)  Kuma’s has an extensive list of burgers, each named after a heavy metal band and given a unique set of toppings.  Davanti only has one burger, but it somehow manages to strike a wonderful balance without compromise.  Going to Kuma’s is something of an ordeal, partially because it is in Andersonville, partially because of the wait, partially because of the noise, and largely due to the heft and size of the portions.  Both times I have gone I have cleaned my plate, but not without some sense of struggle or achievement (as a side note, when I went to Kuma’s last week, one of my friends ordered the Dark Castle set of four sliders and managed to eat one and a half.)  Davanti is more manageable, but not less satisfying.

If pressed to evaluate Kuma’s and Davanti quantitatively–

Kuma’s Corner – four stars:
Davanti Enoteca – four and a half stars:

While it may appear through a review of my recent reviews that my rating system suffers from a Yelp-like inflationary problem, rest assured that my reviews are largely centered around the eating experiences I have found to be more interesting and worth sharing, so there is some degree of cherry picking.  Also, I do my best to avoid eating at bad or poorly reviewed restaurants.