A Tale of Two Weekends (Part 1)

I’m happy to report that both food odyssey’s from the past two weeks were completely successful.

The first, in Napa, was a whirlwind daytrip to the gourmet mecca of Yountville in Sonoma county.

For lunch, we ate at Addendum (basically, Ad Hoc to go) and had fried chicken, baby back ribs, pulled pork, corn bread, corn succotash, potato salad, and Chardonnay.  I’ll add commentary in later, but I thought I would upload some pictures first.

Menu for the Day

Menu for the Day

Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Cornbread

Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Cornbread

Baby back ribs, pulled pork, corn bread... corn succotash hanging out in the back.

In short, totally delicious.  Worth 6 hours of driving.  Add this to the category of Michelin quality food for under $20, because each lunch was only $16.50.  Every component was totally perfect, but I’d have to say my favorites were the fried chicken and the cornbread.  The cornbread was wonderfully soft and moist, without being crumbly or soggy.  I think my companion put it best when she remarked “It’s like they took a million needles and injected butter into every crumb.”  Well said.  The chicken was impossibly crispy, flaky, tender, and juicy.  Perfect.

This is the sort of food you can pick up to go eat under a tree by a vineyard a few blocks away and forget what decade you’re in.  Suffice to say, it was an unforgettable lunch (I hope to be back this weekend for more of the same.)

Afterward, we headed over to the Bouchon Bakery to pick up a few pastries from home.  A picture of what I ended up buying:

Clockwise from bottom left: Thomas Keller Oreo (TKO), brioche bun, strawberry almond croissant, plain croissant, paladin roll, a bouchon, and TLC cookie.

Also purchased: macarons and a loaf of olive bread.  These were actually the most delicious things, besides the strawberry croissant.  It was an amazing trip all in all and I can’t wait to go back.  I’ll post pictures from San Francisco and Outside Lands soon, so check back in a few days.

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Stop What You’re Doing

And make these brownies.  Sorry for the teaser title but these brownies are showstopping.  And heart stopping.  In every way.

Adapted from howsweeteats

1 stick butter
1 cup 2 tbsp sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cocoa powder
2/3 cups chocolate chips (optional)
2/3 cups creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 3/4 cups crushed pretzel sticks
6 tablespoons butter, melted

Make a crust with crushed pretzels and melted butter, press it into a prepared 8×8 pan.

Cream butter and sugar, add eggs and vanilla.  Add in dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, and salt) and carefully spread over prepared pretzel crust.  Bake for about 25 minutes at 350 degrees.

Just before brownies are done, melt peanut butter in a bowl and combine with powdered sugar.  Take brownies out of the oven and pour the peanut butter mixture over them.  Wait as long as you can for the brownies to come to room temperature and eat.

Less Than 2 Hours Later - Out of Control

Only God can judge me.

I realize that these brownies probably look like poop casserole but hopefully the conspicuous amount missing from the pan is testament enough to their overwhelming, life-ruining deliciousness.  ‘Cause this brownie is a life ruiner.  It ruins peoples’ lives.

More updates to come in the near future, stay tuned.


Your Eyes Are Not Decieving You

Two updates, hardly spaced by more than a few days?  I’m not going to bother with delivering stale jokes about the infrequency of my blog updates, mostly because I’ve already heard most of them from certain members of my viewership and because said individuals have done it better.  Alerted to the fact that there are, in fact, people who read my blog, I feel compelled/encouraged/guilted into submitting another post for your review.

As observant readers may know, I’m working at a real job this summer.  Through some sort of mixed blessing/cruel twist of fate, I happen to be working across from my favorite burrito place of all time.  La Costeña.  I don’t profess to be any sort of expert on Mexican food (especially on Cal-Mex, as the burrito is a San Francisco invention [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco_burrito]) but I know what tastes good.  Behold.

The Super Burrito

Super Burrito from La Costeña

Easily the best burrito place I’ve ever visited.  I could go on and count the ways I love burritos from La Costeña, but I’ll eschew the lengthy summary in favor of a few key points.

  1. The meat in this burrito is hands down the best anywhere.  This is one of the very few places that cooks your carne asada to order (as though you were at some fancy steak house instead of a room in the back of a Mexican convenience store).  The pollo en mole here is also fantastic (I prefer it to Bayless’s mole at Topolobampo in Chicago).
  2. The sheer weight and size of this burrito makes this eating experience a half day event.  Figure about 20 minutes to eat the Super Burrito, and a few hours after to both a) let it pass, like a hamster through a boa constrictor and b) revel in your superior decision making capabilities.
  3. As many add ins as you want.  Loads of veggies, cheeses, guacamole, salsas, etc. etc. ad nauseum.
Obviously, I can’t eat a Super Burrito from La Costeña every day for lunch.  (That sort of unfettered gluttony will have to wait until I’m married.)  So most days (roughly four out of five days of the work week) I pack my own lunch.  I decided to take a picture of it today and upload it because I thought some of you might be interested in seeing what I eat when I put lunch together for myself:
Lunch!

My Lunch Box

A summary of my lunch: Baby spinach salad with feta and raspberries, champagne-pear-gorgonzola dressing, peanut butter pretzel mojo bar, cherry tomatoes, corn-black bean-mango salsa with greek yogurt, mandarin orange fruit cup.

My lunch on most days usually involves a main course (salad, sandwich or soup) some fruit, some vegetables, and a cliff bar for a snack.  Even though eating tasty food is really important to me, sometimes I get sleepy if I eat too much good food so it’s generally not a good idea for me to do so at work.

So, at the risk of turning this into a healthy-food blog, some things I’ve included :

Baby spinach, cranberry, and walnut salad with balsamic vinaigrette (optional: add chicken breast to any salad)
Chipotle corn bisque with greek yogurt and pepper
Tuna sandwich on wheat with avocado-hummus from Trader Joe’s

In case any of you were concerned that I’d gone soft on finding great things to eat, rest assured: I should be driving up to Napa this Saturday to sample sandwiches from Bouchon and Fried Chicken from Ad Hoc.  Then I’ll be attending a pot luck in the evening, for which I’ll likely have to sort through Bon Appetit to find a recipe suitably indulgent.  A word of caution to anyone who might be in attendance: a successful potluck dish for me is one which causes people to love me and hate themselves.  Consider your waistlines warned.

Will update at the end of the weekend with pictures of adventures in food.


A Compact History of Everything I have Eaten Since May

Dead Week and Finals Week – Lived off Sarpino’s, the occasional dining hall meal, minimal sleep.

Last day of Spring Quarter- Paris Club and Aviary
Awesome awesome.  We started with a bottle of Reisling, croque monsieur fingers, and a foie gras and short rib terrine.  (A terrine is a sort of roughly blended mixture of meat, not unlike a pate, refrigerated in a mold.)  I had duck confit with dried cherries for my main.  The dining area is very open and efficiently packed, sort of like Cafe Iberico but more reserved and less chintzy.  Dinner was wonderful, the food was delicious – a perfect way to begin an evening out.  Come here with people who make you laugh.

The one gripe I have was that the waitress inspected our ID’s for about a minute each – long enough to put me on edge as to whether she intended to eject my of-age friends from the establishment.  To be fair, this should probably be registered as more of a nota bene than gripe, as I’ve often been told I don’t look a day over 20.  I can’t really hold the scrutiny against her.

Afterward, we took a cab to Aviary for drinks.  When we arrived, there was one table available for our group of four – a standing table, by the kitchen.  We ordered a round – a Ginger, a Root Beer, a Rooibos, and a Blueberry, and a few selections from the “bites” menu.  Watching the mixologists work in the kitchen was engaging and the source of much speculation, but standing for 90 minutes did end up being a bit of a bother.  The presentations were fun and though I didn’t think any of the drinks were blow-your-socks-off amazing (though I admittedly don’t know a whole lot about cocktails, and in retrospect am worried that my experience may have spoiled me for bars in the future), for under $20 a drink, it’s easily justifiable for a night out and has wide appeal to all types of drinkers (unless you plan on getting blitzed, I guess.)

The next morning, I flew to London.  I am told the food has improved over the past few years.  Most of it was good.  We did eat at La Petit Maison (on Gwyneth Paltrow’s recommendation) which was very good.  The pork belly and lamb stand out in my mind as being especially great, the treatment of the proteins and vegetable accompaniments was technically flawless.  Each course was flavorful and well balanced – after the mains arrived, the table fell quiet so we could taste each bite properly.

Norway was okay.  We stayed on the Queen Mary 2.  The food we actually ate in Norway was forgettable, though favorites include smoked salmon and pancakes with raspberry jam and sour cream.  The food on the ship was very good, though almost all of the menu items seemed to be fairly standard luxury cruise fare (read: generic “fancy food.”)

I give the country of Norway three stars:

When I arrived back home (after a brief interlude in LA for my cousin’s wedding), I immediately set to work undoing the damage I had done to myself over 3 quarters of school and 2 weeks of indulging in Europe.  I followed a raw food diet for about a week and gradually adjusted to a less extreme “healthy” meal plan consisting of low sodium soups, salads, health bars, and snacking on fruits and vegetables.  (With the exception of a few allowances for baking extremely fattening desserts, namely, Crack Pie and Better-Than-Crack Brownies.)  I combined this diet with working out 5x a week (note to self: difficult to adopt strict workout routine on a raw food diet) and went from running barely a mile before collapsing to completing a 10k less than 3 weeks after my return.

And now it is the last day of July and I have just finished summarizing the last two months of my adventures in eating.  From here, I will likely post simple lunch and dinner ideas/recipes, which may be worth revisiting when I am back in Chicago for the school year.  It’s great to be home and have such a bounty of fresh produce within arms reach, but a part of me still misses the Chicago restaurant scene.  I will post about eating adventures here if I come across any of note (SF Street Food Festival on Aug. 20th, perhaps?) but any food writing ideas are welcome.

Happy summer.  Go eat a peach and bask in the sun.

L

PS, If you do feel like staying in, here are two highly recommended recipes I have test driven in the past week for you to try your hand at:  http://momofukufor2.com/2010/02/momofuku-milk-bar-crack-pie-recipe/ and http://www.howsweeteats.com/2010/08/better-than-crack-brownies/.


Quick Reviews on All the Restaurants in Hyde Park I’ve ever Gone to (Part 1)

Bonjour Bakery and Cafe

Good fresh bread, even better fresh and slathered with some fresh butter and sea salt or goat cheese.  Pastries are good but expensive.
The French bread here has a finer crumb, which makes it better for cooking with in many recipes (brioche for bread pudding, sliced baguette for crostini, etc).

Cafe Corea

One of the few safe places to sit down and have a good meal in Hyde Park.  (An exaggeration, but not by much)  Staff is friendly and accommodating, I believe the restaurant is family owned.  The Jap Chae is a good bet, as are the hot soups.  Marginally more expensive than most Asian restaurants in Hyde Park, but markedly better.  Comforting food well prepared.

Cedars Mediterranean Kitchen

Overall, disappointing.  Hyde Park’s attempt at a mid-range “Mediterranean” attempts to make up for in ambiance what it lacks in originality and quality of ingredients.  The dishes I’ve sampled have been hit-or-miss, but there is better, cheaper food to be found at the Nile.

Chant

I went here for dinner last spring quarter, I will never come back.  The “Asian fusion” concept is poorly executed in every sense.  The decor and layout are tacky and impractical, and the food is uninspired and in some cases highly contrived.  The reason I have a hard time liking Asian fusion restaurants is that so many times the product of the fusion ends up being a compromise of the originals rather than an innovative and nuanced approach to an old classic.  Noodles Etc’s attempt at a trendy, mid-range fusion restaurant is no better than most cheaper restaurants in Hyde Park.

Edwardo’s Natural Pizza

Edwardo’s offers inconsistent food and consistent poor service.  Giordano’s has better pizza, service, and atmosphere, though it’s farther from the quad.  Either way, the only time I eat deep dish is when I’m going to dinner with friends from out of town, in which case I have better things to do than watch servers argue with each other and ignore patrons for 90 minutes.

Giordano’s

See above.

Harold’s

A must.  Sometimes the quality of the meat is poor, but apparently they have a 7 day return policy (?!) so I guess if you want to, you can ask for a new one.  Or just shell out another $3.51 and wait 10 minutes for a second half dark meal if you’re too embarrassed to ask for a refund.  Perfect when paired with a crisp champagne.

A note: everyone has their own preferences when it comes to ordering Harold’s.  I usually go with the half dark fried hard mild sauce salt and pepper.


UChi Update!

http://newsmachine.uchicago.edu/article/2011/05/02/uchicago-lands-clarke-s-24-hour-restaurant-53rd-street

FTA:

The University of Chicago is bringing Clarke’s restaurant, a 24-hour Chicago-area diner, to 53rd Street in Hyde Park…

…Scheduled to open later this year, Clarke’s will offer a wide variety of menu choices, including specialty salads, stir-fry dishes, sandwiches and a host of additional breakfast, lunch and dinner items. The restaurant addresses a longstanding interest among students and other community members for more late-night options.

All I have to say about this is… YES!

This definitely beats trying to stay up until 5:30AM to eat at Valois.  Plus, sweet potato fries are delicious at all times of day, but especially between the hours of 1 and 4 AM.

More updates to come after I escape my 6th week black hole of midterms (workload reached critical mass yesterday).  Check Wednesday afternoon for a new post.


3 Course Lunch at C-House – $15

http://chicagoist.com/2011/03/03/15_three-course_lunch_at_c-house_ea.php

Where I’ll be this Friday for lunch, after a trip to the Art Institute.
I’ll post a review after I go, of course, but just in case anyone reading is planning on making a run downtown this week.

Mmm… lobster avocado club.