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Weekly Food Events around Chicago

27 Jul

Monday

  • Lula Cafe (Logan Square) has a Farm Dinner ($34)

Tuesday

  • Burger night at Publican Quality Meats
  • The Globe (best pub quiz in Chicago) has a quiz at 8pm

Wednesday

  • Every last Wednesday of the week, Quartino has a Monthly Wine Bash

Thursday

  • The Green Lady (very good pub quiz in Chicago) has a quiz at 8pm

Friday

Saturday

  • Frontera Grill (Loop) has their weekly brunch, which they only do for Saturdays (opens 1030am)

Sunday

 

Misc.

  • Supper clubs, like Clandestino, (~$75) hold meetings every so often.
  • Blackbird has a $22 prix fixe lunch
  • XOCO’s hot chocolate perks you up. Check out theobromine vs caffeine.)

 

Charlie Trotter’s | Chicago | 12/07/12 | “last hurrah”

24 Jul

Address: 816 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60614

Phone: (773) 248-6228

One of the better meals of my life. Much has been written about Charlie Trotter’s closing his restaurant after 25 years in operation. But the menu is delightful. The kitchen tour afterwards surprised me. It was cramped and in a small space, and it was a wonder that so many dishes were able to come out of that small kitchen.

One of the breads was incredibly delicious. It was a crispy bread drizzled with maple syrup on the outside, and had tender bacon cuboid strips on the inside. I dub it the “Baconator”.

Big Eye Tuna with Charred Red Onion & Mussel Vinaigrette (5/5)
Wine: Champagne Pehu-Simmonet “Selection-Grand Cru” Brut, Verzanay NV (pairing: 3.5/5)

Boston mussels, sweet pea sauce.

Hamachi with Green Tomatoes, Avocado & Kalamata Olives (5/5)
Wine: Santorini Assyrtiko Domaine Sigalas 2011 (pairing 4.25/5 – sweet I think)

Avocado-lime sorbet. hamachi with squid ink. Incredibly tender, white hamachi.

King Salmon with Sweet Potato, Horseradish & Myoga (4.5/5)
Wine: Parr “Sanford & Benidict” Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills 2008

King salmon and myoga (Japanese ginger) paired well. King salmon lightly seared to perfection The salty horseradish and sweet potato lent body to the dish, but the horseradish amount could have been pared down. It ended up being a bit starchy for my taste.

Muscovy Duck with Smoked Coconut, Spring Onion & Venezuelan Chocolate (5/5)
Wine: Amarone della Valpolicella Classcio Tomasso Bussola 2006 (5/5)

A crisp lightly caressed of duck fat appeared on our slices of duck. Coconut, Chocolate were supporting actors for this play. Wine was deliciously complex, as if all the noxious fumes of uncracked petroleum were transmogrified into sugars.

Elysian Fields Farm Roasted Lamb Saddle with Toasted Espresso, Crispy Veal Tendon & Boudin Noir (4.75/5)
Wine: Soliste “Out of the Shadows” Syrah, Bennett Valley 2008 (2.75/5)

Tender veal. The lamb had a background sourness that only looking at the menu in hindsight I realised was espresso. The pea ravioli next door (you can spot the dark green ravioli peeking out behind the cracker) was delicious.

Wine tasted like a generic red.

Raspberry Sorbet with Lemon Verbena Cream & Raspberry Tart (4.75/5)

The tart was made like a baklava. An ode to raspberry.

Thyme-Glazed Brioche with Georgia Blueberry Compote & Lavender-Blueberry Sorbet (5/5)
Wine: Jorge Ordonez & Co “Victoria-#2” Moscatel, Jorge Ordonez, Malaga 2005 (5/5)

Triple Criollo Riviera Cake with Lemon Balm Puree & Strawberry-Tonka Bean Sorbet (4.75/5)

Wine: Dash “Late Harvest” Zinfandel, Dry Creek 2009 ()

The Tonka Bean sorbet tasted like an artificial strawberry candy, but the riviera cake sandwiching the lemon balm was divine.

Verdict: A fantastic meal, a great triumph. Some of the best classical cooking in Chicago.

Memory: Blueberry Compote with Thyme Brioche,

Overall Rating: 17.5/20

The Publican | Chicago

11 Jul

Porcine pleasure is said to reign at the Publican. Feeling peckish on a Saturday, I decided to try their Saturday brunch. I later found out that they have a renowned Sunday brunch, which is distinct from their Saturday brunch however. I spoke to a couple dining next to me, and they also informed me that their oysters are worth trying out.

******** Saturday brunch

Burton’s maple syrup-braised publican bacon. (4.75/5). Excellent bacon. An actual slab of the real stuff, which was also cured to a delicious (and it must be emphasised, not overly salty) state. The meat was tender, the fat delish.

Oeuf jeannette (baked eggs, Swiss chard, parmesan and tessa) (3.25/5). The bread was nice and crisp, and the eggs were well done. The cheese was a bit overpowering, and what looked like red cabbage was leaching was tasted like tannins into the dish. Average.

2001 vintage oak barrel aged pu-erh (started 4.5/5, rapidly deteriorated to 1.5/5). The pu-erh was surprisingly non-acidic, with a thick soupy consistency. However, that was due to the staff boiling the tea in a single pot, and not bothering to separate the tea leaves after the tea had been made. This allowed tannins from the tea leaves to leach into the tea. As the British would say, “it tasted like piss” afterward. I’m afraid if the tea was as good as it looked on the menu – and the first sip have drained the tea leaves, put the tea in a different pot, and let the tea stand without the leaves.

*********

Kenneth’s 3 rules of tea.
A. After making the tea, put the tea in a different pot. Make sure tea leaves are drained, so less tannins emerge.
B. If you’re using a teabag, don’t leave it in after you make your tea!!! You’re going to get a papery taste otherwise (h/t Daniel Gildenlow)
C. If you can control your temperature, use sub-boiling water (90-95 degrees). I have heard 93 degrees is optimal. (h/t Taiwanese tea shop)

*********

Verdict: The non-porcine items were a bit disappointing here. I might come back for one of their dinners/Sunday brunch – but probably not Saturday brunch.

XOCO | Chicago

10 Jul

XOCO | Chicago

Tortas (Mexican sandwiches), chocolate (xoco), and churros (fried dough) is what Rick Bayless’s casual place adjoining Frontera is all about.

******** Breakfast

Huevos Rancheros (4/5): “2 eggs, roasted tomato-serrano sauce, corn tortillas black beans, homemade fresh cheese.” Eggs and salsa really make the dish delicious, and the corn tortilla with black bean paste

Churros: (4.5/5). Well done. I don’t particular like donuts, but this was relatively non-greasy, crispy, and coated in delicious chocolate flecked sugar. Technically, excellent.

Chocolate drinks are fantastic at XOCO – in fact they give the restaurant its name! They grind their cacao nibs fresh. These are some of the best chocolate drinks I’ve ever had.

Authentic (4.75/5): “Fresh-ground Chocolate + Water”

Aztec (5/5): “fresh-ground chocolate + water + chile + allspice” A spicy sour-tinge in this chocolate gives it a kick above the normal authentic

Iced Chocolate with Bayless Garden Mint (5/5). As perfect a mint chocolate as I’ve ever had. Cacao nibs mixed with actual mint leaves. Rich, and delicious.

******** Lunch/Dinner

http://www.rickbayless.com/menus/xoco/xoco/

Chipotle Chicken Torta (4/5): Gunthorp chicken, chipotle-roasted tomato sauce, artisan Jack cheese, avocado, black beans, arugula. A good chicken sandwich, if a bit spicy.

Pork Belly Torta (3.5/5): Dark salsa negra glaze, bacon, arugula, queso anejo. A bit too sparing on the pork, you can taste more of the bacon strips in this one.

Chicharrones (5/5): Chicharrones, Tamazula hot sauce, queso añejo, onions, cilantro. Chicarrones is pig skin, seasoned and deep fried. The chicarrones here is fluffy. In Singapore, if we don’t roast our pig skin to a crisp (roasted fatty pork, pork knuckle or suckling pig), we usually eat it wet with yong tau foo. This is one of the few time’s I’ve eaten crispy yet fluffy pig skin.

Ahogada Torta (4.25/5): “Golden pork carnitas, black beans, tomato broth, spicy arbol chile sauce, pickled onions.” Make a crispy sandwich pork. Promptly dump it in a spicy chili-tomato soup. You get a delicious mess that is hard to eat. I was surprised the sandwich didn’t fall apart in my hands.

Special mention must be made of the salsa, which is also made on Rick Bayless’s rooftop. A rooftop in Chicago, apparently. Now, rooftop gardens are all the rage. Gracie’s in Providence once carted a lot of soil up Peerless Lofts to make fresh herbs.

********

Verdict: Frontera’s sandwich cousin. Sandwiches are good here, but the real stars are the chocolate, churros, and chicharrones.

********

In order:

Chipotle Chicken sandwich 1,
Chipotle Chicken sandwich 2,
Iced Chocolate w/ Mint,
Pork Belly sandwich 1,
Pork Belly sandwich 2,
Aztec Chocolate,
Churros,
Huevos Rancheros,
Chicharrones,
Ahogada sandwich,
Authentic Chocolate,

Frontera Grill | Chicago

8 Jul

Brunch Menu

Being located 3 blocks away from Rick Bayless’s tri-conglomeration of XOCO, Frontera Grill, and Topolobampo has its perks. One thing is that good Mexican is never far away.

Rick Bayless, as a primer, was studying for a PhD in linguistics at the University of Michigan, when he moved to Meixco from 1980-1986. There, he learnt Mexican cooking, and then brought it back to Chicago. When Obama was inaugurated, Rick Bayless was apparently in the running to be White House executive chef.

I’ve been to Frontera twice now. (and XOCO 4 times). So far, I have not been disappointed.

(Brunch)

Chilaquiles al Guajillo (5/5) – “Quick-simmered tortilla “casserole” with rustic red guajillo chile sauce, homemade crema, aged Mexican cheese (queso anejo), sunny-side up egg. Tangy baby greens.” Savory and fresh greens, great tasting sauce. Tortillas were semi-crisp – after sitting in sauce, they were a delicious mess.

Duo de Flanes (4.25/5) – “A duo of caramel custards: coconut milk-lemongrass flan with honey Manila mango salsa, plus silky Mexican vanilla. ” had a rich, sticky texture, in the region of peanut-butter stickiness. The custard cake contrasted well with the mango and wisps of coconut.

(Dinner)

Lamb Shoulder in Black Mole (4.5/5) – “Grill-seared lamb shoulder braised in black mole, Nichols Farm potatoes, grilled calabacitas, anejo cheese.” Mole means sauce in Mexican. For this dish, I believe the “mole” here is a chocolate sauce. It was rich, and there were quite a few potatoes in the dish. It went excellently with tacos – the only minor complaint might be that the potato-lamb ratio was skewed in favour of potato.

Duck “Carnitas” Flautas (4.5/5) – “Crispy, crunchy taquitos of slow-cooked duck carnitas, (grilled white onions, garlic mojo). Tangy red chile escabeche, orange “shoots salad.”

Ceviche Trio – “Frontera Ceviche (albacore, tomato, olive), Yucatecan Ceviche (shrimp, squid, orange, cucumber), Tropical Tuna Cocktail (big eye, avocado-tomatillo, mango salsa)”
Yucatan Ceviche (4.75/5) – nice and limey, good contrast with shrimp and squid
Tropical Tuna Cocktail (5/5) – out of this world, perfectly salted avocado. Sweet mango complemented tuna perfectly
Frontera Ceviche (4/5) – another sour one.

Smoky-Creamy-Spicy Mushrooms (4.75/5) – “Brown beech, hedgehog, oyster, shiitake & black trumpet mushrooms, white sweet potato, Oaxacan pasilla crema, epazote.”

Verdict: Just go. Frontera only serves brunch on Saturdays, so it’s a once-a-week thing. Rick Bayless’s Mexican is magical.

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Lao Sze Chuan | Chicago

2 Jul

2172 S Archer Ave

(between Wentworth Ave & 21st St)
Chicago, IL 60616
Neighborhood: Chinatown
(312) 326-5040 | Menu

Lao Sze Chuan is possibly one of the best Chinese restaurants I’ve had the pleasure of dining in in the last year.

In my time eating in American restaurants, I rarely encountered offal meats – the internal organs, and discarded parts of the butchered animal. According toe Wikipedia, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Offal#United_States) the American South uses more offal. Rocky Mountain oysters (or bull testicles), are also a delicacy in Western US. It’s much more common in Chinese cooking.

Seeing “Pig Ear Szechuan Style” (4.75/5) (dish A02) warmed my heart. Offal bodes well for the authenticity of a Chinese restaurant (maybe non-Cantonese). Tender cartilage in spicy red oil. Wonderful crunch of harder cartilage bits.

Mapo Tofu (4/5) (dish 609) was very spicy. Pairs well with rice.

The only bum note for me was Chili Eggplant (2/5) (dish 633). It was an odd mix of sour and spicy, that left a persistent sour taste in my mouth after eating a slice or two.

For dessert, black rice congee (4.25/5) (dish 901) has lotus seeds (those crunchy white kernels called baiguo), black rice in a cloyingly sweet soup. Recommended. In Singapore we have a very close descendant, pulot hitam – which you get when you add a lot of coconut milk.

Lao Sze Chuan is a great addition to Chinese food in America. Even in New York City, I haven’t had this type of Chinese food. Head there if you’re in Chicago!

Avec | Chicago | Summer ’12

1 Jul

Avec | Chicago | Menu

Avec’s been around for more than 7 years, and it has a disarmingly informal feel, even as one of the city’s top restaurants. I had the pleasure of stepping inside on a Wednesday dinner (the Mediterranean restaurant doesn’t take recommendations)

burrata with fresh tarragon and pickled trio of ramps, golden beets and rhubarb (4.25/5)
Burrata had an outer wall of solid mozzarella goodness, and an inner molten core of liquid mozzarella. Pickled vegetables formed a sour counterpoint to the burrata. Good dish.

from wikipedia:
Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese, made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains both mozzarella and cream, giving it an unusual, soft texture. It is also defined by some sources as an outer shell of mozzarella filled with butter or a mixture of butter and sugar. It is usually served fresh, at room temperature. The name “burrata” means “buttered” in Italian.

chorizo-stuffed medjool dates with smoked bacon and piquillo pepper-tomato sauce (4/5)
on yelp, chorizo-stuffed dates was often mentioned as avec’s speciality. the inside of the dates was incredibly meaty, with smoked bacon and a large helping of chorizo. THe tomato sauce was very good for dipping.

whipped brandade with garlic bread and chives (3.5/5)
brandade was a good whipping of fish and olive oil, and this paired well with garlic bread. I was also recommended to eat this with apples.

from wikipedia:
Brandade is an emulsion of salt cod and olive oil eaten in winter with bread or potatoes. In French it is sometimes called Brandade de Morue and in Spanish it can be called Brandada de bacalao (‘morue’ being the French name for salt cod and bacalao the Spanish one).

roasted whitefish with lentils, spanish chorizo, endive and shallot (4.75/5)
Whitefish was perfectly browned on one side without being overcooked. The scraped lines on its browned side made it look endearingly like toast. Perfectly textured, and served on a delicious mix of lentils, spanish chorizo, endive and shallot – which tasted and looked a bit like cassoulet

http://chicago.eater.com/archives/2011/10/13/avecs-koren-grieveson-comes-out-of-the-kitchen.php
http://avecrestaurant.com/menus/3-dinner-menu

Han Bat | Chicago

30 Jun

Han Bat | Chicago

2723 W Lawrence Ave
(between Fairfield Ave & Washtenaw Ave)
Chicago, IL 60625
Neighborhoods: Lincoln Square, Ravenswood

(773) 271-8640

***********************************************

American breakfast options revolve around eggs, and the non-egg options fall within a few major categories – bagels (usually with cream cheese), pancakes, corned beef, or a healthy medley of yoghurt and fresh fruit.

Craving Asian food last Saturday, I went to Han Bat, which is Korean restaurant, and ordered their seolleongtang. Seolleongtang is a broth soup made from beef bones, simmered over many hours, where the marrow leaches out of the bones and turns it an off-white colour. The soup is mild-tasting, and spring onion, chilli was provided at the table.

The $10 bowl of seolleongtang (4.5/5) was a refreshing dish, and the kimchi (4.75/5) is free flow. It’s authentic Korean – when I went into the restaurant at 9am on a Saturday morning, I was greeted with a string of Korean. This, according to Tyler Cowen, bodes well for the authenticity of the restaurant. Very enjoyable Korean home cooking.

Yolk | Chicago

30 Jun
Address: 747 N Wells, Chicago, IL 60654
Number: (312) 787-2277
Other outlets:
South Loop
1120 S Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60605
Phone: 312.789.YOLK (9655)

Streeterville
355 E Ohio Street (corner of Grand & McClurg)
Chicago, IL 60611
Phone: 312-822-YOLK(9655)

 

__________________________

The great American breakfast, which descends from the complete English breakfast, has one thing at its core – eggs.

Most American breakfast places serve a great many egg dishes – Eggs Benedict (poached eggs with Hollandaise sauce) and variants therof, omelettes, steak and eggs, french toast, eggs and potatoes, eggs done any way (laid on a hot plate to fry).

Yolk lives up to its name, by offering a few good spins on eggy dishes.
The Eggs Benedict (3.75) had a crispy muffin and well salted homefries. The substantial fruit side was nice. Overall, a decent eggs benedict. It was good enough for me to go back for breakfast two days later.

Croque Madame (4.5) , or a French toast – grilled turkey, ham sandwich with a sweet Dijon relish and a sunny side egg draped on top was an excellent and delicious sandwich well-fluffed with egg. French toast and Dijon relish went surprisingly well together.