Friday, January 09, 2004

Yum Thai

Yum Thai is one of those places with a secret. A secret de-coded. Over time, I have learned the details of the Thai written menu, and I learned that to order the apparantly same dishes from this menu produced much better food. I think I might be on to yet another secret of Yum Thai, lunch.

I lunched at Yum Thai with the Condiment Queen yesterday, and ate very well. One of my previous best meals there had been lunch with G Wiv. Perhaps, without the intense-later-in the day take-out business that keeps this place going, they can put more attention into the mid-day meal. In fact one of the startling secrets we have been able to pry out of Yum Thai is that the "American" style dishes are mostly made ahead of time, while the "Thai" dishes are made to order. I wonder if the slower lunch time means even more made to order, even more attention so to speak.

Yesterday, my wife mostly wanted noodles and she got the sweet, spicy and chewy kee-mow (stir fried wide rice noodles). I had a soup-curry called, well I cannot say, I've searched high and low, but right now I cannot find my version of the translated secret menu. It is a yellow curry, sour and hot, with plenty of vegetables. foodfirst ghe generous and knowageable Chowhound who has translated Yum Thai's menu for me said this dish came with fried catfish, but yesterday my soup had shrimps. Whatever it was, it was very good. Last, we split a beef salad. This is one dish I am not even sure is on the Thai menu, but I tell them exactly how to make it. Grilled sliced beef in the lime fish sauce dressing with too many cloves of Goodfella thin garlic and too many slices of chilies--I just wish that yesterday's jalepeno's were not so dead. Still, boy did this dish crank. The beef got dressed right off the grill, gas grill as it may be, and the sauce got slightly absored, and then that embarrassing amount of garlic. I treasured that reek all day.

Right now, I am most confident with Yum Thai at lunch. And make sure to ask for the translated "secret menu" (i.e., the English version of the Thai menu, not the regular "American" menu.)

Yum Thai
7748 W Madison
Forest Park, IL. 60130

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Kenny's Ribs Discovery

Several Chowhounds will shortly take off on an epic Q quest. The brilliant one wants to hit 30 places (ha!). I am sure they will make some great bbq discoveries, but I doubt they will make the discovery I made last night.

Kenny's Ribs offers one of the more average "authentic" style ribs and rib tips, but offers it from several locations, a chain of mediocrity. It is, however, one of the few places within walking distance of the bungalow. Plus, they provide a nice lunch deal that extends to the very non-lunch hour of 5:59. Thus, I find myself eating at Kenny's more than I need. Until yesterday.

I did not ask for my rib tips sauce-less. I asked for the hot sauce, like always. Kenny's sauce is actually not bad. Yet, with the sauce on the side, the rib tips shot up at least 80 points on the Q-o-meter. I tasted the charcoal. I tasted the meat. I tasted the luxuriously awful pork fat. Now, I did accent the meat. Accented with one of the all time great tips from Chowhound, the ability of Tapatio hot sauce to mimic Arthur Bryant's sauce. Kenny's rib tips, with Tapatio hot sauce, for $3.99, pure pleasure. Try it.
Question for Reader (or reader's)

I got around to looking at the latest issue of the Reader. Every week, the Reader lists about 20 or so places around a theme, with the pity comments of their reporters. This week's summaries, Uptown. I was highly surprised when Palace of China got called "strictly Szechuan Chinese."

C'mon guys, true? Last time I checked this place out, it was a rather traditional Cantonese place: salt and pepper shrimps, steamed fish, whole crabs and lobsters from a tank, that kind of stuff. Is my memory off or does the Reader need a fact checker?

For an idea of what strictly Szechuan means, I suggest perhaps the Reader's editors make a visit to Lao Sze Chuan or maybe the newly opened Sky in Chinatown. The other day the Sun Times' Pat Bruno stated matter of factly that "I have seen an erosion of quality Chinese food in too many of the restaurants in Chinatown (one exception is Phoenix, which is still the best dim sum and then some restaurant around)." I got to wonder do these critics actually eat in Chinatown or Argyle or do they just not know what Chinese food is?

UPDATE: Two quick things. First, since I wrote this on Thursday morning, you should know I was talking, really, already, about LAST week's Reader. Second, it got worse when I looked at it some more. The same restaurant list in last week's Reader, has Cantonese, Silver Seafood as "Mandarian." Hard to elevate the Chinese food discourse in this city if we hardly know what Chinese food is.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Curses, foiled again

I've horribly jinxed myself by bragging more than once in recent weeks, about my ability to recall meals without notes. I posted on Dinah's without remembering the banana bread or the giant bucket out front, two of the reasons this may be the best restaurant in LA. I forgot the dry beef flaky bread dish at Ed's (scroll down), probably because it was the only weak item, and I have totally, totally missed the best thing I ate in 2003.

Now, my excuse for not remembering this thing is because I am still eating it as we enter 2004. I am talking about my wife's candy pecans. Not only are these the best thing to have ever been prepared in the bungalow, they are probably the best dish ever prepared in Oak Park. They are so good, when I start nibbling at them, I almost have to force myself to stop, or otherwise my stomach would burst. I am like one of those rats with their brains hooked up that they get the jolt of pleasure that they cannot do anything else. I have tried hard to convince the Condiment Queen to go pro with these things, but she is resistant to the name I concocted for the business: Sheila's Nutz.
Triple Crown Seafood

In one of their few lucent moments, the Chicago Tribune Cheap Eats did Triple Crown Seafood today. (free registration required). Sometimes people's attention get focused on the newer or more obscure Chinese food available these days in Chinatown, 500 item Szechuanese menu's, rare Yunnan treats, Dongbei, etc., but sometimes it is very comforting and enjoyable to eat the basics, well if not the basics, at least what has been more traditional in Chinatown.

Triple Crown (most of the time, it can be inconsistent) does fantastic versions of all the Hong Kong standards. Make your meal almost entirely of seafood treats: oyster casserole with pork chunks--an inspired combo, fried smelts over-run with bits of garlic and other things, clams in black bean sauce. For meat, try a basic Cantonese restaurant prep, displayed in the back like soy sauce chicken. I have also had great crispy skin chicken here, the Cantonese breadingless fried chicken. Finally, add at least one vegetable to the table. Triple Crown's menu features tons of vegetable dishes, all done well. Easy to be healthy here.

As noted in the review, at Triple Crown the prices all drop shockingly after 10 PM, and this becomes about the best deal in Chicago

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Gosh darn, in my listing of everywhere and everything I ate in LA, I forgot a small yet very, very enjoyable nibble.

In the two block area that is "Little Thailand" on Hollywood Blvd, is a large Thai grocery store called Silom (after the famous street in Bangkok). In the parking lot behind the store, a couple were cooking up a famous Thai street treat. I mean being in the parking lot, it was almost like eating in Bangkok. These treats are semi-circles of coconut milk custard, accented Thai style with sliced green onions. It was a treat of textures and tastes. As ChefG tries, this dish featured a distict skin and then an an almost set interior and finally, a jarring, unexpected flavor. A dollar very well spent!
Best Chow Moments 2003

On the listserv, several people have offered up their best eating of 2003. Here are mine (in no particular order)

Italian beef tasting. As much for the sammy's as for all the great people met along the way.

The wine dungeon leading to the $27 Thai food extravaganza at Spoon Thai followed by several more hours of eating and drinking, all along Western Avenue, the longest street in Chicago.

Lemon chicken with Wiv at Tufano's (for the Palm Pilot).

Eating burgers with Sheila at the Come Back Inn, Melrose Park a mere 2 hours after she had lunch at Trio.

Spring World with RST ordering (Chinatown, Chicago).

Brisket at Black's BBQ, Lockhart, Texas. If reduced to one taste for 2003, this would be it.

My brisket smoked and eaten the next day at Beverly Shores, Indiana. Finally a full size brisket almost as good. I had made very good flats in the past, but my previous attempts with full briskets had met with mixed success.

Wiv's smoked corned beef, the best pastrami, by a long way, in Chicago

Lem's ribs with beers at Jimmy's Woodlawn Tap to commence the Allnighathon.

Rico huarache at Maxwell Street Market, Chicago

Donuts in LA

Joan's bouillabaisse

The third basturma, garlic spread and pickle sandwich at Erik M's. Two were great, but the third jolt of these intense flavors put me in such a food stupor Sheila had to drive me home.

Wine week at Smith and Wollensky

The world's greatest sope's, Milwaukee Ave, Logan Square (Chicago).

Rosh Hashannah roast chicken salad from the Zuni cookbook and Yom Kippur braised beef without a cookbook

Relishes made with relish by my mother for Thanksgiving

French toast and pie at DuPar's, Farmer's Market, LA

Hearts of lettuce, anchovy dressing, with a martini on the side, Musso and Frank's, Hollywood, CA. The most perfect accord.

I reserve the right to amend for at least a week!
Fannie May to shut plant, putting 625 out of work

So reports today's Chicago Tribune. I resist mightily, the desire to toss political items into the blog--got it to keep it chow-centric no? but I HAVE to say something here.

It bothers me to no end, the deterioration of Chicago's business base. I see major corporations, Ameritech, Amoco, Quaker Oats, sell themselves off and then significantly diminish their presence in the Windy City. I see the massive Helene Curtis facilities near North and Cicero get wrecked. And the demolition companies must be soon at the gates of Brach, a couple of blocks south. Can we sum up Chicago's economic growth in recent years as the boondoggle of Millennium Park, a huge residential output in the South Loop and the luring of a 100 Boeing executives? At some point, people have to make money to live in all these units, and at some point the building boom will die. Then what?

Monday, January 05, 2004

Ed's Potsticker Update:

1) I forgot a dish, a dry, well very dry beef with a sauce tasting like dehydrated peanutbutter in a nicely flaky pastry--you can see why I forgot this dish, and the idea of ten dishes sounded better anyway.

2) Here's a pic of the house's standout dish. Note, when had ours on Saturday, the sandwiches were already made for us. Go to this site for more pic's of Ed's. (Pic's courtesy of GWiv)
Thai Envy

My friend Pim is REALLY making me long for Thailand.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Ed's Potsticker House
Ringing in the New Year with Champagne and dumplings

The benefit of the listserv is that great special meals can be planned and executed with minimal effort. All it takes is an idea and an e-mail account. The brilliant one, RST, got the notion that we should kick things off, 2004, with a full range of helpings from Ed's Potsticker Northern Chinese snack menu, and to wash it all down, champagne, preferably champagnes from small bottlers.

I was last at Ed's in July, although for some reason it seems like last year (hahahahaha, no really it does seem like longer.) Our meal Saturday mimicked much of what we ate in July, although this time we excluded any "main dishes". All snacks or dim sum.

Honestly, as one of the chowhounditas likes to say, honestly, it was all great. A seemingly endless procession of Calvin Trillin inspired stuffed stuff. First, soup dumplings with an elastic and rather leak proof wrapper. Not too soupy, but good nonetheless. Second, the house signature dish, traditional Northern style potstickers, much different than your PF Chang version. Rolled, like the cigars served in Israeli restaurants, crisp all the way around, flaky, and just a touch greasy. Third, water dumplings, a thicker wrapper, more European, like a pierogi, to support the more vigorous cooking process, boiled versus steamed. Now, these dumplings pretty much all contained the same things inside, three similar items, yet all three possessed distinct and different skins. It focused you on the artisanship of the dumpling maker. Fourth, tiny bread bombs (typical Chinese steamed bread of "silver cake", steamed and then fried), with a bowl of condensed milk for dragging. Nothing much to say, huh? Fifth, sesame balls with bean paste, one of the few overlaps with traditional Cantonese dim sum. Ed's does a much tinier ball, and fries it longer. More crunch than goo, but I slightly prefer the goo. Sixth and seventh, two forays to Shanghai: rice cakes with bok choy and pork and thick round noodles. The carborama continued, just not as dumplings. Still about the contrasts in texture and what can be done with flour based on how it is worked and how it is cooked. I really liked the toothsome rice cakes, but the guy sitting next to me (MikeG) felt them too MSG-y. Eighth, back to dumplings, this one steamed and griddled on one side, like most people expect of potstickers, but filled with a kids pleasing cellophane noodle and chive. Ninth, the collective favorite, the crisp and flaky pancake filled, pita-like, with Chinese bacon--belly meat, rolled and slice so the filling was circles of pork meat and port fat. Tenth, soup, a much meatier and beefier broth than found further south, filled with, guess what, won tons (more dumplings). Ten ways to drive Atkins nuts and ten ways to have a great lunch. Eleven actually, we got chopped up bits of Chinese donut sticks, but the kids grabbed and ate these so fast, I cannot say more.

Those champagnes to accompany? Brilliant idea. Not only does Champagne go anywhere, not only did it extend the New Year's parties, but Champagne, with its mouth clearing properties, makes an excellent companion to this starchy food. Afterall, how many times has a champagne been described as bready or toasty. We had an assortment of bottles including some small producers--I'll get the details later, some Czech czampagne as we called it and some decidedly NOT small, Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin Vintage Reserve 1996 I bought on sale a month or so ago. To be honest, I have limited insight on the bubblies. I agreed to let Ms. VI sit with the adults, I took the kids over to a big table, where we joined Mike G, his two, and a very brave, very generous chowhound named Peter. My condition for this arrangement, I got to drink all the champagne I wanted. Soon, all the wine blurred together, even the highly sweet, a bit medicine like, Czech version.

Ed's Potsticker House is continued testament that Chicago is filled with fantastic Chinese cooking. Ed's serves roughly, the population in Chicago, not from the Southern states. Ed's gorgeous and charming owner, Brenda, hails from Beijing. Her chef from Dong-bei, the East. The menu, as noted above, takes in Shanghai dishes as well. To perhaps step over the line, but even in Hong Kong, non-Cantonese restaurants have a reputation for warmth and friendliness, but with a Northern style place like Ed's, you will not find some of the brusqueness, the refusal to serve dishes, the you no like, treatment, found often at Chinese places. The outstanding hospitality of all at Ed's only added to the pleasure.

After lunch, most of us took the short jog to Filberts, where for the first time in my life, they were bottling when I entered. Hungrier sorts continued south to Lem's ribs, but we need to get back to Oak Park.

Ed's Potsticker House
3139 S. Halsted St.
(312) 326-6898