Friday, February 06, 2004

It's not all chow

Even though someone who shares an abode with me wishes I'd take some of my rantings and ravings about politics and such to the Internet, to make for quieter breakfasts, I am highly resistant to talk too much politics. Still, I am really, totally outraged by the following, and I do not see how anyone else cannot, regardless of your political orientation.

Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia is hearing a case involving an individual, an individual who took Scalia on an extended hunting trip. How can Scalia, at all, not recuse himself. Where is the outrage?

The following is from the LA Times. The full story is here (registration required).

PATTERSON, La. — Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia traveled as an official guest of Vice President Dick Cheney on a small government jet that served as Air Force Two when the pair came here last month to hunt ducks.

The revelation cast further doubts about whether Scalia can be an impartial judge in Cheney's upcoming case before the Supreme Court, legal ethics experts said. The hunting trip took place just weeks after the high court agreed to take up Cheney's bid to keep secret the details of his energy policy task force.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

The Good Word

The big spread in the Chicago Tribune (registration required) surely has a bunch of people saying to themselves, hey that's me. As DougK once famously put, I've found my tribe. Not all of the people, in the tribe, however, like to shout their tips. My friend and neighbor, Mark, has been reading Chowhound for a while. He follows suggestions. He he's eaten at El Barco, Islas Marias, Garden Buffet, etc., and he has his own tips too. He turned me on to La Piazza in Forest Park. A great tip.

I've only been once, for lunch, but I can already tell it is a welcome addition to the greater Oak Park food scene. If nothing else, Piazza plays as well to parents as it does to kids, something nearby kid friendly places like Pronto Roma and Leona's cannot claim. For the kids, make your own pizza's. You start with a slab of dough which you stretch and toss; then sauce, cheese and your choice of toppings. They bake it for you, and viola, it is good too. Really nice pizza with a crust both crusty and pillowy soft--at least the way the chowhounditas made it.

Mom had a rolled and stuffed eggplant with house made pasta. Fresh mozzarella and a short cooked tomato sauce expertly garnished the dish. Dad had a sammy of chicken Milanese on fresh baked foccacia. Not a sandwich to grab. Too big and sloppy. I needed to deconstruct the chicken and its toppings, basil and above average winter tomatoes, but I still enjoyed it. Piazza breads their chicken breast with something coarse--almost like corn flakes (hey do not laugh, in yesterday's New York Times, (registration also required) it was reported that super chef David Burke coated foie gras with corn flakes). I liked the crunch, but I would have preferred a slightly thinner, pounded chicken breast.

Dinners are more expansive, not the sandwiches. I think the kid's pizza option is always there.

La Piazza
410 Circle Avenue
Forest Park, IL 60131

Next Culinary Historian Meeting
(Tell 'em VI sent ya)

“A Valentine Day’s Menu of Culinary History”
presented by Chef Fritz H. Sonnenschmidt

Author, and Culinary Dean (retired), Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park New York

Saturday, Feb. 14, 2004, 10 a.m. to Noon at The Chicago Historical Society, 1601 N. Clark St., Chicago, Illinois

Please join us as the distinguished Chef Sonnenschmidt shamelessly regales us with his four-course menu of culinary history spiced with the kind of love and lore our organization allows only on Valentine’s Day:

1st Intercourse: History of food and how it relates to our food thoughts.

2nd Intercourse: Food legends and belief of sexual powers.

3rd Intercourse: Involvement of food in the rise and fall of nations and empires.

4th Intercourse: Food and the biggest love story of the century.

Certified Master Chef Sonnenschmidt was employed at the CIA from 1968 until his retirement in 2002. He served as a faculty member, department chair, associate director of Continuing Education and Culinary Dean. He began his culinary career as a teenage apprentice in his native Germany. He has won many awards in his long career, among them: The Escoffier Chair for Culinary Excellence; The Jerusalem Gold Medal for Culinary Excellence in Jewish Cooking; and several gold medals representing the U.S. in the Culinary Olympics.

Chef Sonnenschmidt is also the author of several books, including: “Dining with Sherlock Holmes;” “The American Harvest,” and “Taste and Tales of a Chef,”’ the latter of which he will be signing at our meeting. In addition, Chef Sonnenschmidt has appeared on PBS in two series: “Cooking Secrets of the CIA,” and “Grilling Maestros.”

This program is hosted by the Culinary Historians of Chicago.

Cost of the program is $10, $5 for students, and no charge for members of the Culinary Historians. To reserve, please call Susan Ridgeway, CHC treasurer at (815) 439-3960. Or e-mail your reservation to:

Please leave your name, telephone number and the number of people in your party.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Regional foodfest

I've said before, that unlike Chowhound, I am more than happy to give people a place to post good things. Cathy2 sends this quick bit of info on a foodfest near the Mississippi River--I cannot vouch otherwise for the event.

Kaiserhof Annual Jagerfest
Wild Game Feed
Feb. 8, 2004 12pm-8pm
170 West Main
Bradford, IL
All you can eat
Kaiserhof Restaurant
(309) 897-2505
Guest Post - MikeG
at least, Logan Square.

I promised yesterday that I would go eat something new and report back
today. Actually I think the place I went has at least been mentioned
before, as a Guatemalan bakery, Delicias Guatemaltecas Bakery, 2901 N.
Kedzie. However, I noticed some new signage on it including a new name
(La Luna del Xelaju), which suggested perhaps new ownership and/or a
fuller menu, and decided to see what they had.

The menu behind the bar was a typical all-things-to-all-people mix--
carne asada, Cuban Sandwiches, cheeseburgers and hot dogs. Instead of
ordering off it I told the lady of the establishment that I had eaten
at the Guatemalan restaurant (El Tinajon) on Roscoe but wanted to know
what they had that was different and better. That turned out to be the
best question I could have asked, not because she immediately told me
what to have but because she then gave me the full story.

El Tinajon, she said, makes city food (I assume meaning Guatemala
City). They are from Xelaju, a rural area on the Pacific coast, 90
miles away, and so their food is quite different. Initially they had
just been a bakery, making typical Mexican bakery-looking stuff, but
they had added Guatemalan and Mexican food over time, in their region's
style, and now they were about to get a complete menu change, hopefully
by this weekend if the printer finally finishes the new menus. It
would have considerably more than the menu has now, but even now it
represents a good sampling of their regional choices.

She talked me through a number of dishes but I decided to try multiple
smaller, more peasanty dishes to increase my odds. (By the way, oh
fans of sausage at Brasa Rojas and such places, there is a Guatemalan
sausage platter to be had.) I ordered a cheese pupusa (they also have
chicharron), a chicken tamale in their style, and a pache with pork,
along with a homemade limeade.

The first to come was the pupusa, accompanied by a goodly amount of
cortida (is that how you spell it? I only know it by sound from the
Maxwell St. video). My first bite seemed a bit too crisp, I would have
liked it a bit fluffier, but then she turned up again from the kitchen
with a salsa-- and what a salsa! A brick-red salsa as deep in color as
an artist's mixed oils, full of chunks of different shades of tomato
and pepper, seeds and black bits. I wept at the beauty of this salsa,
in which I could almost taste the instant that igneous mortar scraped
against volcanic pestle and released all the honesty and truth of
Mesoamerica's most noble vegetables. Any qualms about the crustiness
of my pupusa vanished in an instant, and it was only by conjuring up
thoughts of the dishes yet to come that I didn't leap up, race into the
kitchen and yell "Five more pupusas!"

(By the way, later on when she was talking about their clientele, I
asked her about the cortida. She said what I had today was the
Guatemalan style, but on the weekends they get more Salvadoran
customers and so they make it Salvadoran style, which has oregano in it
but is otherwise the same. Did anyone know that? I thought there was
a little cinnamon in the Salvadoran, but oregano?)

The next dish was the odd one out. It was a tamale, with a whole
chicken leg in the center, a very hot red pepper salsa mixed into it
and wrapped in banana leaf. But the stuff around the chicken leg was
closer in texture to the custard in banana leaf at Spoon Thai than to
the Oaxacan tamals at Maxwell, for instance. Clearly not masa, unless
it was whipped with a tremendous amount of egg or something (but no
corn flavor). I thought it might be potato (but the next dish was
supposed to be potato-based). So I asked-- it's rice flour. To be
honest, it was interesting to try but I found it too bland and slightly
icky after multiple bites (maybe because I suddenly realized it was the
exact consistency of my kids' first solid food, a rice cereal). It
needed the toothiness and flavor of something like masa, this was just

The next dish, a pache, which is basically a tamale made with potato
instead of masa, more than made up for it. The prep was largely the
same-- mashed potatoes with the red pepper salsa, chunks of pork and a
jalapeno, all boiled in a banana leaf-- but the savoriness of the
potatoes, plus a little squeeze of fresh lime over the pork, made this
outstanding. (And even better when I added the salsa.)

So, nice folks trying hard and growing in ambition, artisanal
Slow-Food-worthy homemade salsa, solid regional variations on a lot of
things we know folks 'round here-- this place is a winner and looks
likely to get better yet before they're done, if I were Cheap Eats I'd
jump on it and hand over at least three forks, maybe four pronto. (All
of the above came to the whopping sum of $8.50, by the way.) Check it
out, write it up, let's pack it, they deserve it.