Friday, March 19, 2004

Cool Office Space

My friend Paul Kampf has some un-used office space. It's especially attractive if you have an artistic bent.

Breadline Theatre Group will be making two spacious offices available for rent in our Center for the Performing Arts on May 1. The Center has many amenities including daytime space for workshops/small meetings included in rental price, as well as affordable rental for such spaces on the evening and weekends as well. Common kitchen area, two restrooms, DSL/Heat/Electrical included in monthly rental price.
The office complex currently holds an actors training center, as well as a voice/presentation skills specialist, and one theater company. This is a casual and fun environment with a unique combination of businesses with an artistic edge.
Office 1: 12’9” X 13’ 2” (includes large erasable board on one wall, installed counter/desk tops, some shelving units) - $950.00 monthly.
Office 2: 19’ 7” X 9’ (includes large erasable board on one wall, track lighting) - $950.00 monthly.

Rental inquiries please email:
Morning Toast
Liborio Baking Company

How much does crust matter to you? On the other hand, how much bread are you willing to waste to get a slice. Liborio is one of the 20 or so breads sold daily at Caputo's in Elmwood Park. It's a massive, well loaf is hardly the term for it, bread blob is more likely. Freddy's in Cicero, another favorite bread of mine, has a version that essentially looks like two round loafs smooshed together. This bread is almost like that, except that the two sections are barely distinct, one large bread blob. Large bread blob surrounded by a teeth cracking crust, almost an inch thick at some points. Inside, like most Italian style bread in Chicago, is an airy, dry crumb. Likewise, there is a faint sour taste. Because it is thick and dry, I give it the lightest of toastings. I've read that exercise early in the day gets you energized, and the work my jaw gets from this toast surely sets me up well.
Foodie Knowledge

One of the biggest arguments on Chowhound, perhaps what linguists might call the Ur-argument, is over secret menu's. There are essentially three positions, with variations within. First, there is foodie knowledge, as best exemplified here. A chowhound, ErikM meticulously and endlessly researched Thai food before finally arranging this dinner. Those in attendance felt very well rewarded. Second, there is the counter-position, argued here, that "the ritual of having to ask for [the secret menu so] many times [is] frustrating as a customer". Chowhound poster in exile, Harry V, feels any place forcing you to ask for a secret menu is unworthy of patronage. Now, there is a third, snarky school out there that might like the stuff on the secret menu's but would rather mock people's efforts to find it. Some have argued that it is just a game of one-upmanship or macho eating and that it has no real connection to what is on the plate. I firmly reject the last two positions and remain a starch believer in foodie knowledge.

It does not bother me in the least that I have to attain foodie knowledge to get better treatment at a restaurant. I think someone like the near-mythical food poster, Cabrales, would argue that foodie knowledge matters as much (if not more) to accentuating your meal at a top-line place as it does at a neighborhood place. Moreover, knowledge and understanding are accepted as components in understanding other things put in the mouth, like wine as well as other things experienced with the senses, like art. Do people really walk away from the Art Institute saying, "I paid $5 to see a bunch of paint thrown on a canvass, and no one told me about the secret book that would have helped me understand Pollack?" The great thing about foodie knowledge, as I have argued before, is it's awfully fun obtaining. To me, more fun than art history.

I find little sympathy when someone goes into a Thai place, orders two rather similar dishes and then explains the food was not varied enough. The resources out there in Chicago to learn about food, Chowhound, the LTH listserv, Culinary Historians, those mushroom freaks, the writings of Monica Eng, even the flawed bits in Chicago Magazine, well, foodie knowledge is surely no guarded Templar secret. Yesterday, I was talking briefly with Gwiv, the Ultimo, on this topic, and we noted that eaters could easily go along for the ride, take advantage of the hard work and (what over-the-top) foodie knowledge of guys like the Brilliant One or ErikM. Within the last few weeks, there have been dinners at Penang, the Malaysian restaurant; Ed's Potsticker House, a rare in Chicago, Northern Chinese place; TAC, the Thai restaurant linked above and an extensive insider tour of rib joints. Gwiv famously sussed out Spoon Thai's greatness without a secret menu. It was just about knowing what to ask for and engaging the people there. Anyone can do that. Foodie knowledge is there, boy, so if you do not want it, stop harping at those who do.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Getting Gorrila Gourmet Web Site

I posted the Gorilla Gourmet thing earlier today without remembering to put a link in for their web site--buy your own DVD! Well, in case you do not want to scroll down to my link list, go here to learn more.

Gorrila Gourmet Airs in Chicago

What Gwiv sez on Chowhound:

In a special Oscar presentation David Hammond and Mike G, of Gorilla Gourmet Maxwell Street Mexican Fame, were presented an..........

Ok, now that I have your attention. Maxwell Street Mexican, first in a continuing series of Gorilla Gourmet's by David and Mike, will air on Chicago cable television Sunday March 21, at 7:30 pm, Channel 21, and again Thursday, March 25, at 10:00 pm on Channel 21.

This is a chance to see real live, well mostly live, Chowhounds eating interesting food, including Cathy2's Pork Chop sandwich tutorial, Seth Z's Braintastic Empanada, Mike G on Mexican Coke and David Hammond reciting Carl Sandburg. Not to mention your's truly chowing down on an eyeball taco.

Tape the show, you will want to watch it again. (smile)


Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Think Global Eat Local
Johnson's Door County Fish and Shrimp

A few weeks ago, I threw out on Chowhound, the bold statement that New Orlean's food writer, Tom Fitzmorris's 33 best seafood restaurants in New Orleans were 33 better than anything in Chicago. Of course, someone had to challenge me on that statement. While I concede that there are seafood oriented restaurants in Chicago, especially Japanese, that would be as good as anything in New Orleans, I stand by my statement in the sense of seafood. No matter how much air freight and such exists these days, seafood in Chicago cannot match seafood in New Orleans. Blessed with access to all sorts of water, New Orleans teems with local seafood: shrimps (multiple varieties), crayfish, frogs, oysters, crabs, snapper, pompano, catfish, etc., etc. Who needs arctic char, farm raised salmon and Chilean sea bass when you have that.

Yet, seafood restaurants try and try to compete, flying in all sorts of stuff that at times seems fresh, but never quite equals truly fresh--eat seafood on the coasts if you do not believe me. Why fight this fight. How 'bout glorifying local fish? In Europe and Asia, fresh water fish is prized, more than respected. In France, especially in say Burgundy, you would well expect pike and their perch on the menu (as well as frog legs). Can anyone remember a time that Trotter, Trio, Tru and on down put a freshwater fish on their menu? Yes, there are obvious health and logistical issues. It seems hardly that long ago when they told us we'd pretty much die from eating lake fish, and because of environmental factors, the commercial fishing fleets in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana have been ditched. Charlie cannot go to some local dock and purchase fish right off the boat.

Great Lake fish still comes to town from Canada. Johnson's Door County Fish and Shrimp once owned a fleet off of Gills Rock, Wisconsin. Today, they rely on those Canadians for pike, perch and whitefish. They fry and broil the fish but stopped using their smokehouse in 1979. They told me that some of their vendors provide the fish fresh and some frozen, but they actually prefer frozen as they do not fully trust the transportation network of Great Lakes fishing fleets. Perhaps if we all raise the demand for our local fish, we can improve the sourcing.

Fresh water fish is a taste. It is classically fishy when people think of fishy. The taste is often described as dirty. Plus, the texture of lake fish can be soft, verging on mushy. But think of this AS taste, strong, pronounced, real food. It stands up well to heavy frying or simple broiling. Both the Condiment Queen and I liked what we had the other day at Johnson's. I had the perch, several strips with a heavy coating of breading, presented grease-less. She had whitefish, dusted aggressively with black pepper, that stayed very moist after broiling.

Oddly as a Chicago foodie can tell you, distant shrimps seem as much a part of the local fish realm as anything. On Chowhound once (et seq.) there was a fruitless quest to figure out why. Johnson's offers fried gulf shrimp, breaded AND lightly breaded. I've yet to try either, but seeing how good Johnson's fried the perch, I am pre-disposed to liking them.

Good home-made, celery seed heavy cole slaw, so-so fake skin on french fries.

Johnson's Door County Fish and Shrimp
908 E. Roosevelt Road, Lombard, IL

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The Sublime at the Ridiculous
Stocking up for Morning Toast at Marshall's (plus Artopolis and Fox & Obel)

Thanks to Chez Pim, I am now fully hooked on morning toast. I always liked morning toast, but Pim gave me an excuse to really like it. Now, I spend my waking hours shopping, scouting, thinking about and otherwise preparing for the next round (or shall I say slice). It's a good hobby because it can be fulfilled pretty easily. Whether I am oohing and ahing at the selection at Fox & Obel or killing time while a chowhoundita is at a birthday time at Marshall's with the Condiment Queen, I am likely to find basis for next morning's toast.

Like most Chowhounds, I mostly go to Marshall's, the close-out specialist and discount clothing store, for the food. Some of the Belgium chocolates have probably seen better days, but the jams, Marshall's does a fine job. I just keep close eye on the expiration date, for a product that has an awfully long shelf-life, these jars can get pretty close to D-day. From the other day, I got a pear with dried apricot and honey from Le Temps des Mets, a small producer in Provence; grapefruit marmalade from European Provender Company and an organic raspberry from Crabtree and Evelyn. I've only opened the last, as we have a rule in the house about having too many open jars--in fact there is usually a rush to finish one JUST so we can open another. This raspberry is quite intense, with almost the texture and flavor of dried fruit.

Bread, that's one thing I splurge on, because the price per quality for great bread is so small. The other day, I picked up a whole country bread from the Greek cafe and bakery, Artopolis. A little too much decorative flour marred this bread but only slightly. A course crumb, very nutty it definitely tasted different than the French style breads I mostly have been toasting. Still, I have nothing against those French style loaves, and no one in Chicago bakes a better bread than Fox & Obel's large round sour-dough "peasant" bread. I swear I remember the crumb of this bread to be slightly finer, more cake like, yet it remains sublimest of sublime. Both moist and crusty as the force-field crust engages and holds tight all the moisture used to form the dough. My desire to reduce my mid-section keeps me from eating as much as I want each time.

Marshall's - Various locations

Artopolis - 306 S. Halsted, Chicago, IL - (312) 559-9000

Fox and Obel - 401 E. Illinois Street, Chicago - 312.410.7301

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Stoking the flames - Brasa Rosa

I've blogged about Brasa Rosa before. Generally, I try not to write too quickly about a place again. Unless, of course, I have a good reason. And I do. To remind everyone that Brasa Rosa is an outstanding value.

As I have noted, Brasa Rosa is related to another Colombian restaurant, El Llano. What I especially like at El Llano are 2 combination dinners. One is a mixed platter of grilled meats, called picada, the other a mixed fry (sausage, ribs, chicharron, etc.). They make great group meals. Recently, I volunteered to arrange a group meal for some friends, and I wanted to have a picada (if nothing else, it makes for easy check splitting), but I wanted to have the picada at Brasa Rosa because, as I have said, the use of live coals for the grill makes for better meats. Because Brasa Rosa does not have a picada on its menu (an accident they told me), I did a bit of schmoozing with the owners to set one up.

I actually arranged for 2 picadas, which is really for 8, but it turned out we had only 6, and we ended up with a much better plan, credit to the Condiment Queen, 1 picada and 1 whole roasted chicken. To gnaw away slightly at hunger as our meats carbonized, I ordered 3 Colombian empanadas. Unlike Argentinean empanadas, Colombian empanadas have a crisp corn crust, think almost a deep fried tamale. Inside is a mixture of potato and shredded meat. It kept us at bay just long enough for our table to fill with Dr. Atkins' wet dream.

Now, I was sure that I had said one picada, but it seemed like 4 or five. Three platters filled with all of the cuts of meat of the house got presented to us: pounded thin steak, chicken, veal, brisket, lamb chops, rabbit quarters, and nuggets of short ribs. It was so much food, that it was only later when the bill came, did I get full confirmation that they did not give us more than we ordered.

All of the meats are grilled very through so do not go expecting otherwise, and the house is heavy with the salt. The steak alone, actually, was a bit too saline. Still, both house salsas, the spicy aji and the oily-garlicky chimichurri diluted the effect. The chicken remains fully tasting of the flame. Brief relief from meat came from sweet plantain, very plain potatoes and arepas, both stuffed with cheese and plain (Colombian hockey pucks).

So much protein demands dessert. Luckily, Brasa Rosa complies. I found the body-built flan one of the best around, and the trashy canned figs with cajeta have their own cheesy appeal. With a generous tip, it came to $20 per person. Besides, BYOB made it even cheaper, and a cheap bottle of Norton Cab 2002 went extremely well with the food.

Roasting chickens at Brasa Roja. Pic courtesy of MikeG

Upcoming Culinary Historian Meetings
Cathy2 provides this heads-up:

April 17th, we have Chef Fergus Henderson's whose cookbook, "The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating" (Ecco, $19.95, softcover) first published in Britain, is due in the U.S. at the beginning of April.

Fergus was featured in the Chicago Tribune Food Section last week. We will be having a book signing, with the proceeds going to a scholarship fund. If you are interested in a signed book, then contact me directly and I will reserve a book. Cost will be $20 + book rate mailing fee. I'm the book lady for CHC and occasionally ChicaGourmets, so I will be ordering books this week.

May 15th: Donna Pierce, who wrote the Trib article on Chowhounds, will present a lecture on Soul Food.

May 22nd: Joint meeting with ChicaGourmets at the University Club, Michael Batterberry of Food Arts magazine.

June 12th: Patricia Wells, who wrote for the New York Times and International Herald Tribune, will lecture on foods of France. I just learned Patricia is originally from Wauwautosa (sp?), Wisconsin. I followed her articles for years in my Moscow apartment dreaming of better food just a plane ride away.

July 17th: A FFP (Formerly Fat Person) will discuss eating disorders ... (I'm interested to see what this has to do with culinary history)

October 16th: Marcella Hazan is penciled in. The grand dame of Italian cookery.

November 13th: 18th Century Cuisine

Membership is $40 year for individuals. Individual meetings are $10 per head.
Their website is here.