Friday, April 02, 2004

Chowhound is Not Free

There is an incredible and highly inane thread on Chowhound's site talk board on paying for Chowhound. Ironically, the person most insistent on NOT paying acknowledges what others do not, that Chowhound does not consider itself free. As Chowhound "Big-Dog", Jim Leff, sez, " We are not a free site. We charge...on the honor system. And because a certain number of users don't shirk this system, the site is open today. Tomorrow I can't promise." While only a fraction of its users pay, Chowhound feels every user should pay. Frankly, people should understand and acknowledge this fact. [ed. you should make clear that this is VI's opinion not Chowhound's]

I do not post or read Chowhound nearly as much as I once did, but I still read it at least a few times a day. As a user, I am expected to pay. Thus, I sent in a Goodwill payment today. If you use Chowhound at all, to read or to post, you should pay too. At least that's what I think.
And another great blog - Loufood

Louisa Chu is a Chicagoan living in Paris. Bringing our sensibilities to them! Another well done blog.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

'Nother Blogger in Town is a snazzy, well designed blog providing more insight into our favorite topic: food in Chicago. Check it out.
The Tlacoyo
Los Cazos Restaurant

The full extent of Mexican food in Chicago never ceases to amaze me. There is always something new to find. Yesterday, I found the tlacoyo. At Los Cazos, a small restaurant on Fullerton near Austin I have been meaning to try for ages. I noticed a few things that made me want to try it, not so much the tlacoyos, but pambasos and homemade tortillas. But when I saw the sign, upon entering, for tlacoyo's, I was immediately drawn to that.

Our waitress did not have a huge command of English, so she just brought out an uncooked tlacoyo to explain. The best way to describe it as a cross between a huarache and a pupusa, but smaller. It is a small masa paddle with a filling of requeson, Mexican ricotta cheese, between the dough. It came topped with a choice of beans or cactus. I asked for beans but got cactus. Was it the best tlacoyo I ever had? Well, it was a bit dry, but like all these antojitos, still intrinsically great.

Actually, even greater, little sopes they gave us as an amuse. What is it about the sope that I find so enticing. I know the brilliant one will probably disagree, but I think maybe the sope is the greatest of the antojitos, all the Mexican snackish type things made from corn flour (i.e., tacos, gorditas, picaditas, huaraches, etc.). Keeping the masa thicker produces an array of textures from Wiv-crisp to toothsome. Moreover, this no fat added product tastes almost as buttery-flaky (or lardy) as a biscuit. I liked the amuse sope.

I was in a trying mood. I went with a taco al pastor--it seemed very D.F., they told me they were from Mexico City--and a pambaso, also very D.F. Good choices both. The pambaso, the bloody red sammy (bread dipped in a chile sauce) got griddled a while, and that really infused the sauce into the bread, anodized it. The sausage potato filling was fine, but it was really about the bread. The taco came out in a small commercial tortilla, not the home made tortillas. Luckily, we had a big stack of the homemade tortillas on the table, and I just tossed my filling into a real tortilla, a very good, large tortilla, almost as good as La Quebrada. The pastor was crunchy and good too. The Condiment Queen enjoyed her arroz con mariscos, which included, acording the menu, shark. It was a very passable paella really.

We were a slight oddity at Los Cazos, firstly for our intense interrogations of the staff (the Dona had to come out from the kitchen to check us out) and secondly, as I later found out, the place is also a hangout for Mexican heavy metal heads. Go for the food.

Los Cazos Restaurant
5945 W. Fullerton
Chicago, IL 60639

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

It's like butta
(See it's food related)

Seem's like the divine Ms. Streisand has a blog too. Guess what, she does not like Bush. (Via Drudge)
Crappy Chef

I point out Happy Chef enough as a great option for home-style Cantonese fare in Chinatown, that I feel quite obligated to report, that our meal last night was far, far from the restaurant I tout. Aside from complimentary soups starting and finishing the meal, I have nothing much good to say about our meal. It was on par with some of the worst meals I have eaten in the stretch of Chicago between Cermak and 18th Street.

As Leonard Pith-Garnell would have said years and years ago, tonight's bad meal began with exquisitely bad shrimps, bad lobster, bad fish, bad noodles and dreadful eggplant. First to arrive at the table were the salt-peper shrimps. Normally, these large, head-on shrimps are superior eating. Between the spices and the flash cooking, the shell and head is rendered entirely edible, and you get the fullest flavor of shrimp as you crunch on everything but the tiny tail. Last night's shrimps were so mushy that the contrast between shell and meat was uncomfortable. Yet, perhaps, the shrimps exceeded the lobster with ginger and green onion. I highly suspect that lobster was pre-cooked and maybe even frozen in advance because the meat tasted water-logged and slightly frosty, like they did not finish it. (Plus, the lobster was small to boot!) And actually it just kept on getting worse. The sliced fish on tofu in black-bean sauce also seemed oddly old. The black-bean sauce had penetrated the fish fillets like it had been in the sauce for a long time. Stir fried rice noodles were as salty as a mouthful of accidentally swallowed beach water. Eggplant logs did have a wonderful shower of garlic-dots, but those logs had completely absorbed all its cooking oil, all its garnishing oil, and about all the other oils in the kitchen before it arrived at the table. It did not have any of that carmelized sweetness that Chinese eggplants usually offer. Except for the eggplant, the other dishes are all things we have had done very well before.

The gray mystery soup they provide is still interesting, challenging and satisfying in its own bizarre way. Yesterday's soup featured the usual curls of chewy conch and bits of meat that seem like left-overs from the morning's dim sum as well as a bunch of skins, rhizomes, nuts and berries that I recognized from packages at Chinese grocery stores as "soup mix". The dessert soup was new, the sweet tapioca broth colored orange by the inclusion of sweet potato chunks. It was highly delicious, not too sweet but still dessert. For a moment, I was happy, and I reminded Ms. VI of one of my favorite rules for restaurateurs: leave them with a great dessert.

I have had too many great meals (See here or here; plus here's a report from Zim from a meal we had with him and his family) at Happy Chef to write them off. In fact, I have written before of poor meals. When on, Happy Chef serves a wide variety of homey Cantonese fare that is also a great bargain with the soups and add a lobster/add a crab deals. You know I'll be reporting back soon.

Happy Chef
2164 S. Archer Ave (Chinatown Mall)
Chicago, IL

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Nibbles and Gulps

Smith and Wollensky
Wine week came and passed, so if you expected a warning from me, sorry. The Condiment Queen loved it so much last year, we went twice this year. I got the same thing on Tuesday and Friday, sliced steak sandwich. This is nothing if not a great deal ($15.50). You get a small portion of prime rib eye, about 10 ounces, too fatty really; plus prize winning french fries (well they should be prize winning), a small salad with cherry tomatoes, grilled sweet onions and a hunk of doughy bread. The steak could have used a better crust, but as I said, for the money a stellar deal. Wines on Tuesday were as inept as the service. Everything changed on Friday. We sat at the bar, where David remembered us and the kids from last year. It's amazing what a great bartender can do to the meal. Friday's Far Niete WAS worth the $10 and then some. At least on Tuesday, it was an excellent way to get buzzed. 318 N. State

Myron and Phils
Likewise, I have been to this steakhouse twice recently. Again, the experiences differed even as I ordered the same dish. Here, the difference is lunch to dinner not bar to table. Myron and Phil's is greater for what they give away instead of what they sell you. Two blue cheese burgers with burnt onions found me unimpressed. I am not sure if I have my finger on the curse of their burgers. It might be too lean meat, too much grinding or too much filler. Regardless, the meat, even when medium rare seems tough and dry. Luckily, dinner at least, is more than saved with some of the best pickles: cucumbers, tomatoes and red peppers in Chicago, plus a strong flavored chopped liver and an excellent bread basket. Lunch only gets you the sliced pickles, no liver and no tomatoes or peppers. Dinner on March 25 also got you a slice of Grampa Myron's birthday cake. I've circled the date for 05. 3900 West Devon Avenue, Lincolnwood

We only had one chowhoundita on Saturday and we stumbled for a while trying to figure out where to eat. Dad rescued the night by pulling his Palm Pilot worthy Tufano's out. Like M&P or Carson's, two other VI favorites, these are places where maybe not so great food is great. An iceberg based salad soaking in red vinegar vinaigrette, Mom's marina, I know plenty of hounds who sneer at Tufano's food. I find crappy food never tastes so good. There is one truly great dish here. The broiled lemon chicken with greasy-crunchy cottage fries. Yet, the pastas we had the other night, cavetelli with simple marinara and spaghetti with oil and garlic demonstrate the greatness of noodles. SethZ could easily eat exactly Italian here. With the either of our appetizers, nicely steamed clams in a red sauce or the above mentioned salad (featuring all sorts of features like chunks of provolone, marinated peppers, oregano dusted onion slices, artichoke hearts and more. I just wish they'd use better quality olives, but like I say, this is not a great place). Then, move on to those pasta's and finish with the chicken. 1073 W. Vernon Park Pl. (Cash only)

Since we were a month early for Taylor Street lemonade, we moved slightly north for dessert at Artopolis. Ms. VI and I both oogled a lenten special of fish salad, taramasalata, and lima beans, but sweets were in order. The kid had a sour lemon tart all to her self, Mom and Dad split an eggy creme carmel. 306 S. Halsted

Kukula Market
Small, recently opened Ethiopian market on Broadway across from Ethiopian Diamond (around 6100 N). Not a huge selection but all cool stuff. Niter kebbeh, the spiced clarified butter used to flavor many dishes, green coffee to do your own ceremony, injera and a few other things. Owners proudly showed us pictures of Ethiopia and shared as much as they could through limited English.

Ras Dashen
The service here has been oft criticized on Chowhound. It was hardly better on a Sunday afternoon. Still, we did not have wait endlessly for our bill to come as others have. We enjoyed the mad dash of flavors. Doro (chicken) alicha tasted nearly sweet from its long cooked onion and featured an ideal just hard, hard boiled egg. After buying a homemade sauce from grilled meats at Kukula, I needed the grilled zilzil tibs at Ras Dashen just for sauce. Luckily one of the daughters wanted that too. The other daughter ate two helpings of the green bean/potato side. I love the way the coffee jug leans preciously, supported by a woven thread ring. The first pour was surprisingly watery, but not for long. Second and third cups left me with the clarity of George Bush. 5846 N. Broadway

Ice Dreams
I've been meaning to try this gelato place for a long time. Like the first cup of coffee at Ras Dashen, the ice cream tasted weak and watery. Unfortunately, time did not help. Trying as advised at the Penguin, I sampled (and sampled). I finally ended with the strawberry-chocolate because, well at least it was not really bad like the dulce de leche. 2865 N. Clark