Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Tasting Taste of Chicago

OK, I am gonna say, flat out, I love Taste of Chicago. I've been going for years, hell I've been going since I was getting into tussles at the Willie Dixon show when it was the (better) Chicagofest. So, I get to gripe a bit, which I will, but first let me report on what we had, and nearly all of it was good.

For those of you looking for the VI on where to eat, this post obviously does you no good. Sorry. I did 25 background investigations over the last ten days, hardly enough time to get all my postings done. Maybe some of this will help next year.

What we ate:

Samosa - Arya Bhavan - This is THE ethnic dish for the chowhounditas (except when Dad makes them get Samosa chaat at Sukhadia), and they pronounced this version as good as it gets. They ate it before I could even nibble.

Roti canai - Penang - The roti or pancake seemed a bit different than what you get in the shop. This was thick and flaky, like a really good scallion pancake instead of the airy and thin pancakes that I remember, but the portion of pancake also seemed bigger (at Penang, we always seemed to run out of pancake before the chicken curry). The curry here was deep and intense, reminding me of the stuff I love at the food court at Mitsuwa, that is to say probably from a box, but god I love that boxed curry.

Mustard Fried Catfish with 2 dipping sauces (hot and sweet mustard) - BJ's Market - Well, duh!

Toasted Ravioli - Tuscany - I know my peeves come in a sec., but toasted ravioli is a St. Lois thing. Do the Cardinals play at Wrigley. On the other hand, they tasted good, and the sauce was quite nice.

Cheese Pizza (thin) - Lou Malnati's - Hannah marveled at the fact that the cheese and tomato sauce were transposed.

Fried Chicken Wings - Harold's - There is no Harold's nearby, and when it has been ages since you had that dirty tasting bird, here really well fried too, well it really, really tastes good.

Jerk Chicken and rice and peas - VeeVee's - Not so hot. The jerk was dry and not so jerky, and the rice was dry and well not jerky either (and no dough bread, which is worth half the price anyways).

Cheesecake - Eli's Cheesecake - See Harold's above - When its ages between slices, it tastes really good.

Frozen banana - Aunt Diana's - I have a thing against frozen bananas, just do not like the flavor. In fact, as I told the chowhounditas, fresh bananas, banana flavor or banana flavored things (like banana cake) and frozen bananas all taste different. I'm really only keen on the middle. The Condiment Queen ate it.

Corn - one of the corn roasters - No elote

Curry fries - Abbey Pub - Really diligent readers of Vital Information will know that I carry around only a few great taste memories of my year in Cardiff, Wales. One of them is curry fries. Thick, double cooked, fresh potatoes with that slightly off taste that anyone who's been in a chip shop knows, covered with a sauce of commercial curry (see Penang above), and usually eaten with a tiny wooden fork. And, of course, these were so far from that, it made me rue every nostalgic thought in my body.

Cheezeburger - Billy Goat Tavern - Count me generally as a lover of these things, but it would have been better if it was hotter.

Bread steak sammy - Ricobene's - The best deal of the show. The taste portion of pretty darn fresh breaded steak was about as big as a regular portion. And you think that was a good deal, well they comped one of the kidz a portion of fries for helping them shanghai a runaway ketchup bottle. These were awesome fries too.

Pretty good score, huh? Here's the thing. I know I could have had nearly all of the stuff in better versions if I shopped around town. Hell, if I hung around the bar long enough at the Berghoff, ReneG would pop in with jerk 11 times better. But this was all in one day, one night actually. It was all over the world. Maybe a lot of fried stuff and too much curry, but I like fried stuff. I love curry. I'm back next year.

Now, my annual gripe. It can so easily be better, no? All the city needs to do is grab 1/2 the vendors at Maxwell Street. Something like the fresh made churros, well people would be thronging for that. It was cool that Penang was there, as Singapore has maybe the number one street food culture in the world. Why cannot Taste of Chicago borrow from all these street foods. Why cannot the Thai places make papaya salad or any of the other things commonly found on every street there. For RST, why could not Tuscany sell tripe sammy's? And a real eloterio, that would be cool...

Monday, July 05, 2004

Cold Stone Creamery

Damn if I wanted to like this place. It is so corporate. Seems so much like the product of numerous market tests. On top of that, if has been blessed with several shots of publicity on TV Food Network. And did I mention, the staff had that Starbucks like zombie efficiency and nice-ness? Wait, it gets even worse, the location I tried was on Halsted in the heart of the destroyed Maxwell Street neighborhood, nearly on the spot where Jim's Hot Dog existed, talking about haunted, but, take all that dark-side stuff away, and you'll find some pretty damn good ice cream.

For those who have not been caught by the Cold Stone lure, the main shtick is mix-ins done on the cold stone. The cold stone is super-cooled so that the staff can play with your ice cream, mixing in things, without ever loosing too much. There are about 20 mix-ins including fudge and caramel sauces. Everyone gets one free mix-in. Still, in some ways, the mix-ins detract from the goodness of the ice cream. I found the ice cream expertly straddled typical fatty American ice cream with softer, more intense Euro or gelato style ice cream.

I've updated the ice cream list to include my thoughts on Stone Cold Creamery.