Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Movie Critics, Restaurant Critics or Jimmy Johns and Tasty Dog

There are two essential differences between movie critics and restaurant critics, or maybe better put, movie criticism and restaurant criticism. Movie critics, at least the mainstream ones like Roger Ebert (my trusted source), see pretty much every movie coming out. And while a good critic like Ebert has some subjectivity to his ratings (a good dumb comedy), he rates every movie against a golden mean. So, we know, which are good, which dreck. Food critics of equal stature, say a Phil Vettel, take an opposite approach. Of all the new places opened, they pick and choose which to report on, and many food writers state they just do not report on the bad places. These, we are left to find our own. Now, the other difference, obviously, is, as I have discussed in the past, foodie experiences vary so much. Did you get the "real" food, the VIP treatment. One person's damn favorite restaurant can be viewed by another as hardly worth the calories. That does not mean your opinion does not count, and we need to get them.

Restaurant critics should be a bit more like movie critics. Let's get the good with the dreck. Maybe then I would have never thought, well let's give Jimmy Johns a try. We had just left a pleasant few hours at family swim in Oak Park. We needed a quick meal and connoisseurship was not a priority. We planned on the nearby Tasty Dog, not a great hot dog stand, but edible enough. Then, we noticed the newer Oak Park Jimmy Johns, and given the hold that Tasty Dog has on us, we said, how 'bout Jimmy Johns.

I could tell from first glances that this was a stupid choice, I could see the turkey and roast beef had an unnatural pink glow, and the bread just looked squishy, but the chowhounditas were already cooing over the place (for some odd reason). It only got worse. As I told the kidz later on, it's no Subway. I mean at least Subway has a bunch of things to put on the sub to kill the taste. Jimmy Johns had only lettuce, tomato and some useless banana peppers to kill the cheap, over-processed meat. Not only that, the lettuce and tomatoes were so cold, it was almost as if eating the famous frozen salad at Trio.

Desperate to please our suffering palate, we crossed the street to Tasty Dog, victims to sign advertising: "We now serve softserve". Well, it was cold like the lettuce was cold. The lettuce had crunch though. I could have put an ice cube on an ice cream cone and got about the same experience as the Tasty Dog softserve.

VI eats AND writes about it, so you do not have to.

If you really need to mimic these experiences, both Tasty Dog and Jimmy Johns are on Lake Street in Oak Park just east of Oak Park Avenue.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Make that 8 Courses of Beef

The Condiment Queen is a varied, voracious and especially multi-culti reader. And luckily for me, her reading habits dovetail nicely with my eating habits (which are varied, voracious and multi-culti). When she reads an Indian book, well, its off to da'bomb for us. When it's like now, reading a Vietnamese book, well it was not soon before we made it too Argyle.

Not only did she have a hankering for Vietnamese, moments after we sat down at Nhu Hoa, our favorite combo Vietnamese-Laotian spot on Argyle, than she surprised me by stating she also had a hankering for the seven course of beef. Am I lucky or what. I'm no expert on 7 course of beef, having only had it once before on Argyle, but of the two, this was my favorite, if nothing else, the portions were bigger. Plus, I was spoiled, by the 8th course of beef.

I have helped widely disseminate (I think [ed. you hope]) the notion that Nhu Hoa makes the best papaya salad in Chicago. Yesterday's 8th course, papaya salad and beef jerky, exceedingly hot, confirmed my belief. Irregularly hacked papaya, some not fully loose so that they were papaya shards not papaya shreds, way too much fish sauce, way, way too much hot peppers (but Julie of Nhu Hoa loves to reward those who ask for their papaya salad hot) and really way too much food as we had seven more courses to follow.

Here they are, quickly, in the order they appeared: beef papaya salad, much different from the other papaya salad, tasting maybe a bit too much of perfume from a lavender like herb, the meat as soft as the jerky was hard; ground beef in la lot leaves, thin steak wrapped around pineapple. Both of these dishes are meant to be eaten with tons of accessories, lettuce, daikon, carrots, mint, basil, cilantro, you mix and match so much, no two bites taste quite the same; small meatballs presented in dishes about the size and shape as the condiment bowls at dim sum. Like all Vietnamese meatballs, these were a rubbery, but this delicious broth that bathed them well overcame that. Our favorite course, cubes of tenderloin, grilled (very well, it really picked up the grill flavor) on a bed of lettuce, cucumber and much better than usual tomatoes. Beef fondue, a plate of raw beef, flavored with ginger and a hot pot of onion scented broth. Finally, rice-beef soup, very Iron-Chefy, the way that it was both simple and artistic, the best congee, and actually, perhaps the 2nd best dish of the 7 (but they were all good).

It's $14.95 and its one of the best deals in town, even if you skip the 8th course.

Nhu Hoa
1020 W. Argyle
Chicago, IL