Saturday, July 24, 2004

Mysore Woodlands vs. Udupi Palace

Da'Bomb hosts two South Indian restaurants of almost exact menu, the way dim sum places vary by only a bun or two.  I've tended to favor Udupi on the south side of the street instead of Mysore on the north, but Mysore has many fans.  We decided to give Mysore a shot last night.  Right now, I'd say that I like the cooking a bit better at Udupi, but the portions are larger at Mysore and that might give it an advantage.

We ordered across the menu, in a way that probably no South Indian would, but there is too much good food to try at Mysore (or Udupi) and we just do not make it to these places enough to sample everything.  So, we got an order of samosas, essentially for the chowhounditas, who have settled in pretty comfortably to the samosa as their single favorite food to eat.  We got the thicker pancake, utthapam, loaded with soft cooked onions and topped with frozen peas and carrots, because that was what they were eating a lot in the Condiment Queen's book.  We got the thinner, crisper pancake, dosai, with the standard yellow potato inside, because that is probably the dish of the house.  Chicago Magazine once ran a picture of a boa constrictor sized dosai offered at Mysore.  We got the channa (chick pea curry) battura because Dad loves the deflated basketball (as food God Jonathan Gold expertly describes them) puffy baturas.  We got a non-regional bread, parantha stuffed with potatoes just because, and we got curd rice 'cause it sounded so good and well, what's a doggy bag for?  Everything was good enough, although the batura was not quite as special as Udupi.  Lighter, drier, it did not have that dual skin as much, of crisp and chew, that makes batura such a special bread.  The samosas were thick and tasty, very tasty inside, but they seemed on their 3rd fry of the day.  Still, as I say, the portions were generous and these are minor quibbles.

With this Atkin's nightmare come an assortment of sauces, dips and condiments: mint chutney, bracing and sneaking hot; coconut chutney, cool, grainy but also heavily spiced; a raita or yoghurt that had, we swear, pickles in it, not Indian pickles, but regular pickles; there was sambar, the soupy stuff with all sorts of things swimming inside, here a woody vegetable/herb that I mistakenly bit and then spent five minutes extracting stems from my mouth, and actual Indian pickle, a mixed breed with peppers and wonderful pieces of garlic that were whole but softened up by the process.  You mix and match all these flavors with all scoopers.  

The curd rice came out last, nearly after we had finished everything else.  I guess it takes longest to prepare.  I like that it came out last for a couple of reasons.  First, this dish of rice, hidden bits of ginger and intense, probably home made curd, nails your tongue.  Eat this and you are not really ready to eat another five courses.  It finished the meal off well, dessert like in appearance, so creamy, but not sweet at all.  Finally, it was, I am sure, the easiest dish to bring home, so of all the things to have a bit extra of, this was it.  I would say, however, that it is the best dish in the house--and waiting for Zim to tell me where the best curd rice is on Da'bomb as I have not made a survey. 

Mysore Woodlands
2548 W. Devon Ave.
Chicago, IL

Udupi Palace (the batura is much better)
2543 W Devon Av
Chicago, IL

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Bombacigno's J & C Restaurant - One for Another Beefathon (fer sure)

I had to meet someone for lunch yesterday in the West Loop.  You know you are not with Chowhounds when they suggest eating in Union Station.  I countered with J&C's Bombacigno's.  Actually, this was my counter to his counter.  I originally suggested Lou Mitchell's, which had been countered with Union Station.  Maybe it was clever subconscious negotiating on my part, because once I thought of J&C, I knew that was where I really wanted to go. 

And boy was it worth it.  J&C's beef is one of the few that is a variation on a theme, the way Al's is.  That is, there is the standard version of Chicago beef, which is epitomized by Johnnies, and then there is the distinctly different beef that is Al's.  J&C's while not exactly like Al's, tastes a lot closer to Al's than any other beef I've had in Chicago.  They also use a different bun, from Dakota Pride.  It is a crisper, lighter roll, almost like a New Orleans po' boy roll.  The effect of this roll is that it both falls apart at the seams yet stays very crusty on top.  In fact the J&C sammy is a big mess, and the best way to eat it is with scoops of bread, the way, say you would eat Moroccan or Ethiopian food.

The other outstanding thing about J&C's is the cottage fries.  Made to order, they also remind me slightly of Al's, with the same sweet flavor achieved from nearly burning the potatoes.  The gilding of the lily here, thought, is that the gravy from the beef seeps all over your basket, rendering a lot of the fries limp, but infused with essence of beef.

Finally, like Al's, J&C's aint cheap.  My beef, hot, fries, and bottomless cup of pop ran to nearly $10.  Still, one of the best lunches in a while.

Bombacigno's J & C Restaurant
558 W. Van Buren Ave. 
Chicago, IL