Friday, February 04, 2005

Oranges Continued

While Oranges do have a long shelf live, they do not last that long. So, I thought it prudent to do our orange tasting with what we had in-house. Tasters were me, the two Chowhounditas and the Condiment Queen.

1. Blood Orange - Sunkist, purchased at Trader Joe's - One taster declared this the best; another declared it tied for best. Inside the orange is not orange (of course) but dark ruby red. It smells much different than the other oranges too, an aroma called after much debate, "unique." In the mouth, it was both strongly sweet and strongly sour, mimicking raspberries. In the best Wonka-way, it managed to change as was eaten.

2. Temple Orange - Florida - This was the favorite orange of two tasters and tied for favorite from a third. The inside of this orange is very bright, not like a real orange but like a picture of an orange. In fact, this is the orange's orange. One taster described its flavor as "classic", and it had a strong citrusy smell or smell associated with orange sprays. It was not too sweet, with some astringency on the tongue. One taster found it close to a grapefruit. As I have noted before, lots of seeds.

3. Clementine - "Darling" - Spain - Also from Trader Joe's - The orange itself has an intense odor, so strong one person called it medicinal. The flesh of this orange was much firmer than the previous two, but the flavor was also much fainter than the first two. One taster described the orange as watery. This was the least favorite of two tasters.

4. Navel - Heller - Florida - This orange had a pronounced lemony scent, and the taste was also more sour than the above oranges with just the barest bit of sweetness at the finish. This orange has a very meaty and pulpy fruit. The pleasure of this orange comes from the way it feels in the mouth. A texture orange not a taste orange.

5. Organic Tangerine - Florida (Not an orange per se!) - We all picked up melon aromas from this fruit, one taster found it smelled a lot like a cantaloupe The flavor itself was flat and overly sweet. Two of the tasters found this their least favorite.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Think global, eat local. The farmer's market mantra has been popular for several years. It is something I think highly desirable. I do, however, allow certain gross deviations. One is for bananas. Bananas are one of the few fruit that ripen off the vine, and thus long time from farm to mouth does not hamper things that much. Another is for citrus. I drop my eat local rule for citrus for the same reason as for bananas, that citrus travels well. More important to my sensibility, good citrus has a defined seasonality to it. For instance, Texas grapefruit are not currently in market. And, of course, I like the variety of varieties.

At present, we have five types of oranges at the Bungalow: Temple (River) oranges from Florida; blood oranges from California (Sunkist); clementines from Spain; navel oranges from Florida; and navel oranges from California. Myself and the chowhounditas plan on conducting a more formal tasting soon--I want to add mineolas first. I would say, that right now, I am especially keen on the Temple oranges. These oranges, so quaintly, still have seeds. Lots of seeds. And the skin does not break away so easily. You can see why Navel's control the market. Yet, this is a great orange, musky and sweet.
To be continued.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

My History of Drinking Coffee in Chicago

1981 - Graduate high school. Celebrate. Must attend to job early next day. Discover coffee. Drink it black 'cause I'm a Man and thus do not bother to ever appreciate said coffee.

81-85 - Master the art of scheduling all classes after 2 PM. Mostly skip coffee.

85 - Visit Europe. Gosh, coffee tastes good, especially in the AM mixed with milk. Real men drink brown coffee. Of course cafe express is much better.

87-89 - Coffee shops start opening in the States. When I am not whiling away my law school years at Cooter Browns, I visit newly hip coffee shops like PJs. Start drinking coffee more regularly even though it does not taste like Europe.

Early 90's - Starbucks arrives in Chicago. More reason to drink coffee. Still, no matter how hard I try, I cannot get their lattes to taste like I remember. Is it the 2 shots of espresso to a small latte, less coffee, steamed 1/2-1/2? Turn mostly to the dopio, and learn it is nice to ditch the office mid-afternoon for such drink.

93 - Visit Boston, wander the North End. Drink an espresso at some cafe. This will remain the standard for USA coffee for a long, long time.

96 - Visit Seattle - Yes the coffee was good, but no North End.

99 - Begin working at home.

01 - Move to Oak Park, discover a lot of coffee houses near by.

01-04 - Visit assorted coffee shops around Harlem Avenue, but mostly Caffe Italia. Wonder, however which really are the best, and which ones approach Euro or even North End quality. Compare coffee notes with fellow coffee freak, SethZ.

Late 04 - Talk with SethZ about assessing various coffee shops.

Early 05 - Drink coffee at Salerno's in Berwyn. Is this the best in Chicago?

Slightly later 05 - 20 espressos and a big baby - Round up a few hounds to see which really is the best espresso in vertical tasting. Think we will finish with Nicky's Big Baby, next to Salerno's.

1/29/05 - 8 AM-10:15 AM - Skip typical morning coffee in anticipation of tasting. By 9:30 am yelling at kidz and muttering at wife. Coffee Monster.

1/29/05 11 AM - Meet at Bungalow, drink small drams of girlie Scotch to set our focus.

1/29/05 - 12:05 PM - Bar Cafe San Francesco [sic] - Nina, President but not present. Requisite Fox Sports World soccer games on. Mostly empty tables. We gather around two tables. We are very happy. Wonderfully tiny cup of espresso. Nearly as much crema as coffee, rich but mild.

1/29/05 - 12:21 PM - City Lights Bar and Grill - And espresso bar. Still cleaning up from last night's crowd, but willing to rev up the espresso machine for us tasters. More coffee less flavor. Much thinner than San Francesco with faint flavors.

1/29/05 - 12:33 - Cafe Cappuccino - Drive 1 block. Very Euro feeling cafe, with wide array of customers, but also Fox Sports World. Fairly authentic looking cornettos, but we are just here for the coffee. Just as thin as City Lights but while City Lights was annoyingly bland, this was even more annoyingly sour. Great atmosphere, crappy coffee.

1/29/05 - 12:44 - L.A. Caffe - L.A. stands for the owners, not the city. Noticeable more for its huge satellite dishes than any other signage. While it looks uninviting from the outside, sharing a strip mall with a liquor store, inside they are quite friendly. They explain their raison d'ĂȘtre is soccer, especially Italian soccer. Huge assortment of almanacs and such to settle arguments. No Fox Sports World, but RAI. With the schedule of the day's games on a chalk board. Weak coffee though. Or is it too much coffee?

1/29/05 - 1:01 PM - Rivera Italian deli - Sensory overload, aged provolone cheese and giardinara aromas battling with caffeine high.

1/29/05 - 1:08 - Bar Nazionale - Rivera guys tell us to eat our subs here. What an odd idea, a coffee bar on Harlem. An empty coffee shop. TV actually showing channel other than soccer. My experiences here in the past had been so-so coffee. Not today, but palate pleasing chocolately cup of coffee not agreeing with throbbing head.

1/29/05 - 1:29 PM - Palermo Bakery - This is an espressoathon, but who does not have room for a few sweets? These are the best Italian pastries I have had outside of NY. Ideal sfogliatelle, not the least bit soggy or chewy. Also very good mini-donut with cream filling and spongy cake colored to look like a watermelon. A plus in Palermo's pastry case is the stuff comes in three sizes. Espresso. Of course, but the merest sip sends a pain straight to the aorta. I stop.

1/29/05 - 1:33 PM - Winter sun very bright on Harlem Avenue. Act of squatting down to sit in car not easy. Bang my head. Luckily my head is numb.

1/29/05 - 1:44 PM - Cafe Amante - Another empty Euro night club masquerading as a day time coffee shop. Design elements include four types of business cards on table and non-working "wall of water." Drink a tiny bit of Rene G's sugar-less espresso. Who does not put sugar in their espresso.

1/29/05 - 1:58 PM - Cafe Versace - Similar look and feel to Caffe Italia down the block, but they have their own tiny coffee roaster. Others say the coffee is very good, but I stick to water. No apparent connection to haute couture. Odd feeling of belt growing tighter at waist. Numb face. Drink three glasses of water.

1/29/05 - 2:05 PM - Caffe Italia - I know what their coffee tastes like. Instead, I get generous pour of Courvessier VSOP for $4.50. This IS a good place. Head hurts.

1/29/05 - 2:21 PM - Leaving Caffe Italia - Realize that as an exercise in inebriation, coffee does not cut it. There is alterness and there is pain. We are never witty. We never look better then when we start (and after all these Euro coffee shops we never look that good) and we never get bulletproof.

1/29/05 - 2:28 PM - Leave Harlem, turning west on Grand. Stop at La Spiga D'Oro Bakery. Seth Z somehow intimates proprietress by asking if canoli's are made to order. No, frozen. No coffee, but we can buy an espresso maker here for $18.

1/29/05 - 2:38 PM - Drive around the circle that is "downtown" Elmwood Park. Is that an espresso bar? Cafe La Feme, with two femme holding court. Clean and empty. They make espresso's from pods. It's not me, but this coffee has no taste.

1/29/05 - 2:46 PM - Did I say I have a headache.

1/30/05 - 7:45 AM - Make regular pot of coffee. Mistake.

1/30/05 - 6:15 PM - My tummy hurts. Is it the espresso. The shrimp shells I ate the other day at Islas Marias?

1/30/05 - 9:05 PM - Can we decrlare a winner? Of course, there are many more espresso's in Chicago to try, but I learned this is a marathon not a sprint. But so far, three stand above the rest: Caffe Italia, the only one that I know can do it on more than one occasion. Cafe Versace, and the winner of day Chicago's first espresso-athon, Bar Cafe San Francesco.

1/30/05 - 9:11 PM - Kudos to SethZ, Erik M, OPMark, ReneG and the Condiment Queen who provided cover. I was mildly concerned that a few of the shops along Harlem would be a bit off putting, and I wanted just enough of a crowd to ensure comfort but not too much as to upset anyone. Instead, we found warm welcomes everywhere. And Signor Zurer, alone, managed to have a coffee at each stop.

1/31/05 - Will I be able to have a cup of coffee?

Bar Cafe San Francesco
3815 N. Harlem

City Lights Bar and Grill
3809 N. Harlem

Cafe Cappuccino
3719 N. Harlem

L.A. Caffe
3502 N. Harlem

Riviera Market
3220 N. Harlem

Bar Nazionale
3222 N. Harlem

Palermo Bakery
3317 N. Harlem

Cafe Amante
3308 N. Harlem

Cafe Versace
2661 N. Harlem

Caffe Italia
2625 N. Harlem

La Spiga D'Oro Bakery
21 1/2 Conti Parkway
Elmwood Park, IL

La Femme Cafe
Elmwood Park

7111 W. Roosevelt
Berwyn, IL
Le Coq Again

Another recent meal at Le Coq. I started with the salad lyonaise, which I have had there before. I like this salad of curly endive, not over-cooked bacon (a bit too thin this time to be lardons), runny poached egg (to be incorporated over the salad) and mustard vinaigrette, but I would have liked it a lot more if they used about six less ounces of dressing. I moved on to the cassolet special, which was not so much cassolet but grilled meats and a pot of beans. Still good, especially the crisped up duck confit leg, but the lamb chop and garlic sausage were not far behind. The Condiment Queen had a stellar if unconventional bouillabaisse. Mostly shellfish, clams, scallops, mussels, in a large platter, with broth acting as a moat, a couple of croutons as drawbridges, and a large swirl of rouille as, I'm not sure where the metaphor goes. She loved it, finishing it all. Neither of us got dessert, but I took a nibble of carmel soaked spice cake order by one of our dining companions. Carmelicious.

We had a bottle of Chapoutier Crozes Hermitage (1999). More nicely biodynamic wine. I thought this was one not as luxuriously heavy as the Cote du Rhone we had by the glass a few weeks ago (but still good). Sometimes more expensive wines are not better wines!