Thursday, December 01, 2005

Geography Lesson for Chowhound Moderators

Yes, Dyer Indiana is part of the Chicago area.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Just Awful News
From this week's Chicago Magazine Dish:

Trader Vic’s, holding court with its stiff mai tais in the lower arcade of the Palmer House Hilton since 1957, is closing after New Year’s Eve. Expect another local outpost of the Chicago legend to resurface eventually. . . .

With the Inland Steel Building and the Rookery, this may have been the most perfectly articulated space in downtown Chicago. As much as I liked the tropical drinks (what ever the daily $4 special), I enjoyed even more just sitting there. Too bad the food sucked and too bad I did not go more often.
This Week’s Haul
Fall CSA 4th Week

In one of her e-mails, Farmer Vicki apologized to us CSAers that winter had nipped her earlier than expected. She told us that last year she harvested nearly to Christmas. This year's hard frost came while she still expected to pull more turnips, Swiss chard and other items for late fall/early winter eating. Mother Nature furthrert wrecked her timing as her greenhouse crops were mostly not ready. Of course that does not mean that Farmer Vicki did not take good care of us as usual.

She runs a better root cellar than me for sure (I had to toss a couple of moldy squash today), and from earlier pickings we got big bright red potatoes and smaller rutabagas. There’s still plenty of squash, and we got two butternut and one turban. Only one onion, but we’re pretty well stocked from previous weeks. The greenhouse was not totally inactive; spikey-leaf tiny lettuce and a green pepper show that a good salad can be had with local ingredients even in December. Farmer Vicki stuffs her boxes with miscellanea: dried thyme, dry ripe jalapeños, a leek or two, some green onions. Surely, enough for the week.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Antonius takes home the bacon

Several months ago, I learned the news that's own Antonius won an award for a paper presented at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery. I meant to pass the word on to the millions of daily visitors to Vital Information, but like many things I mean to do, I did not. Needless to say, Antonious award is still there and still worth mentioning regardless of me. And...

...You now have the chance to see what made Oxford smile. This weekend (December 3)Antonious presents his paper at the Chicago Foodways Roundtable, a really interesting series of programs organized by LTHForum's Cathy2. See here for details of this weekend's presentation.

Chicago Foodways Roundtable

Western Mediterranean Vegetable Stews
and the Integration of Culinary Exotica
Presented by
Anthony F. Buccini, PhD

Saturday, December 3rd, 2005
11 AM
The Chicago Historical Society
1601 N. Clark St., Chicago, Illinois

Monday, November 28, 2005

Thanks Chicago
For Providing Good Eatin'

Around the Thanksgiving break, I and the VI family covered a lot of ground. We gave full thanks for the richness and variety of our eating options.

Myron and Phil’s
Walking towards our table at M&P, our 9 and 11 year old daughters lowered the average age of the clientele to about 68. As the Condiment Queen noted at lunch, eat here soon because these places are not gone be around for long. What I like best about M&P is that there is no irony, no shtick, no theme to the place. Just a place for a decent meal when you happen to be around Devon and Pulaski. For lunch you have to pay $2.50 for some chopped liver, but it is $2.50 well spent. That, the chunks of dill pickles, and an order of the “burnt onions” (more like un-breaded deep fried onions) were the best part of the meal. That’s not the say that the $8.95 lunch specials are mediocre. A tiny rib steak was over-cooked (no one even asked) but it was still tasty. Salmon patties were griddled to a dark brown and made me pine for this item more often. They did real well with the kids, the hamburger was huge and succulent (although M&P seasons their burger someway that I just do not like) and the chicken strips appeared to have been breaded and fried to order. Of course green goddess (sour cream anchovy) dressing satisfied on plain ol’ iceberg and our waitress of the hon school was just as terrific. 3900 W. Devon (east of Pulaski), 847-677-6663.

Ambala Sweets
Maybe because this place is too far west of the action on Da’ Bomb, but it does not appear to get the crowd its food deserves. Crisp-thin samosa shells outshined a filling made from frozen peas and carrots, but the halawa was mind-boggling food. 2741 W. Devon, 773-764-9000

Khan BBQ
The last time we went to visit Khan BBQ, it was hotter in there than the Division Street Baths. A chilly day made more sense. Of course, inside it can still be brutally hot and when too many orders of chicken boti get going, the table was hacking away from the smoke. Khan demands over-ordering. They made us change tables because our booth could not fit the boti, the naan, the parantha, soft-soft nehari kebab, the spicy frontier chicken, and wet spinach with yellow dal. Worth the discomfort for sure. 2262 W. Devon Ave. 773-274-8600

Happy Chef
This, to me, seems the most Chinese of places in Chinatown. Garishly bright, sticky layers of plastic table covers for quick table turns, wall specials always priced in lucky numbers, a constant crowd and just awful service—OK, no offense to the Chinese, but it does remind me of Hong Kong. On Friday, service was so bad we nearly walked out. Luckily, the dim sum was good enough that we were happy by the end. It’s a hybrid dim sum, a card to check-off as well as things flying around the room on platters. Nothing elegant, nothing fancy but all well done, especially shrimp and chive dumplings in a translucent skin, pale egg tarts and greasy turnip cakes. Less well enjoyed, a silky tofu in a not sweet enough syrup (read watery). Chinese broccoli with garlic was about as good as possible. In the Chinatown Mall.

Medici Bakery
Good French style breads (although I like Freddy’s and Fox and Obel better—the white baton had a nice crust but was a little too dry in the crumb), but really good muffins. 1327 E 57th St. Chicago, IL 60637

Steve’s Shish Kebab House
This remains my favorite Middle-Eastern restaurant in the area (and would be my next choice for a GNR nomination). The food all gets prepared from scratch—I’ve seen Steve chop up meat for kefta with two knives and grind chick peas for falafel and hummus. I kept on looking at the knee joint in our lamb shank until I realized we were eating a tiny leg of lamb not a true shank. It’s delicious as is about everything else they serve (and such generous portions!) 3816 W 63RD St, Chicago, Illinois

Lula’s Café
Of course I like Lula’s farm-centric approach to building a menu, but I find their food unsatisfying. A dish with long cooked adobo chicken, farm eggs (really good eggs), polenta and green avocado sauce should have made me a lot happier and I am not sure why. The whole was less than the parts. Spaghetti with bacon and tomato sauce was too oily (and the portion small to boot). I was not that impressed with brioche French toast that sounded good on the menu, nor did the BLT really hold sway. One thing that was good, a quince syruped Prosecco cocktail. 2537 N. Kedzie, Chicago.

El Pollo Loco
I guess my need to try EPL so soon after Lula’s tells you what I really felt about *that* meal. Eating my meal at this other new chicken place, I wondered if I would feel differently about Pollo Campero if it was not so close to me. To me, PC may be just fast-food chicken, but I like the marinade and I think they fry very well. As the Hungry Hound, Steve Dolinsky sez, moist and crisp. And to me, EPL may just be fast food chicken, but it seemed pretty flavorless. I did like the way their bake then grill method crisped up the skin. I was not so impressed with the beans or rice. For the record, the Condiment Queen liked it. 2715 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, 60647 - (773) 394-5626

At one point I stormed out of Margie’s as the older waitress was fighting with us over choice of booth. She wanted us crammed into a small booth. We refused. Well, she was not gonna take our order otherwise. My scene did bring us a new server. It still left a bad taste in my mouth, even as the ice cream, fudge and caramel remain top-notch. Cathy2’s noted whipped cream fixation has got me to look closer at Margie’s whipped cream. With scrutiny, I find it too airy. It looks good but if you pay attention, you will find it lacking. 1960 N. Western Ave., Chicago

Maxwell Street
Reported elsewhere.
Maxwell Street Adjustments
Keeping Track of Good Food

If you use Gorilla Gourmet to find great eating on Maxwell Street, you need to make some adjustments. It’s been noted that the “C’mon in, C’mon in/Guantajunto El Colonial” featured strongly in the documentary have been gone from Maxwell Street. There have been more changes, and the Maxwell Street eater needs to make some adjustments. Adjusted, you still eat really well.

Of course, we eaters call it Maxwell Street, but if you looked at a map, you would find the Sunday flea market and Mexican food extravaganza is on Canal Street. And right now, Canal Street is under construction, disrupting the southern end of the market. Think of the vendors down there as a bulge, squeeze the street and the displaced bulge has to show up somewhere else. In this case, the vendors have spilled over to Taylor Street on the far north end of the market. Here, one will find the twin masa specialists: Rubi/Manolo’s. Both stands have brought small vertical roasters for al pastor with them to their new locations. Manolo, however, uses a spit fired by charcoal briquettes, Rubi uses a gas heater. Still, neither cook the pork to full Wiv-crispness on the spit. Instead, it goes from the spit to a pan with lotsa salsa de chile arbol (at least Rubi’s did). Inside a fresh made quesadilla, with some cheese and the garlic heavy green-red salsa, it tasted very good (although it could have been greater with a full roasting). Of the other stands on the south end filmed by Gorilla Gourmet, the place with the very well done (double meaning) grilled steak tacos has not reappeared on the north end. I hope they return. The man who showed us his tongue in the movie, who claims to be the first taco stand on Maxwell (he's the one on the right on the Gorilla Gourmet home page), was parked near Rubi/Manolo’s. But also missing, the “saran-wrap” people, the stand at the corner of Canal and 14th where wide sheets of plastic prevented prying hands from snagging a taste of huitalachoche or zucchini flower. Stepping into the void down-there, were some people frying up fresh made gorditas and making bloody pambasos from either potato-chorizo or crispy steak-onion. My family really enjoyed the pambaso, missing the metallic taste of some.

The area roughly next to Dominick’s remains, besides the gone El Colonial, stable. Rico huaraches still are. I thought yesterday about the general criticism of “cheap-eats”, stands on the low quality of the raw materials, especially the meat. I noted that yes, the steak on these huaraches is tough in the most, but I also noted that a “better” place like Frontera just cannot produce a paddle of masa like this black-bean stuffed, fried-griddled piece. And it is the masa that matters. The Oaxacan tamal place remains about there as does the beef-birria place. The birria de Aguascaliente, steamed on avocado leaves guy, who can be intermittent in his Maxwell Street appearances, WAS there yesterday, but in the North hump. Another birria place, maybe the one normally South was North, but I cannot say if these are the same places. The one place I used to make a special trip North, the pupusa place, was not there yesterday.

New? Besides the al pastor, the only thing I really found new, as compared to moved or missing, was some roasted calabaza at the stand that also sells rice pudding empanadas and elotes. The Mexican pumpkin gets pretty dark from its roasting and seems caramelized, but the taste is not highly sweet.

I and others try to document Maxwell Street, but we can only capture one day. Each week brings new vendors, new locations, a few new products. The constant: delicious food. Here, you will find many examples of masa manipulation. One vendor molds the masa into thick disks and stuffs them with a mixture of soft requeson cheese, epazote and jalapeños; another manipulates the dough just bit differently, stuffs it with potato and calls it an empanada. Flat it can be a huarache, flatter and folded and it becomes a quesadilla. There are tamales wrapped in corn and bigger tamales wrapped in banana leaves. Besides tasting all that corn, Maxwell eaters get two other advantages. Lotsa steaks get grilled over live coals, something you will not see in a neighborhood taqueria. Finally, you will see at Maxwell lotsa trays of bubbling oil; your stuff gets cooked as you order. Whatever the changes, C’mon in, C’mon in.