Friday, February 29, 2008

Cabbies, There's a New Joint in Town


Actually, the cabbies have more than discovered the recently opened, clean, well-lit space, Tabaq. Maybe the word got out because of the ample parking on this stretch of Clybourn just north of Division. Maybe word just got out on the good food being offered. Maybe, maybe, cabbies are going upscale. Cabbie joints, foodie-speak for a kinda places that are a) roughly convenient to the drivers who mostly found themselves around downtown; b) met their gustatory needs for Indian-Pakistani style food; and c) could serve as a bit of a hangout. A corner tap rolled into a diner rolled into an afterwork hangout. The cabbie joint promised the foodie exceedingly authentic food of the sub-continent, but often with a dose of danger. Well, slight danger in the sense that the joints, operating near but not in downtown, were in, well, let's call them non-pedestrian friendly zones. Really, the danger lay in their foreignness, their clubbiness, it was walking into someone else's world. But a funny thing happened on the way to eating pleasure. First, these locations no longer seemed so threatening. Second, it was soon learned that one's clientele was quite enjoyed by the cabbie joint staff. Eat bubbala we were told.

And eat well we did. Kababish, on Orleans a few blocks north of Chicago offered one of the best versions of fish taco around (masala dusted fish, fried to order, served with fresh made chapati and garnished with a mysterious brown sauce). Kababish is now closed. Into the breach steps Tabaq. Whereas Kababish had four booths, Tabaq has seating for about 80. The whole place is decorated in the type of thick, shiny plastic that's maybe a step up from Ikea. Much more decor than before. Still, it has one of the defining features of these kind of places, a steam table with several curries of the day. In addition to the curries, Tabaq offers grilled items like the beloved Khan on the north side of Chicago.

My wife and I got one of each. I'm a grilled meat a-loving' guy to begin with, and I love their way with meats, the interplay with spices and fire. Seekh kebab, the sausage shaped thing is usually a favorite. After asking about how spicy, the man behind the counter suggested instead, tha chapli kebab. This is a patty shaped, but the meat was thoroughly mixed with flakes of red pepper. I wish I had the camera to show the contrast of near black meat against bright red Chile. For our wet dish, we picked a chicken over a goat, a fish and a ground meat. The jalapeno garnish signfied this was one spicy curry. A nice touch, our server came over and offered us more gravy as we were sopping up the last of the curry. Sopping is thing thing to do here, as this place has some very good naan too. I'm guessing they allowed it to rise a bit longer than most naans. It was thick and yeasty, like a good pizza crust.

The prices are a dollar or two more than the old Kababish. I did not mind in the least. In my maiden visit I found all I want in a cabbie joint. Parking, warmth from the staff and heat from the food. Definitely worth a try.

1245 N. Clybourn
Chicago, IL
9AM - 2AM

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Shop Local

More Stuff for the Winter Markets

As I indicated earlier, Robin did some foraging today. Here's the additions to the market offerings not previously mentioned:

From Erehwon Farm in Elburn: living (potted) lettuce, cilantro, spinach, tiny radishes, spicy greens (very limited quantities of each--these will be at Austin only)

From Heritage Prairie Market Farm in Elburn: broccoli micro-greens, sugar pea shoots

From Ropp Jersey Cheese in Normal: Raw Milk Cheddar Cheese

From River Valley Ranch in Burlington, WI: gorgeous mushrooms this week--big clean white button mushrooms; more cremini than usual, and larger than usual; plenty of shitakes; just a few portabellas; and a few bags of oysters

What's Local at the Restaurant Supply House

Local Safety Net

Pretty much the same as last visit: Michigan apples, Wisconsin potatoes, Great Lakes whitefish. Add to the list, Wisconsin yellow onions.

I know what will be on our menu a lot the next few months.

New Vie Menu Up

Chef Virant Gets Deal on Artichokes

When I dined at Vie a few weeks ago, I was talking black walnut with Chef Virant. He mentioned how expensive they were, yet he still loved them and loved using them on the menu. It turns out that I knew a store in Detroit that had them for 1/2 the price he was paying. He offered me the chance to buy for him, and I'd love to fulfil that deal soon. In the meantime, his latest menu features a bit of non-local that he got his hands on--artichokes show up twice and there's some Meyer lemons too. On the other hand, he has a local lamb combo that sounds ideal and looks like he made good use of Wisconsin's Rushing Water trout.

Winter Market Reminder

Two This Saturday

Monica Eng notes some of the things you might find this weekend at Robin's winter markets.
Just because the Green City Market has shut down its outdoor and indoor locations for a few months, it doesn't mean farmers market-type organic shopping has to go into hibernation too. With the "Winter Farmers Markets" in local churches, you still can buy organic produce, prepared goods, toiletries, clothes and toys from the makers. When we recently visited one in West Town, we were greeted by more than a dozen vendors, including a young girl spinning wool, a nun selling tarts and baguettes and a grandfatherly character in a fluffy fleece sweater selling products from women's cooperatives. We knew this was going to be crunchy. We immediately picked up a couple of tarts ($3 each) as well as a bag of delicious lemony madeleines ($4), a crusty baguette ($2). Next were a pair of hand-knitted mittens ($16) and an organic yarn goat toy made by a women's cooperative in Kenya ($8). It's not super-cheap, but you will rarely feel so good about spending so much.
See here for market details. Note also, Robin's out foraging today, and she might have a few new goodies when she gets back. I'll post an update when I hear more.

Save This Restaurant

Orange Garden Chop Suey

This week's CTrib At Play was the Chris Borrelli 'zine. There's pupusas, there's a great piece on Nighthawk diners (hint: Chris, come to me for the follow-up). More importantly, he highlights one of the true treasures of Chicago, Orange Garden Chop Suey (1942 W. Irving Park Rd.). Sure, Chris's experience was like mine every time I visit, awful. This restaurant must be saved no matter. Of course the exterior with its stainless steal sign and red enamel is worth it, and I can see some misguided preservationist stopping there, but the purity of its art deco interior is just as special. This place needs to be landmarked PDQ.

Drink Local

North Shore Tasting at Binny's

Via Drive Thru:
Binny's South Loop will be hosting a free tasting this Friday from 5pm -8pm of North Shore Distillery Products

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Eat Local Out...Maybe...


Or perhaps. My wife knows my predilication for naming posts playing off of our mantra: Eat Local. So, when our waiter returned a long (long) time to address our question about what exactly was local on the menu with a very specific answer, "Carrie told me to get the hell outta of the kitchen"; I said to my wife, I'll call today's (yesterday's) post "Eat Local Maybe". And she said, "Eat Local Perhaps". The question, of course, was what exactly on the menu was local.

We got the same song and dance we got a few weeks ago at Lula's. "Oh, the chef uses local." "The chef is committed to local..." Then, the scare words, "when possible." We, to compare notes, see how someone else does it, to encourage local eating, to make us feel that much better about our dining choice, wanted to know specifics, and don't be speaking too much in generalities 'cause your menu has red peppers on it. Our waiter, who did not much like the grilling in the first place, he had tables to cover, promised to find out. Which turned into a promise to ignore us through two of our three courses. It came right about the time we started to have misgivings about Naha. But after a poor set of appetizers, the food got much better. We left ready to give Naha and Chef Carrie the benefit of the doubt. For now. Wink, wink.

Naha has been a place we've been meaning to try since the Green City BBQ. How could I not resist a menu with local AND mezze AND pork belly. Triple threat. The new Chicago Restaurant Week gave us the excuse to finally pull ourselves from Vie (although Vie is not open for lunch, so that excuse only goes so far). Restaurant Week means a three course lunch for $21.95. There were two desserts, two appetizers and three main courses, so my partner and I could not quite get the full menu. Our waiter, when he still liked us, helped us pick from the mains, advising us on the duck confit over the fried chicken salad--the other entree, whitefish with pork belly was a given.

It was a good thing he steered us to the duck confit. When I dug into it, after the appetizers and the what local comment, it insta-changed my mood. That good. That good after appetizers that featured creme fraiche that really did little for the oysters and bits of oyster shells that did even less for the oysters and tepid squash soup that tasted more of broth than squash. Then, the whitefish bacon thing, honestly, really, this was, about the best piece of whitefish I've ever eaten. One problem with whitefish, and one reason I think people favor ocean fish, is that whitefish can be on the soft side. This was a nice slab of whitefish, a fish not known for its slabiness, and it was cooked in a way that crisped and firmed it, without losing the fatty sweetness of the freshwater fish. The pork belly did not necessarily add to the experience, in a marriage kinda way, but what the hey, I was not pushing it aside. Desserts kept things on the upswing, a mousse-ish chocolate cake with "black forest cake" ice cream and a coconut tart. If we were not already lovey-dovey towards Naha, they finished us up with good mirgandaise, a tiny pyramid of passion fruit curd on a buttery crust and swatch of opera cake. Naha may not be the localvore luncher's lunch, but it's still a delicious dining experience.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

What's Local at Cassie's Green Grocer

A Lot!

It's good to eat local--look to the right side of this blog for some reasons. And while I do enjoy a certain amount of the effort to eat local, I'd also appreciate less effort too. I want local to come to me a bit more. The new store Green Grocer is bringing local to me. Here in one store, mushrooms from Wisconsin, salsas made in Wisconsin, (and salsas from Wisconsin mushrooms and made in Wisconsin); local eggs, local milk, local lamb, local, local, local [ed., and books on eating local too, no?]. Sure, not everything Cassie sells right now is local, but her focus is local with a capital L. Based on my two visits and my conversations with her, I know the inventory will only get better.

I did not get a lot today, but it was just the kinda things I want/need: Papa Lena's beet chips--put a vegetable and a chip in your kidz lunch at the same time! Bennison's bread (because Evanston's about as easy to get to for me/Oak Park as Madison, WI) and the intriguing Mu Tofu made from Wisconsin soy (read about it here).

Every Week a Market

Two for the Price of One

I don't know how Robin's gonna split herself this weekend, but she has two markets going. Her weekly reminder follows.

Winter Farmers Markets this Saturday!
March 1, 10am to 2pm
Austin/Oak Park & St. Ben’s/North Center

. . . both featuring fresh produce!

~ 1 ~
Winter Farmers Market & Brunch
in the Austin neighborhood at
Third Unitarian Church
301 N. Mayfield Ave. (Corner of Mayfield Ave. & Fulton St., 2 blocks East of Austin Blvd./Oak Park)
Admission is FREE and open to the public
Third Unitarian is near the intersection of Austin Blvd. and Lake St. (CTA Green Line, Austin Stop). From this junction, the church is two blocks east to Mayfield and one block south to Fulton St. Parking is available on Mayfield Ave. and Fulton St.
See complete list of farmers market offerings below
The Brunch will be served during the market while quantities last
Prepared from ingredients purchased from the participating growers
Suggested donation: $8 adults ~ $4 children 10 & under

Mark your calendar!
A final Winter Farmers Market in the Oak Park-River Forest area will be held on
Sun., Mar. 30, at Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest.

~ 2 ~
Winter Farmers Market & Café
in Chicago’s St. Ben’s/North Center neighborhood at St. Benedict Parish Social Hall ~ 2219 W. Irving Park Rd. (corner of Irving Park Rd. and Bell St., a few blocks East of Western Ave.)
Admission is FREE and open to the public
For pre-orders of chicken or hormone-free Black Angus beef
contact Mark or Linda Schramer by 8pm Thursday via email
or phone; go to for contact info
(pick-up is at St. Ben’s only)
See more complete list of farmers market offerings below
An a la carte Café will be provided by Sweets by Carolyn featuring made-from-scratch goodies by “baketress” Carolyn Shoaf

Both Winter Farmers Markets
will feature most or all of the following:

· Tilapia (farm-raised in Illinois free of antibiotics, mercury, herbicides, hormones, pesticides and steroids)
· Cheese & yogurt, both in a variety of flavors
· Honey in a variety of flavors
· Organic lettuce, kale & chard
· Organic herbs (dill, sage, oregano, parsley)
· Spicy greens & shoots
· Organic potatoes, red and Yukon gold
· Fresh mushrooms (several varieties)
· Onions & shallots
· Jams & preserves
· Apple & pear butters
· Goats’ milk soaps in heavenly scents & fun shapes
· Pet products
· Angora fibers & felting supplies (Austin only)
· Bath & body products
· Infused vinegars & dried herbs
· Organic wheatberries & several varieties of milled flours
· Wool yarn & woolen goods
· Maple & sorghum syrups
· Beautiful fruit tarts & cakes by the Sisters of Fraternite Notre Dame
· Fair trade coffee, chocolate & tea
· Fair trade organic olive oil from the Palestinian region
· Opportunities to learn about CSAs (community supported agriculture) and purchase your subscription for this summer
· And much, much more!
Meat & poultry will be available in both locations. See the specific information for each location. For best selection, consider pre-ordering as indicated.

Support these local farm producers, eat locally, and shrink your carbon footprint by purchasing food that hasn’t traveled thousands of miles. Quantities of some products are limited, so shop early!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Drink Local

Time Out Chicago's David Tamarkin runs through a bunch of booze made near these parts. Maybe I'm a bit sensetive, but he seems less than fully enamored with the lot. Whether you agree with his tastes or not, it's a good starting point for local liquor.

I wonder what he thinks of D'Vine's grapey vodka?

One Fine Day

February 23, 2008

One of the things that I love about a newspaper subscription is its regulatory. Regular, in that it's there every morning (nearly every morning), and regular, what I really like, is the rotation, the features I always follow: Sunday's poker column, Wednesday food section, Thursday's At Play (play the Phil Vettel Game!). For my wife, the best day of the week is Saturday. She gets the soap summary and One Fine Day, perhaps her favorite feature (see here for an example). In the tradition of One Fine Day, I present our latest.


Magazines and Music, Oak Park Borders (1144 Lake St Oak Park, IL 60301(708) 386-6927) - Saturday is our day to sleep late, and for me, getting out of bed at 8:15 is nicely late. I need that extra bit of sleep because morning coffee gets delayed until Borders. Each Saturday three to six Oak Parkers take over the Northwest corner of the Oak Park Borders cafe. Some carry acoustic guitars, one regular plays a jazzy but muted hollow-body electric (which at least once per morning he solos using an organish effect), one has a mandolin (and does a bit or two with a recorder) and most of the time, there is a woman with an stand up bass. They play a mix of standards and rock. Brief words cannot convey how talented these folks are. They have technique like instructors but also unique and quality vocals, both as solos and as harmonizers. It has to be the best free show around. Listen, read, cafinate.


Fressers rejoice at Manny's (1141 S. Jefferson, Chicago). We time our departure from Borders generally to the musicians, but today we stayed longer awaiting our daughters commencement of her Young Scientist Conference (Dad all morning: "paging young scientists, paging young scientists, please report to lab..."). We are always more than peckish after Borders, but the lunch choices close by are seldom to our tastes. We let our tummies wait just a bit as I drove us to Manny's (love the valet parking!). Mom and Dad split roast beef. Luckily for us, French rare works, and corned beef. Dad splurged on a diet Dr. Browns, while Mom advertised her thrift on a fountain drink, "free re-fills". The kidz split corned beef and chicken.

We now find ourselves joining Binny's to any Manny's visit. The new location, across from Manny's, has a large selection and a decent deli (see side bar) but what makes it worth stopping is their drinks bar. All pour are priced from retail. It's a chance to sample an eighty-five dollar bottle of Calvados for less than ten bucks.

What's Local at Binny,s Across the Street from Manny's
Local pork. OK, I counted maybe three local cheeses in their whole selection, and one was Maytag, but there are other cheese stores. What Binny's did have for this localvore were local pork products. Nueske ham, Nueske bacon, good; really good, La Quercia ham, La Quercia guanciale and La Quercia pancetta. Get yourself there as the Quercia proscuiutto was less than $20/lb, a real steal
Binny's did not have the local booze we had been seeking. That would be Lush, a few blocks away (1306 S. Halsted, Chicago). As mentioned in Time Out Chicago, Lush sells Death Door Vodka and Death's Door Gin, booze made from wheat grown in one the best places on earth, Washington Island, Wisconsin. Lush also offers wee tastes of booze for free (free!). I'll take that $85 Calvados and raise you a $135 Scotch sample.

It's hard to believe anyone needs more food after Manny's, but we can hardly let a visit to this area go by without something sweet. Often, we end up at Ferrara (2210 W. Taylor). And I will guarantee you that every time we go there, my wife will comment at some point, how the Italian pastries in New York are just so much better. I do mostly agree, chauvinist that I am. A Ferrara sfogliatela would be finer if we got them at a different point. Ferrara, however, puts them in a refrigerated case that saps a bit of succor from the pastry. Minor quibble though.


A One Fine Day should be nobler than four or so of the deadly sins. It should also be a chance to put on a nice suit (sans tie for trendy affect) and cavort with the animals. What I mean is that our day was that much finer because we finished with the Have-a-Heart benefit for West Suburban PADS, the organization that provides emergency shelter and other services to the homeless in the near-Western suburbs. The event was at Brookfield Zoo, and part of the time we got to hang with the giraffes. We noshed, we bid, we listened to the awesome pipes of our Congressman Danny Davis, and watched a tear inducing film about some of the people PADS has helped.

Nothing against finger food noshing, but it's almost de rigour for benefit goers to have a hot dog on the way home, is it not? Pete's (6346 Roosevelt RD, Oak Park) offers a better than average Chicago style dog, even five minutes before their close.


If the day was not fine enough, I won an online poker tournment later that night.