After my Big Shoulders experience the other day, I decided to check out the source of all Unicorn Blood — I mean Dark Matter Coffee — and try out the Star Lounge.
It’s an interesting space…it must have been a real bar at some point, but now it’s a coffee bar full of kids with Mac Book Airs mooching off the free wifi. This furthers my notion that what Chicago really needs is an Internet pub. A true pub with beer, but with lots of outlets and super fast wifi too. Anyone want to go in on this one with me?
The guy next to me was doing Bayesian equations. I was just drinking a cappuccino, staring off into space.
It was a good cappuccino. $4.25 worth of cappuccino Dark Matter is a fruity blend. Based on my limited experience, I currently like Big Shoulders better, but this will be determined by a repeat visit to Big Shoulders in, oh, about 15 minutes.
The Verdict: Good stuff. A little hot inside and the staff is a bit distant and slow. But an interesting experience nonetheless.
I gave up coffee for a while. But now I am back on the sauce. Especially now, TODAY. Because I’ve finally found decent replacements for my loves of London loves, Monmouth Coffee and Prufrock Coffee. My new Chicago loves are Dark Matter Coffee. And Big Shoulders Coffee. I’ll thank Wendy for Dark Matter — she laughed at one of my Starbucks trip one day and advised that I take myself to Do Rite for some Dark Matter. (They have a coffee called UNICORN BLOOD.) But I’ll give myself all the credit for “finding” Big Shoulders. (Not hard to find, right there at the corner of Chicago and Milwaukee.) I THINK I like Big Shoulders better. I think. But I will need some caffeine to decide for sure.
I particularly like the vibe at Big Shoulders. It’s all clean and neat and white, and they’ve got a big TV showing approaching train and bus times, which is awesome. You should go here. Take the bus!
P.S. I took this photo with my iPhone 5. It’s so awesome. I love it so much.
I live by this little taco stand. I used to walk by it and think it looked a little sketchy. But then one day when the taco cravings hit, I went in. And I had the tacos al pastor and they were so gosh darn wonderful that I think I ate them three times that week. I like the staff. I like the service. I like that they give you a real hunk of lime and not just a little sliver and that they use corn tortillas, not flour. The interior decor — what there is of it given that there are really only about eight stools — could use a lot of work, but lately, they’ve spruced up the outside, so that’s nice. Oh, and did I mention that, besides for being super delicious, Taqueria Traspasada is also super, super cheap?
I like gyros. 1994: me, Santorini, a moped, and $1 gyros for every meal. Good memories. (Bad memories: the ferry from Corfu to Santorini and the terrible chop and my terrible seasickness.) I like gyros so much, I can forgive a Chipotle knock-off. Because that’s what Covo, the new Greek fast food place in Wicker Park, is. A total and complete knock-off of a certain salty and popular Mexican assembly-line burrito chain. (Roti, the Mediterranean chain, also falls into this category, but their menu is a bit larger so it’s different. Sort of.) I mean honestly, it’s like Covo is NOT EVEN TRYING TO HIDE IT.
I love tortilla soup. And my new iPhone 5 which let me take this awesome photo of tortilla soup while I was at a pretty average sports bar in Ravenswood in Chicago last weekend.
That’s the thing with tortilla soup. I’ve NEVER had a bad bowl, even at the crappiest of crappy sports bars. It’s seemingly impossible to get wrong. Why is that? Chicken broth, shredded chicken, diced tomatoes, old dried-out tortillas, maybe some black beans…they all come together in some glorious sludge that I could happily drown in.
Someone throw me an avocado and a lime. I’ll be a while.
I had my tortilla soup at Brownstone in Chicago. It’s fine if you like to watch sports on TV.
A lot. (Non sequitor: Two words, people. TWO WORDS.)
And especially, the fish tacos at Antique Taco in Chicago. OK, sure, Antique Taco is a little hipster. But I TOTALLY want to steal all their cloth napkins. Like all of them.
Yo, it’s the fish tacos. With spicy, creamy tartar. I want corn tortillas, not flour. But this particular over-aging hipster, she can deal.
Corn salad!!! Corn salad, corn salad. This is the type of dish that makes me feel slothy. Because shurely I could make this. But I don’t. So I go to Antique Taco once a week and I eat it there. And I give thanks.
And contemplate and stare at their napkins. Like really, literally stare.
Yes, I’m alive. Funny, I was reading this blog post yesterday — another tiring post on “How to Start a Food Blog” by a successful blogging couple with an exhausting amount of energy — and one of their “suggestions” is “You have to publish high quality content every single day.”
Well, good luck with that. (And this coming from someone in the old days who published five days a week, pretty consistently.) I’ll post when I post and when I want to post, and if you read it, that’s great. And if you don’t, well, I hope you were doing something fun otherwise.
Because frankly speaking, I AM EXHAUSTED. I should have blogged from the road last week while I was playing planes, trains, and automobiles all over the Great State of Florida. Because it was truly amazing, how much geography I covered, and how really, I NEVER GOT ANYWHERE. If you ever thought “Oh TRAVEL IS JUST SO GLAMOROUS,” you would have enjoyed my stay at the Orlando Airport Hyatt while I waited for my flight to Chicago the next day.
Sorry for the shouty caps.
Let’s talk about the Jibarito instead. It’s a Chicago invention! But it’s Puerto Rican! It uses FRIED GREEN PLANTAINS instead of BREAD. It’s full of garlicky mayo. AND STEAK. And it cost me $7 at a small, clean family run restaurant called Papa Cache Sabroso in Chicago’s Humboldt Park.
And it was good. Good, not great. But good. (The steak was a little tough and there could have been more of it.) Oddly, what was really good was the side of garlic bread that came with my sandwich. Very garlicky.
What I really want to do is go back to Papa Cache’s for their roast chicken. It’s supposed to be fab. It looked fab. I’m trying to get out more, explore more, you know…instead of sitting home and writing blog posts…so I hope to be back soon.
Gourmet donuts, gourmet donuts. I feel like it’s still five years ago, but that’s fine. I’ll eat the gourmet donuts. I’ll play along. Even though I’m really not supposed to be eating carbs these days.
So first I went to Glazed & Infused. A good excuse for a nice walk. And I ordered my donut, a coconut one, and it was freaking $3.05. What has happened to the world when a DONUT is $3.05? It was, in my opinion, dry and uninspiring. And it was a honker. Plus there a certain smug-hipster vibe about the entire experience. And no sneeze guards. Now, let me be clear. I went to the window. I did not go inside. I think things are different inside. But really, I don’t want to pay $3.05 FOR A DONUT. The Verdict: MEH. 1533 N. Damen
And then I went to Do Rite Donuts downtown. And in contrast, the staff were perky, the sneeze guards were present, and the donuts were CHEAP. I remember it was south of $2.00. $1.67 maybe? And it was MOIST. Delicious. Sadly, I cannot remember what sort of taste it had (hey, I never professed to be professional about this), but I remember thinking “Better price, better quality than that other place up north. I’ll come back here.) The Verdict: Good. Do Rite is at 50 W Randolph.
So on Twitter, when I talked about this, everyone told me that I really needed to go to the Donut Vault. Once my bike is tuned up, I’ll be heading that way. Watch for it.
Ohh controversy. I’m about to tell you that I’ve had some pretty underwhelming and crap food in Chicago lately. I’ll take the blame. I just showed up; I didn’t do any research. I just went where I was told to go and ate the food that was put in front of me. A lot of people eat like this.
But it was all crap. Crappity crap crap crap. One of the photos I’m about to post might make you lose your faith in humanity. Who does this to food? WHO? And why do we, people who live in this land of plenty, why why why do we insist on putting this processed, greasy shit into our bodies?
America, if you wonder why we’re all lard-asses, you need look no further than the nachos at John Barleycorn’s in Wrigleyville. (Look away! Look away!)
In the immortal words of Mr. Gordon Ramsay, “FUCK ME.”
Then I went to Heaven on Seven, a Chicago classic. (The original Wabash location.) I am not an expert on Canjun food whatsoever, but My fried catfish po’ boy was dry and underwhelming, and my gumbo was a cup of indeterminate brown sludge and white rice. (I checked out many gumbo images and couldn’t find anything that looked like what I had. Although I did not take a photo myself, my gumbo looked just like this one on Flickr .) What I remember most about Heaven on Seven though is how my feet stuck to the floor and my elbows stuck to the table. I am a fan of peanuts on the floor at any fine establishment but…
I did like the display of hot sauces though.
And then…pizza at Pizza Serio on Belmont in West Lakeview. While not offensive or terrible, the soft floppy crust and the mess it made of our various toppings left me depressed, when I had been so very excited about their brick oven. Also problematic: our server was largely missing for most of our meal.
So given these three meals plus a myriad of others (La Pasadita, anyone?) I’m in a funk about food and Chicago at the moment, especially after returning from a week in London where each meal was better than the next, at all points along the price spectrum. Maybe I need to get out more. Maybe I need to make better choices and do more research. Maybe it’s the economy or maybe I need to find new friends! I don’t know what it is. But something’s not right. And putting cheese and salt on it isn’t helping.
There. I’ve said it. I could happily eat falafel all day, every day. I don’t know why. I just like it. Texture? Hummus? Hot sauce? Yes.
I was lucky today. I had an errand to run and the shopkeeper told me to come back in 30 minutes. So I went in search of tacos to kill some time. I thought for sure I’d find tacos somewhere.
But instead I found Chickpea, just west of Damen on Chicago Ave. So I paid $4 (!!!) and had the best falafel I’ve had since Hoxton Beach on Whitecross Street in London. And that’s saying a lot because Hoxton Beach is sort of awesome.
The vibe at Chickpea was pretty great too. All old action movie posters, in Arabic. And cool dangly lights. I liked it. I think you will too.
I was debating how to do this, how to tell you about the El Bulli kitchen table menu at Next which I enjoyed (understatement) on Friday night. I mean, sure, I took a lot of pictures. (They are all over here on my Facebook fan page.) I even shot some video, and thanks to Roam & Home’s suggestion, I even pepped the videos up a bit using the 8mm app on the iPhone. (See Maytag Blue Egg, Mint Pond, and the literal goodbye of the Marshmallow Gloves, all over on YouTube.) I had to remove the sound from the videos because in one, I’m singing Tainted Love (best song ever), and in another, I sound like I’m missing a few points off my IQ when I ask where the cheese is. (The egg is MADE of cheese. ) I blame the cava. And the wine. And the sake. And the cider. And, uh, the sherry and the beer.
I had favorite dishes, like the black sesame spongecake with miso, eaten with your hands. You can make this yourself in the microwave, our tremendously awesome server Bobby told us. (My friend Shinny has been making cake in her rice cooker a lot lately. I like these non-traditional baking methods.) Always a sucker for unagi, I loved the nasturtium with eel, bone marrow and cucumber. I don’t know if it’s the sourcing or the preparation, but this was the best bit of eel I’ve ever had.
I loved the surprise of the carrot foam. It was like eating nothing, but eating something that was very, well, something. I wanted to bathe in the liquid from the suquet of prawns; we were licking it off the plate with our fingers before they took the plates away. And I wanted to — get this — try to reproduce the potato tortilla at home, so comforting and silky it was. A mouth feel like no other.
I loved the fun of the spice quiz and the spooky but whimsical goodbye of the marshmallow gloves. I loved that Next lets you buy the beer from the meal — a special brew from Half Acre flavored with beets and oranges — so I bought two bottles at the end for $15 each. (See the reviews on Beer Advocate.)
I also loved that I was invited to the kitchen table by Karen of Roam & Home, someone I’d never met before but whose aesthetic I’ve always very much admired. (I am borrowing her idea of posting the menu. I was going to post all the photos, but there are too many. An album on Facebook is easier.) I am forever grateful to you, Karen. And to Bob too. Hi Bob!!
Being low on cash at the end of the night (five hours after we began) and feeling in the mood for another special treat, I ordered myself an Uber cab — they charge my credit card directly for everything and no cash changes hands — and I headed home in that dark silence of classical music and leather.
The music here is a bit more intense than my Uber “cab,” but here’s the official Next video for El Bulli if you are interested:
Today is my birthday. I woke up super early for no reason at all.
I went to the kitchen and opened a leftover fortune cookie and this is what it said.
My friends Aileen and Christina brought me tulips for my birthday yesterday. I watered them.
Then I cut up some fruit for juicing. I’ve been juicing a lot lately. Have you seen “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” yet? You should. It’s good. And I cant get over how much better everyone’s faces look after a few days of juicing. By the way, ginger is awesome. (Top right.)
I went to make some coffee. There was a note inside my coffee container. It’s like God is psychic or something.
I went downtown to meet a friend for more coffee. On the way to meet him, I stopped to smell the flowers. We ended up not drinking coffee. I had some water while we talked. He told me I need to ask people more questions.
I took a taxi to the Four Seasons. I’ve never been to the Four Seasons Chicago before. It’s much nicer than The Ritz, which is puzzling because The Ritz is always so crowded but it’s like it’s 1983 at The Ritz…all peach and gold. I booked myself in for a massage and a facial at the Four Seasons spa. My 80 minute massage passed amazingly quickly. My facial was good — they rubbed some sort of cream made out of amethysts all over my face and then rubbed it off with an electric current (I can’t make this stuff up, really) — but there was too much downtime. Me, I don’t like the steam.
The almonds and cucumber water in the relaxation room, on the other hand, were DELICIOUS. I ate a lot of almonds today. And I don’t even really like almonds. The dried cranberries were also nice. Oh, and so was the tea. The tea was quite nice. Although the glasses were quite small. They were so small that I thought they were cups for the almonds. You know, like when you ride at the front of the plane. The staff saw me trying to eat almonds out of their teacups. I was embarrassed.
It was 3:45 and I still hadn’t had lunch yet. So I went downstairs to the lobby bar and had some champagne and talked to my dad on the phone. He’s going to use his frequent flier miles to go to China. And he’s going to send me a Nike Fuel Band for my birthday. Or a Fitbit. People on Amazon seem to like the Fitbit better. Hmmm.
I had the best deviled egg I’ve ever had in my entire life at the Four Seasons Chicago. And I don’t even LIKE deviled eggs.
$24 worth of salad. It was a very good salad though.
Best part! Lemon bars. I am not a dessert person, but lemon anything gets me every time. And only $3!!!
My friend Eileen came and we had “New Fashioneds” together at the bar with the businessmen. Eagle Rare Bourbon (I like bourbon), Grand Marnier, Luxardo maraschino cherries, cherry bitter. Nice.
Then we walked around for a bit. It was a little foggy and mysterious downtown. Just like us.
I stared at these shoes for a while. Hermes. Right. Moving on…
And then I found some street art! In the Gold Coast of all places. A good feeling.
And then I took a taxi home, had some leftover Singapore noodles, and listened to Amy Winehouse’s “Lioness” and was in bed by 9:30 pm.