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.
Time for a break. Too many restaurants, too little time. And I’m TIRED. I know, I know. What happened to all your photos, Krista? What happened to full blog write-ups? Frankly speaking, no one restaurant has driven me to such great lengths in a long time. So micro-reviews it is for you. For now. Personally, I kinda like the micro-review thing. It’s like Twitter. Or a Haiku. (A long one.)
Benny’s Chop House, 444 N. Wabash, River North (ish, because I kinda feel like Wabash is a bit of a wasteland and even though it’s north of the river, it’s still in The Loop, isn’t it?). When I was looking for new kitchen knobs in December (yes, I’m very domestic like that), I met Benny himself in a hardware store and made a mental note to stop in to his restaurant sometime. In return for the name and phone number of his handyman and all. So I did. (Although I never called his handyman.) It was a weekend afternoon and the place was EMPTY. I sat at the bar and had a burger. And it was so flavorless, it was sad. The bun was good though, as were the fries. (Served in their own miniature basket for frying! Genius!) But really, all I wanted was some salt and pepper. BUT wait. The PRICE. The price was kind of amazingly right. $10 for a burger and fries that is certainly better than Mickey D’s. I mean, for that, I might just have to go back. Even though the bar area kinda felt like a bad 2008 Chicago condo kitchen installation. The Verdict: If you like value for money, sit at the bar and get a burger, but ask for salt and pepper and all that other stuff.
Irazu, 1865 N. Milwaukee, Bucktown. Everyone told me I would love Irazu, one of Chicago’s only Costa Rican restaurants. Well, I didn’t. It all felt a bit unkempt and dingy, and our table was unsteady, so that was annoying. And my tilapia tacos were probably about the most underwhelming thing I’ve eaten so far in 2012. (Tilapia. In a taco. With a lot of overcooked onions. No thank you.) My friend Amy got that oatmeal shake that everyone raves about and I thought, “Gee, it’s just like drinking cold oatmeal.” The Verdict: Meh. Not so exciting. Not sure why it’s so packed.
Maza, 2415 N. Ashland, Sort of Lincoln Park-ish. I will admit to a total bias. I used to live by the old Maza on Lincoln and I always loved it. You might know my greatest goal is to go to Lebanon at some point in the near future. And I am also a sucker for hummus. So it was that I found myself at the new Maza at Ashland & Fullerton, where I heard the incredibly sad story of the owner losing the lease on his old space in West Lakeview. The landlord on Lincoln wanted a monthly sum that no sole proprietor could ever agree to. So Maza moved. And the old space remains unoccupied still. Greedy bastards. Well, bygones because we had fun at Maza and I loved my assortment of food, just like I did in the old days. I love that it’s this guy’s restaurant and it always has been and he works there all the time. The Verdict: Support a local businessman and go. (And really, ignore the Yelp reviews.) Sadly, the proprietor hasn’t been back to Lebanon in 30+ years.
I’ve got more. A lot more. Coming up: Storefront Company, RPM Italian, and the part where I nearly die on a bar stool at Yusho. And a lot of other places that I can’t even remember at the moment. Hmmm.
I’m feeling very with it these days. Although I may be lagging on the blogging front, I’m not lagging so much on the dining front — when I’m in town, that is. Here’s where I’ve been eating.
Tavernita and it’s little neighbor, Pinxtos, 151 W Erie. Tavernita is one of those huge, sceney River North spaces. I would not attempt a place like this on a weekend, so my friend Eileen and I dropped in here min-week. Our servers were many AND overbearing. Can you just let a girl eat, please? But the food was GREAT. I especially liked the escalavida (eggplant, red peppers, hazelnut romesco, goat cheese) and “greg’s meatballs” (wagyu beef pork and more hazelnut romesco.) Not a place to take your parents unless they are the hip and happening sort, but fun nonetheless. I also really like the bar, particularly if you can get a stool. The Verdict: Fun. Good fun. And good food.
Publican Quality Meats, 825 W Fulton Market. Dropped in for lunch one weekend afternoon and had a GREAT sandwich. I opted for “Better than a Gyro” which boasted braised pork belly, raita, escalivada, pea shoots, and calabrian chili orange vinagrette on griddled flatbread. The only let down were the homemade potato chips served with, which were oddly tasteless. Service is hip and sweet. And the price is right. (The $10 sandwich.) More of a butchershop and cafe really–definitely not a place to linger–but still cool. Ask for a tour of the prep are and meat locker downstairs. The Verdict: Great for lunch.
Blackbird, 619 W Randolph Street. My colleague and I were invited to a special networking dinner here and I was really excited about things because I think the last time I was at Blackbird was like 2006? But oh so bitterly disappointed. (Bad of me, as a guest, to complain.) Portions were eensy-weensey (and you know I’m a fan of normal sized portions) and nothing really clicked. I still want to find out what was in the butternut squash soup because it reeked of alcohol, which wasn’t mentioned anywhere on the menu. The Verdict: If you don’t go out to eat a lot, you’ll be fine here.
Zocalo, 358 W Ontario. My friend Christina and I dropped in here one weekend and were pleasantly surprised. Firstly, I loved the decor–all Mexican art and flowers and Frida Kahlo. Secondly, our server was awesome; I was mesmerized by his deep, deep voice. Thirdly, the food was pretty darn good. I wasn’t too experimental–I just had mixed tacos–but they were pretty awesome tacos. Also enough food for three people, but the price was right. The Verdict: Fun. I’d go back here, especially for one of their private rooms.
Sultan’s Market, 2057 W North Avenue. I woke up one morning, dreaming of falafel. So I went to Sultan’s, a Middle Eastern deli in Chicago’s Bucktown. And it was fine. Huge portions. It was dark though, and not in a good way. Needs an interior decorator. And a scrub brush. Too much going on. The Verdict: Meh.
Coming up…too many places to mention, really. Plus, I go back to Brazil.
I’ve probably said this before. I love my Chicago local. Frontier, on Milwaukee Ave. It’s the food, mainly. Along with the soundtrack. But really it’s the food.
For someone who was gone for a while, this is casual American bar food, but grown-up. Venison chili, DUCK TACOS, pulled boar sandwiches, rabbit and dumplings, and DID I MENTION THE DUCK TACOS? And the oyster menu? And how on Tuesdays, they do $2 half pints?? The beer menu is pretty awesome as well.
Now if only they had free wifi. That would be awesome. But a minor quibble, that.
Here’s another example of how awesome they are:
They’re open for lunch now, during the week (except Mondays) but word doesn’t seem to have gotten out yet because it’s Friday as I sit here and write this and it’s pretty quiet. But that’s a welcome change from the craziness of Big Star.
My lead photo? That’s my lunch today. An Ahi tuna sandwich with crispy tobasco shallots, sprouts, WASABI GINGER MAYO, and rosemary fries. (!!!) Pretty great, for a casual Friday lunch. Excellent, actually.
The more things change, the more things stay the same. Sometimes the simplest explanation IS the explanation. Sometimes, you have to leave to go home. Or come home to leave. Thankfully, the winter of my homecoming last year has not been repeated. Chicago is bright and cool and BRISK. The skies are stunningly, vividly blue. I’ve worn my boots just once. And my down coat — its buttons lost somewhere between last year and this year — also just once. Everything is lovely, but it makes me feel like we are on the cusp of something. On the cusp of something big. Something huge. Something terrible.
I am frightened.
So, um, I’ll just keep going out to eat then. Here’s where I’ve been lately:
Boiler Room, 2210 N California Ave: I loved the vibe of Boiler Room. I loved the loos. (Chicago Transit doors and, even, sound effects.) I loved the beer selection and I thought our service was pretty good too. But the pizza? Undercooked, and while at least the pepperoni had some taste to it, The Purist (mozzarella, basil, balsamic reduction) was pretty tasteless. The Verdict: Meh. So much promise, but not fully realized.
Keefer’s, 20 W Kinzie: My NY Strip Steak was good. The creamed spinach was good. The potato croquettes were excellent. But our server took FOREVER to take our order, and then he claimed we didn’t order calamari to start (we did) and then at some point, a fist fight broke out between other tables. ??? Oh, and I should mention that my friend who made the reservation is a very dependable, reliable person and I was there when she called Keefer’s and booked the table. Upon arrival, they had no record of our booking. They worked things out which was good of them, but still all very odd. Oh!! And then, when the bill came, we asked for it to be divided up amongst credit cards and that was one of the most complicated conversations I’ve ever had, for what was a basic math thing. The Verdict: I’d go somewhere else before I went back here, but I did like the vibe of the room with the radios in it.
Nori, 954 W Diversey: I dropped in here for a quick dinner after getting a haircut at Salon Blue on Sheffield, a place I’ve been going to since 1998! (Go see Amy. Tell her Krista sent you. Funnily, Chicago Food Snob has been going to Amy forever too!) Amazing. Anyhow, obviously Penny’s isn’t doing as well as it used to because this used to be part of Penny’s next door. I sat at the bar and had the Red Nori (spicy tuna, spicy shrimp, and avocado covered with tempura crumbs, red tobiko, and unagi sauce) and it was pretty enjoyable. But then I had the Crunchy Spicy Tuna maki and it was so depressing, it made me cry. There was no crunch. It was like they forgot a step. Roll the maki in raw tempura crumbs and…sigh. The Verdict: OK. Not great. I will keep searching.
Roka Akor, 11 W Illinois. I dropped in here for lunch with some colleagues this past Wednesday during Restaurant Week. The restaurant was curiously empty. Apparently, no one in The Loop wants to go north of the river, because Petterino’s is freaking PACKED every single afternoon. And Petterino’s is just good. And not as vibe-y as Roka Akor. Fascinating. Well, I had the restaurant week special and although I thought the Wagyu beef and kimchi dumplings were pretty luscious, the rest of the meal — the butterfish roll and the barbecued pork loin — were uninspiring. At $22 though, this was a very good value. The Verdict: Good. And the bar area seems good for solo dining.
So there we are. Some recent tries in Chicago. Until next time! Let’s hope it doesn’t snow like crazy in between.