I like meeting people from the Internet. People like Francis who says to me one day, “I’m going to Lima by myself. You should come!” And I say things like “Francis, you can’t say things like this to me because I will actually come with you.” And before you know it, Wendy and Maureen are coming too and Francis turns out to be the TRAVEL MASTER ORGANIZER and has an agenda for us and everything and we eat all the fruit and drink all the pisco sours and leave Lima very very happy.
Francis proved to be the master organizer yet again when he marched us little ducklings off to Tanta, the new Peruvian place in Chicago by Peruvian chef Gaston Arcurio, whom some may be familiar with from World’s 50 Best Astrid & Gaston. (Almost wrote Gastrid and Ashton there. Whoops.)
I’m worried about Tanta’s location. Although it’s in River North, it’s in a bit of a desolate stretch of Grand close to Lasalle. Signage is also a little discreet for River North, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. I can imagine the tourists walking by…”Should we go here? I don’t know…Tanta? What does that mean? Do they have steak here? Do you think I can put ketchup on it? I hope they open at 5.”
But once inside, I love the space. I love the bar and would happily come back here to dine solo. I love that it’s not too uber-stuffed with tables and chairs. There’s an appreciation of personal space here that is just really nice.
That being said, personal space is on overdrive at the back of the restaurant at our table, which is too wide and too long for our party of five. I am the fifth wheel. And the restaurant is LOUD and my hearing is not as bionic as it used to be. I am alone at the end of the table, but the lovely and gracious Mr. Stashwick is a wonderful table-mate.
Enough babble. Let’s talk CHICKEN. I cannot profess my love of a full roast chicken enough. Roast chicken is one of my absolute favorite things to eat and to make. (Yes, you read that correctly…to make!) While I hate restaurant chicken breast entrees (too frozen Restaurant Depot for me), I love a pick-at-it-all-day-and-all-night-long roast chicken. And Tanta’s is probably one of the best I’ve ever had. The presentation is awesome…so many sides and lovely crisp potatoes that are even crisp the next morning when I polish them off as leftovers for breakfast. Seriously, this is very good stuff, very excellent, supremely competent stuff.
The Verdict: I will be back here soon. You should go too. Maybe we should go together and drink all the Pisco Sours together.
P.S. It’s perhaps worthy to note that we received special treatment the night we came in because Francis was super-excited about the restaurant’s opening and had been in touch with Gaston Arcurio and staff. The chef came out a few times to talk with us, along with some of the other senior staff. Also, we were comped a few dishes; my apologies but because I was not in charge of the bill, I’m not sure what exactly we were comped but it was a small amount in relation to the overall bill. We tipped as if we had not been comped, of course.
I woke up one morning, craving enchiladas. I can’t explain how these things happen to me, except that they do sometimes. While still horizontally ensconced in Frette, I did a bit of thumbing around on the old iPhone until Flo popped up. Good reviews, good enchiladas, and easily accessible by Divvy Bike, my newest infatuation.
I showed up to Flo by myself and took a seat at the bar. I wasn’t the only one, alone at the bar, placing my order. That gave me instant confidence in this “New Mexico” restaurant. Normally, in this part of town, I don’t run into that many solo diners. Especially this early in the morning. But I was one of at least three.
The enchiladas arrived. They were simple and perfect. And at $9, also a pretty good value. By the time I left, the line for Flo was out the door. Hipsters, families, and tables for one.
The Verdict: I can only speak for Sunday brunch — which I’ve done here now three Sundays in a row — but you should go. Get the enchiladas.
Long-term readers will know that on Fridays during the summer, I can leave work early if I want to. And I’ve been trying to do that this summer, trying to get out there and explore places and do things and see things. Someone told me that I would love Beatrix so I went to Beatrix on one of my Friday afternoons. Because I am trusting like that.
And I did like Beatrix. Sort of. I mean, I liked the chairs. There are a lot of different chairs at Beatrix. It’s one of those new-school/old-school all day free-wifi restaurants with lots and lots of chairs for people so you can sit down or you can stand up or you can stay for 20 minutes or you can stay for EIGHT HOURS (like the people across from me did). Lots of interesting, different chairs. Really, there’s something for everyone. Really, it felt like a total ripoff of London’s Hoxton Hotel.
“Have the burger,” some guy at the bar urged me. “I just did and it was really really good.”
Apparently that man has never had a burger in HIS ENTIRE LIFE.
Because the burger was shite. Super shite. Overcooked sawdust.
And the fries were undercooked.
And the pickled vegetables were still too raw.
When I left, I was angry at myself for wasting my Friday lunch here. Very angry.
All that being said, they were jackhammering the road outside the restaurant and you never would have known it inside the restaurant. That’s some good sound-proofing they’ve got going there.
I eat at Carriage House a lot. Sometimes, I get off the train after work and I think to myself “Whole wheat pasta in the microwave at home or dinner at the bar at Carriage House?” That is WAY too easy a decision to make. I like it here. I like their wines, I like their service, I like their food. Sadly, the Lyonnaise salad and its soft pillows of pork belly is off the menu for now — I’ve been eating a lot of that — but then the asparagus popped up and it is LUSCIOUS. Slow poached egg, sherry and sorghum vinaigrette, cornbread crumbs, crawfish tails and béarnaise. Pretty fantastic. But also, apparently, now off the menu. God damnit.
So here’s what I think of though while I sit at the bar at Carriage House. I look out the window and I see all the people all going to all the sports bars and I wonder…with food this good RIGHT HERE, why would you go to a sports bar for waffle fries? Why?
Reunited and it feels so good. Long-time readers might remember Canadia Boy (aka Bryan) and Stacey from my London years, they of the lovely wedding in Biarritz which included a side-trip to San Sebastian. They too have decamped to Washington DC, so along with Julie and DC’s favorite morning show TV host, @financialista. We found ourselves at the lovely and peaceful Izakaya Seki in the U Street Corridor, where we promptly ordered everything off the menu. A real Japanese menu will all sorts of real Japanese things and no volcano rolls in sight. Each item better than the last. I would eat here every day if I could, and bring Bryan and Stacey and Julie and Jessica with me.
While in DC, I forced Julie to go to an oyster place (palace!) and watch me eat. And here’s what I realized…it’s no fun having lunch with someone, ordering oysters, but being the only person who eats the oysters. I REALLY wanted Julie to like oysters. But she doesn’t. So I ate all six by myself. And I felt a little lonely, even though Julie was sitting RIGHT THERE.
I liked Pearl Dive. If I could do it all over again, I would definitely eat in the bar area and try to pick up some guys in seersucker and boat shoes.
The Verdict: Do it. If you like oysters, that is. Gentlemen, if you’re reading this, wear your boat shoes and your belts with those boats on them. I’ll be there, waiting for you.
Julie left us here in Chicago and moved to DC. Her boss’ boss’ boss in the President now. That’s pretty cool. So I went out to DC for a visit, hoping for an intro. When I was a kid, we considered everything south of Pennsylvania “The South,”which I think is funny now as a Midwestern transplant. That being said, visiting DC made me miss the East Coast and most notably, the preppiness. I miss preppies…seersucker, boat shoes, Lacoste, belts with boats and whales on them. And I miss the food…clams and clams and more clams. I did NOT have clams when I was in DC but I did eat a Proof, a wine bar full of beautiful people. The gnocchi was beautiful. I would say you should get some, but it’s not on the menu anymore. Sorry!
The Verdict: A nice meal and a very nice wine list. I’d go back here.
P.S. Julie did not introduce me to the president. She owes me.
Ah, Little Goat. You are trying to kill ALL OF US, aren’t you? There is nothing healthy on your menu, is there? I ordered the Caesar salad once, which is generally not a healthy choice either, but I like how you took it to the next level and DEEP-FRIED THE ANCHOVIES. Thank you for that, thank you. Above, my fish tostadas. What a beautiful mess. How deliciously engrossing. (Really, this was really delicious.) Ah, my cholesterol, my arteries, my heart. Really, we are all going to die, thanks to Stephanie Izard.
The Verdict: Don’t go here if you have had long conversations with your doctor about your lab results.
I had in my head this idea. That I wouldn’t go anywhere for July and August. That I wold stay in town and try to enjoy Chicago. This is my second weekend of that, and frankly speaking, I’m doing a terrible job with all this. Instead of relaxing and exploring, I’m finding myself at Home Depot, Target, the Post Office (!!!) and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Worst bit? I REALLY want to go to IKEA. NOOOOOOOO.
I did have a very nice morning at the Wicker Park Farmer’s Market last Sunday though, helped by some Divvy bikes and some classical music. (But then…stressful…Divvy didn’t show that I had ever returned my bike. They’ve still got some kinks to work out there, apparently.)
Where I’m going with all this is that for the first time in ages, I did take a bit of a break and finally took advantage of work summer hours on Friday and met @Zimmerino for lunch at Siena Tavern. I was a bit nervous about this lunch because Siena Tavern is one of those cavernous River North places with filament flightbulbs and cheap bathrooms. (Not even a soap dispenser. Seriously. Just a container of Softsoap.)
And I was somewhat right to be nervous. Because here’s how this all went down.
Me: “Hi, I don’t have a reservation but I’d like table for two if you’ve got one.” (It was 1:30 pm on a Friday, close to the end of the lunch rush.)
Them: “We’re all booked in the restaurant right now, but you can find a table in the bar area. It’s first come first served.” Fine.
Me, sitting at the bar, about 15 minutes later, “Hi, we’re going to move to that table over there that just opened up if you don’t mind.”
Bartender: “I don’t know if you’re allowed to do that. Have you asked anyone if you can do that?”
Me: “Um, I guess I’m sort of asking you. The front desk said it was okay, so maybe we can just close out our tab and move over…”
Bartender: “Well, I don’t know if you’re allowed to do that but if that’s what they told you at the front desk, I guess you can.”
And then we ordered some food that took ages and ages to arrive. The brussel sprouts salad was rough and dry, and the coccoli, which everyone raves about (dough puffs slightly bigger than golf balls, prosciutto di parma wrapped around stracchino cheese, “drizzled” with truffle honey) was okay, but for me, the honey ruined everything. Too sweet, too cloying. Then the waitstaff disappeared forever and ever. And then we had some gnocchi that I can only describe as overcooked wet blobs of something in a decent cream sauce, and then a prosciutto, pear and arugula pizza where the pears had been “drizzled” with powdered sugar. I don’t want powdered sugar on my pizza. (But the arugula was very good and fresh, and the pizza crust itself was nicely done.) Ah, and then the waitstaff disappeared again and us and the table next to us spent a lot of time trying to flag someone, anybody, down.
Best line? Our waitperson walked by with two very fine looking beers on her tray, stunning in color with fine foamy heads. I had just gotten a beer, but it wasn’t anywhere near as nice looking as the two she had on her tray. “What are those? I asked her.
“Beers,” she answered.
The Verdict: Inconsistent cooking and flavor combos that didn’t work for me particularly well. Too much sweetness. In general, not my scene. But many people will like it here.
I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with this blog for a while and the simple answer is…I DON’T KNOW.
But I received this e-mail from Virgin Atlantic today and it certainly got ME thinking…here’s what it said…
Our Reward Seat Sale starts today. For two weeks only (until 17 June 2013) you can book a reward flight to a dazzling destination for 25% less miles* – helping you take your travel plans that much further!
And if you need a few more miles to get in reach of your ideal ticket, we’ll help by giving you 15% extra when you top up your miles** before 30 June. It’s available whether you Buy Miles, Transfer Miles, Gift Miles or even when using Miles Booster. So the choice is yours.
So for example…hypothetically speaking…if you wanted to fly from London to Chicago (or vice versa), you could do so for 28,000 miles plus £240/$371.20 for taxes/fees/surcharges. Now that’s pretty awesome.
As I write this, I’ve spent 46.1% of my life in The Great State of New York, 28.2% of my life in Chicago, and the rest elsewhere. (And I’m 29!!!!!)
There are things that drive me crazy about Chicago. Super crazy. Like…
Public transport in Chicago is half of what it should be. One night, when I was recently repatriated, I set myself up at the bus stop. A nice man, in a Cubs hat, stopped me. “You know there is no bus here after midnight, right?” It was 12:15 a.m. No, I didn’t know that. Chicago is a world class city. I thought we had world class transportation. $12 later, I got myself home in a taxi. I miss a good night bus. (I know they do exist in Chicago. I could take the Ashland bus, for example. But it doesn’t run in the wee hours.)
Winter in Chicago. I hate you. I hate you. I hate you. The blizzard of 2011 was my great welcome. I adopted a 16-year-old German exchange student at O’Hare and took him home for 48 hours. He played a lot of Call of Duty, and I tried to figure out how to feed us. I lived here during the blizzard of 1999, when the roof of my building caved in, taking all the kitchen cabinets on the 3rd and 2nd floors with it. (Thankfully, I lived on the ground floor.) I hate winter. I hate boots. I hate coats. I hate the dark.
Khaki trousers on women. I’ve written about this before. Seriously, what are you thinking? If the New York Times lady had included this, I totally would have taken her side 200%.
Jewel-Osco. I go into Jewel and I’m like totally, “OMG where is the food? I mean, there’s some fruit here, but where is the rest of the food?” Because everything is in boxes and cans. This may be more of a statement about America. I miss Waitrose. (The leading photo on their site right now is of CHAMPAGNE.) P.S. I MISS EASILY ACCESSIBLE CHEESE.
Six-way Intersections. Seriously.
I’m afraid I’m going to get shot. The bar down the street from me got shot up the year before last. On a weekly basis, my neighborhood Facebook page is all like “OMG, did you hear that???” What’s with the gunshots, Chicago?? If you want tourism dollars — particularly from all those countries where their currency lets them buy ALL of Michigan Avenue — people just can’t get shot.
PIZZA. I JUST WANT A SLICE. A real slice. Thank God for that bagel place by the Whole Foods on North Avenue or I would die a salt-bagel-deprived life. Pizza and bagels really have nothing to do with each other, EXCEPT WHEN THEY ARE COMBINED!
Sports Bars and Bars Chockablock with TVs. I am not really into sports. Or TVs. I’ve tried. I’m just not. There are so many other things to do, read, see, etc. This is a total personal preference, but please list for me the bars in Chicago without televisions, and I will gladly visit them with you.
Steamed hot dog buns. SUCK.
People who say they’re from New York. So this happens a lot. I’m in Chicago and someone complains about something and I ask them where they’re from and they say they’re from New York and I ask where from because I’m from New York and it turns out the person is really from Ohio or Pennsylvania or somewhere but they lived in New York for three years and they tell everyone they’re from New York. Note to all: I lived in London for a while. I don’t say I’m from London. (But I still love it to pieces.)
Dude, I am all about being holistic. There are a lot of positives here.
The airport — Chicago O’Hare — is easy to get to. After spending a lot of time in Brazil last year, I cannot even begin to explain how much I appreciate the Blue Line to O’Hare. And they have nice tortas at O’Hare. (Mexican sandwiches.)
I like char dogs. (Grilled hot dogs, although see above about steamed buns.)
People are nice, most of the time.
Cheap manicures and pedicures. $35 for both if you’re lucky.
The grid system makes it hard to get lost.
BEER. From all over.
Liz Phair, when she was good.
Late May through early September.
I own an apartment that I could never, ever afford in NY or London.
I like tacos.
The WGN morning show. (They’re doing something right there. That team has been there forever.)
NPR. So soothing.
Anything from Lao Sze Chuan.
I don’t know if I’ve really said anything. Maybe this is just a brain fart. BUT I WARNED YOU. That is all. Go for it.
I was born in Queens. Raised on Long Island. Call me Bridge & Tunnel but I am more New Yorker than a lot of people. And I miss my people. I miss our directness, our way of talking. In London, I learned to talk AROUND the subject; in New York, I address it straight on.
Three nights in New York City. Three nights that were enough, but not enough. I need to do this more often.
Friday: Dinner with Shinny and Monica at Shin’s place on the Upper West Side, where Shinny tested her recipes on us. (Shinny is an MBA and Michelin chef, now doing her own thing with food.)
Saturday: Food tour of the West Village with Sidewalks of New York with a tour guide who had had gastric bypass surgery. (Fscinating career choice.) Then a visit to the Apple store and a great chin wag with Jessica (Londoners might remember her as Ripe London) over wine and cheese at Bar Boulud. Afterwards, I arrived back at my hotel and stopped in the lobby to pick up some (more) wine and cheese (complimentary, this time). Then, a late night fight in the hotel room above me where I heard a woman yell “Get your hands off me! Get your hands off me!” over and over and over and over and over and over again. I called the front desk. I tried not to listen.
Monday: Sore head. Sore heart. Bagel full of suitcases from Ess-a-bagel on 1st and 21st. Lunch with Shinny at David Burke Kitchen, in the basement of my hotel, where the duck meatballs were spicy but the service was missing, hiding, gone for most of our meal. Shinny brought me some Excedrin, like a good friend, and I got in a taxi and I went to the airport and I bought some magazines and I flew home. Sore head, sore heart.