Thursday, March 7, 2013

BottleRock in Napa. I want to go there.

I can't remember where I first saw it, but this BottleRock festival scheduled for May in Napa is like a gift from the gods, and it has me pining away to go, go go. Whoever thought, "Oh, hey, how about we stage a big awesome Lollapalooza for grownups in wine country?" was basically a genuis. The headliners are the Black Keys who I first fell in love with at Lolla maybe five years ago while sipping that cold minty iced tea they always serve at the festival to try to keep the sweaty, stoned 19 year olds from passing out in the slop from dehydration. This Napa idea? SO. MUCH. BETTER. Also there's Joan Jett, Alabama Shakes, the Black Crowes, Kings of Leon, Jane's Addiction...and foie, if you're into that.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Review: Burger Bar

Burger Bar is operating on a go-big-or-go-home philosophy for gourmands. If you like streetwise, trash talking burgers, go to Five Guys. If you want to wax poetic about organic sustainability, go to Epic Burger. This is where you go for a $13 grass fed burger that's topped with brie and onion jam. Most of the super-decadent "stacker" options on the menu seem absolutely cray-cray to me, but I ordered the aforementioned Les Urbain and didn't regret it one bit. Did I mention there are truffle fries and shakes bigger than your arm? If I were to swear an oath to keep it down to one burger every year, this is where I'd go.

Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

Review: Epic Burger

When I bailed off the pescatarian wagon early last year, I was curious to try Epic Burger. I'd been before to the one in the South Loop with some co-workers and was impressed by the portobello burger and the shakes (holy mother of God, the shakes...). But really no matter how you sex it up, a portobello burger is a mouthful of mushroom. Good as it was, it didn't nearly preview the deliciousness that their real burgers deliver. These are pure, gorgeously prepared..uh, meat, with tons of flavor. They're sticklers for using grass-fed beef without antibiotics or hormones, and other forms of real food fit for human consumption. And while a visit there always feels decadent, they give you options to keep it from turning into an epic binge. My favorite order is a junior turkey burger with grilled onions and a fat-free Milk and Honey smoothie. Major burger bliss.
Epic Burger on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Getting Caught Up

Dear Bang Bang, marry me.
A whole lot has happened in the Chicago food universe since I last regularly posted. So here's a quick list of some of the weighty matters I'll jump on... and others I'm just telling you about to testify:

1. Grant Achatz has expanded his empire with Next and Aviary, and I haven't been to either one because I'm the working mom of a toddler and don't have time for that Facebook reservation b.s. If I have to hire a personal assistant to make it happen, it's not going to happen.

2. Yes, now I sometimes cook in a slow cooker and have mastered freezer meals. But I don't drive a minivan, wear Crocs, or clip coupons from the Ladies Home Journal, so don't go jumping to conclusions, ok?

3. I took a job at Steppenwolf Theatre because it's an amazing, inspiring place run by great people who are making Chicago a smarter, better city with their courageous brand of visceral, passionate theater.... This has little to do with food except that it's now part of my job to regularly eat with my donors on that stretch of Halsted that holds the theater, as well as BOKA, Alinea, Balena, and the Rustic House. God bless the arts. They are my people.

4. After 15 years as a pescatarian, I returned to eating meat a year ago.This involved going off the rails for a few months at first (veal ragout on day 3, if memory serves) but I've got it under control now. I can't get used to bacon or pork sausage though, so I'll be the only person in all of blogdom not barraging you with pork, pork, pork, all day long, pork. Not even if it's on a doughnut with maple sugar sprinkles. Pass.

5. I started juicing this summer after having the absolute crap scared out of me by the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead... in an inspiring sort of way. Juicing is fantastic. Juicing is awesome. If I had a personal assistant who could run to Stanley's and then scrub down my chunky juicer parts later, I would do it daily. As such, this isn't the case, but we do what we can.

6. My sister in law and her new husband have gone vegan. They're coming to stay for a weekend. And now I'm trying not to be one of those people who bitches about having to feed vegans.

7. Can we talk about places like Burger Bar and Epic Burger? Sweet Jesus. Yes, we can. Also there is Bang Bang Pie Shop, which probably requires a three-part investigative treatment, as they're obviously doing God's work.

8. My good friend Don Sritong had to close his Just Grapes wine store on Washington after seven years (booooooo), but is currently working on a few new concepts with investors. At least one will be a wine bar. Don attacks every project he works on with a singular passion that makes most hardworking people look like deadbeat stoners, so I'm excited to see what materializes. Also? I'm jealous that he gets to fly around the country going on research trips to wine bars in the meantime. College counselors should really ask you to consider these factors when you weigh your future, non?

9. Another friend, Michael Taus, closed his restaurant Zealous after over 20 years. The last night of service was on sub-zero New Year's Eve, during which a group of his biggest fans gathered for a final dinner. I can't show you the pictures from that night because a certain Mrs. Taus raided the bar's tequila supply on our behalf after dinner. However, I'm totally excited to try Michael's newest brainchild Da Lobsta (DA LOBSTA!), and will be happy share those photos.

10. I've become a fan of the Vivino app to keep track of what's stashed in my wine closet. We'll talk.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Recipe: Put Down the Gun, Take the Stromboli

Ciao, people! I've been missing the blog so much the past few weeks, I've decided to re-engage. It started with an invitation to a Superbowl party a couple of weeks back. Half of the couple that hosted is a chef of the I-helped-Charlie-Trotter-become-Charlie-Trotter caliber, so it's not like you just pick up some funky  guac at the Jewel on the way over and ask where the serving bowls are when you show up in their gleaming all-chef-grade kitchen. This called for focus.

After cruising through about 40 predictable appetizer recipes on Epicurious, I landed on a familiar name: Stromboli. Hmmm...stromoboli, stromboli ... why do I know this? Naturally I Googled. Two things came up: 1) An unusually active volcanic island off the coast of Sicily and 2) a lot of cheap restaurants, mostly in Florida and NYC that specialize in an American invention that's basically a chubby pizza dough breadstick filled with cured meats and cheese. While I didn't recall ever having one, I sensed this had  real Superbowl potential.

This is the kind of versatile food I love. They're great hot from the oven, but  leave them in the fridge for a day or two and they just get better and better, even cold. And they work well as a meal or a heavy appetizer for a crowd. I bought the dough at the Whole Foods pizza counter (Pizza guy: Three pounds? Seriously? We sell it by the ball. Me: How much does a ball weigh? Guy: A pound and a half. Me: Ok then. So. That's two dough balls. Guy: Continues to eye me suspiciously.)

I tweaked the Epicurious recipe to use prosciutto more than salami, to cut down on the fat and grease factor.

1 lb pizza dough, thawed
1/4 grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 oz thinly sliced Genoa salami
3 oz prosciutto
3 oz sliced provolone or shredded mozzarella cheese (tried both, tough to tell the difference really)
1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Quarter dough. Roll out 1 piece into a rectangular-ish shape on a floured surface and sprinkle evenly with 1 tablespoon parmesan and black pepper to taste. Arrange two slices of prosciutto, one slice salami, and a quarter of the cheese in an even layer over dough. Roll up dough around it (if you think it looks obscene now, wait until it swells up in the oven, girl), then tuck ends under and pinch edges to seal. Ecco la! Major bread phallus situation in your oven.

Make 3 more rolls in same manner and arrange 2 inches apart on a lightly greased baking sheet. Brush lightly with egg and cut 3 (1/2-inch) steam vents in each roll. Bake in middle of oven until golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

If you're serving it as an app, like moi, just wrap those little darlings up and trot them over to the party site. I cut them there on an angle and served them with a bowl of solidly awesome marinara that was about $7 a jar at Whole Foods, but so worth it. Some peeps dipped them in the sauce, others skipped it.

Huge hit, with the friends, our nanny, my two year old son who threw a tantrum when we ran out...

Funny aside: The second time I Googled stromboli, I hit the etymology jackpot. Apparently the word is an Italianized version of a Greek term that means "large, swelling form"...Volcanic action, indeed. And then, of course - how could I have missed it! -  there was Stromboli the Disney character villain in Pinocchio. A smoking hothead with a giant, round belly.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Recipe: Chocolate Fondue Brunch

In GrubStreet NYC's post today on chef cribs - inspiration!:

"While The Wall Street Journal takes us into Max Brenner’s Manhattan townhouse, where he throws nonalcoholic breakfast parties capped off by chocolate fondue..."

Be still my heart, Mr. Brenner, I'm totally stealing that idea!...Except for the alcohol part. No need to make any pretense about virtue when there's a tub of molten chocolate on the table at my house. This orange-infused recipe sounds like a lovely contender for the job:

Bittersweet Chocolate-Orange Fondue

Bon App├ętit | February 1997

1/3 cup whipping cream

1 1/2 teaspoons (packed) grated orange peel

8 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

3 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

8 1-inch pieces pound cake

8 1-inch pieces angel food cake

8 fresh strawberries, hulled

2 kiwis, peeled, each cut into 4 rounds

1 small pear, cored, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 large banana, cut into 8 rounds

1 orange, peel and white pith removed, cut into sections

8 dried Calimyrna figs

8 dried apricot halves

Bring whipping cream and grated orange peel to simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Reduce heat to low. Add chopped chocolate and 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier; whisk until mixture is smooth. Remove fondue from heat and blend in remaining 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier.

Transfer fondue to fondue pot. Place over candle or canned heat burner. Serve with cake pieces and fruit for dipping.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Guess I'm a NoMi Girl

Funny thing. A couple of weekends ago, we went to L20 to celebrate my husband's birthday, the second of our two annual Go-Big Dinner Events. The other is our anniversary in September, when we went to NoMi last.

At L20, we had the "luxury" tasting menu - how can that qualifier not make you snort quietly to yourself? - with the wine pairings. Looking back, I feel like something was missing. The food and wine were spectacular, and given my pescatarian status, about as perfect a match as I could dream up. But the space felt somehow blank (sorry Dirk Denison, I still adore you for this) and the service was...flat and technical. Maybe it was all the beige decor and grey suits.

Comparatively, I still remember the NoMi experience vividly and how our waiter was so adept at conducting our meal while we talked about food and wine throughout the night, I wanted him to sit down for dessert. He joked that he was morose that I wouldn't take any of his recommendations. He sent over the sommelier to chat about Charbono even though our bottle was far from luxury status by their standards. He gave us his card at the end and said he would love it if we asked for him on our next visit. In short, we had an interactive experience that was, um, several hundred dollars less than L20 and somehow much more gratifying.

I would love to tell you how the L20 night stacked up against our visit to Alinea, but we were with several of our wine industry friends that night. So I actually have no recollection of the service at all. Just a lot of amazing food and laughter.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Taste of Next

As the opening of Next approaches on April 6th-ish (955 W. Fulton), the Achatz/Kokonas promotional machine is in full swing. Dish just published a sampling of items from the first menu. My fave is the lowly anchovy elevated to elegant status on a quail egg, done all soft a fab on the inside. Gorgeous as a Vosges truffle....not to mention personally relevant since "Aunt Chovy" is my mom's nickname to all of my cousins, and she's no slouch when it comes to presentation either.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Eating Paris 1906

I just saw this short video about the menu development underway at Next, Grant Achatz's anticipated new restaurant. The concept is innovative in that the menu theme will dramatically change every few months, with Paris in 1906 being the first.

Watching them plate this dish reminds me of my most favorite cookbook ever - the posthumous publication of Toulouse-Lautrec's personal recipes, circa 1905, entitled The Art of Cuisine. Oh Monsieur Lautrec... I could spend hours talking about how he was a brilliantly gifted misfit in search of acceptance from the Parisian women celebrities he adored from afar, and eventually made icons during his short life. Almost better, he was a sparkling wit and a skilled hunter with deep family pockets that he used to support his true love of the kitchen. Like his art, this book is an endless joy that tells so much about the person who adored nothing more than throwing an over-the-top and totally out-of-hand-party for his circle of now-famous and infamous friends. You can find it at used book dealers through Amazon.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Only Gift You Need

This holiday, I'm all about ease. (That, and accepting the chaos, but that's another matter.) So rather than tax your already taxed yuletide attention span with a long list of potential foodie gifts, I'm going to give it to you straight.

Get all your foodie-fied friends the new cookbook published by the New York Times.


1. I'm hearing good things. Mostly from David Lebovitz, who thinks it's surprisingly great.

2. How often does the NYT publish a cookbook? Like, nevah. Hardly anyone has it yet, and its mere publication makes it a momentous event... Especially if the NYT doesn't exist in 5 years. Imagine the eBay value then!

3. With its significant heft, you can also use it to kill bugs, work your core, as a hotplate, or to press your own gravlax.