Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday Confession Box

I guess since it's Ash Wednesday, I'm feeling a little confessional. Either that, or too much Facebook.

1. I'm not watching Top Chef this season, even though I relish it and have developed a crush on Colicchio. (Bald men are my thing. Food is my thing. You do the math.) I guess I just needed a break from all the lust... not to mention Padma and Gail who are shifty, uncharming creatures.

2. I can't eat anything called a pastie. Forget it.

3. The worst thing I ever put in my mouth was a gritty Polish duck soup at my friend's mother's house on Easter. She invited me to break bread with her family on the high holiest of Catholic holidays, and all I can remember thinking is that that soup is what the waiters serve in hell.

4. I have consumed orange Swedish caviar from a tube and enjoyed it.

5. Usually when I see a beautiful gourmet cupcake, I wish I could just lick off all the frosting and be done with it.

6. I'm a terrible baker because I modify every recipe I get my hands on, and I'm impatient as hell.

7. The only reason I went out with my husband on our first date was because he invited me to Le Colonial. He sensed this immediately and will tell you the story in great detail.

8. I love anything invented or perfected by monks: cappuccino, Chimay, Champagne, brandy. I once ran smack into a woolly Trappist monk entering the Panera Bread on Diversey and took it as a definite sign that God was winking at me for this.

9. My mom drank a glass of wine a week when she was pregnant with me. Explains a lot.

10. I once spent a week in my 20s eating nothing but dessert and drinking wine and cocktails. It was seriously fantastic.

This is only fun if you share some now.

BYOB Like a Wine Scion...or This Guy

Chicago is a great, big, fat awesome city, and I definitely put BYOBs on the list of reasons why. It was a completely foreign concept to me when I moved here 10+ years ago. Drive-thru package liquors? Suuuure. Everyone knows that's a stellar idea for beverage enjoyment while making the roads safer. But the thought of bringing your own wine into a restaurant? It only meant one word to me: corkage.

My friend Don, of the French Laundry fretting below, is presenting a BYO Basics class on Thursday, March 12th, at his shop Just Grapes on Washington. You should go. Why? Because, as he astutely points out, our city has literally hundreds of BYOs, and, "We aren't talking second-rate establishments or fly-by-night joints that can't afford a liquor license. These businesses are shining examples of the culinary ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit of our great city." Places like Schwa, Think Cafe, Coast Sushi, HB, and Bonsoiree. Places we love for letting us trot in with a bottle or two we've been dying to open.

Date: Thursday, March 12th
Time: 6 PM - 7:30 PM
Cost: $25 before March 6th
Place: 560 W. Washington Ave.

Jean Iverson, author of BYOB Chicago, will share BYOB etiquette, a brief history of this restaurant species in Chicago, and other helpful tips for picking your pairing.

Oh, and I'll be there.

When Trotter and Keller Whiff It

Two friends told me recently about hugely disappointing experiences at restaurants any foodie would have looked forward to for weeks. The first case was a couple we know from Austin who were in town over Valentine's weekend. As former Chicagoans (and one once a sous chef), they couldn't imagine a better way to celebrate than at Charlie Trotter's, so they booked for the first seating that Saturday night. Their verdict? Cold food courses that shouldn't have been and terrible service. The second case was my friend Don, the owner of Just Grapes wine store, who dined at The French Laundry a few days ago with his wife. They were surprised to find it so lacking that they actually spoke to the general manager after the meal.

Most Americans have much bigger problems at the moment, but it is an enormous letdown when you've earmarked the cash - and in both of these cases, booked the flights - to make a pilgrimage to a sacred temple of gastronomy for naught. Terrible service and dumb food mistakes just shouldn't happen in some places, and if they do, they should be addressed by the management immediately...not in a lukewarm apology on the way out.

Naturally, no diner should passively sit back and watch the suckitude continue. As a waiter, I always appreciated the guests who swiftly, quietly, and respectfully told me exactly what it was that had just ticked them off so that I could correct or make up for it on the spot. You can't imagine the things I'd produce for these kind people, with the blessing of my manager.

As for the distasteful jerks, chronic complainers, and people who claim to have received 2+ bottles of corked wine? They are haters who deserve whatever circle of dining hell they land in.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Review: Farmerie 58

Out of the crop of newer restaurants, Farmerie 58's rich seasonal menu looked like one of the more promising. For Restaurant Week, my husband and I tried their prix fixe lunch menu yesterday, in spite of their recent chef drama and our still lingering wedding-bash hangovers. I'm glad we did. It's a study in understated luxury, and our experience there was terrific.

For first impressions, Farmerie's bistro has one of the most beautiful rooms in the area... cozy Asian chic with a generous dose of retro Modernism. I instantly wanted to return at night to see it glowing. Even so, the crowd was mostly casual 30- and 40-somethings enjoying lazy Sunday lunches. We appreciated the relaxed vibe and settled sleepily into our seats.

I woke up when I tasted what I think is a mark of a good restaurant: the butter. A place that's taken care to give you excellent bread and butter is rising above and beyond, and this little dream...had...truffle oil whipped into it. After my giggly endorphin-high subsided, I grabbed the waiter and pointed, "Um. This butter. Has. Truffle oil in it. Who's idea was that?" Convinced he was probably dealing with some sort of addict, he grinned and said politely, "That would likely be our executive chef." Note: New chef Nathan Kosakowski is keeper. Waiter is adorable.

We started with the lobster bisque and butternut squash volute. I surprisingly preferred the squash for it's unusually fresh, genuine flavor with only a touch of sweetness. The seasonal menu was heavy on red meat and chicken - not a plus for a pescatarian, but the waiter agreed they could easily modify the Salmon BLT for me. I loved that it was served on obviously homemade sliced, light rye bread, about the size of a sandwich your grandmother would make. (Remember RDA portions? So quaint, I know.) It was packed with flavor, and sitting next to a mountain of truffled pomme frites that I wanted to stuff into my handbag. Finally, our desserts, mine a perfectly executed ginger creme brulee, his a new-school innovative bread pudding - light and soft in texture - topped with drizzly caramel popcorn. It was a playful flavor/texture combination, and I hope they'll encourage more risks like this on the menu.

Farmerie 58 on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hangover Brunch

My good friend's wedding was last night, and WOW was it fun. The food at her reception....zut allores! She used Food for Thought, who happens to be my favorite caterer - they did an all custom French-Vietnamese menu for my wedding two years ago, and people still comment about how memorable and wonderful the food was...Or maybe I just like reminding them. Nonetheless, hubba hubba. Last night, they served a ginger sesame ceviche in particular that I'm going to try to get the recipe for because it stopped me dead in my peep-toe pumps. I think the bride and I actually spent 10 minutes talking about it.

So we celebrated with great food, terrific wines, a full bar...and I'm up this early why? The hangover. Alcohol is a stimulant after it metabolizes, after all. Which in my case is usually 5:00 a.m.-ish. Yawn. Blink.

For morning-after recovery, breakfast can be a great help once I'm done chugging electrolytes to rehydrate. Is it wrong to want Panettone French Toast with Rum when you're hungover? I'm no believer in hair-of-the-dog remedies. The alcohol burns off, does it not?...I'm going to give it the thumbs up, except that I don't have any panettone at the moment, so I'll just use raisin bread instead. As an extra precaution, I'll make smoothies too. All those antioxidants and fruit juices should undo plenty of damage.

Easiest Smoothie Recipe Ever

1 cup frozen fruit (peaches with either berries or mangoes are great)
1 1/2 cups soy milk
1 heaping tbsp almond or peanut butter
drizzle honey

Blitz until totally smooth and frothy. If you don't live in Chicago in the dead of winter and/or you have fresh fruit you prefer to use instead, you'll need to add some ice cubes to froth it up.

Panettone French Toast with Rum
(from Bon Appetit)

1 500-gram (approximately 17.5 ounces) panettone
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 large eggs
2 cups milk
2/3 cup dark rum

Preheat oven to 200°F. Cut bread into 1-inch-thick slices. Cut slices into roughly 5x1-inch strips. Combine sugar and cinnamon in small bowl. In shallow bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and rum.

Dip 5 bread strips into egg mixture; let stand 2 minutes. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Cook bread until golden brown and firm touch, about 4 minutes on each side. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar over French toast, turning to coat on all sides. Cook until sugar melts, turning once, about 2 minutes. Transfer French toast to baking sheet; keep warm in oven. Repeat with remaining bread, egg mixture, butter and cinnamon sugar in 3 more batches. Transfer French toast to plates.

Ok, now my husband really needs to get up...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Today in WTF: A Fashion-World Cookbook

The Council of Fashion Designers of America has announced that it's publishing a cookbook with recipe contributions by over 100 designers, including Zac Posen, Cynthia Rowley and glitterati of their formidable ilk.

Brilliant. Because I would really love a butterscotch cookie recipe from the same body complex mafia who gave us the skinny jean, lingerie as outerwear, and short hotpants.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Small World: Emily Nunn's Next Thing

I'm sure you know that I'm loathe to gossip. (Insert grinning devil face here.) But this evening as I was running some errands, one of my favorite peeps in the high-touch service industry and I got to talking about Chicago's food and restaurant news - thus the favorite moniker. She mentioned that one of her other regular clients is the food writer from the Trib who got sacked recently...meaning Emily Nunn and I not only share first names and a lust for French butter, but one of her people is one of my people. I expressed my disdain for the Trib's decision. While I get that blogs are indeed setting the food world en fuego, I think there's a place for really quality food writing in major media. That is, if we have any major media left to speak of.

Alas, when I asked what Emily would be up to, my friend replied, "She's starting a blog."

Right. So obvious, yet so ironic.

Review: Tre Kronor

Visiting Tre Kronor last night was like seeing an old Skando friend who hasn't changed a bit. The downstairs still looks like the kind of comfortable place where someone's Swedish auntie will come out of the kitchen any second to offer up a plate of lingonberry pancakes. My favorite part though is the intimate private dining room upstairs, which can seat about 30 guests for a memorable private party. It feels like the auntie's immaculate home, and some lovely things come out that kitchen. We started with a baked brie with green apples, followed by a fantastic green salad. Simple and nice. My salmon fillet was broiled perfectly with a chive beurre blanc sauce that made me swoon a little. The burnt caramel dessert was a huge, creamy custard topped with a hardened caramelized crust. Divine. Brunch here is excellent, and it's a BYO, so bring some wine or aquavit and skol!

Tre Kronor on Urbanspoon

Stalking the Bouchee: Part Deux

Inspired by her will to blog, Dar returned yesterday to stalking the bouche...which turns out to be a bouchee, a "mouthful" that's typically wrapped puff pastry. Put that in your French notebook. This version however skips pastry in lieu of pure coconut chocolate ecstasy.
Ok, so I just saw that I made your blog, my dear Emi, so I decided I had to brave the weather and venture out for the coconut bouchee (turns out it is spelled with a double “e”) at La Maison du Chocolat. Sometimes the very tip of Manhattan does a very good impersonation of Chicago (we have high winds and pelting sleet at the moment). But, chocolate calls.

So, luckily they had just got some of the coconut bouchees in. It rang up at $7.04 with tax. As I was fishing four pennies out of my wallet, the French shopkeeper asked me if I wanted a bag (which was his way of saying: “we both know you’re going to devour that the moment you get back to your desk, so let’s skip the formalities, shall we?”) I couldn’t agree more.

As I understand it, the bouchee is the French equivalent of a candy bar—this was a triangle about the size of my palm and a half inch thick (yes, my ruler made an appearance). It really is all about the fresh coconut—loads of it tightly packed and covered in bittersweet chocolate. I didn’t really see or taste the white chocolate and vanilla ganache—but I’m sure they were hiding there against the white coconut, tempering the bittersweet chocolate. And, oh, that chocolate—it’s the best part. Needless to say, I will be going back (I may even brave the Rockefeller location since it has a café. And, Em, it’s also conveniently located near the Japanese pastry
place…hint, hint.)

She is a natural, oui?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Swedish - Norwegian Restaurang! Ja!

One of my Norwegian friends is getting married this weekend, and her rehearsal dinner is tonight at Tre Kroner on Foster. This makes me happy.

Condensed version of long story: Many moons ago, I broke up with a boyfriend at the same time a close friend did likewise. We were 25. We needed a new dating pool. So we started hanging out with the Skando Chicago social club that her roommate had helped found several years prior, and they adopted us. Good move for her...she ended up dating 9 Swedes. I ended up learning two difficult life lessons: 1) I'm really bad at soccer, and 2) Danish men are the shyest creatures on the planet.

The food at Tre Kroner, however, was a highlight of my Skando years. I'll let you know how they are these days.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

While We're on the Subject of Coffee Stores...

My husband works near the Starbucks at Washington and Canal, which he tells me is directly across the street from SBUX's regional headquarters. Why do we care? Because it's their model training store for Chicago, so the service and competence of the baristas there outshines that of any other we've been to in the metro area. By a whole lot. This is delightful when I want my green tea latte done exactly right...which seems to be the Jeopardy Challenge of drink orders.

Intelligentsia Goes Luxury, Dahling

Chicagoist ran a piece yesterday on local coffee roaster Intelligentsia's decision to soon replace the regular drip goodness at its stores with joe brewed by $11,000 Clover machines, requiring a per cup markup to at least $3.50. Despite the current stink of the economy, they're excited to make the change, which they say will bring them closer to realizing the goal of elevating coffee to the same level of appreciation as premium wine.

Slate ran an article on the Clover last March, pointing out its potential to change the way we drink coffee:
By creating this rigorous laboratory like brewing environment, it encourages cafes to explore the nuances of different beans... And the attention to nuance gets passed along to the customers: ... clientele can choose from a coffee menu listing several brews, including ..."punchy and bright with pear and green apple," and ..."complex and crisp with butterscotch, grape, chocolate and plum."
The aspirational comparison of coffee to wine is obvious, and the passionate young Clover virtuosos ... indeed remind me of wine enthusiasts; they're seriously invested in their work, nothing like the sullen soy-foamers at Starbucks...
It's a bold, brash move with forward notes of vanilla, spice, and... brass ones, in a time when confidence is in short supply. Is there a hint of stupid in it too? Maybe. Differentiation from the rest of the pack isn't just good -- it's crucial to successful business; but timing counts enormously in executing any strategy. Can they afford to lose the loyal customers right now who will bail on them when the cost of a cup of regular or decaf more than doubles? Apparently they think so.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Review: Spring

Shawn McClain is undoubtedly one of Chicago's truly great, celebrated chefs. Between Spring and Green Zebra, I think he could be my most favorite chef anywhere.

Some people may find Spring's Asian-infused seafood too light to really lust for - for me, these flavors are the ideal. After many years, I returned with my husband last weekend, and we were knocked out over and over throughout the evening by the beautiful, thoughtful experience that it still is. There literally wasn't one mediocre moment. We enjoyed the Sazeracs (of my last post) at the bar enormously, followed by a stunning rose Champagne. My meal began with hamachi sashimi over a bed of greens with a warm and mild soy-based mustard sauce poured over. The asparagus soup was a rich but subtle palate cleanser, with just barely a hint of truffle oil - at the bottom swam two small truffle ravioli that blew me away. My seared barramundi with miso-potato gnocchi was incredibly flavorful yet light, paired with an Austrian Riesling that showed tons of honey on the palate. The chocolate mousse cake was accompanied by a salty wafer that made me linger and appreciate the play on textures and sensations. Add to that amuse bouches before and after the meal, and service that was among the best of any restaurant I've visited in a very long while.

The only small gripe I can think of is that the minimalist decor feels bland and needs an update. They could preserve the tranquil, spa-like atmosphere without resorting to c. 1990s starkness. The painted panels in the bar area especially aren't up to standard.

Spring on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Return to the Elusive Violet Hour...or Not

Last night, an hour before our 9 p.m. reservations around the corner at Spring, we tried our luck again at getting into the Violet Hour. As our cab arrived, I felt sure we would finally breeze right in....until I saw the line. It was even longer than last time, and we were an hour and a half earlier.

The only thing breezing anyplace was the 20 degree chill right up my dress. Even so, we summoned our Chicago grit and joined the other hopefuls waiting to get in. (By the way, jeans and parkas, everyone? On Valentine's? Isn't winter dismal enough?) A conviction that lasted all of ten minutes when we realized the line was moving nowhere. Doesn't Spring have a bar? Sure it does.

Brilliant decision. The maitre d' at Spring welcomed us warmly. When we told him our cocktail hour issue, he grinned. "Well, you're in luck. Because the guy who does their drinks, did our cocktail list." I'm assuming "the guy" in question is Toby Malone, but I didn't really pause to confirm because my husband and I basically galloped full-throttle toward the bar.

And thus began our gorgeously impressive evening at Spring. The drinks? Amazing. We began boldly with their Sazerac, which seems to be the Aaron Eckhart of cocktails lately - all of a sudden everywhere. Theirs skips the cognac. Instead, it blends whiskey, bitters, and absinthe with a twist of orange. I tend to liken the food and drink I love with sex... so drinking this was about like making out with an exceptionally suave gentleman who has a fierce five-o'clock shadow and a formidable arsenal of moves. But you'll have to draw your own conclusions.

After that, we tried the Michel Arnould Brut Rose Champagne...which is like a big beautiful, toasty rose kiss, followed by a knife-edge clean finish.

Here's to Spring.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Algerian Crepes at Icosium Kafe

This busy little cafe in Andersonville serves up big crepes filled with Algerian flavors. The menu is divided into two parts -- with chocolate, coconut, and Nutella dominating the sweet side and Mediterranean ingredients dominating the savory side. Despite the name, they aren't pushing the boundaries of exoticism too much for the average American palate, but the menu does include a few ingredients like rosewater and merguez (lamb sausage). Crepes can be accompanied by Turkish coffee and mint tea with honey, or you can order a whole range of European coffee drinks and fruit juices. Overall, it's a nice neighborhood place for an enjoyable bite and some atmosphere.

Icosium Kafé on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Stalking the Bouche in NYC

How great is it when you find a friend who lusts for food and wine as much, and sometimes even in the same ways, as you? It's a case of two of life's great joys combining together. So wonderful.

My fabulous friend Dar lives in Brooklyn. She once called to leave a message on my home voice mail simply because she was eating Japanese pastry. I get choked up just thinking about it. She's been emailing me about my blog posts lately, and this paragraph she wrote nearly made me weep with longing to be in NYC with her:
Anyway, I just went to a relatively newly opened branch near work of La Maison du Chocolat. I was trying to get my hot little hands on this thing called a bouche — they have different kinds — the one I wanted was made of bittersweet chocolate filled with fresh coconut, which is embedded in a white chocolate and vanilla ganache. They were out. But, I got a champagne/cognac truffle. It was good, but a bit too cognac-y. I’ll keep you posted on the bouche. I think this place may be my new destination for a chocolate fix.
What I love is that it sounds like she's casing the place....which is totally what I would be doing. Needless to say, I feel a need to get intimate with this coconut-white-chocolate bouche business. Dar and I will keep you posted.

Mardi Gras Cocktail Mixer

Cooking Fools on North Ave. has done some heavy lifting for a few gatherings they've catered at my place, not the least of which was this past Thanksgiving's dinner...which was homey and delicious, and even better, virtually no work for me. In two weeks, they're hosting one of the better food events I've seen in a while:

Fat Tuesday Cocktail Mixer
Tuesday, February 24th, 6-8 p.m.
1914 W. North Ave.

Mixologist Angie Jackson will mix Sazeracs and Marie Laveaus. Credited as America's first cocktail, the Saz is Louisiana's signature drink. The latter is a creation by Jackson named in honor of New Orleans' famed voodoo priestess. (Nice!)

The chefs at CF will be serving spicy sausage gumbo and bananas foster bread pudding. Reservations are $35 per person.

In the words of Liz Lemon, I go there.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What Sticker Shock Looks Like in Italian

Blogdolcevita reports that a businessman dining on a truffle-themed meal at Cracco-Peck in Milan last weekend refused to pay when presented with an unexpectedly high check. The amount? 4,140 Euro...that's over $5,000 US.

Cracco-Peck has earned two Michelin stars for what is considered by the Italiani to be controversially innovative food in a still very traditional city. A signature dish is pasta with sea urchins and coffee.

Take that, Grant Achatz.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Seduction 101: Tips for the Wait Staff

Tonight I went to a hot restaurant to have wine and snackies with coworkers. Overall it was lovely, but there were a few moments with our waiter when I wished I could pull him aside and whisper a few pointers. Not that I'm a know it all. It just this: I've been on both sides of the table plenty. There was a year in my life a while back when I waited tables full-time after college at a four-star place. After I got done feeling intellectually superior and above it all, I realized the experience might have some lessons to teach me. So I learned them. Even now, they're still true and serve me well:

1. Assume your guests are knowledgable out of the gate. Listen, if you talk down to your diners (or clients or whomever it is who is buying from you) right from the start you'll most often come off as a pretentious ass. Because believe it or not, most people who enter your realm really do know a thing or two about it. The rest who don't will be obvious soon enough and you can adjust to them.

2. As a guest in your care, I'm trusting you to give me a great experience. So don't let it be boring. A little charm and hedonism will go a long, long way. Make eye contact. Smile. Flirt with the ladies. Flirt with the men. Describe your favorite things. This is no place for reserve. Enjoy it.

3. When a few women sit down for drinks and snacks, don't write them off as a cheap table. You need to maximize the opportunity that's sitting right in front of you. See #2. The extent to which you embrace this truth will be reflected in the total tab and the tip. We could even be your new regulars. And wouldn't you be lucky?

Review: Feast on Damen Ave.

Feast sits on a prime spot on Damen Ave., where a parade of Bucktown's residents marches by all summer long, and it attracts big crowds on the weekends all year. Its eclectic menu seems to have tapped into what the neighborhood wants - flavorful comfort food with a twist. Nothing here will knock your socks off, but it's a solid option for a good brunch or dinner in a relaxed, charming atmosphere. My dinner favorites are chipotle barbeque salmon over corn buttermilk hot cakes with avocado salsa, and the seared tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes and caramelized green beans. The brunch/lunch menu is big and delicious - expect a wait - and it's accompanied by a menu of specialty mimosas and bellinis. They have a glorious patio, with a few tables that are dog-friendly. Happily, they've ditched CEO Delieveries and are now delivering on their own.

Feast on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 9, 2009

Pure Green Chile Love

Whenever friends in Chicago get their hands on some green chile, they come running to me for recipes, and I have maybe 4-5 reliably delicious ones to offer. I think the easiest is the best though. I'm Italian on both sides of my family, so when my mom cooks, a Mediterranean sensibility infuses anything she improvises, including this super simple "salsa" that's really more like a relish. Use it for snacking to your heart's content.

Mom's Green Chile Salsa Relish

1. Coarsely chop 3-4 cups of freshly roasted, peeled green chile with the seeds and stems removed. (If you have any red chile on hand, mix one or two in for color and flavor variation.)

2. Add 1-2 cloves of minced garlic, along with 1/2 cup of chopped tomato.

3. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Mix well. Use as a relish on top of whole wheat or rye crackers.

It's especially nice with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. And yes, it will kick a cold right on its butt.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Licensed to Blog

The Dirty Dish has been made a featured publisher of Foodbuzz (!), the first community site devoted exclusively to food and dining. Since starting the blog last month, I've learned a few things...not the least of which is that I think about food and wine a lot more than even I realized. The best surprise has been how much I've grown to adore some of the others writers in the foodie blogosphere. Like, who?

Gourmet Worrier (Australia) - The anonymous Ms. Gourmet's writing inspires me with her thoughtfully crafted posts on favorite ingredients, restaurants, equipment and travel. She's a native of Malta living in Australia, which gives her a rich background in food and wine interests. I feel like I know her, and she's half-way around the world. How great is that?

Gastroanthropology (London) - I knew I'd love this the second I saw the title. Adrienne is a pastry chef from San Francisco working on her Masters in food policy in London. I live vicariously through her when she takes us to London's markets and food shops. She also writes about the history of farming practices and sustainability...which I find weirdly exciting.

Internet Food Association (Washington DC) - This is a blog started by a hilarious group of DC wonks. Because they crank out policy papers all day, all of them are brainy writers. And because they're essentially writing for each other, it's funny as hell.

Eat Local Santa Fe - I'm a native New Mexican, and even though I visit frequently, I miss its tastes, sounds, smells, and spirit deeply. In particular, nothing else is like Santa Fe, where excellent local food and art share center stage up in the heart of the Sangre de Christo mountains. This author is starting a gelateria there with her husband, and her info on what's happening in town helps me feel more connected to home.

I'm sure there are zillions more to discover. Thanks for reading this one.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Review: The Gage Chicago

When the Gage first opened across from Millennium Park, people who live and work nearby (like me) were excited to finally see a restaurant concept that rises to the high standards of Loop dining, but with a lot more character and in a casual setting. It hasn't disappointed. This gastropub has done a great job of serving many needs in the spot: the beautiful full bar offers an excellent range of beer and wines, an extensive menu presents everything from a quick snack to a Roasted Saddle of Elk, and outdoor cafe seating is in high demand during the summer. The menu items are packed with rich, pub-inspired flavors -- it's mostly red-meat options are accompanied by bacon emulsions, brie and camembert, and duck confit -- this is rich comfort food with serious sophistication. Lunch and dinner reservations are a good idea, as waits can be long.

Gage on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hyacinth, Lust, and Figs

To warm you up for Valentine's, the lovely people over at the Academy of American Poets have posted a page for wooing sweethearts. No biggie, right? Those poets. When they're not tearing love down, they're building it up. But here's the twist of genius: they've "paired" each choice with a drink, sweet, and flower that resonates with the sensibility of the poem.

Here's my favorite:

by Stephen Dunn

She kissed me again,
reaching that place that sends messages to toes and fingertips,
then all the way to something like home.
Some music was playing on its own.

Drink: Port
Sweet: Chocolate Truffles
Flower: Hyacinth

If you need something hotter, D.H. Lawrence's Figs should suffice. You won't need any wine or sweets. Maybe just a very tall glass of ice water.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

DIY Awesome Cookbook Site

While trolling around on Epicurious today, I bumped into the link for making a personal Tastebook - a totally customizable cookbook. Holy hell, I LOVE THIS THING! Why has no one told me about this? Is it new? Have you tried it? What's the deal, people?

In about two hours, I compiled about 20 of my most heavily used recipes from Epicurious, along with several other personal ones that have been shuffling around in various states of dreck in my kitchen for eons. A few more all-stars out of my entertaining notebook (yes, am geek, thank you). A few more from some favorite bloggers...and voila! A beautiful, inspiring, flippy book of about 40 go-to items that I can add to, due to a handy binding that snaps open for expandability. The cover and title are totally customizable to boot. All for $40. Love it!

Only one gripe: you'd think because Tastebook did the smart thing and hooked up with Epicurious, I could import my Epi recipe box straight into my cookbook. But alas, no. Hopefully the code nerds are cracking away on that as I type.

I just can't wait to get this thing in my mitts.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Dorothy Parker Dinner Party Menu

I like to have a martini,
Two at the very most.
After three I'm under the table,
after four I'm under my host.

Dorothy Parker's writing has never failed to crack me up ever since I first discovered her over 10 years ago during a New Yorker reading binge. Lethally witty, delightfully caustic, and at turns playful and dark, she embodies the spirit of New York's Algonquin group during the Jazz Age, and she's one of the first people I'd invite to any fantasy dinner party.

Last night, a friend was telling me about how he attended one of the dinners celebrating the 250th birthday anniversary of Scottish poet Robert Burns (and all the haggis), and I got to thinking...why not Dot?

Obviously, it would have to be a pre-theatre meal. Here's what I'd serve:

Vesper Cocktails - Because Parker loved gin (dearly), and went to Catholic school

Honey-Roasted Pear Salad with Thyme Verjus Dressing - Because verjus vinegar of unripend grapes is about as tart as her theatre reviews

Lobster Pot Pie - Because it's a rich, sinfully delicious 1920s American classic from the East Coast too

Bittersweet Chocolate Fallen Souffle Cakes - Because she had dark edge with a bite, and was at her absolute best when appreciating any form of wreckage

Champagne - To match her sparkling wit, of course

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Late-Night Prowling for Good Food

Hypothetical: You just left a four-hour Windy City Rollers derby bout in the West Loop. It's 10 p.m. The concessions were dreadful, and the pretzel and Twizzlers that you washed down with a diet Coke have only left you craving actual warm sustenance before calling it a night. Where to go? Keep in mind you have in tow one slightly inebriated husband (beer) and your wheels, and it's bloody cold outside. The last thing you want to do is drive around looking for options or, god forbid, parking.

I'm so out of practice with late dining, I realized last night that most of my handy picks for this situation are gone. Iggy's used to be our go-to spot, but both have closed. A good strategy is to head for an upscale, bar-dense area: plenty of drunks with money to feed at 2:00 a.m., and there's always valet parking. We ended up at the Bar Louie on Randolph. Which was fine. But it's definitely time to tune-up my list of possibilities for late Friday and Saturday nights:

Avec: Christ, I feel like whenever a restaurant question in Chicago comes up, the answer is Avec. Great food on Randolph in the near West Loop, killer wine options, open til 1:00 a.m. My only complaint is that it's a head-rattling little noise box when it's super busy, which is most of the time. However, we happen to have a monthly spot in the parking lot directly behind it, parking trumps noise.

The Bluebird: This yummy gastropub on Damen in Bucktown serves its full menu until 1:00 a.m. I need to return to explore it more, but the theme is rustic, fresh Mediterranean, heavy on the Spanish and Italian, with great wine and beer pairings.

Paramount Room: This place is a hidden gem on Milwaukee in that weird zone of the West Loop where Iggy's used to be. I never hear much about it, but my wine friends like to go. The upstairs is just a tiny little dark bar - so tiny that everyone sitting inside turns to look when you open the front door. Head downstairs for a slightly larger dining area with wonderful French pub food and a great wine list. Open until 2:00 a.m.

Jerry's Sandwiches: Their deli on Division in Wicker Park serves 100+ sandwiches and craft beers until 2:00 a.m. I haven't been yet, but my downstairs neighbor Dan gets glassy-eyed just talking about the place. It's worth a go.