Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tonight! Home Chef-fery Class for Like, Peanuts

We're going to the home chef class tonight at 6:00 p.m. that Just Grapes is co-presenting with Soigne Culinary Artistry at the Calphalon Center. Tom McGuinty is going to dazzle us with a cooking demo and new ideas for food and wine pairings that will up our dinner party hosting game. Because frankly, it is a competition.

Oh, and the class fee is only $25. How great is that?

PS - soigne is pronounced (swan yay) and means stylish, elegant, and well-crafted. Now you know.

Hot Love in Roscoe Village

The following is an email I sent to my friend - let's call him Rocky - yesterday after he asked me for restaurant suggestions around Roscoe Village. Besides location, his main criteria was that it "not be too over the top." Here's my answer:
Have a date you're trying to underwhelm? Ah, you romantic bastard.

Hmm...Roscoe Village.

Sola - I have some very picky friends who are in love with this place (

Kaze Sushi - honestly my favorite sushi place ever, we just never get over there (

Chalkboard - I hear good things - upscale comfort food

A little further away...

Lula Cafe - holy schmoly I love this place. It's kind of got a quirky casual urban hipster atmosphere and the food is freaking KILLER. Love. Gets utterly packed. Def make reservations (

Happy mating dance.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Speak, Gastronomy

Nabokov gave us Speak, Memory. Hemingway, his Movable Feast. Fisher, her Postcards from the Edge. And Grant Achatz is working on his memoirs, Life, on the Line - at 35. Maybe I'm naively old school about this, but as a fellow Gen X'er, it seems way too early for a career retrospective. Even for the most accomplished among us and even for someone who's had to wrestle with mortality so young. I say save it for Oprah, and then get back to work on the actual line.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Venetian Night as Bacchus Intended

Quick: what do you think when I say "Venetian Night"?

Massive crowds on the lakefront. Sticky weather. Mayor Daley's obsession with replicating European civic delights in the City of Broad Shoulders... All to see a bunch of lucky ducks in
Polo shirts sailing by on 35 lit up vessels from the Yachting Club, as they salute their cocktails to the masses and say, "Cheers, suckers."


But this year, no sir, skipper. Rather than elbowing my way to a patch of grass near the harbor, I'm planning ahead. Actually, Just Grapes did it for me, because they've chartered a boat for a Venetian Night Wine Cruise on July 25th. From 2:00 to 5:00 pm I'll be on the boat working on my tan, with a range of lovely summer wines to taste, great food, and a wine guide. It's $85 all-inclusive, and it's genius. Absolutely can't wait to go.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Terzo @ 20 Days

I'm not quite ready to post any reviews of Terzo Piano yet, having eaten there just twice in its first 20 days of business. We went for dinner with a pair of great friends on Thursday evening though, and here's a quickie recap:

Bubbles: There's no Prosecco on the menu. Pour que?

Smelts: I talked the table into ordering these with a wistful story about my Italian grandfather. They were just ok. Fried perfectly, all lightness and crisp. But not a lot of flavor. The fried lemon slices that accompanied them however are my new favorite weird thing to eat.

Flatbread: The vegetarian flatbread with asparagus, mint and fresh mozzarella? Killer good with a flawless crust. The mint is just such a nice surprise.

Crab sandwich: I ordered this new item on the menu sans bacon. It was solid, but I thought the unbelievably adorable housemade buns overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the crab a little. (Phil Foss at Lockwood knows how to get this balance right. I'm drooling thinking about his salmon sandwich....)

Sesame crusted whitefish: This was the most improved dish I tried since the opening. They've perfected the interplay of textures, and the flavor of the fish was excellent. Nicely done.

Desserts: They were amazing the first week, and they didn't disappoint this time either. The dynamic among the four of us at the table went something like: Sample, swoon. Sample, swoon. Sample, sip, swoon.

Service: Getting better. There was only one long pause in service this time around. I'm sure the lack of work stress and presence of friends with two bottles of wine helped too.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Equipment Detox: Ditching Bad Plastic

We are a nation buried in plastic. So you can imagine the sinking feeling I got when I read up on the toxicity of the stuff, especially considering how much of it leaches out of containers into what we eat and drink everyday. Why care? When you consume plasticizers, the compounds alter your chromosomes which can cause disease and organ dysfunction, especially in our reproductive systems. Since I hardly need any more issues going on there, I've detoxed our kitchen, realizing it's impossible to entirely escape the stuff. Here's what to know.

1. The numbering system for plastic is a valuable way to differentiate between the worst offenders and those that are known to leach out a lot less. The bad guys to chuck are:

#3 - PVC, especially common in plastic wraps and, in my case, dirt cheap picnic ware from Target. Make sure you use a wrap that says "no plasticizers" on the label if you can't find an actual number.

#6 - All styro products, including takeout containers.

#7 - PC, this is a hard plastic that's very common for durable water containers. Pitch that puppy and get yourself a new aluminum one. Sigg makes some lovely versions.

2. The better plastics to look for in the store: #1, 2, 4, 5, and 7-PLA. That last one is actually made from corn and it's starting to pop up in organic store brands. It's the only one of the bunch that's totally safe. If you don't see the PLA attached, it's the bad version of #7.

3. Heat and plastic should never mix. No matter what type it is, it'll leach if you heat it up. This means no plastic in the microwave and no hot takeout containers from the Thai place down the street. Sorry. Don't leave bottled water out in the sun where it can get warm. And do I really need to tell you not to eat frozen entrees? If you really must, transfer it to a glass or ceramic plate before nuking it.

4. If the plastic is cloudy, really old, stained or scratched, pitch it. It's leaching.

5. Meet your old friends, glass, ceramics, waxed paper cartons, and aluminum. They didn't mutate your grandma's DNA and they won't mutate yours.

Wine Tasting Tonight (Pants Optional)

So, we're going to the Wednesday tasting at Just Grapes tonight (560 West Washington), which will focus on some big, bodacious Aussie wines. And you should too! It'll be a particularly good one because the owner Don and his authentically Aussie wife just got back from an extended trip there. Don will have some interesting new goodies to share... not to mention stories of the wine-makers, who can always be counted on for some rollicking "pants-off" fun, as they call it.

Gotta love those Aussies.

Monday, June 1, 2009

David Lebovitz: My Bono

Any 12-step program will tell an addict to avoid their triggers, much less invite them into your home on a live-in basis. This is why I've never allowed myself to purchase an entire box of cake mix for no specific reason or, say, date a pastry chef. Not that I haven't fantasized about those things. (Those 80s commercials about "living in the land of Dairy Queen"? They still haunt me to this day.) I just know that my personal danger zone of no-holds-barred consumption behavior is paved with butter cream frosting, so I only allow myself to indulge in limited doses, preferably with my husband or friends to serve as backup. This is a Category 5 sweet tooth I have, people.

Despite his considerable chops as a nationally-celebrated pastry chef, I'd never heard of David Lebovitz before two days ago. Alice Waters and Chez Panisse? Yes, of course. But David's fame is from two all-dessert cookbooks he wrote after spending years at Panisse, both of which I've averted my eyes from in bookstores to resist taking home in plain brown paper bags and stashing greedily under my bed. This week, however, I was in le mood for some nonfiction foodie reading and saw that The Sweet Life in Paris by Lebovitz is #6 on Amazon's Kindle nonfiction list. Now I'm in awe of this man doing God's work in France as a transplant, and dispatching books and blogs about it. Aside from Paris's art world, which I explored somewhat in my late college years, he's given me the foodie half that I just knew existed - and it's even better than I hoped.

It's been my dream to take a romp through Paris that I've very creatively entitled the "Let's Eat Our Way through Paris Trip." Despite having a willing spouse and knowing two great couples to go whole hog with me on the idea, it's still just a glimmer in my eye, thanks to the recession, the underperforming dollar, and my own career ambitions of late. So. Lebovitz's book has been an excellent substitute. He's not only a witty observer, he opens up his personal life to make his essays feel like the first-hand accounts of a friend, one with a three-dimensional life that just happens to revolve around 5 kilo slabs of chocolate.

Amazed at his description of G. Detou, the pastry-makers paradise he describes in the book, I pounced on his blog online and MON DIEU! found that he leads culinary tours through the city. The one I'm fantasizing about is this Gastronomic Adventure in October, and I swear, if I went he would certainly not need to give me the shorts and fanny pack lecture.

One day, my friend. One day.

(The above photo of G. Detou is by Jason Whittaker.)