Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chicago

Oh dear. Has it really been two months since my last post?

It is finally time for me to get back in the game. I submitted my Gastronomy dissertation the day before Thanksgiving and thought the second my clicker finger hit the “send” button I would utter a casual “ta ta” and immediately transition to relaxation mode. Not so, my friends, not so. Thanksgiving was busy with family and turkey in Ohio and we left St. Augustine the following weekend to move north to Jacksonville. Phil and I are now proud residents of the Riverside neighborhood – eclectic people, historic homes, excellent pubs, diverse restaurants… but more on that later. I can’t wait to jump into the local restaurant scene and share my Jacksonville dining and drinking experiences with you.

But for now, I’d like to take you to Chicago.

I spent a long weekend there with Leena over at Leena Eats and her husband Adam back in October, and visited a number of friends along the way. It was my first time visiting the capital of the Midwest and I wanted Leena to show me “her” Chicago before she moved West to San Fran. As you can imagine, Leena’s Chicago involves a whole heck of a lot of good food. Check out her take on our eating adventures here, on her blog. My first night in town, we headed to a local Korean barbecue place called Cho Sun Ok Restaurant on North Lincoln Ave. I knew we were in for a treat when we could smell enticing aromas from three blocks away, and the line snaking out the door further heightened my excitement.
My excitement turned to anxiety which turned to starvation when we were still standing and waiting for a table after an hour and a half. We tried to pass the time by making outlandish bets on which table would finish first, but that game got old after forty five minutes. Thankfully the food made up for the wait and by the time the waitress came around with our second platter heaped with raw sliced beef for cooking on the table grill, I had forgotten all about the murder plans I had silently been plotting for eliminating the patrons smart enough to arrive early.

We ordered bulgogi, sliced beef marinated in a house sauce and cooked in front of you on a charcoal grill. I love interactive, help-yourself dining, especially if you’re out with a large group. I promotes conversation and sharing and passing and tasting – all the good things about eating out!

We also ordered my and Adam’s favorite, galbi gui (beef short ribs). They were so good, so meaty and tender and salty, that we ended up ordering another batch. Also on the table was jab chae, stir-fried vermicelli noodles with shredded beef and vegetables. The noodles didn’t seem to be as popular as the meat, but I’m a huge noodle nut so probably ended up eating half of them.As you can see we were really loading up on the beef. Good thing the grilled dishes come with rice and a variety of banchan, little plates of (mostly pickled) veggie sides, to complement the meat on offer. There were pickled cucumbers, carrots, and bean sprouts, along with spinach and of course an abundance of kimchi.All in all an excellent and affordable place for Korean barbecue and one I wouldn’t mind having just down the road!

Leena also loaded me up on Indian food on Devon Ave. Being of Indian descent, Leena has frequented this neighborhood since she was a kid and even purchased her wedding sari at one of the many colorful shops on the street. She took me to Patel Brothers grocery shop so I could stock up on cheap bulk spices, Indian flours, and other goodies like pappadums and tamarind paste.

We also popped into Sukhadia’s, a sweets, snacks, and catering shop just down the road.I was craving samosas and theirs were as large as your fist and dense with spiced potatoes and peas.Continuing our ethnic tour, Leena and Adam took me to a busy Vietnamese eatery popularly called Tank Noodle but officially called Pho Xe Tank Restaurant. Leena and I met in Adelaide, South Australia, and one of my first weekends there she introduced me to a pho shop right around the corner from my flat. So, it was very fitting that she take me for a hearty noodle soup for one of our last meals together in Chicago. I ordered pho with beef meatballs and it came with a platter of bean sprouts, basil, culantro, sliced jalapeno, and lime wedges for garnishing however I saw fit.On a more local note, I couldn’t leave Chicago without trying Chicago-style deep dish pizza. One of Leena’s favorites is Lou Malnati’s, a chain with locations across the city and into the ‘burbs.Leena insisted we order ours with sausage and pepperoni, and boy did she know what she was talking about! The sausage seemed absolutely necessary and formed a solid base for the sauce. In case you’ve never had Chicago-style pizza (this was my first time!), you might not know that it is more of a casserole than a pizza, with crust on the bottom topped first with cheese, then toppings, THEN sauce. I am glad I tried it at its source but am an East Coast girl at heart – I just don’t think you can beat NY-style pies with thin, crispy crusts and brown, bubbly cheeses.The crowning eating experience of my weekend in Chicago was without a doubt Blackbird. It’s a fancy dancy place, all stark and modern and clean, and Leena’s favorite in all of Chicago. That’s saying a lot. We were a group of six so I got to try six appetizers, six mains, and six desserts – whoopee! – so I’ll provide photos with descriptions but sorry if I don’t go into sensory details. It was a long time ago, and their cocktails and were good and strong.

Appetizers… the house special is an endive salad tucked into a crispy potato nest and topped with warm pancetta, basil, Dijon vinaigrette, and a poached egg. The salad comes to the table all cozy and picturesque in its nest, and the waitress bursts the poached egg tableside and mixes the whole lot together. Excellent.

I had the Caseificio Gioia farm burrata cheese salad with parsnip cake, pickled green tomatoes, mache and candied coriander. I really can’t tell you how much I love burrata cheese. It’s soft and delicate in both texture and flavor and was well complemented by the sour green tomatoes.Leena started with the malted apple bisque with smoked sablefish, granny smith apples and hickory. It was served cold and was my least favorite appetizer… but still good. Unfortunately, the older I get, the more I'm turning out like my dad. He doesn't like "white" food, and I couldn't help but wish this soup had a little more variety of color and texture.Adam had the lentil-crusted Louisiana frog legs with chanterelles, local crabapples and medjool dates. Yum.My favorite appetizer was the sauteed veal sweetbreads with golden beets, perigord black truffles, molasses and pine aioli. The dish was dusted with some sort of coffee powder that really made everything come together. A perfect autumn dish.For the mains, I’ll start with my favorite and work my way down. Adam’s grilled Iberico pork collar with fresh black beans, cipollini onions, honeydew melon, poblano pepper and brioche was absolutely sublime. You mostly can’t go wrong with Iberico ham and this dish was incredibly rich and complex.My grilled prime beef short rib with cauliflower, sesame gnocchi, ground cherries and sarsaparilla root was almost as tasty. The ribs were marbled with fat, very rich, and more firm than the ones I make at home.Also excellent - roasted Wisconsin veal chop with salsify, braised artichokes and pumpkin jus.Leena had a wood-grilled California sturgeon with cucumbers, squash, bbq onions, zucchini bread and candied olives. Sturgeon is her favorite fish and this did not disappoint.And, my least favorite was the turbot with spaghetti squash, pickled ramps, mandarin orange and popped sorghum. The fish was almost sashimi style – raw and cold – and I just didn’t think it worked well for this dish. All the other plates were warming and autumny, and this turbot was a bit too tropical sweet for the season and for my tastes.And…. don’t forget the desserts! All were excellent, but especially the sweetcorn bavarois with cornbread pain perdu, candied pecans and bliss maple sherbet. Oh dear, perfect combination of Southern and northern US!Here’s the warm spice bread with candied carrots, pickled gold raisins and saffron ice cream. Oh my.The walnut cake with NY674 apples, brown butter gastrique and fromage blanc sorbet – gosh golly.A rich chocolate-pistachio cremeux with chocolate sorbet and red verjus… mmmmmm…And my choice, the seasonal sorbet – concord grape with peanuts. No joke – it tasted just like PB&J! Clever and fun.Also notable was Leena’s homemade Mexican feast – which you’ll have to check out over at her blog. I really know how to pick my friends. Thanks, Leena, Adam, Josh, and Christina, for sharing YOUR Chicago with ME!

Cho Sun Ok Restaurant http://chosunokrestaurant.com/

4200 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60618-2902, (773) 549-5555

Cho Sun Ok Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Blackbird http://www.blackbirdrestaurant.com/

619 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661, (312) 715-0708

Blackbird on Urbanspoon

Patel Brothers http://www.patelbros.com/

2610 W Devon Ave, Chicago, IL 60659-1804, (773) 764-1857

Patel Brothers on Urbanspoon

Sukhadia’s http://www.sukhadia.com/ 2559 West Devon Ave, Chicago, IL, (773) 338-5400

Sukhadia's Snacks & Sweets on Urbanspoon

Lou Malnati’s http://www.loumalnatis.com/

Many locations around Chicago

Lou Malnati's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Tank Noodle (Pho Xe Tank Restaurant) http://www.tanknoodle.com/index2.html

4953 N Broadway St, Chicago, IL 60640-3001, (773) 878-2253

Tank Noodle on Urbanspoon

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