Chi-town

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Skillet Doux
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6 years ago

Dapuma wrote:96th Floor of the Hancock building is a terrible place to get a cocktail - they serve an old fashion with club soda...stick with beer or just avoid that place :)
You've got it all wrong! There's one great reason to go to the Signature Room on the 96th floor: A drink is a few bucks cheaper than admission to the observation deck... and two floors higher :-)

So glad (and so not surprised) that you dug ATK. I haven't been there yet, but I've spent some time at Andy's old place. As much as you loved it, I'd encourage you to try some other places when you're there next, too. One of the best things about Chicago's Thai scene is that a place like ATK is just one of many!
Dominic Armato
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6 years ago

Dapuma wrote:
Spent a good 4 hours at Violet Hour (fun place great cocktails) and Girl and Goat was pretty good but a bit fuzzy, hard to say what was excellent there other than the Pork Shank, was dynamite - passed on Publican again but next time I think we will really go there

Made it to Sable for a cocktail late night, they served a great tiki drink in a tiki mug, so that place is due for some more recon

96th Floor of the Hancock building is a terrible place to get a cocktail - they serve an old fashion with club soda...stick with beer or just avoid that place :)
Glad you had a good time! Girl and the Goat's pork shank was always a must order for me even though it doesn't sound like the most exciting dish. Sable is a good stop if you're in the area, guests always enjoy it as a pre or post dinner spot for drinks and light apps.

Hancock building - yeah...sorry for not warning you about that. You really have to stick to the very, very basics there. When my boyfriend was visiting me in Chicago I took him there and he ordered a Manhattan when I was in the restroom (best view from the place FYI, hopefully Mrs. Dapuma checked it out), I returned and did the "nooooooo". And sure enough it was some odd whiskey drink with coke in it somehow!? But Dom's right, cheaper than the observation deck. Although I have to say I have fond memories of the place, my dad took me to a full dinner there on my first Chicago trip when I was 12 and I literally thought it was the coolest dinner of my life - although I'm pretty sure I had never been anywhere nicer than Macaroni Grill at that point in my life :D
sinosoul
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6 years ago

PHXeater wrote:Hancock building - yeah...sorry for not warning you about that. You really have to stick to the very, very basics there. When my boyfriend was visiting me in Chicago I took him there and he ordered a Manhattan when I was in the restroom (best view from the place FYI, hopefully Mrs. Dapuma checked it out), I returned and did the "nooooooo". And sure enough it was some odd whiskey drink with coke in it somehow!? But Dom's right, cheaper than the observation deck. Although I have to say I have fond memories of the place, my dad took me to a full dinner there on my first Chicago trip when I was 12 and I literally thought it was the coolest dinner of my life - although I'm pretty sure I had never been anywhere nicer than Macaroni Grill at that point in my life :D
Me too! Did a Valentine's Day prix fixe shortly after college and the date (from boondock Michigan, natch) thought it was bougie & fabulous. To be young and easily impressionable? Those were the days. These days? I, like all the other hounds, still refer out-of-towners to Signature Room for "cocktails". By "cocktails", we mean "gin and tonic", "jack and coke", and nothing else. I mean, it's not like you're going to send someone from Phoenix to chase down jerk chicken in Maywood.
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Dapuma
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6 years ago

Mrs D went to ATK again and said the Garlic Spare Ribs are also awesome, the boat noodles were excellent again, and some other dish was just ok (Ill try to find out which one to avoid)

96'th cocktails were so bad they might be able to mess up a gin and tonic - I would stick with a bottled product they only have to open - anything with more than two ingredients is doomed to fail...cuba libre...rum coke and lime...don't think they could get that one down
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Skillet Doux
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6 years ago

Chicago in June, Part I - Ethnic Eats

Wooooo, buddy. I got back almost a week ago but am only just barely resurfacing tonight. Need to get some of this stuff down before I start forgetting it! :-)

We just did two weeks in Chicago, and man, I barely scratched the surface of my list. Partly because i can only drag the family around to little divey places so much, and partly because I spent most nights working. But good eats were had, and I managed to hit a few I've been trying to hit for a long time.

I was trying to think of some logical way to group these since there's far too much for one post, so I figure I'll start with some daytime ethnic eats -- the kind of stuff that (IMHO) is the heart and soul of Chicago's culinary scene, that the whole family was into, and that didn't involve trucking them out to the far reaches of the city. Except those far reaches close to my folks' place :-)
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Stuffed Cabbage Rolls @ Smak-Tak
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I think I've already mentioned it twice upthread, so I'll try not to repeat myself, but we had another killer meal at Smak-Tak. I'm just so blown away by this place every single time. We mostly hit the usuals (most of which I think I mentioned upthread -- hot beet borscht, outstanding pierogi, smoky hunter's stew, the beautiful gut bomb that is the Hungarian pancake -- but I think this was actually the first time I've had their stuffed cabbage rolls, which seems like a huge oversight. And they're predictably awesome, surprisingly delicate, meaty without being heavy and drenched in a light tomato sauce... so, so good. The pierogi and the Hungarian pancake are the things I just can't pass on, but man... every single thing I've ever had here is excellent. Can't recommend it enough.

Also beyond the northwest edge of the city is one of my old haunts that I don't think I've mentioned before. Mitsuwa Marketplace is a huge Mekong Plaza-like complex (not that big), except that it's dedicated exclusively to things Japanese. There's a large grocery, a number of boutique stores, a bakery, and a food court with five or six stands. The grocery is where you can get your Pocky and Pocari Sweat fix, get some Japanese kitchen implements, gape at the selection of fish, and otherwise wish you had access to this much awesome Japanese stuff.
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Apple Bread @ Mitsuwa Marketplace
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Tucked into the back of the grocery is a Japanese bakery, and the case has to be filled with at least fifty different pastries, breads, sweets, and other baked goods done in a completely Japanese style. It's always fun to pick up a treat. On this pass I couldn't resist this little number, a slightly sweet egg bread (the stem is a pretzel stick) filled with a chunky apple puree. Really delicious and so much fun -- light and moist and sweet and delicious.
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Santouka
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My real target was this place, though. Santouka is actually one of a few US outlets of a large Japanese chain, but as with many things in Japan that's not the near automatic indication of poor quality that it is here. Quite the contrary, they do a helluva bowl of ramen. I haven't gotten to the shrines in LA and NYC yet, but Santouka is the best bowl of ramen I've had in the States by a wide margin. It's a Hokkaido-style tonkotsu base, with a little dried fish and kelp accenting the broth, and your choice of tare -- shoyu, shio, miso, or spicy miso. The shio is the one they've kind of built their name on, but I just couldn't resist the miso.
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Miso Ramen with Toroniku @ Santouka
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Seriously, this totally stands up to some of the best stuff in Japan. It's just soooo rich, so full-flavored, you get totally lost in it. They do a very thin noodle with just a little bit of a kink and a fairly solid bite. And though they usually top it behind the counter, if you order the special fatty pork -- toroniku -- the toppings come plated on the side, like this. It's some seriously luscious stuff -- kurobuta, I think, though I'm not certain -- and it comes along with the requisite fish cake, scallion, menma, and less typical, woodear mushroom. Oh, man... I really, really need this fix more often than once every couple of years. Somebody please hurry up and get a regular killer ramen shop going here.
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Agedashi Tofu @ Renga Tei
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Another Japanese joint we hit one day for lunch, just north of the city, was Renga Tei, which is just a really good, simple, homestyle Japanese place. This is the place I wish Sushi Ken were. It's a similar kind of menu -- noodles, donburi, sushi bar, etc. -- but not as absurdly huge of a menu and much better quality. The agedashi tofu was great -- molten, silky tofu in a crisp, lightly fried shell, sitting in a bowl of dashi with bonito and scallions. Japanese comfort food. Nothing fancy, just very well-made.
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Unadon @ Renga Tei
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I wish I'd noticed the curry special before I ordered, but I'm okay with having made this selection. Huge slab of eel, glazed and broiled, served atop rice and next to some killer tsukemono. Seriously, you can see the pickles in fuzzy fashion out of focus in the corner of the shot, but I would have gotten a better picture of them if I'd known they were going to be the star of the show. I don't remember all of them, but there were a couple of salty ones, vinegared daikon and other vegetables, thin slices of sweet marinated kombu -- just a couple bites of each. It was a very small dish. But man, with perfectly broiled eel and good white rice, that's all you need -- a little salty, vinegary counterpunch to the sweet, meaty eel. Anyway, this is not edgy cuisine. It's straight up traditional stuff, and it's very homey. But it's really well done.
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D'Amato's Bakery
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After a museum morning one day, we carried out one of my old favorites for lunch. D'Amato's Bakery is such an awesome place. It's a seriously old-school Italian bakery -- the cash register is push button, half the size of a dorm fridge, looks like it weighs about 150 pounds -- supplying a small army of the city's sandwich shops with bread for Italian subs, all kinds of little Italian cookies, and the items for which they're arguably most famous, the pizza and the cannoli. They have big sheet pans full of the stuff in the case, and when you order they pull out a slice, pop it in a small oven to warm it, and wrap it in paper that's soaked through with olive oil by the time they hand it to you. Once upon a time, they only did cheese, or cheese and sausage. For decades. I remember it was a huge shock the day they added pepperoni to the offerings. But now there are others as well -- artichoke, mixed vegetable, "deluxe" -- it's a little weird to see. But the basics are still there.
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D'Amato's Pizza
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I know this doesn't look like much. But oh, do looks deceive. I'm never sure how to describe it. It isn't pizza rustica. It isn't foccaccia (either foccaccia or "foccaccia"), it isn't really Sicilian... I don't know what to call it. It's fairly soft, very moist and yeasty, with crisp, caramelized edges. It's almost more of a tomato bread, saturated with olive oil, to which they add a topping if you like. But man, it's sooooo good. Yet another example of how you don't have to do anything fancy if you do it really really really well. Embarrassingly, I forgot to get a shot of the cannoli. But they're killer.
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Shumai @ Phoenix Restaurant
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The little fella's kind of a dim sum junkie these days, and I'm a little behind on which of the smaller joints in Chinatown happens to be serving up the best dim sum at the moment (why is dim sum quality always such a fleeting thing?), so we went with the safe route. Phoenix Restaurant is the one that will never be amazing, but will always be very, very good.
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Jian Dui @ Phoenix Restaurant
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Sadly, I goofed. They don't do cart service on weekdays (that didn't go over well). But, y'know... it's kind of nice when something hasn't been walking around on the cart for 20 minutes before it gets to your table :-) Anyway, it's not the cheapest, it's not the best, but it's always extremely good, very carefully prepared, very much straight-up dim sum.
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Isaan Sausage (Eastern Thai Sausage) @ Sticky Rice
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This is what Isaan sausage looks like. Are you listening, Pete's Thai? I had to get my fix one night. I got my fix. I'd been to all of the LTH Thai favorites except for Sticky Rice, and as hard as it was to tear myself away from Aroy, I decided to try a new place. Sticky Rice was... not as wonderful as Aroy. But it was still really, really good, and it's so nice to see a place openly specializing in Northern and Northeastern Thai. I went with a bunch of LTHers, and we tried a lot of stuff. The sausages were definitely one of the highlights, the rice-stuffed, fermented, sour Sai Krok Isaan (on the menu as Eastern Thai Sausage), and the chile-spiked Sai Ua (on the menu as Northern Thai Sausage). Fried poultry was great... we had both chicken and quail, and I think I preferred the latter here, deeply lacquered and crisp, but plenty juicy inside. We had a salad of some nature (I don't recall), and some mighty tasty chive dumplings, with a thick, fried wrapper and chives that practically melted when you bit into them.
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Mussel Fritter @ Sticky Rice
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The "Mussel Fritter" was another one of my favorites, a pan-fried egg and rice flour pancake with vegetables, mussels, and a sweet and sour dipping sauce that we immediately set aside in favor of a little Phrik Nam Pla (seasoned fish sauce) that we requested. Really nice texture, chock full of big, plump mussels, mostly sweet and moist with with lightly crisped edges. Like Aroy, Sticky Rice does a mighty fine Northern larb with offal, though I think I prefer Aroy's version.
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Nam Prik Ong @ Sticky Rice
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We had a really nice green curry with fish balls, a couple other dishes I'm forgetting, and another one of my favorites, also off the Northern section of the menu, the Nam Prik Ong. The best way I can describe this for those who haven't had it is that it's kind of like Thai Bolognese -- ground pork with tomato and onion, spiked with curry and some Thai aromatics. It's served as a kind of dip with a plate of crudite. So, so good... mellow and spicy at the same time. Anyway, it was a very nice meal. But I'd still say that if you're getting one Thai meal in Chicago, do Aroy. And as Dapuma has pointed out above, I've no doubt Andy's still killing it over at Andy's Thai Kitchen.
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La Chaparrita
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I made a huge mistake the last time I was in Chicago in the fall of 2011. I didn't immediately go where a couple of LTH friends told me to go -- La Chaparrita, a small corner store and taqueria in the middle of a largely Mexican residential neighborhood on the south side. "Dom, you need to get down there," they said. "Seriously, don't miss it," they said. And for the second trip in a row, the place blew up within weeks after I left. Thankfully, La Chaparrita is a little easier to get into than Great Lake (the one about which I didn't listen to them three trips back). In fact, it was pretty dead on a weekday evening. It really is a little grocery and taqueria, with maybe six or eight tables, and one man running the kitchen.
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Tepache @ La Chaparrita
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I got some tepache, which is a (lightly, in this case) fermented pineapple juice. Think hard cider, but pineapple-based. And apparently without enough alcohol to require regulation. Or maybe I'm totally outing them. But they're not shy about promoting it. And man, it's so good, barrel-fermented in house.
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Tacos @ La Chaparrita
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Tacos. Lots of DF-style tacos. With some really fun, less common stuff. The three on the top right are the suadero, beef brisket, that was so beautifully seasoned and managed to be both succulent and crisp at the same time. Seriously, a textural marvel. In the middle is the slick and somewhat funky cabeza, on the bottom the also slightly funky tripe (soft or crispy, your choice), on the top left the house-made longaniza, and on the far left, mollejas -- tender sweetbreads. And dear god, were these good. This is really, really simple stuff, but the devil's in the details, you know? The fellow who runs the kitchen, Cesar, does everything on a big charola, and I don't know how he pulls all of these flavors and textures out of one big cooking plate, but man, everything was done so carefully, seasoned so perfectly, fabulous textures... just so carefully made right down to the precise fine dice on the onion -- I mean, even the cilantro is finely shredded into feathery wisps rather than haphazardly chopped, for cryin' out loud.
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Longaniza Taco @ La Chaparrita
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All of them were fabulous, but I think the suadero and the longaniza were my favorites, the latter broken up and lightly crisped, not too heavy on the vinegar, and as much a textural as a flavor delight. And oh cripes, the salsas. There's a red that's tomatillo with chile de arbol and ground peanuts, and a green that's tomatillo with avocado and jalapenos, and they're so intensely flavored and almost creamy, which makes sense with the green, but how the heck does he do it with the red? He also does huaraches (with slightly different green and red salsas tailored to the huaraches) and a few other things, but I really wanted to focus on the tacos.

And bonus, they're such sweet people, Cesar in the kitchen and his wife (I think), Angelina, minding the tables.
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La Chaparrita Interior
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Oops. Caught her blinking :-)

Parts II and III forthcoming...

Smak-Tak
www.smaktak.com
5961 N. Elston Avenie
Chicago, IL 60646
773-763-1123

Mitsuwa Marketplace
www.mitsuwa.com/tenpo/cica/eindex.html
100 E. Algonquin Road
Arlington Heights, IL 60005
847-956-6699

Santouka Ramen
santouka.co.jp/en/
Inside Mitsuwa Marketplace, above
847-357-0286

Renga Tei
3956 W. Touhy Avenue
Lincolnwood, IL 60712
847-675-5177

D'Amato's Bakery
1124 W. Grand Avenue
Chicago, IL 60622
312-733-5456

Phoenix Restaurant
www.chinatownphoenix.com
2131 S. Archer Avenue
Chicago, IL 60616
312-328-0848

Sticky Rice
www.stickyricethai.com
4018 N. Western Avenue
Chicago, IL 60618
773-588-0133

La Chaparrita
2500 S. Whipple Street
Chicago, IL 60623
773-254-0975
Dominic Armato
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Arizona Republic | azcentral.com
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Dapuma
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6 years ago

Is that Mussel Fritter a Thai staple or just something that one restaurant created?

That looks very much like banh xeo - but with mussels versus pork and shrimp - which sounds pretty good to me

Is there a name for "boat noodles" or is that what it is called - I am craving that after reading your post :mrgreen:

not to side track either but how do you rate Hana's Ramen (if you have had it)
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Skillet Doux
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6 years ago

Good question on the fritter, Dapuma. I believe it's pretty typical, but I'm not sure. And yeah, it's definitely in the neighborhood of banh xeo, but much thicker, pushing more towards an omelet and further from a pancake, and the fillings were mixed into the batter rather than folded in (with the exception of the bean sprouts). I don't know what the Thai name is for it.

The boat noodles, depending on which transliteration you're going with, are Kway Teow Reua. And yeah, Andy's are some seriously kick ass stuff.

Incidentally, azhotdish did a great write-up of Aroy upthread so I'm not going to post all of those dishes yet again, but for anybody who's interested in seeing a little more, I wrote about Aroy before PHXfn, and there's a lengthy thread on LTH.

And I posted about Hana's ramen here :-)
Dominic Armato
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Mike Z
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6 years ago

Huge slab of eel, glazed and broiled, served atop rice and next to some killer tsukemono
If there's anybody doing eel like this in the valley, I'd love to know!
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6 years ago

Chicago in June, Part II - The Trendy and the Pricey

When you're traveling with kids, this usually ends up being the shortest list of the three, but we managed to squeeze in a few fancy schmancy / new hotness type places... in ascending order of awesomeness:

Or, more accurately, starting with the less-than-awesome. Man, was Yusho a disappointment. And not in a, "Gosh, I expected that to be better" way, but in a flat-out "I got five dishes and not one of them was particularly good" kind of way.
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Chicken Thigh @ Yusho
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The only one worth picturing, the chicken wing was... okay. Deboned and served with bonito salt, it was juicy enough, but light on the fire. And even dipped in the bonito salt, it struck me as underseasoned. It came across more like roasted chicken than yakitori.

If they'd all been like that, it would have been a disappointment, but that was the best of the bunch. Chicken skin, dehydrated/fried in flat planks, basted with mustard and served in a crock was great for the first two bites, tough and chewy for the third, and decidedly off with some sort of really strong, unpleasant flavor that definitely did not belong there on the fourth. I left that and the fifth behind. Grilled gingko nuts served over honshimeji mushrooms would have been better if they weren't oversauced and cloying. Ditto the grilled octopus with green beans and mushrooms, which I might have tasted if the dish weren't -- literally -- 50-60% dressing (and not particularly well-balanced dressing at that). And the grilled oyster wasn't so much grilled as it was heated to a really unpleasant lukewarm temperature, to which the addition of "Thai tapioca" (tasting nothing of anything, really, much less anything Thai) was not a plus. I've heard from some, "No, no, it's usually better!" I've heard from others, "I've been there half a dozen times. That's exactly what it's always like, and it doesn't get any better." So I don't know what to think. Except that it was an unfortunate waste of a meal. Bummer.

Flailing about for a lunch with the kids one day, and knowing how much Dr. Doux enjoyed our meal at The Girl and The Goat the week they opened, I suggested we give Little Goat Diner a try. I'd heard some hit and miss things, but I'd also heard they were great with kids. And they were that -- absolutely great with kids, bringing out stuff for them to do, giving them cool straw sippy cups emblazoned with the little goat logo, getting a snack to the table in seconds when requested, offering a half-portion of a regular menu item when one of the kids didn't want to order off the kids menu... not of any concern to non-kidified folks, but I feel compelled to note just how well-prepared they were for the little shavers.
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Chilled Onion Soup with Chimichurri @ Little Goat Diner
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Oh, my, do I adore this soup. It was the soup of the day (sadly, not a regular menu item), it was probably my favorite dish from Girl and The Goat, and I was beyond thrilled to see it here. It's pure onion, but they've extracted all of the spice and harshness, and it's this beautiful velvety, creamy (no dairy present, though!) and sweet soup that screams summer. Just a little bit of herb and oil from a tiny dollop of chimichurri, and It's so, so good. If it's there, get it.
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Reuben @ Little Goat Diner
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Mains are where the hit and miss set it. I don't know that I want to call my reuben a miss exactly. I knew what I was getting into and that these would be sort of trendy funkified repackaged diner classics, so it wasn't a matter of surprise, but some of the basics fell a little flat here. The pastrami was nice and smoky, but it was dry. And the kimchi was a kind of vaguely Korean-ish version thereof, shredded cabbage with a little chili and vinegar thrown at it. I'd probably have enjoyed it more if they'd just thrown both arms around the idea. But it wasn't bad. Just not something I'm in a hurry to get agin.
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Tuna Melt @ Little Goat Diner
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Dr. Doux's tuna melt, however, successfully fused a tuna melt and a Salad Niçoise by, natch, throwing both arms around the idea. I only got a couple of tastes, but it was almost like an open face tuna melt with the salad thrown on top, and it totally worked. Delicious. The kids also had some crunchy chocolate chip pancake concoction that was appropriately decadent, effectively chocolate cake for lunch with crunchy chocolate pops on top. Hey, it's vacation.

If you've heard the criticism that Little Goat is a little pricey for what you get, I think that's completely fair. I also think it's completely expected, given the place's provenance. If you don't know what you're getting into, you probably should. But even our weakest dish was okay. And man, the price of admission would have to be awfully damn high to keep me away from that soup.

My sister has season tickets to Next Restaurant, and I really need to time our vacations more carefully because landing on "Vegan" when it's bookended by "The Hunt" and "Bocuse d'Or" is kind of a brutal tease. But I'm happy to check out Next no matter the menu. To be clear, I've no beef with veganism, so to speak. We make our choices and that's all fine and good, and though I don't always agree with the rationale, I respect those who follow such a diet out of a true sense of conviction. Lord knows I'm in no position to be throwing stones at anybody's eating habits. Point being, whatever issue I have with vegan cuisine is neither political nor philosophical, but purely culinary, and in no way limited to veganism. Mostly, I just hate the idea that I could be sitting in front of a dish, and know the perfect thing to complete that dish, and not be able to use it. Again, speaking purely from a culinary perspective, it's the imposed restriction that drives me crazy, and I suspect that's why I just couldn't get fully behind the menu. Which isn't to say that there weren't some real stunners. Since it was something like a fifteen item menu, just a few highlights:
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Centerpiece / First Course @ Next
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Two things they're definitely champions of at Next are wit and showmanship, and the first course didn't disappoint. The centerpiece, for example, was both edible and a portion of the first course...
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Charred Avocado Puree @ Next
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...paired with a rock, slathered with avocado mousse, fried kale, shichimi togarashi and a number of other things going on. So you start your vegan meal at Next plucking your bread from a tree and using it to scrape some slimy lichen-looking stuff off a rock. With a little spiel on the back of the menu, the Next crew self-identifies as "committed omnivores," and they're clearly having a little fun with this. Thing is, they're great chefs, and it's fabulously delicious. Also, note the second centerpiece, out of focus to the right...
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Lily Pond @ Next
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...because it makes another appearance a few courses later, in another of my favorites for the evening. Those floating flowers are, in fact, various herbs floating in a light vinegar solution, giving a light herby, pickled touch to the lily bud dish, which rocked. For a restaurant that specialized in explosive visuals, this is as restrained as their presentation gets. But it fit, in a way, a very, very restrained dish -- lily buds cooked three ways, I believe, and plated together to create a delightfully fragrant, subtly floral dish with delicate textures. One of the quietest dishes of the night, expertly done.
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Salsify and Dandelion @ Next
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I was similarly enamored of the salsify with dandelion, less the braised version on the right, and more the roasted version on the left, the likes of which I've never tasted. It was downright crunchy, with an almost barklike character, but it yielded just enough and it had this intense roasted, nutty flavor that I completely adored.
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Yuba @ Next
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They did a few internationally-inspired dishes towards the end of the menu, and I thought the strongest was the Japanese dish, delicate sheets of yuba (tofu skin) in a chilled kombu broth with soy and yuzu. Again, delicate, beautifully balanced, wonderful textures... and, to my mind, calling out for just a splash of dashi.

And this is where the menu was a problem for me. When hotdish asked what I thought, I said, "It was incredibly creative, perfectly executed, and vaguely unsatisfying." There were other dishes, like those above, that I thought were great. But the lack of certain kitchen staples led to what felt like an over-reliance on acid. An Indian-spiced cauliflower (which, incidentally, would be topped by any number of places on Devon) was served with naan that was screaming for some ghee. There was a mushroom farotto that was delicious, but would have been more delicious with a little meat stock. And while you could point to almost any dish served and I'd call it an individual success, when put together -- though there was plenty of food -- I just felt, for me, that there was something lacking, a kind of satisfying richness, a neuron in the brain that never fired. Whether by virtue of nature or nurture, I couldn't escape the vague feeling that something was missing. And it's not an issue of the meal being meatless. I eat and cook vegetarian all the time (as a matter of happenstance, not with purpose), and don't have the same issue. Perhaps the space between meatless and dairy-free is just too deep and wide of a chasm for me, I don't know.

I guess what I'm saying is that if this menu didn't quite get there for me, I don't think the problem is Next. I'm pretty sure, simply because it severely limits options, that the problem is veganism. But while I'm open to the possibility that the problem is me, no matter how objective and analytical I am about it, I can't will myself to feel satisfied. My brain was full-on engaged. But my gut just wasn't quite buying it.

My gut bought Nightwood, though. Hook, line, and sinker. Go here. GO HERE. One of the best start-to-finish meals I've had of the past few years. There's a joint in Logan Square called Lula Cafe, and it's been around for a long time now, and it was always kind of vaguely trendy but still very casual and friendly, and people loved and adored it and I just never got it. The food never clicked for me. So when the same people opened Nightwood, I avoided it for that reason. But a friend in Chicago talked me into going on this trip, and man, am I glad he did.

It's in Pilsen, a Mexican neighborhood close to the heart of the city that's rapidly gentrifying, and barely resembles what it was when I left town. And it's loud and boisterous and brick and exposed wood and all the stuff you expect from a hip-but-not-too-hip big city midrange dining gem. It's contemporary American fare, hyperseasonal, locally-sourced... and I hate that this description makes it sounds like every other trendy midrange restaurant ever because, man, this was NOT every other trendy midrange restaurant ever.
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Goat Milk Panna Cotta #2 @ Nightwood
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Oh, my. Dynamite starter. Our server suggested that this is something new they've been working on and are quite proud of, and whether that's truth or patter, they should, indeed, be proud of it. Light, creamy panna cotta (the "#2" designation was a mystery until we saw the dessert menu), rich olive oil, an abundance of fresh herbs and shaved radish, and man, some beautiful product on display with the mushrooms -- some raw, some cooked, some warm, some cold -- each distinct, with texture, with color, with flavor... huge, delicious, over-the-top flavor. And yet I'm loving the restrained cookery at work here -- just enough to bring it out, not so much to lose its integrity.
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Burrata Ravioli @ Nightwood
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Hit #2. Sausage and peppers are a natural, right? But here, it's like they were distilled down and intensified, but somehow without feeling like they'd been overworked. The ravioli were filled with creamy burrata, and the bell peppers were practically melted into what was almost a sausage ragu, lending that subtle, vegetal sweetness. I just wish there were a little more of this. It was so good and there was so little that it was a tease. A wonderful, wonderful tease.
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Wisconsin Trout @ Nightwood
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I would've jumped all over this if Dr. Doux hadn't. This trout was dynamite -- perfectly done, crisp skin, tender, juicy flesh, paired with olives, citrus, fresh peas, and more mushrooms. There was a bit of a sauce/jus that was fairly sweet, but cut with just enough acid. And that dollop on side is a green garlic aioli had some punch. Again, huge flavors -- we loved this.
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Spit-Roasted Michigan Duck @ Nightwood
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Did I mention we had an awesome dinner? Fourth huge hit of the night. I so rarely go for duck breast, but this one called to me for some reason and I'm glad it did. It was salty, and I mean that in the best way possible. They weren't shy, and it worked. And the skin was cooked just enough to soften it up and make it edible without rendering everything away -- something some might identify as an oops, but I don't think it was. And even if it was an oops, it was a happy oops. There was a mushroom vinaigrette splashed about, some pistachios here and there, but as exemplified particularly well by the carrots underneath, there's definitely a theme here of cooking things just enough. Those carrots were two baby steps short of where most places would have taken them, and they were all the better for it. Again, man, they're pulling a lot of flavor out of these ingredients.

We got a couple of simple, delightful sorbets for dessert, and went on our way, and couldn't have been happier. This was a murderer's row. Four big hits. No frills, no tricks -- just killer ingredients, smart pairings, and seriously mature, straight-up cooking. Now the real trick will be summoning the will to try something else the next time we're in town. This meal will be tough to beat.

Part III up next...

Yusho
www.yusho-chicago.com
2853 N. Kedzie Avenue
Chicago, IL 60618
703-904-8558

Little Goat Diner
www.littlegoatchicago.com
820 W. Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60607
312-888-3455

Next Restaurant
www.nextrestaurant.com
953 W. Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607
312-226-0858

Nightwood
www.nightwoodrestaurant.com
2119 S. Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60608
312-526-3385
Dominic Armato
Dining Critic
Arizona Republic | azcentral.com
User avatar
Skillet Doux
Posts: 3437
Joined: 7 years ago
Contact:

6 years ago

Incidentally, I just realized that I neglected to mention that at Sticky Rice, I finally got to meet Independent George. This was seriously, seriously overdue.

So glad we finally got to catch up, George... wish there had been time for more :-)
Dominic Armato
Dining Critic
Arizona Republic | azcentral.com
User avatar
Skillet Doux
Posts: 3437
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6 years ago

Chicago in June, Part III - The Very, Very Late

Now we're in my wheelhouse! Kids go to sleep, Dr. Doux crashes, and that's when I can sneak out and run wild. At least inasmuch as it involves places that are actually open late. Work was pretty brutal over vacation, so I didn't get out late nearly as much as I would have liked, and when I did it tended to be much later, which narrowed the field quite a bit. But some of my best eats of the trip came after midnight.
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Gene & Jude's
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Azhotdish and I have written a lot about Gene & Jude's upthread, so I won't rehash it. Let me just say that it was my first stop, and man, that's a place that says "Welcome to Chicago" like few others.

I hit another hot dog stand on this trip, though, that I'm embarrassed to admit was just a few blocks away from a spot where I lived for two years. Red Hot Ranch is kind of in between Logan Square and Wicker Park, a late night dive where I would have been a regular visitor had I known about it at the time. I forgot to get an exterior shot on the way out, but it's essentially a little shack in the middle of a parking lot with a bunch of red picnic tables out front. There isn't much to the menu, and it's centered on two thing.
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Hot Dog @ Red Hot Ranch
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The first, naturally, is the dog, a Vienna natural casing served depression-style with mustard, relish, onion, and sport peppers. They nail it. It's a good one. And the fresh-cut fries are awesome, tender and potatoey with just a little crisp around the edges.
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Fried Shrimp @ Red Hot Ranch
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There's also a tradition of fried shrimp in Chicago. Little shacks that served fried seafood used to dot the length of the Chicago river, but now there are only one or two left. Still, the tradition lives on in places like Troha's (a great old-school fried seafood takeout joint on the south side), and occasionally little hot dog stands throughout the city. RHR's are breaded and fried to order, and served with cocktail sauce, mild or hot. The breading's probably a little heavy for East Coasters, but the shrimp are big and plump and perfectly fried.

We were staying in Rogers Park on the far north side, right on the edge of Evanston, which meant close proximity to the Indo-Pak stretch of Devon. I'm filled with shame and sadness over the fact that I only managed to get to one place, and that one place wasn't Khan BBQ (that place is freaking awesome), but I did manage to check an LTH favorite off the list in Ghareeb Nawaz, a cheap, good, 24/7 Pakistani joint with emphasis on the cheap.
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Menu @ Ghareeb Nawaz
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Seriously, most of the entrees are five or six bucks. It's kind of absurd. And I should have gotten a photo of the exterior, because of course there were no fewer than five cabs parked out front when I got there at 1:30. I've heard it said -- and tatterdemalion can expound upon this a bit -- that GN is a bit of a crapshoot. That five bucks could get you something that's poorly made and has been languishing on a hot table all day, or it could get you one of the best of its kind in the city for a fifth of the price. I've been told it helps to go with guidance. I had neither guidance nor much experience with Pakistani, but tried it anyway.
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Chili Chicken Biryani @ Ghareeb Nawaz
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Okay, this was pretty damn good. I was trying to decide which biryani to get, and the fellow behind the counter steered me towards the chili chicken biryani. It's hot all right, but full of flavor, warm and steamy and beautifully done. Some raw onion, a splash of yogurt -- filling, delicious, and a helluva deal.
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Beef Nihari @ Ghareeb Nawaz
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Beef nihari, served with fresh chile peppers, onion, cilantro, and slivered ginger to top was, I suspect, closer to what you'll get at most places, and not what we came to adore at Zaidi's. (A moment of silence for Zaidi's.) But that hearty gravy was mighty tasty, even if the accompanying naan was pretty weak. I also tried a chicken haleem -- seems like chicken's gaining in popularity, though my preference is still for lamb or goat - that did the job. Again, Zaidi's is just an unfair measuring stick, I think. But in general, I dug Ghareeb Nawaz, and $5 plates of good or occasionally great Pakistani is a damn fine 24/7 option to have.

My best late night by a wide margin was one night I trucked down to the south side to do a little exploring. Goal Number One was a great bowl of carne en su jugo. For anybody who caught the mention in the I can't find ___ in Phoenix thread, what follows is what I'm looking for. Anyway, I really needed a fix, and I still hadn't been to the favorited joint of Pigmon, whose carne en su jugo post at LTH is legendary.
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Los Gallos 2
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South side. Quiet neighborhood... at midnight, anyway. Can't miss the place. Incidentally, while there's a Los Gallos and a Los Gallos 3, I understand Los Gallos 2 is the undisputed king -- where the father of the mini chain spends his time. The place is spartan, clean, and surprisingly large.
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Menu @ Los Gallos 2
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And the menu's kind of awesome.
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Carne En Su Jugo @ Los Gallos 2
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So this is what I'm talking about -- a Mexican-spiced beef consomme, filled with beans and chopped carne asada and bacon, vegetables like radishes, onion, cilantro, and avocado on top, and at Los Gallos 2, an awesome chile sauce to spike it a little bit. Los Gallos' is a pure consomme, though it's not at all uncommon for CESJ to go green or red, with the types of chiles/herbs you'd expect being blended into the broth. But for this pure version, I hate to even say this, but Mexican pho is actually kind of a good way to think about it. The heart and soul is the broth, and this one's soooo good, clean and clear and really beefy, not oversalted, no evidence of bouillon -- carefully crafted stuff. And the rest of the stuff is dense. It's almost like they filled a bowl with carne asada, beans, and bacon, and then poured the broth into the spaces in between. The chile sauce is reminiscent of a Chinese chile sauce, with chile de arbol ground down into oil, with maybe even a touch of sesame (I've heard it suggested, but I wasn't sure). Anyway, it's perfect -- very pure, just adds a little heat and dry chile flavor, and the oil makes a little slick that's killer. Anyway, served with fresh tortillas, this stuff is completely awesome.
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Table Pickles @ Los Gallos 2
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Doesn't hurt that they have some damn fine pickled on the table for the taking as well.

So I rolled out of Los Gallos at about 12:30, and thought that I might be able to cram in one of the south side BBQ shrines. It makes me sad that when people outside of the city -- and even for the most part within the city -- write about the city's BBQ, they almost invariably write about places like Twin Anchors, Miller's Pub, and Gale Street Inn, where it isn't so much BBQ that's going on as it is ribs with BBQ sauce -- boiled or roasted, slathered with sauce, and then finished on the grill. That stuff's all fine and good (if derided by many of the local BBQ geeks as "meat jello"), but there's a tradition of serious BBQ in Chicago, that migrated up from the delta and took root in the African-American neighborhoods of the south side (beautifully captured in this outstanding video piece from Sky Full of Bacon), that's largely unknown outside of the city.
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Lem's
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I know a fellow in Chicago who has, on occasion, led BBQ tours of the south side, wherein he takes a group of maybe 20 white north suburbanites on a van tour to three or four south side BBQ spots, and he said the comment he most often hears from his customers upon the conclusion of the tour is, "I was surprised by how polite they all were," which says a lot more about the visitors than those being visited, sadly. But it also explains why these places have only recently gotten any kind of wider coverage. Chicago's signature BBQ -- south side BBQ, that is -- is tips and links made in an aquarium smoker. So I hit Lem's... the neighborhood still busy at 1:00 AM, walked out with a bag of tips and a bag of links and an RC Cola from the machine in the entryway, and headed back to the car to dine al trunko.
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BBQ Rib Tips @ Lem's
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WOW. I'd not been to Lem's before this trip. I am very, very sad that I'd not been to Lem's before this trip. My usual haunt was Honey 1, run by one of the south siders who migrated north (shorter drive!), and man, I adore that place, but I was unprepared for this. Lem's kind of does their own thing with the ribs and tips. They cook them a little hotter, but they somehow avoid that "roasted and then kissed with smoke" feeling that I often feel results when people cook the meat too fast, too hot. The smoke still works its way in. The meat still breaks down (especially important with the cartilaginous tips). But Lem's tips have this almost light, crispy bark, and the contrast between crisp bark and tender meat (that still has some chew -- I dig that), is really something. The flavor is huge. The texture is amazing. I was totally blown away.
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BBQ Hot Links @ Lem's
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I wasn't quite as blown away by the links, but damn, they were still pretty good. Really coarse grind, split so the smoke gets all the way in there, lightly crisped around the edges, still some snap in the casing -- really good. And though the meat's the thing, the sauce bears some mention too. It's pretty vinegary stuff -- Open Pit territory, for those who know what that means. But it's also heavily spiced with... gads, tasted like cinnamon and cloves? It was a little unusual. I loved it too.

Anyway, the takeaway was that I took way, way, way too long to get down here, and I need to get to Barbara Ann's and Uncle John's posthaste.

So I need to round this out with an amusing story. On our last night in the city, I was jonesing for some live coal Korean BBQ, so I hit up San Soo Gab San, which was my old favorite back in the day. For me, it was always a tussle between San Soo Gab San and Hae Woon Dae, and SSGS won on variety and quality of banchan.

So anyway, the thing is I'm dying for live coals. But I'm on my own, and as with most Korean BBQ joints, they don't let you grill at the table unless you order two BBQ items. And I once tried that by myself and swore that I would never ever do it again. But I really want to grill myself. So I figure, hey, it's vacation. And I embark on a broken conversation with a server who speaks very little English about how I will pay for the Kalbi and...... here, this $15 BBQ item (the cheapest on the menu)..... but only bring me the Kalbi. That's okay, I'll pay for both. I just really want to grill at the table. She's confused, obviously thinks I'm crazy, but we seem to have a meeting of the minds.
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Banchan @ San Soo Gab San
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Then the banchan arrive. For the eagle-eyed, yes, that's nineteen you see there. And there was one more out of frame for a nice, round twenty. Now, SSGS was always long on banchan, but not like THIS, so I think to myself, "Gosh, that's nice... she knows I'm paying for an extra dish they're not giving me, so she gave me some extra banchan." Of course, I'm surprised to find myself thinking that I'd trade all twenty for two of Ga Hyang's -- nice to be reminded of just how good Ga Hyang is -- but still, it's nice to have a big selection.
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Kalbi @ San Soo Gab San
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Then the meat happens, and I'm so happy. I have smoke in my face. I'm fanning the coals so I can cook it super fast to get my kalbi reallyreallycrisp on the surface while barely done in the middle. Gas burners are all fine and good, but I miss live coals. And then, after a few minutes she brings by another dish -- fairly small, looking like some kind of thick rice noodle in a spicy sauce. Kind of like bibim naeng myun, but with a different noodle? Anyway, she gives me a light shrug, and a "Would you like to try this?" kind of look. And I think to myself, "Oh, gosh... that's nice, she's bringing me something else to try." So while I'm cooking the kalbi, I pick out a noodle with my chopsticks and give it a try. And it's... odd. It's really chewy. REALLY chewy. And not especially good. And I'm thinking to myself, well, gosh, this doesn't seem right. And then it dawns on me. I grab the menu, look at the BBQ section, see that the cheapest BBQ item I'd picked out by price without actually looking at it was marinated squid, and glance at the plate to see a couple of tentacles sticking out from under the pile of "noodles." Now, I dig raw squid just fine. But not when it's marinated and meant for the grill before eating. I deposited it in my napkin. (Some of the rest was pretty good on the grill, though.)

I had some great stuff in Chicago. But man, they'd envy Ga Hyang if they knew.

Gene & Jude's
www.geneandjudes.com
2720 River Road
River Grove, IL 60171
708-452-7634
Open until 1AM Sun - Thu
2AM Fri - Sat

Red Hot Ranch
2072 N. Western Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647
773-772-6020
Open until 4AM Sun - Thu
5AM Fri - Sat

Ghareeb Nawaz
www.ghareebnawazonline.com
2032 W. Devon Avenue
Chicago, IL 60659
773-761-5300
Open 24/7

Los Gallos 2
4252 S. Archer Avenue
Chicago, IL 60632
773-254-2081
Open until 1AM Sun - Thu
3AM(?) Fri - Sat

Lem's Bar-B-Q
www.lemsbarbq.com
311 E. 75th Street
Chicago, IL 60619
773-994-2428
Open until 1 AM Mon, Wed - Thu, Sun
3AM Fri - Sat

San Soo Gab San
5247 N. Western Avenue
Chicago, IL 60625
773-334-1589
Open until 3AM, Mon - Sun
Dominic Armato
Dining Critic
Arizona Republic | azcentral.com
Independent George
Posts: 69
Joined: 6 years ago
Location: Chicago, IL

6 years ago

Just curious - did anybody get momentarily confused by seeing 'Phoenix Restaurant' listed in Dom's Chicago trip, or was that just me?

The convenient thing about Chicago is that you have Smak-Tak right by O'Hare, and Birrierria Zaragoza right by Midway. So if you've got a 3-hour window between flights, that's just enough time to catch a short (5-10 minute) cab ride, eat, cab it back, and then wade through security again during your inevitable food coma.
Skillet Doux wrote:Incidentally, I just realized that I neglected to mention that at Sticky Rice, I finally got to meet Independent George. This was seriously, seriously overdue.

So glad we finally got to catch up, George... wish there had been time for more
Awwww... Thanks Dom, I was really glad to meet you, too. Sorry again for the sudden exit - I wish I could have stayed a little longer that night, but I had been up since around 6 that morning and was on the verge of collapse. And that was even without drinking that night!

Anyway, the next time you're in town, I'll try to be better prepared. I'm trying to work out your timeline - did you go to San Soo Gab San right after Sticky Rice? I might not have survived if I'd followed you.
tatterdemalion
Posts: 18
Joined: 7 years ago
Location: Boston

6 years ago

Skillet Doux wrote:Good question on the fritter, Dapuma. I believe it's pretty typical, but I'm not sure. And yeah, it's definitely in the neighborhood of banh xeo, but much thicker, pushing more towards an omelet and further from a pancake, and the fillings were mixed into the batter rather than folded in (with the exception of the bean sprouts). I don't know what the Thai name is for it.
Hoy thot is the name and I see it on a lot of Thai menus here in the US now. That looks like a particularly fine rendtion, at one of my favourite restaurants in Chicago. I tend to go to the Thai places each for a different reason, and Sticky is my favourite for all the funky Northern stuff, though I have not yet been to Aroy which has some of the same dishes.

Re: Ghareeb Nawaz
Skillet Doux wrote:Seriously, most of the entrees are five or six bucks. It's kind of absurd. And I should have gotten a photo of the exterior, because of course there were no fewer than five cabs parked out front when I got there at 1:30. I've heard it said -- and tatterdemalion can expound upon this a bit -- that GN is a bit of a crapshoot. That five bucks could get you something that's poorly made and has been languishing on a hot table all day, or it could get you one of the best of its kind in the city for a fifth of the price. I've been told it helps to go with guidance. I had neither guidance nor much experience with Pakistani, but tried it anyway.
Glad you tried GN, Dom. To be honest, there are so many damn things on the menu that I haven't even come close to getting around to a quarter of them. As you note, it's a pretty damn cheap gamble, so worth rolling the dice repeatedly. I've had good success with most of their traditional cabbie fare for-one - eg, a paratha/gosht plate of some kind. Their paratha is quite good, probably the only bread worth ordering there (though I haven't tried their poori). On my last visit, I was introduced to their chicken haleem, which I was highly skeptical of, but very pleasantly surprised. Nicely spiced and well-integrated, good texture. They also have hunter beef which I plan to try next time.

Speaking of next time, I will be there later this month and hope to get to some of the old faves you've so nicely documented above, plus some new-to-me hits.

I bow down to your solo KBBQ tactics, Dom !!! :D
Independent George
Posts: 69
Joined: 6 years ago
Location: Chicago, IL

6 years ago

I just finished an epic, two-week eating binge during my brother's recent visit from NYC. We didn't get photos of everything, and the ones we got weren't always great, but I'd be remiss if I didn't share. Oddly, you'll be getting my omnibus post here before LTH, as I'm much too lazy to search out the individual threads there.

I'll start with the Green City Market Summer Chefs BBQ. That's a bit of a mouthful, but it's arguably the best food event in the city, and my brother's annual visit is always timed to coincide with it. Set in picturesque Lincoln Park, it's a fundraiser for the local farmer's market that serves as a playground for some rather prominent restaurants in the Chicago dining scene. Over 100 vendors participate, and I managed to take a photo of maybe 30 plates, most of which I can't identify.

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Carriage House/The Bedford: Pecan-Smoked Beef Ribs. The photo ain't much to look at, but this was absolutely delicious.

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Cafe des Architectes: Spare Ribs, Duck Fat Potato Chips. The ribs were excellent, but really, they had me at Duck Fat Potato Chips.

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The Publican/Publican Quality Meats: Roasted Lamb with Chimichurri, Radishes, Paneer and Mint on Paratha. We would spend a lot of time at PQM during these two weeks, and it started with this dish. No trip to Chicago is complete without a visit to at least one member of the Paul Kahan empire.

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Smoque BBQ/Ina's: Smoked Prime Rib Sliders with Chimichurri on Potato Latke. Or, as someone else put it, "A little bit of Q, a little bit of Jew."

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Nightwood: Crispy Pig's Ear, Peanuts, and Cracker Jacks

These are just the highlights/things I can identify; I've got more photos from the BBQ posted at LTH here and here.
Last edited by Independent George 6 years ago, edited 2 times in total.
Independent George
Posts: 69
Joined: 6 years ago
Location: Chicago, IL

6 years ago

Chicago's fine dining is as good as any city in the world, but for a unique experience, there are two places in Chicago that I always try to convince people to go to at least once: Hot Doug's and Birrieria Zaragoza. There are other hot dog joints a birrierias in Chicago, many of them excellent, but if you want the pinnacle of their respective arts, this is where you go.

To quote my cousin, Birrieria Zaragoza doesn't f*** around. They have exactly two things on the menu: birria, and a cheese quesadilla (which is delicious, but you're not here for the quesadillas).

Unless you're from Jalisco, you probably haven't had birria like Zaragoza's before.

The goat and the consomme are cooked separately, resulting in a lighter, cleaner taste and texture than the typical birria. The meat is cooked in multiple stages - first steamed over six hours, then coated in a mole sauce and roasted again. The consomme manages to be incredibly rich and flavorful, and brings out the natural flavors of the goat without overpowering it. Because of the separate preparations, various parts of the goat can be served separately, letting you taste the full spectrum of flavors and textures. My favorite was the shank:

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We managed to consume three large (8 oz) portions, plus two orders of quesadillas. This is the aftermath:

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24 ounces of goat in about 15 minutes. The Tide stain stick in the upper-right corner saw much usage.

Chicago is a hot dog town, as befits the historical railway and meat packing center of the USA. The standard Chicago dog is a natural-casing, all-beef (traditionally Vienna Beef) hot dog, steamed or charred, served with mustard, onions, neon green relish, tomatoes, sport peppers, celery salt, and a pickle slice. Hot Doug's serves a great version of this.

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(l) ???, (r) jumbo Chicago dog (not usually on the menu; I just got lucky this day) with all the trimmings.

But if you're going to make that trip all the way out there, standing in line for sausages, you want to hit the 'specials' menu. When I'm by myself, I'll get one sausage off the regular menu (usually the andouille), plus one of the specials.

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(l) charred andouille sausage with raw onions and mustard, (r) something covered in brie. I dunno; I can't remember.

The one thing everyone will tell you, though, is to come during off-peak hours to deal with a manageable line. Come in before 11:15 AM, or after 1:30 PM on a weekday, and you can expect about a 20-30 minute wait. Between then, it can be an hour or longer. Come on a Friday or Saturday (the only days they serve the Duck Fat Fries), though, and you are likely to encounter this:

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This was 11:30 AM on a Friday. But it was worth it, because it yielded this:

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Clockwise: Veal Saltimbocca, ???, Texas Hot Link with Crispy Fried Onions, Fois Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage, ???, Andouille, Duck Fat Fries, Hot Sauce Chicken w/ Buffalo Mustard
Last edited by Independent George 6 years ago, edited 2 times in total.
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Skillet Doux
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6 years ago

Geez, you're killing me, man... Doug's and Zaragoza are two favorites I haven't managed to get to in my last two trips. Wanting that goat so badly right now.

Awesome writeup, George... thanks.
Dominic Armato
Dining Critic
Arizona Republic | azcentral.com
Independent George
Posts: 69
Joined: 6 years ago
Location: Chicago, IL

6 years ago

Skillet Doux wrote:Geez, you're killing me, man... Doug's and Zaragoza are two favorites I haven't managed to get to in my last two trips. Wanting that goat so badly right now.
You get a pass because you're a native, but one of those two stops should really be obligatory for visiting food nerds. They're out of the way, but so, so worth it.

My cousin now lives in the Western suburbs, but my brother makes one extended visit to Chicago each year. The first thing we do upon gathering is figure out when we gather is figure out when squeeze Hot Doug's and Birrieria Zaragoza into our busy schedule of eating and sleeping. We enjoy fine dining as much as anyone, but those two places really form the heart of our annual binge.

As soon as I can figure out my scanner, I'll upload some menus and try to recap the rest of eating tour. Unfortunately, I don't have any more photos, but I do have some brief notes jotted into my phone.
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azhotdish
Posts: 650
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6 years ago

Needing to be in Grand Rapids for two days recently for work meant that I was approximately four hours from Chicago via Amtrak, and the prospect of NOT going, despite an extremely abbreviated schedule, did not sit well with me. As it turned out, flying out of MDW on Chicago's south side and factoring in the train ticket was still cheaper than round trip tickets to-and-from GRR, so the decision pretty much made itself. :D

Which also meant, of course, a south-side surgical strike was necessary. With approximately six hours from arrival to the time I needed to be back at the airport, how much could we fit in? As it turned out - plenty.

I have to again thank SkilletDoux for the introduction to PIGMON, because he's an incredible guide and without whom this would have never happened. He picked me up from Union Station, dropped me off at the airport, and drove me all over town, providing interesting commentary and history throughout (Ever heard of a slaughterhouse "tied house"? Neither had I).

First stop...

Al’s Beef
1079 West Taylor Street
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 226-4017
http://alsbeef.com

Yeah, we have one here, and no, it's not as good. When I was in Chicago in March, I missed eating a wet beef sandwich, so that lapse was rectified here.

(photo from LTH)
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And it's a pretty good sandwich, but hard to get too excited about. Nicely seasoned beef with a very bright (and surprising not too spicy) giardiniera, wet. You gotta attack this thing as soon as you get it, because structurally it won't hold up very long, for better or worse.
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sausages in background
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The sausages grilling over open coals looked really great - too many stops, so we skipped. If i get back here, I'd try one of those.

Moving on...

Mississippi Hot Tamale Man
Yoland Cannon
909 N Laramie
Chicago, IL 60651
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signage
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So these were completely off my radar. Chicago has this thing with Tom Tom-brand extruded tamales, which is the base for the "mother-in-law". As it turns out, the history of the tamales goes further back, and these were brought up via the Mississippi Delta. A more detailed history can be found here.

These are certainly not Mexican tamales...
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They're constructed similarly to tamales you might find in Phoenix, wrapped in the same corn husk, but the fact that they're wrapped in tinfoil and then essentially boiled in a broth makes for a completely different result - the broth seasons the masa itself, so it's more strongly flavored and much more moist / soggy than normal.
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wrapped
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unwrapped
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The taste? Really great - the beef was just okay, but the chicken was really outstanding. I loved this stop.

After what was a very "unique" drive through some extremely questionable neighborhoods...bring on the tacos...

La Chaparrita Taqueria #1
2500 South Whipple Street
Chicago, IL 60623
(773) 247-1402

In terms of my favorite stops of the day, this was it. If this place were in Phoenix, I can say without question it would be my #1 taco recommendation in the city, and quite frankly, what we have here does not come close.

This picture was not taken at a great angle, but you can see some meat there sticking out from the top of the round charola - I wish I knew more about this cooking vessel.
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the magic charola in the background
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menu
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THIS IS INCREDIBLE STUFF! So refreshing, and so, so good. Very lightly fermented.
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tepache
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Stunning tacos in every way. My favorites were the cecina and the longaniza - both were texturally stunning. The cecina is very lightly cured beef, so there's a nice pull to the grainy meat. The longaniza was so crispy (as was the excellent tripas) and dripping with beautiful fat. The lengua was really no slouch either - just beautifully executed tacos. As SkilletDoux noted above, the salas were perfect. My god, this place is fantastic.
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lengua, cecina, longaniza, tripe
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Moving on, and not too far away...

Taqueria Los Barrilitos
3518 West 25th Street
Chicago, Illinois 60623
(773) 673-0102
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signage
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Just a quick stop here for a single taco...al pastor from their HUGE trompo.
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that's a tiny hunk of pineapple on top
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al pastor
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PIGMON wrote a piece on this place that happened to drop the day we went, so he dropped off the article for them, which you can read here: Spinning meat perfection. Sliced to order leg meat, onions, cilantro. Really tasty, salty, and not nearly as sweet as al pastor with cubed pineapple added.

We made a quick bourbon stop here at a bar on Archer Ave...Czech bar in a Polish neighborhood before...

Nicky’s Hot Dogs
6142 South Archer Avenue
Chicago, IL 60638
(773) 585-3675

The Big Baby - another new one for me and of dubious origin.
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So this is basically a double-cheese burger, flat-top gridled, and of precise construction. The cheese is placed in the middle, ketchup and mustard on the bottom with the pickles and grilled onions on top, all wrapped in wax paper. What's so special about it? Well, I'm not so sure, except that after the first bite a voice in my head said "this is what McDonald's should taste like". It's a damn tasty fast food burger.

Last stop before the airport...I'm getting FULL...

Birrieria Zaragoza
4852 South Pulaski Road
Chicago, IL 60632
(773) 523-3700

Much as been written about this place, including here, and for good reason - this is a quintessential example of a specialist. They do one thing in various formats - birria tatemada - roasted goat from Jalisco.
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birria tatemada
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Beautiful stuff - crispy around the edges with a deep, deep roasted flavor. Crazy good. There was a thin arbol sauce on the side, and they gave me a small bowl of the tomato-based consomme they use for the plate. Less is more, and they are nailing it.

So in the end, five hours, six stops (not including our short bar stop) before I was at the MDW terminal and waiting to by patted down through security. Once again, Chicago and PIGMON did not disappoint. And now I'm craving tacos.
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Joel
@azhotdish
Independent George
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Location: Chicago, IL

6 years ago

Awesome writeup!

One thing, though: I don't know if you noticed, but you had some green stuff land on your food in some of those photos. You really do have to be vigilant, because for some strange reason, it just sneaks on to your food when you least expect it.
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azhotdish
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6 years ago

Independent George wrote:Awesome writeup!

One thing, though: I don't know if you noticed, but you had some green stuff land on your food in some of those photos. You really do have to be vigilant, because for some strange reason, it just sneaks on to your food when you least expect it.
Thanks! I did notice that...I swear I was just trying to focus on meat and fat. :D
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Joel
@azhotdish
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