Sky Full of Bacon


I spent enough of 2016 making a big list—The Fooditor 99, now available at Amazon and for Kindle!—so I’m not going to belabor what’s in that guidebook. But I’ve been making ten best lists for over a decade now so I might as well keep at it. Here are my ten favorite things I ate, most of which will not come as a surprise to readers of The Fooditor 99:

10. Jianbing, as described in The Fooditor Guide to Chinatown’s Richland Center Food Court: “Start with what looks like a burrito wrap, but is actually a flour crepe, fry egg directly on the crepe, stuff it with some things like lettuce, scallions and a schmear of hoisin sauce, wrap it up and you have a simple, fresh-tasting and absolutely delicious breakfast food.”

9. Black and white pizza from Nomad at Green City Market. Never let it be said that the Trib’s an-X-a-day-for-a-month didn’t produce at least one discovery for me. Thanks, Louisa.

8. Cantaloupe with lime leaf and chile, anise-cured egg dessert, etc., The Loyalist and Smyth: I seem to be a bit of a rarity in that I think the fine dining Smyth has great things ahead of it but is a little obscure, a little tough to puzzle out just yet… while I love The Loyalist, the more casual side, pretty much unreservedly. But that cantaloupe, so simple yet magical, stuck with me all year as a perfect example of chefs taking stuff at the high point of its season and dialing it up just a little past nature’s perfection. The burger’s good too, have you heard that?

7. Assorted Thai dishes at In-On Thai and Immm Rice and Beyond. We’re in a little Thai renaissance, including Paula’s, Tom Yum Cafe, JJ Street Food and others, but two stood above the rest. The tastiest one, alas, is closed now because the Lakeview building it was in was torn down—that’s In-On Thai. (There are hopes it will come back; read more here.) Immm Rice and Beyond is more challenging and not always as obviously pleasurable, but as discussed here, the street food-oriented buffet line offers a very different view of Thai food from any other place I know of.

6. Any fish plate at Snaggletooth. To quote The Fooditor 99, “It’s like Jewish deli sushi.”

5. Tasting menu at Hanbun. It was exciting to go to Oriole and Smyth & The Loyalist at the beginning of illustrious careers, but going to the strip mall in Westmont to eat Dave Park’s fine dining food with Korean flavors was in a whole ‘nother ballpark of not-for-long obscurity. Just do it.

4. Eggplant, broccoli with hummus at Giant. You can hear me on a Fooditor podcast a few months back saying I felt Giant was overlooked (which it was by Michelin). To judge by everybody’s ten best lists in the last week or so, it’s everybody’s favorite restaurant now. These are the two dishes that I still think about and want to emulate at home.

3. Plin, risotto with white truffle, etc. at Osteria Langhe/Arancini at Animale. I managed, somewhat by chance, to have three terrific birthday meals—Publican Anker, one of the year-end’s most promising meals; lunch at ever-reliable Sepia; and then Osteria Langhe. And the last, at the height of white truffle season, was just blissfully good and it was a pleasure to share their warm hospitality with my family. I’m a fan of their spinoff Animale, too, even as it continues to evolve its model.

2. Tasting menu at Oriole. Relaxing, people you want to cheer for, deliciousness.

1. Japan. Obviously it’s not fair to put an entire country where you spent ten days as an entry on a list, but just as obviously, what greater food experience did I have, could I have had, than immersion in this food-obsessed, perfectionist country? I wrote about Tokyo here, and my most exceptional experience in Kyoto here, but I think about it nearly every day.

A few runners-up to mention: Justin Behlke’s Thurk pop-up would have made this list except he’s not doing them any more (I don’t think) as he takes on duties at Kitsune, so I’ll save a space for him next year; had an excellent meal at Parachute with a terrific broccoli and date dish that proves it’s only gotten better; I still think about a brisket biscuit at Bang Bang Pie & Biscuit that kind of socked me out for the rest of the morning but was still so good; my new favorite burger is at Small Fry; the perfect whole fish at Leña Brava; El Che, the sexiest new room in town; Hunter Owens won me back over to burritos after years of declaring Chicago a taco town, at Burrito Juarez; Saigon Bistro, much better than those cranky crabs, thanks Keng; I’m glad to see the comfy and utterly agreeable Cafe Marie-Jeanne making other peoples’ ten best lists, and I’d make room for Spinning J’s right next to it; the Quiote pop-up at Eataly; Julbord, for the first time with the whole family, at Tre Kronor; and it was kind of a pop-up (but it comes every year, so you could have it next year), but the cassoulet dinner at Publican Quality Meats left a whole table blissed out, me included.

Ten best for: 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003


The lovely Susan, and me in a tux. No Instagram filters, that was actual lighting at this event (at Ravinia).

If you’ve come by here you surely know that the bulk of my activity now is at Fooditor.com, but I feel like a top 10 list is a more personal thing, especially if you’re not a reviewer as I’m mostly not. So, if for no other reason than to keep SFOB alive, here’s my personal top 10:

10. Duck hot dog, The Duck Inn— When we finished the Fooditor Radio podcast, I tried to think of places we should have mentioned but didn’t. This is probably the one I feel guiltiest about (so I tried to bring it up on WGN Radio—that’s why we were talking about Bridgeport—but I got sidetracked). But it seems to be getting plenty of press anyway—a near-perfect-for-Chicago combination of old neighborhood atmosphere and well-made comfort food, especially the duck hot dog, which might be the best hot dog in a whole city of hot dogs.

9. Dim sum, Dolo— Nobody knew where the late Josh Ozersky got the idea that there was exceptional food in an unknown joint in Chinatown… except me, who wrote that it had such great dim sum for the Reader.

8. Mushroom dish, Arbor— The last place I need to write more words about; go to Fooditor to find what’s so special and interesting about it, and how a coffee shop served me a dish of mostly foraged mushrooms.

7. Carne asada tacos, Taqueria Traspasada (Ashland)— “Why had I never been to either version of this taqueria? Well, there are just so many to try, and it never made it to the top of the list; maybe I felt like I knew it because I had been to the Carniceria Guanajuato’s taqueria next door to the one on California. Anyway, I was looking for a new place and gave the Ashland and Chicago one, that once was Dion Antic’s late night hot dog stand with stripper pole, a try. It’s fantastic, good enough that no one should miss the two of the three La Pasaditas up the street that have closed. Really flavorful carne asada, good pastor despite the lack of a pastor cone, it’s a platonic ideal level cheap taco joint.”

6. Hellcat, GreenRiver— For not being any sort of cocktail maven, I had three exceptional cocktail experiences this year. One was finally going to The Office, twice, long after shooting video but never actually drinking there. I’ve never been to a place that was so good about asking you a few questions and divining a perfect drink for you based on the results. One was going to the insanely expensive but insanely groovy Milk Room at the Chicago Athletic Association, drinking their antique hooch in an atmosphere that’s more like meeting with your spiritual adviser than sitting at a bar. But the best of all was a single drink, the Hellcat, at GreenRiver, a masterpiece of multiple drops and tinctures and flavors made into a complex, beautifully balanced drink. Others have complained of service issues at the instantly-swamped bar—but we snagged two seats by luck right at the beginning and had a great hour right at the bar.

5. Oxtail taco, Cantina 1910— I’m just going to have to be bummed that what seemed like the beginning of a new direction for Mexican food in Chicago got cut short after a couple of months. No telling what either side of the divorce—the chef who left or the massive restaurant with no chef—will do now, but I’ll remember the wonderful oxtail taco on its handmade tortilla, among several others. That said, Cantina 1910, good as it was, was not my favorite Mexican meal of the year…

4. Goat tacos, “Miel” popup by Jonathan Zaragoza and Charles Welch, held at Birrieria Zaragoza— Birrieria Zaragoza is, as everyone should know by now, quite possibly the best mom-and-pop ethnic restaurant in the city, but here was son Jonathan, who’s worked around town from Sepia to Pearl’s Tavern, the new Cajun place in Edgewater, taking the family’s cuisine to another level with a popup dinner devoted to goat, from tartare to carne en su jugo. Miel dinners are not exactly open to the public, but they’re not that hard to track down and get on the list for either, so try.

3. Milk/beef dish, Ardent/Red Light Ramen— Milwaukee’s Ardent boils down, for me, to one dish that was dazzlingly conceptual, yet likable and comforting enough that Liam, my pickiest son, talks about going back to have it again: the one that combined milk bread, butter and cheese all from the same batch of milk, plus a beef tartare with bone marrow from the same steer—raised by chef Justin Carlisle’s father. But there was so much more to this meal, including returning with my other son to cover midnight ramen (for Fooditor here).

2. Pastas, Monteverde— You can get good enough Italian food all over Chicago, you can get pretty darn good Italian food at Eataly and a few other places, but I had one meal that reminded me of everything there is to love about Italian food—not just the comfiness of braised meats and hearty tomato sauces but also the stern Catholic simplicity of hard sheets of pasta and tartly elemental cheeses. You know it’s just going to get better and better, too.

1. Egg with caviar, The Blanchard— The most magical meal I had; I went in with moderate expectations—I like French food, but don’t necessarily worship it—yet one thing after another was just blissfully perfect, delicate and poised, more beautiful than I thought possible—the Audrey Hepburn of meals in 2015.

But wait, there’s more… It’s become a thing for writers to list dozens, even hundreds of dishes, after their top 10— I can’t read a list that long, personally, so I’m going to put them in categories for easier reference. Many link to Reader pieces, because even if they weren’t top ten material, they deserved a day’s acclaim, anyway:

Official Number 11: Eggplant parmigiana at Formento’s—either that, or chicken-fried pheasant at Cindy’s

Best restaurants where I felt you couldn’t quite eat a meal: I found this easier to forgive with (the lamented RIP) Bom Bolla which really was a bar, but it was a little frustrating that you could eat a bunch of tasty things but feel it didn’t quite add up to a meal. I find it much more frustrating at Band of Bohemia, because a couple of things were top-ten worthy—I had the best steak of the year there, and the dessert guy (forgot his name) is an instant star. But is a meal really a steak (with no accompaniments), a plate of octopus (fair) and a plate of sweetbreads (not good) plus a dessert? That sounds more like finishing off leftovers than something you set out to have in a restaurant. I’m an adult, I want to eat dinner in a civilized way—and I want Band of Bohemia to achieve its full potential, because it seems like the best opening of the fall/winter after Monteverde.

Runners up for Italian food: Osteria Langhe, everyone (but Joe Campagna) likes it, but also what Johnny Anderes (RIP Telegraph) is doing at The Kitchen (above).

Underrated burger of the year: Little Bad Wolf

Sorry, but pizza that didn’t make my list: Side Street Saloon. But cool bar anyway.

Best half a restaurant: DeQuay. I liked the Dutch dishes a lot. The Indonesian ones? Well, there’s this place called Devon Avenue where they make complex curries…

Hippest places I ate in 2015: Fulton Market Kitchen; runner up, CC Fern

Unhippest place I ate in 2015: Took son to Joy Yee on Irving Park, and actually thought it was pretty good

Out of Town RIP: The Magpie, Richmond VA. I will remember that summer tomato custard.

Thing I Didn’t Worry About: What Mast Brothers chocolate says about us

Other things that I liked this year:


Asian: 
• Xi’an lamb sandwich at Xi’an Cuisine
• Pho and banh mi at Coco
• Dumplings and lamb skewers at Qing Xiang Yuen
• Ramen at Furious Spoon, and at Ramen Takeya
• Fermented pork, beef salad, In-On Thai
• Lagman, Luzzat
• Hmong Market in Milwaukee
• Scott Malloy’s rustic miso at Momotaro, and Meg Galus’ dessert with Okinawan black sugar
• Going to Kurumaya with Scott Malloy


Mexican:
• Chicken at Pollo Express
• Chicken in mole at Ixcateco Grill
El Comalito


Pizza:
• Sausage pizza at Orsi’s/Chester’s in Summit
• Pizza at Craft Pizza
• Slice of the Roland at Dough Bros.
• Deep dish pizza at Pizza Barra in Oakbrook
• Deep dish pizza at Louisa’s, Crestwood


Some Random Cool New Things

• Short rib sandwich and housemade chips at Wyler Road
• Pork belly at Claudia
• Hot Brown sandwich at Stock
• Rye spaetzle at Boeufhaus
• A rye flour croissant at the public market in Columbus, OH
• Nutella brioche thing at Baker & Nosh
• Steak tartare at Swift & Sons


Old School
• Smoked fish, Ted Peters, St. Petersburg FL
• Pita (burek) from Caffe Slasticarna Drina
• Cheese danish from Pticek’s on the far south side
• Gyros at the Parthenon (for this list)
• Gyro-Mena
• Hienie’s fried chicken on the southeast side
• Sammy’s Kitchen


Drinks and Eats
• Pickled egg rolls or whatever those were, Thank You, and whatever I drank at Lost Lake to go with them
• Drinks and fondue at Punch House
• Ethiopian coffee at Sparrow Coffee
Boeuf-amann, Bad Wolf Coffee

Ten best for: 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 10.48.14 AM
Liam’s top 7.

I think this was a great year for food in Chicago—so great that everyone knows what was great about it and more or less agrees already. Who can’t love 42 Grams and Parachute and Baker Miller and so on? For one more list to justify its existence at the very end of the year— when it feels like they’ve been steadily appearing since October, like Christmas ornaments at Target— it has to show rigor and novelty and not just look like a subset of the monster lists of 100 best things that suggest we live in such a renaissance of culinary wonders that we don’t even need to make choices at all.

Pete Wells introduced his New York Times list with a similar viewpoint, and in particular called out the first fish-or-cut-bait point for a critic or, in my case, a reporter who attends media dinners: “Have I gone back, or wished I could?” Which of course really means, would I spend my own money there? In several of these cases I attended media events or tried the food for free while taking its picture or something, but in every case that made the list, I returned happily on my own dime. Believe me, food writers don’t get any more sincere than that.

That helps get you past the other moral speedbump, which is that all these places are run by really nice people who are trying really hard and you want to be nice to them and like what other people like. Pick the place that everyone likes and no one will question your judgement, but no one will notice it that much either. So I try to name the places that really struck me, even if it means consigning some places I liked a lot from chefs I know to the seeming purgatory of a runners-up paragraph. I’m sorry! It’s not you, it’s me! But the heart wants what it wants, and it wants different things from all over town and at all levels, and a true list for me has all kinds of food side by side, and the presence of one is not an aspersion on another. I come back to what Duke Ellington said (but I got from Peter Schickele) about music when whether jazz could be as good as classical was a serious debate: if it sounds good, it is good.

As always, my only rules are that the citation is for at least one specific dish I loved (and more to the point, still remember), even if it’s also for the restaurant as a whole; and the dish has to be something new to me this year (so I couldn’t really credit Paulina Meat Market for the fact that their housemade pastrami seems to have taken a leap up in quality of late). Here goes:

IMG_1665 Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 1.52.58 PM

10. Fried chicken threeway tie: [Evanston] Chicken Shack, Five Loaves Eatery, and Fork. Hey, I didn’t say only one restaurant per entry on the list was a rule! I did two fried chicken lists for Thrillist and tried a bunch of fried chicken that was new to me this year, and three standouts deserve shared praise for being nearly as good as the platonically perfect homemade chicken in my head that I work to get ever closer to at home. The first two (one in Evanston, one a sweet breakfast and lunch cafe on 75th street) earn it for not only frying well but seasoning properly; so much fried chicken is texturally right but needlessly bland, but these places know how to use their salt and pepper shakers, and the smoky sweet barbecue sauce at Chicken Shack is the best argument high fructose corn syrup ever had for itself.

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 1.53.25 PM

The third, a perennially overlooked farm to table place in Lincoln Square run by a former Lettuce chef, takes a far more baroque approach to the chicken half of chicken and waffles—it’s marinated in black tea and ginger and who knows what all—but the result is wonderfully complex and crispy. Also, it comes with candied bacon.

IMG_2555 IMG_2559

9. Kohlrabi salad, gemelli with sundried tomatoes and bottarga, A10. Chicago has lots of Italian food and yet I seem to have more and more friends who find it disappointing. Worse yet, I have to agree with them at least a good deal of the time—Chicago knows how to make a lot of B level easy to like Italian (-American) food, not so much A level Italian cooking that shows the Italian love of beautiful ingredients highlighted simply like jewels in a setting. The A though is well placed in the name of Matthias Merges’ Hyde Park spot, which to me, more than Yusho, fulfills his promise of bringing Trotter-level technique and precision with flavor to reasonably priced, accessible food.

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 2.12.34 PM Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 2.14.51 PM

8. Pate de campagne, tagliatelle with beef heart/pig’s blood ragu, etc. Tete Charcuterie. I tried Tete Charcuterie’s food at a preview where I took pictures, and found it very well crafted but thought, well, here’s a heavy meat palace I’m not likely to go back to over and over. And I’ve been back twice myself, and set up a business dinner for my wife there as well. So I guess I liked it more than I thought! Yes, it’s devoted to meat, often pretty strongly (I had a pork liver pate there with two other diners which was a bit too strong for all of us), but the chefs are clearly guys with high overall skills who can not only make a beautifully balanced pate or sausage, but do the same with a salad or a plate of pasta, too. We remain desperately short on French restaurants, but in its own, straight-out-of-the-butcher-shops-of-Les Halles way, this is the best French restaurant opening in some years.

IMG_1447

7. Pancit noodles, kare-kare, fried kawali, etc. Isla Pilipina. It may have been one step back for Filipino food with the quick closing of Laughing Bird, but a cuisine that baffled me for years is finally making progress toward becoming widely accepted like other Asian cuisines. For my own part, I’d tried Isla Pilipina years ago, as chronicled in a post at LTHForum that was mainly about the transsexuals who dropped in for fried chicken the same night, and not been inspired to return for a good decade. But the place soldiered on, in a Lawrence strip mall, and especially under the second generation, grew its skills and improved its menu—and returning at long last, I loved the homey yet brightly flavorful food as much as Chinese or Thai.

IMG_1102

6. Oatmeal, toast, Baker/Miller Bakery & Millhouse. Okay, I’ll be a partial exception to the universal love for this place, even as I know and like the owners—I’m not wild about the muffins and baked goods. They seem heavy and a bit hippie coop-whole-grain-good-for-you-ish. The bread is heavy, too, but in a good way, as in, a slice of this is like eating a bread steak. It’s the closest we’ve come to lembas bread, a few nibbles filling you satisfyingly for the whole day. As for the lusciously creamy oatmeal, how often do you eat something that’s an entirely new texture? It’s miraculous.

5. Miso ramen pozole at Arami, by Rick Bayless. I considered leaving this off because it was a one-off at Arami in October, which happened because Arami chef Fred DesPres is married to one of Bayless’ chefs, but I decided, why not mention the kind of serendipitous collaboration that happens on our scene all the time? Anyway, it was the best of miso ramen, and the best of pozole, made into one hearty Japanese-Mexican dish with all the soupmaking chops of a chef who I think is sometimes more seen as a curator of food culture than the kitchen master technician he (also) is. I just remember on the first season of Top Chef Masters, Bayless was kind of condescended to by all these French and Italian food chefs, like you’re gonna win this with tacos pal, and then they’d go feed the people passing by or at an event— and they all went goggle-eyed when they tasted Bayless’s stuff, and he won the whole season. This was the kind of dish that did that.

IMG_2006 IMG_0607

4. Dim sum in Toronto. There’s a whole post about that here, but to summarize, best xiao long bao I’ve ever had at 369, great pork dumplings and other things at Dragon, and the amazing King of King’s Pork candy at John’s. Thanks Renee!

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 4.06.29 PM Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 4.05.56 PM

3. Bing bread, pork belly mung bean pancake, pat bing su etc., Parachute. I’ve believed Asian food is the future of American dining for a long time, but it took until Fat Rice to have a place in Chicago that hit the sweet spot of hipster, almost comfort food atmosphere with bright, sometimes challenging Asian flavors. And one of the joys of Fat Rice was watching it improve and grow more confident with each meal in its first year or two. Now I feel the same way about Parachute, which is one of our best new restaurants and gets better and more interesting each time. If you want to subscribe to a place that sells tickets for a new menu every four months, that’s all good, but for the same kind of experience, don’t forget to simply try a rising star like this place every few months during its most fertile early days of self-discovery.

IMG_0004

IMG_0478 IMG_0457

1 (tie). Charcuterie, Thuringer, Fried Brussel Sprouts, etc. at The Radler; and tasting menu at 42 Grams. I went back and forth on what should be number one before finally deciding to do the cop-out and call them a tie. The thing is, they’re such perfect examples of opposing approaches that they sum up so much about how I think about food. 42 Grams is ambitious, daring, a look-at-this! menu of magic tricks; it’s just fun to go on a journey like this, be part of the show, agree to be wowed time and again. Where The Radler is unassuming by comparison, so relaxed a neighborhood place that I feel it is underappreciated because it demands nothing of you, yet the skills at every level are so high and the finesse so exacting that you should pay it more attention. One is a special occasion, the other makes an ordinary occasion special; they’re both experiences I’m immensely glad to have had.

RUNNERS-UP

Places I feel guilty about leaving off:

Boka, especially after a more recent meal, Lee Wolen is making beautiful plates that are as finely executed as at any of the tasting menu joints, but in a more easygoing setting with the more traditional app-entree-dessert format. That is deservedly a recipe for packing the house every night.

MFK, which makes such nice simple stuff, I love the philosophy but maybe the very fact of being simple and direct like that makes it hard to say, “This was a wow!” about any one thing. It’s sure nice to go to and hang out in, though.

River Roast, I’m the last guy to just want a steak for dinner but I used my son’s birthday as an excuse to go here a second time and eat all the meats

Cellar Door Provisions: I have certain Kenny Z-like issues with $14 open face sandwiches with three slices of beet on them, but that great dark crusty bread and those great dark crusty croissants are, well, great, dark and crusty.

Low-end places I seriously considered: Red Hot Ranch for the fake In’N’Out burger that’s better than In’N’Out, Mezquite Pollo Express, this chicken soup

Place I just went that I’m still processing: Oaxaca

Ten best for: 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003


Hanging with the makers of Chicago’s modest ethnic cuisines.

This is my tenth ten best list (links to all are at the end of the post) and one that marks a significant change. When I started compiling them a decade ago, it was very much with an eye to advocating the little joints, the ethnic spots, the finds to be found in the urban wilderness (or on trips to areas of regional specialties like Austin). I praised fine dining when it was excellent— Trio under a young fellow named Achatz, Avenues under Bowles, Spring, Moto, Schwa, Blackbird, Vie, beloved departed Mado, Longman & Eagle and Ruxbin all have turned up over the years, among others. But the real point was to call out the wonders of everything from TAC Quick to Burt’s Pizza to Smoque to Sun Wah to Taqueria Ricardo to Taza Bakery to Khan BBQ to Pleasant House… all those little places that everybody knows, now, as part of the fabric of the city.

And now I have a job which is primarily engaged with the world of fine-ish dining, or “chef-driven restaurants” in the too-precious but somehow unimproved-upon phrase, and I get to go to a lot of fine dining places… and guess what, there’s a lot of that on my list. Okay, so I guess that means, middle age happens, you go from one side of the political spectrum to another, from being current with music to satisfied with the oldies, you eat at fewer hot dog stands and more white tablecloth places, right?

Some of that, probably, but I don’t think it’s that easy. The thing that happened to fine dining in this same decade was that it got funkier, realer, more attuned to the things that made that ethnic food great. And the places I really loved this year and thus made this list bridge those two opposites— they make straightforward food rooted in tradition, but because they’re from people with more formal training and expertise, who shop at farmer’s markets and all that stuff, they are faster than the mom and pops to reach the sublime. (Not always— it remains true that a $1.50 taco is nearly always better than a $3 taco in this town— but in the best cases, yes.) So here’s my list, no longer mostly cheap but still, I think, mostly funky; as always, this is stuff new to me this year, don’t assume that I don’t still love Butcher & Larder or whomever:

10. Grilled langoustines, brussel sprout salad, merguez empanada, seafood moqueca, La Sirena Clandestina. I’ve been surprised to see middling reviews for John Manion’s South American place, which scored 4 out of 6 dishes for terrific funky, get-down flavor for me. Maybe there’s some inconsistent execution in a new place, maybe it helped that Manion told me what to order (the middling reviews had none of the above in them except the risotto-like moqueca, which they all praised), but order the list above and if it doesn’t make you happy from the inside out, I don’t know what would. The next night at L2O, as exquisite as some of those seafood creations were… Manion’s charred, funky langoustines kept popping into my head.

9. Bacon bread, brussels sprouts with kielbasa, Allium. I’ve had other plenty good things at Kevin Hickey’s reinvention of the restaurant in the Four Seasons into a high-end tribute to his south side origins, but these two seem the most iconic because they show off the remarkable trick he pulled off, bringing a pure shot of authentic Chicago (the bacon buns inspired by Bridgeport Bakery, the coarse, porky Polish kielbasa tossed with charred crispy brussels sprouts) into the most generic of environments, the international hotel dining room, and appointing himself the south side’s culinary cultural ambassador in the process.

8. Phil’s Last Stand. Phil’s imitation In-N-Out burger is my favorite burger of the moment, but most of what else he does is dead-on (char dogs, crispy fries)— while I admire that his media-savvy doesn’t extend to irony. This isn’t a reinvented stand, or a take on a stand; it’s just a stand, and glad to have it. (Curious note: I wrote the foregoing, then a few days later had a chef say almost exactly the same thing to me about a completely different kind of place.)

7. Steelhead trout, Kai Zan. Okay, so when I finished Next Kyoto, I was pretty sure it would be on this list. Beautifully crafted, well-researched, full of interesting surprises… and I have to think about it to recall something from it. But mention Kai Zan and I instantly see this suggestively silky and supple square of fish, dressed with admirable restraint. Not only see it, but remember what it was like to put in my mouth. If I’m still thinking about something two months later, how can it not be on my list?

6. Manila clams with merguez broth and other things, The Purple Pig. The first couple of times I ate at The Purple Pig, I found it a clever downtown imitation of a real pork-lovin’ place a la Vie or Mado or Avec. Seemed like a nice job by some sharp guys of concepting up a restaurant for the Michigan Avenue crowd, much like all our new diner places. Slowly, each time I’ve returned, The Purple Pig has labored to convince me it’s the real deal, and I accept that now. Did it get better, or did I get better at ordering from it? Maybe both; I kind of ignore the charcuterie, for instance, and pay more attention to vegetables or seafood, and that great not-too-sweet dessert of faro in a mascarpone-like cream. This clam dish was a marvel, porky and briny at the same time, and it is not alone on this menu in being wonderful.

5. Kentucky Bourbon dinner at Big Jones. I’ve always liked Big Jones but, you know, it’s easy to like southern food, doesn’t mean you think it’s great great. Where chef Paul Fehribach soars is in his regular historical dinners, which recreate recipes from specific places and eras— doing what Next does in a single night. This 1830s Kentucky bourbon dinner was fascinating for serving things people would be afraid to eat now (calves’ foot jelly, which was pretty wonderful, actually), things that tasted more like honest home food than restaurant food (mutton barbecue), a door opened into another world that was completely unlike anything else on our food scene this year.

4. Anise hyssop and others at EL Ideas: “I gathered that this is a problem he’s had with some local critics, too— not being sure his restaurant is real enough and serious enough to be worth the investment, of time or money… Let me cut to the chase and say that you have nothing to fear and a lot to anticipate excitedly from EL Ideas. If it’s not a “real” restaurant, then too bad for real restaurants, because in so many ways it’s a warm and engaging experience like fine dining has often forgotten to be. I didn’t entirely buy Foss’s line of patter about the setup overlooking the kitchen space being cozier and more welcoming and erasing the barriers between the chefs and the diners, but that was, in fact, pretty much exactly what it was, and what it did; even if you don’t leave your seat and wander into the kitchen while they’re working, you have no more distance from the chefs, physically and otherwise, than you do from a friend throwing a barbecue in his backyard.”

3. Nathan Myhrvold’s dishes at the Charlie Trotter 25th anniversary dinner. Well, here’s the exception to my general theme. As much as I’ve enjoyed molecular tricks in the past, Myhrvold’s ultrascientific approach took it to a new level— as in the centrifuge-spun caprese salad which was only a tiny shooter of tomato water and separated whey… yet tasted like the most amazing caprese salad you ever ate with an actual fork. It was a real mind bender, to have so much real flavor in such a disembodied form— but it’s not just about tricks; Myhrvold’s pastrami, which happened by some process too complicated for me to recall after a couple of glasses of wine, was utterly delectable as, unmistakably, meat.

2. Publican Quality Meats. Given what’s going on here with housemade sausage and bread and so on, I wanted to love the first round of sandwiches, and I… liked them. None was as good or rich or multidimensional as the one bite of the cocido I had one day, which had the benefit of that more deeply flavorful sausagemaking downstairs. I’m not saying I didn’t go back there a lot, but it wasn’t with quite the rapture that others felt for this place, based on the sandwiches. Then came the chicken parm, and then the PB&L (a pork belly and lamb sausage), and for me PQM hit the magic sweet spot of blue collar food made with artisanal care… and now I would tell anyone that PQM is on the short list of true must-visits in Chicago.

1. Vera. People ask me if I have a favorite restaurant. I don’t, really, because I have to always try new places; I’m not a guy who has a place that he goes back to over and over. But I had a favorite restaurant, once: Rob and Allie Levitt’s Mado. I loved the freshness and simplicity of how they treated things from the farmer’s markets. I loved the spirit of adventure in the air. I knew them and trusted them, and I mourned Mado not being in my life even as I admire what they’ve done next (The Butcher & Larder). And the closest I’ve come since then to feeling the same about a place has been Vera, Mark and Liz Mendez’s restaurant, which is officially a Spanish tapas bar, but to me is just a place that does kind of Mediterranean stuff with whatever’s at the farmer’s market, sometimes makes great things, sometimes makes just pretty good ones, but the great ones are terrific (boquerones, grilled tongue, and whatnot) and everything speaks of simplicity and honesty and directness in its path from the soil (or the sea) to my mouth. It’s my favorite restaurant. I think.

Other things I thought seriously about putting on here, besides Next Kyoto: Next El Bulli (at least what I had of it); Nellcôte for rabbit sausage and Taleggio with green onions and grapes and speck pizza; L2O for the earliest, most delicate courses, like the cauliflower mousse; crispy tripas at La Chapparita; chicken soup with crispy rice at Lao Shanghai; pizza from Armitage Pizzeria; braised escarole at Eataly; fried pickle salad at Stout Barrel House; polenta with pork belly and schweinekopf at Table, Donkey and Stick; fried dino-chicken wing, Golden Palace.

Best Things Eaten in Late 2012 List (click Best Things I’ve Eaten Lately under Categories to see all these lists):

• Grilled langoustines, brussel sprout salad, merguez empanada, seafood moqueca, La Sirena Clandestina
• Red skin mashed potatoes, The Southern
• Fried chicken, Macarthur’s
• Pollo tinga, La Catrina (3658 W. Diversey)
• Maultaschen with chicken consommé, schweinekopf, polenta with roasted bacon, Table, Donkey & Stick
• Mussels with coconut broth, Libertad
• Pastrami hash, Eggy’s Diner
• Doner, Iskender doner, falafel, Zizi’s
• Edwards Surryano ham, both by itself and at Avec
• Lots of things at L2O, almost all on the delicate small piece of fish side, but the desserts are pretty great too
• Greens at Pecking Order
• Grilled sardine, African chicken, Fat Rice
• Gyros, Covo Market
• Ramen at The Aviary
• Ramen at Ginza

Ten best for: 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003

Let me end with a toast to using the internet to share the delight of food and good company; I raise a new Chicago brew I can’t wait to try with Thai food…

IMG_4211

At some point at dinner at Elizabeth a thought crossed my mind: is this the end? This was not a comment on the imaginative and thoroughly interesting meal, but rather on myself, as I waited for the next entirely new and novel taste sensation to cross my palate. We had the deer menu, which is the foraging-based one, and while there were many things in it which were familiar— I believe I’ve had carrots before— there were also some that had come out of a forest one way or another, from autumn olives to matsutake mushrooms. And forest food has a distinct difference from plant or root food— it’s intense, woodsy (well duh), and… not exactly food, to our sensibilities. More like something between food and not-food. So when I ingested something like spruce soda, part of me was excited to be opening new territory on the border between food and the country next to it, but part of me was haunted by a thought… so have I exhausted the world of food? Are there no new flavors left in known cuisine, that I have to go hunting for novelty in a land beyond food?

Iliana Regan’s response to this would surely include the observation that many of the things I’m assuming to not be food have been food for other cultures and eras— spruce, to name one, was used like hops are today in beer around George Washington’s time. Or they’re simply other forms of food— those carrots are wonderful, but when their familiarity is joined with Queen Anne’s lace jam, all you’ve done is reunited today’s carrot with its grandmother’s flower. (At the bottom of that Queen Anne’s stalk is a little bulb that would eventually be bred into the modern foot-long supermarket carrot. I learned that in a Sky Full of Bacon video.)

IMG_4221

The other thing is that if you want to talk not-quite-food, there’s plenty of modernist manipulation going on in this meal, in which twigs and sprigs rest atop emulsified stabilized this or that. So if you think Elizabeth’s little storefront is doing a sort of eccentric, primitive folk art food— a reasonable impression from media and Regan’s deceptively dreamy manner— there’s also plenty of cutting-edge technique under the Etsy-obsessive picnic in the woods image that she’s constructed.

But how was the food, you ask, suspecting I could go on for paragraphs in this vein. And you’re right. This is a meal that everyone who thinks about their food should have in order to think about it, and conversely, if you’re going to go there because it’s new and trendy but you’re going to be disappointed that it didn’t hit familiar notes, please, spare us all and go have a steak at Bavette’s Bar and Boeuf.

IMG_4239

Elizabeth has its moments of conventional comforts— a ragu on top of polenta is warm and comfy, and without being told you’d never know the odd thing about it, which is that that’s not beef, it’s raccoon. Right where you want a red meat course comes a course of venison, both loin and a sausage wrapped in cabbage (which led to the only real executional misstep of the night, in that my wife’s wasn’t warmed properly). Matsutake mushroom tea isn’t expected, exactly, but it’s certainly warm and nurturing. But most things are out to surprise you in some way. I loved a bite the menu simply calls “rice crispy,” which had puffed rice and other savory flavors topped with a single chip of air-dried… did she say bear? I think she did. The meal ends with a caramel whose comforts are instantly undercut by a livery tang. Even at the end, you’re not getting out of these woods easy.

IMG_4229

All this happens in a small storefront where the kitchen is entirely open to the dining room; the obvious comparison that everyone makes is Phillip Foss’s EL Ideas, but I compared that experience to a backyard barbecue and it has a definite party-at-Phil’s-place vibe, a downshifted haute cuisine that says “I could make you the most precious thing you ever ate, but I’m just going to make something that sounds good to me.” Elizabeth by comparison looks as quietly, seriously efficient as surgery back there, and if the welcome is genuine in its desire to make us part of the family— at one point, we’re moved up one communal table, to the one the Owl menu diners have just left, to be closer to the kitchen and the other remaining diners— well, Regan seems relaxed and whimsical when she comes out to introduce a course, but everyone else works like they have a boss who wants things just so. (People have worried that her scant kitchen experience suggested that Regan was taking on way more than she could manage with the three menus running side by side. Talk to her for five minutes and you realize that, like Grant Achatz, she’s the type who knows exactly what she wants and doesn’t screw up anything, ever.)

IMG_4232

As in the movies, where a “personal vision” these days is something a director brings to a corporate property like Batman, the restaurant scene has gotten so good at blending chef’s strengths with huge commercial projects that we take it for granted that any chef’s goal is to get to the 500-seat restaurant which updates the traditional genre with farm to table ingredients or a knack for charcuterie or whatever will keep the chef happy cranking it out night after night. Elizabeth is a restaurant not so much opposed to thinking about a restaurant that way as simply existing in another dimension where the question doesn’t make sense. As with a Terence Malick movie, either you’re in for trying to keep up with a completely personal journey, which will sometimes frustrate you but promises showing you something you’ve never seen before… or you shouldn’t even start. Part of the thing about going in the woods is that people do get lost there.

* * *

IMG_4124

Of course, we haven’t really exhausted the world of food at all; even when we’ve tried something, who’s to say we’ve really had it? Surely part of the fascination with food comes from its evanescence— one person says X is the greatest barbecue place in the universe, but on the day you go it isn’t and some other place blows you away. In Spain I had delicious iberico ham at every opportunity, but transcendent iberico ham only once, at an upscale restaurant. What was the difference?

I went with two friends to Kai Zan, the new sushi restaurant of the moment, at least the moment between B.K. Park leaving Arami and the launch of his upcoming Juno. It’s a tiny place, where I was wedged into a table like I haven’t been wedged into anything since my late grandfather’s early 60s British sports car. We ordered the omakase, which starts at $50, telling the waiter that we’d pay a little more for something exceptional, we weren’t afraid of anything, and we didn’t want to just see tuna and salmon all night. He immediately called our bluffs by saying that they had live uni (sea urchin) tonight, would we be interested?

I’ve eaten uni. I think I even liked it once, at NoMI Kitchen where it came with iberico ham and avocado on toast. I’m not opposed to it, but let’s face it, it’s got all the squishiness and fishiness that says to a westerner, you’re eating something that you shouldn’t be and you will be paying for it later. (To be fair, I don’t think I’ve ever felt ill off it, only during it.) But I was in the kind of company where we all felt, if you’re promising us a better uni experience— it wasn’t actually live so much as “extremely recently dead”— then we should, in the name of our honor as gentlemen and officers of her majesty, eat uni.

As it turns out, we ate a lot of uni. Possibly 50% of all the uni I’ve ever eaten, in fact. One grade of it was in the cup above, alongside a scallop and a shiitake mushroom. More of it was in something else, and then finally came our live uni, half a dozen pieces draped on a plate. I would have happily not eaten any more by that point… but I also would have been sorry not to have had this uni. Squishy, yes, fishy, no, it was mild and tasted of the sea in a clean way. It was the best uni of my life, in the sense that it explained why I disliked previous uni but not, entirely, why anyone should really want uni— why it’s a food at all (except for desperation by seashore-living peasants millennia ago). But that is part of what I find fascinating about Japanese food— they seem to live much closer to the border between food and not-food than I do (though quite possibly they feel the same way about westerners).

IMG_4126

Another thing I had I have no such ambivalence about. It was some kind of wild trout— I forget the exact descriptor, but this was plainly cold-water fish, muscular and yet ribboned with lush layers of fat. It was easily in the five best pieces of sashimi I’ve ever eaten, delicate yet firm, fatty yet meaty, containing contradictions and multitudes… and, significantly, prepared with a confidence that it needed nothing more than the sprig on top and the lemon below.

IMG_4139

Sushi falls into two schools these days— there are a few minimalists remaining, like the great Katsu, but the trend these days is to gussy fish up with other flavors. The late Kaze restaurant (Kaze the chef is now at Macku) was a notorious practitioner of this with his banana toppings on tuna and the like, those rolls full of mayonnaise and sticky-sweet sauce are the ubiquitous offenders, and I wouldn’t say this kind of thing is strictly unknown at Kai Zan, but it’s kept from overwhelming the fish (or the fresh wasabi, which made many appearances, unmistakable both on looks and the lack of the instant horseradish burn). A couple of dishes got out of their control— a starter with a raw quail egg in it was like taking a swig straight from the soy sauce bottle— but most were simple and successful. On the whole, they’re buying beautiful fish, treating it with respect and enhancing it in only small ways. And the final tab for a meal which wedged us even further into our tiny table was all of $75 per person (it’s BYO), even with every special in the house thrown in. I tweeted this when someone broke the news of B.K. Park leaving Arami:

BREAKING: Katsu back to being only place to get sushi in Chicago

Which may not have been strictly true, but came closer to it than you’d wish. Kai Zan steps us that much further back from apocalypse.

IMG_4153

Disclosure: my meal at Elizabeth was comped, as a media guest. Kai Zan was paid for.

* * *

Well, I’m a full month behind on tracking my favorite things I ate this year, so here’s the list for July through now:


PB&L, PQM.

• Cheese curds at The Old-Fashioned in Madison, The Brewery in Mineral Point
• Ribs, 17th Street BBQ, Murphysboro, Illinois
• Filipino soup at Max’s
• Grilled beef tongue at Vera
• Fries at Au Cheval
• Fries at MBurger
• Beet, chicken tacos, Bullhead Cantina
• Manti at Afghan Kabob
• Margherita, sausage at Armitage Pizzeria
• Nathan Myrhvold’s modernist pastrami, caprese salad shooter, Trotter’s beer-can squab with tripe ravioli, at Charlie Trotter’s 25th anniversary dinner
• Tea-smoked duck at Lao Yunan (former Spring World), different from other Tony Hu versions
• Bonsoiree a la Beverly Kim: Chawanmushi, smelt, makkoli cake
• BLT dog, Bill Kim’s Urban Belly Dog, Franks N Dawgs
• PB&L (pork belly & lamb) sausage at Publican Quality Meats
• Phil’s Last Stand’s imitation of an In’N’Out burger
• Burger with tomato jam at Burger Bar
• Fried Dill Pickle Salad, Stout Barrel House & Galley


Armitage Pizzeria.

Trenchermen: bacon cured sweetbreads, smoked sturgeon dish, heirloom tomato salad, coffee cake with smoked meringue
• Choucroute garni at Everest
• Sopa Azteca, Masa Azul
• Taleggio with green onions and grapes and speck pizza, rabbit sausage, Nellcôte
• Deep Purple Poutine, iNG
• Rice Krispy, carrots, raccoon ragu and polenta, Elizabeth
• Salmon from Ming Tsai’s new book at Takashi
• Lots of fresh uni, wild trout, Kai Zan
• Not-perfect-yet chestnut pasta with guinea hen sugo, Avec
• Duck and vinegary slaw ordered by pointing at what someone else was eating, Pho Xe Lua
• Ramen, Ginza
• Chicken soup with crispy rice, Lao Shanghai
• Enormous roasted chicken wings, Golden Palace
• Calamari dish, Bar Ombra
• Chicken boti, Ali’s BBQ
• Butternut squash velouté, fall chocolate dessert, Acadia
• Miche, La Fournette
• Hard kiwi-quince jam, from Orianna Kruszewski at the Green City Market
• Smoke cocktail, Allium
• Something from The Aviary… wish I could remember what…


Beets, Vera.

Tags: ,

The foodie scene and LTHForum have changed so much with the years, with media exposure and so on that there’s something nostalgic about someone doing what used to be the base act of chowhoundism— exploring the oddball parts of the city and reporting back on things no one has heard of before. Yet when Rob Gardner/Vital Information did it recently in reference to a strip mall in Harwood Heights on the northwest edge of Chicago, the reaction was less joy at new finds than mockery and sheer incomprehension— he was dismissed by a moderator for not supplying an address (he deliberately did not do so, as a comment on the pleasures of the hunt), a poster who has praised the most godawful things (Mr. Sub) made a joke about the highlight of the area being a Denny’s, and the best thing in it was a poster saying he’d been to one of the places and never written it up. I keep promising a certain other blogger and moderator to stop sniping at dumb things on LTH at Twitter— in the old days that’s what we had the moderator’s secret board for— but really, one could overlook the dumb stuff if anyone had responded to it in the old spirit of adventure. But now what gets you LTH love is not discovering the obscure restaurant but letting everyone know you went to the latest universally-publicized one.

So of course I couldn’t wait to meet Rob there and check it out. Adventure lives! On Twitter.

Some of what Rob wrote about this strip mall, located just west of Harlem on Lawrence, made reference to his long-ago post about the best Chow-block in town (which I mentioned here). So is this the best Chow-mall in town? To my surprise, you could make an awfully good case for it, as it manages to include within a dozen storefronts Serbian, Italian, Middle-Eastern, Filipino, Chinese, Thai… and Italian Beef.

Our first stop was in the Serbian place, Dani’s (hence the Denny’s “joke”), where Rob had already ordered a Serbian hamburger as an amuse-bouche; there was plenty of time, as it would take 20 minutes to cook in the back of this bakery and grocery. When it came, we divided it into quarters, each the size of a Big Mac:

A patty of beef and pork, topped with onions and sour cream on a fresh-baked bun— simple but delicious in its simplicity. There was relatively little other savory food on display, but an impressive bakery selection— I’m not sure if they make them in house or not:

Next we went to the Filipino spot, Max’s. Besides lots of packaged goods, it had a full buffet of Filipino foods; we put together a plate of things to try. Now, I would almost say that I’ve never found Filipino food I liked. As Rob pointed out, his wife has had home cooked Filipino food from coworkers and it always blew restaurant food away. But what we tried, honest to God, is the first Filipino food in ten years that made me want to go back and try more things, not just say, okay, another one checked off the list. We had a dish of vegetables, BBQ pork and shrimp paste which was good, and then a tripe soup that was absolutely terrific:

Really, this soup wins the Yah’s Cuisine award for Thing I Loved I Would Never Have Expected To Even Like. We tried some other things like skewers and egg rolls that were fine, but it’s worth noting that the best things by far were the least gringo-friendly-looking. The spirit of adventure, I tell ya. You gotta have it and keep it stoked.

I also eyed the desserts, including one in a quite startling royal blue:

Our last stop that day was the place that had brought Rob to this mall, Pita al-Sharq. It’s a perfectly good place with friendly people (who tolerated our inexplicable and confused way of ordering a fragment of a lunch to go, and then unwrapping it at table to photograph) though I don’t think it’s the best middle eastern restaurant on earth or anything. The shawerma sandwich seemed drowned in mustardy tahini sauce, but the fresh-fried falafel— something hard to get in other restaurants, where they insist on frying them up ahead of time— was first-rate.

Walking along, stuffed and borderline-ill in the hundred-degree heat, we nevertheless had to stick our noses in at least one more spot, so we opened the door to the Italian cafe. As it happened Italy was playing Germany at soccer at that moment, so it was like opening the door to another dimension— outside, the silence of a windswept parking lot, inside, a raucous packed house cheering on Italy. (Closed, silence. Open, Italy! Closed, silence…) The thin Italian pizza looked pretty good, and they have gelato— have to go there with the kids sometime.

Is it the greatest strip mall in Chicago? Maybe, but really, who cares, it’s a great example of Chicago diversity packed into a tiny commercial space, thrilling to find so much in one tiny place, an accidental Epcot taking you around the world at lunch. Cheers, and if the spirit of adventure lives in you, go check it out and let us know how the pizza and the Thai and the bureks are.

* * *

It’s time for another quarterly roundup of the best things I’ve eaten lately:

• Pressed melon and buttermilk sauce, Premise
• Sunchoke soup, duck breast with lentils and ginger, goats milk cheese in filo pastry with red pepper/balsamic sauce, Goosefoot
• Cock-a-leekie pie from Pleasant House Bakery
• Chicken parmigiana sandwich at Publican Quality Meats
• Hot dog at Allium, roast pork leg with cheesy grits, veg-filled pork brat, Allium
• Porchetta sandwich from Becker Lane, Green City Market
• Q7 beef carpaccio with favas, wild boar pappardelle, sturgeon in red sauce, Moderno
• Phil’s Last Stand’s note-perfect imitation of an In-N-Out burger
• Poutine with English peas, grilled baby octopus, escarole and white beans, Red Door

• My own English pea/mint soup
• Bison tartare, fried pickles, The Gage
• Smoked sturgeon “caviar,” chilled English pea soup, pea tendrils, black forest ham, consomme, Tru
• Ramen, Yusho
• Shrimp taco, Del Seoul
• Fried chicken, Pecking Order
• Teriyaki omelet at Evanston Grill
• Queso fundido with Otter Creek cheddar, Frontera Grill
• Pork and steak tacos, Antique Taco
• “Classic” banh mi, Banh Mi & Co.
• Pastor taco, Zacataco’s (59th)
• Pastor taco, cabeza taco, Taqueria Mi Guadalupe
• English pea-mint bread, shortribs, semifreddo with spring fruit, Balena
• Barbecued mutton, Big Jones
• Square pizza, DiFara’s, Brooklyn
• Turnip dim sum, Joe’s Shanghai (NYC)
• Sturgeon, Barney Greengrass
• Romano beans in red sauce, braised escarole, Eataly
• Ramen, Totto Ramen

• Tripe soup, Max Seafood Grill (Harwood Heights)
• Oxtail stew at place in Rain Forest in St. Croix, and probably other things, but I have to look at the video to remember what all…

Guess I didn’t behave too badly, they invited me back…

There’s nothing people love more than to read about their own impending doom, and so Amanda Hesser of Food52.com got a lot of FaceTwit attention last week for this piece about how becoming a food writer sucks these days. Actually the piece goes on to lay out a positive Internet-futuristic vision that makes a lot of sense and is well worth thinking about, but nobody seemed to pay any attention to that. They just glommed onto the part about how it’s hopeless to think you’ll make a decent living as a full-time food writer in the traditional sense, and wallowed in it for a day or two online.

I thought about how to express my thoughts on this and started about three or four different opening sentences, but finally decided a Venn diagram expressed my opinions best:

I don’t mean that I’m some multidimensionally fascinating being who’s too big for the traditional world of food writing— I’m just saying that my interests range considerably, as I expect yours do too. And anybody who wants work is going to have to figure how to make money out of the degree to which what motivates them overlaps with what the marketplace buys.

But where that was a fairly defined (and maybe even hidebound) set of things a few short years ago, when monopoly dailies were making money hand over fist, now we’re in a time when you can experiment with what seems cool to you and it may overlap with what someone else wants to do to shake things up too and suddenly, no, you don’t have a traditional food journalism job, you have an entirely new one that didn’t exist at all until you helped invent it. Indeed, Amanda Hesser basically said exactly that: “If I weren’t working on Food52, I would not be a full-time writer because, even as an experienced journalist and best-selling author, I would not be able to pay my bills.” Which makes it sound like she was forced to fall back on Food52 when in fact she invented something new and has made quite a success out of it. When it ought to be more like, “If I was still a full-time writer doing the standard assignments, I’d never have invented Food52.” At least I hope she thinks of it that way; I do.

* * *

Speaking of a job that pretty much didn’t exist until I invented it for myself, I have a lot of chef video things going on; I started a new series at Grub Street about Grace, Curtis Duffy’s restaurant which will open later this year (maybe). I’ll be checking in with him from time to time as the restaurant develops on its path to being the next four-star (they hope!) top level swank joint in town:

And I haven’t posted Key Ingredients for a while, so here are the last three, oldest to newest. We went inside The Office, Next’s private lounge, with Craig Schoettler (story is here):

Then he picked Charles Joly of The Drawing Room (story here):

I thought we might be doing mixologists for a while, but Joly picked Giuseppe Tentori (we shot at GT Fish & Oyster; story here):

* * *

And it’s a new quarter so time to tally up the best things I’ve eaten since the start of the year (I didn’t stop at March 31st, so this runs up right to this morning):

• Pork tamale from in front of St. Francis of Assisi church
• Mortadella from Smoked Goose, Indianapolis (at Dose Market)
• Manila clams with merguez broth, Purple Pig
• Sardines in saor, other stuff, Bar Ombra
• Surryano ham, some cheese from Minnesota with honey and apple salad, 2011 Commanderie de Peyrassol rosé, Telegraph
• Parsnip cake dessert, Storefront Company
• Chicken and waffles with onions and gravy, Chicago’s Home of Chicken & Waffles
• Honey panna cotta, Eating Vincent Price/Clandestino popup dinner
• Wheatberry/risotto with asparagus and ramps, Browntrout
• Sturgeon with buttermilk sauce/spaetzle, Blackbird
• Maple and citrus glazed black cod, Brittany Coast John Dory with sunchokes and Cote du Rhone reduction, Sixteen
• Rare tender beef salad, Nha Hang
• Ramova chili (what can I say, I only ever went there for breakfast before now…)

Wisma corned beef sandwich, French Market
• White pizza, Jimmy’s Pizza & Beignets
• Crispy tripa taco, La Chapparita
• Indian spiced sturgeon, some other fish I forget, Sepia
• White anchovies, Vera
• A taste of blood sausage at Publican Quality Meats in someone else’s stew or soup, I liked the sandwiches fine but this made them kneel before it
• Little bit of everything sandwich (Ellen Malloy dubbed it “Goutwich”) at Butcher & Larder with amazing crispy mortadella on it
• Chicken, bacon and leek (cock-a-leekie) pie at Pleasant House Bakery
• Brussel sprouts and kielbasa, tagliatelle with duck or something like that, Allium (preview dinner)
• Lamb ribs, Lockwood
• Lobster roll, New England Seafood Market
• Breaded steak sandwich, Johnnie O’s

• Egg custard dessert, clay pot chicken, Takashi
• Dessert at Yusho
• Shima Aji, Anise hyssop, Oyster courses, EL Ideas
• Caiprinha, spherical olive, carrot foam, miso cake, mint pond courses, Next El Bulli menu
• Calves’ foot jelly, pearl onion mutton soup, Kentucky tavern dinner, Big Jones
• Biscuits & gravy, Don’s Humburgers
• That’s-a-Burger

Tags: ,

Here’s my list of ten best things I tasted this year, most of which you can still go out and have, though considerable airfare may be involved. As I did last year, I disqualified all the Key Ingredient dishes because they’re just one-offs made under unusual circumstances; I also decided not to count the one-night-only “Modern Midwestern Cuisine” dinner planned by Steve Plotnicki and Bruce Sherman at North Pond, although it was good enough to qualify and certainly has me interested in visiting North Pond again after some years since my last visit,not to mention some of the other restaurants involved such as Niche (St. Louis) and June (Peoria). (You can read more about it at Grub Street Chicago.) Michael Nagrant and I will delve into the year in far more exhaustive detail at some point this month, though we both took vacations at the end of the year rather than knock heads in time for Jan. 1.

10. My strawberry-mint-basil jam— For a party this year I made a Dale Degroff cocktail combining these flavors with gin. I liked the combination so much I made it into jam with good things I bought at the Green City Market, or even grew myself. It’s really good, you’re just going to have to trust me. Or make it your own self next year.

9. Corn cake and greens, Yah’s Cuisine— The least likely spot on this list goes to a south side vegan soul food restaurant visited after shooting an interview with Peter Engler for my barbecue video. Before the visit, I’d have said the soul in soul food inevitably came from pork; Yah’s deep, heartfelt food proves me wrong. (Or proved; there’s some reason to think that Yah’s is closed, though no one has confirmed that.)

8. Ham sandwich et al., Roscioli, Rome— We ate a fantastic meal one night at this artisanal deli/foodshop with a pop-up restaurant on its premises, full of great handcrafted Italian tastes, and had great takeaway pizza from its neighboring bakery a day or two later, but maybe the champ of all was the greatest ham sandwich of my life— as good a vehicle as any fancier dish for demonstrating how something can be even more than the sum of terrifically well-chosen parts.

7. Short ribs & spaetzle, etc., Perennial Virant— So, yeah, I said what the ad says I said, sort of, if you read this post it’s more or less there. But it’s not number one on my list, did I mean it? Well, yeah. I mean, there were other restaurants I loved on first visit (Vera and Telegraph and Bar Toma and who knows what), and they may well end up on a ten best list once I’ve been to them a few times, maybe even ranked higher. But Perennial Virant seemed like a culmination for Paul Virant as I’ve followed him over the past few years, his food a little more casual than in Western Springs, newly in a BoKa Group high-energy city setting, yet nonetheless fully realized out of the gate and perfectly attuned to my tastes. Even so, as successful as PV’s PV is, it seems half-overlooked already— there are so many openings, novelty smacks you in the face almost daily, and Virant has been such a familiar figure that you don’t think of him as having not been here all along and thus something new in town. So stop to smell the short ribs and spaetzle— Paul Virant, once out in the suburboonies, is now right down the street from you, buying from the market and cooking it that night to bring out all its smoky porky fresh farm flavor. Doesn’t that deserve as much cheering and insane hype as anything that happened this year?

6. Sehzade Erzurum Cag Kebabi, Istanbul— Winner of this year’s Screw the Fancy Stuff, Just Give Me Meat Over Open Fire Award goes not to the latest barbecue joint I’ve discovered, as it usually does, but to Istanbul’s possibly unique old school cag kebap spot, located near the Sirkeci station where the Orient Express ended. The preindustrial ancestor of the ubiquitous doner kebap, cag kebap is handcut lamb stacked onto a giant metal skewer and roasted sideways over fire, then hand sliced and threaded onto skewers. More to come on this in an upcoming Turkey post, but suffice it to say that the owner is brother to any great BBQ pit master— picking out just the right mix of crispy and fatty bits and occasionally rounding out a skewer with burnt ends from the tray below.

5. Tarte flambee, Paris-Brest, Balsan— Will Balsan under chef Danny Grant be around next year to make anybody’s list? With the sale of the Elysian it’s an open question, and pastry chef Stephanie Prida has already moved on to L2O. So this choice reflects the ephemerality of the magic that comes together in high end restaurants, but the two visits I’ve made this year to Balsan all confirmed that— especially for a hotel— this is a great big city restaurant with high capabilities and the kind of cosmopolitan atmosphere that makes you feel cool for living here.

4. Pleasant House Bakery. If the video above doesn’t explain why I keep going back for that mushroom and kale pie, go here.

3. Dry chili fish filet, Chairman Mao’s Favorite Pork Belly, and others, Lao Hunan— I said somewhere that this was the best Chinese meal I’d had in some years, then had to think what that previous milestone would be— which, in fact, was probably Lao Sze Chuan. In any case, an overfamiliar cuisine (Chinese, in all its gloppy Americanized familiarity) came to new life at Tony Hu’s newest and so far best attempt to showcase a particular regional Chinese cuisine— and teach us how much more there is to Chinese food that what we know and take for granted.

2. Lots of skewers, Yakitori Totto, New York— “If there was a place like this in Chicago I’d become an alcoholic just to hang out there every night. Or a yakuza.” Well, maybe there is one now, given all our Japanese bincho grill openings. I haven’t found its equal yet, but I’m willing to give them time. And my liver.

1. Everything, The Butcher & Larder— As I said in the Reader’s best-of issue: “When Rob and Allie Levitt walked away from Mado to open an artisanal butcher shop and have regular lives as a family, it was hard to see how cold raw meat in a case could compensate for the loss of all the beautiful things at Mado. Which just goes to show how little we understood Rob’s vision, and how quickly he’d turn his butcher shop into one of this city’s most essential spots for food appreciation, education, and evangelism.”

No place in town has given food more respect and meaning in the last year, no place, not even Next for all its fertile creativity, has thought more about food and done more to convey that thinking to its customers and get them thinking too. And if these all seem extravagant claims to make about a place selling raw meat for other people to cook along with a couple of prepared sandwiches each day, well, I’m at work on a video to validate that claim, so give me a little time to make that case in full. Working at the most elemental level of cookery, with the most direct contact with farmers and animals, The Butcher & Larder is the food revolution people like Michael Pollan write about at the level of rubber meeting the road. And that people have gone so wild for it is one of the most encouraging things to happen on our local food scene in years. None of which, however, should be taken to suggest that their placement at the top of my list is because of anything other than food— than the ground beef and sausages I’ve bought there for hamburgers or pizzas, the roast beef or porchetta sandwiches I’ve eaten there; the top spot is more than sufficiently justified by the amount of deliciousness they brought into my life last year.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I don’t usually do worst of the year, but the greatest disparity between hype/acclaim and actual execution had to be Shake Shack in New York, whose rare-well burger (one side was one, the other the other), frozen Ore-Ida fries and lukewarm shake would get Danny Meyer run out of Wichita on a forklift. But then, Wichita is a serious burger town, unlike New York City, which is a trendy burger town.

Here are other things I enjoyed in the last quarter, most of which you could go have now; you can see previous quarters by clicking on “Best Things I’ve Eaten Lately” under Categories at right.

• Red snapper, bluefin sashimi at Arami, though didn’t like the cooked stuff nearly as much
• Chestnut and buttermilk doughnuts, Doughnut Vault
• Fish course, cider doughnuts, Madeira-maraschino cocktail, Next Childhood menu
• Chocolate frosted cake doughnuts, Zettmeier’s in Tinley Park
• Speculoos shake, Edzo’s
• Rabbit bolognese, octopus, Telegraph
• Pork belly, octopus, Vera
• Lentil (maybe) soup, Barwaqo Kebab
Bob Andy pie, made by me
• Duck sugo, fish & chips, Owen & Engine
• Low country oysters, Chicago Food Film Festival
• Sunchoke-hazelnut soup, Acadia (preview)
• Walleyed pike, Cafe des Architectes
• Olives, burrada, espresso at Bar Toma
• Shoyu ramen, Takashi
• Tequila manhattan at Trenchermen preview
• Potato pieroshki, Bai
• Honey Butter Fried Chicken at Dose Market
• Blueberry-bergamot preserves by Marianne Sundquist/Mess Hall & Co.
• Strawberry marshmallow, 240sweet
• North Shore Distillery Aquavit, at Ikea Julbord dinner
• Omelet full of lentils at Lula Cafe
• Side of blue cheese coleslaw, Knockbox
• Assorted dishes at Ciya Sofrasi, Istanbul, post to come
• Assorted pizzas at Pizzarium, Rome, post to come

Ten best for: 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003

So next week I will again be subbing on Grub Street Chicago, so watch for me there. In the meantime, though, I am finally back at my desk after various midwestern journeys, here to report on things strange and marvelous:

Yah’s Cuisine

The very last thing I shot for my barbecue video was the standup with Peter Engler in front of the original Leon’s Bar-B-Q location on 79th. Afterwards I asked him to suggest somewhere to eat in the area and he smiled mischievously and said, you may not want this after talking barbecue, but… how about vegan soul food? I know there has been a little discussion of such places on LTHForum but I must admit I hadn’t really paid much attention to the vegan scene on the other side of town, unaccountably…

Would it be too much to say that I’m itching for an excuse to get back? No, it would not, and this was even with Peter apologizing that it wasn’t nearly as good as the first time he went (the proprietress Yah herself was absent that day, and anyway, it’s probably all fresher and hotter on weekends). Even so, I loved the nutty corn cakes, the greens with a surprising depth of pot likker for being untouched by pork, the fresh watermelon-ade. Seriously, a contender for my top ten list this year even on an off day, and that much more of a reproach to the wan home-cooked vegan plates of blah mostly served on the north side. There’s meatless magic happening here.

Yah’s Cuisine
2347 E 75th St
Chicago, IL 60649
(773) 759-8517
www.yahscuisine.com

Village Inn, Middlebury IN

No, not that Village Inn, but an unrelated actual small town restaurant. Heading to a film festival in Ohio, I finally had a chance to use a book I got last Christmas called Cafe Indiana. The woman who wrote it, Joanne Raetz Stuttgen, has two of them, one for Indiana and one for Wisconsin, both identifying small town cafes and diners where the food is made the old way and the people are especially nice. I mapped out several spots along 80/90 and lunchtime struck near Middlebury, not too far from the Ohio border.

Lunch was freshly made, no industrial shortcuts, but it was pleasant, not dazzlingly good. But then we ordered pie…

I ordered blueberry sour cream, my friend Irv ordered rhubarb cream. They were wonderful. The crust wasn’t as perfectly flaky as Hoosier Mama’s, say, but the combination of bright in-season fruit and a slight tartness in both cases was homey, yet with a touch of sophistication, an almost musical counterpoint. One of the best ten-mile detours I’ve ever taken, and while there I learned about something else I’d never heard of— Bob Andy Pie. I asked what it was, and neither of the waitresses seemed to know— they said it was kind of like pumpkin pie. I wondered, persimmon? Paw paw?

Of course, the internet knew— Bob Andy is a simple custard pie with cinnamon that rises to the top making an attractive layered look, common in the Amish country of Indiana (which is exactly where we were). Like Hoosier Mama’s sugar cream pie, it’s a “desperation pie,” one you make when you’re out of fruit or anything else that might make a better pie.

Guess what I’m about to make.

Village Inn
107 S Main St
Middlebury, IN 46540
(574) 825-2043

Further Adventures in Massillon and Wooster, OH

For some unknown reason, there are two different old movie festivals in Ohio, and I’ve been to both some years. The one in Columbus has always also been an interesting food trip, the one in Massillon, on the outskirts of Akron, has been more an exercise in defensive eating, Massillon home mainly to fairly generic burger-and-salad-bar family restaurants. But slowly I’ve found things in Massillon worth eating, like the Swenson’s Galley Boy, an old-school double-decker drive-in burger native to the Akron area with mayo and bbq sauce on it— but more than the sum of its parts. I also found an Akron BBQ chain that has opened just down the street, Old Carolina Barbecue, and if not the greatest barbecue I ever had, is certainly real enough to be satisfying, its Southern Pride smoker (the same used at places like Smoque) visible from the dining room.

But the most interesting find was one some friends of mine, who seem to have been bitten by the food bug after being exposed to me (and Swenson’s) last year, turned up. Taggart’s Ice Cream wasn’t a secret to me, since it’s one of the few places in the Massillon area (actually Canton) listed at Road Food. The ice cream is all well and good, but my friends discovered the real gem on the menu, the total retro surprise tucked away in the sandwiches column: a genuine “ladies who lunch”-style cream cheese-olive-walnut spread sandwich on rye bread:

I had a grandmother— not this one, the other one— who used to make cream cheese and black olive spread. I kind of loved it but it was also one-dimensional, tasting as much of building materials or adhesives as food. With more pungent green olives in this one, and who knows what other culinary tricks, this brought one of grandma’s Depression-era staples to life. It couldn’t have fit the old movies we were seeing better. Another olive spread sandwich, Countess?

Other friends turned up another culinary attraction nearby— the university town of Wooster about 20 minutes to the west. It’s funny, I had gotten so used to Massillon being stuck culinarily in the 70s that it almost bothered me to see the world I normally live in, the foodie world, encroaching on my annual escape from obsessive foodieism. But Spoon Market was a very nice deli that would do any neighborhood in Chicago proud, full of things like La Quercia prosciutto and Jeni’s ice cream and serving fried kale chips alongside deli sandwiches.

But the real must-stop in Wooster is Tulipan, a Hungarian cafe and pastry shop. Reports on the goulash and paprikash for lunch were good, but the thing to go out of your way for— besides the note-perfect mittel-European setting, again, most appropriate for all these old movies made, so often, by refugees from central Europe— was the pastries, like this classic, and really splendid, walnut torte, not too sweet or gooey, a reproach to all the overdone yuppie cakes and cupcake trucks of our time:

Oh, to have a shop around the corner like this one… One of the mysteries of Chicago is why there isn’t much Hungarian food here; but it’s all over the area near Cleveland, and in my experience, always worth checking out, for dessert if nothing else.

Taggarts Ice Cream Parlor
1401 Fulton Rd NW
Canton, OH 44703
(330) 452-6844
http://taggartsicecream.com/

Spoon Market
147 South Market Street
Wooster, OH 44691
(330) 262-0880
http://www.spoon-market.com/

Tulipan
122 South Market Street
Wooster, OH 44691-4839
(330) 264-8092

* * *

And on to the best things I ate in the last quarter (for previous lists, click the category “Best Things I’ve Eaten Lately” at right). As always, Key Ingredient dishes are not included because they’re one-offs and you can’t go eat them; and I probably could include a couple of things from the Green City Market BBQ or the LTHForum picnic, but those too are kind of one-shots and anyway, I was concentrating on enjoying myself, not memorizing the profile of everything I tasted. Hey, it happens.

• Corn cakes and greens at Yah’s Cuisine (see above)
• Corn cakes of a different sort at bacon dinner at L’Etoile, Madison WI (report to come)
• Olive nut sandwich, Taggart’s Ice Cream Parlor, Canton OH
• Sour cream blueberry pie, Village Inn, Middlebury IN
• Octopus salad and grilled mackerel at Izakaya Yume
• Cold soba noodles, Ruxbin
• Grilled quail stuffed with garlic sausage, Nostrano, Madison WI
• My homemade strawberry-mint-basil jam (inspired by a Dale DeGroff cocktail)
• Burger and fries at Walt’s in Wichita
• Ham spread and cracker at Brobeck’s, Kansas City area (I forget which burb)
• Baozi buns at ING
• Short ribs and other stuff at Perennial Virant
• $6 chorizo tamale, Green City Market
• $1.50 tamale, Garibay Tamales
• World’s simplest lobster roll, New England Seafood Market
• Biryani-like something or other at Chaihanna, Buffalo Grove
• Sausages from Bavarian Sausage, Fitchburg, WI, as cooked by me in speedy choucroute garnie

Saturday I took my kids to the newly-paved Green City Market (oh, they paved Green City and put up a lot of arugula). There’s a tamale stand this year which I’ve wanted to try, but it’s usually had a long line attached to it.  For once, though, it was almost clear— probably because it wasn’t even 10:00 yet and it didn’t really seem the hour for a spicy pork or brisket tamale. But scanning the menu, there was a strawberry-mint tamale at the bottom. Especially for my youngest son, I knew this would go over well, as he’s been known to eat them at the best traditional tamale spot I know of, Tamales Lo Mejor de Guerrero in Rogers Park.

There was also something else of note on the sign: a six with a dollar sign in front of it. Could these really be six bucks apiece? The woman in front of us was getting a whole bundle of them, and it seemed unlikely she was buying a good $48 or more worth of tamales. Tamales are plebeian food, sold in batches of 50 at Christmastime— and not for $300. I placed my order— and sure enough, got a single pink tamale for $6.

Okay, so it’s a really good tamale. Less so for the basic ingredients of the tamale, corn masa and lard, than the freshness of real strawberry and mint worked into it. Setting price aside, it was an absolute pleasure to eat. But even someone like me, who walks into Green City scattering $20 bills to the wind for his weekly green vegetables, cannot entirely set price aside. Late that night, I tweeted what had been floating around the verge of my consciousness all day:

140 characters is no place to expect subtleties to come through, but I don’t think this was entirely condemnatory. It was, instead, the honest admission that there were two voices in my head, one of which said, “Mmm, what a nice organic artisanal sustainable tamale” and the other of which said “Six dollars for one tamale?!? You foodies are freakin’ nuts!”

I very quickly got back some responses— mainly from other vendors at the market— defending the price of the tamale as justified by what goes into it:

@skyfullofbacon fortunately not everything is mass produced- investigate making fresh masa with great local ingredients. $6 is a bargain.

Hey, I didn’t just fall off the organic turnip truck, I know how the market is and I believe that that $6 is a proportional reflection of ingredient cost like any other food item. (Admittedly, using the term “sucker” would tend to belie that.) But still, $6 for a tamale… I sent this response:

is there any price at which you wouldn’t feel a little silly buying a tamale?

and got this back:

@skyfullofbacon id feel silly thinking I got a bargain on a $1 tamale that was made with crap ingredients and crisco.

A fair answer but not a direct one, and one that points to another problem I have, which is that if you get too doctrinaire about only eating artisanal/organic/whatever, you’re not even going to know what a tamale is, because you’ll never explore our ethnic scene where authentic recipes and industrial products are inextricably entwined.  In other words, nobody’s going to appreciate a $6 tamale without getting there via a $1.50 one, is my belief.

So who’s right here?  I honestly am confused about what I think, and value.  I’m all for upgrading ingredients and patronizing the good stuff, but maybe it’s just that I don’t value tamales as much as I do BBQ or pie or whatever, so the price difference sticks out to me more.  (To judge by the lines, other people do value them, so they don’t really need to worry about me.)  What do you think?  Would you pay $6 for this tamale— and even consider it cheap given the quality?  Or does it seem preposterous to pay that for such peasant food?  I would love to hear your responses in the comments below.

*  *  *

So on my way out I stopped by T.J.’s, who sell poultry and meats.  There was a question I couldn’t resist asking Tim, the farmer, after having eaten at NoMi a couple of weeks ago.  “Do you know about the $75 T.J.’s chicken at NoMi?”

He did not know about it, and at first didn’t even realize that NoMi was buying from him (aha! Scandal!) until he realized that it was the same account as the Park Hyatt, to whom he sells a number of things, whole chickens included.  “Have you had it? Was it good?” he asked.  I explained that it was sous-vide cooked to a velvety tenderness that was, indeed, pretty wonderful, and that given the price of the other entrees in the $30-40 range, the chicken for two was not wildly out of line pricewise.  That said, he told me his favorite way to cook a chicken was to grill it, dusted with Lawry’s seasoned salt and basted with garlic butter.

“Well, I guess I better get myself one of those $75 chickens and try it out,” I said.  He pulled out a massive, almost five-pounder, and told me the price.  I gave him $16.75.

“I’m not charging enough,” he said.

Read the followup to this saga here.

*  *  *


$3 doughnut.

$75 chickens and $6 tamales, it’s time to round up this quarter’s list of the best things I’ve eaten at any price, while you still have time to try them for yourself.  To see previous installments, click on “Best Things I’ve Eaten Lately” under Categories at right.  (And as before, Key Ingredient dishes don’t count.)

• Grilled meats from Assayad, Dearborn MI
• Twig Farm Fuzzy Wheel, and La Quercia Acorn Edition prosciutto, from Zingerman’s
• The soups at Mike’s Famous Ham Place, Detroit
• Pasta with bottarga, and snap peas with mint at Lupa, NYC
• Doughnut from Doughnut Plant
• Dumplings from Prosperity Dumpling
• All kinds of things lost in alcoholic haze at Yakitori Totto
• Grilled short ribs, Bento Box
• Ojinguh bokkum (stir fried squid), Hal Mae Bo Ssam (Morton Grove)
• Ramen at Chizakaya
• Any soup they make at Butcher & Larder
• $75 chicken at NoMi
• Sweet potato pie, Jimmy Jamm’s
• Northeastern strawberries from Nichols Farms
• A nice tortellini or ravioli something or other I can’t remember exactly now from Owen & Engine
• Goat biryani, Ghareeb Nawaz
• Spinach and kale and Chicken balti pies at Pleasant House Bakery
• Riccio di Mare e Granchio at Davanti Enoteca
• Oysters and clam chowder at GT Fish & Oyster Bar
• $6 strawberry tamale at Green City Market

Tags: , , , ,