Sky Full of Bacon

1. Found some way cool links looking for charcuterie blogs; the first (who kindly linked my La Quercia podcast) is called Meatchip, check out these photos of cured pork collar.
2. And the second, from a guy who has a charcuterie bar in Toronto, is called Charcuterie Sundays; you have to see the pictures of brain carpaccio and kurobota jowls.  And the pics of his curing room, and— oh just go look at everything.
3. This is an archly funny true account of an unexpected four-footed visitor to a Whole Foods, at Hungry Mag. (No, not the four-footed visitors who got my Whole Foods closed last year.)
4. Monica Eng had some freaky black bread from China. Be sure to click on the image and see the bread close up, it’s kind of beautiful… in a not-for-eating way.
5. Okay, no Good Food this time, let’s do our original food podcast fave (going back to before podcasts—I used to burn these to CD to listen to on plane trips, you kids today with your iPods), The Splendid Table. The best thing in this one is the chat about spices in history, which starts at around 14:30. No, spices were not used to cover up the flavor of meat gone bad— as historian Paul Freedman points out, it made no sense to use something so expensive to salvage something less expensive. Sally Schneider also talks about what to do with the vegetable close to my heart and soon to be available, beets.  I can’t seem to get their embed code to work, so go here.
6. Gastro-retro: cool foodie finds in antique stores from a Minneapolis blog, The Heavy Table. The best: a Knox Gelatin cookbook for making gelatinized food to use on camera, which like most corporate-sponsored cookbooks, thinks you can use its product in anything. Like tuna.
7. I found this guy because he clicked the “Like” button on my LaQuercia video at its Vimeo page. Here’s a short but mouthwatering movie he made about the legendary Katz’s Deli:

A Pastrami Pilgrimage from Gary Ingram on Vimeo.

Fulton says moo.

Exactly a year ago today, the first Sky Full of Bacon podcast, How Local Can You Go?, was made public here and, a couple of days later, here. There was content at this blog before then, but that’s really the beginning since the main and serious point has always been the videos; the blog is just what musings come to me along the way.

So where do we stand a year later? On the whole, I’m very happy with the response. My previous venture into food video, the Gorilla Gourmet video on Maxwell Street (here and here, in two parts), had sold about 150 homemade DVDs back in the day (plus an unknowable number of viewers on cable access), so getting hundreds and even thousands of viewers for some of these videos has really been encouraging (and proof that the internet is better citizen media than anything that came before it).  I won’t rehash the numbers (since I just did that here) but basically it’s juuuust shy of 20,000 total views by my best guess; to update that post slightly, both halves of There Will Be Pork are now over 1000 views, and the La Quercia one has continued to climb and now ranks #5 overall. (On the other hand, honesty forces me to acknowledge that episode 6 of The Cheeseburger Show has finally beaten total online viewings of any Sky Full of Bacon podcast, thanks to being linked on Fark. Imagine trying to tell Colonel McCormick “Good news, sir! The Chicago Tribune got linked on Fark!”)

That points to the downside, which is that building that audience is still a handcrafted process that doesn’t quite start over with each new video, but close enough. Each time, I have to go out and cadge links, embeds, referrals, etc. from both blogs and existing media.  Some might find it ironic that new media turns out to be so dependent on old media for driving traffic, but I’m not surprised and I always conceived Sky Full of Bacon as something complementary to existing food media, not a rival to it.

Actually, that’s one thing that has changed a lot.  My initial business plan (scribbled on a toothpick wrapper) was that some publication would want to stick its branding on Sky Full of Bacon and use it as a way to show its advertisers it had a foot in new media.  Well, two minutes after I launched it, print publications all went into this big death spiral bankruptcy panic which they may or may not live to come out of.  Needless to say, helping me turn my hobby into a business fell well down their to-do list.  Arguably, it would make more strategic sense than ever for them, to have a new media partner aggressively marketing itself and them… but they’ve got more immediate fish to fry.

So I quickly went to Plan B: do this for fun and see what happens.  Will it ever be a business, a brand?  Who knows?  I find it hard to believe that this kind of hand-to-mouth way of gaining an audience will remain the paradigm forever; I have to think that the ad biz will find ways to spend its clients’ money online, and that just as radio networks formed out of the dozens of individual stations that dotted the country in the 20s, networks built around audiences interested in this or that will gain momentum.  Perhaps in five years the model will be that Sky Full of Bacon will have a sponsor, or be part of an online food video network that has sponsors, and that network in turn will buy space for an embed on a zillion food blogs, payment based on how many views it gets at each site, and guaranteeing the videos placement all over the web.  Or something like that.

For now, it’s enough that it gives me a way to be part of the discourse about food in Chicago and show that food TV doesn’t have to be game shows and gimmicks.  It’s enough to have some skin in the game of whatever media is going to turn into, rather than watch it happen from the sidelines.  It’s enough to have you, dear reader-viewer.

It really is.  It’s been great to have an appreciative audience who has enjoyed along with me seeing how this developed.  Sometimes I’m as surprised as you— as I’ve noted, it just became kind of a locavore series by accident (you shoot in your region, you’re talking local) and the emphasis on pork was really accidental, too, despite the name.  There’s no great plan of what the next 20 will be, I just shoot whatever’s interesting that presents itself and I take a style from the subject matter to some degree.  I’m a little surprised it’s as earnest as it is, since I’m known to be a pretty funny and sarcastic guy, but most of the people I’ve interviewed, I’ve admired to some degree, and I’ve seen no reason to get Michael Moore-satirical on their honest efforts to make great food in a reasonably ethical fashion.  I kind of expected to be doing something breezier and goofier, but you don’t go to a place like La Quercia and experience all that and then cut it down to two minutes with wacka-wacka gags in it.  So it is what it is, as they say in Hollywood (to excuse whatever monstrosity they’ve made now).

As for the blog, this afterthought, I appreciate everyone who actually checks it to see whether I’ve eaten somewhere, made something, or am ranting about media today.  It’s even less planned and more take-what-comes than the videos, so thanks for being interested in it at all.  Year 2 begins today, a new podcast (the first of the long-promised fish series) will be along in a couple of weeks I hope, I’ll be demoing making bacon at the Baconfest in Chicago in October, and who knows what else the second year will bring.  Thanks in advance for checking it out as it comes.

One of the things that didn’t make it into the urban foraging podcast was Art Jackson’s and my extended, and quite literally fruitless, search for juneberries, aka serviceberries. Only afterwards did it dawn on us that searching for June-berries in August was not exactly the brightest thing we could have been doing. I’ve been curious, now that June is not only here but quickly departing in a torrent, and had in the back of my mind that I should call Art up and see if he wanted to search for Juneberries…

…but he already has. He’s found them, and he’s cooked with them and eaten them. Check out his post.

Several years ago my son Myles was given a small goldfish tank by our then-nanny. To say we were poor caretakers of goldfish would be putting it kindly. One time the nanny killed the two fish we had and hurriedly bought two new ones, and Myles came to me declaring “Lora cleaned the tank and the fish changed colors!” We went through numerous fish and soon stopped bothering to name them.

In mid-2005 I helped my friend Melissa Graham (now of The Local Beet and other fame) start an organization for educating kids about food, called Purple Asparagus. One of its first events was arranged by the chef John Bubala at his restaurant Timo (where Piccolo Sogno is now), with its spectacular back patio. John went all out— it really was the best Purple Asparagus event ever— and he had all kinds of activities for the kids including apple bobbing:

And goldfish races (I think that’s John’s son at left, I’m sure it’s Myles at right):

Blowing a fish down a Home Depot gutter with a straw would not seem to be a recipe for long life, but we came home with that fish— and amazingly, despite the rough beginning, the tiny and infrequently cleaned tank, and the fact that he never managed to gain any name more personal than “Fish,” Fish proved to be by far the hardiest and longest-lasting of our goldfish, by a factor of about 50, living nearly four more years until he was found floating head down tonight.  We paid him little attention in life, though Liam at least insisted in including him in any inventory of our family:

“So these are my favorite people in the family, from most to worst.  Buster [our dog], Mom and Dad are tied, Fish, and Myles is worst!”

I look at the pictures from that event and so much has changed— my kids are twice are big and don’t need a special event to eat interesting food out, friends of back then are, well, not so much, Timo is gone and John’s teaching at Kendall College— but Fish lasted through it all till now.  Requiescat in pace, Fish.  I’m glad my wife didn’t drink you by mistake before we got you home.

The five course meal at Han 202, a new Chinese place in Bridgeport from the owners of Evanston’s former Restaurant Guan, costs an amazingly low $20 per person (plus whatever you BYOB), and at the end of it, a summit of the foodwriting intelligentsia was discussing how much we would be willing to pay for it and what we would think of it at different prices. At $28 (currently the magic price point for many restaurant entrees, since it’s just shy of breaking the $3X barrier), it would seem fairly priced. At $35 or $40, we might start to become critical about which parts of the meal were on and which were off: some things were really well balanced in their flavors, others were almost candy sweet; some were exquisitely plated, some seemed kind of like ordinary Chinese food.

All of which is to say, this may be an arty five course meal, but it isn’t Alinea, or even Schwa, in its level of accomplishment (or caliber of ingredients). Still, at the insanely low $20 or even a perfectly reasonable $30, this is a meal which delivers an impressive amount of fine dining experience for the bucks, in an atmosphere which feels hip and nice but is still pretty casual. If you’re a twentysomething guy looking for a nice place to take a hot date and feel like you took her somewhere fancy which you can’t really afford, there’s probably no better choice for you in town at the moment.

The meal started with an amuse-bouche of mushroom topped with a styrofoam-crunchy radish-like vegetable (which the waitress said was called bacha, though so far I’ve been unable to find any vegetable with a name like that).  [EDIT: Rene G at LTHForum identified it as bac ha, taro stem.] The textural contrast and presentation were a fitting statement of intent for the meal to follow— mainly, that this isn’t going to be the usual throw it all together in a wok delivery Chinese; that some of the precision and delicacy of Japanese food is coming.

You choose four of your five courses (the one dessert is a given).  The first course is a salad, and at least two of them are extremely pleasing in their simplicity: a mix of lettuce with wakame seaweed (and, in this season of strawberry bounty, topped with a slice of one) which is an inspired salad, mixing the ultrafamiliar with the gently exotic; and silky beef over a bed of sliced green apples:

The next course is miso, and is relatively dispensable (might as well get the spicy version with a dollop of real crab meat; we mostly ordered it to see if it really would be crab and not surimi, which happily it was).  But the course that followed, appetizers, was to my mind the clear highpoint, with three of four dishes standouts.  The simplest, but in many ways the one that impressed me the most precisely because it did so much so delicately with so little, was this creme brulee-soft tofu speared— oh, sign me up for that job— with tiny sprouts.

Another that impressed me was a substantial chunk of seared tuna with a lime accent to the soy-or-whatever sauce it was sitting in.  Mine was a level down from that— they called it walnut shrimp, after tasting its unsubtle blast of orange extract I dubbed it “Shrimp in Tang sauce”— but like the mayonnaise shrimp at Lao Sze Chuan, it was oddly likable in a white trash kind of way.

The main course that followed seemed pedestrian by comparison, like conventional Chinese food, different meats all cooked the same way in a wok, with the same vegetables out of the big foodservice bag of broccoli/green and red pepper/baby corn.  It was pretty good Chinese, the sauces were bright and light, little grease, but hey, I could say the same about P.F. Chang’s, basically.  All in all this course seemed the least novel, the least paradigm-shattering, and the one dish that was different from the others, a small rack of lamb, was prepared well but marred by a gloppy-sweet sauce.  Dessert, apparently, was winged out of commercial mochi and Italian cookies when they ran out of other stuff, my expectations for dessert in an Asian restaurant are always low and this… definitely beat a stale almond cookie.  The dried cherries at least demonstrated that they thought about it for more than two seconds.

I’d love someday to see someone open a truly deluxe Chinese restaurant, like you hear they have in places like Vancouver, but until that happens, I’m happy to have a Chinese restaurant run by people who seem aware of things happening in the broader food scene and ambitious enough to try to offer a fine dining-like experience at barely above cheeseburger prices.  The price surely can’t last and the BYOB may be temporary too (there is a bar, left over from the previous Italian inhabitant according to Chuck Sudo of Chicagoist), so Han 202 is definitely one to try sooner, rather than later.  Like our new Indonesian entrant, with enough support it might be the harbinger of even more interesting and accomplished things to come.

Han 202
605 W. 31st

Check out Michael Nagrant’s rave, which put Han 202 on the foodie radar, and Mike Sula adds some details in this week’s Reader, even though they totally missed the chance to make a Han Sula pun in the headline.

1. Best read of the Chicago food media week is Chuck Sudo’s 5-part trip to New Holland brewery with Paul Kahan, and talking to much-lauded (but evidently business-impaired) former Journeyman chefs Matt Millar and Amy Cook. It’d be best even if I didn’t get mentioned in part 5. Here are the pieces: 1 2 3 4 5
2. Best view of the week is this filthy, hilariously dead-on sendup of the celebrity chef culture made by celebrity chef Kevin Boehm (with some others participating). It beat out Graham Bowles’ bare butt to win the Gold Coast Film Festival:

3. I’m setting a higher bar for linking to Good Food podcasts, since I always seem to, but I was fascinated by four things back to back in this one: Russ Parsons on what to do with all that stuff from a farmer’s market, a woman revealing all the fakery behind “100% fresh-squeezed” orange juice, a not too woolly talk about biodynamic winemaking, and a very interesting piece on mobile slaughterhouses as an answer to the fact that NIMBY regulatory issues make it basically impossible to build a slaughterhouse anywhere any more:

4. Fraises des bois have become a hot item at the Green City Market this year, partly because people like me keep mentioning them on food blogs and Twitter. The worst offender clearly is Fruitslinger, who hunts for the wild ones here.
5. Speaking of what to do with strawberries and the other fruits of the moment, I’m always a fan of making cherry clafouti, the traditional French sort of custard-baked-pancakey thing, although I make it according to Joel Robuchon’s not very traditional recipe usually, including in a pastry crust. Anyway, here’s a cool idea for a strawberry-rhubarb one, since anyone shopping the markets right now is pretty much guaranteed to wind up with strawberry, and rhubarb.
6. This is where Helen of MenuPages would say OMFG: caramel fried green tomatoes and ice cream. Also pretty incredible is the recipe and photos for honeysuckle sorbet. I’m really going to have to make that. Biscuits and Such is my instant new favorite Southern food blog, I think.
7. Louisa Chu found this, a very good argument for always having your camera in your pocket at lunch, because you never know what will suddenly appear waiting to be photographed.

Anchovy crunchies, for snacking on while fighting your way through the media hordes at Angin Mamiri.

A couple of months ago I was taking my kids to a 4-H meeting and I saw a sign on Touhy announcing that a dead Filipino restaurant was about to become an Indonesian restaurant. Cool, I thought, that’ll make a nice little discovery on my part…

It is to laugh. The thought of Chicago finally getting a lone Indonesian restaurant again (after the closing of August Moon nearly a decade ago) inspired something of a frenzy in the foodie media community, summed up by this Twitter post a few days ago (I won’t say Tweet, I won’t) by Mike Sula of the Reader:

Foodmedia hordes descending on new Indonesian Angin Mamiri ( I was 1 of 3 sched interviews today. Hi @mmxdining

Mmxdining is a writer from Metromix, incidentally. As it happens, though, none of those places have actually put their review up yet that I can find, so thanks to the Sky Full of Bacon hyperefficient review generation and approval system, it looks like I’ll be going first after all, albeit probably only by hours.

Actually, media frenzy was not at all in evidence when I went in about 1:30; the three generations of Indonesian family (older parents, grown daughter, her teenage daughter) were scattered around the dining room doing odd jobs, as if it were their living room. They quickly packed up and got back into customer mode. The menu is relatively short— a few curries, a few noodle dishes, lots of sates— and I had to admit the brevity didn’t encourage me, it looked like a menu whose high points would be exhausted quickly. As soon as I asked DeeDee, the grown daughter, what she would recommend, though, she kind of brushed the menu aside and started talking up the special:

—and more to the point, the fact that they planned to have something special and different every day. The menu was much more of a starting point, she suggested. I wasn’t entirely sold by the sound of the special, which looked like fried with a side of more fried, but DeeDee was persuasive, so I went for it and another (fried) appetizer, risole.

I also tried the one Indonesian drink in the cooler, a very sweet, flowery tea:

In my limited experience Indonesian is sort of like Thai, but even more comfort-foody. That was certainly the case with the risole, which is sort of like an egg roll crossed with a chicken pot pie, and pretty damn indulgently delightful. The main dish was in the same vein:

Fried chicken (just about worthy of the Thai fried chicken at Spoon or TAC), potato croquettes (reminiscent of some of those Japanese potato dishes which seem like grandmother food from an alternative universe), and a spring roll, along with some rice topped with, and subtly tasting of, toasted coconut. A lot of fried stuff, but all done with a judicious hand, and the little hot pickle-chutney stuff at the side was tasty. Best of all, it really seemed homemade, and so I asked DeeDee when she came back about who did the cooking. She said her mom, Ida, is the main cook, does it all, even rolling the spring rolls and risole herself. They’re starting out with a basic menu but will have new specials all the time; they’re also thinking about how to do a rijstaffel, the traditional Indonesian banquet/buffet from Dutch colonial days, probably as a special dinner event using some sort of advance ticket system.

I asked DeeDee if they had had a restaurant before, somewhere else, and she said no, they’ve lived in Chicago for 25 years, and cooked things for Indonesian festivals, and people always asked where there was an Indonesian restaurant, and for years they said they were going to open one. (The name, incidentally, means “wind” or “breeze,” she said.) Now they finally have; and it’s a good one with potential to be a very good and culturally important one. Don’t just read the food media about it; support it now, and help it grow into what it could be.

Angin Mamiri
2739 W. Touhy
(773) 262-6646

An earlier, stranger experience with Indonesian food.

Continuing my Green City post below…

I made a strawberry rhubarb pie with some of it— but not the asparagus, of course.  For that, first I made a paté brisee, then I blanched and cooled one bunch of asparagus.  I sauteed some prosciutto and onion, added some flour and water from the asparagus, and made a sort of roux with it, letting it cool and adding some lemon zest:

A layer of each…

…topped with gruyere, then another layer of each:

Close the crust, seal with an egg wash:

And it makes a wonderful summery-tasting French tourte.

The recipe comes from Susan Herrman Loomis’ French Farmhouse Cookbook, which I’ve always enjoyed as an unthreatening intro to French cooking, all very rustic and approachable.

If there were a dish that involved asparagus and strawberries, it would have been the salvation for Green City Market today, as plenty of both were on hand. A little sunshine might have helped too; we were among the hardy few in a decidedly sparse crowd.

I stopped by a new cheese vendor, Saxon Homestead Creamery, variously recommended by the likes of Michael Morowitz and Mike Sula. We sampled our way down the line and to our surprise, even the 7-year-old voted for the slightly funky raw milk Green Fields cheese, as well as one called Evalon LaClare Farm cheese. (Cheese Log post to come in a few days.)

At Cafe Floriole we got something to nosh— in this humidity, the crusts were soggy but the good stuff in the middle was still plenty good, I was very happy with a little goat cheese and green onions. A moment later I spotted something else someone (I think Monica Eng) had recommended:

Apple cider donuts! Okay, I don’t think I went quite as gaga for them as she did, but they didn’t exactly last long, either.

By the time I got to Fruitslinger’s stand I had three quarts of strawberries, so I didn’t really have any need to buy any more from him, but we chatted for a moment. I asked him about the fraises des bois (wild strawberries; they were planted, as a sort of cliffhanger, last year on his blog and they turned up recently on his Twitter feed.) He said ten minutes earlier Mark Mendez from Carnivale had bought everything he had. Then he searched around and produced one for me to try. Tart, not that different from the other strawberries. Wait another week or two, he said. When they’re good… his eyes rolled back in his head. (Here’s what happened to them at Carnivale.)

Got some green tomatoes from Growing Power, I’ll make fried green tomatoes in a day or two. Got a new glass bear full of that great black raspberry honey, some pork shoulder and hamburger from a new beef supplier, some eggs (all sold out closest to the parking lot, still available closer in). We went home, damp but happy. Tonight I made strawberry shortcake, tomorrow a strawberry-rhubarb pie and probably an asparagus tart.

For me!  The first time I’ve ever been somewhere and the Reserved signs were not to keep me away, but to save a spot for me! Overlooking the city laid out before me.  I am Ozymandias, king of food bloggers!


When we last visited my conscience, I was expressing doubts about the need to have a formal code of ethics that foodbloggers signed onto (let alone wore a badge for).  When we visited it the time before that, I was debating whether or not to attend a PR event for a restaurant (as it turned out I couldn’t anyway).

And so Thursday night I went to a hoity-toity event arranged by a PR firm, ate and drank free and schmoozed.  Like a floozy!

What happened?  Several things.  One is, I’ve lately been to two freebie anniversary parties at restaurants where I knew, at least a little, the chef (Mado and Graham Elliott).  In both cases it just felt, I dunno, pretentious to even think about getting on the reviewer’s high horse and saying “Do not tempt me with the base gelt of charcuterie or buffalo wing sweetbreads, thou blackhearted chef thou, for I am… A REVIEWER!”  Partly because, well, I’m not.  (I write some capsule reviews for Time Out or the Reader on occasion, almost entirely of dives and taquerias and such.)  

But more than that, it’s not how the rest of Sky Full of Bacon works— I mean, I didn’t go to La Quercia to get their side of the story and then go talk to some critic to get his blistering attack on them.  I admire what they do so I made a movie about what I admire about it. The whole premise is personal and thus partisan in a way that a newspaper is not meant to be—which is why this is not a newspaper (among other reasons).  So really, all I aim to do here is be 1) hopefully, interesting and, 2) absolutely, straightforward about the circumstances, so you can judge for yourself how much I’ve been sucked in.  As I said before anyway:

the real temptations are not in gold or jewels but in flattery, in access, in the illusion of collegiality.

So anyway, the chichi places in a chichi new hotel:

had a meet and greet, or a Taste and Schmooze, and David Hammond invited me to come along on his invite from a PR firm.  Two more things that appealed to me about attending this were the fact that this is the sort of place I would never ever go on my own, I mean, the last place I’m going to go drinking normally is a posh bar next to the Leo Burnett building; and second, the opportunity to observe, anthropologically, the other members of the food media tribe.  For one thing I was just curious who actually comes out to things like this, since most of the food writers I know don’t.  For another, I was curious what the protocol was for such things, and how it would play out— would the PR people muscle me, flatter me, or stand back and let the chips fall for their client?

First stop was Roof, the bar at the top of the building. This is a very classy and glassy open space, some of it literally open to the outside, much of it modernist steel and glass, very white and cosmopolitan although I must admit, they may strike me off the PR schmooze list just for saying this, something about the high glass walls and the snaking colorful duct work and glass said… forgive me… McDonald’s Playland.  I was ready to take my shoes off and start climbing straight up the air duct, looking for a slide back down.

And no, it wasn’t the lamb burgers that made me think that, either. But hopefully for them, no one else will make that association (this very beautiful-people crowd looks mostly no-kids, or at least no trips to the McDonald’s Playland with their designer kids, anyway).  I had a couple of the signature cocktails— just a couple, hic— but I was fairly unimpressed with the design of either one— an allegedly peach one was more lemony-tart, an alleged tropical one (the Ipanema) was just orangey.  Still, I’m sure they make a fine gin and tonic or whatever the alcoholics at Leo are drinking these days.

The food, on the other hand, I found pretty good, definitely creditable for a bar.  The lamb burger was excellent, good strong lamb flavor mixed with a little herb butter or mayo.  Some thing involving cheese over an egg on bread— pretty much parmesan toad in the hole— was also quite tasty (though totally ill-suited for noshing at an event like this and arguably for any bar situation—going to be a lot of runny egg on little black dresses).  Some mozzarella cheese balls were heavy enough to use as buckshot, while some woodburning pizzas had nice toppings but the crust was fairly standard-issue.  Still, well above average overall for a bar, and I really might go back, as improbable as it might seem (or as I might seem to this crowd), for those lamb burgers.

Anthropological observation #1: food media know not to fill up on bread:

Afterwards we were summoned downstairs to State and Lake, the restaurant in the lobby of the hotel.  As with Roof, State and Lake is dressed to the nines, dark, leathery, techno:

Alas, if Roof managed to escape serving food that screamed “hotel,” State and Lake has not been so lucky.  Nice, pretty adventurous food for a hotel, but there was a little-of-this-little-of-that character to the menu that made it hard to see what it was aiming for, and most things were well executed but unmemorable (and I picked the one entree, pork shoulder, that was a little worse than that, although it’s not like I went hungry that night as a result).  Pretty much anything we had (short ribs, scallops, whatever), I could think of a tastier, more inventive and better conceived version I’d had recently somewhere else, like Avec, or The Bristol, or Avec.  And it usually came with some gloopy cheese-and-creamy side that was threatening to cross the line between Comfort Food and sheer Pander Food.

Again, within its genre it might be pretty good— though hotel dining has stepped up its game lately with places like Avenues and Mercat a la Planxa— and the desserts were very good (who knows where they’re made, though), but if someone asked me where to go eat that’s dark brown, hip and hopping, I’d be all over Sepia or Hot Chocolate long before I ever said this place.

So back to the anthropological stuff: how was the crowd?  How was being the target of PR?  I talked to several people from different kinds of food media—a magazine for chefs, for instance (she told me they did bacon last year and it’s so over; damn, I knew I should have called it Sky Full of Mangosteens), or a very nice lady who writes for a food mag aimed at the north shore (but was eager to hear about all our latest LTHForum city-divey discoveries).  That part was enjoyable and I did some PR-in-return by talking up Sky Full of Rainbow Chard (new logo coming soon).  As for the PR folks, they were friendly and easygoing, they know better than to push too hard for any one client, they’re in this for the long haul.  In the end, a restaurant has to stand on its own feet.  Roof does, State and Lake kind of doesn’t, at least to my standards and needs.  They can create the opportunity for a place to shine, but they won’t go nuts trying to convince you there’s starlight where there isn’t.  Or at least they didn’t.

I thanked them for inviting me and then took the train back home to return to my life, not as a mover and shaker, not Vettel 2.0, but just a guy.  Who has a food blog.

Roof/State and Lake
The Wit Hotel
201 N. State, Chicago