Sky Full of Bacon

For me, Next-o-mania had curdled by week’s end, and I was thinking of crawling under a rock till it was all over, even as I had contributed my own small bit to it (or maybe because). I hasten to say that I hold nothing against Next the restaurant, or even the brilliantly orchestrated campaign that had made it the hottest ticket in town (so hot it melted down their cutting-edge reservation system). But the way people reacted to it quickly turned ugly— the tickets being scalped on Craigslist, the complaints that the system didn’t work flawlessly under its initial test of fire, the robotic determination to get this ticket right now even if you have to spend your whole week clicking and refreshing like a mouse in a behavioral experiment. As my friend Michael Morowitz put it, as usual more succinctly than I, “Scarcity and exclusivity have completely replaced flavor and authenticity as the key sirens for foodies.”

Add to that the smaller, but equally absurd, mania that popped up around some doughnut shop that opened, but could barely stay open without selling out of $3 doughnuts in minutes, and it was hard not to feel that the foodie scene had jumped the shark last week, lost any connection to the chef-and-farmer-honoring values it occasionally claims to have. I mean, if you pay a scalper a fortune for Grant Achatz’s hard work, how is that honoring his art? How is that respecting him? And if you ignore all the other fine and interesting chefs in town— one of whom just won a Food & Wine Best New Chef award, but could hardly get noticed last week— because getting into Next is all you care about, how is that respecting the diversity and ingenuity that have made our food scene so great? It’s not— in either case, it’s just getting your Hipper Than Thou ticket punched.  It’s getting into Studio 54, so you can say you’ve been, and nothing more.  At that point the food, the whole artful experience that Next has presumably created is incidental.

So faced with the madness of foodieism last week, I felt like renouncing the world and returning to my monastery, which is to say, ignoring the upscale food world and returning to taco joints and Indian buffets (this is not an ascetic monastery, clearly).  Except for one thing: my kids would be at a 4-H sleepover that night.  Which meant my wife and I would have a rare night where we could go somewhere grownup, stay out late, order things the kids wouldn’t touch, all that stuff.  The harder I try to get out, the more they pull me back in!

I made a mental list of places to try getting into on Friday night, but in the end the first one we drove by didn’t look too packed— many potential patrons were no doubt at home, obsessively refreshing the Next site— and so we found ourselves at the upstairs bar at The Bristol.  My last dining experience at The Bristol (not counting Chris Pandel’s Key Ingredient) didn’t exactly work for me, but I have never doubted that it’s an estimable place, perhaps the closest replacement in my heart for its old neighbor Mado, and would never have written it off after one meal.

Upstairs, which I visited for the first time, is basically a bar slash waiting area, where you can order more or less the top, more appetizer-y half of the menu.  We let it go at the charcuterie platter, which was more than enough to get us through our wait and a single cocktail.  I was slightly disappointed to see that other than lardo there was nothing cured— like, say, the prosciutto Chris Pandel made that I had seen hanging in Old Town Social’s meat vault— but it was soon forgotten as we devoured the velvety chicken liver mousse, the rustic pork pate, and the slivers of lardo atop beets on toast.  I’ve had a lot of charcuterie platters of late, and they usually have their good points and not so hot points, but this was not only very good across the board, but seemed to know why it was.  It was focused in a way they often aren’t.

Seated downstairs— which meant uprooting ourselves from the far left end of one bar to the far left end of another— we continued our meal with beef heart confit and olive marmalade on toast, topped with lightly dressed arugula.  This was a quintessential dish of the moment, of the theme Chicago 2011, pure comfort food made with the discomfiting ingredients that have been made so hot by chefs like Chris Pandel, who somehow domesticated the grody bits so completely that they’re often the first to sell out.  This was beef-plus, roast beefy flavor with a side shot of adrenaline.  The mania for dishes like this is a mania I can get behind.

We ended with two pastas.  One— agnolotti— was pillowy comfort, and as lovable as a puppy.  The other— tagliatelle— was, frankly, bizarre, hard to eat, a mouthpuckering tart and fishy combination of anchovies, anise, and bits of pancetta, weirdly reminiscent in ways I could never quite put my finger to of some Thai dish I’ve had.  Yet unlikable as it was, it never occurred to me to consider it merely a botch; instead I kept eating it, trying to understand it.  It was like one of those occasions where you walk out not liking a movie, and six weeks later, you’re still thinking about it and are convinced it was actually damn near great.  This too is a quintessential dish of Chicago 2011— something that culinarily challenging, served at the bar with a beer.

And that’s the other thing about Chicago 2011— that so many of the best restaurants are serving things like this not in the studied perfection of Next, but in the loose, improvisational manner of The Bristol.  Liked it?  Cool.  There’ll be five other things in the next week or two, and maybe one or two of them will be just as good.  For people wrapping themselves into fits about whether or not they can get into Next before Paris 1906 is history, there’s no antidote better than the fact that you can drop in to a place like The Bristol and have marvels, and a beer, on the spur of the moment.

Boy, you’d never know from this week that there were any other restaurants besides Grant Achatz’s hysteria-provoking Next— not even the one whose chef and last week’s Key Ingredient challengee just won a Food & Wine Best New Chefs thingy— but there are, and one of them is Province whose chef, Randy Zweiban, is up this week. As it turns out, tamarind wasn’t an unfamiliar ingredient for him, but this one is well worth watching because it’s probably the most accessible recipe yet, and it was damned good; if you were going to make one Key Ingredient dish yourself, I’d make this one (get the recipe and the full article here, no ISI canister required).

Meanwhile, sure enough, I wound up covering Next, too, with a video, but this was actually shot back when we shot the very first Key Ingredient (indeed you’ll notice that the last shot here is the first shot of that episode). Achatz was giving us a tour, and talking about how, if he could, he’d repaint the walls every night, change everything around. I asked if that was where the inspiration for Next, with its quarterly theme-changing, came from. He said no, and then he explained where it actually came from (sorry about what sounds like a burglar alarm ringing in the background; that was Alinea’s super-vacuum cleaner in operation as we went around):

UPDATE: And if you get the new issue of Time Out Kids, be sure to read page 36. Big thanks to Jenn Galdes and Karrie Leung for helping me set up two of the three kid-interviews.

When I first moved into my neighborhood, many years ago, there was exactly one place to eat (at night, anyway): a hipster burger place called Planet Cafe. A few weeks later I was exploring the area further up Lincoln, and spotted a picturesque Italian restaurant, rambling over two or three storefronts and bathed in a warm, welcoming Tuscan light, called La Bocca della Verita… the mouth of truth.

At the sight of it my heart ached with jealousy— why didn’t my neighborhood have one of these? The oh-so-life-in-the-big-city neighborhood Italian joint, presided over by the sturdy Italian mama and making comfy plates of what we then all called Northern Italian food. (Though we didn’t really know what that meant, except things did have basil scattered on them, and didn’t come buried in the lead weight of old school red gravy.) For me, at that time, it represented everything about what life in the city was supposed to be– cosmopolitan, continental, yet cozy at the same time. It was right up there with used book stores and the three-story Rose Records and checking out tiny theater troupes for $7 a ticket (anyone else see The Book of Blanche?) and art movies at the Fine Arts, among things that were What I Moved To This City For.

But as Tony Soprano said, remember when is the lowest form of conversation. So I’ll simply note the disappearance of nearly everything on that list except La Bocca della Verita. When I moved here, youthful Kansas emigre, I didn’t know Italian food from Franco-American spaghetti, so a return to La Bocca della Verita after many years was fraught with opportunities for you-can’t-go-to-your-old-new-home-again disappointment, except my expectations were fully primed for exactly that. And they were mostly right. If I know what the delicacy of Italian food is now, what subtlety is, I also know when it’s being made without them. And the food my younger son and I had was, what’s the nicest way to put it, pleasantly clumsy. Gooey gnocchi with trumpet blast tomato sauce. Gluey spaghetti carbonara with guanciale which was flavorful… including the flavor of smoked pork, which guanciale doesn’t normally have. Baked cod in a pool of lemony, garlicky liquid being the best of the evening, but still, most reminiscent of the days when I would be taken to lunch at Riccardo’s, an ancient downtown advertising hangout, and quickly learned to stick to fish as the thing they could damage the least.

I could name better renditions of everything we had. I could imagine someone else getting all Medici on this kitchen. But… it won’t be me, because their welcome to this bustling restaurant could not have been friendlier. The sturdy Italian mama’s smiles and consideration for my son’s wellbeing (even if it meant offering him a 7-Up refill he definitely didn’t need) were pleasures of life and community beyond mere gustatory pleasures. I don’t live in this neighborhood, I am no longer the starry-eyed youth, but for one night again, I felt the palest ghost of long-ago excitement at having places like this— real Italian restaurants, run by real Italians, everybody welcome— just a stroll away on the streets of my new metropolis. So here’s a kiss for La Bocca, and let cold hard Veritas take the night off.

La Bocca della Verita
4618 North Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60625
(773) 784-6222

* * *

Perhaps it’s Michelinmania, but everybody’s doing lists of The Best Restaurants in Chicago these days. Having launched one such list already, and just being one guy who can only eat at so many places, and what do you care how I rank The Purple Pig, I’m never going to have Gebert’s Top 25 or whatever. But what I will do is write up, as I did last year, a quarterly list of the best things I’ve eaten lately, which is hopefully soon enough that if you felt so inclined, you could try many of the same things I had. (Note: I have not included any of the Key Ingredient dishes, as they were one-offs which you probably couldn’t have. Although there’s at least one you could have something close to— Mindy Segal’s carrot cake at Hot Chocolate— and you’d be very happy if you did.)

Pork tamale from Tamales lo Mejor de Guerrero.

• Navy bean soup, cold roast beef sandwich, and the house (Italian) sausage I used on a pizza, from The Butcher & Larder
• Tarte flambee and Paris Brest at Balsan
• Pork belly sandwich at Xoco, especially the second half reheated the next day
• Cassoulet at Leopold
• Brussel sprouts (but not cassoulet) at Maude’s Liquor Bar
• Toscano dry sausage, and others, at Old Town Social
• Rasher and egg sandwich at Owen & Engine
• “Fish taco” (sashimi with tortilla foam) at Perennial Poli
• Grilled salad and short rib agnolotti at Three Aces
• Lobster roll at Shaw’s, which just isn’t the restaurant for me otherwise, but oh man, that’s just dead on perfect
• Kebab sandwich or whatever it is at Mr. D’s Shish-Kabobs
• Leek soup at Rewster’s
• Goat cheese quiche at brunch at Nightwood
• Goat knackwurst at Three Floyd’s
• Chocolate doughnut from Munster Donuts (Munster, IN)
• Slice of sausage pizza at Doughboys
• Slice of ricotta sheet pizza at Italian Superior Bakery
• Coconut chimney cake at Chimney Cake Island
• Potato chips from Grahamwich
• All the tamales at Tamales lo Mejor de Guerrero, an LTH discovery no one thought to make an LTH GNR
• Barbacoa, which I’d never had before at Tierra Caliente, but is clearly the backup choice whenever you doubt that the carne asada or pastor is as perfect at that moment as it should be
• Italian beef at Novi’s Beef, Berwyn
• Chilaquiles at Caffe Gaudi
• Montreal-style pastrami at the place in the French Market next to Pastorale
• Housemade pasta with braised pastrami at Inovasi (okay, that was from the last week of 2010, but I had already done my 10 best list before I went there and it deserves mention)

Like many foodies, I’ve shopped at Costco for years and one of the things I’ve come to rely on is the cool, refreshing taste of Kirkland bottled water. Yet it wasn’t until I saw a promotion in the front of the store next to the venetian blinds and the caskets that I realized all the Kirkland water came from the company’s own bottling facilities at Lake Kirkland in Idaho. Looking for somewhere to get away from the harsh Chicago winter, the vacation package they offered for a 7 day/6 night stay at The Inn at Lake Kirkland was simply too good a deal to pass up. So this time when I came home from Costco, I didn’t just surprise my wife with Australian Riesling, new cordless phones or a 12-pack of long underwear— it was with an exciting vacation.

The Inn at Lake Kirkland is an all-suites resort nestled by the blue waters of Lake Kirkland, and offering a truly dazzling range of recreation options. Besides a wide selection movies on blu-ray to watch from our in-room recliners and a Time-Life Music tribute band in the nightclub performing the greatest hits of Johnny Mathis, The Eagles and Merle Haggard, there were plenty of water sports options to be had:

But this is a food blog and you want me to report on the food options available, so here goes. There are more than a dozen restaurants on the Lake Kirkland property, and I was largely impressed by both the quality and the quantity they offered. Arriving mid-day on Saturday, we had lunch at the casual Haggler’s and were very impressed by the delicate texture of their woodfired pizza and the robust flavor of the Hampshire Farms bacon on it:

Since we purchased the babysitting package, my wife and I were able to sneak away on a couple of nights. Plasma, the bar and lounge in the south wing, had a throbbing energy augmented by an ever-changing display of some of Costco’s best offerings.

The wine flights offered tastes of 12, 24 or 48 wines rated at least 86 by The Wine Enthusiast and were really a great deal.  We stuck mostly to light appetizers here and one of our favorites was the sample platter of mini-quiches:

But the most impressive meal we had, without question, was at the resort’s four-star Le Rabais. Chef Jimmy Dean Saucisse worked at French Laundry, Per Se and Carnival Cruise Lines, and there’s a clear Achatz influence in some of his exquisitely designed and plated dishes, such as “Grass and Snow,” in which the dish is wittily plated onto a garden rake (Woodbridge & Vinely, $269.99/3-pack in the lobby) and the finishing touches of truffle salt are applied with an Ariens snowblower ($479.99):

For all his artful touches, however, Saucisse understands that the Lake Kirkland traveler is there for a fully satisfying dining experience of good-sized portions, and so there’s nothing twee or excessively retiring about Foie Gras Fourteen Ways (clockwise left to right: teriyaki, smoky chipotle, honey Dijon, cool ranch, mountain spring, rosemary-bacon, Hawaiian, strawberry-kiwi and chocolate-mint; not shown: Texas 5-Alarm, Tuscan sun-dried tomato, New England chowder, wasabi-pecan and habanero):

After a feast like that, I downsized my order from the T-Bone Case to the Iowa Steak Filet Sampler, but I still had enough left over for a tasty midnight snack an hour after dinner:

And as tempted as we were by the many frozen yogurt options, in the end we split a simple platter of profiteroles, which ended the meal on just the right light note:

I’ve come home from so many vacations with a vague feeling of, I don’t know, hunger for something more than we experienced. But in this case, The Inn at Lake Kirkland exceeded my expectations in every way. Everything we were served was outstanding and the attention to detail was simply remarkable. Based on this visit, I can’t wait for my next chance to experience what Chef Saucisse and all his comrades are offering. In fact, my stomach is rumbling at the thought of how long it will be before we can return right now.

The new Key Ingredient stars Stephanie Izard, who really is just as adorable as she seems on TV. And it’s one of my favorite challenges so far, because she gets thrown a personal curveball and really takes it and makes something out of it that was totally a Girl & the Goat dish:

Nothing else happening this week though I did get a passing mention in Whet Moser’s interesting take on the whole molecular Myrhvold thing, which is well worth checking out. (And apparently the big dogs are still fighting over how to list Key Ingredient here while making sure to leave off my name. Get a life, or a room! Just don’t list it at all, I’m sure the Reader will be fine without the three reader/viewers coming from this source. UPDATE: My wife says it and I am listed now. I can’t work up the energy to go check.)

UPDATE: Kind words from my Key Ingredient teammate Julia Thiel here, as well. Who knew what life my two cents on the B.R. Myers thing would have when I dashed it off one Sunday?

After Swine Management 101, our next pig-season adventure also began with a long drive into farm country, but this time south to Buckingham, Illinois, and in the bright daylight of Sunday morning. It was a sudden, wrenching shift from the broad expressway to the perfectly straight and narrow country road that took us ten miles on a grid of farmland to, suddenly, J Farm. Our purpose: Meet Your Pig.

Or at least, play with the piglets, one of whom might be our pig. We will buy a pig at auction, sometime in April, but for now it’s just a matter of the kids getting familiar with the kind of animal they’ll be responsible for.

There were two kinds here; the pink or pink and black ones are cross-breeds, while there were also reddish-brown ones that were Durocs. As a foodie, I’d go Duroc, but then we won’t be eating our pig anyway, so my desires for that kind of meat (assuming I’d still want it by the end of the process, and wouldn’t have gotten too sentimental to eat it myself, which I’d say there’s only about a 98% chance of) don’t really matter. Our program leader, Julie, made a couple of strong pitches for the cross-breeds as being a sounder choice for 4-H competition, so I expect that’s what we’ll go for. (At other county fairs, there are separate categories for purebreds and cross-breeds, so it’s worth raising the former and showing and auctioning them; but there’s not enough pig production in Lake County to justify that.)

The kids had an hour or so of sheer kid-piglet delight. The pigs, though skittish about the large humans moving about their pens, were insatiably curious, and took to chewing at shoelaces. What in a pig’s diet resembles a shoelace, I wonder? The farmer’s wife had a new baby in her arms and a toddler girl, who moved among these animals only slightly smaller than herself as if every human naturally grows up among a herd of little pink piggies. Which, not that long ago, they pretty much did. When she was done with pigs, she turned to the first adult she saw, and asked me to be airlifted out of the pen.

Then we drove about a mile to another farm in the Foltz family— to see the adults from whom these piglets issued. It’s not like I haven’t seen pigs before, but it was kind of a shock after our piglet interlude to be reminded just how massive and alien fully grown pigs can be. Weighing six or seven hundred pounds each, huge, brute and powerful, going from the piglets to these pigs was like going from a hamster to a hippo.

And where the only danger the piglets posed was to shoelaces, here we were reminded that fingers were best kept well out of snacking range. There was nothing hostile about these pigs, but just their size sent a signal of menace to the deepest parts of the brain. Now I’m curious, when will the moment come when my sons’ attitude toward their pig shifts from the adorable playfulness of this day with the piglets to the determined control a farmer needs to have to manage an animal of this size? When will the idea of selling this creature for meat seem natural, as it certainly didn’t as we played with the pigs today?

Here’s a video of the kids, including Liam, playing with the piglets. It’s not edited and nothing really happens in it. It’s just kids and piglets. Enjoy.

This week’s Key Ingredient is the most prosaic yet… bananas. But there’s a twist to why that’s our challenging ingredient this week, so watch it above and read it here.

Meanwhile, even I’m sick of reading about me by now, but I should say thanks to Mike Sula for this nice announcement of the Beard award nomination at the Reader, and I turn up quoted extensively in Julia Kramer’s rant on shared plates at Time Out, so check that out too.

I wrote about Old Town Social and its made-in-house charcuterie a year ago, so I was excited to have a chance to shoot a Key Ingredient there and finally see its fully certified, HACCP-compliant, all-T’s-crossed-with-the-health-department curing room. You can see it at the start of the video:

Okay, so it just looks like any other walk-in fridge, not the gleaming glass Bond-villain vault of meat I imagined. But if there was nothing extraordinary in how it looked, how it smelled was another matter entirely, and those deep, dripping-fat, curing-meat, phantasmagorically primal smells had me convinced that I needed to get back to the restaurant, soon.

Jared explained to us that he had made a number of improvements to the way he was making his charcuterie and that he felt it had come a lot closer to his mostly Italian ideal in the past year. The first issue, he said, is that he feels American charcuterie is too tart, has too much of a lactic acid bite to it; this, he believes, is because of the most commonly used bacterial cultures in the curing process. It’s a bit like how so many American craft beers taste heavily of the same few commercial hop varieties and thus tend to taste a bit alike. So he switched to a different strain of bacteria to use in the curing process and felt like it had produced a mellower, subtler meat flavor in the end result.

Another change he had made had to do with the culture on the outside of the meat— the one that produces the snow-white mold on the skin of certain sausages. This too has a subtle but definite effect on flavor that is responsible, in some mysterious way, for the authentic Italian taste. After a trip to Italy last year he placed an imported sausage in the curing room and its white mold seemed to spread quickly throughout the sausages hanging in there. This, too, he believes has contributed to a flavor improvement closer to his Italian ideal.

My friend Michael Morowitz and I volunteered to help test these theories by eating mass quantities of Jared’s charcuterie last week:

Although my memories of what I ate a year ago are only so clear, I did feel like compared to the general run of in-house charcuterie in Chicago, Jared’s seemed more authentically Italian overall, subtler and more about meat than about the funk of salt and curing. Several were especially outstanding, such as the pressed sopressata above at right, and the toscano with big cubes of fat next to it; we also very much liked the mortadella, which Michael said reminded him of what he and his wife ate on a train-compartment picnic leaving Bologna, and a smoked sopressata, which was an off-menu mistake— a batch of sopressata was made with the wrong curing powder (No. 1 instead of No. 2, which has both nitrates and nitrites for a more effective longer cure). Frankly, it probably would have been fine, but to ensure its safety, they smoked it a bit. Not heavy with smoke, it nevertheless gained a lot of character from the light kiss of smoky flavor.

He’s also just started work on his second restaurant in Chicago (his company has another in San Diego) which will be in the former Marché space on Randolph. Although Old Town Social’s meats will doubtless make an appearance over there, this time the emphasis will be on a broader range of Italian food, with a similarly artisanal approach taken to pasta. He spoke about how flour is one of the stumbling blocks for locavore cooking— you can make all the stuff that goes on the pizza or pasta locally, but there’s no local mill for locally-grown wheat at the specifications a restaurant requires for its range of dishes; you have to buy the same national or imported products as everyone else. So they’re working on building an in-house mill which will allow them to make everything down to “00” pizza flour in house. It sounds as if it could be a big step up for the local Italian food scene; watch for it somewhere around fall to the holidays.

Saying Jared is enthusiastic about his charcuterie hardly covers it; his enthusiasm spreads as quickly as his authentic Italian white mold, and if you’re an amateur charcuterist yourself, it is well worth not only trying his exceptional stuff but finding the opportunity to talk about it with him. (I suggest quieter nights early in the week at this popular Friday/Saturday night drinking spot.) He’s happy to talk shop and share what he knows (we saw a prosciutto ham in his walk-in that he’s hanging for Chris Pandel of The Bristol) and even to share some of the secrets of his products— he’s making enough of the small sopressata to be selling it from the restaurant on the side, and will happily encourage you to buy one and hang it with your own cured meats to catch his Italian mold. Good guy, good meats.

Exciting news, that Julia Thiel and I have been nominated for a James Beard Memorial Foundation Award in the multimedia category for the Key Ingredient series, which she writes and I do the videos for. Thanks to Julia, tireless food editor Kate Schmidt, Kiki Yablon, Whet Moser, Mike Sula, Geoff Dougherty, John Dunleavy, and Alex Parker, who are the other Readerites past and present I can remember who contributed to getting the series launched, and to all the chefs (19 so far) who have participated. (Sorry if I forgot somebody else.) Congrats also to Monica Eng for her nomination for her terrific work on school lunches at the Chi-Trib.

If you’d like to see the nominated articles/videos for yourself, they are the first three: Grant Achatz with Kluwak Kupas, Curtis Duffy with Chinese black beans, and John DesRosiers with geraniums. If you come here just because you want to find out what Sky Full of Bacon is, click on the “Video Podcasts” category at right to see examples of the main video podcast series here.

The Family Farmed Expo is a kind of trade show for better farming and eating. I came mainly for this panel discussion, which was like a Sky Full of Bacon reunion— since it starred Paul Kahan of Blackbird et al. (There Will Be Pork), Herb Eckhouse of La Quercia (Prosciutto di Iowa), Rob Levitt of The Butcher & Larder (A Head’s Tale) and Bartlett Durand of Black Earth Meats in Wisconsin (see this post), moderated by Ellen Malloy (see here). They had a lot of interesting things to say about the meat system and how and why they’re doing things to encourage better meat production and filling in the distribution gap to make things available to the consumer. One point they all seemed to agree on: eat less of chewier, but more flavorful, cuts of meat and you’ll not only have better tasting meat and be healthier, but be more respectful toward the animal and the environment.

“I was hoping I could get through this whole thing without having to speak,” Paul Kahan began his first comment. (He’s no fan of public appearances; when I shot the video three years ago, he talked about how he’d turned Iron Chef down, and later he told me that he also turned down being on Key Ingredient. We’ve arrived!) Anyway, what he did have to say was one of the most interesting bits of new news for me, which is, that the new butcher shop they’re opening next to the Publican is really designed to increase the number of new farmers selling naturally-raised meat in the city to the restaurant trade, by creating a channel of distribution to the public that also will showcase them for the restaurant community and help them grow a customer base among chefs quickly, making it more obviously attractive for them to target this market. Durand said that one problem for farmers is that restaurants will like their stuff so much they’ll overwhelm a single farmer (as was talked about in my video with Mark Mendez and Dave Cleverdon), and this is Kahan’s solution to broaden the pool of farmers selling quality meats beyond the few names like Dietzler or Slagel every restaurant-goer in Chicago has come to know.

Afterwards several of us (if I may use “us” presumptuously) went to the Publican for a party-slash-video shoot. Gastrotommy, a site which seeks out high quality food and wine deals and offers them to its members, and features video interviews about both the products and the world of food and wine more generally, was shooting Herb Eckhouse and Paul Kahan carving a bone-in La Quercia ham in an authentic Spanish-style ham torture device thing:

Kathy Eckhouse with ham.

What the heck do I do with this?

That is Gastrotommy at far right.

This Kahan kid has promise!

They cut little flakes of ham for something like two hours for a couple of dozen people, and only really cut off a chunk the size of a piece of pie. Is there anything on earth that packs so much meaty satisfaction into so little meat as La Quercia prosciutto? It was a great illustration of the earlier session’s point.

After a fine afternoon tasting wine, noshing prosciutto and a pork pie from The Publican, and chatting about ham production with the Eckhouses and video production with the Gastrotommy folks, I tagged along as the Eckhouses got VIP treatment at Big Star. We all felt very, very old there, but at least you can say if the kids of today are eating Paul Kahan’s idea of good meat on Saturday night at hipster taco and beer joints, there’s hope for the future.

Kathy texting their son, who was denied entrance to Big Star the last time he came to Chicago with them because he was underage.