Tag Archives: Chicago

Kalbi: My Addiction with Sweet Meat

Leaving San Soo Gab San I smell as though I rolled around in a pile of hot coals…  But I don’t mind…  I just spent an hour intensely flipping pieces of marinated beef short rib over a charcoal fire indoors on a hot summer day.  Why?  Because I’m hoping my new grill scent will help me attract a few good men for my single lady friends…. or maybe its because I have an addiction.

It’s an addiction that seems to only get worse with time.  Especially during the summer months, when guests from all over the United States end up in Chicago and at my mere suggestion attempt to share 4-8 short ribs with me.  Korean BBQ, two-three times per week became a perfectly normal occurrence and before I knew it, I was hooked.  My husband decided to place an intervention one night after a grilling binge that resulted in a string of kalbi scented burps.  To decrease my reliance on San Soo Gab San, he was going to create our own Korean BBQ.  But who am I kidding… we have tried many other recipes before, but nothing could stop my trips… well until we stumbled upon Maangchi

Marinated Short Ribs

Marinating Short Ribs

We found the marinade recipe here and used a suggested modification by adding a 1/2 a cup of mirin instead of the water.  This may be a little sweet for some, so you could use a 1/4 cup of mirin and 1/4 cup water if you prefer.  We placed our thinly sliced organic beef short rib in the bag and left it to marinate in the fridge for a few hours and focused our efforts on creating a few banchan, the equally addicting small side dishes that accompany any good Korean barbeque.  We opted to try another of Maangchi’s recipe for marinated tofu, our usual pickled daikon with Korean chili pepper, and pickled okra.

Korean BBQ

Korean BBQ with Banchan

After about three hours we removed our marinated meat from the fridge and headed to the grill where we conducted our own open-air Korean BBQ on our balcony.  While I flipped the meat over and over on the grill I realized now I had control over my addiction.  I can make it everyday! Okay… maybe I’m not clean yet, but I’m gettin’ there. 🙂

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Introducing Our Wine Contributor

Hi! My name is Jean-Paul, I am a winemaker and I love it!  When people first meet me, my friends try to warn them not to ask me about wine.  When I start talking about it, I can’t help but share everything I know.  I love what I do, and I love to share my knowledge and experience with others. I had never intended to become a winemaker, but well …. life had different plans for me. During my time at the University of Wageningen in Holland, I got infected by a winebug; so after finishing my degree I headed to France to work in the famous wine region of Burgundy.  Eventually, I completed my Masters Degree in Winemaking and Viticulture in France and Germany.

Wine Cave

Into the Wine Caves of Laguardia

In the last couple of years I visited many wineries, tasted thousands of wines, and worked in four different wine countries. The more I learn about wine, the more passionate I become about this beautiful product. You can read hundreds of books about wine, but it will never be the same as going to a wine region, seeing the vineyard, visiting the cellar where the grapes are transformed into wine, and tasting each wine with the local food. This belief is what made me travel to the vineyards in France, Germany, South Africa, and lately to Spain. Nowadays, I live in Spain, specifically, San Sebastian where I work as a wine tour guide for a small company called San Sebastian Food.

I am excited to share my knowledge and passion with you!  I will post stories about wine and answer any questions you may have.  I really don’t have the intention to turn you into a wine snob. With my stories I want to make wine and the wine making process more understandable and therefore more enjoyable. There are many subjects I can write about, so please let me know if you have any questions, I am keen on answering them!

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Maxwell Street Market: Tires, Tacos and Fashion Bras

Maxwell Street Market Tires

Tires at Maxwell Street Market

I usually curse silently at the pedestrians crossing between me and I-290 on my way home from Whole Foods on Sunday, but this time I was one of them.  My apologies to the Land Rover, Mercury Mariner and Honda Civic that I held up yesterday and to whomever beeped in disgust as I casually walked in front of them during a green light. I would have never seen the light turn red, had some distant voice not shouted, “Alright guys, hurry up.”  Its funny how things change once you’re on the otherside.

Every Sunday on Des Plaines and Roosevelt vendors line the street with tents, tables and a variety of eclectic goods from tires to “fashion bras” for the Maxwell Street Market.  This diverse market is well over 100 years old and although its size has dwindled since UIC’s expansion in 1994, it has continued to survive as one of the best places in the city to find a bargain, a taco, and if you’re lucky some of soulful chicago blues that originated here.

Best Churros in Chicago

Maxwell Street Churros

With the hot sun beating down on us, we weren’t that hungry when we entered the market.  But after passing a tableful of wrenches and plants we found ourselves facing a large blue van advertising “recien hechos”(recently made) churros.  My lack of hunger has never turned away a churro, so we ventured up and obtained the freshest churro I have ever encountered.  Passing a table of belts, we found ourselves at a white tent with a menu scrawled out in permanent marker fastened to its side.  Taco Bernardo’s exotic menu intrigued us, and so we bravely ordered tacos we had never tried before (i.e. beef head and chicharron in a green chile sauce). Sweaty and full, we got up from our table under the white tent and turned to our right, only to find ourselves head to head with with Mama Lula and her Pupusa’s from El Salvador.  As I watched her fold shredded meat into some dough and place it on a griddle, I knew this was something I could not pass up.  We tried a cheese pupusa and were advised to add pickled cabbage and a delicious red hot sauce to it.

Salvadoran Pupusa

Mama Lula's Pupusas

I think I was in love with it before the first bite,  but that could be because I operate on the premise that cuisines from all cultures are united by meat or vegetable wrapped in a dough of sorts (i.e. dumplings, empanadas, corndogs, samosas, sambosas, even the french have beef en croute).  Satisfied and still full, we meandered away from Mama Lula and her tables, heading deeper into a colorful crowd of people and tents.  We walked further into the vast market passing a vendor selling camo and boots, next a table of power tools, and a tableful of jeans.  Across from them was another vendor selling herbs to cure every malady, chili peppers and cinnamon sticks as tall as I am.  In the shade nearby, a young girl had a few chihuahua pups for sale and on one of the side roads you could find perfumes, tires, bras and panties.  Everything you could ever need was here, and I’m sure better priced than the Target or Dominicks up the street (i.e $6 for a case of bananas, kiwis, or strawberries).  As the hot sun beat down on my pasty white, unsuntan-lotioned skin I knew I was in desperate need of shade.  Although, the bbq ribs looked appealing, G was in the mood for more tacos, so we stopped at Tito’s Tacos to sample a few more and to get some shade under their big blue tent.

eye ball, goat and pork tacos

Eye Ball, Goat Barbacoa and Al Pastor Tacos

The operation these cooks run is amazing.  G and I were sweating just sitting there, but these guys were cooking in front of  a griddle in the sweltering heat with hungry market-goers circling them, waiting for a seat to open… and they do this every Sunday!  The al pastor taco was the best we have had in some time, and when we got up to leave a mild disagreement between patrons erupted over who was next to sit and eat.  As we made our way back towards Roosevelt, we stopped at one last stand to try an incredible chicken and green chile tamale, that was made even better by the avocado and tomatillo sauces placed on the tables under the tent.  Full from our fruitful taco tasting, we headed towards Roosevelt when I began to hear the sound of a bass guitar amist the car horns, police sirens and the bustle of the market. I couldn’t help but be drawn to the music. So I followed the sound towards Weinberg Hoisery on Roosevelt. Shaded by a rainbow umbrella we found Mr. James Washington playing his red bass guitar.  His case was open with a few bucks and change scattered about, and while market patrons walked past barely giving notice to the soulful music that played on the road next to them, Mr. Washington’s powerful bass reverberated off the concrete around him.  Beside him a younger guitarist sang the blues, while their only listener, a man with a cane and a hat, set up a chair next to them.  Mr. Washington is the last of many blues artists to grace the Maxwell Street Market.  So if you hear an electric bass guitar in the distance make sure to stop by to listen to a legend and a sound that is slowly going extinct.

Once a center for blues in Chicago, the Maxwell Street Market has now become better known for the Mexican street food and delicious ribs vendors selling a sample of their culture in a bite of their food.  The market has become a constant reminder that Chicago is an evolving melting-pot that even relocation could not destroy.  A place where we all mix, regardless of age, regardless of color to support our local vendors and a tradition that continues to live on with the support of each generation.

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A Clandestine Event

Alexis Nido-Russo Painting

There is something to be said about a complete dining experience, especially one filled with mystery, intrigue, great art and a killer DJ.  Last Saturday I had one of the best dining experiences of my life at an underground supper club in Chicago.

Our mystery dinner began a few months earlier when we booked a date and a clue online (i.e. Saturday June 5th near Chinatown).  We didn’t hear or see anything about it again until the week prior to the event when Efrain, the founder and chef, sent our menu and location.  We arrived at our newly disclosed point of interest at 7:00pm sharp.  G had accused me of navigating incorrectly to our secret dinner locale, so I was more than happy to hop out of the car and into a nondescript three flat near Chinatown.  Upon our arrival, there was no secret handshake or password to be whispered to a gatekeeper.  We were simply greeted, checked off the list, and told to sit whereever we pleased.  We took a moment to mill about the room taking in the art hung on the white walls.  Local artist Alexis Nido-Russo was sharing her work with us tonight and dining at the table next to us.

Diners began to arrive steadily after 7 and soon our table was full of old friends or couples, strangers, eager to share their past experiences with the supper club and excited about the Strawberry and Herb Feast to come.  While we got to know our neighbors, DJ Moppy was mixing in the background.  Our first sampling was a tasty and interesting, bacon wrapped strawberry amuse.   Most meals are BYOB but on this occasion libations were served as well.  Now I’m no drinker, so when a shot of tequila in rhurbarb sorbet came with our next dish of lake trout gravlax placed on a totopo,  I knew I was in trouble.  Shortly thereafter, I began to rhythmically twist my arugula and garlic pesto pasta around my fork to the beats of DJ Moppy’s mixes.  Our next dish was a beautiful strawberry and spinach salad with a strawberry mint mimosa. However, my favorite dish of the evening was the grilled walleye with pistachio oregano butter, peas and mashed potatoes. I don’t even like mashed potatoes… In fact I have not placed them on my plate at any Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner since the year 2000.  But these potatoes tasted so good with the walleye and peas that I may have to give mashed potatoes another shot.

Trout Gravalax on Totopos

This experience completely changed my mind on communal dining and at the end of the night I almost didn’t want to leave.  I enjoyed getting Karlisa’s opinion on my crooked and often blurry food photos and discussing traveling, Berkshire pork, and Indian food with Anne.  This experience made me realize that I should be asking more from my usual restaurants… more mystery, more fun, and more seasonal ingredients!

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Other Food Photos from the Evening:

Walleye and Mashed Potato

Strawberry Shortcake

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Images from the Green City Market

Green City Market Radish

Genesis Growers Radish, Spinach and Lettuce

I love the farmers market.  There… I’ve said it.  My first memory of a farmers market stems from the small local market in West Allis, Wisconsin.  Although, we had our own cherry trees, raspberry bushes and vegetable garden in our backyard, every summer my mother would take me and my brothers to pick pints of pickles and tomatoes from local farmers, which she would use to can pickles and salsa all summer long.  And even though my most vivid memory of the market is of my brother getting stung by a bee, it was here that I began to realize the importance of the farmers and where our food comes from.

The second farmers market that played a significant role in my life, as well as many other UW-Madison students, was the Dane County Farmers Market.  Every Saturday students from all over campus flocked to the capital for one of the largest farmers market in the country. Going from tent to tent we would select tomatoes, honey or cheese curds from farmers or producers who were passionate about their vegetables, bee hives, or dairy farm.

Tiny Green's Radish and Onion

It was here that a squeaky cheese curd made an impression on me.  Its almost impossible to find a squeaky cheese curd in a big box grocery store, and why is this? Because the squeak is an indicator of freshness that is lost in the time it takes to go from the farm to your grocer’s refrigerator.  This was an epiphany for me, a poor college kid whose only sustenance was the processed foods of her dorm.  I vowed that once I had the money and kitchen to do so, I was going organic, sustainable or the next closest thing.  It took several more years and a bout of professional school until the final realization of my goal.  I shopped predominately at Whole Foods for the past three years. And oh the price I paid for going organic, but I wanted to support a corporation that promoted both farmers and the environment.  But when I moved to Chicago last summer, I found that there were few other places that I would rather be than the Green City Market in Lincoln Park.

Beckerlane Pork

Beckerlane Organic Pork

The 12 year old market is a model for the sustainable food movement where local farmers and artisans share their craft every Wednesday and Saturday from 7 Am to 1 Pm from May to October.  This market is a constant reminder that we as consumers have other options than our big box grocer.  We can go straight to our farmers where their produce will always be ripe, seasonal and maybe even less expensive.  Here all your questions about what is laid before you are easily answered.  Where was this grown?  When was it picked?  What is in season now?  When was this beef slaughtered?  How are the lives of your hens?  Do your pigs live a happy life?  How long are these eggs good for? What is a CSA?  Here you can find the pork they serve at Publican, the beef they serve at The Four Seasons Hotel, or produce used at Frontera Grill. The market operates on the premise that you should, “know your food.  know your farmer”, a motto that challenges Chicago to become more aware of where our food actually comes from.

Chives Radishes and Rhubarb

King's Hill Farm Radish, Chive and Rhubarb

The market’s influences can be seen all over the faces of the patrons roaming through the grass, passing and stopping at each tent.  We want to know our food!  We want to know our farmer!  We are here because sustainable practices and preservation of the environment are important to us, and we know what we do here has an impact elsewhere.  With a look of content I wander the market knowing that my tiny purchases here show my support of local farmers, my daily attempt to save the earth, and my appreciation for farms that truly do have happy cows, pigs and chickens. After perusing around the market we found ourselves with bags full of spring garlic, micro greens, potatoes, Berkshire pork, goat cheese, a fig tree, and a few too many plants.  When we went home, I put on my green gardening gloves, pulled out some potting soil and began to plant the lavender, chives, fig tree, sage, and grape tomato from the market.  You see I have my own makeshift farm on my balcony. Hungry from all the planting, I went inside to see G had created a Green City Omelette.

Green City Omelette

Our Homage to the Green City Market

Our omelette consisted of sauteed spring garlic, Fromage a Trois goat cheese from Capriole, inc. topped with onion micro greens from Tiny Greens and  green garlic.  And the eggs we used were from TJ’s Free Range Poultry.  We liked it so much, we decided to make another!

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Charlie Trotter’s: A Marathon of Meals

We’ve been preparing for this meal for the past week.  I mean serious training people.  Stomach stretching sessions twice a day, Grand Menu flash cards with proteins to be matched with their respective vegetable or grain element.  We tested our ability to denote a well made wine pairing by successfully matching our favorite uncured hotdogs with a marvelous Cote de Rhone.  So when Tuesday came we had butterflies in our stomachs as we drove down Halsted towards Charlie Trotter’s legendary restaurant in Lincoln Park.

The Atmosphere

We walked past this establishment so many times that it was odd to be actually walking in.  Dressed in our finest( jacket required), we were greeted instantly in the foyer and taken to our table on the second floor overlooking the entryway. We were one of the first reservations of the evening but soon the dark and regal dining room began to fill with people eager to try Chef Trotter’s current menu.

The Menu

We had already previewed the menu online, so when we perused the menus at the table, it was merely to determine whether we would include a wine pairing.  While I contemplated the non-alcoholic Beverage Tasting Menu, today of all days, I began to have my own “Omnivore’s Delemma.”  My mind kept wandering back to the duck and veal dishes from the menu.  Although, I knew we’d receive the best quality organic and free-range ingredients I was concerned my guilt of eating something so cute would haunt me through the rest of the dinner. When our waitress arrived and requested our decision I didn’t know what to say.  I told her that I didn’t know if I could eat veal or duck today. She kindly suggested angus or elk as another optional protein and when I told her I would feel equally guilty eating those animals, she quickly responded with, “Why don’t we let the chef create a pescatarian menu for you.”  The flexibility was much appreciated.  G selected the Wine Pairing Menu (bypassing an $18,000 bottle from France) and asked if we could add another vegetable dish that looked interesting, the japanese eggplant soufflé.

Gourmet Prawns at Charlie Trotters

Grilled Blue Prawns

Our meals began to emerge as we slowly sipped on our beverage accompaniments.  The marathon of meals commenced with a sashimi of yellowfin tuna.  It was light and fresh… the perfect beginning. The next dish to follow were the sweet and delicate grilled prawns that almost melted in your mouth. I even sheepishly reached down into my purse to pull out my camera so I could get a picture.  Our favorite dish by far was the Tasmanian Ocean Trout with Garbanzo Beans. The fish was perfectly executed  and wrapped beautifully around a mousse with the skin served as a crackling on the side.  We savored every bite of this dish cleaning our plates completely.  And when the dish was sent back to the kitchen, the waiter had to assure the chef that food had actually been served on the plate.  As each course progressed into a more elaborate story of protein, vegetable and grain, the wine pairings seemed to matched beautifully.  I don’t know if I truly appreciated the beverage tasting menu, there were a few drinks I did not enjoy, but found the Muscat grape juice to be my absolute favorite.

Trout with Chickpea

Tasmanian Ocean Trout

As we neared the finish line of our grand menu I was excited to see what the chef had created in place of my potential duck and veal.  However, I believe I suffered a mild food coma at this point in the meal and thus, the fish that replaced my duck eludes me.  But my final dish, grilled salmon with porcini mushrooms, fit in nicely with the degustation menu.  Our desserts were beautiful, but we just did not enjoy the black olives with our dish of candied kumquats and meringue. We actually thought, perhaps, that kalamatas may have paired better.  But the lavender custard with honeycomb and black tea was my favorite dessert served that evening, excluding the tiny gelantinous squares that were spread across the plate.   Delicate macarons arranged in a row with the check marked our finish.

Our Thoughts

We enjoyed the progression of unique dishes that the chef provided and the way they personalized the menu according to our needs and desires.  Some courses were amazing, while others seemed to have just too many ingredients on the plate.  We were very impressed with how well each wine complimented the meal and even heightened the taste of each course.  The beverage tasting menu also created an interesting pairing of ingredients and although I was not a fan of every drink, each made me think and wonder what was exactly done to create the taste.

All in all, its hard to justify the expense of an experience such as this without feeling a little gluttonous. This is not a restaurant for the frugal (unless you too received a hefty gift certificate) or for those who enjoy low key, local spots. This is a place to recognize a chef, a restaurant and a concept that put Chicago on the map for gourmet dining.

Charlie Trotter’s | 816 West Armitage Chicago, Illinois 60614 | 773 248-6228

Charlie Trotter's on Urbanspoon

 

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The Purple Pig

Chicago appears to be going hog-wild. I’m not sure at what point it became trendy to offer a variety of porkly options, but I’m going to guess Publican was the first Chicago restaurant to gain notoriety during this pork revolution. Next we heard whispers of Mado and subsequently, The Purple Pig. We ventured to The Purple Pig mid-week to meet a couple as intrigued as we were with the third little pig in the city.

The Purple Pig

The Atmosphere

Located on the Magnificent Mile we circled Michigan Avenue hoping to catch a glimpse of their sign from our Honda Civic. After about 10 minutes we found their sign, but unfortunately there was no parking or valet. We opted for a garage and made our way into The Purple Pig.  It was compact restaurant full of people grabbing a drink or small plates after work.  We were seated at a high communal table just right of the bar.  Communal dining is usually not my thing, there’s this fear I have… that some stranger is going to watch me battle a pork sausage right off my plate onto the ground or see a wayward noodle escape slowly from the crevice of my mouth… Perhaps it was our good company or the relaxed vibe, but on this occasion a potential dinner mishap didn’t cross my mind.

The Menu

Purple Pig Deviled Egg

I love when restaurants offer small plates.  Allowing me to sample a little of everything makes me extremely happy, as nothing is worse to me than the commitment of choosing a main course only to be let down by the first bite.   We ordered a few items at a time starting with the Shaved Brussel Sprouts with Pecorino Noce & Parmigiano Reggiano, Whipped Feta with Cucumbers, Deviled Egg with Arugula & Caper Berries.  The brussel sprouts were fairly unremarkable, except for the amount of salt brought to the mix from the pecorino cheese.  I think we’d pass next time on this dish due to my attempts for a low sodium diet.  The deep fried deviled egg was fantastic and something we had never had before. The crunchy exterior complimented the creamy interior.  We also tried The Mussels with Treviso, Serrano Chiles, Winter Citrus & Gaeta Olives,  Octopus with acini di pepe & Swiss Chard, Prawns a la Plancha, Milk Braised Pork Shoulder with Mashed Potatoes, and a Roasted Bone Marrow with Herbs smear.  I enjoyed everything, including the octopus which I usually avoid due to guilt of eating a creature I find so intelligent and cute.  We were also impressed with the tenderness and succulence of the milk braised pork shoulder, it was one of the better shoulders we have eaten to date.  The concept of marinating meat in milk seemed strange to me, but on further investigation this is a practice common in Italy.

Roasted Bone Marrow

However, the most memorable dish for me was the roasted bone marrow.  Not necessarily because I like bone marrow, in fact, I had never tried it, and since no one else at our table had either, we decided to be adventurous.  Trying to find words to describe the gelatinous mass I removed from the bone and smeared on some toasted bread has proven difficult for me.  There was no specific taste that overwelmed me, the best I can do is to describe it as buttery in taste, almost ghee-like in texture.  The overall experience with the marrow was interesting, but I don’t plan on preferentially seeking out bone marrow again based on taste alone.

Our Thoughts

We were pleasantly surprised with the reasonably priced, interesting and well executed food.  If we find a reason to return, we will definitely choose a taxi as our mode of transportation!

The Purple Pig |  500 N Michigan Ave Chicago, IL 60611 | (312) 464-1744 |

The Purple Pig on Urbanspoon

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The Topolobambo Experience

Last Friday we basically had dinner with Rick Bayless… OK, maybe it wasn’t exactly dinner with him, but if we ignore the table of three sitting beside us, pushed our table right next to his, and then pretended that he actually knew who we were… one might stretch to say we had dinner with Chicago’s ultimate celebrity chef.   We figured the excitement from his Top Chef Masters win may have died downed so we secured an evening reservation at arguably the most famous Mexican restaurant in the country, Topolobampo.

The Atmosphere:

The restaurant is a separate dining area decorated with large Mexican paintings and connected to his more casual restaurant Frontera Grill.  Rick Bayless, the chef/owner has become famous for his use of regional Mexican flavors, highlighting the sophistication and complexity of a cuisine that is best known for its late night burritos as big as your head.  Now, as a regular diner in Chicago’s version of Gudalajara, Mexico, Pilsen, I must say I was a little skeptical how well Chef Bayless’ contempory interpretation of regional Mexican fare would compare with the more rustic family versions I’ve had at Nuevo Leon or Abuelo’s in Pilsen.

The Menu:

Ceviche Trio

Topolo has two dining options: a la carte and the tasting menu.  We elected to create our own tasting menu and figured that between the four of us, we should be able to sample a few different dishes.  I must say the tasting menu did look intriguing with 3 options: A Mole Tasting, A Celebration Menu, and a Jalisco tasting.

We started our meal with a ceviche trio: Ceviche Fronterizo, Ceviche Yucateco, and Ceviche de Atun.  The Fronterizo was the concensus winner of the trio.  It was a more traditional ceviche with lime juice serving as the primary acid that marinated  blue marlin, olives, jicama and cilantro.  The jicama provided a nice crunchy textural balance to the marlin.  The Yucateco was probably the second most popular ceviche.  It featured shirmp and calamari with lime and orange juice as the marinate with a little habenero for heat.  The flavors were well balanced and the calamari provided  unique element to the dish.  Last, but in this case the least, was the Atun in which ahi tuna served as the primary protein with a red chile apricot salsa.  Unfortunately, this dish was just too sweet for us and had a hint of smokiness that just did not work for our palates.

Huitlacoche (Corn Fungus)

Our entremeses included the Conejo Almedrado which utilized a roasted rack of rabbit as its protein.  The sauce was delicious.   It was a delightful blend of almonds, cinnamon, cloves, and number of other spices.  The rabbit was a little gamey for some at our table and probably in our mind could have been substituted with any other protein as long as the sauce was still there.  The last small plate we tried was the Taco de Huitlacoche in a light tomato sauce.  The huitlacoche is regarded as the truffle of Mexico and is supposed to be the star of the dish.  While the “truffle” was enjoyable, the tomato sauce elicited a “this tastes kind of like… a spaghetti sauce?” comment from our table.  I don’t know if it was because it was late, but it just did not have enough depth of flavor for us and paled in comparison to the sauce on the other plate.

Pork Tenderloin and Mole

We tried two platillos fuertes.  The Puerco Clemole was basically pork tenderloin served with an amazing mole of dark dried chiles, pecans, pinenuts, and hazelnuts.  This was not your traditional chocolate based mole seen in most Mexican restaurants.  Served along side the mole was a Calabaza en tacha (raw-sugar pumpkin) bread pudding which complemented

the mole perfectly.  I knew this dish was a hit when I saw my finacee, who is very skeptical of “gourmet” food in general, scooping up the mole and eating it by itself with a corn torilla.  The last dish we ate was the Pollo Ahogada which is a rock hen in a tomato arbol chile sauce.   The main draw to this dish was its alleged heat.   It was advertised to be the spiciest dish on the menu with aggressive use of arbol chiles.  While the hen was cooked perfectly, the sauce had striking resemblance to the previous tomato sauce that we had earlier in our meal.  The arbol chiles were fairly tame and failed to draw even a single bead of sweat to my forehead as most spicy dishes typically do.

Dessert:

Our last course was Plantanos de Crema with a vanilla sour cream layer cake with golden ripe plantains and banana ice cream.  This dish was outstanding!

Our Thoughts:

So the key question still stands… Does Topolobambo live up to the hype?

Our answer is both yes and no.  The authenicity of the food certainly is indisputable.  Dining at Topolobambo is a true educational tour of regional Mexican cuisine.  The menu and the well informed wait staff serve as your tour guide through the various flavors in each region.  In addition to the passion Chef Bayless exudes for Mexican cuisine, we have to also applaud his commitment to local ingredients and producers.  Topolo has succeeded in making regional Mexican cuisine more accessible to the general population.  However, our experience was certainly mixed as some flavors were quite enjoyable, while others… just didn’t meet our expectations.  The overall inconsistency of our meals was somewhat disappointing, especially considering the steep prices of the platillos fuertes.  And although gourmet Mexican food is interesting… maybe we just prefer the low-key family joints in Pilsen.

Topolobampo | 445 N Clark Street Chicago, IL 60610 | 312-661-1434

Topolobampo on Urbanspoon

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Where is the Elusive Chicago Ramen?

This is a question I find myself contemplating on practically any given cold and dreary evening in Chicago.  We had tried a few noodle shops only to be let down by the lack of flavor in their ramen broth.  But we have been comparing our Chicago ramen with the likes of San Francisco’s Genki Ramen. Perhaps there is no comparison in the midwest?  When we saw Tampopo on “Check Please” we decided to venture north in hopes that we would find our Chicago ramen spot.

Without our camera, GPS or the address we recalled that it was definitely in Lincoln Square.  After driving in circles for five minutes we gave my ever-so-slightly drunken brother a call to identify the exact location.  He notified us that we were about 5 minutes too south and needed to get to the Roger’s Park area.  So with an address in mind we headed toward our destination quite hungry and concerned about a potential wait.

Parking was a breeze and we headed towards the intimate family-run operation.  As we entered a party of five was leaving and two other pods of people were waiting.  The waitress told us it would be about 10 minutes.  We didn’t mind as we expected a busy crowd post “check please”.

After about 15 minutes we were seated and served hot tea.  As I perused the menu I was delighted to see items such as Yakitori (skewered chicken in a mirin/sake/soy glaze) and Negima.  Naturally, I become a little disheartened if I don’t see something resembling either of these at japanese restaurants.

We ordered the Negima, Spicy Salmon Roll, Shoyu Ramen, and another favorite of mine Yakisoba. Our negima and sushi arrived at our table at the same time.  I must say that I was quite impressed with the lightening speed of the sushi chef.  The fish was fresh and ample, but the sushi rice seemed a bit dry.  The negima was different than others I have had before but tasty none the less.  The beef was sliced thinly around the fresh scallions and the sweet soy-based sauce was light.  This dish was simple in its execution but had the essence of a fresh and home made meal.

The ramen and yakisoba appeared next.  Perhaps we have too high of expectations, but I would say that both meals were average, and for our chicago ramen adventure thus far just didn’t match what they are serving in San Francisco.  The yakisoba was… well… okay I guess.  I appreciated the thinly sliced carrots, cabbage, and bamboo shoots, but I am unhappy to report that we weren’t incredibly impressed with the execution.

Unfortunately,  I can’t say that we will be giving up our search for the elusive Chicago ramen.  I do think that we will return to Tampopo one day, perhaps after the hype from the show has died down. We still want to try a few more of the many appetizers we didn’t have room to order, and give the staff a chance to cook on a less hectic evening.

Tampopo| 5665 W. Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60686 |  773-561-2277

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An Ode to Sardines

Now I can’t say that I have ever really enjoyed a sardine.  I can’t even say that I’ve tried one.  But I think that goes back to my brief experience with a fish bone lodged in my throat.  However, today was the day we demolished my fear of the whole fish.

Mathi

Sardines (aka Pilchard)

George had been coveting sardines since we saw them last week at Mitsuwa, and lucky for us while perusing our favorite Chicago Whole Foods we came across some very large ones left over from someone’s very special order. And guess what?  The Monterey Bay Aquarium supported our sustainable seafood choice.

Our recipe comes from George’s mom and is something he grew up eating.  Sardines or “Mathi” in Malayalam(the main language of Kerala, India) were first cleaned and gutted.  Not the cleanest job, but actually a lot easier then I had expected.

Next we dredged them in spices and set our work station up for some quick frying action.  About 2 minutes on each side and they were ready!

Some rice and other condiments seemed necessary to complement the sardines so I turned to what I deem my best purchase ever, the sanyo rice cooker. I feel as though everyone should own a rice cooker. In fact, I am seriously looking into giving my secret santa a rice cooker for Christmas.  Just throw in whatever you want with the rice and watch it turn into Uncle Ben.

Battered and Fried

We also decided to add pickled onions to compliment our dish and hoped ours would come close to the original recipe.  Even though we lacked all the preferred ingredients a true cook from Kerala would have, our onions still tasted great.

As we prepared to eat I thought to myself, “This is it!  It’s you or the fish. You can do it, those tiny bones are no match for your vicious incisors and bone-grinding molars.”

As I pondered the risk of choking, I decided to remove any bones that blatantly taunted me before preceding to peel the moist meat away from the rounded sides of the fish. I placed a piece with potential bones into my mouth carefully and as I continued to chomp precariously, I realized that the whole sardine was, in fact quite amazing.  High in omega-3 fatty acids, Calcium and Vitamin D, I determined my meal was worth the potential risk and my fear, completely unnecessary.

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