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Building an Itinerary in May...
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  • Post #61 - May 9th, 2007, 8:51 am
    Post #61 - May 9th, 2007, 8:51 am Post #61 - May 9th, 2007, 8:51 am
    Nick--

    Impressive trip so far! Sorry to regress, but my main thought about the cheese fries in Chicago is just that I don't get it. I think the cheese is not good. It's basically product that is ubiquitous in Wisconsin, a sort of grainy cheddar spread. The most well known brand is Merkts.

    http://www.merkts.com/mk/mk.nsf/SPWD/Pr ... enDocument

    In its way, melted Merkts is authentic and traditional. It is not incorrect as presented at WC, Portillo's etc. It's exactly what people expect when they order cheese fries here. It's just that we don't like it.

    Looking at your list, and thinking about some of the great posts in the last year or so, it strikes me that you should seek out some carne en su jugo while you are here. It's a revelation when done right, and proof that there is always something new and great around the corner in Mexican food.

    PS, I agree with most of your thoughts on Manny's. It gets bashed more than most places because it is squarely in the same genre as NYC institutions, which of course sets one up for criticism. But I wonder, do you think there exist any great delis at this point? For me, Katz's and Barney Greengrass probably qualify (excluding more narrowly focused places). Otherwise, I think they are a thing of the past (I haven't been to yours, tho). And I say this as someone who never goes to LA without visiting Langer's. Great place, best meat, but not a great deli.

    (BTW, I think you got an "off" latke at Manny's. I try to wait for freshly-fried if I can, and I prefer the eggy style. Soup is nice there as well.)
  • Post #62 - May 9th, 2007, 9:27 am
    Post #62 - May 9th, 2007, 9:27 am Post #62 - May 9th, 2007, 9:27 am
    Extramsg, his Left-Coast origins showing, ordered a pie with basil, at which point I immediately asked the waitress if the basil was fresh, fully expecting her to respond in the negative.


    I think any coast but the third coast, perhaps. Fresh basil is pretty standard in NY as well. I guess my problem was in thinking that if you're going to put basil as an ingredient to be added, rather than just something in the sauce or whatever, that you'd actually spring for real basil. Oh well.

    PS, I agree with most of your thoughts on Manny's. It gets bashed more than most places because it is squarely in the same genre as NYC institutions, which of course sets one up for criticism. But I wonder, do you think there exist any great delis at this point?


    I don't know if there were EVER any thoroughly great delis. Perhaps. But diners and delis were the fast food of yesteryear, probably. I mean, they were there to serve the common man enough calories that he could get back to work, right? I imagine most of them were always trying to save time by making as much ahead as possible, even if it degraded quality somewhat. But I'm not one of those who believes that if we just went back to how things were done pre-war, pre-chains, pre-Sysco that we'd necessarily get better food overall.

    But I do know that beyond the meats at Katz's the quality thins out in a hurry. The appetizing stores seem to have more consistent product across the board, but there are fewer of them and they're more of a specialty and more expensive. But these are just impressions based on limited experience. I didn't grow up in NY.

    70 years ago it was probably like restaurants in Mexico are today. You have cheap little places that can do one thing well, though they tend towards bold flavors because the ingredients are mediocre. You have little cafes and comida corrida places that put together serviceable food that can be pretty tasty depending on what it is. But really, you would get better food, especially top to bottom, from experienced home cooks.

    If you had a deli trying to really make food like a Jewish grandmother, more than like a NY deli, you'd probably be better off. So, I think Manny's is pretty good when compared with all but the very best delis that I've been to and may be as good or better than those on things other than, eg, pastrami or corned beef. But I think someone who picked up one of Joan Nathan's books, had some skills in the kitchen, and started making deli classics would probably come out with better food.

    But then, I'm probably just talking out my tuckus.[/i]
  • Post #63 - May 9th, 2007, 9:30 am
    Post #63 - May 9th, 2007, 9:30 am Post #63 - May 9th, 2007, 9:30 am
    The problem isn't that you're away from the coast. The problem* is that at Vito and Nick's, it's 1967. They didn't have fresh basil in 1967, it grew dried back then.

    * Which of course is not a problem at all, but the point.
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  • Post #64 - May 9th, 2007, 9:35 am
    Post #64 - May 9th, 2007, 9:35 am Post #64 - May 9th, 2007, 9:35 am
    Mike G wrote:The problem isn't that you're away from the coast. The problem* is that at Vito and Nick's, it's 1967.

    Exactly!
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #65 - May 9th, 2007, 10:48 am
    Post #65 - May 9th, 2007, 10:48 am Post #65 - May 9th, 2007, 10:48 am
    extramsg,

    Please permit me to tack my notes from the TAC dinner to your own. I eat a lot of Thai food, but too often forget the names of what I eat, so it’s likely I will made mistakes in what I post. I also tend to order things haphazardly. Erik composed a meal that taught me a lot about how to order a Thai meal harmoniously, and so I will comment on the dishes in the order presented (if I remember correctly!):

    extramsg wrote: * satay: tender, slightly charred, nice peanut sauce

    Image
    A simple, and simply delicious start. Nothing can beat meat on a stick! When I make this at home I often have a problem balancing my beloved char without over cooking the meat. TAC did a spot on job. The peanut sauce with coconut milk was light and bright.

    extramsg wrote:* som tum: classic version with long beans, salted crab and dried shrimp; nicely spiced and very fresh; a good version, I just eat this A LOT.

    Image
    I liked the papaya salad though it was perhaps a bit too spicy for me. Mrs Ramon, whose spice threshold is generally below mine, though, found the heat level fine. Good balance of lime, fish sauce, fresh ingredients.

    extramsg wrote: I was surprised I liked the pancakes. Usually not one of my types of things. They were well crisped on the outside, not greasy, and filled with chives? scallion greens? The sauce was very interesting, tasting of dark soy, I would guess, with an almost molasses quality and an almost fermented aroma.

    Image
    The chive dumplings were perfection and the first thing I craved the next morning. The sauce was deeply complex while at the same time subtle. I will be hard pressed not to always order this at TAC in the future.

    extramsg wrote:The lime cooked shrimp were tender, not off-flavored at all, very bright and garlicky with a pleasant leaf of mint on top for some herbal aroma.

    Image
    Mr & Mrs Ramon generally don’t do raw fish but I’m learning. I found this delicious when eaten in one large bite. Someday I may not flee in terror of sushi.

    extramsg wrote: * sweet and sour soup with whole prawns: great broth; shrimp were a little chewy and fishy I would say, but made a great presentation.

    Image
    Erik thoughtfully purchased these beautiful crustaceans and they were greatly appreciated. The “goop in the head” (that’s the scientific terminology) added a depth of flavor to the broth that could not be achieved otherwise. Erik advised to sip the soup throughout the rest of the meal, and the broth’s flavors bloomed as it cooled. Wonderful.

    extramsg wrote: * omelette: nicely cooked thin frittata with fried garlic and scallions. Moist, and with a little sweet sauce covering it, a nice balance to some of the other intense dishes.

    Image
    I avoid omelette’s in diners, though I can make a fine one at home. For this reason, I generally avoid similar preparations in Asian restaurtants. No more! This was not overcooked. Erik advised that this was not to be eaten as a separate course, but as an accompaniment, and in this role it shined.

    extramsg wrote:The curried crab reminded me of a slightly sweet rendang with shredded crab mixed into a dry curry with veggies. The crab meat in the legs was very nice, sweet, and juicy.

    Image
    This was both my and Mrs Ramon’s favorite dish, and what a presentation! Erik made the curry powder specifically for seafood and its vibrancy was apparent. The curry brought out all the sweetness of the succulent crab – I could eat this everyday until I burst.

    extramsg wrote: * sartor curry: beans were a little more astringent than I'm used to, though I was getting used to it; really nice curry surrounding them though -- almost a dry curry with lots of earthy spices but also some brightness.

    Image
    I’d never had sartor beans before though I had read about them with some interest. “Astringent” they were, but set off nicely with the shrimp. The flavor was extremely foreign to my palate, but I found I liked it more after each subsequent bite, but not to the point of actually enjoying. Not sure if I will just avoid this dish in the future or wake up in the middle of the night with a desperate craving. Good to experience.

    Image
    The kanom jiin is very similar to something I make at home of the panang variety, though I found their curry more flavorful then my own. This dish was extremely comforting, though it was not the dish that Erik had planned on.

    Image
    Simple, but exotic, tamarind was a perfect and playful end to the meal.

    I can’t thank Erik enough for the time and thought he put into this meal. It was an honor and education to be part of. Great company too!

    Bonus crab pic:
    Image

    -ramon

    End note: some of these dishes were “off menu” and had ingredients that Erik bought or made himself. So do not expect to walk in TAC and be able to instantly eat the same way!

    Oh yeah, with minor exception, this meal was the same as posted here.
  • Post #66 - May 9th, 2007, 6:04 pm
    Post #66 - May 9th, 2007, 6:04 pm Post #66 - May 9th, 2007, 6:04 pm
    Images from the beginning of Extramsg's eating day on Devon and at Alinea:

    Image
    Chicken boti at Khan BBQ

    Image
    Frontier chicken with rice at Khan BBQ

    Several of us joined ExtraMSG at Khan for a list of the classics-- chicken boti, the broasted chicken (whose appeal is inexplicable to me, but it seemed to be scarfed readily nonetheless), chana masala, bhindi (okra), goat with cauliflower, and so on.

    Well stuffed, a couple of us continued with Extramsg as he explored more of Devon, stopping next at Sukhadia (where a sign says you can't take pictures-- like these, ha ha!) I'm not wild about Indian sweets, but they sure photograph nice on a sunny day:

    Image
    The multicolored thing in front was the best, kind of like a spice cake. Not sure what the color's for, except to make it look like a spice cake mated with a California roll.

    Image
    I missed the name of this stuff but fresh, fluffy roti and slightly smoky vegetables made it a really nice dish.

    Image
    Their bhel poori isn't nearly as gloppy-sweet as any others I've tried on Devon, but still, I prefer making it myself, since I make a more savory sauce and prepare it to order (so the crispies stay crisp). Still, easily the best I've had in a restaurant. Another picture:

    Image

    I'm sure others will report as well...

    Khan BBBQ
    2401 W. Devon Ave.
    773-274-8600

    Sukhadia Sweets
    2559 W Devon Ave
    (773) 338-5400

    Zim's secret of Sukhadia.
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
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  • Post #67 - May 9th, 2007, 8:33 pm
    Post #67 - May 9th, 2007, 8:33 pm Post #67 - May 9th, 2007, 8:33 pm
    Mike G wrote:I missed the name of this stuff but fresh, fluffy roti and slightly smoky vegetables made it a really nice dish.

    Undhiyu Poori, which I found, given my last outing at Sukhadia's, surprisingly enjoyable.

    Undhiyu Poori
    Image

    Bhel Poori was, of course, not as good as yours, no way, of course not ;), quite picturesque though.

    Bhel Poori
    Image

    Assorted Sukhadia's Sweets
    Image

    Company at lunch, both of them :), was terrific, Extramsg has amazing endurance and enthusiasm for all things culinary and Khan BBQ's chicken boti was the shining light of chicken glory I've come to expect.

    Enjoy,
    Gary

    Sukhadia's
    2559 W. Devon Ave
    Chicago, IL
    773-338-5400

    Khan B.B.Q
    2401 W Devon
    Chicago, IL 60645
    773-338-2800
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #68 - May 9th, 2007, 9:56 pm
    Post #68 - May 9th, 2007, 9:56 pm Post #68 - May 9th, 2007, 9:56 pm
    I have nothing to add at this time.

    Khan Barbecue
    2401 West Devon Avenue
    773.274.8600

    Sukhadia Sweets
    2559 West Devon Avenue
    773.338.5400
  • Post #69 - May 9th, 2007, 11:52 pm
    Post #69 - May 9th, 2007, 11:52 pm Post #69 - May 9th, 2007, 11:52 pm
    Great reports - and how about those fantastic photos, all of 'em! Thanks.
  • Post #70 - May 10th, 2007, 2:19 am
    Post #70 - May 10th, 2007, 2:19 am Post #70 - May 10th, 2007, 2:19 am
    Okay, now I'm ready to report....

    Had another miserable start to the morning dealing with email after email from a client whose servers decided to meltdown the week that I'm out of town. Got a late start plus I misjudged the length of the trip to Devon via CTA. Took me probably an hour and a half from my hotel in the loop.

    We met at Khan, me 45 minutes late and everyone but MikeG's stomach grumbling for broasted chicken. I'm always impressed with how large a group LTH can put together at the last minute, especially for a lunch. Either you're all rich or all a bunch of bums like me.

    I thought the chicken boti and broasted chicken were very tasty. The boti had a nice char, subtle spicing, and a tangy undertone. Tender and juicy. The broasted chicken was crisp and succulent with spicing that reminded me of Thai fried chicken. (I once made the classic farang blunder of ordering -- more out of habit than anything -- "Thai fried chicken" from a stand in Thailand. My friend quickly pointed out that pretty much all fried chicken there was 'Thai fried chicken'".) It was spicy and slightly tangy and sweet.

    I liked both cauliflower dishes as well, both the gosht and the aloo gobi. Very bright and fresh flavoring. Well-balanced. The biryani was pleasant with distinct spicing, grains that were lightly coated in fat, and that enjoyable chicken. (Which I don't know how it differs from tandoor chicken.)

    I didn't care for the okra or the channa masala. I thought both were overcooked (ie, mushy) and their flavors muddled. The channa masala was like eating refried beans without lard or salt.

    It was great meeting everyone and we BS'd for a long time. After that Gary, Mike, and myself went over to Sukhadia. I'd been there before with RST but didn't have enough experience at the time with chaat to really know what I was getting. Got the bhel poori and the undhiyu poori. I liked both pretty well. The bhel poori was well-balanced with brightness, sweetness, and earthiness. Of course, crunchy things are always good. The other poori came with the two -- I'm not sure what you'd call them -- daals or curries, both veggie. Each was good as were the pickles on the side. One of the curries was sweet and spicy, the other was more vegetal and earthy, and then you had the pickles for tanginess. Poori were a little thick and bland, but not bad.

    Gabbed again so there wasn't any time to explore. No biggie. I would have liked to have gotten more of Devon covered, but if I didn't enjoy the company I would have found an excuse to leave.

    Got back to the hotel just in time to change and leave. Cab ride to Alinea was SLOW and we were a few minutes late. Walked right past it twice since there's no sign. (Ugh. Lame.) Like the little tunnel into the place.

    Can't really recount all the dishes. Even though we only got the 12 course dinner there were at least four or five extras plus bread. So I'll just go through the ones that stood out. My eyes are having a hard time staying open, so I may show my hillbilly upbrining in my vocabulary and grammer.

    The first little dish, an amuse, I guess, was a croquette filled with sour cream and cucumber and topped with steelhead row. Very nice combination of tangy, creamy, salty, and crunchy. The row didn't overpower it, either, surprisingly. One of the several "exploding in the mouth" dishes.

    The first dish that truly impressed me was a monkfish three ways. There were ultra-fried bits all around the odd-shaped bowl that were reminiscent of popcorn chicken or some such. Very salty and crisp. There was a monkfish or monkfish liver mousse that added some darker tone to the plate. A hunk of monfish was cooked perfectly. On its bottom there was some sort of sweet paste that really brought out the monfish's goodness. Extras around in the bowl including some little dollup of lemon-flavored goo.

    A duck three ways was also very good. My wife liked the "tenderloin" the best, but I thought it was a little simple and flat. I enjoyed the crisp skin and the confit/braised duck that was in a rich and intense meaty jus. It was served atop a mango gelee that brought out the sweetness of the duck. This was served atop a pillow filled with lavendar fragranced air that slowly escaped while we ate.

    There was a piece of wagyu served much like a piece of seared tuna would be, just one little round seared on the outsaw, raw in the center, with some sort of row on top, I think. The stuff melted in the mouth. It was served atop some crusty bits of meat that reminded me of asiento, the little chunks and fat leftover after making carnitas and chicharrones. This was presented under glass that was filled with a smoke (I can't remember what it was right now) that reminded me of grilling over open flame.

    One of the favorites for both my wife and I was a cold mushroom soup with potato, butter, and parmesan (and truffle). Fantastic flavor combo for my palate: starch, rich butter, pungent cheese, truffle. A perfect one bite dish because you might not be able to handle more than a couple bites.

    The best dessert was their "creamcicle" with orange sorbet and olive oil ice cream topped by an almond sheet sided with a lot of different flavors and tastes. The "frozen" olive oil with vanilla beans was really interesting and tasty. It dissolved on the mouth just leaving vanilla flavor.

    The two dishes I didn't really care for were the foamy-moussey dish served upright and then let loose after presented and the shortribs under a sheet of guinness. The former was too insubstantial and the mushroom mousse (or whatever it was) had an off, almost chemically, taste to it. The little spinach ball with a liquid center had the same problem. Very ood.

    The guiness had WAAAAY too much going on and all the flavors, which reminded me of SE Asia, overpowered the beef. The guiness sheet was cool looking but tasted bad. Neither my wife or I liked it and the person at the next table refused to finish hers.

    I do think there is a bit too much going on on many of the plates. But it's really good food, not just funky presentations and re-workings of forms. I don't know if the formal changes always serve to make the dish better rather than just add a little whimsy to the meal.

    Got back and caught up on some emails. Then I decided to get a little bit more of an Indian fix. At about midnight I went over to Baba Palace and Kabbabish. Got the nehari, lamb gosht, and naan at Baba. I think the curries are a little flat. They're helped by the addition of raita, onions, and chiles. They're enjoyable, but too one-dimensional. Meats were cooked really nicely, though. The bread was very bready, kind of thick, but still bubbly on top and crisp on the bottom.

    Got the seekh kabab masala, chicken korma, and chappati at Kabbabish. I liked their stuff better. Chappati was made to order but could have used a hotter griddle, I think, and more cooking time. The chicken was really tasty, not just the meat, but the sauce which had a well-rounded flavor with caramelized onions adding a lot of depth. The masala was just okay, really. But it did remind me of the flavors in my family's meatloaf growing up: ground beef without any fille cooked until crusty and a little dry, a sauce of tomatoes and onions. These places were crazy cheap. I spent $9 at the first one and $7.75 at the second. I was tempted to try Zaiqua, the busiest of the three, but I just couldn't do it.

    Sleepy time.
  • Post #71 - May 10th, 2007, 8:44 am
    Post #71 - May 10th, 2007, 8:44 am Post #71 - May 10th, 2007, 8:44 am
    Nick,

    Keep going. Your eating stamina is impressive, even here, among the food obsessed in the land of Polish and deep dish.

    Good thing you skipped Zaiqa, so you can try it today: the usual Thursday special, mutton biryani, is one of my favorite Indo-Pak meals in Chicago. It's really something, though the Orleans places cook in a catch-as-catch -can way that leads to variation.

    At Khan, I think the daal palak is the way to go, but long-cooked with well-integrated flavors (a/k/a mushy and muddled) is homestyle cookery, no?

    http://www.zaiqarestaurant.com/menu.html
  • Post #72 - May 10th, 2007, 8:46 am
    Post #72 - May 10th, 2007, 8:46 am Post #72 - May 10th, 2007, 8:46 am
    At Khan, I think the daal palak is the way to go, but long-cooked with well-integrated flavors (a/k/a mushy and muddled) is homestyle cookery, no?


    True, but that stuff's been better than it was yesterday.
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  • Post #73 - May 10th, 2007, 9:14 am
    Post #73 - May 10th, 2007, 9:14 am Post #73 - May 10th, 2007, 9:14 am
    At Khan, I think the daal palak is the way to go, but long-cooked with well-integrated flavors (a/k/a mushy and muddled) is homestyle cookery, no?


    Perhaps. I didn't grow up in a Desi home nor have I been in them much. I would wonder if it's the preferred homestyle or just what gets done. I don't really know. The Japanese like things slimier and chewier than I do. Texans apparently prefer Velveeta to real cheese. I don't understand it, but I recognize it. I'm always willing to accept cultural incommensurability.

    But I know that I prefer Indian/Pakistani dishes less muddled and mushy. But that's why I try to describe things and not just say if they're "good" or "bad" -- so people can make their own determinations and not just trust my palate.
  • Post #74 - May 10th, 2007, 9:58 am
    Post #74 - May 10th, 2007, 9:58 am Post #74 - May 10th, 2007, 9:58 am
    Agreed. Your comments are always descriptive first. (As are most post here. Often, foods others don't like are well-described here in ways that I find appealing. Not true on many sites, of course.) It always struck me as a little ironic that many warm-weather cultures either don't eat green vegetables much, or cook the heck out of them. I guess it could have to do with food safety originally. I actually enjoy the incredibly cooked-down versions of spinach and rabe; peas and lentils less so. But then, again, undercooked black beans (either Cuban or in feijoada) are unacceptable. And by undercooked, I mean any firmness remaining at all. Others here can speak to the range of tradition for desi veggies. I'm not really qualified.
  • Post #75 - May 10th, 2007, 10:35 am
    Post #75 - May 10th, 2007, 10:35 am Post #75 - May 10th, 2007, 10:35 am
    extramsg wrote:At about midnight I went over to Baba Palace and Kabbabish.

    You're setting the bar pretty high!

    extramsg wrote:The biryani was pleasant with distinct spicing, grains that were lightly coated in fat, and that enjoyable chicken.

    Far as Khan, that wasn't biryani, but frontier rice in which cooked rice is mixed with the other ingredients and finished on the grill.

    Khan BBQ Frontier Rice (5.9.07)
    Image

    Enjoy,
    Gary
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #76 - May 10th, 2007, 6:30 pm
    Post #76 - May 10th, 2007, 6:30 pm Post #76 - May 10th, 2007, 6:30 pm
    Far as Khan, that wasn't biryani, but frontier rice in which cooked rice is mixed with the other ingredients and finished on the grill.


    Perhaps they have something else on the menu they call biryani, but it's still a biryani.

    So: :P


    Have some time to kill before second dinner, so I'll do a quick recap.

    Met Jazzfood and G Wiv for lunch at Honey 1. (Well, I actually met Jazzfood at Andy's, but the line was long and he was double-parked so we just took a look.) Got a tour of the aquarium and the fire behind the smoke, then got a pile of food: pulled pork, emphasis on the fatty, crusty bits, rib tips, ribs, hot links, and chicken wings. I've eaten a lot of great BBQ and this is among the better places I've been, for sure. Better than most of the places I've gone in KC or Memphis, and I've only been to recommended places. Better than a lot of places in Texas as well. (Which on average among recommended places has better Q than the other two, I would say.)

    Ribs and tips had a nice bark. It's not my favorite kind of bark like you get in Memphis from the dry rubs, it's just seared meat. But it's still a selling point. And more importantly, the meat below the bark was ultra-succulent, tender but not mushy, and the fat was just at the melting point with even the cartilage bits edibile. I'm not sure if he's salting his ribs (or his pork butts/shoulders), but I think they could use some seasoning of at least salt, maybe salt, pepper, and a little sugar. But I like the simple approach he's taking.

    Pulled pork had a great crusty bark and the meat was tender and the fat like softened butter. I think the meat is a little dry for my taste and could either use to be tossed with a light vinegar sauce to get the juices in the mouth flowing or could be fattier.

    The best item, imo, was the hot links. Hot links are one of my favorite things and these were perfect. The grind was moderately course, but not loose. They were meaty, very smokey, and had a latent burn in the back of the throat. Really, really nice. As good as any I've ever had. If it were me, I might make them a little fattier, but they weren't dry. But I don't want greasy hot links like I've had at Luling City Market where a river of oil spews out as you bite through.

    Chicken wings were crisp, juicy, and tender. They could have used some seasoning, but that's a minor point. I can add salt. Nice breading -- not thick like CFS, but not as thin as traditional cast iron southern fried chicken where it's mostly a dusting of flour.

    I don't like the sauce much at all, but I'm not much of a person for sauce anyway. But I think it's much too ketchupy. I'd rather have Stubbs or another quality commercial brand.

    Great place, though. Definitely a step up from my last trip to Lem's, though I enjoyed Lem's as well. This place would be really good in any city in the country. Even in the country of Texas.

    After that, my wife met up with us and we headed over to Taqueria Puebla (Cemitas Puebla, now) to get something for her. We got a taco arabe, taco oriental, and a milanesa cemita. (And an horchata.) I was a bit disappointed with the taco arabe because the tortilla was more like a flour tortilla than a pita. In Puebla they're somewhere between the two. I talked to the guy about it and he said he just hasn't been able to get anything close enough locally and they're too perishible to get from Puebla. I suggested he find a tortilleria making flour tortillas, give them a recipe, and tell them what thickness to make them. I imagine a lot are using sheeters. Meat inside it and the oriental was very good, though -- crusted, slightly limey, juicy. Like the grilled onions and the chipotle sauce. The cemita was very tasty as well. Good oaxacan cheese, drier and tangier than most. The milanesa was tender and crisp. They get really good chipotles for that sandwich, too.

    Jazzfood took us back to the loop where we did an architectural boat tour. Afterwards we checked out the Chagall mosaic and then took the blue line up to Grand and walked over to Coal Fire. (It's a looooong "five" blocks.)

    Not many tables filled when we got there at 5:30 or so. Maybe two? Oven was about 700 on the floor and 900 on the ceiling. Talked to them about their process.

    We ordered a margherita. I wish I could have ordered a white pie as well, but we didn't have stomach space, for sure, and no one to give it to. Just too wasteful even for me. I'd say it took about 5 minutes to cook. They put down sauce, then slices of mozz, then sprinkle pecorino. Basil goes on after cooking.

    It came out with nice charred bits around the outside. Pulling a slice away revealed, however, that it was probably a little underdone on the bottom. It was neither crisp enough or speckled enough. I'd like to see the oven closer to 800. However, they said that they have a hard time with sausage pizzas when the oven is that hot.

    The crust has a bready flavor, but it's a little bland, imo. (Note that I'm an extremely picky pizza eater, though, and crust is the most important aspect to me.) I'd like a little more salt and some more tang. They do a simple dough recipe -- just flour, water, yeast, and salt. They retard it for 24 hours. I'd like to see them use a starter or poolish to get some more flavor. It lacked some complexity that it could use. I also think it could have more structure and chew.

    Sauce is simple and nice, probably primarily unsimmered pureed canned tomatoes and salt. It has a nice bright tomatoey-ness. The cheese is pleasant, though I've certainly had better mozz. Places like Patsy's and Grimaldi's in NY use a wonderfully milky cheese. This was good, though. I also happen to be a DiFara's loyalist and tend to like more cheese and more types of cheese. I really like that they put the basil on after, though. I think it's ridiculous that so many good places put basil on before cooking. It loses all its aroma and a lot of its flavor.

    This is good pizza. I imagine it will get better, too. They haven't even been open a week and they're putting out very nice pies. I think in the Portland Metro we have four places putting out pies that are equal or better of the same style (more or less, those being Apizza Scholls, Nostrana, Ken's Artisan Pizza, and Apizza Stayton), but I think Apizza Scholls is as good as any pizza I've ever had anywhere and a couple of the others are damn good, too. So that's no put down.

    Next stop: Moto.
  • Post #77 - May 10th, 2007, 11:47 pm
    Post #77 - May 10th, 2007, 11:47 pm Post #77 - May 10th, 2007, 11:47 pm
    Just got done with Moto. As with Alinea, I won't try to recount all the dishes. We ordered the ten course menu, which also had an amuse and a mignardise.

    My favorite course was definitely the chicken-fried quail and mac & cheese. The quail was in large dice-sized chunks, rare and tender in the middle, crispy on the outside. Very nice flavor. The macaroni was crunchy, reminding me of fried bean threads. It came in an enjoyable truffle-cheese sauce. It tasted wonderful, but also, this was the first dish at either here or Alinea where I really felt like the formal change made the dish better. Usually, these changes in form are just clever or interesting or fun, but don't really add anything and often make the dish less enjoyable, honestly.

    The beets were also quite good. One of the things I liked about it was it was deceptively simple. It was really just layers of beet flavors in different forms and with different accents. One of the things that I didn't enjoy about Alinea was that some of the dishes were overly complex with too many distinct flavors. Often these were seemingly "deconstructed" dishes where the original might have the elements all in one item, such as a dressing or sauce. In that way, you're creating one distinct flavor. But here that never really occurs and you get several distinct flavors one after another and it just doesn't work as well, imo. But with Moto's beet dish it's always beets in the foreground and the flavors never become muddled, you just have that primary flavor slightly being changed. In form, the main beet item was a buttery chilled mousse. There were also diced pieces of beets infused with smoked bacon and others infused with goat cheese.

    One of the odder combinations of flavors was one of my favorites: the swordfish with popcorn. In this case, the popcorn was a sauce. It tasted like buttered popcorn, very intensely, actually. The swordfish was cooked really nicely with a seared crust. The fish and the popcorn matched surprisingly well. I think it's all that butter. There were also passion fruit "noodles" in the dish, which I didn't think matched well. The frozen coconut milk, however, did add something to the dish, although I don't know that the form was better than a sauce would have been. I'm not a big fan of these frozen items. They often get stuck to the roof of your mouth and sort of just cling there pastily before they dissolve.

    The "graham cracker & apple" dessert, which seemed like a play on a cheesecake, was also very good and one of the dishes where a formal change seemed to make a positive impact. Everyone loves graham cracker crusts on cheesecakes`and in this dish, by making the graham cracker a foam, you can emphasize that flavor and have the cheesecake part as an accent, in this case given by a little dollup of lemon-yogurt. There were also little frozen apple balls.

    My least favorite dish was the "cheese course": lychee rigatoni in a sweet white-chocolate cheese sauce along with spiced (I think) pears and crisp rice paper with chai powder. The spiced fruit with the chai and paper was good. The flavors matched well. But the cheese sauce was pretty awful. It tasted like a really sweet and starchy royal icing, but a cheesy version. The rigatoni had almost no flavor.

    The only real execution error of the night was the pork dish which came with greens, that were quite good with a creamy tangy dressing, some pulled pork that I think was curry flavored, but really good, and finally, a dry, bland hunk of pork. This came with fried rice "noodles" that were mushy and pasty. It also came with a gastrique that was overly spicy. Not a bad dish overall, but not really a well-conceived one.

    Obviously comparisons with Alinea are in order. About halfway through I was enjoying Moto more. I like that they use simpler combinations of flavors and like to layer one primary flavor more than throw a bunch of flavors at you. I also think the actual dishes were a bit less typical. Often Alinea just seemed to give normal dishes a clever presentation. I think Moto had a couple dishes that best utilized changes in form, too.

    However, Cantu must have a major sweet tooth because there was really only one savory dish, the chicken fried mac & cheese. The rest had some major sweet elements and it became tiresome. I think I would put the spicier dishes at the end right before the official desserts. Also, there was too much use of the same techniques over and over and I'm not sure they improved the dishes always. Too many powders, too many "frozen" items, and too many noodles. Alinea has some great presentations using their apparatus, although it seemed like they really upped things at Moto on the GTM from looking at others' plates. Moto is a more jovial place from the attitude of the servers to the whole tour of the kitchen with goggles on to protect your from the lasers. Alinea's servers were a little more on top of things and smooth, but they were also more somber, which I don't really like in service. Alinea is nicer inside, but that comes with a jacket requirement, which I despise.

    I like Moto's approach better, but I think they just need a little better designed menu and more thought into whether a technique is really adding anything. Alinea is more polished and executions a little cleaner, but I don't think it results in better foods dish by dish. But arguably the meal as a whole is better because it's more varied.
  • Post #78 - May 10th, 2007, 11:51 pm
    Post #78 - May 10th, 2007, 11:51 pm Post #78 - May 10th, 2007, 11:51 pm
    So that will be it. I'm not going out again tonight. You'd read about my untimely demise at the hands of my wife on the cover of the Tribune if I did.

    Thanks everyone, especially Erik M, Jazzfood, and G Wiv for showing me around and expediting some great meals. I'm always impressed with how wonderful you all are to strangers like myself. Thanks.
  • Post #79 - May 11th, 2007, 12:15 am
    Post #79 - May 11th, 2007, 12:15 am Post #79 - May 11th, 2007, 12:15 am
    I had the pleasure of joining in at TAC on Monday night for dinner and Khan's for lunch on Wednesday afternoon. Both meals were terrific and also great fun. There's nothing better than breaking bread with folks who care so much about . . . well, breaking bread.

    Nick, we were joking before you showed up at Khan's that you know more about food in Chicago than many locals do. It's always great to see you and get a chance to experience our city's offerings through the eyes -- and palate -- of such an enthusiastic and knowledgeable visitor. I hope to see you in Portland later this year.

    Safe travels,

    =R=
    Gardening is a bloodsport --Meghan Kleeman

    Why don't you take these profiteroles and put them up your shi'-ta-holes? --Jemaine & Bret

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #80 - May 11th, 2007, 12:19 am
    Post #80 - May 11th, 2007, 12:19 am Post #80 - May 11th, 2007, 12:19 am
    Hey, extramsg. I once asked you for Portland bakery advice, and you directed me to a very nice poppyseed cake with lemon buttercream frosting from somewhere i cant remember. You had a picture of the cake, and I ended up having it sent to my friend, who lives in Portland, for her Bday. It went over very well.

    Anyways, I've been following your reports on your current chicago trip, and find the outside perspective on some of the board favorites very interesting.

    Some questions- you own a deli? What is the name and is there a website? Have you had this deli for a long time?
    Logan: Come on, everybody, wang chung tonight! What? Everybody, wang chung tonight! Wang chung, or I'll kick your ass!
  • Post #81 - May 11th, 2007, 12:50 am
    Post #81 - May 11th, 2007, 12:50 am Post #81 - May 11th, 2007, 12:50 am
    Thanks Ronnie. Glad we got to gab in person more on this trip, rather than just be two sausages passing on the street. (I'll let LTH imaginations run on that one...) Hope to see you in PDX.

    Glad I was able to help bnowell724. I currently have a one day a week deli in a friend's restaurant. He's my business partner. We do a brunch every Saturday. We started by selling pastrami at a farmer's market.

    We are currently building out a location in a downtown hotel. It will seat 70 plus have takeout and run 6 days a week B, L, D, plus latenight on the weekend. Hope to have it done in early fall/late summer. It's called Kenny & Zuke's. We just have a placeholder site, right now:

    http://www.kennyandzukes.com

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