Saturday, January 29, 2011

More School & Big Jones

So school....I've officially been in school for one month now. A quick recap for those of you who care, the first week was just introduction & ServSafe classes, the second week was all basic skills, and the third and fourth weeks we have been doing various breakfast pastries and breads. I have a couple pictures of product I have made.

Pear & Frangipane Danish - love the layers on this guy:


Pain au Chocolate, again beautiful layers. Thanks to my class partner Julia, who I stole this lovely picture from:


Some Pain a la Biere about to go in the oven - SCCC friends should recognize this:


Sourdough:


Sourdough Multigrain, with oats, flax seed, sesame seed, pumpkin seed, & sunflower seeds:


A few weeks ago I went to a place called Big Jones in the Edgewater/Andersonville area. I didn't have any plans for dinner and early into the evening I was getting pretty hungry. It was relatively easy to get to from my place and had pretty decent reviews on yelp so I figured it was worth a shot. Plus they do all of their charcuterie in house, which is nice to see (..and actually somewhat common in Chicago)

So to start I ordered a Blackhawk Stout. If my memory serves me correctly it was pretty ok.
Bread service was fresh cornbread - pretty straightforward no bitter taste that lots of cornbread seems to have and it wasn't super sweet either, which I enjoy.

I ordered a few 'tastes' to start with:

On the left you have a pork terrine with pickled red onions & creole mustard. I enjoyed this a lot, everything blended well together; the terrine wasn't funky in the way pork terrines can sometimes be. I'd definitely order this again. On the right is smoked tasso ham with piccalilli, and pickled mustard seeds. This was a little bitter from the bark on the outside...I'm still undecided on Tasso. I've had it a few times and even made some in one of my Garde Manger classes. Its always tasted a little strong for me. This seemed to be on par with other Tasso I have had.


A last, I had some pimiento cheese with benne biscuits, pickled laughing bird shrimp, and green tomato relish. I pretty much got this because I wanted the pickled shrimp. They were awesome. So was everything else. The pimiento was as good as pimiento can be.

After these plates were cleared, I started with my first (or fourth, however you want to look at it) course:

Crispy Pork Belly, Chow-Chow Pancake, Plum Ketchup, Pea Shoots - I really liked this. A lot of times I'll order pork belly because I know when its on, its seriously good. Sheena's mom makes a killer red braised pork belly for hanging buns and I'll never forget Dale Miller's (CMC) sous vide pork belly. The issue is, maybe...fifty percent of the time, whatever pork belly dish I order winds up sucking. It'll either be too mushy or too dry or taste funky or one of a million other things. This one was solid. It had a great crispy exterior and a still moist interior. The chow chow pancakes were unusual (I think?) in that the vegetables were not in the batter, but rather wrapped with a thin, crepe like pancake. It was good. Everything on the plate worked well together.

Next course:

Sweet Tea Infused Pork Chop: Center-Cut Niman Ranch Pork Chop, Sea Island Red Pea Puree, Sweet Potato Hash - I ordered this on the recommendation of my server. I probably wouldn't have otherwise. Im not a fan of using sweet potatoes where regular potatoes usually go, and I usually don't like the idea of sweet meat dishes. I did, however, like this. The pork was cooked medium rare and had more of a tea flavor than a sweet flavor. The sweet potato hash ruled as was the pea puree which had a nice kick to it.

Dessert:

Moon Pie: House made honey grahams filled with peanut butter fluff and dipped in dark chocolate with banana ice cream and crispy bacon granola. SO this was okay. Big surprise that the moon pie was a little rich. The banana ice cream wasn't too bananay and I enjoyed it. The bacon granola kind sucked though.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Takashi

So this past week in school we made: Pain de Mie, Muffins, Brioche (by hand..very messy) for Bee Sting Brioche & Brioche Nanterre, Whole Wheat Bread, Croissants, Beignets, Lemon Pound Cakes, French Bread, Danish (just the dough, havent shaped or finished product yet), Pain a la Biere, and other stuff that I'm probably forgetting. The nice, or well..horrible thing that is different from my previous school is that we take product home. So right now my freezer is bursting at the seams with breads and croissants. I've been eating a lot of panzanella and bread based soups. Bread pudding is on the menu for tomorrow. So much bread.

So a few weeks back I made my way over to Takashi, a Micheline starred Japanese restaurant in Bucktown. Takashi is the namesake restaurant for Chef Takashi Yagihashi, who's credentials include Yoshi's Cafe, Amria, Tribute, and Okada, as well as being named Best Chef: Midwest by the James Beard Foundation.

I decided to check it out on a Sunday - when the regular menu is replaced with their noodle dinner menu. I had been craving some solid udon for a while so I figured this was a good time for it.

I had two beers throughout my dinner: Hitachino Nest Classic Ale & Hitachino Nest White Ale. Kiuchi Brewery is quickly becoming one of my favorites. The Classic Ale was seriously delicious. White Ale was good. Espresso Stout I had at Moto was fantastic too.

Course 1:

Angus Beef Tartare, Quail Egg, Asian Pear, Cucumber, Sesame-Chili Soy - Pretty great tartare. Not quite as good as what I had at Henri, but still a solid dish. There was just enough toasted sesame flavor without being overwhelming, as it so easily can be. Quail egg added a wonderful richness. The cuke & pear were nice additions, bringing a welcome sweetness and texture to the dish.

Course 2:

Duck Fat Fried Chicken - Marinated Amish Chicken, Spicy Sesame Dressing - My notes on this dish just say 'Holy crap good'. Which pretty much sums it up. Seems everyone is doing fried chicken now a days. Thats OK by me. Flavor-wise, this was very similar to Taiwanese salt & pepper chicken. The plate was half wings and half tenders...all incredibly moist, hot, and delicious. Worth making the trip just for this plate.

Course 3:

Gyoza...pork dumpling. So dumplings, potstickers, etc.. are a little weird for me. Since having Sheena's mothers dumplings...everything is inferior. And it sucks, because Ive always been the fat kid eating the entire order of dumplings before anyone else gets them...and now all dumplings kind of suck in comparison. Now every so often if I'm somewhere that seems special or authentic, I'll order some in hopes of them at least coming close to matching Sheenas moms. These were a good try. Best Ive had in a long time. The quick pickle cucumber served on top was a nice touch.

Course 4:

Kinoko and Yamaimo Ponzu, Enoki and Shimeji Mushrooms with Taro Root and Citrus Vinaigrette - This was the worst dish of the night. Not bad by any means, but not what I was expecting. A little slimy too. Eeek!

Course 5:

Niku-Tamago Toge Udon, Sliced Rib Eye, Egg, Fried Tofu - Okay so my usual is Nabeyaki Udon, and they had a Udon on the menu very similar to Nabeyaki...but my server insisted that I try this one. And it was solid. Perfectly tender noodles, with the rib eye slowly cooking in the super hot, slightly sweet and spicy (mostly from the togorashi I added) broth. Eggs. Fishcake. Spinach... This was seriously good, soul warming udon. Love it.

Course 6:

Green Tea Shortbread, White Chocolate Mousse, Mango Sorbet, Burnt Caramel - This was...good. The presentation was a bit amateur but thats kind of a silly thing to complain about. The shortbread had a nice texture, but would benefit from a stronger green tea flavor and a little less sweetness. The white chocolate mousse was good, if I remember correctly. The mango sorbet was what I really wanted, and it was good.

So yeah, Takashi noodle dinner rules. I will be back again before leaving town. The menu is limited but totally solid and less expensive than the regular menu. And it has that chicken. So good.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Henri: The best meal I've had in Chicago

Well, as the title suggests...I went to Henri this past Monday and had what was truly the best, most satisfying meal I have had since moving to Chicago. Every last detail was near perfect, and I cannot wait to return. Since starting my dining adventures in Chicago, I have heard bits about how there was this great new restaurant, sure to become a classic. For some reason I kind of brushed it aside. That is until a fellow student mentioned that she had a truly memorable meal there. After telling me a bit about it, I immediately made a reservation for the following Monday. Why monday? Because the plat du jour is cassoulet on Monday...that why. And boy am I glad I picked Monday.

So I arrived at the restaurant and was quickly seated. As many people have said, the dining room is gorgeous. Its elegant without being stuffy. After being super indecisive, my lovely waitress Megan (sorry I forgot your name! you're great!) suggested a Manhattan...So thats what I started with.


Burnham Manhattan - Wild Turkey Rye, Vya Sweet Vermouth, Fee's Aromatic Bitters, Michigan Cherries - This was a seriously solid Manhattan. At least on par with the barrel aged Manhattan I had at Boka. Super smooth and delicious.
Bread Service:

Bread service was a mini baguette. It seemed pretty obvious it was made in house, due to the irregular shape. This was the only part of the meal that was just OK. The bread was a little dense. It was served warm, which as my bread professor says, 'all bread tastes good warm - only good bread tastes good cold'. So..yeah, it tasted fine, but nothing special.

Course 1:

Smoked Steak Tartare, Quail Egg, Potato Chips - There were a few appetizers that I was torn between but again, my waitress suggested the cold tartare would be a nice counterpart to the warm and rich Cassoulet. So I had the tartare. And it ruled. As you can see, it was dressed with a frisee salad and cornichons, and served with the thinnest, and most delicate potato chips I have ever had. The beef was incredibly rich and of the highest quality - and made even more rich when I mixed in the quail egg. The tartare had paper thin slices of garlic and a generous portion of capers (I couldn't tell if these were smoked as well, a little trick I picked up from Ideas in Food, and one of my favorite things). The smoke flavor was present, and very nice, without being the least bit overpowering. A lot of people look at dishes like tartare or carpaccio as too basic to be anything special, but a lot of care had to be put into this to achieve the balance of flavors and textures. Hands down, the best tartare I have ever had.

Course 2:

Cassoulet - Duck confit, housemade Toulouse sausage, pork belly, haricots coco - This dish sent me into a frenzy, for days after I had a incurable craving for Cassoulet. I almost ordered it again, immediately after finishing it. When I got home from dinner I spent probably an hour trying to find the best Cassoulet in Chicago, or even just french restaurants close to my apartment with it on the menu. I've always loved Cassoulet but this was like...as if I have never had it before. I did wind up getting it again later in the week, at a place in Old Town. Im sure it was a fine example, but difficult to finish in comparison to what I had at Henri. I'm trying my hardest to not go back on Monday, which would sandwich me between a dinner at Trotters and Toplobampo. Maybe the following week. Now I suppose I should actually describe the dish. The beans were wonderfully tender without being mush - the sauce was rich and salty and heavy with thyme. The sausage and pork belly were both great, but the highlight was the duck confit. Meltingly tender with skin that remained perfectly crispy to the last bite.

Course 3:

Paris Brest - So Paris Brest is probably my favorite pastry. I used it as a component on a plated dessert I did for competition last year and consequently ate it several times a week for several months. The beauty in a Paris Brest, is the same as an Eclair (a very similar pastry, so maybe not the best comparison). When everything is on, you want to cry its so good. Yet its so simple. With this, and other pate a choux based pastries, I get all misty and philosophical - not unlike most bread bakers get about bread. Anyway, if you're not familiar with a Paris Brest, as many Americans seem, its a pate a choux ring (which is supposed to represent a bicycle tire, the pastry was made to commemorate the Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race) filled with a praline cream. This was a very nice example, my only complaint was the pate a choux was either soft from being filled and held too long, or was not baked quite long enough (which is very easy to do). Either way, minor complaint as I was dizzy from joy.

As I was finishing my dessert, the incredibly hospitable Director of Operations, Terry McNeese came to my table (which he had done during my second course, to ask how I was enjoying it and to mention it was one of his favorite dishes as well). He commented that this was also one of his favorite desserts and we chatted for a minute. He returned to my table shortly after and poured me a glass of Pineau des Charentes. He explained that it is a fortified wine made from lightly fermented grapes and cognac. He went on to explain it is typically drank as an aperitif, but he likes it as a dessert pour. In the interest of full disclosure, this drink was on the house. And it was good. Unlike anything I have had before, and difficult to describe. Next time I am at Henri, I will order a drink that uses this (its in a couple of their cocktails).

After settling the check I was brought a mignardise (mignardi?):

This was a dark chocolate truffle with caramel and banana. It was yum.

As I was putting on my jacket, I thanked Terry for the drink and we started chatting. I mentioned how I was new in town and he started listing off places (restaurants and bars) I should check out. This was incredibly kind of him, and it seemed so genuine for him to be doing, rather than just trying to please the customer. He even pulled a waiter over to help come up with some ideas.

I cannot stress how great this meal was. Every course was carefully thought out and executed with such care and precision, its hard to fathom. That cassoulet was not only the best single dish I have had in Chicago, its the best thing I can remember having in a VERY long time. I'm still in awe of it. The service from start to finish was incredibly personal and friendly while remaining professional. Its very difficult to balance these things, and not come off as a phony. The people here love what they're doing. And so do I.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Everest & Tru

This week I went to both Tru and Everest - two of Chicago's longstanding institutions of fine dining (both with Micheline stars). Everest has some ridiculous claim like holding four stars for 19 straight years. Pretty intense. Tru is...well, Tru. Its reputation is pretty huge. Rick Tramonto is no longer part of the restaurant (as of 2010). Meg Galus is no longer doing pastry (again, as of 2010) there. The current Exeutive Chef, Anthony Martin was named chef of the year by the Chicago Tribune only a few days after I was there. Good timing on the reservation. I'm not sure what exactly Gale Gand is doing at Tru presently, but her name is still on the menu. ANYWAY..

Everest:
So..it was a little tricky finding the restaurant..seeing as how its on the 40th floor of the stock exchange. That probably means something to someone from Chicago but the only building I know and can recognize is the Sears (WILLIS) Tower, and thats because I'm staring at it from the window of my schools kitchen five days a week. Once I figured out which building it was, I had to be OKAYed by the doorman. I made the reservation online, last minute, so my name wasn't on the list that was printed for security. They had to call the restaurant and verify...So I get on the elevator and head up to the 39th floor, where I then had to transfer to Everest's special elevator to go on up to the 40th. I get there and find my way to the host. The dining room is seriously old school - black and white linens and carpet, mirrored walls. Kind of charming after being in so many hyper-modern dining rooms in the past couple of weeks. Everyone talks about the view - which was nice...I guess. The building is set on the western side of the inner loop, and the windows are facing west. What this means is there are no high rises to obscure the view. What it looked like to me was the view from the Egg in the Empire State Plaza, looking at Rensselaer. Then again, that view is not so fresh in my memory. What I'm gettin' at here is the view is...whatever. Heres the food:

Started with a Manhattan - no cocktail list and lack of creativity on my part. It was OK. A little watery. Bread service - offered a rustic sourdough, mini baguette, a multigrain roll, maybe something else, and a Kalamata olive bread. I had the sourdough (good, not great) and the olive bread (REALLY AWESOME)

Course 1:

Les Ouvertures de la Soiree er uhhh a couple of Amuse Bouche - Well I knew there was going to be fish with the amuse because there was an obnoxious table of young (30-somethings) douche bags across the way from me that complained loudly to their server that even though they were specifically asked about allergies, dietary restrictions or aversions - and they said nothing; and that because they didn't order any, they assumed there would be no fish in any course. Okay so..from right to left theres a mushroom emulsion with bacon, a sunchoke and lobster potage, and some fried fluke and with radish, cuke, and black sesame slaw. All three were great. The mushroom emulsion with bacon was straight umami and really awesome. The potage was good, but the flavors were a bit muddy. The fish (essentially a fish fry) was good. The mushroom was the standout.

Course 2:

Presskopf of Duck and Pheasant, Apple Carrot Aigre Doux - A duck & pheasant terrine, a peppery salad, some other stuff. Okay so Ive always been kind of into charcuterie, and in school I really loved my garde manger classes; one of my great mentors is a Garde Manger chef - But one thing I never really understood was the fuss about were terrines. Ive had quite a few and they have all been good but nothing to write home about. I remember reading a quote - maybe MFK Fisher or Julia Childs...someone said something like they never got terrines until they had the one and it was the greatest thing they ever had. Thats kind of like what this was. It wasn't the greatest thing I've ever had, but it was a-freaking-mazing. So now I get terrines. I subbed out a cheese course later in the menu and seriously considered asking for this again.

Course 3:

Sauteed Casco Bay Sea Scallop, Pomme Mousseline, Alsace Tokay Jus de Poulet - This was a perfectly executed dish. Scallop was perfectly rare and melt in your mouth tender, with a beautiful golden sear - the mashed potatoes er, uh, pomme mousseline were very good - especially with the chicken/tokay jus. Everything on the plate came together really well. Im getting hungry just thinking about it.

Course 4:

Crepinette of Wild Sturgeon, Wrapped and Roasted in Cured Ham and Cabbage, Pinot Noir - This was also a really good course. On its own, the sturgeon was the weakest part, as it more or less so tasted like any old steamed white fish but when it was combined with everything else, it was awesome. The cabbage was flavorful as were the cured ham and the Pinot reduction.

Course 5:

Filet of Venison, Wild Huckleberries, Alsace Red Cabbage and Knepfla - Not a whole lot to say here. It was great. Venison was fork tender. Knepfla were delicious and butter. Sauce was savory and tart. Cabbage was cabbage and the chestnuts were...chestnuts. I loved the (what I think were) cocoa nibs used to garnish the venison. Really nice touch.

Course 6:

Composition of Tapioca Pearls, Blood Orange Sorbet - So this was essentially the best intermezzo ever. Its made of some tapioca pudding, passionfruit, pomegranate seeds, and blood orange sorbet. Just fruity and refreshing and not too sweet. I really loved this.
Course 7:

Guanaja Chocolate Parfait, Wild Hazelnuts, Gewurztraminer Slow Poached Pear - For those of you reading from the Albany/Saratoga area, this was more or less so the same thing as the Il Duomo from Mrs Londons, with some poached pear. So in other words it was awesome. For those of you who aren't from the Albany/Saratoga area, well..sucks to be you because you don't have Mrs Londons at your disposal (Check out this blog by Rose Levy Beranbaum where she proclaims Mrs. Londons has the best croissants in the world)

Course 8:

Alsace Vacherin - I subbed this course for a cheese course. Just...wasn't in the mood for the funk. Made up of crispy meringue, chocolate and pear glace, and vanilla coulis. This was OK. Weakest course of the night. We made some meringue crisps in school earlier that day and they were much more flavorful than these ones were. I know thats a silly point to make but this meringue had an off taste to it. Not sure how to describe it. Ohhhh well.

Mignardise:

Didn't really take notes on these...they were..pear pate de fruit, anise meringue, spearmint marshmallow (the chocolate cone thing) - some sort of white chocolate bon bon thing...a financier or something. I dont really remember these but the photo says I had them.

So Everest is pretty good stuff. They have a $50(ish) pre theater 3 course prix fixe that I'm sure is quite the bargain especially once you figure in amuse & mignardise.

So on to Tru. This was pretty intense. I was kind of uncomfortable, being the first person in the dining room which is serious kinds of fancy, as well as being the only solo guest for the duration. The service here is seriously top notch. My waiter brought over some (picture) books for me to browse to keep myself entertained. A nice touch - its weird eating by yourself. Anyway...sad story is I felt a bit too out of place to be snapping photos...so the ones I have here (for only a few courses) are stolen from starchefs.com.

So the first thing brought to the table was a comte gougere. It was one of those puffs that you see in photographs that you dont believe actually exist - perfectly round and even. Dont know how they pulled it off but I'm envious that they can do it. It was as yummy as a gougere can be.

A bread tray was brought over - all the options looked great. I settled on a pumpernickel mini loaf. It was beautiful with a subtle flavor.

Next up was the amuse, which was one of my favorite dishes of the night. It was a hell of a way to start the meal and really set a tone for everything. It had a bit of a silly element to it which, frankly I wasn't thrilled about - and it also had the second snow man I have had in a meal in Chicago. I love for food to be playful but not juvenile. Or maybe Im just a typical sourpuss from New York. Anyway, heres a photo:


This was served in a cone of magically appearing snow, with some pine or juniper branches and maybe red currants or something. I don't really remember. It was supposed to look all christmasy and snowy which it did. It was made up of a truffle turnip snowman, cauliflower puree, truffle mousse, black truffles, and beef consomme gelee. So. Good.

Next up was the white sturgeon 'caviar' with avocado puree and hazelnut crackers. You can probably find a photo of this dish if you try hard enough. It was pretty good. They take smoked sturgeon and through culinary wizardry (aka sodium alginate...or maybe tapioca) they turn it into caviar...thats white. It was pretty tasty.

The following course was the linear foie gras, with black fig ice wine vinegar, caramelized popcorn tuile, popcorn shoots, figs. Not a bad foie course, but kind of bold considering how sweet it was so early in the meal. The popcorn tuile was essentially toffee with some pulverized caramel corn on top.



After the foie there was a celeriac soup with butter poached yukon gold potato, black truffle puree, some sort of crispy thing, poached quail egg, and gold leaf. This was a pretty solid soup not much else to say. Truffle was kind of lost in the mix.

Next was probably the best dish I have had in Chicago so far. And it was a scallop dish (something that is seemingly on EVERY tasting menu in the world). This was seared scallop with butternut squash & ginger puree, apple celery salad. It was served with a scallop cream, in a glass conch shell. Each bite was so carefully composed, with a scary good balance of flavors - the precise amount of salad and puree perched atop of each slice of scallop...topped with a single leaf of micro red amaranth (or some similar microgreen)...each ingredient played an important part and it was incredible. Go here and eat this. Oh and the scallop cream? Whipped cream with...scallop essence? I damn near shoved my tongue inside that conch shell to get every last bit of it. Amazing. I need to learn how to make it.

After this I had the flavors of the season, which were apparently pumpkin, date, chestnut, (compressed) pear, and madras curry. This was a small dish with all of these ingredients in a madras curry foam. Not my favorite dish of the night, but still good. The pumpkin was so flavorful I asked what variety it was and they told me it was regular old pumpkin. I cant decide if I believe them or if they know something I dont when it comes to cooking pumpkin. The curry was a little flat...I guess the idea is the foam lightens something heavy but...I still wanted a stronger flavor.

After this I had duck fat roasted day boat cod with bouchot mussel veloute and chanterelle mushrooms. I think there was a foam on this dish as well - if not then it was the veloute - either way, something was flavored with 'the flavors of southeast asia' aka lemongrass, thai chili, ginger... Pretty much the same feelings on this dish as the one before it. Fish was good, everything else was good...would have liked a more assertive flavor anywhere on this plate.

The next course was cervena venison, with brussels sprouts, crispy applewood bacon, and red currant & venison jus.

Venison was literally fork tender...incredibly cooked. The accompaniments added a nice textural contrast, as well as a welcome tartness from the sauce/currants. This was a solid course

Next there was the cheese course. All three I picked were wayyyyyyy too funky for me. Did not enjoy this at all.

After this I had an intermezzo of sorts, a pear foam with citrus spiced port. This was weird and sweet and not very pleasant. It also lingered in my mouth, kind of..defeating its purpose.

Lastly I had honeycrisp apple beignet with creme anglaise and vanilla ice cream. This was a perfectly fine dessert but considering this places reputation...specifically Gale Gands reputation, I kind of expected more. The ice cream had noticeable crystals in it, which didn't make it taste bad but definitely took away from the overall pleasantness.

Afterwords I was given about a dozen mignardises, which of course I didn't write any notes on. They were all veyr good and beautiful. I do remember the exploding salted caramel bon bon, which was fun.

As I was leaving the restaurant I was also given a financier to take home with me, which I ate the next day and was delicious.

So Tru was great, though Im not sure if it lived up to my expectations. Its hard to rate something like this because Ive heard about this place for so long and expectations are so inflated that if its not the best meal of my life I wind up disappointed. Really the only faults were the two courses in the middle being a little more subtle than I would have hoped. And a more pedestrian dessert than I expected. Not the end of the world

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Cozy Noodle & Rice


Okay so Cozy Noodle & Rice is a (seemingly) popular Thai restaurant in Wrigleyville. They have a pretty cheap lunch menu that they are known for, featuring $2 soups, $5 noodle dishes, and $6 entrees.

I stopped in for some lunch...every surface in the restaurant looks like this:

I ordered the 'Ginger' entree, which came with some spring rolls:


These were spongy and kind of gross. The sauce was also much sweeter than I am used to having with spring rolls. Not a fan.


My entree was made up of chicken, ginger, onion, black mushrooms, carrots, and dry hot pepper. This wasn't really anything great. Not bad by any means, just...forgettable. It was VERY spicy.

Still wanting some quality Thai, I headed over to TAC Quick later in the week:

I started with some Kai Tod, which is deep fried marinated chicken with 'Thai special sauce'. This was just good fried chicken. The kind thats intentionally over done so it gets that great crispy chewy texture. I loved it.

My waitress recommended the special, Neua Pad Bai Horapha or Spicy Thai basil:
So this is something I've had at lots of Thai restaurants. Its more or less so spicy stir fried beef in a thick, sticky sauce with loads of Thai basil. This was by far the best example I've ever had. Utterly satisfying in every way. TAC Quick is quickly (sorry!) becoming one of my favorite places. Can't wait to go back.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Blackbird lunch


So...back to Blackbird. When we were here my first night in Chicago, I noticed a $22 prix fixe lunch option. I had a couple days off from school this week so I made my way there to give it a try.

Course 1:

Coffee-scented fluke tartare with lemon cucumber, saffron, and bread sauce - As a tartare course there's not a whole lot to say. The fluke was nice and fresh - the cucumbers added a nice textural contrast. I wasn't crazy about the saffron crisps - they were a little too hard making them difficult to eat. The bread sauce was nice - second time having bread sauce in Chicago and I gotta say its pretty awesome.


Course 2:

Wood-grilled sturgeon with ham hock, red beet, cabbage, smoked date puree, walnut consomme - This was SO good. Sturgeon may be my new favorite fish. YUM.

Course 3:
Chestnut brioche, Asian pear, Pedro Ximenez sherry, tarragon ice cream - This was decent. The brioche was sliced in three different thicknesses, each one a little more caramelized than the other. I'm not sure if this was intentional but it was really good and a nice touch. The tarragon ice cream was a *little* strong, but still enjoyable. The pears were definitely too ripe and somewhat overpowering. The sherry worked better in some bites than in others. Good but not great.

Blackbird continues to impress me and needless to say, the lunch prix fixe is a serious bargain. I'm really looking forward to returning - hopefully for their dinner tasting menu.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

TAC Quick


TAC Quick, the TAC standing for Thai Authentic Cuisine, is a small Thai restaurant in Wrigleyville. You can (have to) ask for their 'secret menu' which has a wide variety of more ...authentic offerings than their regular menu. This soup - Kuay Teaw Reua - has brisket, beef balls, pork skins, chinese broccoli, bean sprouts, cilantro, and vermicelli in a thick, spicy, sweet, pungent broth. Im getting weak in the knees just thinking about how good it was.

TAC Quick
3930 N. Sheridan Rd
Chicago, IL

Monday, January 3, 2011

School, Food

Okay, so school finally started today and from what I can tell its going to require quite a bit of my time, so the frequency of my posts may slow down a bit...thats not to say I wont be posting...just not every day. Theres some exciting stuff coming soon (?), as well as lots of events in Chicago.

Anyway, continuing my gluttonous tour of over the top & highly praised Chicago restaurants, I went to Boka last weekend for their 9 course grand tasting. I started with a barrel aged manhattan (aged in house for 2 months). After my drink at Graham Elliot I've been craving Manhattans. This was unusually smooth for a Manhattan and delicious. It seems that Boka's barman, Benjamin Schiller, has been making quite a name for himself and his bar. Later in my meal I picked a liquor and a flavor and he crafted some delicious cocktail that I have no clue what was in it other than sage and gin. On to the food:

Bread: Rosemary focaccia - this was the best bread I have had in recent memory. Perfect amount of rosemary, just crispy enough crust, salty...awesome. I had four slices (I rule)

Course 1:

My frist course was a bento box of raw samplings - clockwise from the top right: 1: Marinated snapper, crispy coconut crusted tofu, green tea soba noodle, pickled radish. 2: Shigoku oyster, American caviar. 3: Hamachi, blood orange, sunchoke puree, some chips (sunchoke maybe), black tobiko. 4: Bigeye tuna, eel terrine. The oyster & caviar was incredible..maybe the best oyster Ive ever had. The hamachi was also fantastic. The other two samplings were great but paled in comparison.

Course 2:

Seared Sonoma Valley foie gras, grilled banana, caramelized brioche, brioche puree, baking spice gastrique. I was told this was supposed to be reminiscent of banana bread pudding. I can see it. It was insanely rich and delicious - as would be expected with a foie preparation like this.

Course 3:

Maine diver scallop, forbidden black rice, cumin dusted lotus root, roasted zucchini puree. Everything on this plate was great. At this point I was super happy. Each course was great, tasteful, and exciting.

Course 4:

Scottish salmon, winter spinach, crayfish brandade, black garlic puree, crosnes, mussel & saffron foam - This plate was good. Im not a huge fan of black garlic, its flavor is VERY assertive and tends to overpower things. This was the first time I've had crosnes, and they're awesome. The brandade was great & the salmon was good.

Course 5:

Pheasant, beet braised kohlrabi, celery root, chestnut puree, truffle foam, black truffle - I was really excited when this was delivered, the description sounded so good. It was good...but not as mind blowing as I hoped.

Course 6:

Seared strip loin, crispy sweetbreads, moroccan ratatouille, creamy grits, collard green puree - All the individual pieces were really great - especially the sweetbreads and the creamy grits, but it didn't all come together as cohesively as I hoped.

Course 7:

Prickly pear sorbet, lime curd, tequila gelee - A brilliant and stunningly beautiful palate cleanser. Unfortunately the sorbet was a bit too sweet, leaving a lingering sweetness. Ive made prickly pear sorbet a few times and it is an unusually sweet fruit and makes for a bit of a tricky sorbet. Ive had bases that tasted great turn into horribly over sweet sorbets.

Course 8:

Spiced apple cake, honey crisp apple, vadouvan butter, walnut, yogurt gelato - This was a holy crap I can't believe how great this is kind of dessert. The vadouvan (essentially a french curry, with shallots) worked incredibly well - the yogurt gelato was perfectly tangy and refreshing..the cake moist and delicious. I would come back just to order this dessert.

Course 9:

Flourless venezuelan chocolate cake, hickory smoked chocolate gelato, cocoa nibs, pulp of cocoa pod - So this dessert was ruined by the gelato. I can totally see a smoked chocolate being awesome, but hickory was a strong flavor to pick and the smoke was overwhelming - becoming the only thing I could taste. Luckily I always try each individual piece to a dish before combining - because this was the first time I have had the fruit from a cocoa pod and it was incredible. Tangy, sour, faintly sweet with an afterthought of chocolate - unlike anything I have had.

With the check I was given a chocolate salted caramel and a cocoa nib meringue (that tasted suspiciously of cinnamon). Both were nice.

So thats Boka!