Sunday, February 27, 2011

Vanille

After having my first Chicago pie at a place called Pequods (no pictures or write up for this - but it was SERIOUSLY good), I couldn't pass up the chance to check out Vanille. Vanille is a small patisserie in DePaul run by the Chefs Dimitri and Keli Fayard. Both chefs have very impressive backgrounds which you can read all about on their website. Dimitri is also a chef instructor at my school.

The display case at Vanille (stole this picture from Julia):

Close up of the macarons (also stole this from Julia):

Being pretty full from pizza, I settled on some espresso, a pistachio eclair, and some caramel macaroons:

The pistachio eclair was very nice:

As were the macarons - perfectly aged...a light crack giving way to a chewy, flavorful center:

Yum



We have moved onto the cakes section at school. This one is made of pistachio dacquoise, passionfruit-apricot gelee, nougat mousse with apricots, pistachios, pecans, and cherries:



This one was made of coconut dacquoise, passionfruit mousse with kirsch & candied pineapple, and coconut mousse:


Thats it!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

TAC for more

So my Internet connection is still kind of hairy so I guess I'll be using this mobile blogging app until that gets straightened out. What that means is I wont be doing any lengthy write ups for a hot minute.

We just finished 3 days of practical exams in school which concludes the bread, breakfast pastries, and petite fours section. Tomorrow we start cakes with the famous Pierre Zimmermann. I'm super excited to have the opportunity to work with him.

This week is restaurant week in chicago so I'll be eating out a little more often and hopefully staying on top of my posts. I still have a huge backlog of restaurants to write about.

Last week a friend and I headed over to TAC Quick - they love Thai and hadn't been to TAC yet...and it did not disappoint.




So starting at 1:00 in the photo we have Kra Phrao Kai Yeow Ma, which is stir-fried minced chicken with crispy basil leaves, served over fried preserved duck eggs. Here's a close up:




This was really awesome...the egg and chicken were super flavorful and the basil was wonderfully crisp.

Back to the first picture, at 3:00 is the boat noodles that I have written about before. I've had these 3 or 4 times and they have been consistently awesome. I would recommend them over all else when going to TAC Quick.

Last, at about 10:00 is the green curry with beef, Ginger, and eggplant served over omelette. This was a great green curry...not much else to say. The omelette was awesome.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mobile chinatown

Testing out mobile blogging. My Internet connection at the apartment has been iffy at best this week so I figured I'd give this a try..at least autocorrect will fix my horrible spelling. I was in Chinatown this afternoon and had a great lunch at Lao shanghai. Started with some drunken chicken and chicken feet with wine sauce. Both were tasty. After that we had some soup dumplings - xaio bao long:



These dumplings were better than the ones I had at moon palace a few weeks ago. The dough was much thinner and ha a better filling to broth ratio. They also didn't all stick together and tear apart when you pick them up.

Also had some dried chili chicken. It was good - and even spicier than it looks. According to Sheena, this dish is where general Tsos chicken came from. Needless to say, it is infinitely better than any GTC I've had.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

quickie

So im about elbow deep in petite fours at school. We have been cranking them out, as they say. Madeleines, plain macarons, pistachio white chocolate macarons, chocolate earl grey macarons, opera cake, chouquettes, salambos paris brest(s), apple tarts, chocolate espresso tarts, blueberry tarts, and so and on. There are pictures somewhere, but not here. I promise, I will eventually remember to take some pictures. Were coming up on exams, which will prove to be interesting. 3 days of practicals! Fun stuff.

This upcoming weekend is the start of Chicago Restaurant Week. The list was..nice, but there were only so many places I really wanted to go. I will be hitting up Cafe Spiaggia, The Gage, Naha, and the Seasons. I also made a reservation for the March 1 grand opening of Homaro Cantu's new place, iNG. As far as I can tell, the restaurant will be in a soft opening stage from 2/14 - 2/28 and 3/1 is its official grand opening. Heres hoping I will enjoy it more than I enjoyed Moto.

So a week after my first dinner at Henri, I returned to have more of their incredible cassoulet. Please take a look at my earlier post about the meal, it was truly incredible. The entire week between my first meal there and this one I spent dreaming about their cassoulet. After a few days I couldn't take it any more and made a reservation for the following Monday (the cassoulet is only offered on Monday's).

I feel that I should say that word of my post about my dinner at Henri had travelled to the restaurant and Catherine Gilmore-Lawless, the owner, had contacted me to thank me. I cant really explain how kind it is to have someone involved in a restaurant seek out some totally insignificant, wannabe food writer just to say thank you for writing a positive review...but it really meat a lot to me. I mentioned to Catherine that I had made a reservation to come back to the restaurant and she invited me to tour their kitchen. Again, an incredibly kind gesture. Being a...'budding' chef..its always exciting to see the intricacies of any operation, and its just...weird outright asking a restaurant to go tour their kitchen. So of course I jumped at the opportunity and upon arriving at the restaurant I was lead downstairs to their kitchen. Its hard to describe the layout of a kitchen in any way that is exciting to read, especially without the aid of pictures..but it was a great experience. Everyone I met in the back of the house (and really...in the entire restaurant) was incredibly gracious and welcoming and didn't seem the least bit off put by some strange kid touring their kitchen. I have had the pleasure of working in kitchens that people wanted to tour and I've seen some chefs be kind of...annoyed to go through the motions...but the staff here is proud of their facilities and excited to show it off.

Back in the dining room, I found out that Megan was once again going to be my waitress for the evening. After being beyond happy with her knowledge of the menu and warm, professional service; I trusted her to guide me - more or less - through my dinner. The poultry/game special sounded incredible; though I don't remember what it was - some Texan game bird. This only sticks out because each time Ive gone to Henri I knew I wanted the cassoulet but have been seriously tempted by their daily specials. It took me a bit to decide between this dish & the cassoulet...and ultimately I went with the cassoulet. Next time (and there will be a next time!) I will definitely try something other than cassoulet!

I started with a Linch Pin cocktail, made with Pineau de Charentes, Farmers Gin, and orange peel. This was refreshing and delicious.

Next up, I had crudo of Hawaiian Tuna, with local mache, crisp shiitake, and salted pineapple:

This was a beautifully refreshing crudo. The acidity of the pineapple dressing was very nice with the tuna and not overly salty as the description may lead you to believe. The crisp shiitake added a wonderfully textural contrast as well as a really wonderful flavor. Ive had quite a bit of raw tuna apps in the past year or so; so I wouldn't have had this dish if Megan had not suggested it. In the end, I'm glad she did because it was great.
As I have already rambled on and on about; I had the cassoulet for my entree. Not much else to say here that I haven't already said. Ive now dined at the majority of the micheline star restaurants in Chicago, including Alinea - the best restaurant in North America; and I still stand by my statement that this cassoulet is the best single dish I have had in Chicago. If youre reading this and in Chicago...go make a reservation already!

With my entree, I enjoyed a stellar glass of 2008 L'angevin chardonnay. This was sent to my table. I could speculate why, but its not important really - it was extremely generous of the restaurant and I cannot thank them (specifically Terry McNeese) enough for it. Im not really a wine guy, never have been...it all tastes more or less so the same to me. Its a little embarrassing admitting that, being someone who's entire career will be guided by my palate...but its just the way it is for me. Maybe I don't drink the stuff often enough to compare and contrast. Who knows. Either way, occasionally I'll have a glass thats really great and I can recognize that. This was one of those glasses.

I ended the meal with their dark chocolate tart (on Terry's recommendation from the last time I was there...sorry for the blurry photo!):

This is a pretty standard tart done extremely well. It had just enough caramel layered beneath a velvety smooth ganache...topped with a just sweet enough chantilly cream...so that it didn't take away from the bitter notes from the dark chocolate. I know how hard it is to achieve this sort of balance in flavors and textures...how difficult it is to pull of the classics and make them stand out...and they've done this repeatedly at Henri. And frankly..they do with everything that they do...from their amazingly generous, kind, and welcoming service to all of their food...no detail is too small. This is what separates the good from the great. And Henri is truly a great restaurant.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

TAC TAC

Its no secret that I am in love with TAC Quick. I wanted to grab a bite to eat there this afternoon but wound up taking a long nap instead...now I'm awake and hungry and they're closed. Bummer. Heres what I had last time:


Nam Prik Kapi Plaa Too - Shrimp paste chili served with fried trout, cha om omelet, fried eggplant, and raw vegetable. When I ordered this, my waitress warned me it was 'smelly'. Which it wasn't. I was expecting stinky tofu bad. This was tasty, albiet a little bland.



Moo Ping - Thai style grilled marinated pork with spicy sauce. How can you go wrong with grilled pork? Now Im getting a serious craving for Com/Bun Thit Nuong. Maybe a trip to little Saigon is in my future.

I have a reservation at Alinea tonight so expect a post on that soon. I also have quite a back log going right now, including Bistro Margot, Cafe Des Architectes, Charlie Trotters, Davanti Enoteca, Henri, Kith & Kin, Tango Sur, and so and on.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Topolobampo or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the snow

Its been quite an eventful week here in Chicago. Something about a bit of snow...? Check out this insane picture of Lakeshore Drive (kind of the equivalent to the Henry Hudson Highway) stolen from the Tribune:

crazy, right? I guess there was something like 400 abandoned cars. City was quite a mess. In reality it wasn't that bad in terms of snowfall. 20 something inches, although I dont know how they figure that number. The wind in Chicago is constantly moving the snow around so there are like...snow dunes. You can be walking on dry ground and then have to climb over a mountain. Either way, the snow wasn't so bad, the reaction from the city & its residents was. I wound up having two days off from school which kind of blew. I spent the time dehydrating.

So the day the storm hit I had a reservation at Topolobampo. This place is one of the most popular restaurants in Chicago. You have probably heard of or seen Rick Bayless, who runs the joint. Due to his fame and the restaurants popularity, I had to make my mid week reservation a month in advance. So naturally the entire day I was panicky that the restaurant would close and I would have to make another reservation. On my break from class I got a phone call from them wanting to reconfirm my reservation. If they were staying open, I was going. Once class let out I had to work a CE class with Chef Pierre Zimmermann, which just means I had to wash some dishes. The class wound up letting out early because of the weather, which meant I had to figure out where to hold up in the storm for a couple hours before dinner - as Topoolobampo is much closer to school than my apartment. I found a bar a few blocks away and had a few beers...maybe some wings..and then made my way over to the restaurant. Even though I only had a couple blocks to go I was a bit disoriented due to the white out conditions at the time. When I got to Topolobampo I was quickly seated and brought this:


Guacamole with blood orange; cukes & turnips for dipping - This was super tasty, subtly spicy...and the veggies were a nice touch. Lighter and easier to eat than chips.

I ordered a drink:

The Vampiro Fronterizo - El Milagro Silver tequila and Maraca tantalizing bloody mary mix, spiked with fresh lime juice. This was tasty...like a bloody mary and margarita had a child. I always put lime in my bloody marys because Im not a huge fan of lemon...so this was right up my alley.

Topolobampo offers 3 different five course menus, as well as al la carte service. I knew I wanted a tasting but couldn't really decide on any one in particular. The dining room was a little..vacant due to the weather and I assumed the kitchen staff would be a bit bored (maybe not the right word.....expecting a less than exciting service for the evening?)..So I asked the kitchen to just send me 10 courses, whatever they felt like doing. They agreed without any hesitation. A little disclaimer ahead of time, some of the courses I received I couldn't place off the menus at any of the Frontera restaurants so my descriptions may be a little subpar. You'll live.

Course 1:

So the first course was a sample from the raw bar. Three different oysters - no clue what varieties but they were all super fresh and yummy. They were paired with tomatillo-habanero mioneta & a smoky chipotle-garlic salsa. Also on the platter were two different ceviches...both of which were great too. One was Ceviche Fronterizo - lime marinated hawaiian albacore with tomatoes, olives, cilantro, and green chile. The other, which I absolutely loved, was Ceviche Yucateco - steamed mexican blue shrimp and calamari tossed with lime, orange, habanero, avocado, jicama, and cilantro. I spent a good portion of last fall making raw bar platters...which by no means makes me an expert but..this was a seriously solid platter. It set a tone for a really spectacular meal.

Course 2:

Ensalad de Noche Buena - A contemporary take on Mexico's famous holiday salad, with tangy crunchy jicama, local beets three ways (poached, powdered, and crisped), smoky blood orange, sweet-savory peanut marzipan, and tangy baby beet greens. Okay so...I love beet salads. I love beets....so naturally I loved this dish. Everything went together beautifully...great balance of flavors. Really awesome. One amazing thing about this meal was that each course had some ingredient or preparation that I love..it was like I was cooking for myself (if I was a much better chef, that is)

Course 3:

Red chile roasted carrots 'a la plaza' with pickled vegetables (jicama). This was not on the menu currently so I'm going by what I could snoop off the internet. This was a really nice, smoky...lots of flavor and not heavy at all.

Course 4:

Chorizo-Blood Sausage, egg yolk & white, 3 chile salsa, hickory bacon meringues, turnip. This was SO good. Theres no way I can do this course justice. It was elegant without being pretentious - incredibly savory and satisfying. I wanted to lick the plate. I cleared it in the time it took my server to grab a pitcher of water to refill my glass. So good.

Course 5:

Succulent Slow Poached Texas Red Fish infused with herby acuyo, camote hash brown, braised fennel, fennel broth & hoja santa oil (I think?). The first slurp of broth made me instantly want to sneeze, kind of like the first gulp of a really strong ginger beer. It was awesome. Super strong fennel flavor, which I really love a lot. The fish was incredibly tender and flavorful. Really solid dish all round.

Course 6:

Roasted Cauliflower (my favorite) & Sunchoke...some other stuff..and some salsa? I couldn't come up with any information on this one...Doesn't matter though. If theres roasted cauliflower to be had, I'm happy. This was awesome.

Course 7:

Ribeye with bone marrow, sunflower seed pippin, wilted and fried kale, & sunchokes - I was dumbfounded by this course. Its like I made a list of my favorite things and sent it to the kitchen and they just put them all on a plate. Bone marrow? Ribeye? I was in heaven. Awesome way to end the savory courses.

Course 8:

Melcocha epsuma, compote of masumoto farm dried peaches & seedling white cherries, fennel, pistachio - Again with the list of favorite things...This dessert/intermezzo/transition ...whatever you want to call it..was simply brilliant. There was such a delicate balance of flavors...little nuances like the random pistachios bringing a wonderful nutty flavor and texture...This was my favorite from the pastry side...and I would love to have it again.

Course 9:

Coco y Dateless - Steamed sweet coconut tamale, creamy coconut ice cream, tamarind stuffed bahri dates, candide deglet noor dates, coconut..crispies? - The cake was awesome and incredibly tender, the ice cream was delicious and had a wonderful mouthfeel. This dessert walked a fine line between sweet & overly sweet, something I feel coconut things can do...but it worked really well. A very refreshing course.

Course 10:

Chocolate cake, sour cream ganache, preserved fraises de obis, mint-milk sorbet - So its worth mentioning that at this point I was so far beyond full that I couldn't finish this course. I was full from beer and wings when I walked into the restaurant and knew it was going to be challenge to finish everything by the time I was eating course 2. But everything was SO good I took one for the team (team greg?). This was great. The mint ice cream actually tasted like mint...not some gross minty sugary crap that you get out of a cardboard container. The cake was delicious and...well look at the picture..it was a seriously beautiful dessert.

Mignardises:

So...these were delivered to my table by the pastry chef, Jennifer Jones. She thanked me for letting the kitchen play around and said they had a great time putting together a longer menu. I always think its silly when people thank me for eating their amazing food. They did all the work! So thank you Jennifer, and the rest of the amazing kitchen and FOH staff at Topolobampo...you guys certainly deserve all the praise you receive. Oh yeah..and the mignardises...heres the thing. This is the best way to compare and contrast pastry chefs because everyone in the city (or...everywhere, frankly) does pretty much the same thing...so..you can see who makes the best pate de fruit...or the best torrone...and well...each one of these were seriously good...some of, if not, the best Ive had in Chicago. The thought and care, and attention to detail put into each of these desserts and mignardises was really amazing and..well yeah, I was super impressed all around. Wish I had asked about staging with them!

Later in the week (Saturday) my school held a fundraiser at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. This was quite an event (no real # yet, but we were expecting 1000 people). Chefs from all over Chicago, as well as some from other parts of the country were there supporting the French Pastry School. It was really amazing to see so many people rallying behind the school to raise money for scholarships. Some chefs in attendance: Rick Bayless, Sherry Yard, Meg Galus, Jimmy MacMillan, Giuseppe Tentori, Kady Yon, Graham Elliot Bowles, Paul Kahan, Patrick Fahey, Jean Joho, Kai Lermen, Jason MeLeod, Takashi Ygihashi, Paul Virant...and about a million others. Quite the event!