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What better way to spend Thanksgiving weekend than to get away from cold Chicago and bask in the Mexican sun? Well, I was with my obnoxious family that took 2 hours to decide, read that argue about, what to do for every meal, so maybe it could be better? Actually, I’d have it no other way. A little aggravation is good for the soul. One thing that was easily agreed upon was heading to the San Benito Market in Merida (where my mom lives) with my two brothers. If you read my post on the market from the last time I was in Merida, you’ll see that I’m a big fan of the various tacos and other food items one can gorge themselves on. One thing I didn’t try on my past trip was any of the seafood. So, my brothers and I set off to find out if it’s as good as the 4-legged creatures one can devour there. We did start off with a couple of tacos each for an appetizer.

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What we found in the pescado section was that none of the “restaurants” served fish ceviche. All of the camarones one could want, but no fish ceviche. One of the stalls was willing to make it for us though. So, they headed over to the fishmongers and grabbed a couple of fish for us. One was a snapper and the other was something else. I did see some baby hammerhead sharks at the fishmongers’ counter (don’t know why my older bro didn’t get a good photo of those as I didn’t have my camera with me, but he’s not as bright as I am, so we’ll give him a pass), and the other fish did have a sharky texture, but I’m not sure if it was shark or not.

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This woman, with all of her years of skill and knowledge, proceeded to skin, inspect, and chop up the various fish. Then she added the lime juice, salt, and pepper, and mixed it around for a bit. She dumped it out and did it all over again and again tasting each time to make sure it was just how she wanted us to eat it.

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Once the fish was “cooked” enough and had enough of the seasoned lime flavor she mixed in some diced onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. Out of the mixing bowl and onto our plate.

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When a little old Mayan woman serves you something she just made right in front of your eyes with a smile like that, how can it not be delicious? Well, it wasn’t delicious, it was beyond delicious! It was delovecious! You see, I had to make up a lame ass word and it still doesn’t do justice to what she just whipped up. With some tortilla’s and super spicy salsa verde none of us had ever eaten a ceviche quite so good. You could really taste the love she put into that dish. This woman didn’t want three handsome men like us (I’m by far the most handsome of the three, and I smell the best too) to go unsatisfied. I think all three of us left a little piece of our hearts, and stomach linings with her.

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Ah yes, horse, the other red meat. You know, I’ve never understood why horse meat was off-limits in America. I mean, it’s an animal not all that dissimilar to deer or elk and we certainly have no problems eating them. Is it because we ride horses? Would you eat a cow if you rode it? I don’t know. I do know that many other places in the world do eat horse, and Japan is one of them. While it’s not a prominent animal in the extremely large, diverse, and interesting encyclopedia of animals consumed by the Japanese, it is featured in various areas where other meats might not be as readily available. As such, in places like Tokyo, there are restaurants dedicated to serving this animal on a platter rather than saddling it up for a gallop. The other night I finally got my first opportunity to enjoy the succulence of these animals when a friend of mine asked me if he could take me out for a horse. Not only is that the first time another man had ever asked me that questions, but that was a proposition I was only too happy to jump on. So, we headed out to the Ebisu district of Tokyo and headed to a place called Uma Yakiniku Takeshi. Uma is horse in Japanese, yakiniku is the style of grilling meat at your table, and Takeshi is the name of the proprietor of this establishment, he also happens to be a well-known Japanese comedian. Before I get to the food, one thing I love about Ebisu is that there are numerous interesting little izakaya’s serving up weird and exotic cuisine that you would never find unless you stumbled upon them. We ended up walking around for about 15 minutes before finding our destination.

When we sat down we were greeted with a cold glass of draft beer and some lightly pickled cucumbers with salted kombu. I’m not a big pickle or cucumber guy by any stretch of the imagination, but honestly, this wasn’t too bad at all. I even think my younger brother, he who has even stronger negative feelings toward pickled cucumbers than me, would eat this. At least he would if he was hungry enough to eat a horse.

We started off with horse tataki. Rolled in black pepper and lightly seared on all sides, this piece of meat (what part of the animal is still up for debate, but I think it’s the tenderloin) was covered with in thinly sliced onion and chopped scallions.

After a quick dip in ponzu (the horse meat, not me) here I am about to have my first taste in equestrian delights. MMMMMMMMMMMM! Honestly, it reminded me of kosher pastrami. I could throw this on some rye bread, slather on the mustard, and wash it down with a Dr Browns and be a happy man. Very delicious and surprisingly familiar to me. I had heard that horse tasted quite a bit like beef, but I think it’s a little more like bison as the muscles don’t have as much fat as cow does.

Next up was horse sashimi. Just think of this as beef carpaccio, except that it went nay instead of moo. A bit of fresh grated ginger and garlic, a splash in some tamari, and down the hatch. A little sweeter than beef, and much more tender than I expected. I can’t recall ever eating a beef carpaccio that I enjoyed as much.

Then we got the yakiniku going. The first plate had some napa cabbage, eggplant, the green part of the scallion, and, of course, some horse meat. This part of the animal comes from the belly/rib area. Think of it as thinly sliced ribeye.

Here’s our tabletop grill in full effect. I didn’t get a pic of it, but we each had a dish with three different dipping options for the grilled meat. There as a ponzu-based sauce that was my favorite, some sea salt, and some rice vinegar.

For the next cut of horse to be grilled my friend thought he’d throw me curveball, something I’d be hesitant to shove down my throat. He was wrong as it turned out to be one of the most delicious pieces of meat I’ve ever grilled yakiniku-style…the heart! I’m telling you, this was so tender and sweet, with a bit of black pepper it was heavenly! I’d jump a fence to get me some of this.

So good, the heart was (that’s my Yoda speak), that we had to get more on our next plate. Besides the heart and horse food (vegetables) this dish also had blood pipes. I don’t know if they were arteries or veins, but they were also delicious. A little rubbery, but after a few chews the clean flavor of the animal really came through. It was almost like eating thick intestines, but clean intestines. Very good indeed.

We put the grill aside after that and got a plate of horse weiner. No, not that kind of weiner, I don’t have that big of an appetite. This was a plate of weiner-style sausages. Again, a little sweet, but a very deep, rich flavor. It was also very juicy.

Our final dish was horse fried rice. With a little scrambled egg and some scallions this was a very typical fried rice, but with horse meat.

I have to say, Americans are a weird bunch. We shun so many different food items that the rest of the world consumes. As I write this blog it becomes clear to me that the reason we’ve not been exposed to things like horse as an edible creature is solely because of politics. If the beef lobby wasn’t so powerful I think we’d be eating all sorts of other animals…guinnea pig, various insects, horse, etc. It really is a delicious animal, and one that doesn’t contribute nearly as much to Climate Change as cows do. If we open our minds as well as our mouths, there’s a lot of tasty things out there we could enjoy. Mr Ed, sorry, but you are one delicious creature!

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If memory serves me correct, there is a Chinese restaurant in Yokohama’s Chinatown that is not only the oldest Chinese restaurant in Japan, but also one of the most respected Chinese restaurants in the world. I first heard of HeiChinRou when watching Iron Chef years ago. The restaurant sent its top two deputy chef’s up against Iron Chef Chen Kenechi only to have him cut them down. Not satisfied, they finally sent their Grand Master Chef to set things straight, Xie Huaxian. Xie is considered by many to be the greatest Chinese chef of our time. He was victorious. Ever since then I told my self, “I have got to eat at that restaurant!” After 7 trips to Japan, including numerous time walking past HeiChinRou, that day had finally come. Yuki had plans with a bunch of her friends to show off Otis, so her parents took me to fulfill my belly’s destiny.

An elegant restaurant on numerous floors, there’s a peaceful bamboo garden when you walk in. They took us in an elevator up to the second floor and sat us in a very comfortable booth. Coming from Chicago I was pleasantly surprised by how absolutely clean the restaurant is. It had the look and feel of a high-end French restaurant, not the greasy Chinese stir-fry I am used to. The menu features many a la carte dishes as well as a handful of set course options. Being the first week of 2012 we opted for the “Happy New Year” course option.

Uichiro and I started off with some Shokoshu, a type of Chinese rice wine or Shaoxing. Served warm, it has a caramel color as well as taste more similar to a Brandy than a rice wine. Very smooth and very warm in the belly, its delicious on a chilly day.

The first course consisted of 5 tastes. Jellyfish, a baby squid stewed in soy sauce, a shrimp, a slice of smoked duck breast, a piece of Chinese BBQ pork, and a dollop of mustard. While they were all fantastic, I have to say that the pork may have been the best piece of swine that has ever graced my palette! If it were socially acceptable I would drape myself in it and nibble on it all day long.

The second course was Shark Fin Soup with Crab. I have eaten shark fin soup before, but always questioned the authenticity of the shark fins. I always thought I was being served cellophane noodles instead. I think I was right as this texture was nothing like the bowls I’ve previously eaten. Slightly chewy, they combined beautifully with the sweetness of the crab meat. This soup may not be humane, but it sure tasted good!

The third course was abalone with Simmered Shiitake and Bok Choy in Oyster Sauce. It’s really too bad that abalone is illegal in the States, it really is a wonderful mollusk. Dense in texture, it matched very well with the soft shiitake and bitter green.

The fourth course was Beef with Shimeji Mushrooms, Carrots, and Asparagus. Served in a soy based sauce it was simply wonderful. After eating this I don’t see how I can go back to eating Mongolian Beef in Chicago’s Chinatown.

The fifth course was Shrimp in Chili Sauce. A little bit of sweetness and just the right amount of heat to get your mouth tingling a little. The spice made you want to keep coming back for more. Fried wonton skins added some crisp texture and was Uichiro’s favorite part of the dish.

The sixth course was Sautéed Rice with Egg, Pork, Green Onion, and Lettuce. This dish is similar to fried rice except that it’s sautéed together over a lower heat. This keeps the rice a little softer and helps prevent the lettuce from wilting under the intense heat of a hot wok. I’ve seen his dish on Iron Chef and was glad to get the chance to eat such a high quality version of it.

The seventh course, dessert, was Almond Jelly with a sprig of mint. I think this was Uichiro’s favorite part of the whole meal. He’s eaten many different almond jelly’s in his life and couldn’t get over how good this one was. I’ve only eaten a few, but I agree that this one was the best I’ve ever had. Sweet with the texture of a fine silken tofu, a great way to end a great meal.

All in all, I will say that none of these dishes were out of the ordinary for Chinese food as far as creativity. However, that said, I don’t think you’ll find better preparation anywhere in the world. In each dish the ingredients were of the highest quality, they were all cooked to perfection, and the flavors were expertly balanced. Hands down the most fantastic Chinese food to ever pass through my tracts!

While Xie Huaxian is no longer cooking at HeiChinRou, his successor, Nishizaki-san, is no slouch.

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The other night Yuki and I met up with a bunch of her ex-coworkers who have moved back to Tokyo. They got a table at a modern, hip Yakitori joint in the Hibiya neighborhood. If you want to buy a brand new Hermes bag, Hibiya is the place for you. It’s a very swanky area filled with great food. The place they met us at is called Yakitori Akira. It’s in the basement of a large office/shopping building along with a handful of other slightly upscale food joints.

When you walk in you take your shoes off and walk past the open counter where the chefs prepare the chow. The tables are sunken. I was a little nervous at first because the tables were floor level and my knees are terrible. But, the floor was recessed making them regular table height, something that is becoming more common in newer restaurants, sort of fusion if you will.

The first dish, after a cold draft beer of course,  was a salad of raw Nappa cabbage swimming in a mayonnaise-based dressing and topped with sliced kombu.

After that came some natto topped with sliced green onions and nori seaweed. Natto is a love-hate food. You either love it or you hate it. It’s a type of fermented soy bean and has a really pungent odor, like ripe armpits. It also has a very sticky texture. It’s commonly eaten with Chinese-style mustard to mask some of the smell. Yuki loves it, I don’t prefer it. Very few Westerners can tolerate it and, these days, not so many of the younger Japanese do either. But, I had to try it since they put it in my face. Needless to say, I took one bite and the quickly proceeded to chug some beer!

Then we had some chicken karage, Japanese-style chicken nuggets. Unlike your McDonald’s variety of processed crap, this is big juicy chunks of thigh meat. I have no idea what kind of sauce this one came with, but it sure was tasty!

This here is the dish I was most looking forward to…rare chicken meat! The meat from the neck was quickly seared, almost completely raw (the pink you see in the picture is indeed raw chicken), on a hot skillet and served with some yuzu kosho. Rare chicken is extremely controversial, for obvious reasons, but given the upscale atmosphere I was certain they were using fresh, high quality birds. Since I have yet to get diarrhea or vomit profusely, I’m pretty sure the meat was clean. Flavor-wise it tasted like chicken, oddly enough. The texture was a little chewy, chicken al dente. Honestly, it’s nothing really special, it’s just chicken meat.

Avocado sautéed in some sort of shoyu sauce came next. Coming from Chicago I’m used to Mexican preparations of avocado. This was a nice change to what my taste buds are used to. The sauce carmelized a little while the avocado stayed nice and soft.

After the Avocado we spiced things up a bit with some kimchi. It was served with some chopped green onion, julienned daikon, and a shiso leaf.

Next came what is probably my favorite snack of the night, deep-fried chicken skin. Japan’s answer to chicharones. Crispy, buttery, all-around chickeny goodness! I may have to make this a staple of my future diet.

What tour around the bird would complete without some chicken wings? These were deep-fried with either basil or shiso in the batter, I couldn’t really tell. With a squirt of lemon they were delicious.

The main course of the night was the table-top charcoal grill. Instead of eating yakitori style (chicken on skewers) we ate yakiniku style (grill yourself). The first pieces we grilled were breast meat wrapped in shiso leaf.

The other pieces of chicken we got were neck meat, 2 parts of the heart (heart skin and heart meat), meat that was dangling off a piece of cartilage (I think the breastplate), and skin. We also had a few pieces of okra to grill.

Once the meat was grilled we dipped the pieces into an onsen egg. Basically it’s just an egg that’s been barely soft-boiled to the point where the whites were just set and the yolk is still runny. To me, this is natures most perfect sauce.

After all of that chicken we decided to get a few cuts of pork for shits and giggles. We got shoulder, cheek, and side meat and grilled them all the same as the chicken.

As Yuki and I were leaving due to having Otis back at grandma and grandpa’s, everyone else ordered up some soup. I really have no idea what was in the soup, but I imagine it was miso. From the pic I took here as I left I can definitely tell you it was topped with nori and had a shtickle of wasabi.

All in all, I thought Akira was a great izakaya. They call themselves Yakitori Akira because the chef’s specialty is chicken, but to me it’s not a yakitori restaurant at all, even though they do serve yakitori. The menu is much too diverse to be called yakitori. Since they serve up numerous small plates and whatnot with a nice beer and sake list, its pure izakaya to me. That said, what’s in a name? An izakaya by any other name’s chicken would taste is sweet.

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Alright, so a month ago Yuki, Otis, and I moved in with my little brother for a couple of weeks in the Lincoln Square neighborhood. A friend of ours, who happens to be a major burger whore, helped us move. Since he’s a burger whore, what better payment then a burger? While moving he had mentioned how he tried to get a table at The Bad Apple once, but the wait was too long. I made a mental note, did some research, and concluded that this was definitely a place I wanted to check out as well. So, I strolled Otis over before Yuki and Eric (the burger whore) got out of work and grabbed an outside table. My little brother came with to have a beer with me while we waited for everyone else.

The beer list is one of the best in town. Both the draft and bottle list are enormous with great variety. Wanting to try something I’ve never had I explained the flavors I was in the mood for to our server and she brought me out an IPA that I’ve never heard of, but thoroughly enjoyed. It ticked everything I had asked for in a beer at that very moment. What I’m trying to say is that their servers, at least ours, are very knowledgable about the libations the offer up.

But, I did not come to The Bad Apple for beer, as much as I love beer. I came for the burgers. So, without further ado, here’s the burger breakdown from that night.

Eric’s wife went for The Bad Apple Burger, deciding to keep it simple. I can respect that. In all honesty, someone had to get their house burger just to see what they do before screwing around with various flavors. With lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, and provolone this burger had no frills about it. It was a straight-talkin burger if ever there was one. While I didn’t try it myself, the fact that it was devoured tells me she enjoyed having those classic flavors grace her taste buds.

Yuki got the Red Dragon. A juicy burger topped with brisket hash, an over easy egg, pepper jack, and roasted red pepper sauce. You put roasted red pepper sauce on just about anything and Yuki will go for it. That’s how I was able to snatch her, but that’s a totally different story for a completely different blog. I did try this one, and I gotta say, wow! I mean, this would’ve been great without the burger. Add that patty of bovine deliciousness to a classic hang-over breakfast and you have yourself a winner.

Eric got the Belly Burger. Honestly, I almost got this one, it was a tough decision. When he said he was going to get this one it made my life easier. This burger is topped with braised pork belly and a herbed horseradish sauce. Instead of a regular bun this one has a pretzel bun. We expected just a little pork belly on top to add a little sumptuousness to this thing, but oh no, they put as much pork belly as there was beef! Let’s be honest here, you put burger with pork belly, what else do you really need? That is, besides a cold refreshing beer from their list.

As good as Eric’s Belly Burger was, and it was damn good, I’m very glad he chose to get that one because it allowed me to get the Elvis’s Last Supper. This burger broke all of the rules for me. It’s really a simple burger. You take ground beef, grill it to juicy perfection and place it on a bun with 2 toppings. It’s the 2 toppings that make this such a revelation…peanut butter and bacon! You read that right, peanut butter and bacon. The bacon part is nothing new to a burger. It’s been done to death, yet is always welcome. Kind of like when the radio plays “Stairway to Heaven”. You’ve heard it hundreds of times, but you don’t change the station, you rock out and enjoy every minute of it. But peanut butter? On a burger? In all of my years I never would have thought of that. Mind you, this was no Jiff creamy, not even close. This was house made, throw some roasted peanuts into a blender, and let ‘er rip! Chunky and oily, this was peanut butter! I’m still besides myself on that one. It is hands down the best burger I have ever ordered off a menu and right up there with the best burgers I’ve eaten period (my famous ghetto burger not-withstanding). I’m salivating as I type this. My stomach is rumbling for more. I imagine a balding gray-haired man with a long white coat in the kitchen concocting burger theories, picture Doc Brown. Truly genius!

As you can tell, I am a big fan of The Bad Apple. Besides a great beer list, knowledgable service, and flippin fantastic burgers with creative toppings and high quality ingredients, the prices are extremely reasonable. Other than their special Wagyu burger (upwards of $45 per depending on toppings du jour) all burgers are $8-10!

If you’re a fan of burgers and beer, get yo tuchas out to The Bad Apple!

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Sorry to all of my loyal readers (all 3 of you) for not posting anything in a while. Been pretty busy with life and life itself. Yesterday was by birthday however, so Yuki and Otis took me out for dinner. Tired of overpaying for mediocre celebrity-chef meals I wanted to go somewhere more casual and Otis-friendly. Also, now that we’re in the South Loop I wanted somewhere close. So, Tapas Valencia it was.

We’ve actually been there once before a long time ago. We joined a couple of friends for their happy hour tapas specials before heading down to Hyde Park to watch the movie, “Food, Inc.”. I remember it being very good and had a taste for bacon-wrapped dates. It all made perfect sense to head there last night.

Without further ado, here’s what was on our dinner table.

First up was the Calamares A La Plancha. The squid was perfectly cooked…soft and tender, yet crispy at the same time. A little too much salt, but not so much that it killed the dish.

Next we had the Jamon con Melon. You really can’t beat quality Serrano Ham on top of ripe, sweet, juicy cantaloupe. With cantaloupe at it’s finest about now we couldn’t pass on this one. Served with a simple cucumber and tomato relish this was tapas at it’s finest.

Then we had the Pado Confitado, duck confit with apples and mushrooms. Fall-apart duck leg, apples, and mushrooms…need I say more?

I can’t remember the name of this dish in Spanish, it was a special on the menu. Short rib braised in Rioja and then served with garlic and rosemary Israeli Couscous and spinach. While this dish was missing one note, something slightly acidic like tomato or even a small squirt of orange or lemon, this could’ve been an entrée unto itself.

Finally, our last tapas (or is it tapa?), the Datiles Con Tocino. Crisp bacon around sweet dates smothered in a roasted red pepper sauce, that’s where it’s at! A true crowd-pleaser if there ever was one.

While I did say that was our last tapas, it wasn’t our last dish. We also split an order of the Paella Valenciana. Paella with mussels, clams, shrimp, and chicken. This was huge! I’m glad we only got one order. I will say that my paella is a little better, but this was a very delicious paella, it just didn’t have that crisp burnt rice on the bottom that I love. I wasn’t dissatisfied at all though.

For dessert we split the flan of the day, coconut. Not too rich or sweet, this one was just right. I don’t think coconut is typical in Spain, but coconut almost always makes a great flan. This is one of the better flan in Chicago.

To drink it all down we forgoed the Sangria and went for a couple of glasses of Clara, which apparently is Spain’s most popular drink right now. It’s Alhambra Beer (a Spanish Lager) with a little lemonade. I was a little skeptical at first, but I will say that it wasn’t bad at all. I mean, you put lime in Corona, why not a little lemonade in Spanish Lager?

The service was great too. Very friendly and attentive. They gave us more of a private table where Otis’s stroller wouldn’t get in the way, and where it’d be a little quieter for him. Food was served and cleared in a timely fashion as well. It was a little slow being a Wednesday night, but this seems to be a very well run restaurant.

All in all, there are probably better Spanish and Tapas joints somewhere, but I haven’t found them yet here in Chicago. The dishes are well prepared, the portions are big, and the quality of ingredients are high. If anything, and I hate to say this, the prices might be a little too low for what you get. But don’t tell Tapas Valencia that.

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It’s extremely rare that I am actually proud to be a Quad City boy. So rare that last night may have actually been the first. Well, that’s not entirely true. I am proud of the fact that Roger Craig, the great 49ers running back, is from Davenport, the city in which I was born. Bix Beiderbeck, the great early jazzman is a Davenport native as well. So Davenport does have three claims to fame. However, last night made me relatively proud to call the Quad Cities my roots. That is, as proud as a pizza can make someone feel.

My good friend and real estate broker, Mike Vesole (Mike, I do expect kickbacks for every house you sell due to this post), alerted me to Roots a few weeks ago. You see, there are two pizza joints that are uniquely Quad Cities. Pizza joints that bring up Cubs vs Sox type of debates amongst the true Quad Citians. On one hand you have Happy Joe’s with their taco pizza and what is hands down the best pepperoni pizza in all of the lands! However, on the other hand, you have what I would humbly call the greatest pizza ever conceived (immaculately you could say)…the Harris sausage pizza! So good, that as a teenager I broke cardinal rules of the Jewish faith by leaving Yom Kippur services to maul one down. That pizza is literally the stuff of legend.

What Roots does is emulate that pizza of legend, bringing a nostalgic taste within 15 minutes walk, instead of $80 worth of gasoline. Having a taste of Harris sausage in mouth that quickly made me salivate to no end. With a pretty bare fridge and a beautiful night for dining al fresco last night, I convinced Yuki that we should take a nice walk for dinner. That was an easy sell.

We started off with a glass of the house brew, brewed by Two Brothers out in Warrenville. Pretty good beer I have to say. Nice maltiness while not being heavy.

We also got the stuffed artichokes and the tomato, avocado, and mozzarella salad. The artichokes weren’t worth the price. They were quality, and the breadcrumbs had a nice flavor, but they were mostly inedible leaves and not much tender heart. The creamy mustard sauce was made with Boetje’s, a Rock Island mustard and easily the best mustard ever. I always have Boetje’s in my fridge, so paying $10 to smear it on breadcrumbs  wasn’t the best idea. The salad was fantastic though. The flavors and textures all worked really well together.

I will say this though, the quality beer list and creative apps and salads are definitely not Quad Cities. At the real Harris, you can get a caesar salad and a Heineken. Oh, deep-fried mozzarella sticks too. But artichoke and avocado?

And then, out of nowhere, my schnoz detected a very familiar scent. A hint of fennel seeds, a touch of oregano. Smelled like a Harris sausage was headed my way. When they laid that thing down I felt a tingle run down my spine. Ground sausage beneath a pile of cheese with the prefect width of crust. Looked like a Harris sausage was sitting in front of me…just waiting to be devoured!

Risking a burnt tongue I went in the for kill to see if my taste buds could confirm what my other senses sensed. Honestly, a burnt tongue is part of the authentic Harris experience as well, so I had to do it right. When my teeth clamped down on that slice I felt a sort of de-ja-vou. To the untrained tongue, that was a Harris sausage!

However, I’m a highly trained tongue. I’m also an argumentative bastard who annoyingly over-analyzes everything. So, here goes with this pizza. What I haven’t told you yet is how that slice felt when I picked it up. The crust felt crisp on the bottom, but otherwise seemed about right. A Harris should have a little less rigidity to the crust. It should flop down a bit as you pick it up. Partly because of the huge amount of cheese weighing it down like a one-armed paper hanger (that jokes for you Frank and Sam), and partly because of the amount of grease that very cheese emits during it’s time in the oven, which should be a rotisserie pizza oven (since we ate outside I can’t tell you about anything on the inside). This one was more firm. As the slice sat on the plate between bites, the right amount of grease just didn’t seem to appear. This is both a good and bad thing. Good because, well, it’s much better for your nutritional well-being. Bad because, well, it just isn’t Harris. It was then that I realized that it was the lack of grease that kept the crust more firm.

The other difference I noticed was the sauce. It was almost there, but the sauce was a little more tomatoey than a Harris sauce. Again though, while not being a Harris, you can tell they are using better tomatoes.

Overall, this pizza was pretty damn close to an authentic Harris. While I understand that true masterpieces can never accurately be portrayed by another, this version of pizza was a pretty good knock-off. I think the name Roots is an accurate name for the pie. While it’s roots definitely lie in Harris, it’s more of a terrior Harris utilizing Chicago’s spoils. Being right in my backyard I will probably end up eating more Roots than Harris from this point forward, but given a choice between the two, I do have to side with Harris. Roots has become my new favorite Chicago pizza though, and that’s no easy feat to accomplish.

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A few nights ago Yuki and I went for a walk and realized that we were pretty hungry. The beauty of Chicago in the summer is the numerous al fresco options. We walked by Angels and Mariachis on Division and I remembered something my friend Chef John Caputo said about the place, “it’s tacos for gringos.” I happen to be a gringo, and I happen to love tacos. Mind you, he didn’t say they were good, so I had to find out for myself. Yuki’s quite frequently up for some tacos as well, so we grabbed a table outside and dined.

Pitchers of the House Margarita were on sale, so we got one. Typical bar margarita, not very strong and a little sweet. Oh well, it was hot out, the margarita was cold, I wasn’t gonna bitch too much. It was refreshing, I just prefer a little tequila in my margaritas.

The chips were freshly fried and nicely salted. The salsa, well, it was salsa. A tad sweet, not quite spicy enough, and very mediocre.

We split a tamale as an appetizer, that was a mistake. The texture was alright, but there was absolutely zero flavor! It was stuffed with slow simmer pork, but you wouldn’t know it without looking. The pork lacked seasoning, the masa lacked seasoning, even the sauce lacked seasoning. I told the waitress to let their chef know not to be afraid of serving a tamale with some flavor. She did remove it from our bill, but they should be ashamed to serve a tamale like that…blaspheme!

We also split a rice and beans plate. They were ok, but definitely not Mexican in flavor. The black beans I make at home are far better than these, but they were edible.

On to the tacos. They come 4 to a plate and are small, about 2-3 bites each. We decided to share three different orders. First was the short rib braised in red wine. It was actually pretty good. The beef was soft and tender while it had the right amount of seasoning, surprisingly after that tamale. Then we had the carnitas. Again, it was also pretty good. The pork was properly cooked and they topped it with matchsticks of carrots and pickled daikon, almost Vietnamese in flavor. It was a nice match for the pork. Last was the lobster. It was basically a seafood salad with lobster meat. Not bad, but not anything special that sings lobster. Could have easily have been crab or shrimp and you wouldn’t have noticed the difference.

The service was pretty good overall. I didn’t have to ask for that tamale to be removed from the bill. I just mentioned how bad it was and she did the right thing. Food came out at a nice pace as well.

All in all, I completely agree with Chef Caputo’s assessment that the place serves tacos for gringos. You really don’t need to say whether or not it’s good or bad as that statement pretty much says it all. While the tacos weren’t too bad at all, I don’t think I’ll jump out of my seat and rush back for more.

On a side note, I’m still very dissapointed that Andy’s Deli is no longer there. I still mourn when they sold the building, and having flavorless tamales served from the very space that used to sell the best tubes of smoked pork in town only makes me miss them more.

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There are two good reasons to drive out to Naperville: Ribfest and……… well, if anyone can think of another reason let me know. At the ripe old age of just over 2 months, Yuki and I thought it was high time that Otis experience the finer pleasures in gastronomy. So, off to Naperville we went.

Being a veteran of Naperville Ribfest I remember two pitmasters providing ribs that are a cut above the rest. Pigfoot is one of them, but the line to get their swine popsicles was insane! The other was Mojo’s, and their line was much shorter, only 5 people in front of me. Still, the line took about 20 minutes to get my ribs! They really cut back on the hired hands this year, and it really hurt the overall experience.

However, once we got our Mojo on things were all right! Juicy and tender with a nice amount of hickory, Mojo’s does a really nice job with their ribs. To make sure we got a little something extra in our stomachs I got the beans and slaw as well. Standard beans and slaw, but let’s be honest here, it’s not the Naperville Beans and Slaw Fest!

As we were Mojo all over our faces our friends Tony and Sandra found us. They headed off to get some ribs as well. Sandra got her Mojo on while Tony braved the line at Pigfoot. When he finally got back with those ribs I remembered why they have the longest line. Their ribs are fantastic! I’m not sure I’d call them light-years ahead of Mojo’s, but they do have a certain joie de vivre about them.

Ready for another flavor of ribs I set out to find my calling. Not quite sure where to wait in line, I noticed behind Sgt Oinks a short, stout woman with a mullet ponytail working amongst the pitmasters. That, to me, says BBQ! Mullet ponytail it is. I’m glad I went there too as I don’t remember eating their ribs at past fests, but I do remember seeing their booth. Their ribs themselves were the meatiest of the bunch, which was nice. Their sauce was very cuminy, which is not a bad thing at all. I also got one of their sweet cornbread muffins as they were advertised as “The best north of the Mason-Dixon Line”. I wouldn’t put them above Mojo’s or Pigfoot, but they weren’t far behind either. Ideally I’d put Sgt Oink’s ribs with Mojo’s hickory smoke and Pigfoot’s sauce. Now that would be a Naperville Ribfest champion!

A fresh squeezed lemonade (all for the low low price of $6!) to wash it all down and we were ready to head back to the City. I only wish they had a different music schedule because Bruce Hornsby is playing today. We were stuck with some pretty awful and loud music. I think they were called  “The Sweetwater Band”. Honestly, they’re no better than the bands I was in back in college! That’s not saying much.

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Let’s be honest here…is there anything more fun that getting up at the crack of dawn, driving down to Mt Vernon with your younger bro, picking up a 16 foot truck, driving it to Carbondale, spending the weekend going through boxes and boxes of storage while trying to convince your step-father that he doesn’t really need all of those Oriental Rugs, driving the truck back to Chicago loaded up with furniture and dishes, and unloading everything into an empty garage? Obviously, this is a facetious question. There is one saving grace to the whole journey though…17th Street Bar & Grill in Murphysboro! If you are a fan of slow smoked, meaty swine lollipops like myself then this is your Mecca! Ode to Mike Mills and his grandma’s BBQ recipes!

Mike Mills has won numerous Memphis-in-May BBQ contests and is now a judge since no one seems able to beat his ribs. I blogged a while back about one of the outposts he opened up in Vegas, but this is the real deal. This is the place that happy dreams are made of. I’d walk on my hands and knees in 5 feet of snow all the way to 17th Street just to get a taste of these ribs!

Since I’m not a huge man (except where it counts!) my mom and I split a full rack but got extra sides. She loves their sweet potatoes baked with butter and cinnamon. Really, who wouldn’t? I love his BBQ baked beans. Again, who wouldn’t?

We also got some slaw to help push the meal through our entrails as well as some french fries to give me my carbs. Dr Atkins is an idiot! A meal without carbs is no meal at all.

It’s hard to tell from my phone pic, but just look at how juicy, pink, and tender that meat-stick is! It’s things like this that makes me proud to be an atheist with no nonsensical dietary laws written 3,000 years ago to live my life by. We are but animals, why deprive us of life’s simple pleasures like being atop the food-chain with the ability to season, sauce, and smoke? Ah, the philosophy of ribs, truly a religion worthwhile!

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