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Posts Tagged ‘brisket’

My buddy Nimah has been in town and finally made a little time to see Yuki and I Sunday night for dinner. His wife and brother were supposed to join us, but they both backed out. It’s nice to know where we stand on their totem pole (I’ll remember this Lora and Ramin!). At any rate, for the past couple of weeks all he’s been talking about was Smoque. “Yo Twig”. He’s been calling me Twig since high school. “How’s Smoque?” I just kept telling him that it’s hands down the best BBQ in Chicago, maybe even the best BBQ north of Mason-Dixon Line. It’s at least the best BBQ Brisket north of Texas. Honestly, I haven’t even eaten it’s equal in Texas, although I’ve only had a couple of BBQ Briskets there.

So he got there early, which is quite amazing. He’s notoriously late (no, he’s not pregnant, but he does have three testicles…all Iranians have three testicles, just ask him) and I’m notoriously punctual. We were supposed to meet at 7 and he got there at 6:40. I was just about to hop on the highway and he called. “Twig, there’s a friggin line down the street!”. That should have been a sign to him that I’m not the only one who thinks Smoque is the best. That worked well for us since he got to wait in line for us. When we showed up, it wasn’t too bad. They do a pretty good job of keeping the line moving.

He kept asking me what to order, and I kept telling him to get the sliced brisket sandwich. Honestly, that’s all I’ve ever gotten there other than the chili made with their brisket. I have to imagine that their ribs are pretty damn good too, but I’ve never had them. Always skeptical he asked one of the guys who works there. Of course, he said, “Get the brisket”. Just goes to show that I’m always right.

After about a half hour wait, not too bad, we ordered our food and got our seats. Besides sliced brisket they also do a chopped brisket. Yuki and I decided to try the chopped, so we got one of each and split them. I have to say, I think the chopped may even be better! You get more of the charred outside, and that has a ton of flavor. But, the sliced has more of the fat. You really can’t go wrong either way. All sandwiches come with a side of slaw. Theirs is nice because it’s just vinegar, no mayonnaise. That helps keep it light and helps you digest all of the delicious smoked carcass. I’m a mac’n’cheese guy, so I usually get that for my side. They have a great mac’n’cheese. Yuki got the fries. They cut their own potatoes and they keep the oil hot enough to cook them properly. Nimah got the baked beans. Simple BBQ beans, but their sauce makes them stand above the rest.

Oh, I should back up a bit in the story. While we were waiting for our food to be called at our seats one of the owners brought the people next to us some fresh made ginger cookies. I didn’t know why at the time (turns out they wanted some cobbler but Smoque was out, so they brought them some complimentary cookies) but anyone who knows me knows that I’m not shy. I said to the owner, “We have some problems with our food too, do we get cookies?” I was completely joking because we haven’t gotten our food yet. He said, “Sure, I’ll get you some cookies”. I told him I was just kidding, but he said they had more and it was no problem. Moral of that story, it pays to be an obnoxious extrovert with no shame!

Wanting to try their pulled pork, but only having one stomach each, Yuki and I brought a couple of sandwiches home for lunch today. Beautiful! Absolutely lovely. Every bit the brisket’s equal. Well, I think I’d still get the chopped brisket over the pulled pork, but there isn’t a better tasting pig-which in town! The cornbread also held up to a night in the fridge. It was relatively moist all things considered.

All in all, if you haven’t made it to Smoque yet then you really need to. That is unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan. In which case you and I must have a sit down. Vegetarian meals are important, but only on Meatless Monday. Every other day of the week Smoque makes a tasty and inexpensive option to fill your guts.

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Alright, so I’ve been working on perfecting a hamburger that tastes like a bowl of Pho for a while now so that I could enter it into a contest that has a nice payout for the winner (wish me luck everyone!). I think I finally nailed it Saturday night. Here’s how it all goes down.

Instead of using regular old ground chuck I picked up a 2 pound brisket. Pho commonly uses brisket or rump, so I wanted to get that type of beefy flavor for these burgers. You could have your butcher grind it up for you, but what’s the fun in that? I don’t have a meat grinder (anyone seeking to get me a gift for whatever reason take note, I would gladly accept a meat grinder) but that didn’t stop me from giving it a go.

First thing I did was cut the brisket up into 1 inch cubes. I threw all of the meat into my food processor and pulsed it until it turned in the consistency I was looking for. I had to be careful not to over process it as that would start to melt the fat and ruin the texture. Then I put the meat in a bowl and prepared all of the seasonings.

The spice mix included ground cloves, cardamom, ground cinnamon, star anise, and coriander seeds.

With my pestle and mortar I first had to grind up the whole seeds. I took enough seeds out of the star anise to measure about 1/4 teaspoon (cracking out the seeds is a pain!). Then I cracked open enough cardamom pods to get me 1/4 teaspoon of its seeds. I also measured about 3/4 teaspoon of coriander seeds. I ground those up into a fine powder and then added 1/2 teaspoon each of the ground cinnamon and ground cloves. I also mixed in there 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper and 1 teaspoon of pure cane sugar.

Once my dry spices were mixed together I zested a lime to get about 1 tablespoon, and I minced up 1 tablespoon of ginger and 1 tablespoon of garlic.

I also sliced up 4 green onions, just the white and pale green parts.

I put all of my seasonings in the bowl with the meat and then added 2 tablespoons each of fish sauce and sesame oil. With a metal spoon I mixed it all together until the flavors were evenly distributed. It’s important to use a metal spoon when mixing things into burger meat. When you use your hands the body heat can melt the fat, you don’t want that. You want the fat to mix in just like the other ingredients so that it melts properly when cooking keeping the meat nice and juicy.

After the meat was mixed nicely I let it rest for about 10 minutes to let the flavors settle in. Then, I wetted my hands and formed 6 patties.

I heated the grill up to a medium-high heat, brushed it off, and oiled it. Just before putting the burgers on I lightly salted both sides of the patties. With the fish sauce there’s no need for a lot of salt, but sprinkling a little on just before grilling helps get a nice crust on the outside of the meat. I let the cook for about 6 minutes or so on each side.

When the burgers were cooked to my liking I put some sesame seed buns on the grill to lightly toast them. That only took a minute.

To assemble the burgers I placed one grilled patty on each bottom bun and squeezed one wedge of lime on each patty. On top of each patty placed 1 ounce bean sprouts, then 3 basil leaves and 3 cilantro sprigs. 1 tablespoon of Sriracha got squeezed on the underside of each top half of bun and they were ready to go.

For the side Yuki wanted to make Japanese-style potato salad. She skinned and diced two large russet potatoes and then tossed them into boiling water. She let them boil for about 15 minutes until they were cooked through. Then she mashed them up with enough mayonnaise to keep them nice and moist and a little mustard for flavor. She mixed in a cucumber that she skinned and chopped up, a carrot that she also chopped up, and some black forest ham that she cut into short slivers. That all got mixed together well and provided a nice cool counterpoint to the spicy burgers.

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Last night was the first night of Passover. In America, typically the first two nights of Passover are a huge deal in the Jewish household (in Israel they only have Seder on the first night). Families get together for big feasts of traditional foods and celebrate the liberation from Egypt led by Moshe himself, called a Seder. I do want to state that I am not religious, I’m atheist. However, I am culturally Jewish and thoroughly enjoy a meal that consists of Matzah Ball Soup and slow braised Brisket. This year my brothers and I had the first night at our cousins with my mom’s side of the family.

Here is the traditional Seder Plate that sits in the middle of the table. It contains the symbols of the Passover story. Starting at 2 o’clock is the Beitzah, a roasted egg that symbolizes the festival sacrifice. Then is the Zeroa, a roasted shankbone symbolizing the lamb’s blood that was marked on doors to keep the Jews safe from the 1oth plague. After that is the Maror, we use green onion to remind us of the bitterness and harshness of slavery. Charoset is next, apples, honey, walnuts, and wine that are blended into a thick paste representing the mortar used by Jews in constructing Egyptian storehouses. Next is Karpas, parsley is used for the coming of Spring. There’s a bowl of saltwater that is used to show the tears shed by Jews in slavery. You dip the Karpas into the saltwater. Finally, in the middle is a glass of wine that’s set aside for Elijah the prophet.

At each individual seat there’s a small plate with the edible symbols. After we get through the Haggadah and eat the Seder plate dinner gets started.

The first thing that get’s passed around is Gefilte Fish. It’s basically a classic Eastern European fish dumpling made out of whitefish and pike. It’s eaten with horseradish.

Next is the Matzah Ball Soup. I had two matzah balls, but had already cut them up into bite sized pieces when I remembered that I needed to take a photo. I also forgot to take a pic of the matzah, but that isn’t the end of the world. I do have to say that my Matzah Ball Soup is far superior, but that’s always the case.

Then some fresh vegetables. Cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onions.

Here’s Grandma’s chopped chicken liver. Unfortunately it’s the only thing she makes anymore. She cooks up the livers, seasons them, and mashes it all down. My cousin Lorrie has to salt it though. Grandma’s taste buds aren’t quite what they used to be. But hey, she’s 86! She gets a pass.

Some bagels made out of matzah meal. They resemble bagels in shape only, but they aren’t bad.

Here’s the famous slow-braised Passover Brisket. Brisket is to Passover what turkey is to Thanksgiving. Again though, my brisket is better. I made the brisket last year, but not this year. I need to take charge of it again for the betterment of all our digestion.

Dessert consists of various cakes made with matzah meal flour and fresh fruit. Chocolate cake with raspberries, strawberry shortcake, brownies, carrot cake, grapes and strawberries.

For some reason I always tend to eat too much at Seders.

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I thought we were done with Restaurant Week, well, I thought wrong! A couple friends of ours had invited us to join them for dinner Saturday night at Salpicon. I’ve been there once before with  my sister and brother-in-law, maybe 5 years ago. I remember walking away fully satisfied both in my belly as well as my taste buds. So, the opportunity to dine there again, at the discounted restaurant week price, was too good to pass up as we’re not ones to miss out on top-notch Mexican food at a discount. Hanging out with Tony and Sandra was also a nice proposition which certainly didn’t hurt the matter.

I must warn you that I did use my cell phone camera again. The pics do not do the food the justice they deserve, but what can you do? Also, since there were four of us I have a lot of pics to show. They offered 5 different appetizers as well as 5 different entrees. What we did was order the 4 most interesting of each and shared them all. I’ll try to keep this post short, but no guarantees.

Ceviche of Blue Marlin. Very typical with onions, tomatoes, chiles, and cilantro. Served with tortillas it always makes a great starter.

Gorditas Divorciadas. Thick tortillas stuffed with black beans and shredded beef (I think brisket, which completely satisfies the Jew in me). They each had a different salsa. One was a guajillo and the other was serrano-tomatillo, both had Mexican crema drizzled on top.

This was the Trio de Tamalitos. Three little tamales, one with queso fresco and serrano chiles that had a spicy molcajete salsa and crema, another with black beans, rajas (a saute of chilis and onions), and chihuahua cheese with a black been puree, the last had zucchini and chipotles.

The last appetizer was Sopa de Lentejas, lentil soup. It was garnished with grilled pineapple, smoked bacon (YUM!!!), chile pasilla, and queso anejo.

For the entrees we got the Camarones al Mojo de Ajo. Big, plump, juicy grilled shrimp in a sweet garlic and olive oil sauce with avocado chunks, guajillo chiles, and white rice. Not too garlicky at all.

Chiles Rellenos. Two battered poblanos deep-fried and swimming in a roasted tomato sauce. One was stuffed with minced pork picadillo, the other with chihuahua cheese. There was a side dish of frijoles borrachos, but I forgot to get a pic of that. Deal with it!

Pollo en Mole Poblano. Two chicken breasted smothered in a rich, spicy mole and served with Mexican rice. It really was kind of spicy. My first bite gave me a couple of little hiccups.

Tinga Poblana. Pork tenderloin on top of a roasted tomato-chipotle sauce with chorizo and potatoes, surrounded by an avocado-tomatillo sauce. This was hands down the best in show! Nice soft tenderloin and chorizo….how could that go wrong?

Alright, time for dessert. We got a flan that was covered in a sugar dome.

Tres Leches.

A crepe filled with berries and a caramel sauce.

My personal favorite was the mango and pear cobbler. Not sure what it’s actually called, but it sure was delicious with the cajeta ice cream on top!

All in all it was a delicious dinner. It’s every bit on par with Rick Bayless as far as creativity and quality. While I just found out that they offer a $29 pre fix every Monday and Tuesday this restaurant week deal might not have been the best offer. However, on a weekend night it was. I would recommend to everyone that they check Salpicon out for the pre fix deals. If you don’t want a limited menu, it’s also definitely worth paying full price for.

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eleven-city-diner

 

 

Those of you who watched the episode of CheckPlease that I was on know that I ripped Eleven City Diner apart. Well, actually, I ripped everything apart except for my beloved Café Hoang. But hey, it makes for good TV. Anyway, about a week prior to the episode airing a couple of my dear friends threw a little wedding party for Yuki and me since we got hitched in Japan and none of our American friends find us important enough to have made the journey to the land of the rising sun (Just kidding, you know I love you all, well, at least some of you). So, they had a little party for us here in Chicago. Not knowing that I reviewed Eleven City Diner, one of my friends had gotten Yuki and me some gift certificates there as a gift. I asked him if it was a joke and his response was, “It’s Jew food, I thought you’d like it.” He’s of Persian decent (He claims Persia not Iran) so there’s an ongoing racial joke exchange between us. He didn’t know, it was a very nice gesture and much appreciated. Ashkan, love ya babe!

 

So, Yuki and I invited a couple of friends to join us there for lunch today in order to utilize the gift certificates. I was a little excited/nervous to see what kind of reaction I’d get from Brad, the owner, when he saw me walk through his doors. Much to my dismay, he’s out of town. I was looking forward to kibbutzing with him, oh well.

 

Funny thing is that we got the same waitress from when I went there for CheckPlease. She had a weird look on her face when she saw me. I think she recognized me from the episode. Needless to say, the service was impeccable! The food, well, the food was pretty much the same from my last visit.

 

Yuki and each ordered the Schwartzy sandwich, brisket piled high on a challah bun. The challah was great! They don’t make the bread though, so I can only compliment them for purchasing a good piece of leavened dough and not making it. The brisket on the other hand was absolutely butchered! They sliced it thin and served it with au jus. What Jew in their right mind would do that to a perfectly good brisket, slice it thin? Poor piece of brisket. That took away all of the characteristics of the piece of meat. Brisket should be sliced thick to showcase the wonderful texture it gets when slowly cooked allowing that nice layer of fat to melt into every little microscopic crevice of the meat. My mouth is watering just typing that sentence. The way it was served it could have been any old roast beef. I’m beginning to wonder if Brad really is Jewish or if it’s just a marketing scheme to push large sandwiches on people.

 

Our friends shared a large cobb salad and a pastrami sandwich. The salad was, well, it was a large cobb salad. Nice fresh ingredients, but nothing special. We found a hair in it, but that was only after we divided it onto different plates so that hair could have been one of ours (not Peter’s, mother-nature made sure of that). No real complaints there. The pastrami was about the same as it was on my CheckPlease review, really good quality meat, but lacking that brininess and thick coating of pepper that pastrami should have. Not bad, just not really good.

 

When the check came that’s when I remembered exactly why I don’t eat here. Three sandwiches, one salad, one side of fries, and two orange juices……$60! Brad, come on man, you’re not serving food in an airport terminal. The prices are way too high for what is served. I say that, but the place is always full, so I guess he doesn’t need to lower the prices. It’s just not good value in my humble opinion (yeah right, my opinion is anything but humble). I mean, he has a Chicago-style Vienna dog on his menu for $8.95! At that price all wieners should be satisfied. Potato Latkes for $7.95, I’m sorry, but no potato costs eight bucks.

 

It was funny, when we left one of the servers came up to me and asked, “Was anything good?” He had a big smile on his face when he asked. I can definitely appreciate the sense of humor.

 

This may be the last time I ever go back to Eleven City Diner. There isn’t too much wrong with the food aside from improper seasoning and weird utilization of various cuts (not to mention his rather large, flavorless balls….matza balls that is). For the money however, I just can’t fathom spending what it takes to eat there, especially when Manny’s is just down the street serving properly seasoned pastrami as well as latkes for a buck. Good thing I had the gift certificates.

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