Archive for the 'Classics' Category

It’s 2011.

Yes it is, and I rang it in in the best way I know how: luxuriously. Behold, my plate full of luxury:

Yes, what you see there is a lobster tail, a filet mignon, truffle mac and cheese (which I made MYSELF thankyouverymuch), champagne risotto with asparagus AND blanched green beans. My dear Lord, it was delicious.

Now, because of my previous promise to myself to start actually getting my hands dirty in the kitchen, I chose to contribute to this New Year’s Eve Meal of Luxury by making truffle mac. Ina’s recipe, of course, because Ina knows what’s up when it comes to cheese and carbs. So, this recipe had shiitake and cremini mushrooms, and Gruyère and sharp cheddar cheeses, garlic breadcrumb topping and just an assortment of all the kinds of buttery delicious things I love to put in my face hole. And it actually turned out pretty well! People claimed it was good and I agreed with them, but vowed next time around I’d take it easy on the breadcrumb topping (and use FRESH breadcrumbs opposed to store-bought) and perhaps mix in a little extra shredded cheese with the crust. It was good, though. Truffly and crunchy and cheesey. I’m also thinking maybe I could, to paraphrase Emeril Lagasse, kick things up a notch by making it a tad spicy.

The rest of NYE weekend was spent playing extreme amounts of Xbox Kinect, competing intensely in track and field events and dance battles. I have never been so sore. Like, the arches of my feet are sore. How does that even happen?? I laughed when the introductory instructions to each game encouraged me to “rest or sit down” if I felt sore, disbelieving that anyone could be so terribly out of shape that they couldn’t even handle a few jumps or volleyball serves or javelin throws while playing a mere video game. I stand super corrected. Moving is still a little difficult on my tight calves and hamstrings and muscles I didn’t even know existed in my back and sides now twinge with every arm movement.

Another highlight of my Holiday Eating Extravaganza was taking B. to Hopleaf for the first time, after seeing TRON LEGACY 3D (must be said in robot voice). He’d never been and after the movie let out, I was in the mood for some warm, rustic, homey food and a good Belgian beer. We made a split second decision and shot over to Hopleaf where we settled in at the bar to wait for a table. We had a few beers, a pot of Belgian-style mussels, and a charcuterie plate with duck liver pate, duck prosciutto, and quail eggs. It was, simply put, perfect.

I hope you all spent your New Years Eves and holidays in the best company possible, as I did, and enjoyed doing whatever it is you enjoy doing the most.


Oysters on the Half Shell! Oyster Power!

Friday night was just one of those nights. I’d come off a hellish workweek and wanted nothing more than to spend the entire evening with in my pajamas, on my couch, drinking wine from Walgreen’s. B. had other plans, however. After a good hour of waffling back and forth between going out and staying in, I finally decided to cave into B.’s insistence that we have a “night on the town” and his desire for fresh seafood, so off we went to Half Shell on the northern edge of Lincoln Park.

I’d heard nothing about this place, ever, and I kind of feel like a bad Chicagoan for admitting this because apparently it’s in the same league as far as Chicago institutions go as The Berghoff and Gibson’s. It’s easy to miss, nestled as it is on an unassuming corner of Diversey, and hidden in a space no bigger than someone’s basement.

This is the kind of place that is downright ideal for whiling away several blissful hours on a cold and blustery winter’s night. It’s dark and lit mostly by strands of multicolored Christmas lights that I’m willing to wager remain on display all year round, a la Butch McGuire’s. Tables are mismatched and packed tightly together, assuring for some awkward maneuvers as people squeeze their way between chairs to get to their seats. A fireplace burns brightly in the back left hand corner of Half Shell, crowned with a plastic stuffed fish and surrounded by walls adorned with other such kitschy nautical items like anchors and rusted-out signs.

B. and I were expecting a long wait but the bartender, who is also in charge of seating in a remarkable lack of attachment to traditional restaurant seating procedures, informed us there was a small table in the back. Our table bordered the busy thoroughfare used by the staff and while this may have bothered some, it allowed us a firsthand view of the orders being brought forth out of the clanging kitchen. A few minutes later, the table behind us left and we were able to snuggle into a cozy, two-person booth right next to the fireplace. Our server was a no-nonsense, middle-aged dude with tatted arms and a thick, Ditka-esque accent; and whose way of asking if B. wanted a refill on his beer was to nudge the mug with his knuckles and raise his eyebrows.

The menu was slightly off-putting to me at first, as it was limited and filled with things like fried clam strips and fried oysters and other manner of breaded sea dwellers. Luckily, the specials board informed us that there was an Alaskan King crab and snow crab leg combo basket available, which instantly caught my eye. B. ordered six blue point oysters as our appetizer and they arrived at our table almost instantly. These oysters were meaty things, each rugged shell half was filled with a mouthful of briny oyster and the entire plate came with a tiny paper cup of horseradishy cocktail sauce and two lemon slices. B. chose to suck the oysters straight from the shell after a squirt of lemon and a dab of sauce, whereas I used my tiny fork to dislodge the meat from its shell. I slopped on blobs of the horseradish sauce and nearly drained the lemon of its juice to make a delicious little oyster soup of sorts before scooping it out with my fork. They tasted unbelievably fresh and juicy, with only a slightly brackish tang at the back end.

Our crab legs came in a big plastic basket; giant, steaming, hulking crab legs that dwarfed the basket itself and were served with little ramekins of melted, garlic herbed butter. After digging under the crab legs, a mountain of fries were unearthed, deeper still and there sat slices of toasted bread. It was like the never ending basket of seafood miracles. We instantly went to work on releasing the crab meat from its shell, crunching with our crackers and digging with our tiny forks for every last scrap. Half Shell’s crab legs weren’t any dinky, anemic excuses for crab legs from Red Lobster, no sir. These legs were bursting with meat and boasted a remarkably aromatic and fresh flavor, requiring so much work that for awhile our table fell silent as we focused intently on extracting the tastiest morsels.

Meals like the one at Half Shell are among my favorite kinds of dining experiences. There’s no frills, no pretension, just simple but completely and undeniably delicious food in a laid-back, jovial atmosphere. It’s the perfect place to take a date, or a friend, or your family, or a STRANGER for God’s sake, as long as they can appreciate a basket o’ crab and a cold beer.

No Fatties, No Hamsters

There’s no new Top Chef this week, so I present to you this little piece of internet deliciosity.

You’re welcome.

Julie & Julia & JHP

Okay. So, I resisted the obvious lure of the recently released movie Julie & Julia for quite some time. I’m not really one to like those kind of cutesy, let’s-all-learn-a-lesson-here movies, with likeable characters n shit. But having read the book from cover to cover on a recent bidness trip to New York, the parallels between the main character and myself were simply unavoidable. I had to see this movie. Also, I’m a sucker for anything–movie, book, license plate keychain–that bears my name.

The book itself involves a young woman stuck in a soul-sucking, beaurocratic, cubicle-farm job (not terribly far off the mark from my own, minus the cubicles..) who is searching for a purpose in life. At the suggestion of her husband, she fires up a blog chronicling her year-long pursuit of cooking every single recipe in Julia Child’s legendary and daunting Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Hijinks ensue.

Truthfully? I was not an enormous fan of the book. I didn’t care for Julie Powell’s overblown, icky-cute, wordy, and roundabout way of writing, though I’m sure her blog was extra special back in the day (2002). The movie? Charmed the crap out of me. I cringe even as I admit this because I walked into the movie fully prepared to hate it. I laughed, I *nearly* cried, I fell head over heels in love with Julia Child’s life and story and melodious voice…readers, it was nothing short of magical. The woman had MY DREAM LIFE. She flitted about Paris, gathering fresh produce from local markets, all on a whim, and with the goal of pleasing her husband. Interspersing Julie Powell’s kitchen antics neatly with snippets from Childs’ own life, the movie deftly illustrates the staggering similarities and dramatic differences between the two women, albeit living decades apart. Seldom do I admit that a movie is better than its literary counterpart, but this is truly a movie that overturns the book in terms of poignancy, beauty, and humor.

Early on, there’s a scene that depicts Meryl Streep (as Ms. Child herself, fanFRICKINtastic performance) and Stanley Tucci as her husband Paul. They’ve recently moved to Paris, and Julia is being served a whole fish in a pan, positively swimming in butter. After the garcon deftly debones the fish and separates the tender white flesh, Julia takes a bite and is rendered absolutely speechless. Her husband says simply “I know, I know,” as Julia sits and shakes her head, sputtering and lost in the deliciousness of what she’s just put in her face.

This is a feeling I’m all too familiar with; the words that come so easily to me all day long are hampered and backed up when I’m faced with a dish I find so compelling that it defies all logic and explanation. I was without speech the time I (literally) ate the menu at Moto, after my first bite of steak at St. Elmo’s, and when asked for an description of how my dish from this place tasted, I answered with a simple and eloquent “omfg”.

One of the things that struck me as hilarious about the movie was the inconsistency with which the movie reflected the year 2002. Granted, it was only seven years ago, but for some reason they dressed Amy Adams up in flannels, chokers, and biker shorts like it was 1994, but the clunky cell phones and laptops and weird, pastel-hued business suits screamed early 2000’s.

I know dudes won’t be running out to see this movie anytime soon, as it features zero robots and virtually NO tits, but suggesting this movie is a great way to score points with the ladies. They’ll think you’re all sensitive and worldly and introspective, but not a complete puss. You heard it here first: Julie & Julia will get you laid.

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