Archive for the 'Luxury' Category

Hot, Sweaty, and Delicious

Last night, with temps in the 90’s and a heat index well into the danger zone, my friend K., her friend M., and I headed to the Green City Market BBQ in Lincoln Park to pursue the offerings from some of Chicago’s best and well-loved chefs.

The BBQ is essentially a scaled-down version of some of the more heavily attended street food fairs around the city, and boasted offerings from roughly 100 Chicago restaurants, served out of booths that were, more often than not, manned by the headlining chefs themselves. To be sure, the BBQ is pretty much everything Taste of Chicago isn’t, and that’s a good thing. I’ll gladly take a swampy summer evening sippy classy wine and perusing dishes from Paul Kahan, Rick Bayless, and Paul Virant than fried fucking cheesecake on a stick topped with a chocolate-dipped turkey leg. Now, because I was so besieged with sweat and overwhelmed by all my options, I’m not going to give an entire rundown, but here are some highlights:

 First stop, wine tent. Here’s K., casually drinking her wine and being totally casual. We started out with some delightful Sauvignon blanc poured by a friendly man in a sweaty shirt. I kept coming back to him and dropping hints about how stingy every other wine booth was being with their pours and nonchalantly motioning with my empty wine glass. After about the second round of this, sweaty shirt caught on and began filling my glass with glugs, not dribbles.

Oh, then this happened:

 

 

 

 

 

(That’s Stephanie Izard, btw.)

 

 

Also, there was this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, I was that close to Rick Bayless. He was right there alongside his staff, mingling with the hoi polloi and serving up insanely spicy salmon tacs. What a guy.

After that, there was alla this:

And finally, a baby who somehow made his way from the 1940’s:

Now, this wouldn’t be a proper Hungrypants post if there wasn’t at least one thing to bitch about, right? Well, here it is: the goddamn process for throwing out garbage. What should be a simple, one-step procedure (throwing out garbage), Green City Market staff somehow turned into a convoluted and nerve-wracking game of what I can only describe as reverse whack-a-mole. They had each trash disposal station manned by a volunteer wielding a paddle (like the kind you use for playing paddleball but without the ball and string), and three holes: one for compost, one for recycling, and one for “landfill”. I could never get it right. I would hover a hand over the recycling hole, tentatively, only to have the staff member sigh and sharply point to the LANDFILL hole with her paddle, clearly indicating that I was a moron for being unaware that compostable food cannot go into the compost hole, and recyclable plates and forks simply don’t belong in the recycling hole.

On and on this went, all night, staff whacking at our hands with their paddles whenever we approached the trash stations. It was confusing! Doesn’t it all wind up in a landfill? The anxiety of being faced with this sudden and remarkably vague pop quiz regarding my knowledge of the intricacies of trash disposal and sorting was too much for me, so whenever I saw an unguarded station I just threw my shit in the recycling bin. Let them sort it out on the other side, I said. Only God can judge me, I said.

Food-wise, a few trends I noticed were the extensive use of lamb and goat meat, a large number of booths serving tacos; handmade sausages, and a proliferation of sustainable, local, ingredients. Apparently last year it was nothing but pork belly.

I’d say my absolute favorite, standout item of the night was the “adult popsicle” from the Primehouse booth: think frozen, gingery bourbon popsicle in a plastic push-up sleeve, not unlike the Flav-or-ices of our youth. It was tangy, a little spicy, and exactly what you need on a hot-ass night. Upon asking the chef handing the popsicles out what the recipe and freezing process was for these little beauties, we were met with a wink and two words: “elf magic”. I almost believe it.

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Roundup: FDL

February: Marigold

Hood: Uptown

Food: Indian

Weather: Slushy and awful

Ambiance: Candlelit, romantic, exotic. Couples, families, groups of friends.

Verdict: Spicy, authentic, flavorful.

                                                                                                

March: Boka (restaurant week)

Hood: Lincoln Park

Food: Indeterminate but ostensibly “Contemporary American”

Weather: Pelted by random hailstorm

Ambiance: Cirque du Soleil-ish tented interior meets mid-90’s upholstery, plus group of women apparently auditioning for Real Housewives of Moscow.

Verdict: (waggles hand from side to side in an indication of mediocrity)

                                                                                                            

April: The Bristol

Hood: Bucktown

Food: Mediterranean-inspired, locally sourced & seasonal

Weather: The sun shone bright on my old Chicago hooooome

Ambiance: Salvaged wood, communal tables, specials written on wall covered in chalkboard paint, owner helping servers expedite and bus. Friendly and breezy.

Verdict: Will return at earliest convenience

                                                                                                           

May: Paris Club

Hood: River North

Food: Durr

Weather: First warm day since last summer. Joyfully sat next to wide open windows.

Ambiance: Paris bistro circa 1920 plus flat-screens. Subway tile and mirrors. River North yuppies mingle with suburban cougars and aging “cool hip guys” who wear those long square shoes and flared jeans and untucked shirts with crosses, eagles, and/or skulls.

Verdict: Solid coq au vain and Roquefort-crusted filet. Thai-spiced mussels seemed inconsistent with Parisian concept, but were naturally devoured nonetheless.

It’s Fun to Gather for Culinary Reasons

A few weeks ago, my friend A. (not FDL A., this is a different A. Keep it straight!) celebrated her birthday party in one of the best ways I can imagine: by hiring a chef and having a group of her friends come over and get drunk and help cook the meal. I know! It was fantastic.

Chef Kasey Passen started her company, Culinary Gatherings, last year after returning to her native Chicago after a stint at a few of San Francisco’s top restaurants. She has traveled extensively and incorporates her wordly knowledge into her cozy, accessible, and totally delicious get-togethers. Basically, Kasey showed up at A.’s apartment with all the necessary ingredients, menus and instructions for all of us, and a sous chef. She was incredibly knowledgeable, friendly, NOT condescending (we all know how much I hate those who condescend) and unendingly patient. She had planned a Mediterranean menu which included a stuffed chicken, a spicy eggplant spread and a couscous and chickpea salad (I’m improvising here, as I was so deep into my red wine coma by the time dinner was served that I scarcely remember the actual names of the dishes. But I digress.)

A. had made the mistake of asking everyone to bring a bottle of wine, AND she made sangria, so there we were, about twelve girls with what amounted to a bottle of wine each and copious amounts of sangria. Because of this, we did not make the best audience for Kasey’s wine pairing tutorial and spent most of the time loudly asserting how much we hated white wine. Which is weird because I don’t hate white wine. Kasey had provided us with a slice of apple, a slice of lemon, and a glass each of white and red wine. She encouraged us to take a sip of the wine, a bite of the fruit, and then another sip of wine and told us what tastes and notes to look for each time. I wish I’d taken notes because this chick knows a thing or two about wine.

Then, it was time to cook. Kasey had tasks for each of us, and set up stations to make sure no one strayed from their assigned project. I totally showed off my super sweet knife skills while I was chopping garlic for the eggplant spread, which Kasey complimented me on thankyouverymuch, and watched as the girls at the chicken station drunkenly crammed stuffing up a chicken’s ass. Believe it not, this was even more entertaining than it sounds.

The whole thing took about three hours from start to finish, and the resultant feast was that much more rewarding; knowing we had had our hands up that chicken’s ass and had chopped the garlic and sauteed the eggplant and fluffed the cous cous ourselves. It was truly a collaborative effort and extremely, extraordinarily delicious.

I have to praise chef Kasey for her unending patience and willingness to answer inane questions in addition to her superb menu.

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.