I was hoping to meet everyone at Maxwell St. (sounded like a great time) but had to entertain family, so I tried to come up with second best: a smorgasbord of takeout from gems I've wondered about along my West-Side jogging route, followed by dinner at the sushi place Heat, with a Hot Doug's snack in between. I'll try to be brief, and point out some of the many "bests" my famiglia tried on Saturday.
Lunch: (1) a tray of scacciata(bakery pizza) from D'Amato's #1 on Grand (1124 West): even better than usual; (2) a tray of pierogi (potato and sauerkraut) form Andrzej Grill, 1022 N. Western: cool phone-booth sized place with more video poker machines than tables, Polish TV blaring, construction worker crowd, and the babushka in back makes my new favorites, just incredible; (3) Puerto Rican pollo "chon" with platanos maduros (the latter is not on the menu, but ask)from Papa's Cache Sabroso, 2517 West Division, the best damn chicken in the state for my money (roasted to a dark brown with great mojo de ajo and served Harold's-style with lots of white bread (except Cuban) to sop up the juices). It took no longer than 35 minutes to drive to these establishments, order and pick up the food. A perfect three-for-three, all agreed.
Snack: Hot Doug's wild boar sausage with grilled onions and brown mustard, thuringer hot-dog style, duck fat fries. The fries were good, but still too limp. Doug should get that Times article from a few years back re the secret to Belgian fries. The boar was a noble, but failed, experiment -- the flavorful albeit athletic beast simply did not have enough lard for the well-cooked sausage. The thuringer was just a very wide, very good hot dog. I still relish being part of Doug's revolution-in-progress by sampling the misses as well as the hits; and it's not like it costs much.
Dinner: Heat (1507 N Sedgwick). Fantastic. I've been to the other highly-regarded sushi places in town and in other cities. Heat is qualitatively (and regarding price, quantitatively) different. First, there is an "otherness" about the place attributable to the decor, service, staff and crowd that made me feel more like I had left Chicago and the US than any other place in town. Although hip and tiny, we were comfortable at the bar with a fish tank below and good views of the masterful and gracious chefs. (The stools are the cushiest I've encountered -- BTW I ditched the family for this one, just me and my wife.) The server, a polyglot who I guess to be from Singapore, was top-notch. He actually talked us out of the 11-course Kaiseki (sp?) menu explaining that it doesn't work out well on hectic weekends. And getting the stools back could not have been his motivation since we were seated late. We opted instead for a live sashimi plate followed by the Omakase (chef's choice) 4 course menu -- sushi, maki, hot plate, dessert. Highlights include the following personal "best evers": otoro sushi that looked like pork belly with its many layers of delicate fat; seared rare white salmon (came with the second of 2 sushi plates); uni, the freshest possible; and the seared tuna steak with mushrooms, various seaweeds, "Japanese raspberry" (not a raspberry at all, but good) and a "teriyaki" reduction that was much better than the name suggests. The sashimi presentations, including our "oyster toadfish" (think small monkfish) with ponzu sauce, were simply spectacular. Here he was in happier days:
We were the only partons to sup on this wildly ugly creature. I liked it, although the meat was quite firm like raw shrimp, for example. A huge Japanese-American celebration, kids to grandparents included, taking up most of the restaurant ordered several rounds of the imposingly large black drum. This big fish (prob. 5-6##) moved quite a bit after it was dispatched. Perhaps the most visually appealing was the flying fish sashimi presentation (not alive) that seemed popular with other diners. The head and fins of this handsome little fish were arranged to give the impression that it was jumping out of the ice in the serving vessel. The only low spots were a forgettable fresh fruit arrangement for dessert -- you would think a produce-obsessed place like this could come up with better than apples, oranges and kiwi a la Jewel -- and $12 for a mediocre French rose, the finest of which can cost little more than that per bottle. In the final analysis, I loved it and look forward to trying the kaiseki menu now that the live fish experiment is out of the way. In terms of ingredients, skill and presentation, none of the 5 diamond/stars has anything on this place IMHO. Service, surroundings, dessert are all different considerations. Oh, and the tab was just under $200. Not cheap, but I've paid considerably more for less enjoyable meals, and you can hardly get out of a steak house for less these days. (For big eaters like me, I would also suggest a lunch and snack like those I described.)