I've been in Chicago for a short while by most standards. A month and a half to be exact. I thought I would just share my thoughts on food so far, having grown up in Boston and lived in Manhattan as well.
I located myself, by accident or not, about half-way between Demon Dog and Weiner's Circle. Go figure. Then I found out I'm also half-way between a Golden Nugget and The Original Pancake House. An entire post could be devoted to each place, but here's the distilled version:
The Original Pancake House is like what IHOP was when I was very little--you know, when they still had German pancakes and Swedish pancakes and they were REAL. I'm not knocking IHOP--in the sad city of Boston I grew up in, IHOP still has the best pancakes around, despite diners touting "the best pancakes in ____" (fill in your favorite municipality). But, I was disappointed when I discovered at Original that lingonberries are almost identical to cranberries.
Golden Nugget, I have to say, has fine buttermilk pancakes reminiscent of James Beard's recipe. There is something about the proportions of flour, buttermilk and butter, that is a tip-off. I haven't had pancakes reach to nearly as great heights as when in the 1930s diner stall in the farmer's market in Los Angeles--which has the best of them all that I have ever eaten (and the most butter--even more than at Golden Nugget).
Weiner's Circle and Demon Dog have been paid tribute to before. Go to Demon Dog now before the ADA folks get the CTA to clear out the area to make way for an accessible el station.
I've checked out two Persian restaurants: Noon-o-kabob, which had a fairly respectable Shirin Polo. It's a very Persian dish that is monolithically sweet-and-sour, emphasizing the rice which is decorated with finely slivered candied orange and lime peel, slivered carrots, sliivered nuts, golden raisins, zereshk berries, and saffron rice sprinkled on top. The chicken which accompanies it is more of a side. I have long wondered how Cafe Rose in Watertown, MA, which closed I think more than five years ago, achieved a chicken kabob so tender, juicy and flavorful that you could eat it with a spoon. Perhaps they discovered how to brine poultry ahead of this year's brining craze (which I'm caught up in myself). I've tried all the book recipes, which were no help at all. Cafe Rose closed and became a D'Angelo's Subs.
I would consider going back to Noon-o-kabob to try their Ghormeh Sabzi. It happens to be one of those Persian dishes that can have a lot of complexity, because it had many greens, some bitter and some sweet. Most places get them dry and soak them. If you're lucky, you can find fresh fenugreek, but you may just have to grow it yourself. Mixed in with the stewed greens are baked and powdered limes. This stew is traditionally served with a meat.
This is the dish I tried at Pars Cove. Pars Cove's Ghormeh Sabzi with a lamb shank was rather sublime. They subscribe to the rare school of thought in Persian restaurants that says there IS such a thing as giving people too much rice. Their lentil soup starter, which is complementary, is only different from Progresso lentil soup in that Progresso has chunks of celery, while Pars Cove's does not. But their Kashk-e-Bademjan, a mashed, fried eggplant mixed in yogurt and fried onions, was satistying by comparison. Back to the Ghormeh Sabzi--there wasn't much Sabzi in the Ghormeh Sabzi, nor was there much lamb shank, nor much rice. But after their complementary ice cream topped with honey and cinnamon I didn't feel stuffed. Pars Cove, behind the wierd veneer of "usual Persian restaurant," someone knows what they're doing.
I was back to try Pars Cove's Zereshk Polo with chicken breast, and it was more monolithic than the Ghormeh Sabzi was, but was also rich in flavor. Nota bene that the zereshk was placed in the sauce for the chicken, and not mixed in the rice. No big deal--just interesting.
Most of my Chicago eating experiences have been in the confines of my apartment. This is not limited to foods I cook, though I do that all the time.
Thankfully, Gigio's Pizza delivers to my place. Can I just say that, after many hours of trekking to pizza places in greater Boston and the boroughs of New York, based on not only all recommended Chowhound places I could get slices at (and some that I couldn't), but also a bit of the yellow pages approach, that Gigio's is the style I have long been looking for! Thank goodness! There is no such "New York Style" pizza in New York as Gigio's in Uptown Chicago. The area is a bit sketchy--it's no Armitage Street. All you Chicagoans who don't appreciate Gigio's sausage pizza are really missing out! Foldable pizza remains yet at one establishment!
I took to making food in my apartment. I doctored Marcella Hazan's Bolognese Ragu recipe, replacing the pork with finely diced pancetta, which goes into the pot to brown heavily first before the vegetables. Then I substitute white vermouth for the white wine. I like adding rich tastes, and the multiple flavors in vermouth, and in pancetta, work really well. I don't have a pepper mill, and now that I crack my pepper using the bottom of a pyrex measuring cup I have achieved an awareness of pepper I have never had before. Irregularly mashed peppercorns are wonderful to sprinkle on your finished pasta!
But I almost forgot about the pasta itself. Until recently, the Marcey Street Market at Sam's Liqours carried a brand called "Il Campofilone" pasta. They made an egg tagliatelle so delicate that if you squeezed the box gently between your fingers, the pasta would crumble. When this dry pasta is cooked, which takes only two or three minutes, it is ideal for Bolognese. You can work it to your mouth effortlessly, unlike many pastas that either fall off your fork, or are too long and heavy that you have to keep twirling until you get more on your fork than you really wanted to put in your mouth at once. The distributor for this great pasta is not carrying it but Marcey Street Market says they will try to find it from another distributer.
If you've gotten this far, thanks for reading!
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