It turns out I like to dabble in Asian and gay porn. Food porn, that is. In the last few weeks I’ve been slammed with a trove of advanced copies of cookbooks, mostly five-pound coffee-table versions filled with gauzy soft-focus shallow-depth-of-field photography of come-hither canapés and prosaic stories about learning to cook at the feet of mom, grandma or insert-favorite-dead-relative-who-in-reality-almost-killed-you-with-grayish-green-hard-boiled-eggs-and-leaden-fruitcake here. Advertisements
It’s tough to compete with a clientele of glammed-up hotties, TV celebrities and their posses, flashy interiors designed by Oprah’s buddy Nate Berkus and an effervescent owner like Billy Dec. But by serving up elaborate eats, like burgers made with Kobe beef and topped with foie gras (no longer available since the ban) or with a lemon-infused lobster patty, James Gottwald, executive chef for Rockit Bar & Grill, doesn’t have to sweat it.
As autumn winds begin to blow, football greats are once again storming the field. It’s a long haul to bowl season, though, and the weekend warriors among us will need some sustenance. So pull out the portable Weber, hit the road, and host a world-class tailgate with supplies from these local champions of eats and drinks.
Before gearing up to open Jackson Park Bar and Grill (444 N Wabash Ave) next January, chef Jason Paskewitz took advantage of his lazy summer; he skipped the beach and instead headed for the river: the Mississippi that runs through Memphis. There he joined Ben Ford of L.A. restaurant Ford’s Filling Station, Kenny Kohn of New York’s famed Katz’s Delicatessen, and Margaux Sky of Art Café and Bakery in San Luis Obispo, California. The four chefs competed in a $10,000 winner-take-all sandwich-off filmed for Food Network Challenge. We caught up with the trash-talking Queens native for some behind-the-scenes details.
I hate coffee houses. It’s true, they are a fascinating study in anthropology, what with Bugaboo stroller-toting moms standing shoulder to shoulder with patchouli-scented Birkenstock-clad granola girls and guys clutching soy lattes copping free air conditioning and laptop zombies milking a three-dollar cappuccino for eight hours of free power to get their Internet start-up off the ground. But in the end, that mix is a volatile powderkeg, where people flash you death stares if you think about sharing their power outlet or stealing the other half of that table for ten they commandeered for themselves and their silicon army of Apple products.
Walking into Pasticceria Natalina, the Andersonville Sicilian-style pastry shop owned by Natalie Zarzour, feels like stepping into a sensual Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. The perfume of citrus and vanilla roils above a gleaming case stocked with flaky rafts of pastry, filled with custard and studded with glistening strawberries, and cassatines, mounds of sponge cake enrobed in sparkling marzipan.
Denizens of the Viagra Triangle have a new way to perk things up, at least when it comes to their palates. Instead of dumbing things down for the masses like the cooks at many pan-Latino spots, chef Richard Sandoval — noted for Asian-inflected fare and modern Mexican flair at restaurants like Zengo in Denver and Maya in New York City — kicks you right in the chiles at his new spot, Mexx Kitchen at the Whiskey Bar.
There are at least a thousand pizza parlors in Chicago, but only about ten spots that people constantly war over as the best. There’s the soft thin-crust of Pat’s (2679 North Lincoln—sausage laden of course) and Vito and Nick’s (8433 South Pulaski), the hard cracker thin-crust of Candlelite (7452 North Western—don’t miss the garlic fries either), the Sicilian style bakery pies of Pequod’s (2207 North Clybourn) and Burt’s Place (8541 North Ferris, Morton Grove), the only real deep-dish that’s not a gut bomb, Pizano’s (61 East Madison—butter crust preferred) and the Neapolitan blistered crusts of Spacca Napoli (1769 West Sunnyside). I’ll even throw in the organic-ingredient-topped dough of Crust (2056 West Division), the Chicago original Uno’s (29 East Ohio—too thick) and the New York/Neapolitan Hybrid Coalfire (1321 West Grand—too much soot on the bottom for my taste) into the mix.
Wretched excess is barely enough, so goes the personal motto of Toby Maloney, “chief intoxologist” and owner of Wicker Park cocktail lounge the Violet Hour. Serving eight kinds of ice (from hand-cracked versions to 5œ-inch shards), seven home-brewed cocktail bitters with an eighth winter version on the way, fresh-squeezed juices and house-made limoncello, Maloney puts his cocktail shaker where his mouth is.