How I Became a Food Freak

I was not a precocious genius, like, say, a 2-year-old Tiger Woods ripping a tee shot on “The Mike Douglas Show.” There was no crème brulee epiphany at the foot of my grandmother. It took me twenty-eight years of school and aimless work to discover food writing. Though my mother was a fine scratch cook, I ate quite a bit of Hamburger Helper, SpaghettiO’s and Campbell’s Soup. My only culinary experience was making pizza alongside a crew of shaggy-haired, though engaging, stoners in high school. Luxury dining meant the Admiral’s Feast at Red Lobster. Advertisements

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Guan

Martha Stewart better watch out, because not only can Guan Chen, chef of Guan Restaurant, likely cook circles around her, but he’s got serious interior-design chops. While many Asian spots hew to a palette of kanji-based calligraphy, porcelain and black lacquer, Chen outfitted his Evanston storefront with homey naturalistic touches, including a mini rock garden and a wall-mounted forest of birch branches. He complements this natural aesthetic with sleek, modern leather chairs and window panels etched with geometric cherry blossoms.

No Booty, Just Good Bubbly

It’s hard to resist the allure of Champagne that’s been poured all over some hip hop groupie’s booty. But, if you find yourself in a wine store contemplating a bottle of Cristal this weekend, I got a better bottle that’ll save you some Benjamins.

Jose Garces

Chef Jose Garces trained under Nuevo Latino master Douglas Rodriguez (chef/owner of DeLaCosta in Chicago) and Buddakan and Morimoto owner Stephen Starr forging an incredible knowledge of both the business and culinary sides of the restaurant industry. Now he’s building a boutique empire of his own. After a few restaurant openings in Philly, he’s landed back in his hometown (born and raised on the Northwest side and a Kendall college grad) to open a mod tapas style joint Mercat a la Planxa (638 South Michigan Ave. , 312-765-0524) in the Blackstone Hotel. In this podcast, the Chicago born and raised Philly resident Garces answers one of the culinary life’s most savory questions: Which is superior, the Italian beef or the Philly cheesesteak?  

First Bite: Rosscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles

It’s not often you wait two and a half hours to eat for ten minutes. The persistent mass of humanity waiting patiently in the lobby on opening day at Rosscoe’s Chicken and Waffles made the weekend brunch crowds at Wishbone and Bongo Room look like fun. Based on crazy demand (the line rarely thinned out in the three hours we we’re at the restaurant), we’d venture, at least for today, that Rosscoe’s was probably hotter than Schwa or Alinea.

I Drove 40 Miles for a Taco

There are at least a thousand taquerias in Chicago city proper, though only about ten of them actually sear their meat and season it properly.

First Bite: Rockstar Dogs

Rockstar Dogs, which finally opened this afternoon after a license delay, is the culinary version of a vodka ad or maybe more appropriately the Hard Rock Cafe. A lot of money got spent trying to inject personality in to what is otherwise a mediocre overpriced commodity.

Forked Over

I’m pretty sure Alan Richman, the GQ food writer, would piss on a homeless man begging him for change. After all, in 2006, a year after Hurricane Katrina, he kicked a devastated New Orleans in its rocky mountain oysters and tore the city apart for its listless and uninspired cuisine. Prior to that attack, I’d admired his prose. Though, in the back of my mind, I’d always felt he was kind of the Marilyn Manson of food critics, a satanic puppeteer fully aware of both sides of an issue, but intent upon picking the side that would incite the most hate and vitriol. It was precisely this skill that kept him relevant and regarded.

First Bite: Mercat a la Planxa

It’s a tough call on what was more surprising about my Saturday night…the fact that a 190 seat Michigan Avenue hotel restaurant run by a guy who spent the last few years building a culinary empire in Philly was mostly spot on in terms of service and food on a packed opening night, or that later in the night, some dude managed to play the Miley Cyrus song Best of Both worlds on the jukebox in a Greg Louganis super triple flip high dive of Logan Square dive bars without starting a fight. It turns out that it’s the former.

Tavern Spirit

Chicagoist loves West Town Tavern. So do we. We can’t get enough of it’s accessible prices and come as you are welcoming spirit, and tasty reasonably priced food. Add in fried chicken night on Mondays, some of the cities best duck confit, and, well, why aren’t you there already? Susan and Drew Goss, the husband and wife, who run the place built West Town on the idea of what they’d love in a neighborhood place. As a result, they attend to every detail from filling out the wine list to making sure the dog water dish outside is filled for neighborhood pups. We interviewed Goss last year for Centerstage, here are some excerpts from that Q and A: What do you wish you could change/pickle about the Chicago restaurant scene? The variety of neighborhood restaurants. There aren’t a lot of cities where you can get amazing food, so much ethnic variety and all at a decent price from owners who have an incredible commitment to their customers. My partner, Drew, and I love to explore different neighborhoods like Chinatown. I love Evergreen restaurant; they have great seafood. We also like the South Side barbecue joints, like Lem’s. What would your…

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