Just Ducky

When you see a gaggle of glistening glazed ducks hanging sentry over hotel pans full of steaming tripe and bell jars filled with fried chicken skin, you know you’ve found a good Chinese BBQ spot. Actually, I know I’m probably in the minority on this one. It’s more likely most folks, who’ve come to believe their meat is born in Cryovac plastic or waxed-butcher-paper-wrapped bundles, would more likely see this scene at Sun Wah BBQ as an outtake from a Wes Craven horror flick. Advertisements

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Snapper in the City

While I abhor Cosmopolitans, the one thing I do love about those ladies from “Sex and the City” is their camaraderie. I suspect their daily meetings, however, are nothing but TV mythology. There’s no way anyone with a real job and life has time to meet with their friends so often. Still, their gatherings duly represent my aspirations of whiling away endless afternoons over drinks, food and banter to celebrate life. And so I do. Since I moved to Chicago, my best friend Aamir and I have made it a pretty regular habit to decompress at various downtown establishments after work.

Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper

If Jose Cuervo is the patron saint of bad judgment and horrid hangovers, then Ron Cooper, purveyor of Del Maguey Mezcal, is the angel of discretion and good taste. Though sometimes his is a case of “Do as say, not as I do.” On the morning I interview Cooper, he chain-smokes and squints in the morning light falling over Oak Street near the Newberry Library, his eyes rimmed by puffy bags. As a spirits professional, Cooper has no shortage of drinking buddies, and a few of them kept him out late after a tasting at Binny’s South Loop the night before.

Have You Seen Me?

We track down Chicago chefs who are missing in action to find out what they’re up to now that the limelight’s dimmed:

In the know: Sean Eastwood

When chef Sean Eastwood launched Isabella’s Estiatorio, he rocked suburban Geneva with a touch of luxury and clean, locally sourced Mediterranean-style eats.  Now he’s poised to do the same on the Near West Side in July with Olo, which will feature wood-fired meats and fish and fresh-baked breads cooked in a brick oven. Q. You’ve been very successful in Geneva.  Why come to the city? A. To be in touch and have access to those farmers (from the local farmers market) that I can use all year ’round is great.  Plus I get to deal with farmers who come to the city weekly to deliver to the other restaurants here.  We’re not underestimating that in Chicago there are many fabulous restaurants, but I’m a firm believer that if you come in with a good attitude and plan to give your best, you’ll be successful. Q. Olo sounds like it’ll have high-end food, but you won’t have to dress up to visit. A. I think people’s attitude toward fine dining overall is changing, especially in the United States. People don’t want to have the whole fine-dining experience, but they still want to have great food. You can come to Olo for…

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Tory McPhail

Founded in 1880, Commander’s Palace in New Orleans is one of the most celebrated and revered restaurants in the United States. Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Legasse, and Jamie Shannon are just a few of the chefs to helm its storied kitchen. Chef Tory McPhail is the current captain of the ship. He was in Chicago last month for the National Restaurant Show and we caught up with him to talk about being a steward of such a culinary legacy, what it was like living on Bourbon Street as a 19 year old line cook with an endless supply of Abita beer, the impact of Hurricane Katrina and the untimely death of his mentor Shannon, and the house moonshine at Commander’s.  

Bowles Breaks Out

With his fierce tattoos, imposing frame and black lacquer glasses, chef Graham Elliot Bowles looks like the lovechild of Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo and a bouncer from a death-metal bar. However, the aggressive-looking “innocence” tattoo on his left forearm is more a reflection of the artist who also did ink for Pantera than of Bowles’ true personality. As Bowles says, “I look like I’m ready to hurt someone, when I really just want to cry on their shoulder.”

Albany Park

If you have ten bucks and you want to eat like a sultan, dictator, premier, presidente or even the Illinois gov (Blagojevich is a resident), there’s no better place than Albany Park. Featuring a Korean enclave on Lawrence Avenue, a Middle Eastern bazaar along Kedzie, and all manner of Latino spots throughout, it’s one of the most ethnically diverse of Chicago’s ’hoods. But before you get more exotic, start with more familiar immigrant cuisine at 1 Marie’s (4127 W Lawrence Ave, 773-685-5030), home of some of Chicago’s best thin-crust pizza. Rimmed with red vinyl booths and featuring a stained-glass, rose-covered ceiling over the bar, this 60-year-old joint also happens to be a full-service liquor store, so if you need some Chianti for the road, you’re golden. For an ethnic take on a familiar dish, try the Guatemalan fried chicken from 2 Pollo Campero (4830 N Pulaski Rd, 773-282-1966). Sure, it’s a franchise, but the orange-hued spicy pollo is so revered, travelers to Guatemala were known to smuggle it in airplane overhead compartments before the chain hit the States. Quell the spice with a bit of cream at 3 Dokil Korean Bakery (3844 W Lawrence Ave, 773-539-3551). The fist-sized cream bread…

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In the Know: Laurent Gras

Laurent Gras is the culinary version of Sherlock Holmes.  From churning his own butter to baking his own bread to brewing cocktail bitters for the bar, he didn’t overlook a single detail when opening his new seafood-focused restaurant L.20.  For this protege of the world’s foremost chef, Alain Ducasse, there’s no mystery to his success:  It’s his dedication to challenging convention as well as his versatility.  He’s a master at creating classic Michelin-style haute cuisine presentations filled with caviar and flecked with gold leaves, but he’s also adept at employing techno-wizardry to deconstruct citrus fruit into elemental forms topped with a touch of jalapeno. Gras’ cuisine is the bridge between old-school French chefs and the molecular gastronomists.  Like Shawn McClain, who redefined vegetarian dining, Gras is making diners realize there’s more to seafood than Red Lobster. Q. What’s the best Chicago-related advice you’ve ever given or received? A. Ride a bike to work. Q. What’s your favorite hidden gem in Chicago? A. Honestly, I haven’t gone out to eat very much.  I usually eat at home.  But something unusual about Chicago is that the grocery stores sell the Hawaiian Sweet Bread from King’s Bakery in Hawaii. I’m not sure why…

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