Dancing the Sweetango

Sending a pack of apples to a fat man is a lot like sending a case of Coca-Cola to a crack addict, a set-up for incredible disappointment. Once in a while you get lucky though, maybe you find a thirsty grateful crack-ho, or in this case, a curious food-loving fat man who’ll put anything in his craw twice. Advertisements


A Good Egg (Roll) in Chicago

You can’t always eat glazed chicken feet or stinky tofu or braised cold tendon in chili oil. Sometimes you just want an honest crab rangoon. But then you think, am I going to lose my serious eater’s card for indulging in American Tiki-craze Trader Vic-inspired goodies like deep fried wonton-wrapped cream cheese studded with fake krab meatand scallions? Such was my state of mind a few weeks ago when I sidled into the vinyl booths at the 40-plus years old Lincoln Square Chinese restaurant Shanghai Inn. The décor alone was an homage to the American-Cantonese almond boneless chicken serving palaces of my youth. Chinese zodiac placemats, check. Paper lanterns, check. Fortune cookies, check. This was the kind of place Ralphie and his family from the 1983 classic A Christmas Story would most definitely be happy mowing down on some Beijing duck after those rabid dogs ruined their turkey dinner. Décor aside, would the food be good? In Chicago, the Chinese offerings tend to live in the extremes. Either you go to Chinatown for a bout with hyper-regional delicacies like funky reconstituted dry mushroom dishes from Yunnan or you fall asleep after a dish or two of MSG-induced gloppy sauced Mongolian beef at some take-out joint.…

Read More

Inside baseball, or a look at the underbelly of food journalism and the Yelp phenomenon

This week David Tamarkin of Time Out explores the “online critic” phenomenon.” He interviewed me for the story, and though I’ve edited a bit, what’s below is how I responded to his questions. I figured it might make for another interesting take on how this specific food writer/editor feels about the internet phenomenon and the rush to review restaurants. Above all, my guiding principle as a food writer and website editor is to try and get a story or review best or right before I get it first. I don’t mind breaking news, and I think it’s a good skill to have, as it means you are paying attention and are plugged in. That being said, my main mission is to explore the craft behind cooking and the culture of dining and provide deeper information about food topics. If I’m breaking news, great, but I’m just as happy providing a new perspective or deeper approach to a topic that’s already been explored.

Havana Hideaway

A few weeks ago, some folks suggested I was an elitist jerk potentially in need of a hooker to loosen up. Most of this vitriol was from readers who took umbrage with my negative review of Yats, the Cajun Creole spot in the West Loop. In response to this hellfire, I went back and checked the last few years of my columns, and the data suggests I’ve spent more time lauding ethnic storefronts and casual spots over high-end fine cuisine. There was no need to call Eliot Spitzer to acquire the Emperors Club VIP hotline.

The Cupcake Culture Wars

I wrote a little ditty on bacon cupcakes from the new Gold Coast boutique, More, for Serious Eats this week. What I didn’t mention in the piece, is that while I love the bacon flight cupcakes, I’m a little more lukewarm on the big guys at More. The small cupcakes, being the size of Hostess minis, have a much better ratio of frosting to cake than the bigger cupcakes. Likewise the bigger cupcakes, while moist and well-flavored, are a bit dense, more muffinlike if you will.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Science Food

for Marco Pierre White A sip of liquid soul: caramel corn at Alinea. (pic courtesy of Lara Kastner and Alinea) The phrase, “Molecular Gastronomy” is a meaningless construct. From, the roasting of lamb schwarma at a kebab shack to the baking of a soufflé at a temple of haute cuisine, most cooking is molecular. Frying an egg in a cast iron skillet southern grandmother style is molecular gastronomy. Heating a raw egg breaks the molecular bonds of proteins in the yolk, allowing these proteins to unfold so they can bond with other surrounding proteins until the runny yolk becomes solid. People use the phrase, not for its essential truth, but because they like the syllabic consonance, the sonorous “r’s” rolling into each other. They also use the phrase because it taps a part of basic humanity, our fear of new concepts. In the culinary world, this is nothing new. It’s part of the same cycle that initially vilified cooks like the Troisgros brothers and their Nouveau cuisine or Charlie Trotter, who was once considered a reckless fusionist. Today, these same folks prey on a good deal of the population’s horrid memories of bare survival in high school chemistry or biology…

Read More

In the Know: Brian Huston

Brian Huston, chef de cuisine of the Publican, has a diabolical smile.  The corners of his mouth curl up like Jack Nicholson’s Joker in the original “Batman” when he talks.  It’s a signal of the sinful offerings he’s about to unleash on Chicago.  Huston’s planned opening menu, featuring cider vinegar-cured and salted pork rinds, tripe and blood sausage gratin and Wagyu steak tartare, is one of the most palate-tempting we’ve ever seen.  We checked in to see what other devilish schemes he has up his sleeve on the eve of the Publican’s opening. Q. What’s the best Chicago-related advice you’ve heard? A. Leave town.  As a chef once told me, if you love Chicago so much, the best thing to do is get out of town and bring something back.  So I worked in San Francisco and Colorado. Q. Where should we eat if we come to your neighborhood? A. I live up in Evanston.  Michael Altenberg used to run Campagnola.  Now there’s a guy named Vince, and Altenberg’s partner Steve still runs it.  I think when Michael left, people forgot about it.  They still turn out solid Italian standards.  I don’t think it gets enough credit. Q. I hear you like to…

Read More

My Favorite Things: The Threepeat

Willi Lehner of Bleu Mont Dairy I was concerned that Pat Riley, the former NBA Coach and the only man who used more Brill Cream than my grandfather, was going to come after me with a dream team of lawyers over the title of this column. It turns out though he only owns a commercial trademark on the term “three-peat,” and this column is most decidedly a journalistic one, written for the public good. Yes, it’s true, I’m back with my Oprah-inspired “favorite things” list of food finds I haven’t been able to work into a regular column, but are most definitely worthy of your gullet. Enjoy.

Farm to Pond

For many fine-dining workers, sunrise is a theoretical concept. Their backs hammered by unforgiving restaurant floors and brows sweltered by the heat of kitchen ovens, the early morning is usually spent tending to wounds or slumbering off shift-ending celebratory drinks. And yet, just before 7 a.m. on a recent Monday, their only day off, most of the North Pond restaurant team has invaded a Starbucks on Irving Park Road.