Spotted Monkey

Some believe that critics criticize because they can’t do. In my particular case, when I’ve been less than enthusiastic about certain restaurants, it’s been said I couldn’t cook my way out of a paper bag. I like to believe this isn’t true. I got into food writing through my love of cooking. I also spend a lot of time constructing restaurants in my head that I one day hope to launch. That’s why I find Amy Le—owner and chef of Spotted Monkey, a new Asian-Latin fusion restaurant in Chicago’s financial district—so inspiring. Advertisements

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Three Chefs’ Gumbo

You may stumble upon a decent version of gumbo at stalwart Heaven on Seven or some neo-Cajun spot downtown, but they’re no match for the bowl at Three Chefs ($5.99 for a small bowl, $9.99 for a large bowl). All the components that make this gumbo great—the dark and brackish roux (a cooked mix of fat and flour that thickens gumbo), chubby curls of pink shrimp, oval slivers of garlicky caramelized chicken sausage, sweet pepper and cayenne—combine to warm your body and soul.

Mixed Bag

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to dine like a dictator or an imperial ruler, then the newly reopened, upscale French-Vietnamese Pasteur in Edgewater is probably just the ticket.

Soup’s On

The phrase “salad days” has often been used to describe one’s carefree youth or the moment at which a person lived at the zenith of his powers. The expression was coined by Shakespeare in the play “Antony and Cleopatra,” wherein Cleopatra reminiscing about dalliances with Julius Caesar speaks of her “… salad days, When I was green in judgment…” As one who rebuffs salad as if it were swine flu, I can only deduce that by making such an association, Shakespeare was allergic to food or, at best, was a Birkenstock-wearing, hippie, super-vegan.

“Haute” and Sour Soup

One thing that can temper the icy sheets of Chicago’s blustery winters, where Lake Michigan squalls and sharp winds rip between skyscrapers, is the perfect bowl of soup. There have been many suitors over the years including the sultry all-spice perfumed chili at Ramova Grill, the beefy Pho at Pho 888, and Bruce Sherman’s perennial sweet corn and thyme garnished with frog legs.

Sweet & Sour

There are a lot of things about Belly Shack, the new Chino-Latino (technically the style is “Puerto-rean,” as chef/owner Bill Kim is Korean and his managing partner/wife Yvonne Cadiz-Kim is Puerto Rican, but that sounds like a bad stomach ailment) restaurant in Humboldt Park that I don’t love. The menu with sections titled “SAMMICH” and “U KUD LIK THIS” (for the soft-serve ice cream—Is that “like” or “lick”?) which seems to be the literary collaboration of the dyslexic cow mascots of Chik-fil-A and Tony Soprano is pretty groan-inducing. Then there’s the cutesy faux wall graffiti featuring Hallmark-card friendly protest aphorisms like “Enjoy More. Use Less” and “More Bike Lanes.” There’s also a painting of a dude grasping at a chain-link fence looking like he’s about to get frisked while sporting a t-shirt that says, “Eat it.” If this were a comic-style mural, I’m pretty sure the next frame would show that dude surrounded by rabid cops unholstering billy clubs and going in for a little Jon Burge-style Chicago Police justice. I guess I’d really like to see a little more incisive commentary here, maybe a painting of a befuddled Mayor Daley caught in the cross-hairs, Public Enemy-logo style, or something…

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Soup for You: Bucktown Soup Cafe dishes up a dream

Those who can, do. Those who can’t, write about it. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that piece of wisdom, but I’m sure every cook who’s been on the blunt end of my keyboard strokes feels that way. And it’s true that if I had to go toque to toque with any of the Iron Chefs (save Cat Cora, I kid), I’d probably lose. But, given enough time and space, I’m a pretty damn good cook. And as such, I’ve been tempted to wade into the culinary business and test my practical mettle at times.

Super Bowls

For most of us, this year’s Super Bowl was a doleful reminder of last year’s Bears collapse in the big game. Sitting down to watch the Giants battle the Patriots did nothing but stir up 2007’s carnival of failure featuring Lance Briggs’ pre-season hold-out and Lamborghini hijinks, Tank Johnson’s legal woes, Brian Urlacher’s baby-mama drama and press tantrums and Rex Grossman’s ability to make ‘ole neckbeard Kyle Orton look like a promising NFL quarterback. Now that Eli Manning has shown Rex Grossman that drawing the constant ire of fans and the media doesn’t have to end in futility, it’s time to hit the road in search of Chicago’s own super bowls of soup, chili and stew to keep you warm.

A Christmas Story

For years, I’ve been telling people Peter Billingsley, the actor who played Ralphie in the movie “A Christmas Story,” was now a porn star. By the time my family was doped up on rum balls and snoring through their third viewing of the movie, I’d whip out the porn nugget and invariably win friends and influence people. In this age of Google, since no one ever called me on it, I thought it must be true.