My Favorite Things: Alicia Silverstone Edition

Michael Nagrant / 02.01.10

Last week Oprah discovered ethical eating and the whole Michael Pollan anthology. She also piled it on with a profile of Alicia Silverstone’s new vegan cookbook, aka “The Kind Diet.” Unfortunately the former lip-biting Lolita vilified cheese for ruining her once perfect skin, and thus her new tome should actually be called The Clueless Cookbook.

Based on how many people read James Frey, bought Neti pots or went to see Tyler Perry movies in the last few years, I’m pretty sure the end of food is near. Just in case, I’ve taken some time, and once again in the tradition of Ms. Winfrey, I share a few of my favorite things you should nosh on before the food O-pocalypse comes raining down.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup – Bagel on Damen
I never met a vegan I liked. But maybe that’s because I’m self-hating. Certainly I’m thinking about converting after a few slurps of the vegan-friendly fiery brew of smooth pureed butternut squash outfitted with caramelized sweet bits of Granny Smith apple served at this new Wicker Park hot spot. Now, where can I score a pair of leather-free shoes?

Croquetas de Pollo – Pasha
Everyone’s always saying they’d eat a tennis shoe if it were deep-fried, but why chow on a pair of old Nikes when you’ve got these luscious crispy golden brown orbs oozing with chicken, chorizo and spicy aioli?

“Grilled Cheese” course – Sprout
For the last three years, Sprout chef Dale Levitski pulled a Brian Wilson. After making good as runner-up on “Top Chef,” the guy disappeared, squatted in his apartment and ate Tombstone pizzas on his couch until he saw his shadow, came out of hiding and took the reins at this new Lincoln Park organic joint. Though I had questions about his sanity going in, his “grilled cheese,” featuring crispy baked cheddar triangles standing in for your usual bread slices stuffed with caramelized onion, tart apples and served with a side of apricot mustard, drove me insane. The whole thing makes you want a shot of deep-fried tomato soup or something on the side.

El Pirata – Mercadito
I find that mixing beer with juice, or frankly anything else, is an occupation best left to tennis-playing grannies in the UK. However, this beer kicked up with a shot of El Jimador blanco tequila, pineapple, chili and a touch of cinnamon robbed me of that notion.

Spaghetti Carbonara – Kith and Kin
Featuring the Michelin-quality-inflected mom food of French Laundry, Trio and Alinea vets, this might be Chicago’s best neighborhood restaurant. Certainly everything from crispy chicken thighs to crocks of bubbly French onion soup offer more comfort than a La-Z Boy recliner, a few bong hits and a couple gulps of good bourbon. The real chill stuff is the house-made rustic spaghetti tossed with creamy egg, juniper-inflected house-cured crispy guanciale, and micro-dots of parsley.

Penfolds Hyland Riesling – Trader Joes
Though I still love their crazy-happy social-butterfly checkout employees, I’ve been over Trader Joes as a place to pick up value wine for a couple years now, that is until I happened on to this off-dry $3.99 beauty, perfect for your favorite BYOB seafood experience.

Bo Bo Platter – Red Dragon, Elmhurst
This might be my favorite American-inflected Cantonese Chinese restaurant in Chicagoland. Recently I indulged my inner-Tiki freak and ordered up the flaming lazy Susan-like platter filled with some serious fat egg rolls, sweet sticky ribs, creamy crab Rangoon, crispy fried rice and foil-wrapped smoky grilled chicken. The 1950’s-style honey-lacquered wainscoting and paper lanterns make this the perfect stereotypical Chinese dining oasis.

This first appeared in Newcity.