Dining and food culture in Chicago

Comfort Me: Chef Edward Kim, Mott Street

Comfort Me, Contemporary Comfort, Wicker Park No Comments »

© 2014 Galdones Photography

By David Hammond

“When I was sick,” recalls Chef Edward Kim of Mott Street, “or when I came in from the cold after shoveling snow with my father, I might have a hot porridge of rice with a little soy sauce; chicken soup…or a Japanese curry pork over rice. To me, Japanese curry is synonymous with the colder days of fall and winter; it was a dish my parents would often make for me. Japanese curry evokes memories of the smell of stewed meat with curry in a kitchen comfortably humid in an otherwise brisk house. It reminds me of my childhood.

“From a strictly culinary perspective, Japanese curry is comforting because it’s thick, it sticks to your bones, yet it’s mild in seasoning and has a distinct sweetness to it. While the curry is indeed black pepper-forward, the spiciness is not aggressive. It pairs well with braised meats. To me, braised meats capture comfort because they’re simple to make, yet they take time—and time is important.” Read the rest of this entry »

Culinary Adventure: Four Things to Know About Dishcrawl

Loop, News etc., Trends & Essays, Wicker Park No Comments »

Prasino

For foodies who can’t decide where to dine, Dishcrawl makes eating out easy by skipping the selection process altogether. Like a pub crawl for food, Dishcrawl organizes a walking tour of four different restaurants for a $39 edible adventure you don’t have to plan. The Wicker Park crawl kicks off at sustainable eatery Prasino on November 7, and another crawl goes downtown to explore the Loop on November 13.

1. It’s a hit elsewhere. Already established in dozens of cities across the country and Canada, Dishcrawl is ready to give Chicago some love after a test run this past April. “In the Bay Area, where [Dishcrawls] are happening all the time, they’re getting mostly food lovers, but also twenty- and thirty-somethings who want to try something new,” says Tessa McLean, one of Dishcrawl’s two Chicago ambassadors. “Food has become so important in Chicago, it really is a food town.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Big Heat #36: Rob and Allison Levitt

The Big Heat, Wicker Park No Comments »

36
Rob and Allison Levitt
Owners, Butcher & Larder
What they started at the short-lived Mado, breaking down whole animals and serving all the parts, lives on greater than ever at their new Noble Square butchery. From Paulina to Gepperth’s, there’s plenty of great old meat cutters doing God’s work. But, while the protein served up at those places is often high quality, they’re also nameless and faceless cuts, some local, some not. At B&L, you can get a chop that was definitely raised on pasture less than a hundred miles away or the same farmer’s cut served to you at Sepia or Vie the night before.

See details on the The Big Heat

The Big Heat #44: Paula Haney

Pastry, The Big Heat, Wicker Park No Comments »

44
Paula Haney
Owner, Hoosier Mama Pie Company
If anyone can take over the world one bite at a time, Haney, armed with her incredibly flaky crusted sweet and savory pies, is definitely poised to do it. Everything we’ve ever eaten here, be it jiggly banana cream or custardy quiche, is one of the best things we ever put in our mouth.

See details on the The Big Heat

411: Easy Being Green

Organics, Produce, Wicker Park 1 Comment »

The idea of an organic, environmentally friendly, eco-footprintless lifestyle is no longer avant-garde. The actuality of people taking the steps to live this lifestyle, however, can be unimpressive. Lauren Yucan’s Real Naked Food, now open at 1909 West Division, makes green living a whole lot easier for Wicker Park.

Real Naked Food is a small grocery with fresh produce, bulk baking and cooking needs, frozen meals, baby food and cleaning supplies. All of the merchandise here is organic and “absolutely 100 percent local,” says Yucan. With the exception of a few frozen and pre-packaged items, this grocer is BYOC—Bring Your Own Container. While this technique reflects the European market approach the store is influenced by, it also allows patrons to decide how much or little of any product they take home. “Buying in bulk is an excellent way to save,” explains Yucan. “You can buy a pound of flour when you only need one cup, or you can get one cup of quality organic flour for cents.” The concept behind BYOC is pre-cycling—avoiding items that will become waste whether they are disposed of in the trash or a recycling bin. Taking the work out of recycling for lazy earth lovers, using your own containers at Real Naked Food is a time, money and effort saver. “The idea is so foreign to bring in your empty spray bottle to refill with our organic cleaner,” says Yucan, “but what are you going to do with it when it’s empty? Throw it away and buy a new one.” While you receive a 25-cent discount with every container you bring in, Real Naked Food has biodegradable containers to purchase for the unprepared shopper. Read the rest of this entry »

Off ‘Que at Lillie’s: Will the real smoke-daddy please stand up?

Barbecue, Wicker Park 1 Comment »

Ribs

By Michael Nagrant

The 1800 block of North Avenue is turning into the Lynyrd Skynyrd junction. On one side, you’ve got chef Cary Taylor serving up corn-perfumed johnnycakes and fried green tomatoes at The Southern, while across the street you’ll find Charlie McKenna, formerly of Tru and Avenues, serving up boiled peanuts and smoked ribs at the new Lillie’s Q.

Though, I suppose the rockers from Jacksonville, Florida would probably take issue with that moniker, for they probably never got their pulled pork from a fancy brick-and-wood artist’s-loft-like bar with plasma screens on continuous “ESPN SportsCenter” loop, as at Lillie’s. But, then again, does one really need concrete, chipped paint, and a lack of air conditioning to serve true tasty southern treats anyway? Read the rest of this entry »

A Fish Story: Chicago’s seafood history lives on in its shrimp houses

Fast Food/Street Food, Seafood, Wicker Park 2 Comments »

Joey's Shrimp House

By Michael Nagrant

Though it wasn’t exactly Cape Cod, Chicago did alright in the fresh-catch business. Prior to World War II, it was one of the largest seafood shipping points in the country with twenty-two large wholesalers operating on the banks of the Chicago and Calumet Rivers. In the thirties and forties, Lake Michigan trout used to be more abundant than long lines at Apple stores on iPhone launch day. On April 6, 1951, a fishing tug named the Iva T hauled in 2,000 pounds of perch and dropped them off at the Lawrence Schweig’s Fish Company located at 2120 South Canal. Restaurant barges and, during prohibition, speakeasies served thirsty fisherman and lumber and ore haulers on Lake Michigan.

During that heyday, the fish house or shrimp shack also sprung up, serving deep-fried, smoked and fresh seafood. Troha’s flourished in Little Village in the 1920s. In 1948, brothers-in-law Sid Kotlick and Len Toll launched Calumet Fisheries, the now-legendary fish house sitting over the 95th Street Bridge where Jake and Elwood Blues eventually jumped their Bluesmobile in the “Blues Brothers” movie. Before Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. preyed on tourists, locals used to swing over to Rocky’s Bait Shop just south of Navy Pier for fried smelt and oysters. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Better Moonshine

News etc., Wicker Park 2 Comments »

Cast Iron Shrimp Ceviche and Moonshine I.P.A. Beer/Photo: Jody Grimaldi

With food, it’s often the little things that make the big difference. A small shrimp, the choice of cast iron and just a second or two of searing, for example.

Five months ago, Matt Wilde walked into Moonshine, a Wicker Park bar and grill with a neighborhood-watering-hole vibe, with the intention of transforming it into a fine-dining-caliber destination. There would be no white linen, and sports would still be available on the tube. But what came out of the kitchen would be carefully thought out, selectively sourced and masterfully, if simply, prepared.

Wilde’s cast-iron shrimp ceviche fits this bill. Traditionally with ceviches, a seafood is “cooked” in lemon or lime juices, but Wilde has put a twist on that for his dish at the rebranded and refurbished Moonshine Brewing Company in Wicker Park. Read the rest of this entry »

Jam Session: Rockin’ Taco vs. Big Star in the Clash of tortillas

Lakeview, Mexican, Wicker Park No Comments »

Rockin' Taco's tofu taco

By Michael Nagrant

Johnny Cash was givin’ me the middle finger. So it goes at Lakeview’s Rockin’ Taco, where posters of rock gods, including a squinty eyed Bob Marley smoking a fatty blunt, an impossibly youthful Clash slumming in an alley, and a pissed-off Man in Black giving the big eff-you to the camera, hang near the cash register.

I thought it was a metaphor. I thought everything was.

After the Beatles vs. Stones, there is maybe no more prevalent turntable-side discussion than The Clash vs The Jam. And those who pick The Clash, at least to those born in America (for Brits have generally always derided The Jam as unserious popsters—probably spot on when you consider the Motownesque backbeat of a “Town Called Malice”) and subject to the overwhelming popularity of “Rock the Casbah,” are sometimes regarded as pop-swayed dilettantes. American Jam fans tend to be argumentative types who appreciate (or pretend to) their driving-though-less-hooky singles like “Eaton Rifles.” Those folks also tend to count the slightly greater post-Jam success of Paul Weller over Joe Strummer’s post-Clash career (far too much) as evidence of The Jam’s musical superiority. Of course, those who argue too vehemently about these things sometimes still live in their parent’s basements.

So, yes, of course, Rockin’ Taco with its dingy shiny head-shop-stereotype posters and cheesy big-screen-television-clad dining room was all about the friendlier Clash. I mean, c’mon, they serve hot dogs and tofu tacos. They have a special called the Friday Night Fight where if you polish off ten ghost pepper (hottest pepper in the world—check out the YouTube videos of people eating them to understand the decline of Western Civilization) hot-sauced tacos in an hour, with only one drink and one napkin to save you, you get a t-shirt, a picture on their wall and “eternal glory.” Hell, it wasn’t just Johnny Cash. The whole idea of this place was giving me the middle finger. Read the rest of this entry »

Resto 100: Chicago’s essential restaurants of 2010

African, Albany Park, American, Andersonville, Argentinian, Auburn Gresham, Avondale, Barbecue, Belmont-Cragin, Beverly, Bistro, Brazilian, Breakfast/Brunch, Bridgeport, Bronzeville, Bucktown, Burbank, Burgers, Cajun/Creole, Caribbean, Chatham, Chinatown, Chinese, Cicero, Contemporary Comfort, Costa Rican, Cuban, Czech, Deli, East Garfield Park, Edgewater, Elmwood Park, Ethiopian, Evanston, Fast Food/Street Food, Filipino, French, Gastropub, German, Gold Coast, Greek, Greektown, Guides & Lists, Hermosa, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Indian, Irving Park, Italian, Italian Beef, Japanese, Kenwood, Korean, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, Lithuanian, Little Italy, Logan Square, Loop, Mediterranean, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Near North, Near South Side, Nepalese, New American, Oak Park, Pakistani, Pan-Asian, Pilsen, Pizza, Puerto Rican, Punk Haute, Ravenswood, River North, River West, Rogers Park, Roscoe Village, Sandwiches, Seafood, Soul Food, South Loop, Spanish, Steakhouse, Sushi, Thai, Trends & Essays, Ukrainian Village, Uptown, Vegetarian, Vietnamese, West Loop, West Town, Wicker Park No Comments »

Resto 100 is, as always, a list of “essential” restaurants, which is most definitely not synonymous with “best.” We strive to reflect a world of dining in a constant state of innovative transition, to capture a snapshot of the state of the food world at this time.

As last year, when we first dropped Charlie Trotter’s, we’ve continued to cull the old guard of the high-end, both as a reflection of the economic times and as a call to action for such spots to up their game. This year, TRU, MK and Boka didn’t escape the chopping block. While we don’t deny their importance in creating the food scene we have today, there are many other places we’d rather send folks—for example, Sepia, Bonsoiree or Cibo Matto (where, ironically, chef Todd Stein is a vet of MK).

Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand are two of the most successful cooks this city has, but neither spends a significant amount of time at TRU. This is not so much an observation as it’s a cry for the fact that we really miss Rick’s cooking. We appreciate his cookbooks and that he tried to open a nationwide restaurant chain, but with that not working out, why not return to his roots? It should also be noted that Chef de Cuisine Tim Graham was doing some incredibly innovative work, but was recently transferred to Brasserie Jo.

Boka, which we loved for its Charlie Trotteresque complexity, has frankly been a little inconsistent in its execution on recent visits, and frankly maybe too Trotteresque. We love the direction Perennial has gone, look forward to Stephanie Izard’s Girl and the Goat, and think maybe they outshine the original jewel in Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz’s mini-empire.

That’s not to say you have to be cutting-edge innovative or perfect to make the list. For if you do something old-school or classic and you continue to do it well and you didn’t make your bones by being a game-changer, we honor that as well. This year, we added some overlooked classics including Marie’s Pizza, Ginza and, much to our own surprise, Hyde Park’s Calypso Café. Maybe the biggest surprise was Café des Architectes, which used to be as old-school as it gets. Martial Noguier and his pastry chef Suzanne Imaz are probably two of this city’s most underrated cooks, putting out slighty twisted old-school French gourmet plates flawlessly.

Likewise, the trend of informal, casual rustic dining doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, and we dig that. To celebrate that movement we’ve added The Bristol, Paramount Room, Brown Trout, Kith and Kin and others.

The beauty of any list, though, is that you may not agree. So drop us a line and let us know.

—Michael Nagrant, Resto 100 editor Read the rest of this entry »