Dining and food culture in Chicago

The Big Heat #5: Paul Kahan, Donald Madia, Eduard Seitan, Terry Alexander

The Big Heat No Comments »

Paul Kahan

5
Paul Kahan, Donald Madia, Eduard Seitan, Terry Alexander
Chef/Owners/Managers of most of the edible things that are remotely cool in Chicago
We could separate each of these guys out on their own, but by now they’re the culinary equivalent of Bogie and Bacall, Han Solo and Chewbacca, or as the music-loving Kahan might appreciate, Marr and Morrissey. They make sweet music together. They’re not involved in every single one of these projects together, but collectively they are responsible for Blackbird, Avec, The Publican, Big Star, the Violet Hour and Mia Francesca. If they felt like opening a coffee shop/organ-meat emporium in a fully operating bathhouse, it would literally and figuratively be the hottest spot in town.

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The Top 5 of Everything 2010: Resto

Guides & Lists 1 Comment »

Girl and The Goat

Top 5 Restaurant Openings: Higher/Middle End
Ria
Epic
Davanti Enoteca
Arami
Girl and The Goat
—Michael Nagrant

Top 5 Restaurant Openings: Lower End/Ethnic
Franks ‘N’ Dawgs
Mac and Min’s
Del Seoul
Gaztro-Wagon (storefront)
M Burger
—Michael Nagrant

Top 5 Hangover Helpers
Op la, Saigon Sisters
Pork belly kimchi fries, Del Seoul
Sonoran hot dog, Big Star
Tempura fried pickles, Lillie’s Q
Griddled burger with a side of loaded fries, Edzo’s
—Michael Nagrant Read the rest of this entry »

A Taco Tale: La Lagartija Taqueria brings a Bayless alum to the West Loop

Mexican, West Loop No Comments »

By Michael Nagrant

Few people ignore Rick Bayless. Those who do usually get their ass handed to them—see Chef Ludovic Lefebvre on the first season of Top Chef Masters. For Laura Cid-Perea, the Mexico City-born Le Cordon Bleu Paris-trained pastry chef, things turned out a little differently.

In 2000, the former Frontera Grill cook asked her old boss what he thought about her dream to open a Mexican-style bakery. Though Bayless believed in his protégé, he told her he wasn’t sure Chicagoans were ready for a concept like that. He was probably right, for at that point if any non-Latino Chicagoan had stepped foot in one of the Near South panaderias, they’d be rewarded with leaden churros and stale industrial-shortening larded cookies. It would be tough to get past that reputation.

The weight of Bayless’ recommendation was heavy, for he knew something about launching a concept before its time. Back in 1987, when Clark Street was still a semi-seedy district, he opened a little regional Mexican joint, with his mother and mother-in-law’s retirement savings, called Frontera Grill. His first customer, expecting Tex-Mex style fare, warily scanned the menu, then got up and said, “This is not Mexican food. You’re going to fail.” Read the rest of this entry »

Hot Plates: My top ten tastes of summer

Fast Food/Street Food, Ice Cream No Comments »

Photo: Brent Hieggelke

By Michael Nagrant

1) Taylor Twosome: There’s nothing like a slushy cup of Mario’s watermelon- or cantaloupe-chunk-studded Italian Lemonade and a nutmeg-spiced combo Italian Beef from Al’s. Despite plenty of comers, they’re still both unparalleled originals. Still, I’d be lying if I didn’t say visiting these institutions wasn’t an excuse to chill on a nearby Taylor Street stoop and watch the inevitable black-socked sandal-wearing old Italian dudes hunkered down in aluminum folding lawn chairs snoring under their rattan-weave porkpie hats. If those guys have turned in early, there’s always a beer-soaked 16” softball game down at Sheridan Park worth catching. Al’s  #1 Italian Beef, 1079 West Taylor; Mario’s Italian Lemonade, 1068 West Taylor

2) Beverly Bi: A freshly ground and griddled buttery patty sandwiched between a fresh pillowy bun from the Soulian family’s Top Notch Beefburger in Beverly just ain’t complete without a five-colored scoop of orange sherbet, pistachio, strawberry, chocolate and Palmer House (Venetian Vanilla with cherries and walnuts) ice creams at the orange adobe palace of The Original Rainbow Cone. Top Notch Beefburger, 2116 West 95th; The Original Rainbow Cone, 9233 South Western 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 »

Sky High: Big Star burns bright at night

Mexican, Wicker Park No Comments »

Sunday night’s a stern nine degrees outside, but the 100-plus patrons at Big Star beam like crazy at the unconscionably fashionable new spot right by the Blue Line’s North and Milwaukee stop.

The ceiling of the late Pontiac Café is cut through by eight or more skylights, and emptied out by daylight, its simple box might resemble Blackbird’s simplicity that requires an ever-moving throng for the room to come to life; notably, the players here include Blackbird partner Paul Kahan, as well as other contributors from avec, The Publican and The Violet Hour, just across Damen to the west. Like the Rainbo Club to the south, it’s panopticon-style: there are no obstructions to the looking and being looked at, unless you count the fine small tacos in front of you, notably the De Panza, two bites of crunchy braised pork belly that would make a fine final meal along with a two-liter bottle of Dr. Pepper, using the bar’s Kold-Draft ice cubes. “Super-fresh” is a phrase that rolls off Kahan’s tongue, and along with Buck Owens-style country on the turntable, it’s a daydream of a roadhouse, bare walls, dim bare bulbs dangling overhead. Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2009: Food & Drink

Cookbooks, Guides & Lists 3 Comments »

Top 5 New Fine Dining RestaurantsIMG_9074
Cibo Matto
Taxim
Brown Trout
Sunda
Kith and Kin
—Michael Nagrant

Top 5 New Informal Restaurants
Xoco
Café Senegal
Zebda
Han 202
Jam
—Michael Nagrant Read the rest of this entry »