The year 2005 can be summed up in one word for me: craving. For the past 300+ days, I have had the most intense, gotta-have-it-right-now craves of my life. And while I'll always dream about the addictive French toast at Victory's Banner and the insanely delicious Spanish-style hot chocolate from Angel Food Bakery, it's always exciting to discover a new round of addictions. Most of mine came in the form of food, but a few drinks made their way into the mix for good measure. After a year of raves, here are the best of the best:
Now that the weather in Chicago is totally freezing, I'm headed out of town for a bit to this tiny, remote island in the middle of the Caribbean. I'm super-excited (mostly cuz I'm shooting a TV show), but also because I'm ready for hundreds of mojitos, freshly caught lobster, lots of sunshine and snorkeling. The island is called Little Corn Island and is just off the coast of Nicaragua. Very off-the-grid. Next week (after Monday), I won't have any postings, but I'm sure to have many tales and foodie stories upon my return. That is, IF I return. I think you know what I mean~I feel like this place will definitley make my Perfect Place to Live list....stay tuned for that one.
Cook Until Desired Tenderness
Notebook thin but packed to the rim with hotshot (and often hysterical) one-liners, Cleo Papanikolas' new book is a beautifully illustrated sketchbook/walk-of-life about falling in and out of love, in and out of the kitchen.
This book is the sort of small treasure that had me plopping on the couch when I got it and not moving until I'd digested every single word and actually touched the pages covered with absolutely breathtaking drawings (all food-based, of course).
Cleo's character (though this is fiction, why do I feel like Cleo herself has lived to tell some of these stories?) waxes poetic throughout the book on the madness of relationships (that crazy high when you first meet someone and then, the heart-piercing low when it's time to get the hell out...and fast) and how she blazes her way through the kitchen (or not) to match each fellas personality. Who can't connect with that: Certain guys make you cook yourself silly and others have you not cooking at all.
There are no recipes in the book, but it never claimed to be a cookbook--it's more of a wild adventure into love, via the ups-and-downs of recipes (some turn out, some don't).
Cleo is a talented writer and I just loved the whimsical nature of this book. It left me wanting more, more, more by the end of the read and wishing that I could draw like that...oh, where life might have taken me with an ounce of her talent.
My favorite part is toward the end of the book where she is living in a one-room apartment and literally sleeping on a huge dining room table (she was too lazy to move it out when the previous tenants left), surrounded by silverware she's collected along the way to this existence. Sounds right up my alley.
This weeks Time Out Chicago has an article I wrote on Tacos Del Pacifico. This tiny, far southside taco hut has the very best Baja-style fish tacos that I have ever tasted...including the ones that I've actually trekked across Baja sampling (well, they're tied). I know the haul is forever, but I'm telling you, it's worth it for these little gems. The fish are the best, with the shrimp coming in a close second. Go before winter hits. Here's the article~
Save this restaurant
Unsung spots that deserve your dough
Tacos del Pacifico
3544 E 106th St between Avenue L and Avenue M (773-221-1143)
You'd think Baja, Mexico, would be the best place to find glorious fish tacos, but this gem's simple menu offers some fierce competition. Deep in southeast Chicago lies one of the most inspiring taco stands in the area, with only three tables, ten stools and a walk-up counter. Though they're from Guadalajara, young owners Mario and Martha Romero (pictured) hope their aspiration to make a Baja-style taco even better than the original will snag customers. But with little foot traffic, and a nearby Mexican community that Martha claims only eats meat and doesn't like seafood, business for the year-old restaurant is slow.
But that's no fault of the insanely delicious tacos. The only item on the menu, it comes two ways: blandito (soft) or dorado (crispy), jam packed with your pick of seafood, crispy cabbage, diced tomato, chopped onion, a squirt of sour cream and chili sauce. The heavenly deep-fried shrimp and whitefish (both battered with Mario's secret family recipe) are our favorites, but the broad spectrum also includes scallop, squid or octopus, all a steal at $1.75. Order them dorado, and your seafood-stuffed tortilla is fried until crispy and then tossed into a plastic basket ready to be doused in lime and smeared with charred jalapeño. One bite and you'll believe Mario's claim: "Once you try our tacos, you'll always want to come back."—Misty Tosh
Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I've been thinking about what I'm grateful for (besides an awesome family, wise-cracking friends, good health, and an amazing job). And, as I was walking through a different part of the city this past weekend (on the hunt for a strong Bosnian coffee), I realized the one thing I'm most grateful for is all of the foreigners that migrated to America, took a whopping chance, and set up shop. Think about it, they're the ones responsible for feeding my belly the Asian food I eat every other day (Zen Garden), the Argentinian mate tea I drink every day (Whole Foods), the Indian food buffet I scarfed down yesterday (Standard India Restaurant), the Bulgarian cheese pie I snack on (The Bulgarian Bakery), the juicy Bosnian chevapi I daydream about (Bel Ami), the icy cold margaritas I make friends with every week (La Finca), the El Salvadorean pupusas I hunt for down every street, the Swedish pancakes I wish I knew how to make, the Greek fries I make with growing concern at the alarming frequency, the Afghan bread (see picture, this bread is fantastic and served at The Afghan Restaurant) I crave when toasted and smothered with butter and honey, the German schnitzel with spicy mustard I remember from living in Germany, the Italian wine I drink when I'm home in Tennessee, the Australian honey I'm addicted to (Whole Foods), the New Zealand oysters I daydream about with an icy cold beer, the Ethiopian way of eating all that spicy, mushy food with sour bread and my hands, the Pakistani desserts that are like pure sugar bars (Shan Restaurant), and on and on and on. I'm happy that ethnicity's from every walk of life and from the edge of every continent have made Chicago their home and I can wander into their stores, their restaurants, their bakeries, their groceries, and their walk-up wagons and be transported to their country and their kitchen in a split second. As a side note, I'm also grateful for all of the distributors that import these glorious ingredients which make all of these mouth-watering meals happen. It's just the little things, right?
Snuggling deeper into a plush cushion with my legs splayed alongside me, I took a sip of sweet Turkish white wine, scooped up another bite of tender eggplant and thought, "Now, this is why I love this city." A low-rise table covered in Turkish goodies, some chilled wine and the ability to eat while practically laying down: You just can't find that in any old town.
It was around 3:30 p.m. and time for a break from work (which sometimes necessitates a small glass of wine). I told producer/dining guinea-pig Chezne that we'd walk until I saw a restaurant I've never eaten at. No matter what, that's where we stop. She threw on her scarf immediately, delighted for an adventure (especially one that involved liquor).
My office happens to be just down the block from Whole Foods, so you can imagine how frequently I visit that place. Try 3x per day...if it's not for bottled water (.69 for a huge bottle), it's for Fuji apples, cashews or blueberry juice. There is just always something needed from Whole Foods on a daily (hourly) basis, so when me and the Fatcake team were celebrating the sell of one of our TV shows, where else were we gonna get provisions? Whole Foods, of course. We went global (much like the show) and picked up a batch of Mediterranean olives, some roasted Italian tomatoes (one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth), a block of Australian white cheddar cheese, a bag of salty cashews and some vegetarian pepperoni, as well as a perfectly juicy Fuji apple. To top it off, of course, was some Spanish champagne (drunk out of Whole Foods soup cups...we're very classy and insist on the very best~) and it was just a delightful little feast. We leave for a tiny, remote island in Nicaragua next week to shoot the show and where I'm sure the eating will be 10x better...but for the dead of winter in Chicago, this was a mighty fine treat.
This summer, I had one of the best cheesecakes I'd ever put in my mouth; wet, sour creamy, thick with flavor and situated squarely on a cookie crumb crust. I've daydreamed about it many times since, but never made it back to Cold Comfort Cafe & Deli on North Ave. for another round til this weekend. I raved on and on and on about it to my bud Chez and demanded that we get there (all the way across town) before closing so she too could taste one of the finest cheesecakes around (finding the good stuff is harder than you'd imagine). We got there about 10 minutes til closing and much to the chagrin of the employees, ordered a half slice ($2.50 only). I was so excited, just giddy with anticipation...until my first bite. Uh-oh! I could tell that it had been in the refrigerated case just a day or two too long. I was totally devastated as I pushed the plate back to the middle of the table, in total despair. (Chez was plain ole pissed~) I mentioned it to the waitress and she did something totally cool--she copped to knowing that it tasted like the fridge. What the heck! I give her props for admitting it, but come on, if you know it, toss it, love. And, if it weren't sooooo damn good, I'd probably give up on the place forever, but because I remember that glorious summertime discovery, I'm gonna give them another go, on another day. Maybe it was just a one time thing, you know? That's what I'm rooting for, at least~
I know this is going to sound nearly impossible to believe, but I have never really had a torta (that fantastically addictive Mexican sandwich). I know, I know...how is that even true? Chicago is a city with thousands (it seems) of tiny Mexican huts, all specializing in this tasty sandwich, and I've never tried one? Blame it on me not eating meat (we all know I fall off that wagon time and time again), and thinking that a veggie torta just doesn't sound appealing. Well, everything has changed (I guess I do eat meat now and again) and I can see what I was missing. Now I can proudly say, my perfect sandwich is a freshly toasted torta; imagine crispy homemade bread, toasted just right, covered in a pile of spicy pulled chicken, and coated with crunchy lettuce, thinly sliced tomato and a heavy smear of thick sour cream. What's not to love? And, now that I've had a superfine one (thanks, La Perla Tapatia), I'm ready to bombard all the little Mexican stands that I happen upon during my wildly varied days. I can't seem to get them out of my head; the whole sandwich is just plain sublime. And, they are way cheap; most are about $3-4 and really, let's face facts...though I love ya, Potbelly's don't have nothing on the torta. Sars to letcha, PB~I guess I'm always just looking for something to wrap both my hands around when it comes to food.
This summer, I hit up a ton of farmers markets and one of my favorites was in Lincoln Square. It was a super charming little get together, quaint, if you will. Every week, there was a funny fella there who had a stand selling insanely potent coffee and delicious homemade granola. He always had a little table out with samples of every coffee on display--I once saw a tiny Asian grandpa screaming at him because his coffee was TOO strong; how on earth could he be serving coffee that intense (go figure)? Anyway, I just realized that this same fella (I cannot remember his name for the life of me) is the same guy who just opened Grazers Gourmet way up north on Lincoln. I have to run up there for something else, so I am excited to check out this new shop. I do know that his granola was pretty spot on (still has nothing on Bear Naked, though) and his coffee could stop time. I'm interested to see what else he is whipping out~