The past week, I have been on an eating frenzy. I'm doing some research for an article I'm writing about ethnic food in Chicago and have managed to literally stuff myself silly on all sorts of deliciousness. One of my fave dishes I've tasted in a long time are the mussels at Gruppo di Amici (on Jarvis just west of Sheridan). Earlier in the week, I tasted the Mexican version--Mundial Cocina Mestiza--which were so-so...I credit the sub-par rating to the milky broth they were floating in; then there were the French ones at Le Bouchon, which were good, but nothing spectacular (though the salad lyonnaisse with gigantic tears of fatty bacon was); and last but not least, there were the Italian ones at Gruppo. I mean, these guys really know how to do mussels. They're the perfect size, all meaty and slippery, just lolling around in a super rich, wine-infused, buttery broth that just begs for a dunk of bread to to go along with it. Which was perfect, because little toasts of bread come on the side (nobody else served bread with the mussels). Try sitting on the patio outside--because you can see the bright blue lake a block away and see the neighborhood change right before your very eyes.
The very idea of living on a sailboat makes my heart thump. Be it for a month, a year or forever, this sort of living is definitely on the horizon for me. You know, you work your bootie off, you pay your bills, you save your money, you daydream about sunny skies and beach living every single day and then someday...wham! you are just ready to make the commitment. I am not quite there yet (just by a hair, though) because I am having too much fun at my current job and loving my new place on Lake Michigan too much....but still, the dream still grows and evolves and seems to just get better and more refined as time passes. No matter where I go (if it is coastal), I always scout out the marina just to see whats doing. The El Milagro Marina on Isla Mujeres is way cute and right up my alley. Unfortunately, it is much more expensive to dock there than other places in Mexico ($1 per foot--PER DAY), but they do have a fantastic little set up...very user friendly, amazing views, tiny community, clean showers and toilets and some local fisherman who swing by with the days catch on a regular basis. If you are down that way, check it out for sure~it's definitely what dreams are made of!
What a banner weekend, man: The sun was shining, the lake was blue as the Caribbean (well, if you were slightly buzzed and cocked your head a certain way) and frenzied Chicagoans were out in droves looking to enjoy it all.
Taking advantage of the perfect spring weather, some pals and I decided to head south to Pilsen and see what sort of deliciousness we could happen upon. The only thing we knew for sure was that a BYOB joint was in order…we planned on buying a big, fat bottle of rum to fuel the supersonic day.
Deserting my truck around the 1400 block of 18th Street, we hopped out and started hush-puppin' it a few blocks west toward Nuevo Leon and Mundial Cocina Mestiza. The debate began here: Do we go for the sure thing (Nuevo Leon) or the potentially incredible new kid on the block (Mundial Cocina Mestiza)? Though Nuevo's huevos rancheros called my name, we all really wanted to try a new place. Mundial it was.
A little over a week ago, I found myself in Miami working for a day (yep, just one day) and could not get the thought of that amazing Cuban dish ropa vieja out of my mind. I've been thinking of it since I got back from Nicaragua over a year ago and have tried it a few times here in the states and NOTHING has ever even come close. So, knowing that Miami was on the horizon, I started plotting to have lunch somewhere in South Beach where they dole out authentic Cuban food. Enter Puerto Sagua, a small Cuban joint/diner right in the heart of South Beach. While everyone else at my table was ordering up boring grilled chicken and such, I went with the sure thing...a big pan of sweetly delicious, tomato sauce smothered, onion studded ropa. The meat had been cooked so long it was like little razor-thin strings of butter melting in my mouth and even their plantains, black beans and rice were perfect. Now if I'd just had a mojito to wash it all down with...
Meanwhile, some poor chick at a table nearby was quizzin' the waiter on fat content and salad dressings...like could she have it on the side with no cheese, no fat, no bread...man, that all just = no life!
Leave it up to me to lose my wallet on my first glorious weekend off in ages. I was out for St. Patrick's Day, slipping down rum like it was water and what do you know? Surprise, surprise, my wallet was long lost (full of cash, credit card, drivers license).
But, all things happen for a reason, and for me, that reason was losing my wallet so that I would stop at a random ATM machine on Clark Street so that I would then discover Quesadillas doa Lolis (6924 N. Clark St.) right next door. Blending in with all the non-descript Mexican storefronts, this little gem almost went under my radar, but something—perhaps the handwritten signs in the front window touting all the house specials—drew me in.
Needless to say, at 10 a.m., I was the first customer of the day. The waitress seemed tickled pink that I'd rolled in the door the minute the restaurant opened and shuffled right over to my sunny table with a colorful, picture-laden menu. The right side was all about seafood, but the left side called my name…flor de calabaza (squash blossom) quesadillas to be precise.
I just don't know when I'm gonna find it in me to stop writing about Mexico. I just cannot seem to get enough--every time I scroll thru my photos, out pops another vibrant image from my recent travels to Isla Mujeres. Hell, right now I am listening to Spanish for Dummies on my computer and for breakfast, I had a big, fat plate of Mexican food. I also happen to be making black bean soup with rice, lime and avacado When is enough enough, you ask? I'd say never. I mean, look at this glorious little tamale. It was still hot off the grill when I bought it at this tiny shack of a restaurant in the local downtown of Isla (as opposed to the North side downtown which is a little more tourist heavy). Thank God for the in-the-know taxi driver who dropped me at this gem; I was on the hunt for huevos and he knew just where to drop me. Taqueria El Paso had the best breakfast (eggs, beans, tortillas, salad, the BEST salsa EVER) on the island and I couldn't help but snatch one of these pollo tamales to top it all off. Doused in their spicy, homemade salsa, it was a sight to behold. My whole meal for $3 bones. I will say it again, MEXICO RULES~
Now that spring is on the way, it's time for the FULL cleanse (of course, I say this as I'm sippin' a cuba libre), but seriously, tomorrow the plan is to buy some groceries and try to keep it real for a few weeks...enough of the Mexican slam downs, the copious amounts of vino and rum, the french fries slathered in ranch; you get my drift. It's been a long, hard winter. But, now I'm all about granola, fish, nuts, berries, smoothies, greens, etc...Farmer's markets are up and running soon, the days are longer, the seagulls are floating by my windows and the lake is MAD blue. Whilst on Isla Mujeres, I had the most delicious granola (with shredded coconut, fruit, nuts, raisins, yogurt and honey) my last morning at this adorable cafe called, Elements of the Island. If I ever had a little restaurant in paradise, I'd model it after this oasis; fair-trade coffee, organic fruit, free-range meats, all the good stuff. Plus, this super place has yoga classes upstairs every morning at 9 AM as well as a few guest rooms on site. If you go to Isla, make sure to head there...it's a calm, serene environment that just makes you happy. They even serve mini dolphin shaped sugar cookies with their coffee. The smile just got bigger~
Now, I don't know if you have ever had a homemade pigskin straight out of a pot of hot oil, but it's a taste to behold. I ran into a little guy whipping some up on Isla Mujeres at this carnitas joint. All they had on offer was pork...either on a corn tortilla or in torta form. The only toppings were cilantro, onions, lime and salsa. Nothing more, nothing less. Talk about perfection. Anyway, this fella was grabbing huge sheets of rich-looking pig skin, unfurling it, gently lowering it into the smoky oil for a few seconds and then dragging it onto the counter. Each lucky customer got a huge crackle of it to chow do on with their taco. Totally fascinating process and I could have sit there, sipped cola from a bottle, snapped photos...and slammed tacos all dang day!
Travel is in my bones, and short day trips to Milwaukee or quick jaunts to the Michigan shore don't do it for me. No, to make me blissfully happy it has to be remote, exotic and involve lots of frequent flyer miles. In the first 10 weeks of 2007 I've already rollicked through South Africa, sailed the shores of Zanzibar, squinted up at the sunny skies of Southern California, braved the Mexican border in Baja and, just this past weekend, hit up the mind-bogglingly beautiful beaches of Isla Mujeres, Mexico.
Folks seem to love a gal traveling solo because I couldn't find a minute alone if I tried. Riding an ancient bicycle that my darling beachfront hotel loaned me, I spent my days skittering across the island, slurping down mojitos, slinging back fresh strawberry daiquiri and bellowing out "Hola!" every inch of the way.
You know what the scary thing about this picture is? It's 100% real...and I was just there less than 24 hours ago. Yep, you got it, I just returned from Isla Mujeres, Mexico...one of my new favorite places in the world. Though I was only gone for a few days, I have a dozen stories to tell, a thousand photos to share and a million and one reasons why I wanna go back. Starting with the snorkeling...NEVER have I been snorkeling in such crystal clear waters and within seconds had hundreds of rainbow colored fish surrounding me, enveloping me, flirting with me so close to my face...what an unbelievable experience. For $4 bucks you can hit up Garrafon (right next door to the actual Garrafon Park) and see all sorts of little creatures. Totally blew my mind and what a way to spend a day. I'll follow up some more on the entire trip all this week in my ode to Isla Mujeres. Stay tuned, por favor~