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September 2005

August 2005

Shrimp Cocktail, Greek Salad, & Corn on the Cob: The Last Days of Al Fresco Dining

Dscf0953_1Summer is almost over (is that even possible?) and I'm using all the final days of good weather to take advantage of my awesome back yard.  I love nothing more than crispy, buttery corn on the cob, Greek salad with tart feta cheese and piles of fresh shrimp cocktail with bursts of lemon.  Mix all that in with a little red wine (I like it on ice...) in my breezy back yard and you'd think I was somewhere in the Mediterranean.  Oh, toss in a game of Scrabble (I am the queen of maker-upper words, but you'd never be able to convince me of that) and I'm golden~
I will say, I do love fall, though and cannot wait to don full chill-resistant body armour just to take advantage of the fact that I have a rockin' backyard.

Memories Inn Tavern: Chevapi at its finest

Late last night, I returned from my own personal farewell to Los Angeles trip. I’d gone out there to sell my sailboat and needed to wrap her up and get her ready for her new owner and while I was there, I revisited some of my favorite haunts and memories in LA (without the allure of a sailboat, who knows when the hell I’ll be back to that shady town). Along the way, I stopped at numerous holes-in-the-wall to fuel my goodbye and happily discovered that Chicago wins out in the back-alley dining department, as well. (After a decade long love affair between the two cities, a solid winner has finally emerged.) Dscf0865_4
On the food front, I was stunned to realize that my neighborhood sushi joint, Kaze, blows LA sushi houses away and that the Chicago Diner rocks the best health nut chopped salad from either coast. Good ‘ole Wholly Frijoles owns the market for Mexican (though Tijuana on Olympic near the 405 is a close second) and I was delighted to discover that my charming little Cafe Effe (on Montrose) still has the most jaw-dropping tuna I’ve come across. And I’m comparing their version to the million-dollar plate that the Pacific Palisades Beach Club serves up. Yep, Chicago wins all the way around.

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Scooter's Concrete Snickers: Later DQ!

Dscf0941A few months ago, my film crew and I set out on an epic road trip from Chicago to the very tip of Baja, Mexico. We were filming a TV show called, "Tracking Expats," traipsing up and down the entire peninsula of Baja trying to locate those randy souls that took the plunge, ditched America and bolted over the border. All in all, we logged over 7,000 miles roundtrip (in my trusty SUV), close to a hundred plates of beans and rice and boatloads of margaritas.

On the way there (across the whole of North America), we stopped at almost every single Dairy Queen (lovingly called the DQ) and picked up a few of those mind-numbingly addictive Blizzards. My fave is the Snickers Blizzard, and when we finally crossed back over the border onto US soil, where'd we roll to right away? Our good friend, the DQ.

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Bahia Concepcion: Sea of Cortez Goldmine

Dscn0368I'm headed out to LA this weekend and I think I'm finally going to take the plunge and sell my sweet little sailboat.  Though I love it dearly, I'm ready to move up to a bigger one anyway (I'm thinkin' 36') and even though my boat in LA is peace of mind for me in the brutal Chicago winters, so is Bahia Concepcion, one of my favorite places in all of Baja.  Earlier this year, my and my fatcake crew trekked up and down the whole peninsula shooting a TV show and this is where we ended the show.  I think I need a bigger boat AND a little trailer to attach to the back of my truck for the winter (a quick haul to Baja is better than LA anyday).  What is it with those Mexican folks?  Once they are in your soul, they ain't really leaving.  (p.s. It's only a couple bucks a day to camp here on the Sea of Cortez and in many places, it's free.  I love truck camping here; Oh, the stories I have for that one.)

Greek Frappe: Take a Sip of Me

Dscf0916When you mix a bit of water, milk, sugar, ice cubes and instant coffee, what do ya get?  A lovely little concoction known as a Frappe.  The best ones roll out of Greek places; Cafe Iguana, 9 Muses, etc...but I'm sure they're easy to rock out on your own.  I got my first sampling of this a few years back when I was stranded at a dump of a port town in Greece, waiting on a boat back to Italy.  I had nowhere to stay and some charming Greek fella invited me to stay at his place for the night til the next boat rolled out in the a.m. (fancy that...).  After a god-awful night of sleep on a couch in some tiny apartment with a handful of strangers in a seedy hood in the middle of nowhere, I was awakened with pounding Greek techno music and a blender purring loudly at about 7 a.m.  Agh!  Just get me to the boat.  Well, after one of those, whaddaya call it?  Frappe? Bring it on, then, thanks~now, get me back to the boat.

The Iceberg Wedge: A True Classic

Dscf0386This salad is the best summer salad there is.  This version was created by Chef Stu & Co. for one of his Wednesday night shindigs (see my new article in this weeks Time Out magazine for the lowdown).  Just a simple wedge of a whole head of iceberg (must be very well chilled to maintain that crispiness) that's covered in a most addictive homemade thousand island dressing (the secret ingredient?  Bits of egg actually in the dressing) and then topped with little chunks of crispy, fried bacon.  It's literally a meal in itself and pure joy for the tastebuds.

Argo Tea Shop: Addictive Mate Smoo Tea

Dscf0833So, I've now officially got a new addiction rollin'...and silly me, I knew it would happen.  I'm almost over my Red Bull phase (not quite, though) and today (I was dyin' for a blended pick me up), I remembered reading about Argo Tea (they make my favorite mate tea that I buy at Whole Foods) and how they've opened up some tea shops in town.  So, of course, I jammed over to the one on Armitage and promptly purchased a Sugar-Free (wow!) Mate Smoo Tea (much like a blended frapp from Starbucks) and holy moly; just the cleanest taste sensation I'd had in forever.  I was immediately wired and hence, addicted.

New Articles in Time Out Chicago Magazine

Dscf0804This weeks Time Out magazine has a few new articles in it that I had so much fun writing.  The feature story is about three different hard-core food lovers that have created their own stamp of foodie nirvana.  Chef Stu whips up a gourmet four course meal for 14 every week, Kim Ferguson started a monthly ethnic cooking club that cooks its way around the world, and Kathy Bass creates a weekly vegan feast in her tiny Humbolt Park kitchen (I'll post more about the food later in the week).  The  best part about all three of these alternative dining options?  Anyone can go and enjoy the fare.  Check out the new issue of Time Out for more details; it's on newsstands now.  The other article I wrote is for the Save This Restaurant column.  It covers the awesome Ecuadorian restaurant, Mi Ciudad, on Irving Park Rd.  Cheap, hearty, fresh-as-can-be and it makes me so happy when I go there.  The charming owner, Manuel Aguilera, is a golden gem~

Backyard Vineyards in Chicago

Dscf0615I spent last night in the lovely backyard of a Greek friend of mine.  Tiny as it was, his family had utilized every single inch of space there was and they'd planted fig trees, pear trees, peach trees, basil, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, squash, and most astonishingly, a full-on vineyard.  It was totally insane.  They were just chillin', listening to old-school Greek music, polishing off a feast (and of course, slinging back some rose) and cutting all the grape bunches to make homemade wine.  Who even knew Mediterranean life existed in Chicago.  I guess all ya need is a patch of dirt to make something grow.

Superior Bar Food: Candlelite Chicago's Garlic French Fries

Dscf0569Sometimes the only thing that's gonna hit the spot is straight up bar food and lots of it. Problem is, where to wrangle up some good bar food? I know there are a few spots in my 'hood; The Village Tap (awesome veggie burgers and plates of made-from-scratch hummus), The Burgundy Inn (juicy pork chops and addictive yeast rolls) and Northside Bar and Grill (great, drinkable ranch dressing and crispy French fries), but for the most part, the late night shove-down is cheesy quesadillas and refried bean dip from Tony's Burrito Mex.

That is, until I discovered Candlelite Chicago way up on the North Side. This tavern has been around for 60 years (never heard of it) and had started to sag ("big time," according to the regulars) until a group of young bucks bought her a few years ago and did a full retweak of the interior, including the menu. This is bar food at its finest. I could go on and on about the cracker thin crust pizza (which everyone who knows about the place seems to do already), or the creamy baked goat cheese marina dip with homemade crispy flatbread, but compared to a few other stars on the menu, these dishes pale in comparison (though they are quite good).

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