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February 2007

Gruppo di Amici: A Burgeoning Northside Institution {From The Raving Dish}

Img_0329_1Believe it or not, sometimes I leave home without my camera. Of course, it's those exact times that I run across the most memorable meals of my life. This past weekend was no exception: a slew of pals and I hit up Gruppo Di Amici, 1508 W. Jarvis Ave., one the best neighborhood restaurants in the city.
Lucky me, this adorable candle-lit place just so happens to be two blocks from my new home in East Rogers Park. I've been meaning to go there for months, but I've never found the perfect opportunity until a last minute invite from a girlfriend to hook up for drinks and dinner this past Friday night. I suggested Gruppo and the party was on.
Showing up before the dinner rush hits is always my MO, especially on a weekend. There's nothing worse than popping into a casual neighborhood joint around 8 p.m. for a nice meal with friends only to find a jam-packed house, a two-hour wait and a frenzied wait staff hating the very sight of your posse. The key is to show up around 6:30 p.m. at a place that's slightly off radar. You're guaranteed the best table, the waiter is delighted to see you, and you can get lit off a nice glass of wine before a soul's the wiser.

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OW Leadership Academy in South Africa~Aired on ABC Last Night to LOADS of TEARS~~

Dscf1993Last night was the premiere of a television show I just spent months in Africa working on, Building a Dream: The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy.  Talk about an awe-inspiring hour of television.  Hell, even though I saw most of it unfold, I was bawling during half the show.  The little girls over there are truly special kids and are the future of an already amazing country, South Africa.  I fell head over heels in love with this beautiful country while I was there (especially all of her glorious sunsets) and I cannot wait to go back (wanna drive to Mozambique with a pal, this time).  I got to see quite a bit of the country (driving from JBG to Durban) and everywhere you look, it's just one breathtaking vista after another. Don't let the media fool you--South Africa is a gem and should be visited with great frequency~Plus, I had the BEST mojito at the Westcliff Hotel that I do believe I've ever had (outside of the one I drank with great speed at Casa Iguana on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua).

Chinatown's Pho 87 in Downtown LA

Img_0305The day I left LA, I decided to swing thru Chinatown for lunch.  I haven't been in downtown LA for years and years so I was excited to see how tidy and clean the entire area of downtown LA had become--it was awesome, actually.  Big, drooping palm trees hung over all of the freeways and the vibe felt like downtown Chicago (which I was jonesing for like mad). I hit up Hill St. (the main strip in Chinatown) and the first place to catch my eye was actually a Vietnamese restaurant called Pho 87, on the Northern edge of the community.  Since moving to ERP, I've been hitting up Little Vietnam on a weekly basis, so this was the one.  Can I just tell you--THE BEST Vietnamese food ever.  They looked at me like I was crazy when I ordered sugar cane shrimp (chao tom), shrimp fried rice and baby eggrolls. Both the shrimp and the eggrolls came with rice paper that you have to dunk in water to get soft and a big plate full of fresh ingredients that you stuff inside the little homemade packet: fresh mint, fresh basil, big leaves of lettuce, vermicelli noodles, etc...I managed to stuff myself silly before heading to LAX, but now I know where I'll be next time I'm out West~And, seriously...the eggrolls were light as air and so freakin delish--I ate all 8 of them--yikes!

Insanely Perfect Granola at Mogan's Cafe in Pacific Palisades~

Img_0254I have never seen ot tasted granola as unbelievably beautiful as the bowl that is served up at Mogan's Cafe in the Pacific Palisades. My pal Chez used to work there a long time ago and every time I was in LA, I would cruise in and grab a big bowl of the maple flavored granola with fresh berries on top.  Dousing it with ice cold soy milk, I swear I could not get the spoonfuls in my  greedy little mouth fast enough...but, I gotta say, every thing at this adorable little cafe is delish.  Tucked away on a little switchback road in the heart of the Palisades, ya gotta know what you're looking for or you'll never happen upon this place.  There is a great Italian restaurant right next door and the old owner of Mogan's used to own one of my other fave LA haunts, Misto in Santa Monica.  They also have fantastic food...and it's super cheap to boot.  There also happens to be a Misto down in Hermosa Beach that is just as lovely.  Just a little note if you plan on making it out to LA soon...
Mogan's Cafe
548 Palisades Drive

Spindrift 43'~Now I Know What Kind of Boat I Must Have

Img_0108This past weekend, I was in San Diego looking at a sailboat that I'd been checking out for months online.  The second I laid eyes on her, I knew she was the was that simple.  After taking a tour of her and laying in the V berth imagining myself with a rum in hand, I got CRAZY and straight up made an offer on her.  No matter that there is no chance in the near future I'll be able to enjoy her; who cares if I have no crew; what the hell if the slip fee is almost as much as my mortgage---that is what happens to you when you find a boat you love--ALL REALITY goes out the window.  After a few days of going back and forth with the broker, turns out someone swooped in and made an offer that brought me to my that took me off the market...but only for the time being.  Now that I  know what boat I want (this has to be the one) will making working and saving dough that much easier to manage.  This cutter rig is truly what bluewater dreams are made of and I cannot wait to continue my hunt when I have a little more MST time on my hands.  p.s. I actually full-blown broke into the marina late that night after seeing her (fueled by a few cocktails down in Baja, mind you) to just lay on the deck and imagine what it would be like if she were truly mine and I were gazing up at the stars somewhere in the tropics.  What  great memory to bring home to Chicago with me~~
Break in is such a strong about "I found myself unescorted into the marina after hours"...much better!

Cross-Rhodes Greek Joint in Evanston {From The Raving Dish}

Img_0052_1I used to date a Greek guy. (Though in all honesty, we were more like eating pals with least in my eyes.) The best thing about our "food friendship" was all of the glorious Greek grub he turned me on to.
His mom would cook up the most amazing feasts every single day, even if it were just for her and her sweet cigar-smoking hubby. Four-course meals showed face on the table every single night, and after dinner, my little cookie would show up at my front door with tubs full of still-warm leftovers: Big loads of Greek salad with creamy feta, bits of baby goat in a rich red gravy, baked chicken covered in fresh garlic and sweet olive oil, and Greek fries splashed in oregano and lemon made their way to my tummy with unbelievable consistency.

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What's Doin' at the Mexican Border?

Img_0236The US/Mexico border in Tijuana is a huge cluster of pure and utter madness.  On the way out that is.  Hell, getting in is easy as pie. I was just cruising down the 5 shootin' the shit on my cell phone and within a split second, I shot across the border was was hauling ass down the coast.  No passport needed to get in, that's for sure.  Now getting out is wild. The lines to the border are easily a mile long and weaving their way around every vehicle are all sorts of vendors selling everything from nieve (amazing dairy-free ice cream) and soda pop to churros and tamales.  Guys serenade you at your car window with the guitars they're selling and some of the vendors just pop a squat on the side of the highway for  a little snack (see pic on left).  It's a pretty amazing thing to witness and you'd think that drivers would go ballistic at the people hawking their wares, especially when they just want to get across the border...but oh, no!  In essence, since you're still in Baja, you're still on Mexican time!  And, I was just asked for an ID on the way out--NOT a passport. Hmmmmm.......

What a Dollar Buys in Baja~A Perfect Fish Taco for Starters!

Img_0186And, then of course there are the dollar tacos.  Once you cross the border into Baja and slam through the chaos that is Tijuana, you hit these little roadside huts that are pumping out the best and cheapest fish tacos...The little hut dubbed Tacos El Palomito #2 is just past Rosarito and for a dollar, you get a delicious made to order fish taco.  The sides are simply different heats of salsa, cold cream, chopped cabbage and sunburst limes.  This little treat is the pure essence of Baja through and through.  And, just in case you miss this truck, no worries--a few KM's down the road, there is Tacos El Palomito #1.  The lines just wrap around the truck and both of the chica's runnin' the grill are happy as a goose to dole out these delicious tacos.

LA is Great...Because Baja is So Close~

Img_0199See, that's the one good thing about Los Angeles...its proximity to Mexico.  Hell if you're in LA and have wheels, you can be in Baja within 2 hours.  Which is exactly where I spent the day.  I'm actually out in LA for work, but since I had yesterday off, I woke up at the crack of dawn, headed south to San Diego to check out some sailboats and within moments after viewing my dream boat, I shot over the border into Mexico. I drove all the way down to the new marina, Puerto Salina, to check out their slips and grabbed fish tacos x 2 along the way. Of course, proper fish tacos were my first priority upon touching down on Mexican soil. My favorite--perfectly executed--fish tacos (with strawberry daiquiri chaser, of course) were at this great little restaurant called La Fonda (pix on left).  It's a long time haven for surfers, expats and day trippers and since they have a little hotel on the beach and have recently added a spa, you can swim, surf, stuff your face, nap, get a facial, have drinks, get a massage and then hit the sack without ever having to go anywhere else.  La Fonda is at KM 59 off Highway 1-D.Img_0205Img_0209

Summer in the City Comes Early {From The Raving Dish}

Dscf2237_2This has been the most brutal winter spell of all time, I think. For the first time, I've finally been forced to drop hundreds of dollars on proper "extreme arctic weather" long johns and fleece pullovers. It's all about Patagonia in my world, because after loading up on a handful of their most high-tech goodies, I can happily say that I am properly insulated.
Now that I'm all toasty, I can once again stomach the idea of a walk along the lake. I can let my truck actually warm up instead of just starting it and taking off with a bleed-out of fumes because I can't handle the chill for two minutes. And, most excitedly, I can joyfully accept the idea of ice cream melting in my mouth again. We all know that ice cream = summer, which leaves me convinced that there's no better time than the dark, dreary depths of winter to experience the glorious notion that it will all end soon. I say, let there be ice cream all year round!

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