Been So Long - Where to Even Begin? NOODLES!


It always rolls back to food.

Since being on the East Coast all these past months, I've become obsessed with fire and noodles.  I've been whipping up homemade chili oil by the half gallon on dousing it on everything.  I've been salivating over this coconut curry I dreamt up - it has about 40 ingredients, yet its the simplest thing in the world to make and slurps down like nobodies business.  I've become addicted to fiery dan dan noodles that are once again, a piece of cake to put on the table. 

I think I can blame the dan dan for the noodle freak out.  It started there, then led to a small storefront in Chinatown where they hand twirl fat batches of noodles by the truckload.  I craved their cumin scented chew days and days after I first tried them.  I told everyone about them.  I tried to recreate them...and ending up concocting noodles far superior, if you can imagine.

Asian markets were hit up.  I made noodles for the office crew every coupla o days, to the great delight of all.  Now, after sinking into noodle world for a few months, I've not seen the magical captivation subside.  Instead, it's only grown.  My cooking skills have reached a new level due to a fantastic wok purchase.  Spices - herbs - ideas - books - magazines - Asian greens - blissful research - all about noodles, food, fire marches on.  New trips are being planned around all these damn noodles.  They just call my name, night day. 

I love them.  Every chopstick twirl of them. 

Oh, and PS - I'm back West in 6 weeks.  It'll fly and I simply cannot wait.





Mariegold Filipino {From The Raving Dish}


The number one reason I love Chicago is because of the ethnic food options. Sure, the lake is magical, and, of course, the skyline is epic. But I've yet to find another city in the world that offers such a wide swath of foreign eats in such a short span of concrete. Food from every corner of the globe can be found at corner-side shacks, candlelit trattorias, "opa!" bellowing dining halls, and tortilla slinging taco joints—and my astronomical love for it is endless.
But, there are plenty of countries I've not yet explored, and the Philippines makes the top five on my list. It's not that I'm not interested; I've just never been lured into it. You never hear people gushing about the great kare-kare (meat stew with peanut sauce) they had last night, you know? That all changed the day I slammed on my brakes outside Mariegold Bake Shoppe, a glass-fronted Filipino spot on California Avenue. From the look of the dusty exterior, it was definitely an insider-only joint and the small parking lot had one tight spot left—clearly reserved for me.

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Thai Aroma: It's Cheap, It's Good, It's in a Strip Mall

Dscf1400I recently directed an episode of the HGTV television show Small Space, Big Style, and when the lunchtime hour arose, my crew, the ridiculously adorable homeowners and I set out to find some good grub in Buena Park (on the HGTV dime, of course).

They recommended trying the fantastic burgers at Buena Bar, a traditional bar near their chic 350-square-foot apartment, but we skittered over only to find that it was closed for lunch. Of course this meant I had to dig deep into my mental I-ate-at-this-strip-mall-joint-once archives and bust out my insider knowledge of Thai Aroma.

Funny, they lived two blocks from this great little Thai place and happened to be on an extreme budget, yet they'd never paid attention to its faded exterior. Jeez, open your eyes, kids; just because a restaurant is in a dusty old strip mall doesn't mean the food's no good. It just means it's probably gonna be cheap and yummy.

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Elephant Thai and Wild Chive Dumplings

Dscf0754I've been eating at a number of places lately that reference the word elephant and perhaps the best one is a homey Thai joint called, Elephant Thai.  I trekked all the way west to Edgebrook to get a taste of their famous chive dumplings and I now have a brand new appreciation for the onion family.  These little biscuit like discs are absolutely delicious~Never would I have thought that I'd dive so deep into a pile of fried dumplings, especially a batch that was full of emerald green chives, but these babies are totally worth the spicy bite that accompanies them; they remind me of a crunchy pancake--you know the kind you can't stop  eating. I'm now a big can of anything to do with chives, scallions, garlic, leeks and the whole damn onion family, especially when they're encased in little baby biscuits~

Green Tea's Crazy Sugar Go Mae

Dscf0766One thing I'm not is a spinach fan.  I always have this underlying suspicion that the dirt was never really cleaned off all the way and the greens are still covered in bitter bits of sand.  This spinach thing is a weird obsession of mine and the only way I can really stomach it is in the form of gomae.  Gomae is an always delicious way to prepare spinach, mostly due to the excessive use of LOADS OF SUGAR and I've found the mama-of-all-sugar-coated-go mae's at a tiny sushi house in Lincoln Park called Green Tea.  Theirs was an astonishing version because it was if they'd used actual sugar in the raw for the sesame/sugar paste that covers the blanched and pressed spinach.  I've never had such chunky bites of gomae, but I really loved it (well, anything covered in sugar is bound to be edible). 
*Quick side note: The best gomae I've ever had is at one of my fave restaurants in Roscoe Village, the always packed sushi house Kaze.  Their take on the popular dish is literally deconstructed and a total sensation to the tastebuds.  But, I will say, this wildly thick, insanely sweet appetizer at Green Tea pulls a close second.

Milkfish: The Other White Fish

Dscf4268Last week, I got an email from one of my food editors suggesting that I try a great little dive of a restaurant called Jim's Grill (1429 W. Irving Park Rd.)  It used to be a chop-shop diner, but is now a mix between a diner and a Filipino/Korean joint, with a weird twist of Mexican thrown in for good measure--I credit the steak tacos on the global menu to the quiet Mexican cook.  It's really super rare for me to give fish a go in a restaurant, but for some reason, I was coerced by Joey, the friendly owner ("I'm Joey" is what he belts out to everyone who walks in the door) into trying milkfish--a light (but strong) fish that he proudly dubs "the other white fish."  The menu claimed it would be deep fried and I guess I was expecting something like tempura, but instead it came out sorta pan-fried and covered in sweet sauce (like the sauce that covers unagi).  I have to admit, it was an odd taste, but after I doused the filet in lemon and plopped it onto a mound of steamed rice, it was pretty dang good.  Apparently milkfish is along the lines of carp and catfish and had I known that, I probably wouldn't have ordered it...the best part was the fatty layer of flesh covering the top of the fish--very melt-in-your-mouth.  I will say though, after eating milkfish, noodles, fried rice, and a bizarre take on kimchi---I headed straight to Zephyr to slam down a mammoth brownie hot fudge sundae.  I needed something to get that crazy fish taste out of my mouth, you know?

Ba Le's Goi Cuon~Cheap and Filling

Dscn9954_4Every couple of weeks prints one of my archived Raving Dish articles and this week, one of my favorite treats is in the spotlight.  Here is the article:

Intertwining certain foods can cause my taste buds to go berserk, like the sassy little appetizer known as goi cuon.

I’ve had an infatuation with these Vietnamese spring rolls since I first tasted them years ago at Le Colonial, but a short time ago, I stumbled across the mother of all goi cuons at Ba Le French Bakery, 5018 N. Broadway.

The epitome of freshness, goi cuons are like a delicious little soft-sandwich, served tidy and exotic like the Vietnamese, but with the class of the French thrown in for good measure.

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Back Into the Belly of Chinatown (for Dried Mango & Tea)

Dscf4082Yet another reason I love Chicago and where I live in the city is my proximity to Chinatown.  It's really like a little village just south of the city and I can wander around for hours into store after store and happen upon something new (almost astonishing) every time (and I don't even have to go to Asia~).  I'm going down there later to get my mom some tea and they have so many varieties--literally dozens of green tea alone, all housed in these giant glass jars (which I love).  They also have my favorite dried mango slices which I chow on by the handful--and want to make a homemade granola recipe with.  It's so funny, those sweet little strips of dried mango are jumbled right beside the jars of prepared squid and various dried fishes.  I'm going to Asia soon and I can't wait to learn what do do with all of this stuff.  And, to have some mountain tea.  That just sounds so good to me right now.  They have some mountain tea that is picked only by little monkeys that I simply must try.

Flattened Chicken in Chinatown-Christ Almighty~

Dscf4081So, yesterday I twirled around the city all day long tasting all sorts of things for an article I'm writing and I ran into this travesty in Chinatown.  What the hell is it?  It looks like it has been hanging up  (in a small hardware section no less) for years and was almost flat as a pancake.  I don't get it.  If you did indeed buy this chicken, what would you use it for?  So dried.  So old.  So utterly horrifying.  I had to post about it.  On the other hand, I did find some delicious cream filled buns and some of my favorite dried fruit--mango--near the same shop in Chinatown.  I literally ran across gazillions of items that I'd never in a million years know what the heck to do with  yesterday--I hit up Latin, Thai, Chinese, Scandinavian, Mexican, German, Polish...just so much good food out there (and, yes!  some totally inedible).  If anyone knows what you'd do with this flattened-by-a-mac-truck chicken that has been drying for decades, do let me know.  I'm quite interested~

Seasonal Menu at Kaze~$45 (From The Raving Dish)

Dscf3014 If you're not a big sushi connoisseur, the names of the Japanese ingredients peppering the seasonal menu at Kaze Sushi will read like nothing more than a mish-mash of jumbled letters: bonito, hamachi, enoki, tobiko, ika and ikura among them. They may be a mouthful to say, but oh, are they a mouthful to taste.

Three times a year, Kaze's tidy chef Macku Chan creates a seasonal menu that is utterly mind-blowing. Using seasonal produce and fish (yep, fish have a season; it's before they become pregnant) that are ripe and in their moment, he and his two-man team, family members chef Kaze and chef Hari, blast out a menu that is so sensational, it's hard to prepare the tastebuds. What's even more insane is that they offer the entire tasting menu for $45 on Tuesday nights, with wine and sake pairings to boot.

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