Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gene and Jude's Red Hot Stand

This past weekend, my friend Amanda was back in town from her job in California, and a bunch of us were going out for her birthday. Since her boyfriend is from the western suburbs, we hit up one of his favorite spots, Hala Kahiki. So we're out in the River Grove area on Grand and Des Plaines River Road at this knock off Hawaiian bar for most of the night (actually it was a pretty good place for cheap, tasty, and strong drinks) when I bring up that I saw this hot dog stand a block over. Before I knew it, my local hosts were raving about the greatest hot dogs in the world which just so happened to be served up in their backyard at Gene and Jude's Red Hot Stand (sorry, there's no website).


Logistics
Gene and Jude's is a free standing hot dog stand in the middle of a pretty large parking lot. For all practical purposes I'd say that Gene and Jude's is in the middle of nowhere (unless your from the western suburbs, and in that case... no offense). There aren't any tables, so you can either eat in your car or somewhere along the counter. There's one large counter where you order at one end and pick up your food at the other. Behind this counter seems to be a variety of employees ranging from teenage to some pretty old guys who I guess have been working there since the beginning.

It's important to note that this place is super cheap. A dog and fries was $2.10. Supposedly it used to be $1.60, and the town was in an uproar with the price hike. Also, even though it's cheap, you don't get shorted on the food in the least.

Finally, you need to know how to behave while you're there. I'd say there are two keys to fitting in: 1) be a White Sox fan (or keep quiet about baseball) and 2) don't even say the word KETCHUP. To the first point, I don't think they'd do anything to you if you said you love the cubs, but some of those grumpy old men in baseball caps didn't seem to friendly in the first place. As for the ketchup thing, they will ask you to leave if you order ketchup on your dog. Not only that, but they make quite a show out of the whole ordeal with the cooks chastising you for some time. If you really must have it, there's a McDonald's down the road that will sell you just ketchup packets. In my opinion, getting ketchup on a dog should be seen with as much social disdain as things like not covering your mouth when you cough, not giving up your seat to an elderly passenger on the train, or not taking your hipster crap off the seat next to you, and it's about time that some restaurant took it upon themselves to impose this.

The Food
The menu at Gene and Jude's is pretty basic. They've got dogs, fries, and tamales. Upon further inquiry, I found out that the tamales are microwaveable, so I wouldn't get those. I went to the standard order of a dog with everything and fries. In a matter of seconds I had my order.


The dog was clearly vienna beef and was on the smaller side. There wasn't really too much of a crisp snap when biting through the casing, which I find an essential aspect to a dog. The toppings were perfect. There was a sweet neon green relish as well as peppers, onions, tomatoes, and seasoning salt. The untoasted poppy seed bun was in typical Chicago dog style. Really it was a pretty standard dog.

 To get to the dog, you had to dig past the real reason people keep coming back to Gene and Jude's, the French Fries. They come all wrapped up along with the dog, and there's a hefty portion. They were universally crispy, without one overly soggy example. I can't really describe how or why, but when I took a bite, I was immediately reminded of Walker Brother's hash browns. The same oily and crispy flavor seemed to have been magically compacted into these fries.

Overall
First off, if you live in the city, this is an awfully far way to go for a dog and fries. If you happen to find yourself in the River Grove area, then why not stop by. Even if you don't like it, all you'll lose is two dollars. I do however think that you will like it. The hot dog won't blow you away, but the fries just might. Also, if you're as lucky as I was, you'll get a show when some rube asks for ketchup on his dog. If you're wondering how it compares to The Wieners Circle, I'd say that the dogs are not as large or as good at Gene and Jude's, but the fries are much better. Also, both have an interesting atmosphere, but Gene and Jude's is definitely more appropriate. Overall I'd call them equivalent based on different counts at 3 out of 5 Pearls.



Gene & Jude's Red Hot Stand on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Kuma's Corner

When I started this blog, I vowed to not write about places I had gone previously so as to keep some order. I had already been to a plethora of fantastic Chicago restaurants, and I've been dying to write about a few of them. So when The Professor and his mom were in town last week, I jumped at their invitation to join them at the mecca of burger joints that is Kuma's Corner.

I'd first heard of Kuma's back when Chicago Magazine covered them, and soon after that Guy Fieri was there on DDD. Since then I've read countless reviews, and universally one thing is said which is that Kuma's is the best burger in Chicago. Now as I said, I'd already been there before with Josh a few months back, so I'll try to compare and contrast the two experiences throughout this post. The first time I went was for dinner on a Saturday night in the middle of winter, and this most recent time was for lunch on a Tuesday. You'd be amazed at what a difference that makes.

Logistics
Kuma's is tiny. There's a bar and maybe 10 tables bringing the entire building capacity to 42. Trust me, from the second this place opens till the last plate is cleaned, they're significantly over this limit. Now if the packed house wasn't enough for you, it's also a heavy metal bar. All of the food is named after some heavy metal group, the waitresses are all tatted out from head to toe, the walls are decorated in a somewhat disturbing fashion, and the blasting music never stops. You might think with the raving reviews that yuppies would be fighting for tables (thus "harshing the vibe"), but the faithful clientele are still a majority. The first time I went was at night when things were a little louder and rowdier than during the lunch trip the second time around.

 Pretty Much the Whole Restaurant

The overall popularity has made the lines pretty long. If you're coming with a few people at any regular eating time, you should expect to wait at least an hour if not two. Josh and I waited for 45 minutes, but that was more a matter of luck than anything else. This past time we waited about 20 minutes, which is about as short a wait as you'll ever get, and if we'd come a little later we might have waited much longer. The trick is to come with a total party of 2. There are a few tables that only sit 2 and you can get those sometimes if you're lucky. Also, at night people like to line up behind a specific bar stool to sit there as soon as someone gets up. With a party of 2, you and a friend can get sat that way a little quicker. If you're going to go at night, they do have an excellent beer selection and scotch on tap to tide you over while you wait.

The final logistical thing to note is that they don't put up with anyone's crap. The attitude of Kuma's is imposed upon you the second you walk in the door, and if you don't like it, that's just too bad. Below is an important list of rules to follow which is posted near the entrance.

The Rules of Kuma's Corner

The Food
From what I've described above, you may think this is not your place (or maybe you love it), but there's a clear reason why even people who hate heavy metal will only eat these burgers. I haven't had some key burgers in Chicago yet to call it the greatest, but I just don't see how it could ever be topped. Each burger comes with a variety of unique ingredients and is sandwiched between a crisp exterior / soft interior pretzel bun. Many of them come with fried eggs and tons of bacon, and the specialty even has brie cheese with poached pears, but not one of these burgers has muddied or disassembled flavors.

 The Iron Maiden

The first time around I got a Plague Bringer. Loaded with garlic and jalapenos, I was quickly overjoyed with flavor. There really was a ton of garlic though, and trust me, I was living that garlic smell for about a day later. If you don't like spice don't get it, but if you can handle the heat this is a good one to go for. This week I got the Iron Maiden. The burger was perfectly medium rare, and the toppings of cherry peppers, chipotle mayo, and avocados gave it a refreshing spin. I would call this one of the lighter burgers they offer since I got it without the cheese, and it was one of the few without a fried egg. The burgers are served with a heaping portion of waffle fries which are the best that I've had since Buff Joes. My eating companions between these two trips have gotten the Kuma Burger, the Kaijo, and the Mastadon. The Kuma is a classic burger, which for them means cheddar cheese, fried egg, and bacon. The Kaijo has bacon, blue cheese, and onion strings. I didn't try this one, but Eric said the flavoring of the blue cheese was just perfect. The Mastadon has BBQ sauce, bacon, cheddar, and onion strings. One thing that's dangerous about these burgers is that they're the perfect size where you fill up with just enough left that it's too little to take home and too good to waste (so you just have to eat it all and suffer the consequences later).

 The Kaijo

Other food notable mentions include the build your own mac and cheese and the mussels. Both are fantastic looking appetizers that I haven't tried, nor do I think you need to since the burgers are plenty. You should give some of the beer list a try though, and yes they have Jack Daniels on a nitrogen based tap.

The Mastadon

Overall
I'm not one for heavy metal, and I'm not one for overly loud and crowded bars, but I'd put up with much worse for these burgers. It is completely and utterly worth it. I would imagine that the summer would be a better time to wait it out since you could stand outside if the noise was too much. Plus the cost is pretty reasonable at about $10 a burger. After this, almost all burgers will just taste like garbage. They will spoil your mouth in a good way.

I thought long and hard about this rating. I want to make the important distinction that even though it's not a gourmet restaurant, for it's category, this is about as good as it gets. Thus, I'm giving Kuma's Corner the maximum rating. That's right folks... The Pearl Necklace. 5 out of 5.


or

Kuma's Corner on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Claim Company

This Sunday, my dad was lucky enough to acquire some Blackhawks playoff tickets, thus leaving my mom on her own for dinner. For me this meant two things: quality time with mom, and free dinner. To save us both a bit of driving, we decided to meet in the middle, somewhere in the Northbrook area. After some indecisiveness that accompanies any discussion my family has about places to eat, we finally decided on The Claim Company. The main driving force behind this decision seems to be the main reason that anyone goes to this place, which is that it used to be a great restaurant many years ago in Lincoln Park on Clark Street.

So you know how Olive Garden is like the McDonald's of Italian restaurants? Well Ruby Tuesday's is the McDonald's of American restaurants with large salad bars, and places like RJ Grunts and The Claim Company are that next tier up (I'm not really sure if there's a tier above that since a large salad bar carries an inherent level of low class). What makes The Claim Company special is that it's got a BBQ theme and a build your own "motherlode" burger deal.

Logistics
The Claim Company occupies a two story building in the middle of Northbrook Court. It's setup very similarly to Cheescake Factory in Old Orchard or the Grand Lux Cafe with a first floor entryway for show and the real restaurant on the second floor. Once you get up there, the restaurant is quite big with a large salad bar in the center. The walls are covered in corny cowboy decorations, but at points it's almost kind of funny.

Since it was a Sunday, and I had lots of work to do that evening, we decided to do dinner senior citizen style (aka at 5 PM). Because of this we were able to get sat right away, but by the time we were finished eating, the restaurant was packed. Supposedly, if you don't make a reservation, it's pretty likely that you'll have a half hour wait or more on any day of the week. Luckily though we didn't have to wait (plus we got some quality time in with the AARP). Also, the service was fantastic, and the food came out in a timely manner. It was a great place logistically for an earlier dinner.

The Food
We started off our meal with an order of the Chipotle Chicken Wings. I don't really know what to think about them overall. The chipotle sauce and spice rub was delicious and spicy without being overpowering, but the wings were cooked in varying amounts. Some were juicy and soft while others were too dry and stringy. I think of the 5 wings I had, that 3 were good and 2 were just so so. I would probably drink that sauce straight, so even the dry wings had a pretty good taste.

 Chipotle Chicken Wings

For our entrees, I got the BBQ Skirt Steak Sandwich, and my mom got the build your own "Motherlode" burger. The Motherlode allows you to make a variety of selections, allowing for endless combinations, and you can load it up with as many toppings as you'd like. My mom had a tuna burger on a multi-grain bun with mozzarella cheese, avocado, sauteed onions, pickle, tomato, lettuce, and mushrooms. The thing was that this wasn't a ground tuna burger. It was a tuna steak burger, and it was cooked to perfection with a rare center. The portion was gigantic and came with a side of Sweet Potato Fries. These fries were really heavy on the sweet potato and really light on the fry. I wouldn't say they were the best I've had, but they were probably the most natural tasting.

 Tuna Steak Motherlode with Sweet Potato Fries

My sandwich came with two pieces of skirt steak (cooked medium rare with a pink center just like I asked) on top of a garlic bun and covered with onion strings. The steak was tender and perfectly cooked. The BBQ sauce that came on it was sweet and thick, kind of like Sweet Baby Rays. I've never disliked an abundance of onion strings on anything. In this case, the portion was also gigantic, and it came with a side of house made chips. These were pretty good chips, and I appreciate that they came out unsalted so you could do that to your own preference.

 BBQ Skirt Steak Sandwich with House Chips

Overall
Even though they're known for it, I didn't get the salad bar. I feel like food sitting out in any capacity for people to pick over is somewhat iffy, especially lots of prepared salads with mayo. Also, I didn't think it would be interesting enough to write about.

When I pulled out my camera to take a picture, a bunch of senior citizens at the table next to us started "oohing" and "aahing" and then asked why I would take a picture of food. My mom proudly explained that I write a food blog, to which the table looked puzzled, so she then said that I write about food on the internet. The look of bewilderment was still there (interwhat?). She then went on to give them the URL, which seemed pretty futile, but it's alright, I wasn't too embarrassed or anything.

So as far as the popularity of this place, I think it's mostly due to a recent comeback, and people just want to try what they used to think was such a great place. It's still pretty good, but there's no way I'd wait a long time in the middle of the week to get a table (or a really long time on a weekend for that matter). The portions were really big, and for the most part everything was tasty. As a BBQ place, it's nothing special, but everything is executed well. Overall, I'd give it 3 out of 5 Pearls.



The Claim Company on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The RAM

Let me tell you about that bar. You know which one I'm talking about. That bar where everything's great. The food tastes good, there are tons of TVs, and they have good drink specials. The only problem is that you can't go there without running into half of your graduating high school class.

So this past Saturday, The Kekambas, our newly formed summer softball team had its first practice and worked up quite a hunger. Since we were in Buffalo Grove at the time someone mentioned grabbing a beer and a burger while watching the Bulls get stomped by the Cavs. After some coercing by my teammates, I eventually gave in and went to The RAM (www.theram.com). Now in all fairness, this isn't the big Stevenson High School bar. That title goes to The Cubby Bear North, but I was still worried I'd run into a multitude of people who's names I'd inevitably forgotten. I thought I was in for a lunch full of awkwardly staring across the bar at other people, both of us knowing we should go say hi, and yet neither one of us getting up (you know the situation). I was pleasantly surprised when we got there to find a practically empty bar. This meant that all I'd have to deal with was the variety of delicious bar food and multitude of TVs.

Logistics
The RAM is split in two by its open air kitchen. On one side of the building is a tame restaurant seating area with lots of booths, limited TVs, and a quiet ambiance. On the other side there's a bar setup with a bunch of raised tables surrounded by a ring of booths. There's a huge, wall-sized projection TV in the center and another 20 or so smaller TVs on the rest of the walls. The bar has comically high shelves, which are even more comically stocked with bacardi at the top. They have these monstrous ladders for the bartenders to get up there, which seems like an awfully long way to go for some cheap rum.

Anyways, we got sat at an extra long center table, which was great since we had a party of 10 or so. Also, since we were practically the only people there, we were served really quickly. I've been there on busy nights too, and the service is usually pretty good.

I think it should be noted that they brew their own beer. Even though they have some large tanks on display, I don't think they brew anything at that location, but I'll forgive the fake showmanship.

 Big Horn Beer Sampler

The Food
Everyone started off with a beer or two from the home brewed selection. I've had plenty of time to try out The Ram's beers, and think that by far the best is the Hefeweizen. It's a thick, wheat beer with some fruity background flavors, and it really hit the spot after a "tough" day of practice. They've got a bunch more beers, and if you'd like you can get a sampler of all of them for something like $6. They also offer growlers for those who just have to have Big Horn beer at home, but I've never thought beer kept well in those things.

 Amber Ale Marinated Chicken Sandwich and Onion Rings

The menu has a large selection of burgers including an Elvis burger with peanut butter, but I chose to go with a chicken sandwich. Specifically, I got the Amber Ale Marinated Chicken Sandwich. The breast was covered in a thick bbq sauce and topped with cole slaw, roasted tomatoes, onion strings, and chipotle mayo. Usually a sandwich with so many different flavors runs the risk of blending together into an indistinguishable mush, but these flavors all held their own. The slaw was crisp and cool, and I've never disliked onion strings on a sandwich. The sandwich was humongous and tasty, but I wish I could've tasted the beer a little more in the sauce. The sandwich was $11 and for $0.49 I substituted onion rings for fries. These onion rings are pretty darn good. They're cut very thickly with a thick and crisp breading. Nothing special as far as seasoning on them, just good, standard, thick onion rings.

 Interior View (Check out those layers!!!)

Overall
Since it was our first practice, it was fitting to hit up The RAM for our first beer league get together. The food is tasty, the beer is unique, the TVs are plentiful, and I escaped without any awkward high school reunion. As far as Lincolnshire bars go, I still think I prefer a place like Champps for food and a game, but you can't go wrong with The RAM. One strike against it is that it's somewhat of a miniature chain. Also, I feel like the food must've been pretty unhealthy because my food coma that afternoon was rather prolonged. I'm giving it 3 out of 5 Pearls.

Also a special thanks to Eric Spigelman for taking the pictures.

The Ram Restaurant & Brewery on Urbanspoon

The Home of Dr. Louis Keith

As the president of Northwestern's Jewish Medical Student Organiztion (JMSO), I was recently contacted by an emeritus professor, Dr. Louis Keith. He has no restaurant or website for that matter (making this relatively non-traditional for my blog), just an East Pilsen apartment generously open to some poor medical students in need of a good meal. With his ex-caterer roommate Michael and dog Truman, Dr. Keith put together an excellently delicious and entertaining experience for the whole crew.


Logistics
In a neighborhood next to the start of the Chicago Fire (not the soccer team) there's a penthouse apartment full of fine artwork, lots of tchotchkes, and you guessed it... medical text books. In the middle of all of this, there's a finely set dining room table and a kitchen full of gourmands. A smell of cloves and a background of classical music continued to give this apartment a unique appeal. On top of all that, the combination of multiple large windows and lack of neighboring high rises allows for an excellent view of the city, even as far north as Wrigley Field. It's an impressive setting for dinner, and yet one that is so invitingly filled that even the shyest guest would feel comfortable.


The Food
I came in expecting a traditional Shabbat dinner of matzo ball soup, kugel, and some chicken dish, but I was very mistaken. Instead, we were served a much more interesting and tasty meal. I'll try to describe everything as best as I can, but I've got to say I'm somewhat in over my head. I told our hosts about my blog, not realizing their extensive food knowledge, and I must say some of the recipes are a little over my head (but I'm learning right?).

 Champagne Gefilte Fish with Spicy Mustard Sauce

We started off with an hors d'ourves tray of tortilla chips filled with a bean salsa and topped with fresh cilantro. It was a crisp bite to get our taste buds going, a good thing since we were in for a little spin on a traditional dish. Rather than a regular chicken soup, we were served a chicken and rice soup flavored with curry and ginger (spices I believe that were freshly gathered on a trip to the other end of the world). With a strong aroma and clear flavors, this was a delicious alternative to a dish I know and love.The last of our appetizers was gefilte fish, but not what you're thinking. This fish was cooked in and soaked up a champagne broth, making it light in texture. Also, rather than horse radish, the fish was served with a spicy mustard sauce. Let's just say I never thought I'd enjoy eating gefilte fish outside of passover, and I was wrong.

Chicken Mole Fajita with Cooked Carrots

The main course was a pulled chicken mole fajita with a side of cooked carrots. With a thick, scrumptious sauce, and perfectly cooked chicken, that plate came out cleaner than it came in. Finally, for dessert we had a unique spread of gingerbread and chocolate cookies along with strawberries covered in a polish vodka.

Vodka Strawberries and Chocolate Butter Cookie


Overall
The hospitality offered up by Dr. Keith was greatly appreciated by all who attended this fantastic dinner, but this doesn't really tell the whole story. Between the food and the dog tricks a meal was had that will hopefully be the first of many. If you happen to be in the Chicago land area sometime in June and are up for an event of a dinner, hopefully you can join the next Keith Shabbat with the JMSO.

Special thanks to Diana Kost for taking the pictures and bailing me out. I've really got to start carrying my camera around at all times.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Annette's Italian Ice

Put away your hand knit, Jeff Pearl original scarf cause it's getting hot out there. Desperate to be rid of winter, Chicagoans have come out in full force. The other weekend I tried to go on a long bike ride on lake shore path and got stuck at a snails pace behind a sea of riders, runners, and little kids who somehow got past their mother's grasp. So instead the next day I decided to go for a run, but there were just too many people everywhere, and I couldn't really establish a good pace.

So with the nice weather, it's no wonder that all across the city, people have started to hit up the best spots to eat outdoors. In Lincoln Park, there's no better way to satisfy this craving than to go to Annette's (http://metropolisrotisseria.tripod.com/). As soon as that thermometer breaks 60 you can expect a line of local faithfuls around the corner waiting for this sweet assortment of cold treats. With a heavy recommendation from Zach Frankel (who also happens to live a block away from here) I had to check it out.


Logistics
Metropolis Rotisseria is a popular chicken place in Lincoln Park open all year round (will have to try it and get back to you), but during a special time of the year when the weather is just right, they open a little back room with a sidewalk window better known as Annette's (on my map the location is listed as Metropolis Rotisseria). When school ends, you can expect a line to the end of the block of kids and their parents that won't let up for quite some time. There area  a few wooden picnic tables near the window if you choose to stay and eat, but if you'd like to walk around, Annette's happens to be located in a beautiful part of town full of little shops and restaurants.

The Food
The first choice you've got to make is what kind of frozen treat you'd like. They've got frozen yogurt, ice cream, and the fan favorite italian ice. First, I ruled out the yogurt since it didn't seem like anyone was getting it, and when I asked, the man behind the counter didn't seem so enthused. Now I've never been a big fan of flavored ice. I've always despised snow cones, but I'm not as experienced with italian ice. I decided to play it safe and order some Moose Tracks ice cream while trying a sample of the Pink Lemonade italian ice. This was the biggest sample I'd ever had and was practically a full six ounce cup. Either way, it was plenty for me to tell you that it's delicious and refreshing. The ice cream was chock full of peanut butter cups and had a smooth creamy texture that only homemade ice cream can.

Overall
Baskin Robbins and Cold Stone are just fine, but they don't have a homemade taste or a local feel. Annette's reminds you of a good neighborhood custard stand, and has the flavors to back it up (just not custard). I know this post was short, but there's not too much to say. It's a solid place with solid desserts when you need to cool down. I haven't had it yet, but if I had to suggest an italian ice place, it'd be Mario's in Little Italy, but Annette's is pretty darn good. Also, sorry about the lack of good pictures. I'd give it 3 out of 5 pearls.




Metropolis Rotisseria on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Publican

As if Lisa's birthday weekend couldn't get any better, my parents decided to take us out to dinner on Sunday night. The idea of going to Joe's Stone Crab was tossed around for a bit, but Lisa and I thought that something different would be nice. A few weeks ago, I went to the Family Farmed Food Expo and got to watch a few cooking demos from some of Chicago's top chefs, especially those with a farm to table mantra. So when delicious and different were the two requirements, I quickly suggested the delicious gastropub of Chef Paul Kahan, The Publican (http://thepublicanrestaurant.com/).

Logistics
The first thing you notice about The Publican is the pig theme. Whether it's the exterior restaurant sign, the monstrous canvas paintings, the food, or even the seating options pigs are everywhere. Honestly, it's the last place you'd expect to find a bunch of Jews out for an early Sunday dinner, but there we were. The majority of the seating is at the community table, a U shaped wood table 3/4 the size of the restaurant where you sit closer to strangers than at a hibachi restaurant. You'll be glad you sat near other parties though because then you'll get a good look at all the intriguing menu options. We had parties on both sides of us, and it wasn't intrusive at all. If you have a reservation, you can take advantage of the other 1/4 of the restaurant seating in a barn stall style booth. You literally can sit at a 4 person booth with a medium height door. Finally, if you're just that hungry or want to take advantage of the extensive beer list, you can stand at bar tables in the middle restaurant.
Communal Table

The wait can get pretty long at The Publican. We got there at 5 on a Sunday (right when they opened), and within the hour we were there the whole restaurant was full. So plan ahead with a reservation or just come at an off hour.
Barn Stall Booth

Another logistical key is how the menu works. Items are listed from top to bottom in order of increasing size. It's suggested that each person order one large and one small item. Then the waiter compiles the group's dishes into a multiple courses and brings out all of the food family style. If you look at the menu and think that you'll just order one thing, you might think it's a relatively inexpensive place, but that is not the case. Also, the "small" items are really small (not to say they're not worth it [they're delicious]), and the "big" items are really big.

The Food
So since the food came out in courses, that's how I'll take you through our meal. Our first course included the Hamachi Crudo, the Daily Pickles, and the Citrus Salad. The Hamachi Crudo is a raw, thinly sliced fish covered in a light broth with mandarin oranges and celery. The five of us were each able to get 2 good bites in, and each was filled with a mix of crisp flavors. Although it was small, I'd be sure to get it again. The pickle dish came with dill and sweet & sour pickles and a hunk of purple feta cheese. This too was a refreshing dish to start our meal, and I'd never tried purple feta before. The Citrus Salad had a delicious mix of orange, tangerine, and grapefruit with a delicious balsamic style dressing that took a nice backseat to the fruit. Ultimately each of these dishes was a light way to start the meal and get our taste buds going.
 Hamachi Crudo

Daily Pickle Dish
The second course included the Frittes with Organic Fried Egg, Ramps, Smoked Char, and Halibut. The Frittes were delicious and soaked up the egg yolk nicely, but in the third course, the chicken entree came with fries, so this was somewhat unnecessary. The Char came on top of a buckwheat crepe filled with fava beans and had a savory smoky flavor reminding me of a thick smoked salmon. The Halibut was cooked perfectly and came with an assortment of clams and veggies. The Ramps were the dark horse in the bunch. As a vegetable I'd never heard of before, this wild leek was covered in a tomato based sauce, making it the table's favorite of the course.

 Frittes and Ramps

Halibut
Smoked Char

The third course included the Wild Mushrooms, Wagyu Sirloin, and Farm Chicken. The mushrooms were delicious and served with flat bread and an egg custard that melted in your mouth. Now I'd never had Wagyu beef (often known as Kobe beef), but I knew that it was known for being the top quality of beef with a perfect tenderness and high fat content (fat content = taste). What I'd heard was right. This was the best piece of meat I've had in so long I can't remember. The farm fresh chicken came on a huge platter with the pieces set over a bed of fries. The spice rub on the chicken gave it a nice little kick, and the fries found a nice way of soaking up the fat of the chicken.

 Wagyu Sirloin

 Farm Chicken

 Wild Mushrooms

The final dessert course included an Orange Marmalade Waffle and a Rhubarb Crostada with Vanilla Ice Cream. I'd never had rhubarb in anything before I went to Jam, and I was happy to try it again. The flaky pastry crostada came up nowhere short of scrumptious. I'm not one to go for waffles, but this one was so crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside that I had no complaints.

 Orange Marmalade Waffle


Overall
If you want interesting and delicious, there's nowhere to go before trying The Publican. The seating is different, the food is different, the eating style is different, and all these are in a good way. For the beer aficionado out there, you won't be disappointed either (plus the microbrew festival had just ended and their menu was extensive as a result). You may have to plan ahead to get in, but you'll be happy you did (your wallet may not be as happy).

In my highest rating yet, I'm giving The Publican 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.

 
Also, sorry that some of the pictures are not complete dishes. A few time we were too excited, and I forgot to take a picture until it was too late.

Publican on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Crust

THIS RESTAURANT HAS CLOSED SINCE THIS POSTING

This weekend was my sister Lisa's birthday, which meant a celebration was to be had Wicker Park style. The atmosphere all started when I got on the 72 North bus heading towards the North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection (the heart of Wicker Park / Bucktown). The bus was packed, and there was this guy who had all of his crap on the seat next to him. Not only that, but somehow he had this mix between a bike and a razor scooter with him. I have no idea how he was allowed on the bus with this, or for that matter why he didn't just use it as his primary mode of transportation, but ultimately it was just a huge obstruction. Now, as I'm sure most of you know, I'm the example of public transportation etiquette. I give up my seat for old ladies, always hold my bag on my lap, but mostly I just give nasty looks to people violating basic rules like taking up two seats or talking to loud on their phone (thus serving some quality justice the whole bus is hoping for). So I took a better look at this guy for a second and decided he was the epitome of hipster. With his skinny, black, reproduction ending jeans, blandly colored plaid shirt, overall appearance of malnourishment (which seemed to be by choice since his clothing looked expensive), and old school leather briefcase, I knew that I was getting close to my destination. While sounding as disgusted as possible, I asked him to pick up his case and what I can only guess was a copy of  Stuff White People Like and had a seat. Anyways, on to some talk about food.

In proper Wicker Park fashion, the bday dinner was to be held at the first organic restaurant in Chicago city limits, Crust (www.crustorganic.com).


Logistics
If the North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection is the heart of Wicker Park, then the Damen and Division intersection is the brain. With a ton of great restaurants, bars, and interesting stores this area is ripe for hanging out and especially for people watching while you eat on one of the many patios. With a party of 16, we were sat at a lengthy table going through the center of the restaurant. The wall of the restaurant is actually a convertible door that was wide open, and Noam and I were practically sitting on Division (the next best thing to a patio except that it was kind of cold). I think we were supposed to be sat in this backyard patio area they have, which looked really cool with some organic decor, but for some reason it didn't work out.

The general layout is one large room with a long bar and seating for about 50. They have a back patio that could probably take another 20 or so and another room for the brick oven and a carryout station. When we got there, the hostess very casually suggested we go wait at the bar while our table was getting set up, but we soon found out that the bar was far too cramped for any mingling or waiting of any kind and moseyed on back to the host stand. Speaking of the hostess and the entire rest of the staff for that matter, they were all hipsters, and I'm sure if given the opportunity to ride the bus next to me they would've upset me just as much as that other guy. Another thing about hipsters is they must think it's the cool thing to do by providing mediocre service at a slow pace.

The Food
The first thing that jumps out about the menu is the large drink list. From a variety of fruity martinis and microbrews there's something for everyone. The martinis were around $10 and the beers were around $6, so nothing special as far as pricing.

 The Margherita Pizza

The entire rest of the menu is pizza and salad. All of the salads were appetizer style ($8-10), and I wouldn't recommend then for a whole meal. All of the pizzas were personal sized, maybe 12 inches and around $14. I feel like this is pretty expensive, especially since 4 people can share a large Pequods pizza for like $20.

 Winter Beet Salad

Lisa, Noam, and I split the Winter Beet Salad, Grilled Eggplant Pizza, and Margherita Pizza. The salad was delicious with red and golden beets along with a goat cheese crostini. The pizzas each had their fair share of fresh vegetables, cheeses, and sauces, but at a certain point the flavors all came together in somewhat of a mush. What didn't help with the mush factor was that the dough underneath was somewhat soggy and falling apart. My favorite pizza actually wasn't ours, but through a crafty trade I was able to acquire a piece of the Shroom from Lisa's friend Mara. One final point about the pizzas that was pointed out by multiple people was their inconsistency. Since we had a large enough party, we were able to compare multiple items of the same order which had large differences in the amount of cheese, vegetables, and level of cooking.

 Grilled Eggplant Pizza

The best thing besides the salad was this Molten Brownie covered with some kind of Vanilla Ice Cream that Lisa got for her surprise bday dessert. Plus, it came with a sparkler in it!

Lisa with her Molten Brownie

Overall
This place ultimately seemed like one of those gimmicks where people think because it's organic and fresh that it must be good. Also it was pretty darn costly for what it was. Logistically it was in a good neighborhood with lots to do, and they take reservations. Food wise the salad was fantastic, but in a city of amazing pizza, I wouldn't waste my money on this place again. We had a great time with some good friends which was really the point of the night, and I think Lisa had a pretty enjoyable birthday so I'd call the night a success. As far as the new rating scale, I'd give it 2 out of 5 Pearls.


Honorable Mention
The bar we went to after Crust was this place called the Rainbo Club on Damen just south of Division (sorry no website). It was tastefully decorated in a variety of oil paintings with the common theme of ventriloquist dummies (talk about creepy). However, the drinks were really cheap (like $3 shots and beers) and the vinyl playing overhead was quiet enough to have a conversation. When the night came to a close, I noticed that the entire staff from Crust had made their way over to the bar, and it's no wonder that this place is often referred to as the best hipster hangout in Chicago.

Crust on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hema's Kitchen

Put away your Tam Tams, gefilte fish, and matzo meal substitute cookies because Passover has ended. Really though it just didn't seem the same. Maybe what I'm missing is the Hillel pizza party where you really have to elbow your way past a few AEPhi girls to get your Chametz on (for you gentile's out there, Chametz is any bread style product). Also, I wasn't sure who to break it with. Between Schneider eating Gino's East on day 3 and Bacalar's widdle tummy ache leading to a binge of honey nut cheerios on day 6 (so close), I felt somewhat on my own. So I thought to myself, "Hmm which friend of mine fits the following description: observant, nearby, and always excessively hungry." Light bulb!...

 Zach Frankel
So the next question was, where to go? Somewhere with bread, somewhere really filling, and somewhere with good vegetarian options (Zach keeps kosher, so no meat while eating out). We decided on Hema's Kitchen (http://www.hemaskitchen.com/home.html). Indian food fits all of those categories, and this place came highly recommended both by Zach and a my African American Indian friend Arif.

Logistics
This place was pretty much laid out exactly like every other indian restaurant I've ever been to. By that I mean that there were lots of tables somewhat haphazardly organized in a room decorated with interesting paintings and artifacts. I'm not sure if they take reservations, but it really didn't seem like it. We didn't have to wait though and got a nice table ripe for people watching through the large window facing Clark St. The service was prompt, and my water always remained full (important for a spicy indian meal).

One special thing was it was BYOB. With the aims of having the least passover friendly meal possible, Zach brought the wheatiest beer he could find, Sam Adams Imperial White Ale. Also there's no corking charge or anything like that. Finally, it should be noted that I went to the Clark Street location while the main location is on Devon Avenue. From what I've heard the Devon operation is much larger and has a more authentic feel, but its a much further drive from Lincoln Park.

The Food
We started off with two Veggie Samosas (deep fried triangles filled with potatoes and other veggies). The crust was flaky, and there was lots of filling, making this one of the better samosas I've had. Also, the tamarind dipping sauce was sweet and thick but not overpowering like it often can be.

 Veggie Samosa

For our entrees we shared the Aloo Matar Paneer and the Kofta Lajawab. As my friend Supreet says, "Indian restaurants are simple. They basically have a red sauce and a green sauce and make a huge menu from making as many combinations as possible from a few other ingredients." Both of our dishes were in the red sauce, and given the option between mild, medium, and spicy, we went with medium. The sauce was rich and creamy with plenty of spice for the two of us. The first dish had potatoes, peas, and paneer (a cheese curd that looks and tastes somewhat like tofu) while the second had these little rolls called Kofta which look a little like Moroccan cigars but they're made of veggies, cashews, and cheese. Both dishes had nice textural contrast which can often be a problem in indian cooking with dishes coming out like mushy stews. One catch was that the dishes didn't come with rice or naan (a doughy bread kind of like a pita) so we had to order those in addition to our entrees. At the same time though, the entrees were reasonably priced ($10) and the naan and rice were only $2 each and came in large portions.
Left: Kofta, Right: Paneer

Overall
I hadn't had indian food in a long time, and Hema's Kitchen really hit the spot. I'd put it on par with Bombay Indian Grill for all of you Champaigners out there, except Hema's is cheaper. There were lots of awards from the typical food critic places on the walls too. Ultimately, I'd like to think that if it's a good enough indian restaurant to cut in on Devon then it must be pretty good, and that the owners were just nice enough to open up a location near me. Also, there seemed to be plenty of indian people eating there which is a good sign. As far as cost goes, I think $10 for an indian dinner is average, not necessarily a steal, but not bad. Now, as a place to end your Passover I would heavily recommend this carb heavy meal.


On a big picture blog note, I've heard from a bunch of you that I should start some kind of rating system for places. Suggestions of all kinds have come in, and I'm working out the details. For now I'm going to go with the winning suggestion from Marc Joseph and give Hema's Kitchen 3.5 / 5.0 Pearls.


Hema's Kitchen on Urbanspoon