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Everything posted by ronnie_suburban

  1. Brining in a properly-made (kosher) salt solution does not produce a "hammy" taste. It's the other elements that people often add to brines -- sugar, curing salt -- that produce the "hammy" effect. I don't believe that pre-seasoning meat with salt-based rubs produces such an effect, either. At least, it hasn't done so over my multiple attempts with it. =R=
  2. Dayum! Looks like bacon to me -- and some mighty fine bacon, at that. Nice job! *pop* =R=
  3. I wouldn't worry about it. I've produced fine bacon from bellies that didn't render much liquid. The process varies. Sometimes the moisture gets fully absorbed into the dry cure and sometimes there just isn't that much of it to begin with. If you're sure your formulations were right, I'm sure the bellies will turn out fine. =R=
  4. The smoking itself does negligible preservation, so the bacon is as preserved as it will be after the cure is done. I wouldn't leave it uncovered for 3 or 4 days, though -- I'd worry that the meat would dry out and get leathery. ← There is a restaurant here in the Chicago area which makes and serves something they call "old school" bacon (and I believe they learned the technique from someone in Tennessee). It's actually bacon that's been cured normally but then dried for an extended period of time before smoking. They keep it in a temperature and humidity controlled chamber, wrapped in cheesecloth, during this stage. I think they hold it for about 30 days before smoking it. In either case, the final product is remarkably tasty, so tasty that it could be argued that holding the bacon for an extended period of time before smoking may actually improve it. I suppose this is because the additional moisture loss leads to a more concentrated flavor. Perhaps there is also some additional 'aging' that takes place over those 30 days, too. Regardless of which method you choose, I wouldn't leave it uncovered for more than 24 hours or the exterior will likely become dry and unpalatable. It will also absorb odors from other items in your refrigerator. I'd definitely save the pellicle stage for the 24 hours right before the smoke, keeping it wrapped in plastic up until that point. If you go "old school," I'm not sure if the pellicle stage is still necessary but I'm guessing it isn't. =R=
  5. No flash . . . ever. =R= ← Ditto. The trick is to use a high ISO and have lens stabilization. If the lighting is really low, it can be adjusted on the computer. Sometimes that can result in a grainy photo, but the only thing that absolutely doesn't work is a blurry shot. ← As much as I love taking pictures in restaurants -- especially Alinea -- I'd hate to be the source of anyone's discomfort, via the use of flash. Given the choice between using flash or taking no pictures, the camera would just stay in the bag. =R= ← Agreed. While I have used a flash in restaurants including Alinea in the past it has been awhile since I have done so and I no longer do unless circumstances make it reasonable and necessary. I actually prefer the results without flash other than in extremely low light situations. Generally the lighting at Alinea is good enough that it is rarely a problem. ← I guess I need a better camera. My camera needs a flash in daylight ← The Digital SLR's are great. However, they are definitely an investment and -- because of their size -- they're not so easy to tote around -- but they take excellent shots. I've become seriously obsessed with food photography and having such a reliable and powerful instrument is great. With my old camera, which was a fairly decent 'point and shoot,' I began to find myself in certain conditions where I knew I just couldn't get the shot -- and that frustrated me. Since I'm often in dark dining rooms where I don't want to use flash, I decided to get a camera that I knew could handle those conditions well. The bottom line is that as long as it's in focus, just about any shot taken at Alinea -- by just about any person -- is bound to look great. It's the artistry in the food food that makes it so. =R=
  6. No flash . . . ever. =R= ← Ditto. The trick is to use a high ISO and have lens stabilization. If the lighting is really low, it can be adjusted on the computer. Sometimes that can result in a grainy photo, but the only thing that absolutely doesn't work is a blurry shot. ← As much as I love taking pictures in restaurants -- especially Alinea -- I'd hate to be the source of anyone's discomfort, via the use of flash. Given the choice between using flash or taking no pictures, the camera would just stay in the bag. =R=
  7. Good description, Edsel. Just to elaborate, the limes are placed in the tubes and pierced with a retractable blade. From there, the juice is actually squeezed out of them, using lobster crackers, while the limes remain in the tubes. Once squeezed, the limes, tubes and tools are removed from the table. Soldier, I hope you enjoy your upcoming Tour. =R=
  8. I had the great pleasure to experience Alinea's newest menu last week. Chef Achatz was in the house, intense as ever, after a couple weeks off for treatment. It's been said that 'half of cooking is thinking about cooking' and it was abundantly clear that chef Achatz had had some time to 'think about cooking' during his absence from the restaurant. The meal we enjoyed was the most tightly composed progression I've experienced in my many trips to Alinea. The delicious courses delighted our senses, evoked unforeseen emotions and captured the essence of the season masterfully. What follows are some images I captured at our meal, with a few comments . . . Duck . . . butternut squash, banana, Thai flavors I loved this delectable and complex bite. The duck was intensely flavorful with a satisfying and surprising density. The butternut squash soup in the bowl was luscious and ultra-buttery. Rainbow Trout . . . cucumber, kombu, coriander It was unusual that we were already on 'knife and fork' with course #2. It was an exciting indication of the intensity that was to follow. Yuba . . . shrimp, miso, togarashi I loved this crispy yuba stick with the succulent shrimp wrapped around it. It's being held in place in its stand by a delicious miso mayonnaise. Beans . . . many garnishes, pillow of nutmeg air It's actually navy bean puree, paired with a bunch of delicious accompaniments. The puree was deceptively light and pairing little bites of it with each of the other elements on the plate was great fun; a fantastic tasting game on a plate. Caramelized Onion Roll Bread service at Alinea has evolved into something truly distinctive and unique. During our meal, we were served 4 different baked-in-house breads, which were all delicious and successfully highlighted the courses with which they were served. Sweetbread . . . cauliflower, burnt bread, toasted hay A great combination of flavors; especially the roasted cauliflower . . . the little black dots are actually dollups of burnt-bread pudding. Breakfast Radish & Horseradish Knot This tasty bread had a wonderful, almost bagel-like texture. Black Truffle Explosion . . . romaine, parmesan If chef Achatz has a signature dish, this is it. Glorious! Beef Heart . . . fig, long peppercorn, celery root Scrumptious beef heart, in deconstructed, Asian-style-salad form. Pork Belly . . . smoked paprika, polenta, pickled vegetables Barbecue in a bite. The belly, smoked paprika and tiny nuggets of pickled vegetables arrived in orderly fashion on the palate and their distinctive notes faded slowly, just as they were delivered, one after another. Fantastic! Roasted Quince . . . foie gras, candied fennel, sweet spices Here, a 'cover' is crafted from foie gras fat . . . Warm, roasted-quince juice is poured over the top . . . After a short while, it begins to melt through the foie fat . . . and all the elements combine into an intensely rich broth, packed with chunks of foie gras and citrus accents. Cranberry . . . frozen and chewy, lemon, parsley Delightful on the palate . . . prepping it for subsequent courses. Pineapple . . . bacon powder, black pepper Another bridge bite, introducing crisp pineapple and smokey notes. Brook Trout Roe . . . corn, Blis maple syrup The roe and the syrup are both from Blis in Michigan. A fantastic pairing. I loved the way the maple and corn married up and accompanied the roe. Apple Cider . . . walnut milk, cinnamon, vegetable ash A variation on a dish that's been around for a while. This time around it was mostly sweet, which I appreciated, given its position in the progression. Tagliatelle . . . white truffles, parmesano reggiano White truffles are shaved over the pasta at the table. White truffles in November. Perfect. Scallop . . . parsnip, orange, chamomile vapor Here the outside bowl is filled with hot water, which causes the chamomile vapors to rise. The scallop was perfectly cooked and the savory custard which surrounded it was simply delicious. Hot Potato, Cold Potato . . . black truffle, butter Another Achatz signature dish, which never gets old. At its core, it's perfectly distilled comfort food in component form. Kuroge Wagyu . . . matsutake, cedar branch aroma Tender wagyu beef capped with a delectable matsutake pudding. I loved the "foraging" aspect of this dish, which required a bit of hunting under the leaves to find the bite. Red Pepper Bread Partial Milk and Honey roll on the left; both of these bread pairings were terrific. Lamb . . . in cubism Here, delicious and tender lamb in 2 forms sits atop a gorgeous configuration of 9 different sauces. Atop the medallion at the back of the plate, elements of each of the sauces are delicately arranged. It was fun tasting the sauces and trying to identify them, although even with the provided clues, I was only 6/9. Maytag Blue . . . ginger, pear, tarragon Delectable cheese "course" which made my mouth tingle. Transparency . . . of raspberry, rose petal, yogurt Loved this "essence" of raspberry. The yogurt powder and candied rose petals were wonderful accents. Guava . . . avocado, brie, key lime juice Here, Key limes, which served as our 'centerpiece' for most of the meal, are finally incorporated into a course, as they are squeezed over the dessert . . . Next, Guava soda is also poured onto the plate . . . It all adds up to a dramatic, delicious and refreshing dessert. Licorice Cake . . . muscovado sugar, orange, hyssop The antenna, a service piece which goes all the way back to Trio, is used to deliver this complex and chewy bite. No, it didn't fall on the carpet! Chocolate . . . passionfruit, lemongrass, soy 70% chocolate and passionfruit are combined with salty soy, which highlights the chocolate wonderfully. Pumpkin . . . brown sugar, pie dough, burning leaves Talk about seasonal . . . elements of pumpkin pie are combined, dipped in batter and deep fried into one delicious bite, which is accompanied by the take-you-back aroma of burning leaves. Awesome! =R= Alinea 1723 N Halsted St Chicago, IL 60614 312 867-0110
  9. The salad bar at Fogo is what I would describe as "premium," for lack of a better term. In addition to a few above-average, pre-made salads (lettuce-based and other varieties) that are similar to what you would probably find at other places. They also have several distinctive salad-bar offerings like whole artichoke bottoms, asparagus spears and a few varieties of fresh and pickled peppers. There are usually a few decent mid-level cheeses, some good bread. There's a lot more but I'm drawing a blank at the moment. And there are probably some seasonal pros and cons in play, too but because of the wide array of offerings, seasonality shouldn't be a make or break issue. Thinking about it, one could argue that the overall quality of the salad bar items is actually higher than that of the meat at Fogo de Chao. Stop in and take a look. If it doesn't look like your type of thing, you can always adjust course. =R=
  10. I agree. But the salad bar at meat palace Fogo de Chao is very highly regarded by a few of my vegetarian friends. I'm not sure, but I think they even offer a special price to 'salad bar only' diners. Love the Greektown suggestion, too. =R= Fogo de Chao 661 N Lasalle St Chicago, IL 60610 312 932-9330
  11. . . . and the list of prospective stops was so much longer. As the song goes, "these are a few of my favorite things." But there are only so many hours in a day. =R=
  12. Dayum, Nancy! You're making me hungry all over again!! You know, scaling back to just 2-3 meals a day has totally disoriented me. =R=
  13. Most 'International' stores in Chicago tend to be focused primarily on 1 country's goods (eg Super H-Mart, Mitsuwa, Cafe Iberico). I didn't realize that you were only looking for specific brands. As long as that's the case, I'd suggest contacting the manufacturers via their web sites or e-mail and asking them for a list of US-based distributors. =R=
  14. There is a fairly comprehensive discussion about Charcuterie sources in Chicago taking place here. Yet, I think the likelihood of finding what you are looking for, even using that great list, will be tough. As others have posted, if you want good Portuguese sausage, your best best is to find a Portuguese community that offers it. As diverse as Chicago's neighborhoods are, I'm not aware of any pockets of Portuguese influence. Perhaps more well-versed person out there can enlighten us all about this. =R=
  15. Beautiful shots, Eliot, of what appears to be an amazing meal. I can't wait to return to Binkley's. It's now a "must stop" on any trip I make to the Phoenix area. =R=
  16. From what I have read, cold-smoking is done ideally at between 70 and 80 degrees F but any temperature below 100 degrees F should provide smoke without cooking the food in question. I spent quite a bit of time experimenting with cold-smoked salmon. If you are interested, you can read about the results here. BTW, I love your rig. It's very similar to mine but mine's even lower-budget! =R=
  17. LMAO! This was a meal for 4, so you have to interpolate a bit. But we normally 3 courses plus dessert (and more often than not, in such cases, the kitchen sends something additional out for us because they figure that we're very hungry). Here, we each ordered 2 courses, plus dessert with the warm salad of boar sausage being a "split" item, so we all could try it. I hope that clarifies things a bit . . . =R=
  18. Had another fantastic dinner at Vie recently which, if no longer a surprising experience, is no less enjoyable. The only sad part is that we'd eaten a late lunch and showed up a bit less hungry than we normally do. As such, we got to try fewer items than normal but many of them were quite memorable . . . Amuse of skate wing and pickled red onion I loved the way the rich skate and the fruity, aromatic olive oil paired with the sweet/tart pickled onion. Seared Hudson Valley foie gras with spiced Scottish shortbread, date puree, roasted local sunchokes and honey crisp apples Just look at the sear on that piece of foie gras . . . absolute perfection. I loved the balance between the sunchokes and the apples and the way that combination paired with the foie. The savory shortbread was ultra-short and complemented the creamy foie nicely. Wood-grilled, house-made beer-jam-glazed quail with wilted local cabbage, toasted spices, Pleasant Ridge Reserve Farmstead cheese and marinated beauty heart radishes Another great quail treatment from chef Virant. This man can flip me the bird, any bird, any time he wants. Pan-seared "hand harvested" sea scallops with toasted tarro root, pine nuts, raisins and local eggplant caponata Delectably seared scallops were tasty and texturally perfect. They were accented nicely by the caponata which was distinctive but not overpowering. Celery root fritter with house-made apple butter, preserved meyer lemon emulsion and wood-grilled treviso Here, I was expecting the celery root to be more neutral and in the background but it was front and center -- and deliciously so. I loved the other accents on the plate, which highlighted the fritters and made the entire composition sing. Warm salad of roasted Kinnikinnick Farm butternut squash, Hillside Orchards chestnuts, preserved local pears and house-made boar salami I didn't love this salad, which leads me to believe that I'm just not a fan of boar salami. I liked the chestnuts and the squash quite a bit but this generously-portioned salad was so filling, I was a bit worried about finishing it. Plapp Farm wood-grilled duck breast with crispy Byrd Mill grit cake, spaghetti squash, duck cracklings and preserved black raspberry duck sauce Wow! I loved this combination of flavors and the preparation was wonderful. Every component on the plate was delicious in its own right -- and together, the dish went way beyond the sum of its parts. Slow-cooked Kilgus Farm goat leg with crispy spaetzle, roasted turnips, house-made pickles, mustard sauce and local blueberry mostarda Not only was this the highlight of the evening it may have been the best entree I've ever eaten at Vie. I don't even know where to start. I've never had goat that tasted like this. The texture and seasonings were perfect. The other ingredients on the plate showcased the goat magnificently: the spaetzle were comforting, the pickles provided great balance for the fatty goat, and the blueberry mostarda brought it all together smoothly. Run to Vie and order the goat (I 'kid' you not). Marinated and wood-grilled sturgeon with sweet potatoes, roasted cipollinis, organic creme fraiche and roasted, Nichols Farm brussel sprouts I just had a taste of this dish but the sturgeon at Vie is always delicious and satisfying, and this was no exception. It had an irresistable crust and the interior was tender, rich and flaky. Not pictured is the marinated and wood-grilled "kobe" steak with a bone marrow dumpling, local broccoli & cauliflower, mushrooms, red wine sauce and fried sweet onions. This was my order on this night because as many times as I'd tasted it (or one of its variations), I'd never ordered it for myself before. The steak was cooked perfectly to medium rare. It was tender, with a little bit of chew (not sure of the exact cut). The sauce was deep and delicious and the broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms and fried onions teamed up perfectly alongside the tasty beef. A safe order yes, but one I finally had to experience for myself. After entrees, we were served small portions champagne sorbet that refreshed our palates and readied us for dessert. As full as we were, I find it almost impossible to say "no" to chef Todd's desserts. I was glad I pushed the envelope this time around. Raspberry-lemonade sorbet (front), strawberry-banana sorbet (left), horchata ice cream (back) and shortbread cookies; all house-made A great variety of bright, distinctive flavors here. The frozen confections at Vie are always well-executed. I especially liked the horchata, which was as good as it was the last time I had it. Warm, caramel gooey butter cake with almond chocolate-chip ice cream, almond lace cookie and almond toffee square As I've posted before, I love the warm gooey butter cake at Vie. As the seasons roll by, so too do the specific incarations of this dessert. This time around, the theme was "toffee" and it was a very successful one in that the gooey butter cake pairs perfectly with toffee and its components. Local sweet corn cake with maple and white chocolate ice cream, maple-candied walnuts and corn tuile I loved this eye-opening dessert, which I'd never had before. It was like some sort of uber pancake, with the flavors more intense and complex than in a regular pancake, making it a perfect dessert variation. Mignardise of pineapple gelee Nicely balanced a bit to the sweet side, this little bite left a fresh light note on the palate after a meal of rich and intense tastes. Vie continues to hum along quite nicely. There's not much to say about it that I haven't already posted somewhere else on this thread. It remains one of my very favorite restaurants and the food speaks to me in a way that almost no other food does. The sensibility at Vie is one that just feels right. You know you're getting the best of all worlds (local and chef-selected, remote sources) but there's nothing preachy or (as I discussed in person with a friend who is also a fan of Vie) overzealous about it. Vie's menu offers a lot of lessons. But you're not made to feel as if you must learn them (all) in order to appreciate what you are eating. They are there for your consideration, and learning them can certainly enhance your dining experience. But, at the end of the day, the food at Vie is phenomenal whether you care about where the items on your plate came from or not. The real beauty of it is that unlike with so many other restaurants, the closer you look at this food, the more compelling it becomes. =R=
  19. I will know more on this front shortly -- hopefully by the end of the week. Once I have a selection of dates from the facility, this is probably the way to go. Thanks, Tammy, for the guidance. Definitely hope you'll be able to make it. Duly noted Probably too early, based on previous Gatherings. We'll almost certainly be doing this in July or August. Not a bad thought, either. =R=
  20. Hey kids! Tell your friends about this thread and ask them to check in here. The only way we'll be able to choose the dates that work best for a majority of folks is for everyone to post here and let us know which dates would work best. Obviously, it'll be hard to accomodate everyone, but as people weigh in, maybe a couple of weekends will become obvious choices. Hopefully, in the next week or so, we'll be able to nail down something specific. =R=
  21. I'm thinking we should just extend this to the entire month of July! Seriously, the first step should probably be to check with Kris on available dates, since she will be traveling the farthest. =R=
  22. LOL . . . and there was also that time I made him share all his pork products. I know that couldn't have been pleasant for him, regardless of the huge portion sizes =R=
  23. Yes, indeed, there's a bun supplier. Most places with good dogs get theirs from Alpha Baking, which incorporated Mary Ann buns and also Rosen's Rye, both long-time Chicago institutions. The bun should never be crusty, and most have poppy seeds. They are always steamed--squishy but not soggy--in the best places. Ideally, the dog protrude slightly. Dogs are usually Vienna, but several makers, including one in southern Wisconsin, have done a pretty good job of knocking off the formula. One, Eisenstein, even bears the name of Vienna's founders. Dogs vary in size, typically from 12 to the pound to four to the pound. ← Not sure but I believe you mean Eisenberg. Red Hot Chicago is also gaining market share (albeit slowly) and I believe that company was started by people who once were part of Vienna. But Vienna still rules this town and seeing that blue and yellow Vienna sign in the window at a shop provides a certain level of comfort and creates a certain expectation. Being served a Vienna dog on a non-Mary Ann bun would be instantly noticeable to most Chicagoans. Even as the condiments vary from shop to shop and neighborhood to neighborhood, those buns seem as constant as the Vienna dogs themselves. =R=
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