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ronnie_suburban

eGullet Society staff emeritus
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Everything posted by ronnie_suburban

  1. TOC is reporting that Schwa has closed: So long, Schwa =R=
  2. I am here,,, Just looked at the drying box in the basement, and it is 64.4ºF, after a few months of close to 70...Time for the things I have been thinking of for the last few months...Onward!!!! Bud ← I'm here too and definitely chugging along. I made a pate about 3 weeks ago that turned out very well. I'm about to start my "sausage season" as conditions in my basement are just about perfect right now. =R=
  3. Whatever . . . when it comes down to opinions, there's no wrong or right. It's certainly reasonable to say that Blackbird is arguably the best restaurant in Chicago, especially at its price point. If someone else likes something else better, it doesn't make them right (or wrong), either. The "in my experience" part is implied. =R=
  4. Arun's also buzzed the other way when Phil Vettel downgraded them from 4 stars to 3 back in June of 2005. =R=
  5. LOL . . . ate there once or twice. But yeah, it seemed like they were getting mentions in Dish all the time. I know it well. Chef/owner Dan Bocik catered our friends' wedding (at the Old Town School of Folk Music) 12 years ago, right around when a tavola first opened. I was back there last summer for the first time in a while and really enjoyed it. FWIW, their gnocchi, with brown sage butter, are amazing. From my perspective, he seems to be talked about less these days than in the past, although he did just celebrate his 20th anniversary, which was covered widely. But CT is always going to get his due and rightfully so. I think that on-line venues like this one definitely plays a part. If you love a place, it definitely cannot hurt to show a little love by posting about it. =R=
  6. David, You are absolutely correct about Alinea and Schwa . . . their buzz endures. I think that with Alinea, it's for obvious reasons. It's a destination restaurant in the truest sense. The accolades continue to roll in and because of 'what it is,' the media coverage is continual. Now, sadly, chef Achatz is in the news because of his health. It seems like there's always something newsworthy going on at Alinea. Schwa's a tough table and perhaps that fuels its buzz. When folks finally eat there, they tend to report about their experiences. 26 seats does create something of a mystique and some reports tend to have a proprietary stamp to them. I'd argue that Blackbird and Avec continue to buzz precisely because of how good and innovative they are. I'm not sure how indicative message forum traffic is because forums tend to have their favorites, too. Also, I'm far more likely to post about a new place than a familiar favorite. I mean, how many times can one person post about the same place before it becomes redundant? And that's especially true if a given restaurant's menu doesn't change very often or one orders the same few items each time he or she dines there. Even Alinea, I've been there a dozen times, but you'd never know it from reading the thread here. At some point, there isn't a whole lot to say other than "they're still doing a great job" and I tend to not make posts like that. I do remember Masque, which was originally in my hometown of Deerfield. It 'temporarily' closed; ostensibly to change venues. During that period, they opened a second location in the city which, iirc, lasted about 9 months. The moment the Deerfield location reopened, the city location immediately ceased to be. Not long after that, the Deerfield location was shuttered too. From my perspective, this seemed like a smoke and mirror situation from the very beginning. I'm honestly not sure what happened but the place never seemed credible to me in the first place. Maybe that's because having a great restaurant so near my home seemed 'too good to be true.' As it turns out, it may have been. But you bring up interesting points for discussion. I was talking to friends the other day about new vs. old when it comes to selecting restaurants. Lately, I've foresaken some of my proven 'go-to' restaurants in favor of trying new places. I kind of feel bad doing it but trying new (to me) places is fun and exciting. I find myself going to places like Greek Islands and Prairie Grass Cafe (to name just a couple) a bit less frequently, even though they are every bit as good as they've always been. But, when eating out is a passion/hobby, trying new places has to be part of the equation. And with limited opportunities to dine out, sometimes the old favorites have to take a back seat, in spite of their polish and continual success. =R=
  7. FWIW, I had a great meal at Green Zebra a few months back and posted about my experience here. While the novelty of the place seems to have faded, the quality certainly endures. The same could be said for North Pond. The fact that it doesn't get tons of ongoing media coverage has little to do with the reality of the restauant's situation. As for Butter, the original owner didn't have much experience and went into receivership. The next owner was averse to fine dining and subsequently lost his chef. Scylla has closed its doors -- experienced chef but a first-time owner. Lumping all these restaurants together may be convenient but it isn't necessarily accurate. It's a tough business and a variety of things can happen. But the bottom line is that new places get the most buzz. That's the way PR firms, newspapers and magazines work -- once places aren't new, the press releases generally stop and reviews aren't really news anymore. That doesn't mean that places that don't buzz loudly haven't endured. And conversely, places that do get the strong, initial buzz aren't always worthy of the praise they receive in the first place. I think that when you're here in town everyday, it's much easier to discern the contenders from the pretenders. From a distance, relying strictly on published accounts can be dicey and provide an incomplete snapshot. =R=
  8. Some theorize that Arun has spread himself a bit thin but I cannot speak to that. My theory is that there is so much better Thai food available in Chicago -- and almost all of it is much cheaper than at Arun's -- that Arun's has dropped out of the spotlight. When you're in a city that offers arguably the best array of Thai food in the U.S., you've got to be great -- and consistently so -- to stay on top. =R=
  9. So glad you enjoyed it, Rona. And great shots, btw! I'm long overdue for a return to Smoque. =R=
  10. I'd guess pretty much any newsstand, although they may be flying off the shelves faster than usual. I've seen it in the magazine section at both B&N and Border's, too. =R=
  11. Hehe . . . I was thinking that no commercial entity with a successful recipe would actually share it. =R=
  12. Hey all, In case you were not aware, the October issue of Saveur Magazine is entirely focused on the foods of Chicago. Adorning the cover is a truly gastro-pornographic shot of a slice of pizza from Burt's Place in Morton Grove. Also covered in the issue are Chicago originals like Shrimp de Jonghe, the Jibarito, the Mother in Law and of course, Chicago-style hotdogs. Saveur's writers and editors teamed up with local food experts, scholars, writers and historians to deliver a refreshingly original and accurate take on Chicago's current food scene and one that, quite frankly, I wouldn't have expected from a non-local publication. If you are at all interested in the foods of Chicago, I highly recommend picking up the October issue of Saveur. It's a pure delight from cover to cover. =R=
  13. Thanks, Tim, for the info. The Fresh Foods market near me actually hasn't opened yet but it looks imminent. As an aside, I wish that were raised on beer and massaged daily . . . in Japan, or anywhere, for that matter. =R=
  14. More news today about Grant from food editor Janet Rausa Fuller at the Chicago Sun-Times: For Achatz, it's still 'business as usual' =R=
  15. I would describe my recent meal at Sepia as disappointing. We sampled a lot of food and with few exceptions most of it was either flawed or forgettable. I didn't think that prices were out of line but I never got a sense that I was eating premium ingredients, either. I'm sorry JDYMeat. Maybe the kitchen is just not handling the product you ship them very competently. The brazen upselling of the flatbreads and anally retentive ordering regimen turned me off immediately. The flatbreads, we were permitted -- and encouraged -- to order, the moment we sat down. But when we tried to bypass the flatbreads and order appetizers, we were told that we would have to wait to do that. It was for our own protection. Customers are warned to order appetizers and entrees at the same time or risk a long delay between courses. When our waiter returned to take our appetizer orders, we threw him a curve ball and ordered a couple of the $6 flatbreads (a couple of us ended up wanting to try them). But before we could piggyback the rest of our order onto the moment, he ran off to put our flatbread orders in. After a few moments, he returned to take the rest of our orders. After several more moments, our flatbreads finally appeared. Before the four of us could finish the 8 total bites they consisted of, the first round of our appetizers arrived at the table. Oh well. FWIW, the flatbreads were disappointing. One, containing bacon, peaches and blue cheese, was decent but the lamb sausage atop the other one was way too lean for sausage and tasted like dry, chewy lamburger. There was 1 winner in the first round of 3 appetizers: the charred baby octopus. The octopus was braised and then grilled. This, however, was not mushy as I expected but crispy on the outside and nicely tender within. It was served with a ubiquitous "toasted" bread (that appeared throughout the meal), which was actually slightly overgrilled (aka burnt) bread and some perfectly delicious tomato sauce. The softshell crab was fairly run-of-the-mill and the steak tartare was remarkably devoid of flavor. A couple of folks at our table thought it had some sort of "off" flavor note (an ingredient that didn't belong) but I didn't sense it. It was just bland. Round 2 of appetizers included a lackluster and chewy grilled quail, pork rillettes that were as flavorless as the tartare -- served on the aforementioned burnt bread -- and my favorite of the 3, "roasted rabbit with ricotta dumplings and riesling reduction." Here I loved the buttery sauce and the tender, savory rabbit. The dumplings were tasty too, if not a bit too mushy. An instant before our entrees were served, a loaf of bread and ramekin of butter was dropped on the table and the aggressive sales pitch that was applied earlier to the flatbreads suddenly came into focus. Why wouldn't the bread be brought out first like it is at every other restaurant? Well, every other restaurant isn't trying to ram $6 flatbreads down its customers throats. I really hate crap like this. Entrees were mostly a letdown. The scallops, seared rather sloppily on only one side, were ordinary. The lamb sirloin, through no fault of its cooking, was extremely tough (cooked perfectly to medium, as ordered, however) but the smokey great northern beans that accompanied it were delicious. The slow baked veal breast was tender, juicy and tasty, although I admit that the mint noodles that accompanied it sounded so unappetizing to me, I didn't even try them. The berkshire porkchop was just destroyed. It was completely dried out, even near the bone. Ordered medium, it was served well-done and a potentially wonderful, $25 piece of meat was ruined. Our server did eventually ask about it and did offer to bring another one but by then, it was pretty late in the meal. We also tried 3 sides and enjoyed 2 of them. The chilled roasted baby beets were great and the potatoes in duck fat were crispy and nicely-seasoned. The onion rings, touted by our server, were already soggy and limp when they hit the table. I was having a nice time, even though everything was pretty meh. It was like an out-of-body experience. Not having been my choice, I could enjoy the misery of the moment because I wasn't even remotely responsible for it. The room, while remarkably uncomfortable, was attractive. But across the board, seating was ill-conceived. That was true in the lounge and the dining room, where the chairs forced drinkers and diners alike to sit at bizarre angles that were not conducive for drinking or eating. And the leather tablecloths really made things difficult for us and the staff. Nothing slides at all on leather and that's very annoying after spending a lifetime eating at tables on which things do slide. Try nudging your water glass over a bit or swirling your wine stem on leather. Try using a crumber on leather or setting down a plate without splashing. It just doesn't work and frankly, it borders on pretentious when function is so completely obliterated by form. I guess my companions weren't as bemused by the experience as I was. They refused the dessert menu before I even got a chance to read it. They couldn't wait to leave and when the bill showed up with the destroyed, uneaten berkshire pork chop still on it, I think they felt vindicated. I can't say I have any burning desire to return. And with Avec and Blackbird right around the corner, why would I? =R=
  16. Tim, How long do you age it? What's the loss factor? Does the meat pick up any refrigerator aromas. It sounds very cool. We've become pretty spoiled by Zier's prime, aged beef since we started shopping there. In fact, the other day we cooked some steaks that a friend gave us (from another source) and even my 10-year-old son commented on how devoid of flavor they were. =R=
  17. Since one just opened fairly near my house, I plan to try some out soon. Tim, how do you age at home . . . Alton Brown method? =R=
  18. There's a lot more to good, authentic Wagyu than marbling. Its taste and texture are remarkably superior to American Wagyu. It almost tastes like a completely different animal. If you can't get the real stuff (e.g. Japanese), prime, aged beef from Zier's is the absolute best money can buy. =R=
  19. Wow! Talk about the end of an era. Dean is the person who originally recruited me to become an eG staffer back in 2004. Not only were his expertise and guidance always useful to me during my time of service but the friendship we've built over the years transcends our involvement here. Of course, I'm truly grateful to the eGS because without it, our paths would likely have never crossed. In my mind, Mr. Varmint is responsible for 2 of the greatest culinary gatherings ever organized under this roof: Varmint's Pig Pickin', Would ya come? and Varmint's Pig Pickin', Version 2. The amount of work and dedication he put into both events was remarkable and I'll always be grateful to him for having put forth the mammoth effort and endless hospitality behind the events. Dean's a phenomenal person and the eGS is so lucky to have had his contributions. Take care, Dean and thanks again! =R=
  20. I hadn't been to Vie since late June and with produce season now at its peak, I made a point of getting there this weekend. As usual, the meal was fantastic and I was so happy to taste the season, via chef Virant's vision. Typical of Vie, in addition to the plethora of fresh, local ingredients, a handful of premium ingredients from less-local sources was carefully incorporated into the globally-influenced menu. And happily, as I've come to expect, several house-produced ingredients were showcased, as well. The meal started with a tasty and intense amuse of escabeche with grapes and arugula. It was a great, palate-awakening bite and unfortunately, I snarfed it down before I remembered to take a picture of it. DOH! 2006, Betts & Scholl Riesling, Eden Valley, Australia With just 2 adults at this meal, one bottle was going to have to do and this one 'did' wonderfully. Nice fruit, good acidity and it paired well with many of the courses we enjoyed. This wine was added to Vie's list by Bob Bansberg (formerly at Ambria), who is currently 'guest-sommeliering' at Vie on Fridays. Pan-seared, "hand-harvested" sea scallops with wood-grilled summer squashes, eggplant caviar, and Spanish olive oil vinaigrette I loved these perfectly seared scallops, and the eggplant caviar and spears of wood-grilled squash provided nice counterpoints in texture and flavor. Marinated and wood-grilled quail with arugula, roasted and pickled peaches, braised local knob onions and quail jus A great combination and I loved the accent provided by the pickled peaches. Yukon gold potato gnocchi with Wettstein's pork shoulder confit, fresh lima beans and parmesan sauce There's nothing not to love about this dish, which really sang. Every element here was delicious and the house-made pork confit was remarkable. Chilled gazpacho with peeky toe crab, finished with Truchard Vineyard olive oil A great rendition of a classic summer dish. The soup was sweet with just enough acidity and the rich, aromatic olive oil complemented the tomatoes perfectly. Salad of local lettuces, marinated and shaved hearts of palm, garlic-herb vinaigrette and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano Even a simple salad can be compelling, as this combination of local lettuces was. The garlic-herb vinaigrette was particularly aromatic and satisfying. There was something very distinctive in it which I could not completely discern, possibly mace. Kinnikinnick Farm heirloom tomatoes with fresh local watermelon, mint and house-made feta cheese I love this combination and this version was well-executed. The house-made feta really took this salad over the top. Sturgeon with tomato and pickled beans The kitchen sent out this course for us and unfortunately, I don't know all the details. I'm pretty sure the sturgeon -- which was fatty and delicious -- was topped with roasted sungold tomatoes and slivers of pickled squash. Day-boat cod combination: pan-roasted fresh and house-made salt cod with City Farm tomatoes, fresh soy beans, wood-grilled fennel and roasted almonds I don't think I've ever had salt cod in non-brandade form, so when I saw this on the menu, I felt compelled to try it. The contrast between the fresh cod with its crispy exterior and moist, flakey flesh and the rich, braised salt-cod was terrific. Chicken three ways: roasted breast stuffed with garlic butter, wood-grilled thigh, leg confit with local cranberry beans, Green Acres baby carrots and pickled snow peas I loved each one of these chicken preparations. The wood-grilled thigh had supremely crispy skin and was aromatic with sweet smoke throughout. The breast and the confit were terrific as well and the baby carrots were phenomenal. Marinated and wood-grilled "kobe" steak with bone marrow dumpling, roasted local romanesco, lobster mushrooms, red wine sauce and fried sweet onions Succulent kobe beef, rich bone marrow dumpling, crispy fried onions . . . an unreal combination that was so delicious. I loved the romanesco, which is rather funky looking combination of caulilflower and broccoli. It paired really nicely with the beef. Wood-grilled sweet corn and okra A very nice combination in which the wood was the primary (only) seasoning. I'd never had wood-grilled okra before and it was not only delicious but also a great combination with the sweet corn. Warm local honey-roasted peaches with sweet crepe, local peach ice cream and candied pistachios An absolutely delicious dessert which showcased the wonderful peaches and chef Todd's mastery of them. House-made sorbets of blood orange (front), horchata (back, left) and strawberry These sorbets were all terrific but the horchata in particular could be packaged and sold by the pint. The scoops were topped with house-made shortbread that was delicious in its own right. Warm gooey butter cake with mint-chocolate-chip ice cream, cocoa mint wafer and chocolate & mint square In my mind, the gooey butter cake is Vie's signature dessert and it is one the best desserts served in Chicagoland. Here, it's paired with some well-executed minty items but I've had it paired with a number of different elements, over my visits to Vie. We were clanking forks as we "shared" this one. Mignardise (clockwise, from bottom: sable, lemon gelee, caramel and peanut brittle) Nice, sweet bites to round out the meal. Service, provided by Jim, was fantastic and friendly, as always. We've had a bunch of different FOH'ers take care of us at Vie and as different as their personal styles are, one thing persists: excellence. I also want to mention our busser, Ignacio, because it seems that he's always taking care of us and he does a great job. Again, I'm so glad that we got this one 'under our belts,' so to speak. I love Vie and the food they turn out never fails to please me. I'm probably not alone in my belief that dining there in mid to late August is a must. Ordering at Vie is harder than at any other restaurant I can think of because their menu is so filled with fantastic items. Our party could go back there tonight, not order one thing we tried last night and still be utterly compelled. In fact, I cannot rule out another meal at Vie before this produce season ends. =R=
  21. With apologies to BryanZ . . . Our Schwa experience started with an unexpected phone call a couple hours before the reservation time. It was the ever-thorough Blake calling to warn us that the AC was not working at 100%. As such, we were encouraged to dress appropriately. Not only was I going to Schwa, I'd be able to wear shorts! A dream meal . . . When we arrived, the space was plenty cool and in an effort to keep it even cooler, the lights were turned down lower than usual (or at least seemed to be). That's why these images, taken without flash, are a bit noisy. Still, I think (and hope) they help capture the essence of this remarkably successful and satisfying meal. Cherry fruit 'leather' with thyme-accented cherry ice cream This starter really set the tone for our meal. Not only was the combination of cherry and thyme a surprisingly harmonious combination but Schwa's mastery over ingredients was conveyed clearly here. Prosciutto consomme salad In the past, I'd had the delicious prosciutto consomme in liquid form at Schwa. Here, chef Carlson and crew turned that dish on its side by transforming the consomme into a gelee and coating the entire plate with a thin layer of it. Atop that base were accents of prosciutto in a couple of other forms (fresh slices, dried chips), fresh bits of melon and fresh baby arugula. A great combination of flavors and textures. Cauliflower soup with curry, chocolate This course was the point in the meal where it transcended and went to the next level. Thinking that there was no way this could possibly work, I sipped the warm cauliflower soup, which was topped with a cold dollup of sweet chocolate emulsion. Amazingly, delightfully, the ingredients were delicious together. On the plate, roasted, curried cauliflower paired with dark chocolate again challenged my notion of what works and what doesn't. The well-seasoned and perfectly cooked cauliflower paired wonderfully with the soft dark chocolate. I was stunned and delighted. This was a real eye-opener. Pad thai This immensely tasty portion of pad thai had one substantial twist: the noodle element was replaced by jellyfish. I and everyone at our table loved it. I'm not sure how much I could actually taste the jellyfish on its own but the course completely succeeded as pad thai with rich and sweet peanut accents. Quail egg ravioli We were told that they're trying to get this classic off the menu but it's been hard to do. Since we were with friends who'd never been to Schwa, I was glad to see this on the menu . . . and, of course, that wasn't the only reason Pine-cone Uni ice cream cone with pink peppercorn accent. I love having these Iron Chef moments. When else would uni ice cream and I cross paths? I thought this dish was a refreshing bridge between courses. It was very subtle and tasted a bit briney with an ocean-like aroma. It primed our palates for the course that followed. Rockfish with lychee, mango and bacon I saw chef removing these beautiful nuggets from the fryer no more than a few seconds before they appeared on plates in front of us. The fish itself was tender, moist and flakey. The coating, which contained some coconut, paired very well with the lychee and mango and the sweet smokiness of the bacon pulled the whole dish together wonderfully. Panzanella Of the 4 in our party, I am the only true fan of tripe. Here, as in the pad thai dish described above, chef put a wildly distinctive -- and successful -- touch on a 'tried and true' classic. Rather than the traditional panzanella, this version was comprised of bread and braised tripe. The entire 'salad' was dressed in a tart and slightly spicy mayo and topped with shaved parmagiano reggiano. Aged balsamic, basil oil and sweet 100 tomatoes rounded out the plate and provided distinctive bursts of flavor that complemented the tripe perfectly. BBQ plate This was a fun play on a traditional bbq plate. The tender short rib was topped with a smoked plum bbq sauce. My previous meal at Schwa incorporated the smoked plum element into a fantastic sweetbread dish. Here, that element was pushed along a bit further into a succulent bbq sauce, which went perfectly with the beef. The well-seasoned (with demura sugar, etc.) and caramelized section of corn on the cob was supremely delicious as was the popcorn puree -- plumed with a popcorn shoot -- served alongside of it. The watermelon salad was actually a frozen, granita-like rendition that was dotted with crispy bits of pickled onion. Fantastic! Cheese course This intense one-biter of risotto spiked with epoisse cheese and flanked with huckleberry puree, was a great transition between the savory and sweet portions of the meal. Intermezzo Here, aromatic camomile gelee, tart rhubarb puree and and creamy-cool honey sorbet combined into a potent intermezzo which successfully reset and re-sparked our palates. After all the intense flavors we'd enjoyed, this well-conceived bite really delivered. Cape gooseberry cheesecake Desserts are almost always surprising at Schwa. This cape gooseberry cheesecake was notably un-sweet but still scratched the dessert itch very effectively. I loved the way the rich cheese, tart gooseberries and nutty macadamia nuts worked together. The macadamia nuts took a couple of forms -- they were incorporated into the crust of the cheesecake and some were roasted and turned into a smooth puree that was also on the plate. Cheesecake A closer look at the cheesecake. With the possible exception of my first time at Schwa -- during which I was completely blown away -- this was the best meal I'd ever enjoyed there. I marvelled at the cohesiveness of the menu and the progression of the courses, which I thought was brilliant. So many times, tasting menus run off in directions that are hard to make sense of, or that cause elements of the meal to interfere with each other. The exact opposite was true in this case. From beginning to end, our meal was seamless. Each course, while satisfying in its own right, seemed to 'set up' the palate for next one. If I took a month off of work, I'd probably come out of it in a loagy stupor. Happily, the same cannot be said about Michael Carlson and the chefs at Schwa. After taking off the entire month of July, they returned to the restaurant at the very top of their game. Like a lot of my very favorite places, Schwa keeps getting better. It's a truly exciting restaurant that engages, enlightens and satisfies. =R=
  22. Great news that he is dealing with the chemo so well. I am still very much hoping that even with the radiation that is coming that he will feel well enough to attend the Starchefs International Chefs Congress in NYC next month. He remains on the scheedule, but ultimately it will depend on how he is feeling. ← Doc, I'm sure you'll be pleased to read this additional update about chefg, which was posted by Michael Ruhlman at his web site: =R=
  23. That's too bad but not completely surprising. It's clear that Mr. Smith requires something higher in quality than "passable." Hell, don't we all? =R=
  24. Harold's does a pretty solid rendition and they have locations all over the city -- from Roseland to Rogers Park. When I was a kid, I used to love Brown's Chicken's version but it's been years and I don't know if they're still any good. =R=
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