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    Chicago area
  1. Give a call to the folks at Smoque, where there's arguably the best BBQ in the city. It's on the way in from O'Hare, not too expensive, certainly well priced, but has nothing (but great fries, cornbread, and desserts) for vegetarians (unless there's suet or lard in the first two, which I doubt).
  2. Few people today realize what the Chicago dining scene was like, pre-Trotter. My wife and I do, having been influential dining critics for Chicago magazine when it was the city's primary source of unbiased dining information. With as many as over a million monthly readers, we were fortunate enough to cover a 20-year period that ran between truly basic ethnic Mom 'n' Pops places, the ending of haute cuisine (most bogus, some, such as the first Maxim's de Paris, were genuine), and the advent of la nouvelle cuisine , which reached its apex at Le Perroquet. Charlie — who began his career going kitchen-door-to-kitchen-door learning in some of the country's greatest restaurants, the field-testing his team by cooking gratis, superb multi-course dinners in the kitchens of family friends' North Shore homes, before opening his own place (half the size of the current one) seemed to surf just ahead of the cresting organic-food, locavore, and fusion fads. He shared with his guests meals by guest chefs from around the country, perhaps around the world. A visit to his Chicago restaurant (he had short-lived ventures elsewhere) was always an intellectual challenge and a stunning exhibition of quality equipment and intense concentration. He seemingly was always trying to reinvent the wheel, and often came up with interesting variants. A meal at Trotter's was like visiting a culinary museum (largely founded on French disciplines and techniques) that required eating all the exhibits, many of which provided gastronomic discovery (like a single plate combining wild hare and domestic rabbit).
  3. Regrettably, the Spacca Napoli style, blistered and crispy, can't travel without getting soggy. I personally love the Lou Malnati thin-crust and deep dish (though Lou himself threatened once, literally, to shoot me after a less-than-stellar review in my magazine, Chicago). For a shorter trip and excellent thin-crust pizzas, I suggest you scoot to Pizzeria via Stato in the Embassy Suites between Ohio and Ontario on State. Ask chef David DiGregorio if their pies could be properly reconstituted on the rack of a highly preheated oven or a bread oven stone, if you have one. FYI, I don't like the fold-over NY style pizzas, save for their best's luscious underside charring, which Pizzeria via Stato's have.
  4. Yes, I like Sun Wah, too. It's one of the only places that serves the Peking (let's make that Beijing) duck with steamed buns — the usual in Beijing — rather than moo-shu pancakes, and they finish, as in China, with duck soup. Plus they carve the bird at the table. But their service is atrocious, the dining room staff so poorly trained the last time we had Beijing duck there, they brought out our soup with the carved duck, requiring two tables, but we had only one. It was full of food (as was a chair next to us because they rushed the meal out) and was no place to put it and its requisite bowls and spoons. Better service, controlled operations, and a more complete menu are to be found in Chinatown's more experienced Phoenix, an excellent restaurant with a large menu and many Chinese specials they'll describe for Anglos, though meant for "real" native customers. As with both, give 24 hours' notice (mandatory at Phoenix). I'd prefer to go to the latter any day for a less-chaotic experience, but Sun Wah's great for barbecued pig and duck carryout. Phoenix's greater percentage of Chinese patrons assures a more accurate, polished Chinese-restaurant experience overall. Sun Wah draws a large Anglo crowd, and many of its Asian customers are likely Hmong and Vietnamese. They have culinary treasures of their own, but are likely to be less demanding of an authentic Chinese dish.
  5. I think this is a really cool idea. About 30 years ago, my wife and I were the most-read legitimate restaurant critics in the city, with approximately a million readers of our monthly Chicago magazine columns. (Back then, the mag had 225K readers and an average pass-along of seven readers a copy. Ours was the most-read feature and we the most influential critics, for what that's worth. But that's another discussion.) I love the positivity of Des Rosier's outlook and, even though I wrote upwards of half a dozen pieces for Bon Appétit once I left Chicago, I went over to the other side, professionally telling restaurateurs how they could improve what they do, especially when it comes to establishing and meeting customers' expectations. I'll do the same for Inovasi, sans my usual bill, which is typically based on a sizable retainer, plus costs. The content of my notes will be seen only by him, and though he may want to discuss it (and how and where I think he may want to develop his work), I won't take him on as a client. He can post my comments if he chooses, as long as he leaves my name off. BTW, most critics haven't done their homework or had much experience. I think Des Rosier will get truly actionable comments mostly from chefs, servers, and others pros in the restaurant field.
  6. I'd sure push for L20 or TRU as possible get-in places. L20 is absolutely ingenious without being Cirque du Soleil showy; the flavors are the object and they're phenomenal. Both it and TRU tend to be overlooked, but I've had world-class meals and great service in both. For a traditional grand time (haute but modern) try Everest with Jean Joho in the kitchen and probably North America's best Alsatian wine discoveries.
  7. Terrific, little-known place in Skokie (1/2 hr north of Loop) owned by Filipinos that make great ice cream with conventional and Philippine flavors, such as halo-halo, yams, various indiginous fruits. On Oakton St about 2 blocks east of Skokie Blvd.
  8. I goofed! By Radisson, I mean Marriott.
  9. We locals refer to that "canal" as the Chicago River. Hot spots near your Hyatt include many that are now honoring "Chicago Restaurant Week", though it officially ended weeks ago. Great service, steaks, sides and stone-crab claws on a deal at Joe's Seafood, Prime Steaks & Stone Crab across from the Radisson on Rush. Lots of newish hot spots around, but for solid Chicago classics, check out an Italian beef sandwich for lunch at Mr. Beef on Orleans (order it "sweet and hot and soaked", which includes bell peppers stewed in beef jus, spicy giardiniara, and the whole sandwich dipped in jus). For the best deep-dish pizza, check out Lou Malnati's (I like the one on Wells) and try one of Rich Bayless's places. (If you go between 3-5, you'll probably be able to just walk right into his cheapest eatery, Xoco, selling street food.)
  10. allenkelson

    The Egg Sandwich

    Been making, eating, and (I hope) improving on egg sandwiches for nigh on 60 years. Current evolution makes 'em faster, easier to eat, more complex than ever (for my tastes). Start by putting a pita or two in oven to puff. While that's going on, grate lots of sharp cheddar (usually Cabot, Black Diamond, or Tillamook — or best, raw milk farm cheddar), thinly slice sweet onion and maybe tomato, and grab mayo (even low-fat if being "responsible"). Beat up eggs, scramble in hot pan with cheddar (I like 'em loose). Cut pita in half and spread mayo through opening. Spoon in egg, add onion (and tomato, and if you want, herbs or arugula) and stuff your face. Fast, easy, scrumptious, and pretty good. Vary flavors with additions of sesame seeds, chopped jalapeños, or whatever is handy. If you're young, a great respite after (or between) coitus. If you're more, ahem, matured, good when you're watching a late-night movie on TV and reminiscing about coitus...or not.
  11. I'd go to Carlucci on River Road. Not far. Good food, fine wine list.
  12. Having been a Chicagoan born and bred for 60+ years, most of those in the food field, here are my thoughts. Best Chicago pizza: Lou Malnati's. One of the best Lou Malnati's stores is near your hotel, on North Wells St. My favorite in the Chicago genre: Deep-dish sausage and onion. (If you want the full Monty, order it with their "butter crust.") Weather's fine. Can't say re: breakfast; nothing extraordinary, though Chicagoans are fond of Walker Bros., local franchisees of Original Pancake House, which consistently uses top-quality ingredients and cooks them well. Best known for their oven-finished, caramelized cinnamon-apple pancakes which weigh in at more than 2000 calories apiece! (I prefer their Dutch Baby, a baked suet-free variation on Yorkshire pudding, served with powdered sugar and lemon wedges; or their Forty-niners — large, thin sourdough flapjacks with maple syrup.) A favorite morning spot is Lou Mitchell's, worth a visit though not earth-shaking. They make their own marmalade from the orange rinds left over from juicing. Coffee's good. Women get freebie Milk Duds, a tradition in this cheek-by-jowl place that bakes its own bread and — if I recall correctly — uses double-yolk eggs exclusively. Decent coffee (they make a big deal over filtering their water). And they have a serpentine counter and a long communal table. Located near the Loop and Union Station.
  13. The place I'd go to first is Carlucci, a good northern Italian spot with a very good chef. It's only about 5 minutes away, just outside the airport on River Road in Rosemont.
  14. In January New York magazine pointed out that "Laurent Gras, the talented chef best known here for his work at Peacock Alley...is launching an ambitious haute cuisine restaurant in Chicago, L20, and recently launched a blog detailing the process: the how and why of the butter program, the bread, even the very wood of the place. It’s a fascinating view of how one of the country’s top chefs thinks about creating a restaurant, told in the first person." I've been following the blog, which at first seemed quirky, but I now see as often insightful and entertaining at its worst; I look forward to seeing a post from it in my email almost daily. I've been fortunate enough to have tasted a few tastings of Gras's phenomenal creations ("cooking" isn't always an apt term for his food), and I'm convinced his work here will become one of the city's defining culinary accomplishments. His food is often witty, frequently ingenious, and sometimes pathbreaking, but it always begins with an underlying sensibility about gastronomic satisfaction, rather than mere showmanship. Just to keep the record straight, L.2o is associated with Lettuce Entertain You. After I retired as a restaurant critic, I became a consultant to Lettuce, among others, and that's how I first came in contact with Gras's work: Till his new kitchen is ready, his atelier has been at Tru. I'm recommending his blog to my fellow eGulleteers not because I'm a flack for the operation — I definitely am not — but because I've learned so much from it, despite having spent 30+ years in the culinary field. I never know what I'll find in his blog. One day he writes about commuting by bicycle; another time it's about the wood on his as-yet unbuilt walls. Last week he wrote about toro so fat it melted at room temperature; yesterday it was the flesh and skin of variegated lemons. The blog has told readers why he insists on churning butter himself, but he's also experimenting with — and running readers' thoughts on — freeze-drying. Not even his routines are routine! Today he talks about the "greens database" he's put together for produce ordering, staff training, and recipe development. The installment is at http://www.l2o.typepad.com/.
  15. 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.
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