Archive For The “Eating Out” Category
Lovers of Mexican food and Mexican culture, we had enjoyed both Frontera and Topo, but never Xoco, and had heard about their amazing breakfasts and lunches and especially the churros, the Mexican version of our own terribly hip donut.
The menu features two kinds of waffles: Belgian and Liege. Belgian waffles are the ones most of us are most familiar with: deep, light and crispy. Liege waffles are denser and chewier. The batter includes pearl sugar that makes them very sweet and caramelized.
Table 52? Why should I spend top dollar to get fried chicken and grits in a fancy location that I could get for a lot less at some place like Big Jones? But Mr. FB was feeling romantic and went ahead and made a reservation on his own. Which was an awesome gesture, Fellow FoodBeest, and most appreciated.
I would never have chosen Table 52, but slap my head and call me silly if we didn’t go home happy as a dead pig in the sunshine and full as a tick.
Once in a while you come upon a place – or a meal – or a dish – that you put forever into a silver box to open occasionally and recall with warmth and affection. We hit just such a silver box occasion when we walked into to Takashi, Takashi Yagahashi’s contemporary French-American restaurant (with an Asian flair) just a few blocks from our house.
Bakin’ & Eggs was far from the best or the most creative or the most interesting or the most brilliantly prepared food we’ve ever eaten. It was also far from the most romantic spot we’ve ever been in. But it’s in the ‘hood. It’s reasonable and easy and inexpensive. And filling.
tTe world has changed. It is smaller. It is more sophisticated. It is more worldly. You can get iced in your iced tea in London. And mind-boggling world-class food in Chicago. And New York doesn’t look as special.
Except when it does.
Back in the day – certainly the first time I visited Europe after college – it was easy to spot an American aboard. We looked different. Cheekier. We dressed differently. More self-consciously un-self-conscious. An American could easily sell his (or her) jeans on the street to a Frenchman or a German who was eager for a pair of Levi’s – the more used the better. And their shoes were different. Chunkier. Sold working-man’s looking shoes with thick soles. Except for the Italian, of course, who wore shoes with very thin soles and very pointy toes.
And then there was a period where you could spot a European at glance because they were setting the trends. Hair colors not found in nature. Brighter colors. Bleeding edge fashion. We wondered at the syles and knew we’d be wearing them in six months or a year.
But you could tell at a glance who was European and who was American. No more. Just try to spot an American on the streets of London or Amsterdam or Munich. You can’t. Any more than you can spot a European visitor to any U.S. city.
There was also a time when New York was where you went in this country when you wanted to taste “really good” food. Dinner for the rest of us – especially in our pedestrian Midwest world – was meatloaf and macaroni and cheese (mostly from the blue box) or fried chicken with a side of vegetables from a frozen square box and a baked potato. Today we call that “comfort food.”
If you wanted “gourmet food,” you went to New York where you could get Chock-ful-of-Nuts coffee and exotic stuff like Cuban Chinese food. The rest-of-us knew that the food in New York was expensive, but it was special. My parents came home from New York rhapsodizing for days about Mama Leone’s Lobster Diablo. And there was Sardis. And the Carnegie Deli. And Peter Luger’s steak house. You couldn’t get that at home.
So there we were in New York yesterday – me and Mr. FB and his brother and sister-in-law – wanting to get that special New York approach to food. Just one day. Fewer than 24-hours. One lunch/brunch and one dinner. Maybe dessert after the Broadway play.
But we’re from Chicago. Chicago is where Grant Achatz thrills the (upscale and adventurous) world with astonishing molecular gastronomy at Alinea and sells tickets to NeXT where the food style and menu take a dramatic transformation every three months (Escoffier to Thailand to “childhood”). Chicago is where Top Chef winners and near-winners open their inventive and brilliant restaurants. It’s the city where Rick Bayless introduced Americans to regional Mexican cuisine that sent the corner taco joint reeling. Chicago is the home of Charlie Trotter (who started the whole thing there) and Tru and Everest on one end – and brilliant inventive gastropubs and little Vietnam on the other.
We we’re in New York together. Two Chicago chowhounds looking for culinary adventure and two vegetarians for whom food is a pleasant but unimportant necessity for iife.
I did my research as I always do before we travel. Picked out several restaurants as both lunch and dinner options and ran them past everyone to be sure everyone was getting what they wanted; what they needed.
Brunch rezies at Norma in the Parker Meridian for a classic, if whimsical and overpriced mid-day New York-style brunch before we hit the MoMA. Get the shrimp egg white frittata urged our waiter. It was fine. It was good. I just could get it anywhere. Mr. FB had corncakes with a fried egg and (Spanish) chorizo. B-I-L had $21 potato pancakes – three of them ($7 each?) with a pumpkin puree and pomegranate apple sauce.
Great breakfast/brunch food at home (Longman & Eagle, Jam, Publican, Bongo Room) that was indistinguishable from anything we had at Norma’s– except for the price and maybe the bragging rights.
Our original dinner reservation was for Esca, a Mario Batali fish restaurant. I’ve eaten there before and thought it was brilliant. But the vegetarians we love couldn’t find things on the menu that worked for them. so we changed to a place right around the block from the theater. Bearing in mind that the Times Square neighborhood is not the best place for great food in Manhattan, we wound up at a place called Scarlatto.
The good news about Scarlatto is that:
It was close to the theater.
It was inexpensive.
We didn’t leave hungry.
We didn’t get sick.
Don’t bother. Hundreds – maybe thousands of restaurants – around the country with comparably competent food. Nothing most of you couldn’t make in your own kitchen. Made it clear to me why most people don’t bother themselves much with food.
So the landscape has changed. New York is no longer the only/best place to
Inspired by her 100th birthday, I went on a Julia Child binge last week. I drug out my old, beaten-up copies of both volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking from the 70s. Then I bought a grand spankingly new and beautiful paperback copy of The Way To Cook. Finally, I went into the kitchen with a purpose and set about making one of her seasonal recipes: Eggplant, Tomato and Zucchini Gratin..
Food trucks are the rage for gourmet treats around the country. But here in Chicago, they have been subject to strict regulations that keep them limited. No parking near a brick-and-mortar restaurant. No cooking whatsoever has been allowed on the truck. Even squeezing fresh lemon juice on food on a truck in Chicago would be a violation. What can you serve that you have to cook that far in advance?
if I’m going to eat some fried sugary confection, I want to be bowled over with culinary bliss. And I wasn’t. Admittedly, they were a little better after a few minutes in the microwave. And while I’ll probably try others, I am neither glazed and infused not dazed and confused. I’m not even crazed and amused and I am very rapidly losing interest in this donut rage.