Monthly Archives: June 2013

Bar Pastoral

It has long been conventional food board wisdom that there’s nothing good to eat in the area of Clark & Diversey. I’ve lived in this area for about 10 of the 12 years that I’ve lived in Chicago, and while this thinking was pretty accurate in 2001 it doesn’t hold true anymore.

One of the more exciting openings in the neighborhood last year was Bar Pastoral. Pastoral (the store) has been around for a while now, fueling many patio BBQ nights and trips to Ravinia. When they announced that they would be opening a restaurant, we were eagerly looking forward to it.

I’ve been to Bar Pastoral four or five times now and I am thrilled to have it in the neighborhood (we even went there for New Year’s Eve). Yesterday was a particularly challenging day at work so all I wanted was a glass of wine (or two, or three) and some comfortable food. An appetizer of burrata from Zingerman’s was like eating summer. Mostly creamy burrata (the edges were a bit too firm) with pea tendrils, pesto, and fava beans (both whole beans and puree) served with toasted crostini. Great with a glass of some sort of Portuguese white. Next was the duck confit huarache with crema, radishes, beans cooked in duck fat, gouda, and red chili. There was a lot going on here, but everything came together perfectly. The crema offset the richness of the duck and the beans and the radishes added a nice bit of crunch. It’s a really interesting dish, and one I would definitely recommend going in for before it rotates off the menu. Normally I wouldn’t have a big dessert (especially in the middle of the week), but yesterday sucked so I figured why not. I went with the Elvis, which was a big mess of banana cake, peanut butter mousse, chocolate, bacon, and whipped cream. The portion was gigantic, and clearly meant to be shared between two or even three people. I ate about a third and, so I wouldn’t feel too bad about myself, and boxed up the rest. I think I’ll be eating it over the next four days or so.

The only downsides to the place are the service can be a bit off (they routinely try to deliver food to the wrong table) and it can get a little nuts on the weekends (no reservations). But, given the fact that I live about a 7 minute walk away, that sort of stuff doesn’t really bother me. I’m always happy to recommend it to anyone looking to grab a bite in my neighborhood.

Bar Pastoral
http://www.pastoralartisan.com/bar-pastoral
2947 N Broadway St  Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 472-4781

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Media Dinners – Injecting Commercials into the Discussion

Media dinners have been part of the “food media” scene for quite some time now. A restaurant will invite a bunch of writers (online or otherwise) to try out a new menu. The implicit bargain is that said writers will turn around and tell their readers about what they just ate. Is this a review? I don’t take it as one. The dinner is a setup. Is it PR? Sure. Is there anything ethically wrong with a writer going to one of these things and then, well, writing about it? As long as they disclose the circumstances of the meal, absolutely not.

The problem is the space these media dinners now occupy in the broader context of how we, as diners, read about food. The list of professional reviewers and those who actually provide analysis of our local food scene is getting shorter by the week. What we are left with is a scattered landscape a couple of professional reviewers, message boards/discussion sites, blogs like Eater/Serious Eats, and Twitter.

Looking outside of the professional ranks, food discussion sites (and, more recently, Twitter) have been and continue to be valuable tools for finding the best food. Take the experiences of a bunch of “regular people” who are passionate about food, aggregate them, and the best food should (hopefully) emerge.

The problem is that “regular people” don’t necessarily stay “regular people”, especially in the world of food when restaurants can pretty easily figure out who has an influential voice. And this is where we come to the problem of the media dinner. There are nights when all of a sudden several of the food people you know on Twitter will all start tweeting from the same restaurant. In the middle of an LTH thread, you’ll see multiple accounts of the same dinner on the same night. What’s happened here? The discussion has been interrupted by a commercial*. Instead of a critical analysis of the food a restaurant is putting out, we get a press release by proxy of a new menu.

I wonder if this sort of thing actually works for restaurants. They keep doing them so I assume there must be some sort of return on the investment. Personally I tend to ignore accounts of these media dinners and rely on the opinions of people I know and respect in evaluating a restaurant. Actually, the most effective PR (at least for me) is hearing directly from the restaurant/chef what’s new and exciting. Take Mark Mendez of Vera for example. He comes up with something new, takes a picture of it, and puts it on Twitter. There’s no press release. There’s no event. It’s just “here’s something awesome I just came up with and you should come eat it”.

As diners we’re exposed to too much PR these days. It’s hard to escape, and it can become tiresome. We need more directly from chefs. We need more people talking about what they had for dinner at a normal night in a restaurant. Like every other part of our lives, we need fewer commercial interruptions.

* It’s only fair to disclose that I’ve had three comped dinners myself, but I’d like to believe I got them as a result of being a good customer of a restaurant. The first was a truffle dinner at Sweets & Savories (RIP), the second was the first anniversary dinner at Graham Elliot, and the third was a friends and family night before the first Next menu.

Juno

My parents started taking me out for sushi at a young age. Maybe I was five or so. They started my on cooked shrimp and those bean curd pockets, moved me up to tuna and salmon, and then I took it from there. Since I moved to the Midwest for college, and then stayed here afterwards for work, I’ve generally been mortified by the quality of the sushi I’ve been able to find.

At any time since I’ve lived in Chicago I’ve been able to find one or maybe two places that I’ve been willing to eat sushi from on a regular basis. When I first moved here Mirai was the answer in the heart of the city (yes, yes, I know…Katsu. We went once, didn’t sit at the bar, and had an average experience. Plus I’m rarely out that way). Then there was Heat. Then we found Tsuki (we loved Tsuki so much we got engaged there). I have no issues paying a premium for good sushi. I always tell people that they need to eat better sushi, just eat it less frequently.

Our current favored place is Arami. Arami has gone through a number of changes since the first opened, and admirably they’ve been able to weather each one and maintain an extremely high quality level. One of the biggest changes they’ve endured has been the loss of BK Park, who is one if Chicago’s best sushi chefs.

Park’s new restaurant Juno is now open and is about a 15 minute walk from our place. We headed over last night after making a last minute decision to go out. Fortunately we are able to grab a couple of seats at the sushi bar. As expected, we had an incredible dinner. We started off with round of sashimi: hirame, kampachi, madai, chutoro, and King salmon. All of it was absolutely pristine and cut perfectly.

sashimi

Next we moved on to what the restaurant calls “smoked” sashimi. These are nice sized slices of fish placed on a spoon with two or three “condiments” and served under a smoke-filled glass dome. We went with the tuna, which was served with ankimo and fresh wasabi. Outstanding.

smoked sashimi

After a soft shell crab roll that was ok but not stellar, we finished things off with a miscellaneous round. Marissa had a yellowtail and scallion handroll which she pronounced “really good” and I had three nigiri: live scallop, uni, and tobiko. The live scallop and the uni were two just really special bites. The uni was that perfect balance of tasting of the sea and butter. The live scallop was sprinkled with just a bit of sea salt, which is my favorite way of dressing the best sushi.

Juno has a nice list of sakes and craft beer (both Japanese as well as other imports). Service was exceptionally well polished, and not even for a restaurant that’s only been open for a week. You can tell that Park and Jason Chan really took care to hire the right staff for this place. The room was a little loud, but I’m not sure if that was an acoustical issue or the fact that the restaurant looks to be drawing the type of folks who would normally be hanging around the Lincoln & Wrightwood area.

I’m really excited to have Juno in our neighborhood, and place it right alongside Arami on the list of places where I will gladly eat sushi here in Chicago. We have a world class city, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have two or even more great sushi restaurants.

Juno Restaurant
(872) 206-8662
2638 N Lincoln
Chicago, Illinois 60614

PS – Yes, I realize this is a post about a new restaurant that also has pictures. Whatever…my blog, my rules.

Swensons – Home of the Galley Boy

I have a client in Canton, OH so I wind up in the Akron/Canton area three or four times a year. The area isn’t exactly what I would call a culinary hotbed, but it’s always a fun challenge to find something interesting to eat while I’m out here.

So far, the moderately famous Barberton fried chicken has been my favorite option (and why not…it’s chicken fried in lard).  I wasn’t in the mood for fried chicken tonight, so I decided to have a burger.

Swensons is a local chain of drive-in restaurants specializing in something called a Galley Boy. A Galley Boy is a double cheeseburger (thin, diner style patties) with two (count them, two!) special sauces. I ordered one with fries, and there it is below hanging out the window of my rented Toyota.

It was a solid burger. The meat was decently seasoned, and the bun was a little “crustier” than a typical hamburger bun. I’m not sure what the special sauces were, but I’m pretty sure mayo played a prominent role in one if not both. I have no idea why they stuck an olive in the top.

The real attraction of this place may be something other than the food though. It’s hard for me to express the sense of Americana I got eating here. Ridiculously friendly carhops, a pickup truck with a bed full of teenagers eating burgers…the only thing missing was a fire truck with a dalmatian riding shotgun. Business travel can be aggravating, but at the same time it’s good to get away from the Big City every so often.

Swensons Drive In

http://www.swensonsdriveins.com/default.asp

Multiple locations, but I went to:

40 S. Hawkins Avenue

Akron, OH 44313

Image

Where I’m Eating

So, here’s a list of places that I currently like to eat. When people ask for restaurant recommendations, these are the places I give them:

Fine dining – Alinea, TRU, Grace

Sushi – Arami

Randolph Street area – Vera, Avec, La Sirena Clandestina, Province (a place that I think has always been underrated), Publican

My neighborhood places – Crisp, Pastoral/Bar Pastoral, Del Seoul, Fish Bar

Pizza – Pequod’s for deep dish, Cafe Luigi or Armitage Pizzeria for NY style, Pizzeria da Nella for Neapolitan. My favorite overall though is Coalfire (specifically their mortadella pizza)

Chinatown – Lao Hunan, Lao Sze Chuan, “Little” Three Happiness (though this is mainly to indulge my wife’s love of their rice noodles with beef & broccoli)

Tacos – La Lagartija

Loop lunch – Hannah’s Bretzel, Cafecito, Ba Le, Benjyehuda, Taza, Pollito’s

All the rest – Anteprima, The Florentine, Sable, Senza, Maude’s Liquor Bar, The Bristol, Taxim

Great, another food blog

I like to make fun of food bloggers, so I’m just putting this out there right now, this isn’t intended to be an annoying food blog.

I’ve loved eating out all of my life. I grew up in the suburbs of Northern New Jersey and spent a good deal of time eating out with my parents. Everywhere from Jersey diners to the best restaurants in New York.

Some time ago I came across eGullet and couldn’t believe there were all sorts of other people who liked talking about food as much as I did. So I threw myself into the world of online food discussion. The Chicago-specific discussion on eGullet began to wane, so I moved over to LTHForum.

Since first posting on LTHForum, that site began to change, the people who post on that site began to change, and the very nature of how we read about and discuss restaurants began to change. As those changes really began to take hold, the way I saw food began to change…

I was always a skinny kid. I went off to college a scrawny 18 year old. Four years later I emerged with a respectable but not extraordinary beer gut (I was in a fraternity after-all). But the post-college years of continued drinking, sitting at a desk for 8-12 hours a day, and getting fully immersed in internet food culture began to take hold. Finally, a couple of years ago I decided things had gone too far and I lost 40 pounds. I’m still a bit overweight (if you believe in BMI) but I’m no longer obese. I eat less, I move more, and I take a far less obsessive view towards food. I don’t need to eat everything, all the time, every single time I go out.

The point of that little digression is to bring you to where I am today. I latched on to Twitter as a medium for discussing food for several reasons:

1. I have no desire to write blow-by-blow accounts of long tasting menu meals. 140 characters is enough, most of the time, to get my thoughts across.

2. Posts from tourists asking for dining advice are boring. Go read Chowhound. Same questions, same answers. And God forbid you stray from recommendations that are deemed “acceptable”.

3. I value the opinions of some more than others. Twitter allows me to filter out the noise of people whose tastes don’t line up with my own. I trust the people I interact with on Twitter. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t find a community there.

So, why this blog? Because there are times when I would like more than 140 characters to get a point across. Also, more practically, I need a better place to keep track of all of the restaurants I go to (especially when traveling, for work or otherwise). Twitter is great, but searching and managing your own tweets is terrible thing to attempt.

What this will not be:

  • A place to find first night reports about new restaurants. I’m not interested in that.
  • A channel to score comps and invites to special dinners. Not interested in that either.
  • A gallery of gorgeous food photography. There may be some iPhone pics, but that’s it…I generally dislike taking pictures of my food.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy.