Bad Hunter, Good Times, Better Foood

A few weeks ago, while trying to figure out what the have for dinner, my restaurant advisor had sent a few recommendations. One recommendation was a restaurant that serves the best seafood boils in Chicago. The other was a vegetarian forward restaurant. Since my restaurant advisor was curtailing certain culinary items for Lent, I went with the vegetarian options. So, our landing spot was Bad Hunter at 802 W. Randolph Street.

Maitake Mushrooms

Maitake Mushrooms

Going back to an approach in ordering that has worked well for us in the past, we rattled off a few ideas to our server and let her surprise us. The first plate that we shared was of maitake mushrooms with parsnips, smoked pecans, parmesan, and lavendar. Perfect for sharing, but tasty to the point where it could introduce a bit of selfishness because every bite is a dream.

Shrimp

Shrimp

The one meat dish we had was of two rather large shrimp with the heads on. The shrimp had been wood grilled and were plump to the bite. Having a little bit of the parmesan from the maitake mushrooms, we also ran morsels of the shrimp through the sauce, which made for a great accent to the shrimp that didn’t take away from the freshness of the dish.

Fried Sunchokes

Fried Sunchokes

The third dish of fried sunchokes was a delectable plus. Fried in a light buttermilk and black garlic batter, and drizzled with aleppo chili honey, these Jeruselem artichokes reminded me of a marriage between turnips without the bitter bite and cubed potatoes. In the same manner of being a plate to share, it took was splendid without being filling.

Wood Grilled Shrimp

Wood Grilled Shrimp

For our fourth course, we continued in the light dish spectrum with a plate of wood grilled carrots and fennel with pistachio-green chili pesto, avocado cream, and queso fresco. Usually I have dishes where fennel is somewhat like a hint thrown in for effect. Having a substantial amount of fennel in this dish made me love it that much more. And having it balanced out with the carrots made this dish one I would return to indulge often.

Fry Bread

The final large course was a plate of fry bread. Stuffed very lightly with dill and served with pickled onions, burrata, and chili oil, this would have been a very good start to the meal. Then again, it would be a perfect snack throughout the day and with  dinner and when you can’t figure out what to eat and just because. Extremely soft to each bite, the burrata spread made it that more inviting.

Turmeric Panna Cotta with Ash Coconut Ice Cream

Turmeric Panna Cotta with Ash Coconut Ice Cream

The finale was an exotic dessert. We had turmeric panna cotta topped with passion fruit, puffed rice, and coconut ash ice cream. Panna cotta is alreay my favourite Italian dessert, but adding turmeric to it livened the flavour without introducing the herbal taste of turmeric. The coconut ash ice cream was not only refreshing but it was also captivating because it was jet black. The combination of all of the ingredients played well without turning the dessert into something busy on the palate.

My favourite pure vegetarian restaurant is Green Zebra in Chicago’s Noble Square area. Bad Hunter ranks highly on my favourite list, although there are a few menu items that indulge meat offerings. The service was an absolute highlight, from the server being conversational to being extremely knowledgeable of all menu items to making recommendations. For a spacious dining area, seating is very close and the restaurant fills up. In the midst of numerous other meat-centric restaurants, vegetarian forward Bad Hunter is a very good option.

Bad Hunter Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mango Pickle, Edgewater Indian

Mango Pickle

With ongoing growth in Chicago, neighbourhoods like Edgewater are becoming hubs for a lot of cultural cuisine. There is influence from the Vietnamese community just to the South in Uptown. There are several authentic Thai restaurants, Ethiopian restaurants, a nearby Nigerian restaurant, sushi bars, American cafes, and a dusting of Indian restaurants. Mango Pickle at 5842 N. Broadway Street was my latest jaunt for a sampling of something representative from afar.

Smoky Negroni

Smoky Negroni

Touted as a cafe, Mango Pickle is a spacious restaurant that serves Sunday brunch and dinner Wednesdays through Saturdays. For my first visit, I went for Sunday brunch. I started with a Smoky Negroni since you can never go wrong with a negroni. The bartender mixed a great brunch cocktail that was neither heavy-handed with the alcohol nor too light that it was watery. To get a good sampling of offerings, I started with chicken soup, which came in a deep plate with tender chicken and root vegetables over a curry gravy. Although I was expecting the landing to arrive in a cup or a bowl, it was still a flavourful dish that I would have again.

Chicken Soup

Chicken Soup

The second brunch landing was a plate of carrot halwa with French toast. Topped with pecans and drizzled with a light syrup, this was a rather light offering considering the toast had the consistency of fluffy, scrambled eggs, rather than grilled bread. The carrot halwa was the item in the dish that stood out as representative of something in Indian dining. With the natural sweetness of the halwa, it was a nice accompaniment to the toast.

Carrot Halwa and French Toast

Carrot Halwa and French Toast

For the third brunch landing, I had bun maska with homemade jam and accompanied it with a cup of masala chai. This was the first time I had ever eaten this Maharashtrian favourite. Dusted with powdered sugar, the bun maska was warm, right from the oven, buttered, and outstanding with the jams. As to the masala chai, Mango Pickle needs a walk-up window where one can order the chai for take-away.

Bun Maska & Chai

Bun Maska & Chai

Recognizing that the brunch seemingly had an Indian influence to American breakfast, I returned a few days later for a tasting of the dinner offerings. Very much like during Sunday brunch, the restaurant was crowded and full of energy. I was full of anticipation.

Chai with Bourbon and Somrus

Chai with Bourbon and Somrus

I started with a cup of masala chai that came with a small vial of bourbon and another small vial of Somrus Indian liqueur. Being a fan of whiskey, scotch, and bourbon, there were no complaints while enjoying the bourbon in part with the chai. Where I was completely won over was with the Somrus Indian liqueur. Having gotten a taste of the liqueur at a media event in December 2016, I was quick to make a reminder to myself to seek out a bottle of it for enjoyment at home.

As usual, I opted for a few landings so I could have a good idea of what Mango Pickle had for the dinner crowd. I started with a lamb slider that came open-faced atop naan and accented with a drizzle of kasundi mustard. Not a large appetizer, but certainly one that will awake the taste buds, I recommend this as a starter.

Lamb Slider

Lamb Slider

The second landing was baigan bharta, a traditional creamed eggplant dish in Indian cuisine. Spicy the way I had requested it, this was a very satisfying vegetarian option. This dish came with root vegetables and was topped with papadum. One thing I noticed with the inclusion of root vegetables (i.e., beets and sweet potatoes) is a hint of Eastern European flare sneaking into certain dishes. It works well here, for sure.

Baigan Bharta

Baigan Bharta

The final landing was still in keeping with vegetarian options. It was chana masala. This dish had a heavier ginger base than I have had before at any Indian restaurants domestically or abroad. I ordered basmati rice with the chana masala that had herbs and two small dollops of ghee added. Fantastic. Looking back, I think naan would have tempered the ginger a bit, but the ginger was actually good for digestion given how much I had ordered.

Chana Masala

Chana Masala

Since I often spend a lot of time in Edgewater visiting with friends, I never paid much attention to Mango Pickle on the landscape. So, I can’t say that it is a new addition to Edgewater. It is, however, a welcomed one, I’m sure. The service during Sunday brunch was superb. And during my return for dinner, the server recognized me as “the photographer who sat at the high-top.” That alone was enough to prove consistency in the service. And for the food, I’m won over completely. Even with the faint hint of Eastern European showing up in the ingredients, the restaurant serves some delicious Indian cuisine still. You should add Mango Pickle to your “Must Go Here” list.

Mango Pickle Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Troquet River North, French Style

Troquet River North

Chardonnay

Chardonnay

Several years ago, a colleague who discovered my love for food and blogging about it had recommended a French restaurant in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighbourhood. Like some suggestions, I had entered it into my cellphone but never followed through. And when I did, finally, I discovered that the restaurant had moved closer to downtown. With Restaurant Week in full swing for Chicago, I saw a listing for Troquet, the restaurant that was once farther north, and that the restaurant was participating. So, it was off to 111 W Huron Street for a sampling.

With this being my first visit, I was more of a curiosity seeker than someone wanting to try a long list of menu items. I settled on a few dishes that I figured would be a good introduction to Troquet and a way to gauge whether repeat visits were worthwhile. The first dish that I started with was a bowl of creamy tomato soup. This came in a deep bowl, topped with some croutons that tasted like nothing from the bags at market, and also accented with a drizzle of chili oil. Before the first spoonful, it was apparent that this was not soup from a can, which some restaurants in the Chicago metropolitan area have sneaked out to tables. The chili oil didn’t overpower the base, yet it did provide a mild kick that made the tomato soup stand out as a favourite.

Tomato Soup

Tomato Soup

The second landing was a plate of dorade atop cauliflower, mushrooms, and spinach. Dorade was a curiosity menu item for me, being a lover of seafood, but having never had dorade. The texture was flaky with a faint note of silkiness. I initially thought that I had Chilean sea bass. The skin had been seared enough to have a bit of a crisp to it. However, the fleshy meat was succulent and bursting with flavour. The accompanying vegetables had been seasoned such that they were not screaming with salt or an excess of seasoning. This was a perfect landing.

Dorade

Dorade

The finale was an apple tart. The apples, which had mild hints of tartness and were crisp, were sliced thinly and served atop a flaky pastry that wasn’t a victim of too much sugar. This was an indication of the pastry having been baked on the premises from scratch. To make the dessert that more better, the caramel drizzle tasted like caramel that had been prepared using sugar and butter in a skillet in the kitchen. Yes, it was homemade. It was not melted blocks of Brach’s caramel.

Apple Tart

Apple Tart

Troquet is a spacious restaurant and surprisingly quiet. The interior gives off the feeling of a restaurant that was once a bar and has been repurposed. French restaurants in Chicago tend to have a bistro feel (casual) or a white tablecloth atmosphere (fine dining). River North boasts watering holes for those who love vibrant bar scenes. In the vein of French restaurants, Troquet is not a bar and while it’s not a pretentious place, the cuisine seems to stand out. For a place with great service and outstanding French food, Troquet is worthy of countless return visits.

Troquet - Hotel Felix Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Top 10 Jaunts for 2016

This has been a rather fast and adventurous year. New restaurants, new cafes, new boutiques, and an appetite to go through all of them. So this brings me to the time for me to present my top 10 list of ethnic jaunts for 2016.

10.  Cantón Regio — Mexican — 1510 W. 18th Street

Brochetas de Pollo y Camarones

Pollo y Camarones

Arrachera

Arrachera

There can never be too many Mexican restaurants in Chicago. If most of them were bad, it would be easier to say which is the best. Cantón Regio falls in the category of Mexican restaurants that make you inner fat child very, very happy.

9. Cafe Orchid — Turkish — 1746 W. Addison Street

Patican Salata

Patican Salata

If you can make it through a meal without dancing in your seat, let me know. It can’t be possible to sit through a meal here and have no emotions, except for shedding tears for how delectable everything is.

8. Ay Ay Picante — Peruvian — 4569 N. Elston Avenue

Chupe de Camarones

Chupe de Camarones

Peruvian food served the way it’s enjoyed in Peru. Peruvian food served the “Chicago way,” that being you’ll walk away stuffed. My recommendation for when the food is just “that” good and you start declaring, “Jesus,” clear it up by pronouncing the name the way it’s pronounced in Latin American countries so no one will know that you’re really taking Jesus’s name in vain.

7. Serai — Malaysian — 2169 N. Milwaukee Avenue

Roti Pratha

Roti Pratha

When you can get Malaysian food without it being buried on one of several booklet pages at a Pan-Asian restaurant, run to the restaurant, don’t walk. Serai is “real McCoy” Malaysian food. The Malaysians who are always there and my Malaysian friends can vouch for the way the food makes them miss home.

6. Rickshaw Republic — Indonesian — 2312 N. Lincoln Avenue

Beef Rendang, Coconut Rice, String Beans, Corn Fritter

Beef Rendang, Coconut Rice, String Beans, Corn Fritter

With there not being a short list of Indonesian restaurants in Chicago, Rickshaw Republic is all-authentic. It’s mandatory to make several trips because with all of the offerings, and all of them being amazing, you have to make more than one trip. You have to!!!

5. Animale — Italian — 1904 N. Western Avenue

Fegato

Fegato

When Osteria Langhe opened in Chicago, the city got the best Italian food this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Animale is a more exotic version of Italian food, served in a fast casual setting.

4. Chiya Chai — Nepalese — 2770 N. Milwaukee Avenue

Masala Fries, Balti Pie, Creamy Masala Chicken, Masala Chai

Masala Fries, Balti Pie, Creamy Masala Chicken, Masala Chai

Logan Square is clearly vying for the position of international hub within Chicago, which is already a notable international destination. One of the more recent additions to the Logan Square landscape is Chiya  Chai, a spot where you can get some chai to make you give up coffee and some Nepalese food with authenticity that transports you to Kathmandu.

3. Ras Dashen — Ethiopian — 5846 N. Broadway Street

Communal Platter

Communal Platter

Knives? Forks? Spoons? For the absolute best in cultural dining, Ethiopian dining is what you would want to indulge. While Edgewater boasts several Ethiopian restaurants, Ras Dashen stands out as one of the few that deserves a seating.

2. Little Unicoco — Nigerian — 1631 W. Howard Street

Meat Pie and House Sauce

Meat Pie and House Sauce

The slow renaissance in Rogers Park is bringing about the presence of several restaurants, many from an international eatpoint (new word). Little Unicoco brings Nigeria to Chicago’s Far North Side, complete with authenticity and an inviting atmosphere.

1. Juno — Japanese — 2638 N. Lincoln Avenue

Seared Scallop, Grilled Octopus, Ceviche Maki

Seared Scallop, Grilled Octopus, Ceviche Maki

Most people love sushi, maki rolls, and hibachi fare. But sometimes, it’s better to deviate from the usual and delve into the world of omakases. Small plates, attention to detail, flavours that pop, and the best Japanese food in Chicago without pretension.

There you have it. While this may be the short list, there were several winners throughout the entire year. Once the temperatures warm up, check out a few of them. Oh, what the heck, go even when it’s frosty outside. Not only do you get to take advantage of someone else’s heat, but you also get to eat well. Enjoy. And we’ll see each other in 2017.

Top 10 Jaunts for 2015

How quick the end of the year approaches. And now we are at the time when Chicago Alphabet Soup proudly presents the Top 10 Jaunts for 2015. There are numerous restaurants that I go to throughout the year. Many of them make it onto the blog. Some don’t. However, there are restaurants that stand out more. Those restaurants deserve highlighting.

Several friends and others have asked what criteria I use for coming up with the top 10 restaurants for a given year. I never specified that when I compiled the lists in 2013 and 2014, so now is as good as time as ever to put forth the short list.

  • The food is outstanding on a first visit, consistently outstanding on repeat visits. It doesn’t have to look fancy on a plate, but it must be divine on the palate.
  • The service is top. Restaurants are service organizations and any time diners feel less than welcome, that alone can set a tone for a bad dining experience. And whenever a server makes recommendations that exceed your expectations, you will have struck gold.
  • There is a constant desire to return after the initial visit to the restaurant. This comes not only from delicious food, but from a welcoming atmosphere and top service.
  • For sticking with the theme of international cuisine, the restaurant must serve food that is from cultures abroad. Minus the continuous rattling off about Chicago being a racially divided city, many completely miss the fact that a city with as many various cultures cannot be that nightmarish. And authenticity in the food from the multitide of cultures and ethnicities should be celebrated and shown appreciation accordingly.
  • I hanker for a cigarette when I leave the restaurant. I don’t smoke, by the way.

In the same manner as previous years, the restaurants that made the list were restaurants where I went as a regular Joe. There were no advanced announcements and no one knew that I was blogging. Any restaurant that serves VIP treatment without the diners having celebrity status and food that you won’t shut up talking about is a restaurant that plies its trade well. So, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you in video forms the restaurants that exceeded my expectations for 2015.


10. Cafe Bela — Latin American

9. Saigon Bistro — Vietnamese

8. Demera — Ethiopian

7. Badou Senegalese Cuisine — Senegalese

6. Le Bouchon — French

5. Tandoor Char House — Indian-Pakistani

4. Cohiba Cuban Cuisine — Cuban

3. Taste of Trinidad — Trinidadian

2. Herb — Thai

1. Bolat African Cuisine — Nigerian


Until 2016, enjoy all and eat well.

El Cid, Nobleman, Logan Square Restaurant

El  Cid

When summer arrives, I usually like to bike to other neighbourhoods in Chicago and have a brief walkabout. There is usually some new discovery or me finding something that I missed during my first visit. With Logan Square going through so many changes, I decided to take a stroll through my neighbourhood to see what was new and to also check out something old. This past Sunday, I finally went to what I imagine has been a staple in Logan Square — El Cid at 2645 N Kedzie Avenue.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and Salsa

With nice weather, mildly humid from passing rain storms earlier in the day, I took advantage of the outdoor seating. I had a taste for a flight of mojitos, but the server recommended a margarita instead. His recommendation was a winner, and I paced myself downing it while devouring a basket of chips with a side of tomatilla salsa and another side of pica de gallo. The tomatilla salsa had a bite to it, a strong indicator that it may not have come from a jar. The pica de gallo was a winner. I swear it was doctored up with a mole and much like cilantro, mole goes great with everything.

Margarita

Margarita

There was so much on the menu that I had found appetizing. Being quick, I ordered vegetarian chimichangas. Served with dollops of sour cream and guacamole, these rolled tortillas stuffed with black beans, tomatoes, onions, rice, and cheese were fantastic street food snacks for my outdoor sit-down. By the time I had finished the basket of chips with salsa and the chimichangas, I was completing my margarita. I ordered another one.

Vegetarian Chimichangas

Vegetarian Chimichangas

Another appetizer I tried was a tamale. Delicious! There was nothing store-bought about the tamale. Not only did it come wrapped in a corn husk, but it was packed full of taste. My server had warned me about the red sauce. He mentioned that a dab will do you. The sauce was of the variety that people trying to prove a point will try. It has been loaded with habanero peppers. Nevertheless, I recommend the tamale. The red sauce looks good on the side only.

Tamale Con Salsa

Tamale Con Salsa

For an entrée, I settled for a seafood option. There was a salmon plate that came with Spanish rice and frijoles. Topped with a garlic salsa, the salmon was juicy and tender. The food smelled so good that I didn’t photograph as many shots as I normally do. And once I had my first fork of salmon along with some rice and the frijoles, I had declared the dish a winner, definitely not the usual enchiladas, tacos, and the like.

Salmon a la Parrilla

Salmon a la Parrilla

I went with a traditional Latin American dessert option: flan. This flan had coconut in it. And given the additional ingredient, one would think the texture would be coarse. No, the flan was smooth as a quesillo. It felt like slicing through melted butter and it tasted like bliss. I made a note to myself to be more aggressive in the gym this week. Flans are not necessarily friendly to the cholesterol and a third margarita isn’t particularly helpful when you’re trying to flatten your tummy.

Flan de Coco

Flan de Coco

El Cid has been on the Logan Square landscape since I moved to the neighbourhood several years ago. I was always under the impression that their doors opened at 5:00 PM, so I passed by it during the day on weekends and thought nothing of it. Yelp should update its page to reflect the proper time. At any rate, the service was top, the food was worth several more visits, and the price was extremely reasonable. I’ll have to remember El Cid, the idol of Spain, for the next time I return to the namesake on N. Kedzie Avenue. I’m sure he’ll pass my mind briefly before my third margarita.

Click to add a blog post for El Cid on Zomato

Tomato, Tomahto, Ethiopian, Eritrean

Den Den Restaurant

When I moved to the Chicago metropolitan area in late 1995, my first stop was Northbook. I like to think that I fit into that area well, me being a high-end professional with an income that allowed me to live in a huge, empty apartment without the need of a flatmate. I was as cultured and snobbish then as the locals. I had given up my complete snooty New York City ways and become a laid back Midwest chap. A year into being a bit too relaxed, it was imperative that I moved closer to Chicago proper. The crickets during the summer were driving me cuckoo batty. So, my landing spot became Chicago’s North Side in the hip neighbourhood of Rogers Park. It felt a little like Berkeley, California, with a lot of Mexican influence. Bim, bom, bim.

The neighbourhood was chock full of taquerias and Mexican holes-in-the-wall. Trust me when I say that for the three years of me living in Rogers Park, I never tired of Mexican authenticity to my food. And after I had gotten accustomed to what turns of phrases could get me into trouble because Spanish spoken in the Caribbean has a lot more “colour” to phrases than what you get in Mexican Spanish, I was getting extra goodies in my take-out bags. Extras in the bags were always a good thing, unless you were a prude, a Dudley Do-Right, a total spazz. Well, fast forward to 2013 and I find that some other ethnic representation has dotted the Rogers Park landscape. They now have Iraqi, Iranian, and Eritrean restaurants a few blocks away from where I used to live.

You waited until I moved to do this, Rogers Park. How could you?

Spiced Tea

Spiced Tea

I met with a fellow colleague for dinner, after having been to Rogers Park to sample some Iranian food the previous week. We saw an Eritrean restaurant named Den Den Restaurant at 6635 N. Clark Street while on the way to the Iraqi restaurant and both yanked out our smartphones simultaneously to block a date for a visit. In the Edgewater neighbourhood, there are several Ethiopian restaurants, but Eritrean was new to me and definitely something I felt was worthy for Chicago Alphabet Soup. Friday came around. We both had left work at a reasonable time. And the plan for some love on a platter was on the agenda.

Because the weather was not all that good, with constant, sudden downpours, we chose not to imbibe any of the honey mead. Trying to drive in Chicago is already a frustrating task. Driving with slightly impaired reflexes from having drunk a graft of tej was not an option for us. Instead, we had traditional spiced tea — accented nicely with cinnamon and cloves. Mmmm. Not trying to see if we could fill our bellies endlessly, we went for entrée options rather than starting with appetizers and later regretting not having left enough room for finishing everything in front of us. Because I didn’t get a take-away menu or lift one of the menus we ordered from, I am relaying everything from memory.

The meal was primarily vegetarian. There were chopped greens that had a hint of garlic and ginger to them. Happiness. The cabbage with carrots and the melange of potatoes, string beans, and rutabaga didn’t last very long atop the ingera. Bliss. The creamed lentils and the flour chickpeas were so blooming delicious that they were so wrong at the same time. Rapture. And the chicken mixed with red peppers, onions, and jalapeño had us humming — when we weren’t silent. Petite mort. Being addicted to tomatoes, I won’t even get into how I attacked the complimentary salad. With fingers only and ingera, we reached, grabbed, and stuffed into our mouths so much flavour and bloom with assembly line precision. The fact that there were intermittent intervals of silence and humming was all the indication anyone needed to know that Den Den was several notches past outstanding.

Platter of Love

Platter of Love

Many people think of Ethiopian and Eritrean as the same. However, Eritrea is a country in Northeast Africa completely separate from Ethiopia. There are similarities in the people and in the cuisine. One may even find the beliefs and customs to be similar, considering they share a common border and there is a strong possibility for some cross-pollination to occur. What I had found certainly common among Den Den Restaurant and Ethiopian restaurants in Chicago like Addis Ababa, Ethiopian Diamond, Ras Dashen, and Demera is definitely authenticity, a huge presence of those from the country dining in the establishments, and a welcoming spirit that is standard throughout the whole of Africa.

The setting in Den Den Restaurant is very warm and ambient at night. For most who are not fans of ethnic dining, the service may seem a bit slow. That’s not the case. There is simply an acknowledgement that the enjoyment of flavours from the native land should never be rushed. For those who must have silverware, the traditional way of eating Eritrean food is with your fingers. The best experiences in Ethiopian and Eritrean dining are in a communal setting with friends. Talk about a great way for community gatherings. And when you receive the tab, be forewarned that your eyes will widen with disbelief as you note how reasonable the prices are. Some say tomato. Some say tomahto. Some think Ethiopian. Try Den Den Restaurant and let’s talk Eritrean a little more.

DenDen Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

There’s No Place Like Home

It is the middle of November and my body is having a bit of a shock from lack of ethnic food. Screaming! The coup de grace came last night when I went to dinner with some friends who swore to the four corners of the earth that I would love the restaurant where they were taking me. Off to Virginia I went to some down-homey American restaurant with meat, meat, grease, and more meat on the menu. Not wanting to come across as a prude, which I should have, I partook of a few items on the menu. Being a vegetarian who will eat fish and will not cringe at the presence of chicken, the pickings were slim for my palate — the ubiquitous salad bar screamed rabbit food and I simply am not a purist vegan in that vein. Fried this. Fried that. Beef. Pork. Ribs. Gravy with globs of grease in it. And in the middle of the night, my matchbox corporate apartment room spun like a roulette wheel. I am still draining myself of the ginger tea I had to prepare and drink non-stop to cease my stomach from bubbling. The room was still spinning by mid afternoon and when I last looked in the mirror, I do believe the green tinge to my skin has diminished some. However, the thought of what I ate last night makes my eyes cross still.

Panang Curry Chicken
Healthy Breakfast

While I give big ups to Washington, DC, for being a bastion of job opportunities, museums, people who talk about themselves — ad nauseum — and lots of tourist sites, there are those very important things that make a city most appealing to me — culture and food. Washington, DC, is very homogeneous. Many thanks to Ma and Pop Williams for not breeding a Stepford child. Being a product of the global community, I have more interest in being in settings that promote individuality. When it comes to food, the saying, “Variety is the spice of life,” comes to mind. Searching for small-owned, minority-owned, or independently-owned ethnic eateries is a bit of a scavenger hunt. Surprisingly so, because Washington, DC, being the capital of America, should boast the top ethnic restaurants in the whole of North America. Big box, upscale fast food, hotel restaurants, and chain restaurants dominate the culinary landscape. Even some of the coffee houses are like Target stores converted into lounges with dim lighting. There is no lack of quantity, for sure. But there is an absence of community that I have become accustomed to in Chicago, unless you go with a group of friends. After last night’s adventure, I think being set on fire would be more pleasurable than returning to any establishment that falls into one or more of the aforementioned categories.

Blackened Catfish, Collard Greens, Dirty Rice
Oxtails, Fish, Rice, Plantains

I have one co-worker who is a vegetarian. She recently gave me a list of the greatest vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants in the city. Yes!!! A contact on my Flickr page saw some of my photos I had taken at a few of the small, ethnic restaurants where I have gone and he offered a few suggestions that have made there way to the top of my list. Yes!!! With the city being relatively small and quick to walk within a reasonable number of miles, having Google Maps on my cell phone has led me to some Thai, Ghanaian, French, and German eateries. I found the stretch of independent restaurants in Adams Morgan that reminded me of the long stretch of Clark Street in Chicago’s Lincoln Park and Lakeview. I wandered upon U Street, so reminiscent of Wicker Park up through Logan Square. There is Foggy Bottom that reminds me of Hyde Park. There are some chi-chi restaurants akin to those found in Streeterville and Gold Coast. But the insides of my jaws have popped with flavour only a few times and I have done my share of eating since I have been in DC.

Peacock Cake with Apples
Butternut Squash Soup

The top restaurants and cafes where I have gone since being in Washington, DC, are as follows — with links to those having websites:

Panang Curry Chicken
Dukem Ethiopian Restaurant, Collard Greens

Okay, so the restaurant scene is not all that bad. But a food hound such as myself knows how to scout out the good eats wherever they may be found and spin straw into gold, even if it is not like stepping outside my condominium to a bevy of ethnic wonders in my Logan Square community. Having had some rather nice weather for this autumn, I have been able to get out of the apartment on the weekends and see where the culinary talent is hiding. There are pockets and one thing I have discovered is that it is imperative to get to these little gems as soon as the doors open because others like me appreciate finer things — like authenticity in their ethnic food and flavour. Between now and the time I return north to Chicago and all of its excitement, I will definitely sample the recommendations from my co-worker and Flickr friend. Know this to be true.

Frofrot, Togbei
Seafood Crepes

My time is nearing, for I shall return to Chicago where I shall indulge myself to excess on what my body has been craving since I left for DC. I already have my calendar set for the Cuban cafe, Thai restaurant, Japanese sushi bar, Brazilian restaurant, and Trinidad hole in the wall where all I have to do is walk in and greetings ring about on first name familiarity. Then I will be off to home to celebrate the end of the year with family. If you could see the smile that I have on my face, knowing that Ma Williams will have the house smelling of inviting aromas and me a few days later across the bed, on the floor, and up against the wall trying to get into a pair of jeans that will have somehow shrank between the time I will have gotten to her house and me stuffing myself to completion.

Spiced Potatoes and Omelette  Provençal
Salmon and Portabello Mushroom Sandwich and Salad

Off to the kitchen for some more ginger tea: slumber insurance. I do believe that I will be fine enough in the morning to get up and prepare some breakfast — scrambled eggs with cream cheese in it, avocado with lime, and blueberry waffles. Of course, I will get to pour some syrup that cost me damn near $7.00 from Whole Foods on the waffles.

Orange Ya Glad It’s Finally Spring?

Orange-Ginger JuiceMemorial Day and I get the Monday off from work. The sky is completely blue, unlike the grey matter we had hovering over our heads for weeks carrying wind, rain, and chilly temperatures with it. It is warmer outside, not that I am a fan of heat; hence, you never hear me complain about cold weather. There is a God who loves me and enough to wake me with an appetite. Wait. That happens to be every morning.

I had made plans to visit an eclectic breakfast cafe in a neighbouring community, not too far from where I live. I had begun the weekend with a visit to a Nepalese-Indian restaurant and had walked away completely satisfied, albeit not thoroughly satisfied with not having bought more take-away because the food was so blooming delicious. But back to the eclectic breakfast eatery. I had decided that after I had finished running my five miles that I would go to Orange at 2011 W. Roscoe Avenue in Roscoe Village. Just off Damen Avenue is a stretch of swanky boutiques, oogie-poo-poo cafes, and chi-chi restaurants. And among them is one of my favourite American fineries — that being Orange.

Scrambled Eggs with Yogurt

Knowing that the cafe packs out fast, I rode my bicycle to Orange and got there half past the hour of their opening. With a pick of any seat, I opted for a window view so that I could watch the people pass along the way: my very own Norman Rockwell vista during breakfast. You know the restaurant is a little more exotic than most when your water comes with a cucumber slice in it. There was not much hesitation with me reviewing the menu. I knew what I wanted. I ordered fresh orange-ginger juice, French toast in chai, and eggs scrambled with yogurt. Well, an eclectic restaurant such as Orange panders to a bit of my eclectic taste, so the food for me had to be equally catchy. The French toast came as colossal slices of toast with ricotta cheese in between, powdered with cinnamon, dunked in chai and topped with slices of apples. No syrup was needed for this tasty bowl of wonder. As to the eggs with yogurt, there was no cream cheese, which is what I usually order scrambled in my eggs. So, I got even more experimental with the yogurt and I must admit that each bite was divine. The freshly squeezed orange juice with ginger in it was a perfect wrap-up to an outstanding breakfast. And the bill at the end of it all left me with extract change in my pocket and a smile on my face.

French Toast in Chai

Orange is a Chicago franchise, so I must apologize to those of you who are far, far away from the Chicago metropolis for tempting you with this review. Believe me when I say that the food was absolutely delectable. Then again, Chicago is only a car ride, train ride, bus ride, or flight away. Hmmm. People from the other side of the world take non-stop flights to Chicago. While you are here, venture up to 2011 W. Roscoe Village and get a seat at one of the finest, genuine, chi-chi restaurants for some of the best American breakfast you can find.

Orange on Urbanspoon

When In

Another fantastic weekend to grace Chicago and I had nothing really spectacular on my schedule, except to enjoy food. I began Friday night meeting with a friend who is about to leave the country on personal holiday. By the time he returns, I will be gone to Qatar and Riyadh on personal holiday — with hopes that the political unrest abroad with the Arab community does not interfere. But while my friend and I had decided to meet up at a small Korean cafe in Chicago’s Hyde Park, it had dawned on me that I had walked out of my condo and left my camera. There are at least five common expletives in the English language and I discovered at least 157 more, plus the ones I know in the other nine languages I speak. To leave home with plans to go to a restaurant and forget the camera — I have four, by the way — is just wrong. What kind of foodie am I? But I was quite okay after stuffing my jaws with bulgolgi, kimchee, chop chae, and jang jugae. I will simply have to return at a later date so that I can blog the Korean restaurant.

Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies

Later on Friday night, I returned home to work some magic of my own. I am a secret chef and baker, if I may be so bold as to say so. With the weather being aggressively bitter, I have found that a great source of heating my kitchen and my great room is by use of the oven. Who would have thought? I have been baking every weekend for the past month and have been very happy with the results. Even my ego will cosign on that assessment. I baked several batches of cookies, some traditional, some experimentally exotic. For the traditional, I baked several batches of butter cookies and several batches of chocolate chip cookies — using bittersweet chocolate chips instead of milk chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips. Satisfaction! For the exotic, I had gone by Vosges Haut-Chocolate shop and bought a few bars of sweet coconut curry chocolate and chocolate with ancho and chipotle chillies. I must admit that the mention of coconut and curry in chocolate may cause some people to race for the hills and chillies in chocolate may result in some high-end snooty baker bang his or her on the edge of the kitchen counter for not coming up with that idea. I had a chat with my ego and we agreed that it is rather okay to be selfish and keep the exotic chocolate chunk cookies for ourselves. I shall not blow my own horn, although I can play the trumpet, but those exotic cookies could make me millions. Hmm.

Lentil Soup

For Saturday, I had waken early enough to finish baking the remaining batches of cookies and packing several dozen to send to friends and to my brother. After mailing the treats, I had a taste for something to put me in a frame of mind where I am somewhere warmer than Chicago.  Rio de Janeiro. São Paulo. Fortaleza. Salvador Bahia. And what should come to mind but Taste of Brasil in Oak Park. So it was off the subway to board the Blue Line to Oak Park for something with a tropical taste. Complementary lentil soup. So good, so very good. And bobó de camarão. I always say that if I cannot go back to Brazil, then I shall go where I can escape mentally to that land of beauty. The bobó de camarão — shrimp in yuca cream — was just as I remembered from São Paulo. Coconut milk thickened with mashed cassava and loaded with shrimp and boiled cassava, served up with rice, and tastier than ever, I swear I was daydreaming about doing the samba on the beach. Or rather relaxing on the beach after having eaten such a plate of edible bliss.

Bobó de Camarão

Sunday greeted me with rain. Usually I would grumble and growl about rain, but with the recent blizzard leaving the ground covered with snow, slush, and trash, having rain wash it all away so the streets do not look like eyesores was a welcoming weather treat. And what should be on my mind to do after church? Eat. Then again, you already knew that. I went back to Oak Park for some more tropical eats to please the palate. Having gone to Aripo’s Arepa House for comida de Venezuelan during the summer, that was my destination. And I had decided that with this being my third trip to Aripo’s, I was going to try a third dish representative of Venezuela that I have not had before. Cachapas. Venezuelan corn cakes with De Mano cheese between them, primarily found at street vendors in Venezuela, and served up with well-seasoned shredded chicken and sliced red bell peppers, I was in heaven. Where do I begin to describe how satisfying that dish was? Where do I find it in the frozen section of the local market? Where is the off switch on my food alarm so that I can shut it off? Why am I bothering with taking a personal holiday in the Middle East with turmoil bubbling over when I could go to Venezuela instead? You know it is bad when food is so good that you do not want the eating experience to end. Then again, that could be attributed to my food addiction. Thank you, Aripo’s, for a smile-inducing Sunday afternoon lunch.

Cachapas

This was a weekend spent well doing something that I like — baking and eating. I really should be bursting the seams in my pants and popping the buttons on my shirts from all the eating that I do. Thanks again to Ma and Pop Williams for blessing me with a high metabolism, thanks to Nike for thermal gear, and thanks to Adidas for selling tennis with cleats on the bottoms so that I have traction on the ice while running my two to three miles every morning. I cannot — and will not — sacrifice my love of good food which means I shall have to remain active to retain my fashion model physique. Yes, it is incredibly vain of me to want to look like I am still in my twenties when I am old enough to have a child in his or her twenties. So what shall I do for next weekend? When in Chicago, there is an answer to that question. But the short answer is: I shall eat.