Day of the Dead / Dia de Los Muertos always calls to mind the Mexican State of Oaxaca, where the traditions around the holiday are the strongest and most vibrant. The zocolo, or town square, in Oaxaca City is a festive celebration for weeks in advance, and the city’s main cemetery, Xoxocotlan, overflows with locals and visitors from October 31st to November 2nd. Oaxaca is known particularly for its cuisine, which we got of taste of first hand on our visit this summer. Epicurious has a nice menu of Oaxacan favorites including tamales and preserved pumpkin from Zarela Martínez that are perfect for Dia de Los Muertos. And if you really want to go all out, here is recipe for Mole Rojo made by Josefina Ruiz Vazquez in the Oaxacan town of Teotitlan del Valle. Complicated (and delicious) moles such as this are normally saved for special occasions like Dia de Los Muertos.
Dia de Los Muertos/Day of the Dead is becoming more popularly celebrated and recognized around the world, which means that a whole new variety of creative treats based on the day are emerging. One of the more interesting Dia de Los Muertos themed creations we have seen is a macaron-themed Day of the Dead display in London. The display is located in the Covent Garden branch of Wahaca, an upscale Mexican restaurant. The macarons were created by Ganache Macaron and the designer Katherine Burke. We think they did a pretty amazing job, and our favorite has to be the giant sugar skull inspired macaron that is the centerpiece of the display (above). If you happen to be in London the display will be up until November 3rd.
Our trip to Miami was a distant memory so we were jonseing for some of the tropical atmosphere. 90 Miles Cuban Cafe (2540 W Armitage Ave) is summer in Miami personified. If you go there on a nice day you absolutely have to eat outside. Of course, it only makes sense that I get around to this post just after our last pleasant day of weather has slipped away. No matter, there is ample seating inside as well. You can spot 90 Miles from afar due to the huge replica of the red, yellow and black southernmost point buoy in Key West – marking 90 miles to Cuba – get it?
The menu is Cuban – read: meat heavy – but there are options for fish dishes and even some vegetarian selections. For those going for a lighter feel, you can also get fruit batidos (smoothies), though we always opt for the Cuban coffee drinks. But who are we kidding – we came here for the meat! The sandwiches at 90 Miles are pretty big and you get them with Cuban-style shoestring fries. The Cubano and Medianoche, two Cuban classics are top sellers ($11 each). Both consist of ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles & mustard, however the Cubano is on French bread and the Medianoche is on a sweeter challah-like bread. They seem appealing, but I always go with the citrus-marinated lechon con pan roasted pork sandwich with a side of sweet plantains ($11). M got the Roast Pork Puerco Rostizado, ($16) pork infused with guava, pan fried with grilled onions, with black beans and fried plantains on the side (15.95). We have also had Ropa Vieja (a beef stew) which was extremely tender and tasty ($16).
Everything was delicious, and the lechon, especially so. We love nothing more than Cuban-style lechon, and 90 Miles always delivers. For dessert were were brought straight back to Calle Ocho’s Versailles Bakery with guava pastries and flans. However there are some new touches you may not see in Cuba – the Snickers Empanada – which is exactly what you would expect. We really enjoyed our trip to 90 Miles Cafe – it felt like a little slice of Miami. Logically, you know you are just on a patio in Chicago with some string-up lights, but it really makes all the difference in the world. Even if its a little chilly, there are space heaters….
Pumpkin spice lattes may get all the press this time of year, but pumpkins are also a major ingredient in Mexican recipes for Dia de Los Muertos / Day of the Dead. These pumpkin dishes may be either savory and sweet, and can be almost any part of the menu. If you are looking for some pumpkin flavor for Dia de Los Muertos (though of course you don’t have to stop at pumpkin), here are some great options:
- Atole de calabaza (pumpkin corn drink)
- For a hearty main dish, Pollo en Pipián Verde (Chicken with Pumpkin Seed-Tomatillo Sauce)
- Calabaza en tacha (candied pumpkin) One of the most traditional Dia de Los Muertos dishes
- For something less traditional, pumpkin churros!
- Finally, for a little snack, spicy pepitas (candied pumpkin seeds)
If you do not know where to look, there is absolutely no way that you would find Hendrickx Belgian Bread Crafter by chance (100 E Walton St.). It is located half of a story up on the ground floor of a large concrete condo high-rise and is mostly hidden from view. The store itself is tiny (though it appears they have a pretty big kitchen) and consists mostly of a small counter and a few tables. However, despite its small size, this place is a serious bakery helmed by Belgian breadmaker Reynaud Hendrickx. Another hint of its authenticity, each time we visited, we were served by a delightful Francophone woman and the place was chock full of Francophone customers.
The breads – Belgian country, brioche and challah to name a few – are certainly the main draw, but we were also seeking something a bit sweeter – a purportedly authentic Liège Waffle made with Belgian pearl sugar. We absolutely had to try it! Unfortunately, our trip to Hendrickx came at a somewhat inopportune time – 7 PM. We realized this was certainly not the best time for a bakery at all, and there was only one waffle left! Our lone survivor waffle was very tasty, and we appreciated the signature bursts of caramel-like sweetness from the pearl sugar, though we were a little disappointed that it had not been made fresh. We definitely would have waited a few minutes for a waffle hot off the iron…maybe next time? The croissants are also excellent and come in both plain and more unique flavors like apple turnover and cherry/chocolate ($2.85 for plain, extra for fillings).
We were also delighted to find a hearty menu of soups, salads and sandwiches in addition to bread. The particularly generous sandwiches are served on thick slices of the signature homemade Belgian country bread, which makes a HUGE difference, and include such varieties as goat cheese/honey and curried chicken salad (Each $7.25). The “Belgian” salad ($9.25) was similarly fresh, and consisted of a composed plate with arugula, tuna, bread and capers. Our friends also had the soup of the day – split pea – that they greatly enjoyed. Over the course of a few visits we sampled some of their savory offerings, and each time we were impressed by the fresh and simple ingredients. No filler here, and there will surely be leftovers due to the generous portion size. We also like that they wrap up the leftovers in wax paper for you.
The first time we visited it was pleasant enough to sit outside, however there was also a little fishbowl-like sitting area, which, curiously, you have to go through the kitchen to access. Overall we highly recommend Hendrickx, and are glad to have found an independent option in the area. Hendrickx is a perfect place to stop for a little lunch before/after a day of shopping in the Gold Coast/Michigan Avenue or after an afternoon at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is right around the corner, which means it is time for Diwali sweets, or Mithai. The sweets served vary from region to region, and we have covered a few before on ETW (just a drop in the bucket), including ghugra and susiyam. However, we recently discovered a new Diwali specialty, Kaju Katli, a cashew fudge candy made with sugar and ghee (yes “Kaju” means cashew). M loves cashews, so this recipe seemed especially appropriate to try, and Kaju Katli seems pretty easy to make. Here’s a recipe from Padhu’s Kitchen and another from Rak’s Kitchen (which includes saffron). For extra flair, it is also sometimes decorated with silver leaf, vark (as below). In some ways, Kaju Katli even reminds us of one of our favorite Brazilian candies made from cashew and sugar, the cajuzinho!
Yotam Ottolenghi’s 2010 vegetable-forward cookbook “Plenty” was one of the most talked about releases in past few years, making vegetarian cuisine beautiful and exciting. Now, with the release of the follow-up cookbook, “Plenty More,” Ottolenghi is again on everyone’s lips. However, before the cookbooks, there were the restaurants. Ottolenghi has a restaurant and three delis scattered around London. The delis particularly intigued me because they offer his signature food for carry-out by the kilo. Having gorged on sweets and fried food in London thus far, it was time to order a bit healthier.
I visited the Ottolenghi branch in the impossibly posh neighborhood of Belgravia (13 Motcomb Street London SW1X 8LB). The Ottolenghi store was bright and airy, and much like his cookbooks, everything was presented perfectly. The windows were full of deliciously fresh treats, and upon entry, the food was piled enticingly on large trays. I was frankly surprised at how beautiful everything looked. We are not talking about a Whole Food buffet, this stuff is art.
One downside, the ordering system was a bit confusing. Some items, like muffins or desserts are sold individually, while the vegetables were by weight, however it is important to note that you do NOT do this yourself, you have to request a paper takeout box (large or small) from the person behind the counter who will then put the food in the box for you.
The desserts looked particularly tasty, including fruit tarts and a sunken chocolate cake. However, I was trying to be especially healthy so I skipped dessert altogether and went with a few of the veggie salads. The first dish that caught my eye was the curry roasted cauliflower with tahini, hazelnuts and pomegranate arils. The second salad I chose consisted of roasted sweet potatoes with Ras-al-hanout yogurt and pumpkin seeds. Other options included a new potato salad, a quiche with leeks and bacon and char-grilled broccoli and chilli. Now, I couldn’t totally avoid the “treats,” so I also picked a savory muffin with pesto, goat cheese and tomatoes.
Around the Belgravia shop there are no public parks, so I took my carryout box to the V&A museum to eat in the center courtyard. Everything was light, delicious and unique. The sweet potatoes with yogurt sauce was impossibly complex, and the pomegranate and cilantro really worked as a topping. However, the savory cheese-filled muffin was the most delicious of all! Ottolenghi is a great option for lunch, and gives me some further inspiration to try the cookbooks to bring the dishes to this side of the Atlantic.
445 N Clark Street
After two years of trying, we finally made it to Rick Bayless’ star restaurant. It was Matt’s birthday, and Lindsay planned ahead making reservations months in advance as to ensure a spot. We, like everyone else in the city, were caught off guard by the meteoric rise in Rick’s popularity following his win at the inaugural Top Chef Masters; but at the same time, we, like everyone else in the city, took a renewed interest in his food.
So many great things have been said about Topolobampo, there is no use in re-hashing them here. At the same time, the restaurant’s popularity has also brought in its share of criticism from less-than-satisified patrons. Part of this is due to location: Topolobampo shares a front door and a kitchen with Frontera Grill, Rick Bayless’ other, less formal restaurant. For this reason, many people (especially those on Yelp) claim that the food is a better value at Frontera, and that the inflated prices at Topolobampo can leave you with a big check and a less-than-full stomach of food that is the same at both restaurants. Other patrons claimed Topolobampo suffered from spotty service. We have not yet been to Frontera Grill, so we are uncomfortable making comparative claims. All we can say is that our meal was exquisite, served by a masterful waiter, and the bill was precisely what we expected (likely because, unlike so many others, we did not order any alcohol). The jamaica we got, however, was fantastic.
Dinner began with two appetizers. Matt ordered, per his biggest food crush, the trio of ceviches ($19.00), consisting of three of the restaurant’s most popular:
- Ceviche Yucateco: steamed Mexican blue shrimp & calamari, lime, orange, habanero, avocado, jicama, cucumber & cilantro. Crispy tortilla chips (regular price $13.50);
- Coctel de Atún Tropical : sashimi-grade Hawaiian bigeye tuna, tomatillo guacamole, mango salsa ($14.50); and
- Ceviche Fronterizo: Lime-marinated Hawaiian albacore with tomatoes, olives, cilantro, green chile; on crispy tostaditas ($14.00).
How good were these? So well-balanced, so flavorful, and so distinct that Matt had eaten them before we had time to take a photo. The meal started off wonderfully. On to our second course:
Chile Pasilla Relleno en Nogada: Cool sweet-sour pasilla chile, fruity hedgehog mushroom filling (apples, plantain, prunes, black garlic, black olive), nogada cream (walnuts, almonds, fresh goat cheese) ($12.00). This was Lindsay’s appetizer. The mushroom filling was particularly interesting contrasted with the pasilla, which is always one of our favorites. Next, the main courses…
Cochito Chiapaneco (above) : Gunthorp suckling pig, slow-cooked with red chile & sweet spices, homemade butifarra sausage, heirloom Mexican alubia blanco beans, grilled endive, fresh garnishes ($35.00). Matt went for a more subtle dish after the boldness of the ceviche. Here, the heartiness of classic Mexican cooking comes through here in a paradoxically light and subtle dish: the flavor and texture of the cochito, fall-apart-in-your-mouth just like it should be, shines through other starchy accompaniments with just the right amount of extra notes from the chile and spices. Seemingly pricey at $35, this was actually filling and worth it.
Enfrijoladas (above): “enchiladas” bathed with a sauce of heirloom Mexican ayocote morado beans, luscious white sweet potato filling, Mexican cincho cheese, wild matsutake mushrooms, roasted red poblanos, chile-seared baby tomatoes ($25.00). Almost like a mole, Lindsay’s favorite, this vegetarian dish was a big hit on both sides: you can’t go wrong in our eyes with cheese and sweet potato filling in any context, much less one that uses them so well against the fruitiness of poblanos and roasted tomatoes.
Chocolate, Oaxaca: Warm chocolate mesquite cakes, Mexican vanilla bean ice cream (infused with aromatic rosita de cacao), sweet masa pudding (nicuatole), toasted almond, cocoa nibs, masa crisps ($12.00). Dessert, Oaxacan chocolate cake, accented with nicuatole: a dish that we recently actually made in Oaxaca. Delectable.
At this point stuffed and very happy, we were surprised to see our server approach with some chocolate truffles and fruity gummy candy – an unexpected and appreciated touch.
Dinner at Topolobampo changes seasonally, so you are sure to experience something new and great on your trip. When we have the chance to go back again, we will, as this was one of the few splurge dinners we have truly enjoyed.
When I recently visited a Chicagoland Crate and Barrel, I was very surprised to see something that I didn’t think existed outside of Rhode Island: Coffee syrup (see context photo above). Namely, this was Dave’s Coffee Syrup, a local brand we encountered in Providence. Coffee syrup is basically coffee concentrate mixed with sweetener. Much like chocolate syrup, coffee syrup can be added to pretty much anything, but it is most popularly mixed with milk to create…wait for it… Coffee Milk! Yes, this drink is exactly what you think it would be. Coffee Milk, aside from being tasty, is in fact the state drink of Rhode Island, as of 1993. One of the most popular coffee syrup brands is Autocrat, keeping Rhode Islanders in coffee milk for decades, though others like Dave’s are starting to carve out a niche for the artisanal coffee syrup market. Visit quahog.org if you are looking for a definitive history of coffee syrup and milk, including its Italian-American origins.
On Halloween in Ireland, there is merriment and good food, principally among them, Barmbrack (sometimes also called barnbrack). Modern Halloween celebrations are actually descended from the Gaelic celebration of Samhain. This sweet bread/cake hybrid is dotted with raisins (sometimes soaked in liquor or tea) and flavored with autumnal spices like cloves and nutmeg. However, the Barmbrack also presents a twist. Much like a French King Cake, there are also little trinkets baked into the bread that have special meanings: a ring for an impending marriage, a pea for no marriage, a stick for fighting, a coin for luck, and a rag for a poor year. Whatever charm you get in your slice supposedly tells you what kind of luck to expect for the new year, though many people only put positive charms in the bread nowadays (who would want to find a rag in a piece of bread anyway?!). You can find a classic recipe from One Perfect Bite and Edible Ireland has a version with tea.
I am crazy about pupusas – it’s no secret! What could be better than a pocket of carbs filled with cheese and other fillings? Nothing, I tell you. When we heard that the pupusas were on point at Brianna’s Restaurant (4911 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60625) we knew we had to visit! Brianna’s advertises itself as having Salvadoran and a Guatemalan cuisine, with a small selection of Mexican dishes.
I got two pupusas, one with the emblematic Salvadorean loroco flower and one with Guatemalan chipilin ($2.25 each). I could hear the “pat-pat” of pupusas being made fresh and griddled after I placed my order, which is always a sign that you are going to get something good! As predicted, the pupusas came out hot and fresh with melty cheese fillings and a vinegary slaw. The loroco flowers were tasty and subtle and the chipilin leaves, which I had never tried, before tasted like a herby spinach. If Now 2 ‘small” pupusas was really enough to make me feel super full, but if you are well and truly ready to stuff yourself consider a “pupusa loca” a large pupusa with five ingredients. Fortunately, the vinegary slaw helps all those carbs go down.
M went the more substantial route with a main dish. He was torn between several dishes. He ended up going with the hilachas, shredded beef with potatoes simmered in Guatemalan creole sauce, served with a side of rice ($10.95). The runner up was another Guatemalan dish – Pulique – beef rib stew with potatoes and squash ($10.95). The hilacha, the Guatemalan take on ropa vieja, was tasty with a pungent tomato sauce, more akin to Sunday gravy than a salsa.
As a side, M also sampled his first atole, a warm, sweet corn drink. I went with the cooler passion fruit juice. If we were less full we would have sampled the Guatemalan bread pudding, which sounded delicious. The restaurant itself was very simple, but the service was friendly and pleasant. But most importantly, everything we had heard about the pupusas was true. Brianna’s makes a mean pupusa, and the price is right (less than $2.50) for each pupusa, making one of the tastiest and cheapest meals around.
We ended up at Sedap (102 Old St, London EC1V 9AY) thanks to a concert that never occurred. We were in the impossibly trendy Shoreditch waiting for a concert that was supposed to begin at 7, but by 8:30, the show had no signs of starting, and was being filled with more young teenagers than a One Direction concert. We decided to just cut our losses and grab a bite to eat. We had heard good things about Sedap’s unique take on Malaysian cuisine, so we decided to give it a try. Located within walking distance of Shoreditch, in a much more low-key (and less trendy) area, Sedap serves authentic Malaysian Nyonya food in a simple, serene setting. To contribute to the calm, there was even a little fountain in the corner where we were sitting (It was dark so unfortunately the picture did not come out at all).
Nyonya cuisine (sometimes called Peranakan) is the result of the intermingling of indigenous Malay, Indonesian and Chinese techniques and ingredients, and is rare to find outside of Malaysia and Singapore. When we visited Singapore in 2010, we tried Nyonya cuisine for the first time, and we instantly loved the complex and diverse flavors. Sedap’s menu was pretty concise and we saw some dishes we had not seen since our trip to Singapore, which was welcome, including the emblematic Hainanese chicken rice, in a chili and soy sauce (£8.80). Also on offere were several Laksas, including Singapore Laksa, thin vermicelli noodles with fish cakes andshrimp in a curry sauce (£8.95). “Laksa” is a common type of dish in Nyonya cookery and refers to noodles in a soupy coconut milk curry (of which there are many, many variants).
We ordered one of our favorites from Singapore, Prawn/Shrimp Lemak (£8.70), and a new-to-us dish: Beef Rendang (£7.95). Both dishes came out pretty quickly and were perfect portions to share. The Rendang was advertised as being in a spicy, “almost dry” curry, meaning it was more of a thick paste that coated the meat. Not a photogenic dish, but spicy, flavorful and tender. The prawn lemak was a coconut milk curry, with plenty of lightly spicy soupy-ness and a strong lemongrass flavor. Both dishes were flavorful and complex, and had clearly been cooked to order. Overall, we found the food at Sedap to be unique and reasonably priced (for London) for the quality. We wish we had more time in London to explore more of Sedap’s Nyonya dishes and flavors. But even if we won’t be back for a while, we encourage people to get off the tourist track and try something new beyond the typical curry.
We have long noted the huge number of taquerias on the stretch of North Clark Street in Rogers Park, so it was particularly fortuitous that we came across an organized North Clark taco crawl put on by the Rogers Park Business Alliance. Between 4pm and 7pm, you could sample the offerings from any of ten different restaurants. For only $12, each participant got a punch card with the addresses and names of the participating taquerias, and at each visit you got your card signed, and got a taco in return. The taco was predetermined by the business. While the event ran three hours, due to work, we arrived at 5:30, now faced with the near-impossible task of downing ten tacos, as well as a few horchatas, in only ninety minutes. But we were determined to hit every spot on the list – gotta catch em all! We tackled the crawl with our friends R and R who are similarly interested in exploring sometimes-overwhelming North Clark Taco scene.
1. Fonda Dona Chio (6906 N. Clark) This was the start of the crawl for us, and where we received our punch-card. Their offering was a shredded chicken taco. This was a really good taco (L’s favorite of the whole crawl) with lots of flavor and a little kick. An excellent start to the crawl. Perhaps we lingered a little too long here chatting (and ate too quickly to get a picture), there were 9 more tacos on the horizon!
2. El Pueblito (6712 N. Clark) This spot offered Cochinta pibil (roasted, spiced pork), which was delicious, and extremely spicy. Mad spicy. Too spicy? Not surprisingly, this was M’s favorite.
3. Taqueria el Charro (6661 N. Clark) Our friends R and R had previously visted this joint and gave it their stamp of approval. The taco on offer was shredded chicken with an American touch of lettuce and tomatoes. the restaurant also presented a nice variety of salsas and pickled veggies! A little on the mild side, but we needed a break after the Cochinita Pibil singed our taste buds.
4. El Pulpo Loco (6619 N. Clark) This is a relatively new restaurant on the scene, with shockingly blue walls. The taco here was shrimp- a joint favorite among L and M and their dining buddies. Shrimp is a little bit of a risky choice but they executed it flawlessly, with a delicious mango salsa to boot.
5. Chiki’s Pizza (6621 N. Clark) Not too sure of our first impressions of a taqueria flaunting their pizza above all else. Here, we received our only quesadilla of the night, cheese, onion and pepper. Good, but not actually a taco! Next.
6 La Cazuela – (6922 N. Clark) This place had an extremely eloborate interior, and the telenovela du jour “La Gata” was blaring in the background. The taco was fish, which is tough to do well, and this one fell a little short. It was a little too “fishy” and dry to be palatable.
7. Taqueria Hernandez (6983 N. Clark) These were the first tacos we got to-go, as our time was running short and our bellies were about to burst. The tacos were a simple, tasty chorizo. They also gave us mini churros, which was an awesome touch. Nice folks!
8. Uptown Taqueria (7023 N. Clark) The taco here was al pastor with traditional onion and cilantro topping. Not bad, with a good al pastor flavor, but nothing special. This was our 8th taco and by this time we were getting pretty full! We ain’t no Adam Richman.
9. El Famous Burrito (7047 N. Clark) A barebones, but efficient place, but the taco was pretty tasty. It was a tender shredded pork with onion (and maybe a little tripe?). We arrived there at 6:55, just under the gun.
10. Taqueria Chapala (7115 N. Clark) Our final stop! This taqueria is actually located in the back of a supermarket and is more of a meat/deli counter than anything with no seats. There was some kind of crazy bottleneck here and we arrived right at 7 and waited 25 minutes minutes for a taco…. The taco was plain beef with lettuce and melted cheese and no real seasoning. Not our favorite, but we have to give them props for staying in it until the bitter end!
So here are our top 3 from the crawl:
1. El Pulpo Loco
2. Fonda Dona Chio
3. El Pueblito
Overall, the taco crawl was a ton of fun, though I wish we had gotten there a little earlier in order to pace ourselves a bit more. Even so, we got to try a ton of new places we had been meaning to visit, all at once. Be warned though – this sort of feat is not for the weak of stomach!
I have come across Chinese recipes and restaurant dishes calling for XO Sauce, but had no idea of what the cryptic name truly meant. It turns out this sauce is relatively new, and bears an interesting history. XO Sauce consists of dried shrimp and scallops cooked down with pork, oil and chili (the pork is sometimes omitted). XO Sauce was first developed in Hong Kong in the 1980s and its popularity has spread from there, finding its way onto international Cantonese restaurant menus and beyond. I definitely understand its appeal – it is basically liquid umami with an added kick! So where does the name XO come from? It is apparently derived from an expensive Cognac designation, “XO” which stands for “extra old.” The sauce itself has no cognac, but is meant to evoke the same luxury. Talking c0st alone, this sauce is pretty luxurious – dried scallops are extremely expensive! You can buy XO sauce ready-made in Asian supermarkets or even make it yourself with recipes from Gourmet Traveller and Kylie Kwong.
We love Caribbean/West Indian food, but our local options in Chicago are somewhat limited to Jamaican food and a Trinidadian spot or two. However, our trip to London provided us with the rare opportunity to sample Guyanese cuisine and we jumped at the chance. The ultimate Guyanese dish is the roti, an unleavened bread popular in Indian cuisine, which was brought to the West Indies by immigrants from the Indian subcontinent. The beauty of the roti is in its role as a wrap, that can be filled with nearly anything! We learned about a couple of roti restaurants in the Brixton area which seemed to be located in food trucks or markets, and were near-impossible to track down. However, we heard great things about Umana Yana (294 Croxted Road, Herne Hill, London, SE24 9DA).
Umana Yana is located south of the Caribbean-flavored area of Brixton, definitely off the tourist track. The name “Umana Yana” comes from a famous monument in Guyana whose name means “meeting house of the people” in the indigenous Wai-Wai language. The shop was tiny, but fully stocked with rotis and curries of every stripe, including chicken and eggplant, pumpkin, oxtail and goat (among many others). The curry was kept in small containers separately in the refrigerated counter, so you mix and match, or take your options to-go, which seemed to be a popular option. There was only one table inside, so we took advantage of the nice weather and waited for our food at a table outside. Aside from the huge variety of curries there were other Guyanese appetizers, including poulourie (fried green pea dough fritters) and bara (lentil fritters). We decided to split a Goat curry on dohl puri, at the behest of the chef/owner Deborah. We really enjoyed the dohl puri, a roti filled with chickpeas, which was unusual and different from a garden variety roti (we ordered one of those on the side too – see above). The rotis were made fresh to order, and were like thin, rich naan: soft and a little flaky, but not too greasy. Unfortunately the curry was not too photogenic, but it was certainly delicious. To finish, we recommend washing your meal down with a delicious, floral sorrel drink. It also bears mentioning that the owner of Umana Yana, Deborah is a sweet as can be, and made us feel incredibly welcome. If you are in search of Guyanese food in London, Umana Yana is the real deal.
ETW was thrilled this year to receive a complimentary press pass to Chicago Gourmet, a 2-day festival and showcase of the best food and wine the city has to offer. The star-studded event offers an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the latest trends in the Chicago food scene; and in 2014, five years after my last visit, I remained very excited to see the changes (as well as, of course, the old classics). General admission tickets for a single day are a steep – $170 for a day or $275 for the weekend – but offset by the knowledge that tickets include all the food and wine you can drink/stuff yourself with. You can buy a ticket for Saturday or Sunday (or both) and these sold out in advance of the event. I recently heard the event compared by Gapers Block to the Lollapalooza of food, and that may not be too inaccurate. Set inside the Pritzker Pavilion lawn in Millennium Park, in downtown Chicago, and gated off, the price and security reinforce what an exclusive event this is. On entry, you get a reusable tote, and everyone gets a wine glass and a plastic plate with a little wine holder to take to all the various booths. Camera in tow and plate in hand, I headed into the fray to see the best and brightest of Chicago’s culinary landscape.
Exhibitor and chef pavilions ring the central lawn, in addition to a further aisle of pavilions in the center of the field. Buckets of water bottles, tables and chairs were dotted throughout the lawn. Though people trickled in slowly at first, soon there was a mad rush of people pouring in, with lines forming quickly at most booths.
Avoiding the mad booth rush, I started off at the Pritzker Pavilion, where the day’s first cooking demo featured Carlos Gaytan and Rick Bayless cooking some of their Mexican favorites and chatting amiably with the crowd. Nearby, on the east side of the park, there were further hands-on seminars (such as Bordeaux wines and another on fried chicken). Another popular demo centered on chef Carla Hall’s favorite comfort food.
Demos aside, the bulk of Chicago Gourmet’s food offerings are available at ten different themed dining pavilions.There were two rounds at each pavilion, 12:30 to 3 and 3-5:30, each with a wholly new set of restaurants/chefs. Each pavilion had 3 or 4 tables inside and theme park-style switchbacks to direct the line, even though these frequently spilled over. There were some pavilions with obvious themes, including dessert or BBQ, while others had a broader flavor like the Mariano’s or Green City Market pavilions.
Before the pavilions even opened, some already had lines, and at peak time some lines were 30+ minutes long. Once you reached the front you received a tasting portion from each chef, often in a biodegradable coconut husk plate. You also had the opportunity to chat with the chef, but not too much, lest you irritate the people in line behind you. Trying every single dish would be near impossible, and some of the portions are not super tiny so I had to make the effort to prioritize. It’s a little overwhelming!
Dessert (I went both rounds) was one of my favorite pavilions. I really have a sweet tooth, and I found the dishes to be particularly creative. The pavilions represented a broad and diverse range of restaurants, with a similarly wide range of foods: from tiny cups of soup, to mini sandwiches to petit fours. It would be impossible to cover every dish I sampled, but I will mention a few highlights, desserts and not:
* The Langham’s pistachio panna cotta with shortbread crust and cherry topping (above)
* Cafe des Architectes’ chocolate/hazelnut riff on a Kit-Kat bar
* Big Jones’ chilled eggplant and shrimp bisque
* The Bristol’s broccoli stromboli roll
* Smoque’s smoked shrimp
* Autre Monde’s Stuffed piquillo pepper
* Arun Thai’s spicy eggplant curry
* Trencherman’s burrata
Some surprising aspects of the festival were both the amount of non-food offerings (maybe we need to learn to enjoy wine a bit more?), as well as larger well-known companies including Vosges, Barilla, and somewhat peculiarly (sorry) Chipotle offering tastings. The balsamic truffles and bacon chocolate from Vosges were a particular highlight from this group. Other food purveyors outside of the pavilion areas included Gaylord Indian cuisines, who provided some tasty chicken tikka masala, Texas de Brazil with signature churrasco and Chicago Q, which presented a tasty brisket slider (and a pretty impressive sauce and smoker setup).
Various vineyards and liquor distilleries were also featured, and sampling was highly encouraged (some people definitely over-imbibed). I tried to stick to some of the more unique options, and highlights included a pink champagne cocktail from Chandon, and pisco sour from Kappa. Those whiskey lovers among us would have appreciated the Glenmorangie booth. I would be quite curious to see what a wine lover would pick from the Chicago Gourmet lineup (or how they would even begin to navigate the huge number of booths).
One of the ETW favorites was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the global pavilion. Restaurants serving food from Chicago’s sister cities were featured, which I think was particularly clever. The lineup was slightly different on each day, and also included food importers, a book signing area and a small market of foods, drinks and spices produced by local artisans.
On the day I visited, the following restaurants and sister cities were represented.
* Kasia’s (Warsaw) – Buffalo chicken pierogi
* Bolat (Accra) – Fried plantain (above)
* Shokolad (Kiev) – Potato Varenyky and pork skewers (below)
* Barbakoa (Mexico City) – Shredded barbacoa beef tacos
* Red Butter (Delhi)- Chickpea golgappa
Belgian brewers Leffe and Stella Artois provided some international beverages for the tent. It even seemed to be a badge of honor to get the official Stella glassware that came along with a cider or beer tasting. Even right when the door opened there was a huge line for Stella. I did not even attempt to enter the Stella beer line, though I did sample the cider (above -which was quite good, even from a non-beer drinker’s perspective).
At 2 pm I made my way over to the Grand Cru event on top of Harris Theater, which was a separate $199 ticket on top of daily admission. The setup was similar to Chicago Gourmet, but compressed. The entire event was located in a tent with chef tables in the back, with aisles of wine and spirits hand-selected by Master Sommeliers. Due to the confined space, I fount this tent to be extremely claustrophobic, and some elbows were definitely being thrown to get to the wine samples!
Making my way through the wine gauntlet, I headed for the chef tables in the back. Girl & the Goat chef Stephanie Izard was serving goat empanadas with heirloom tomatoes, and was the biggest crowd draw of the event. She entertained everyone’s questions gracefully, which may have contributed to the length of the line. But she is so nice, who can object? That’s not to forget the other star chefs in attendance at Grand Cru: Jamie Bisonette (Coppa, Boston), Jimmy Banos Jr. (Purple Pig), Andrew Zimmerman (Sepia), Bruce Sherman (North Pond) Justin Aprahamian (Sanford, Milwaukee), Tony Mantuano and Chris Marchino (Spiaggia). Zimmerman’s eggplant tortoloni with cashew and sesame in broth was my favorite bite of Grand Cru tables.
As another point of difference, the water in Grand Cru was upped from Ice Mountain to Acqua Panna (for some reason this struck me as funny- it’s water!) and the vintners were even pricier than at the main event. Grand Cru also hosted several Master Sommeliers, including Alpana Singh, to teach classes. While I enjoyed my trip into the refined Grand Cru, there wasn’t much seating to be had on the roof, so I sauntered back to the main event instead of lingering for long.
By 4:30 the crowd was beginning to thin out, and I decided to get a mini Illy cappuccino to get a final shot of caffeine. As the day was wrapping up, some of the pavilions were giving away their food, instead of throwing it away. So if you can really hold off while the lines are long chances are you may get to sample all the food anyway. I had a great time and really stuffed myself at Chicago Gourmet. It was a great chance to sample some foods and restaurants I had never tried before, and gave me a few recipe ideas. It is definitely a must for every Chicago food lover at least once.