Perogies / Pierogies for Canada Day

Ukraine FlagcanadaWe’ve covered recipes for Canada Day before, but we are interested to learn that one of the iconic foods of Canada is the Ukrainian pierogie/perogie/perogy/pyrogy (plus any other spellings)! Due to the large number of Polish and Ukrainian immigrants to Canada, the dish has become entrenched in Canada’s cuisine and culture. Canada is even home to the “world’s largest pierogie.” Pierogies are also popular in Chicago, due to similar immigration patterns of Eastern Europeans, and they are one of our favorite dumplings. And really what’s not to love with a dough pocket stuffed full of meat and/or cheese? As is befitting of their popularity, you can find them all over Canada and they are especially popular in Winnipeg. If you want to taste for yourself, here is a recipe from Black Peppercorn, direct from the Canadian prairies, and another recipe for classic potato and cheddar perogies from Canadian Living.

Perogies

Perogies in Saskatoon by Christopher Porter

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Indian Badam (Almond) Milk Recipe

India FlagWhen we are out and about we tend to drop everything to try new foods, even if that potentially means having no idea what we are eating (actually, that is often the case). In the Supermarket the other week, we had that exact experience when M, on the spur of the moment. picked up a mustard yellow can of “Badam Drink,” a beverage that was a complete mystery. The can advertised “real bits of Badam,” and not knowing what that was, we were doubly perplexed. Thanks to some internet sleuthing, we come to find out that Badam is simply “almond” in Hindi, and this cold almond milk drink is a favorite for the hot days of Spring and Summer. Badam milk is made by soaking almonds in water or milk, blending and then adding the flavoring of saffron and cardamom. Now it wasn’t too hot in Chicago recently, but this was still quite refreshing, and would be a nice caffeine-free replacement for a chai tea latte.

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Morelia-style Fruit Gazpacho in Chicago

Mexico FlagYou see Mexican food carts selling fruit throughout Chicago, usually serving clear plastic cups with fruit chunks and a topping of chili pepper or chamoy sauce. However, late one night a few weeks ago, we came across a fruit cart on North Clark and Morse in Rogers Park, that had a longer line then we had ever seen. We were instantly intrigued – what could they be doing so differently?

Fantastik Fruit Stand

Fantastik Fruit Stand

Fantastik, as we found out this fruit stand was called, specializes in fruit gazpacho (sometimes spelled gaspacho), a specialty of the town of Morelia in the Southwestern Mexican state of Michoacán. We had never heard of such a dish, so we knew we had to try it. Morelia-style fruit gazpacho traditionally consists of mango, jicama and pineapple. However, at Fantastik you can also get a “surtido gazpacho” which included a wider variety of fruits including papaya, kiwi and strawberry. If you are in the mood for something simpler they also offer cut fruit cócteles, which are cocktails in the fruit cup sense and not the alcoholic one.

Fantastik Fruit Stand

Gazpacho in production

The stall is run by the Mejia family – and they have everything down to a science. Another thing that really impressed us was the complete precision of the dice on the fruit, and the sheer amount of fruit that was crammed into each plastic takeaway cup. The gazpacho is finished off with a topping of orange juice, fresh-squeezed lime juice, sea salt, chili pepper, onion, cilantro and even queso fresco. It is $7 for a small and $9 for a large container, which are both plenty enough to share. The gazpacho was sweet, salty and spicy, and was deliciously refreshing and surprisingly filling. We were completely blown away by the gazpacho and we returned twice in one week for a fix. We recommend you do the same.

Fruit Gazpacho

Fruit Gazpacho

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Calumet Fisheries, a step back in time to industrial Chicago

We have a tradition when we are returning to Chicago from the East via I-94 – visiting Calumet Fisheries (3259 E 95th St, Chicago, IL)! Calumet Fisheries is an old school fish shack right in the heart of Chicago’s industrial corridor on thr far South side. It is a tiny place, in an almost improbable location. It certainly is a throwback to a different time (family run since 1948), when many of these fish shacks dotted the banks of the Calumet River. However, Calumet Fisheries has not only survived over the years, it has thrived, and received a slew of accolades including a James Beard award in 2010.

Calumet What Calumet Fisheries does is smoked fish, though they have fried options as well. A big seller is smoked shrimp, which is our favorite. You order your fish by the pound (smallest order is the half pound), or get a dinner plate with fries and slaw, and pay in cash. Some of the other smoked seafood options available include: Salmon, Sturgeon, Rainbow Trout and Eel. We never feel like we have room for sides, but there are a range of options including macaroni salad, potato salad, mushrooms and fried pickles.CalumetShrimp

We got a smoked shrimp dinner which came with slaw and fries and a half pound of smoked shrimp. Every order comes with Tartar sauce and a red vinegar sauce (hot or mild). We waited for our order and went to the only option for seating, 1 of 2 outdoor picnic tables. The shrimp still had shells and tails (how we like it) and a delicate smoke flavor. Really good fries, too. It is kind of surreal to eat in a picnic table overlooking the 95th street bridge and a vast (now mostly dormant) industrial landscape on the Calumet River. It is certainly one of the most unique Chicago experiences we have ever had, and one that will transport you straight to the past.

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A New Place for: Xue-hua-bing, Taiwanese Ice Cream [updated]

Xue hua bing by Kimberlykv

We are always up for a new kind of iced treat, especially the international varieties – gelato from Italy, halo halo from the Philippines and the wave of frozen yogurts from Korea – all delicious. So add to the list Xue hua bing – an icy confection from Taiwan. The name translates to “snow ice” and is a mixture of milk, ice and fruit, and each serving is shaved off of a giant ice block, and topped with fruit and other confections. There used to be a dedicated spot for Xue hua bing in Chicago – Cloud 9 on Belmont – though it has been closed for a while now. So we were excited to learn about Snow Dragon Shavery (2618 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614), which has taken up the torch as the only dedicated XHB spot in Chicago.

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Taste of Cuba Cafe, island flavors in Lincolnwood

cubaThere is nothing we like more than a lechon (roast pork) sandwich on crusty bread, so it goes without saying that we will drop everything to try a new Cuban restaurant in the area. When we learned that Taste of Cuba (3918 W. Touhy Ave, Lincolnwood, IL) was open near our hood we knew we had to try it. We also brought along three Cuban food newbies to convert.

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Taste of Cuba is located in a small strip mall off Touhy, but the inside is bright and colorful. We were greeted right away by the affable host, who was happy to hear that we had been sampling the other Cuban places in the area. The menu had all of the Cuban classics you would expect, including Ropa vieja ($13.95), Bistec Encebollado ($12.95) and lechon ($12.95) which come with a side and maduros (fried sweet plantains) or tostones. We all ordered sandwiches – a mix of lechon and Cubanos as well a side of maduros. The chef also brought out a free side of yuca fries for us all, with garlicly house mojo sauce, which turned out to be everyone’s favorite side of the da. I also ordered a cortadito ($2.50), which came in a cute little Cuban flag cup, and was very tasty.

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We got our sandwiches and maduros in short order, and they were generously-sized and made fresh to order. This was definitely some of our favorite lechon in the city – it was tender, flavorful, and the portions were generous. This was some seriously good food, and all of our Cuban foodie newbies were completely sold on this new-to-them cuisine. We topped everything off with a banana milkshake which came in a mason jar and a with a palm tree swizzle stick (nice touch!). We were definitely impressed with everything we had, and Taste of Cuba Cafe place is as good if not better than Cuban joints in the city proper. It is also BYOB! Coincidentally, Taste of Cuba will be opening a branch in the city soon – we can’t wait to try it.

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12 hours of Eating like a local in Copenhagen

denmark_flagWe arrived in Denmark with a near-complete ignorance of Danish food. Not on purpose of course, but knowing no Danish people or restaurants in Chicago, we only have our perusal of the Nordic Food Labs Twitter account to go on. On our way back to Chicago from Europe, we happened (well, opted) to have a 12 hour layover in Copenhagen. Even though we had very little time, we were determined to make the most of it. We got up early, and set out to the center of town on the weird little operator-less, futuristic monorail from our airport hotel. We do know the country is purported to have some of the best coffee in the world, so we made that a priority.
CoffeeCollective2 The purported best coffee in the world is served at Coffee Collective (Vendersgade 6D 1363 Copenhagen K) which now has a mini empire of shops in Copenhagen. We visited the location in Torvehallerne, an interesting place to visit in its own right, because it boasts over 60 vendors under one roof.

CoffeeCollective

At Coffee Collective, there were two varieties of single origin coffee: Kenyan and Guatemalan. We ordered a cortado and hot chocolate from a pleasant barista with accentless English (like most Danes seemed to have). Both drinks were good, but the coffee was a little steep at about $8 USD. We think you may have to try for yourself to see if this is indeed the best coffee in the world, though M thought the hot chocolate was excellent.
LaurasAfter coffee, we wandered around the Torvehallerne a bit more to check out the other stores, which included cafes, greengrocers and bakeries. We supplemented our coffee with cardamom and cinnamon rolls from Laura’s Bakery in the same market (20 K apiece), which were quite good. We were pretty excited to see that they are actually called “Cinnabuns” in Danish, too. We took our breakfast to eat on the wooden tables flanking the market, and as you can see from the photo below there are truly bikes everywhere!

Cinnabun

We wandered the pleasant and orderly streets until we found a lunch place that seemed to strike our fancy. We happened upon the cute and trendy Ricco’s Kaffebar (Strandboulevarden 98, 2100 Copenhagen) and we knew it fit the bill. In addition to coffee and baked goods, Ricco’s had a selection of traditional Danish open-faced sandwiches, Smørrebrød. We ordered a caramelized potato open-faced sandwich with Brunede Kartofler, or caramelized potatoes, and a goat cheese sandwich on rye. Both were tasty and surprisingly filling.

Smorrebrod

Despite being a relatively chilly country, Danes are also big on ice cream. You will see ice cream shops everywhere, including this classic shop by the water boasting a giant cone statue – Vaffelbageren (Nyhavn 49, 1051 Copenhagen). Other top choices for ice cream in Copenhagen that are more unique are Siciliansk Is (Skydebanegade 3, Copenhagen 1709) and Ismageriet (Kongelundsvej 116, Copenhagen 2300). Siciliansk Is specializes in authentic Italian gelato, and Ismageriet specializes in local, seasonal Danish flavors.

IceCream

Though we were only able to visit Copenhagen for a short time, it was enough to make us want to come back for more. Copenhagen is one of the top foodie destinations in Europe, and there are enough places to fill weeks of eating adventures.

Copenhagen

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Late night bites at Kaffeehaus in Lisbon

austriaThere are Austrian cafes dotting Lisbon, including one of our Lisbon favorites, Pois, café. We had heard there was another Austrian coffeehouse in town, Kaffeehaus (Rua Anchieta 3, 1200-023 Lisboa, Portugal) and after a late night exploring Chiado we decided to stop in. We were not sure what to make of Kaffeehaus, it is part restaurant part bar and part cafe, and we saw people enjoying it for all of these purposes when we popped in at about 9 PM. We kind of like the multipurpose bar/cafe/hangout aspect, something more uncommon in the USA, I think. It is even dog friendly!

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The beverage menu was quite prolific, featuring Austrian coffee drinks and custom lemonades as well as a large beer and wine list. We appreciate the large and unique selection of nonalcoholic beverages including tea, special Austrian carbonated juices and fresh lemonade. M ordered a unique hot chocolate drink from Austria which came with a bar of chocolate and a cup of hot milk which you have to mix in using a little frother. L ordered a fizzy ginger lemonade (one among many homemade lemonade varieties).

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There was also a case with about a half dozen attractive looking cakes included strudels, fruit tarts and the popular-in-Lisbon meringues. Though we were almost tempted away by Apfelstrüdel, we went with the classic chocolate Linzertorte and the Austrian cheesecake, Käsekuche. The Linzertorte was good and chocolatey but the kasekuche was a real standout, with a totally unique texture that was more like bread or cake than a creamy New York style cheesecake. If you are feeling munchies, there is also full lunch and dinner menu with Austrian favorites like Spätzle, and brunch on the weekends. Kaffeehaus is a great place to relax at any time of the day, no matter what mood you are in, and you can even bring your dog.

Linzertorte

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Eating like a local in Venice

VeniceRain
ItalyWe were afraid to eat in Venice. Maybe it is because of a super strict ordinance serving fines and police scrutiny for eating in St. Mark’s square. Not that many tourists would have dared, considering that St. Marks was well under 2 feet of water when we arrived on a soggy cold day. However, with this first impression, we were a little intimidated, since getting food from various shops, cobbling together a picnic meal and eating al fresco is our obligatory European mealtime.
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But, no matter, we figured out a way to do it, and you can too. Our first stop was the Rialto Market. Rialto Market is a classic open-air fruit and veggie market. It is surprisingly un-touristy though you will find quite a few tourists alongside the hustle and bustle of locals. By 2:30 everything is pretty much closed up – so hurry to get there before lunchtime if you can. We picked up some Sicilian oranges and sundried tomatoes, though as you can see there is a wide  variety of produce available (and even some chili peppers and flowers).
CasaDelParmigiano
In order to supplement our fruit and veg we got cheese and prosciutto at Casa Del Parmigiano (San Polo, 214, 30125 Venezia). It is an absolutely tiny little store, but is completely packed with cheese. In fact, this is probably one of the highest cheese-to-square foot ratios I have ever seen. The store has been in operation since 1936 and you can tell they are experts at the craft of cheese. There is every type of Italian cheese under the sun We got some goat’s milk Latteria della Valsassina cheese to go, which was creamy and mild.  In addition, there is a small but well-curated selection of prosciutto, and the San Daniele we chose was among some of the finest we ever tasted. We picked up two little ciabatta rolls from a grocery shop nearby to complete our sandwich. We ate clandestinely, evading authorities just off the Rialto market under a covered sidewalk that led to some sort of governmental building.

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Our final stop Gelatoteca SuSo (Calle della Bissa, 5453, 30124 San Marco, Venezia). It is a little way back from the canal and found it only through a 6th sense that directs us toward gelato products. Suso makes gelato artiginale – artisinal gelato – produced in-house in a large number of unusual flavors.  M got the Orient Express (cinnamon, clove and caramel) and L got Death in Venice [ha ha!] – coffee and chocolate swirl. The gelato was excellent, and the perfect finish to our al fresco lunch. Though we had to do it on the sly – we managed to find (and eat) some non-touristy food in Venice.

SusoGelato

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Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Back in Chicago

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams now has two stores in the Chicago area – and we were super pumped to try the new Wicker Park location (1505 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago) when Spring-like weather finally arrived. Jeni’s is a Columbus-based ice creamery helmed by ice cream guru Jeni Britton Bauer that has been expanding across the US in the past few years. However, Jeni’s stores all across America have been closed for the past month due to a recall. Now they are all back open – just in time to get a summer ice cream fix.  The key to Jeni’s success is high quality and unusual flavors (check out the menu below).

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Jeni’s Wicker park is right in the heart of the main drag on Milwaukee, and I get the impression they are busy ALL the time. When we arrived there was a line, but it moved pretty quickly, and we even were able to find a place to sit. One cool touch is that they make their own waffle cones right in front of you! There is a selection of “signature” flavors to choose from, including wildberry lavender (tastes like Froot Loops), Salted Caramel and sun-popped corn, as well as some limited-edition specials like creme brulee and blue buttermilk frozen yogurt. There are even some local nods, with Intelligensia coffee-flavored ice cream or the option to get a scoop of any ice cream in a cup of Intelligensia coffee.

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You can get anywhere between one and four scoops, and we settled on a Trio. We sampled buttermilk orange frozen yogurt, the “Buckeye State” which is peanut butter ice cream with chocolate chips, and dark chocolate. We were happy with our flavor choices, and the peanut butter and buttermilk orange were standouts. We definitely recommend Jeni’s for a summer treat and we are excited to see what creative flavor Jeni comes up with next.

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A Photo Tour of Mercado 20 de Noviembre in Oaxaca

Mexico FlagOne of our favorite things to do when we are new to a city is to visit the local market. When we were in Oaxaca we were extremely excited to visit the Mercado 20 de Noviembre (20th of November Market), which came highly recommended. What is special about this market is that it specifically dedicated to food. When you enter you are greeted right away with full-service food stalls that will make you mole, caldos, quesadillas and other dishes right to order. Navigating the swirl of tantalizing smells, we settled on a booth that had a crowd, where we sampled a delicious chicken in mole rojo and turkey in mole negro (one of the signature dishes of Oaxaca). Some of the stalls have printed menus, and others have handwritten menus tacked above the stalls. You can be assured that pretty much any restaurant with a small crowd is good, since the competition is so fierce. As you wander around the stalls you can also buy freshly-baked bread and cookies and fried plantains to snack on. In addition to the freshly-prepared foods, you can pick up mole paste, chocolate, dried peppers and other ingredients to try your hand at the same recipes at home. Around the perimeter of the market were artisans selling crafts like tin ornaments, mirrors and woven baskets. We had a great time visiting the different stalls and eating our way around the market, and it was a perfect way to dip a toe into Oaxaca’s culinary waters.

Oaxaca

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The best Pasteis de Nata in London

united_kingdomportugalOne of our first stops in London was the venerable British Museum, where they had a delightful museum cafe run by the local cafe chain Benugo (various locations throughout London). Imagine our surprise when we saw the iconic Portuguese pastry, the Pastel de Nata, being advertised proudly front and center alongside muffins and scones, as a “Panata.” We certainly weren’t expecting to see one of our favorite Portuguese treats in this location! The panata from Benugo was actually pretty good, and once we saw our favorite treats there, we started seeing them in shops all around town. Who would have thought it would be so popular in London?

Panata

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Isla Pilipiana, new school Filipino in Lincoln Square

philippinesIsla Pilipiana (2501 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL) has one foot in the old world and one in the new. The menu features classic Filipino dishes, but the menu itself is designed in an edgy, loopy hand drawn style (even with a reference to Eminem lyrics, see if you can spot them) – which seems to be the perfect summary of what Isla Pilipiana is all about. Isla Pilipiana is a small place with modern decor, and is located in a strip mall just off the main Lincoln Square drag, so you might miss it.

Isla

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Eclectic small plates at Ada Street

After our delicious dinner at Odd Duck in Milwaukee, we were inspired to try some of the eclectic small plates in our neck of the woods. We had heard great things about Ada Street (1664 N. Ada Street, Chicago), and Chef Zoë Schor’s creative dishes, so we wanted to try it out with our foodie friends D & B. We went relatively early, and were able to snag a table, without much advance notice.

AdaStreet Like Odd Duck, the menu was divided into sections that helped describe the food by category: “Pick it Up,” “With Toast,” “Forks, spoons & knives” and dessert. The dishes range in size, and all are meant to share. There is something for those that are gluten free, too, which we always appreciate. The room was a large and cool and there were giant garage door windows that could open up to reveal a large patio area. There was even a record player tucked in the corner, which we definitely liked.

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Nando’s is coming to Chicago!

Nando's Peri Peri Sign

We are so excited – one of our favorite restaurant chains, the Peri-Peri chicken joint Nando’s is coming to Chicago! We have previously visited Nando’s locations in Washington D.C. and London and really enjoyed the food. The closer-to-home West Loop location opens May 20th. We will be first in line for some Pasteis de Nata!

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Juice and more at Under the Mango Tree in Miami Beach

The famous South Beach section of Miami Beach is a very confusing place that we don’t really fit into (except that we like the beach and Art Deco architecture). Full of glitzy clubs and cheesy tourist shops, it is definitely not our scene. However, there are some places that really do stand out in a positive way, including Under the Mango Tree. This tiny juice and snack bar (plus giftshop) is located In a nondescript row of shops just off South Beach. Under the Mango Tree (714 6th St. Miami Beach, FL) specializes in a wide range of natural juices and smoothies (mango, beet, carrot, kale and more) as well as açaí bowls and other healthy treats. Unique selections include a dragon fruit bowl, tumeric chai tea, an agave, almond milk and raw cacao smoothie as well as a kale melt for something savory. The inside of the store is cute and welcoming, with colorful walls, Tibetan prayer flags, plants everywhere and little wooden benches. At any given time all the seats may be full!
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Celebrating the arrival of warm weather at Bi-Rite Creamery

Yesterday I had my first paleta in Chicago – spring is officially here! San Francisco is lucky enough to have better weather year-round, and maybe that is the reason it has such a huge artisanal ice cream scene, which we can totally get behind. We wanted to try at least one ice cream shop when here, and Bi-Rite Creamery (3692 18TH ST.) came particularly highly recommended. Bi-Rite was an oasis of ice cream in a pretty residential neighborhood of the Mission, and we knew we were in the right place when we saw the red neon sign and the big line!

Bi-Rite Creamery

Bi-Rite Creamery is hoppin

The store itself was tiny, and had a line snaking out the door, even at about 7 pm on a Thursday. Bi-Rite is known for its unusual flavors, and has its list of both classic and seasonal flavors posted outside, so you can think about your choice when you wait. I went with the much-lauded salted caramel and the Blue Bottle coffee flavor with almonds and chocolate chips. The classic flavors of honey lavender and Ricanelas cinnamon cookies were popular, and other tasty seasonal flavors included Creme Brulee, Orange Cardamom and Balsamic Strawberry. You can get your flavors in either a cup or cone and even in sundaes with clever names like the “Dainty Gentleman” which consists or honey lavender, sea salt and blood orange.

Bi-Rite Creamery

The lonely Soft-Serv window

You can also buy a variety of baked goods like rhubarb pie and cupcakes, ice cream cakes, ice cream sandwiches, Bi-Rite gear and pints to take home. There was a separate counter for soft serve, which was, at the time, empty. Later, we come to find out that they were serving buffalo milk soft serve! Maybe next time… There is also a Bi-Rite gourmet/natural food market just a block away, if you can’t get enough artisanal cuteness. We wish we lived closer to Bi-Rite so we could sample all of the flavors, especially a signature sundae.

Bi-Rite Creamery

Bi-Rite Creamery: Salted Caramel and Coffee

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Around the world in Milwaukee at Odd Duck

We definitely appreciate the boom in casual but high-quality farm to table restaurants in the Midwest. We heard nothing but praise for one of these restaurants, Odd Duck (2352 S Kinnickinnic Ave, Milwaukee, WI), so we were incredibly excited to try it. Inside Odd Duck is a cool space, with exposed brick and pottery on the walls, buzzing, casual and friendly. The menu at Odd Duck is both locally sourced and globally inspired – a combination of two of our favorite restaurant concepts.

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You can find dishes spanning every continent, divided into two halves of small plate dishes: vegetarian and meat. When we visited there were 12 dishes in each half, and our server assured us that the selection changed daily. We decided to go for our server’s suggestion of at least 2 dishes apiece, and we tacked on one to share (though all of the dishes are meant to share….and we did end up sharing all of them). We had a hard time deciding what we wanted, but tried to do a sampling of both the veg and meat options. Along with the list of small plates you can also order individual portions of cheese and charcuterie including both local (Smoking Goose Meatery, Hook’s Cheddar) and global selections (Jamon Iberico).

Octopus

Charred Octopus

We tried:

  • Brazilian cheese bread with watercress and Kolrahbi, yogurt with spinach puree.($8) This was the first dish out of the gate. Being purveyors of Pão de Queijo, I think we were expecting too much with this one. This was a chewy, slightly tangy bread roll, but did not taste like a Pão de Queijo at all and the texture was a bit off. However, had we not had actual PDQ from Brazil as a cultural reference, we probably would have liked it much more.
  • Vietnamese fried trout topped with an herb salad, over glass noodles with a delicious peanut lime and chili sauce ($10) This was a real standout dish. The fried trout was delicate, and not greasy at all. It also contained one of our favorite food combinations: peanuts and lime, so how can you go too wrong?The sauce was strong and aromatic, without being overpowering, and there was a little kick.
  • Charred octopus with black beans and rice cake, oyster mushrooms and scallions ($10) M really liked this one, and even for those among us who are not big fans are octopus, this was a standout dish. The octopus was tender and crispy – not chewy at all.
Shortrib Stroganoff

Shortrib Stroganoff

  • Braised beef shortribs stroganoff with potato gnocchi and mustard greens ($12). This was a classic, hearty dish, with fork-tender shortribs. We appreciated the update of the classic Midwest dish, and the gnocchi were light and tender.
  • Aloo Gobi curried fired cauliflower with sweet corn yogurt, potato chips and tomato chutney ($8). Despite being fried, the cauliflower were surprisingly light and crispy. This was a good way to end the meal, though it also would have been a perfect “appetizer.”
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Aloo Gobi

We really enjoyed the food at Odd Duck. The vibe was good, the menu was interesting and the price is right. We wish there were more of these types of places in Chicago (especially at this price point). We can’t wait to go back to see what is on the menu next time!

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Mole Poblano for Cinco de Mayo

Mexico FlagOften confused with Mexican Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo is actually a commemoration of the battle of Puebla, which was an unexpected victory over the larger French army in 1862, and preceded Mexican Independence by a few years. Though Cinco De Mayo is celebrated in the US as a drink-focused free-for-all, in Mexico, it is mostly only celebrated in Puebla as a regional holiday. So it only makes sense to celebrate with some authentic Poblano dishes, from a region with some of the best food in Mexico. Our personal favorite dish from Puebla is Mole Poblano – a rich, peppery and complex sauce (“mole” just refers to a type of sauce). Mole Poblano is one of the most beloved moles in Mexico and is also served throughout the US. However, it is a little complicated to make. Pati’s Mexican Table has a recipe that breaks down the laundry list of ingredients, including 4 varieties of pepper -Ancho, Mulato, Pasilla and Chipotle – tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, and much more! Mole Poblano is traditionally served over Chicken or Turkey, and is definitely worth the extra effort. Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Mole Poblano by Jay Galvin

Mole Poblano by Jay Galvin

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Macanese cuisine at Fat Rice in Chicago

MacauI jumped out of a moving car to get a table at Fat Rice (2957 W. Diversey Ave, Chicago, IL ). That is how crowded the place can be get, and how legendarily hard-to-get the tables are. But at 5pm on a Wednesday we need not have worried, as we easily got a table for 2 just when walking in (we were some of the first people there, and by the time we left at 7, it was still not full). The tables at Fat Rice are communal, and the decor is simultaneously sparse and kitschy, with golden pigs, Chinese pottery and a Portuguese rooster holding pride of place.

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Fat Rice has received a slew of accolades, including being one of Bon Appetit’s top new restaurants in 2013. The menu features the cuisine of the former Portuguese colony of Macau, a history that lends it a unique fusion of Portuguese and Chinese cuisines. Short of taking a trip to the luxurious island, there aren’t many places to sample Macanese food. To help, the menu at Fat Rice is broken into several sections, small plates, noodles and entrees to share. There were also a rotating number of specials.

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The squash special – those aren’t noodles – they are ribbons of squash!

We had a tough time deciding what to order, and we went with a few specials, since we hoped the other dishes would be there on our next visit! Some of the items that stood out (that we did not get) included the linguiça appetizer with ginger and olive ($8), the piri-piri chicken with spicy tomato and peanut sauce ($24) and the Malay vegetable curry with sweet potato and cashews ($16). However, when making our order, our waitress pushed us to order a vegetable dish, saying we had too many heavy foods (not sure if this was a personal thing or a management directive). In the end, she may have been right, but we were not super excited to be told multiple times we had ordered incorrectly. I think she was also a little crestfallen when we substituted vegetables for one of the more expensive meat dishes….

Rolled rice noodles

Rolled rice noodles

To start off with, we ordered a classic dish, the handmade hand-rolled rice noodles, which came either with XO sauce or mushroom and egg ($14). This was the first time we had tried XO sauce, the famous Hong Kong umami bomb, tempered with hot chilies. We absolutely loved it! At the nosy behest of the waitress, we did indeed prefer a vegetable: the special Summer Squash stir fry. The squash was cut into thin ribbons and dressed with a light sauce, tianjin (pickled cabbage) and basil. It was super light and delicious, while also being complex. Finally, we tried the special entree, the whole Branzino. This was definitely the star of the night, with an inexplicable combination of flavors: Thai lime, tamarind and cilantro.

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Whole Branzino in foil

Another thing that really impressed us was the list of rare and unusual teas available, provided by the Rare Tea Cellar. We knew we had to get a pot of tea. Like wine, each of the teas had tasting notes to go along with them. We were intrigued by the “Freak of Nature Oolong” tea ($9) which boasted tasting notes of popcorn, shortbread and watermelon. The cute teapots came with unlimited refills and most cost between $5 and $10, which we felt was reasonable, because the servers do actually do come and refill the teapot.

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Pigs, figurines and rooster keeping court at Fat Rice

By the end of our meal, the communal tables had begun to fill up. The people at the end of the table did in fact order the signature item at Fat Rice and its namesake, arroz gordo. There is a charming little illustration depicting all of the myriad ingredients that make up one order of fat rice: prawns, squid, mussels, rice and more ($48). It looked like it took about 3 people to truly handle the dish. We were actually really impressed by Fat Rice, one of the recent places where we felt the hype was warranted. We are excited to try brunch, where our favorite items in the world are featured: egg tarts!

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