Showing posts from July, 2015

a weekend of eating (and other things) in Chicago

The idea was to break up the long hot summer by spending the weekend someplace cooler than Miami. Of course, our visit to Chicago coincided with a heatwave that brought 90 degree temperatures right along with us. So that part didn't go as planned.

My last brief visit to Chicago focused mostly on high-end dining – Alinea (pictures here) and the now-closed L2O (pictures here), though I also managed to squeeze into a seat at Au Cheval (pictures here) and snag one of their awesome burgers. But this trip was planned on fairly short notice, too late to book seats at a couple other places high on my to-do list: Grace and 42 Grams in particular.

So the question was, where to go in Chicago where we could book a table on about a week's notice?[1] I aimed a bit lower and made reservations at a couple newer additions to Chicago's dining constellation – Salero and Momotaro – as well as a place I've been hoping to try for a couple years, Trenchermen.

Other than the weather, it all …

best thing i ate last week: griots & pikliz gordita at Centro Taco

It's Monday again already! And it feels like I just posted my "best thing i ate last week." (Of course, I was a day behind schedule last week, so maybe that explains it, or maybe I'm just not cut out to do weekly posts any more).

Lots of options this week, but if hard pressed to name the single best bite, it would be the gordita topped with griots and pikliz at Chef Richard Hales' newly opened Centro Taco, in the downtown Miami spot that formerly housed Sakaya Kitchen (not the original in Midtown, which is still open). This Mexican-Haitian mash-up was darn near perfect: a crisp, corn-y masa shell filled with tender, burnished-edged fried pork, a tangy, spicy cabbage slaw, a dollop of salsa verde and a sprinkling of cotija cheese. Before my first visit, I was by no means convinced that Miami needed another taco shop. But it can always use more like this.

Runner-up: the beet sorghum risotto with horseradish and creme fraiche at Chef Michelle Bernstein's new Cen…

best thing i ate last week - callos a la madrileña at Salero

Just a bit behind schedule here, as we only got back from a long weekend in Chicago yesterday. And yes, we did some good eating there, so competition was robust for "B.T.I.A.L.W." honors. But for me, there was also a clear standout.

I am pretty much powerless when I see a tripe dish on a menu: I must order it. This is so even though I know that Mrs. F will not share it with me, having been burned once too often by my "I think you'll really like this one" pitches. (I have probably compromised our marital trust more by convincing her to try tripe dishes than if I told her I was concerned about the security of my Ashley Madison account).

Callos a la madrileña is a classic Spanish stew of beef tripe in a tomato broth, typically bolstered with chickpeas, chorizo and morcilla sausages. And I was happy to see it on the menu at Salero, a new modern Spanish restaurant in Chicago from Chef Ashlee Aubin.

It's a tough thing to modernize such a dish while retaining its …

best thing i ate last week: rabbit with green curry from Chef Aaron Brooks

I know I seem like a homer when I pick dishes from our Cobaya dinners here. But the truth is we've been on a really nice streak lately. The trend continued in Experiment #55, with Chef Aaron Brooks from Edge Steak and Bar in the Four Seasons.

I could have easily gone with Chef Brooks' charcuterie plate, but we did that last week, so instead my choice for "best thing I ate last week" is this rabbit with green curry, the rabbit loin stuffed with a brightly flavored Thai sausage, the curry alive with lemongrass and makrut lime. You can read more about the dinner here.

Runner up: the smoked oyster mushroom with Beemster gouda purée and crispy yuba skin from Chef Brad Kilgore at Alter. What an incredible umami payload in a vegetarian dish.

Cobaya #55 on Floor 65 with Chef Aaron Brooks

In nearly six years, we've now done fifty five of these Cobaya dinners. I've missed two. One of them was Experiment #25 with Chef Aaron Brooks of Edge Steak and Bar, almost exactly three years ago. I was particularly disappointed to miss it because Chef Brooks is precisely the kind of chef we had in mind when we starting putting on these events. Edge is a very solid place  – good enough that locals will regularly make their way to the seventh floor of a Four Seasons resort on Brickell to visit – but the restrictions of running a hotel steakhouse limit the range of what Brooks can do there.

And his range is quite broad: he's an Australian native with an affinity for the flavors of Southeast Asia, which he put on full display in his last Cobaya dinner. He also has charcuterie skills that would rival anyone in South Florida, something you'd never know from a glance at the restaurant's menu. This time around, he kept things a bit closer to home, looking to the ingredi…

best thing i ate last week: charcuterie at Quality Meats

It wasn't any one thing in particular (though they were all pretty excellent); it was the sheer joyous abundance and variety of the charcuterie spread that Chef Patrick Rebholz laid out for his Cobaya dinner at Quality Meats last Tuesday.

There was a smoked soppressata, topped with a cornbread cream. There was suckling pig coppa di testa, topped with fried sage leaves. Cured foie gras torchon, rolled in malted barley and a mango gastrique. A hearty pork headcheese with rounds of slivered onion. Hickory smoked duck bacon. Coppa, topped with aerated mozzarella. Calf liver mousse with pickled ramps. Merguez "prosciutto" topped with preserved lemon. Pork jowl corn dogs with tabasco mayo. Popcorn drizzled with melted dry-aged beef fat. All of it made in-house, all laid out up and down a roll of butcher's paper stretched along a forty foot table as we entered the room.

It was the best thing I ate last week. (You can read more about the dinner here).

Quality Cobaya with Chef Patrick Rebholz

The scent – well, let's be more blunt – ripe, animal funk of cured meats as we entered the room was a good sign. It soon became apparent from whence it came: a spread of charcuterie laid on top of butcher paper that stretched all the way down a table set for forty guests.

We were in a private second-floor room in the old Bancroft Hotel on South Beach, a beautiful property whose Art Deco features have been pretty respectfully preserved. It's now the home of the Miami outpost of Quality Meats, a New York restaurant with some historical legacy itself: its owners opened the original Smith & Wollensky steakhouse in New York in 1977.[1]

The chef was Patrick Rebholz. Before joining QM, Rebholz had spent most of the past decade cooking in Charleston, most recently as the chef de cuisine at the Peninsula Grill. We got a hint that Chef Rebholz had big plans for his Cobaya dinner when he asked for an early start time. Sure enough, we didn't wrap up until nearly four hours after …