Sunday, April 27, 2008

Grilled Pigeon and Coffee Anyone?

If you're clueless about what flavors will amp up your apple or you're looking for something to serve with that stinky hunk of blue cheese that's been sitting in your fridge, you'll love the foodpairing tree by food for design.

Just click on one of the categories (herbs, spices, dairy, etc.) and you get a scientific layout of other foodstuffs that should pair appropriately. The site makes some snide remark about still needing the "craftsmanship and experience" to turn these "inspirations into a good recipe." But I'd say you just need a giant mixing bowl and a cabinet brimming with herbs and spices.

I checked out coffee and was not surprised to see chocolate in one of the most closely related groupings, but I never would've thought to drink the stuff with grilled pigeon, tortillas or oysters. Though, I can't say I've ever actually had grilled pigeon. Also, I didn't see cardamom branching out anywhere from the coffee root, which is one of my favorite morning treats. Take a few whole cardamom pods, crush and throw the seeds into some freshly ground beans and brew, brew, brew.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Pork Pastries

I'm not a fan of pork. If a friend invites me over for some pork-fueled fare, I'll happily indulge, but when given the choice I'm more likely to opt for beef, fish, or poultry. Hell, I'd even pick the one vegetarian dish on the menu if it saved me from gnawing away at a slab of pig all evening. At least those were my sentiments toward the stuff before I entered Chiu Quon, dangerously tucked just around the corner from my studio.

This Chinese pastry shop uses pork in almost everything, even cookies. My first trip to Chiu Quon was daunting, the minuscule storefront was jam-packed with Cantonese speaking patrons who knew exactly what they wanted. And then there were the little plastic containers of sweet and sour chicken feet staring me right in the face.

I quickly scanned the translucent case for anything that looked familiar. There were a few variations of nutty cookies--walnut, almond, sesame-- that were much lighter in color and crumbly in texture than the sugar-rich rounds you'd find in a standard American bakery. But this would've been taking the easy route and I was in the mood for something more adventurous (though not quite ready for the cackling images of chicken feet parading around my stomach), so I ordered up a pork sesame cookie for a whopping 60 cents. Everything was so damn cheap I was tempted to try it all, but first I had to taste this meat-filled treat.

Chiu Quon only has three tables and they were all full, so I grabbed the goods and headed home. Thank god I was eating this in solitude because I think I moaned after the first few bites. And a few bites were just about all I could take of the thing. The flavors were spectacular and I would've gone straight down to the crumbs had it not been for the cookie's extreme density. No worries though, I wrapped up the other half and had it for breakfast the next morning.

All heaviness aside, the pork sesame cookie was strangely brilliant. Once you bite through the first crispy layer, it becomes a chewy concoction bursting with toasty, honey-esque notes. Any expert pastry chef would probably cringe at this comparison, but, it reminded me of baklava. Baklava in cookie-form stuffed with meat and sesame, that is. While it's certainly more sweet than savory, the pork adds a healthy dose of salt which harmonizes quite nicely with the heavy-handed sugar.

Chiu Quon has quickly nestled itself into my list of Chicago favorites. It may have something to do with the fact that I only have to step a few feet from my apartment to get there, but for anyone off the radar, it's definitely worth the trip.

Chiu Quon Bakery
1127 W. Argyle St.
(773) 907-8888

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I stumbled upon this Edgewater bakery a few weeks ago on my way to Metropolis, and finally decided to give it a try. Painted in pastels and adorned with retro kitchen gear, stepping into Flourish was like entering a Brady Bunch re-run. And when I saw the cases neatly lined with rows upon rows of enticing pastries, I was just as giddy as Marcia that time Davey Jones asked her to the prom.

Flourish's old-school charm filled me with the hopeful assumption that indulging in the goods here would spark a similarly sweet nostalgia to those evenings spent in my grandmother's kitchen--always redolent of some just-baked butter-slathered treat. There was only one problem; how was I supposed to choose just one thing?

Seeing as it was still breakfast time, I ruled out cakes, cookies and brownies (not that these have never found their way into my morning routine). Muffins are easy to come by, so those were out too. At this point it was a toss up between a hearty chunk of monkey bread or a cinnamon roll as big as my face. I flirted with the idea of ordering both, but quickly nixed that after calculating how much time I would have to put in at the gym. Figuring that monkey bread is more of a rare treat (unless of course you live in Texas), I settled on that. And then the chipper man behind the counter said what'll it be? And I hesitated. Of course, I, hesitated.

I have become one of those annoying ladies who holds up the line and rides the very last nerve of servers everywhere because of my own indecision with food. This was never a problem until I experienced entree envy that time at Hopleaf when Laura ordered the CB&J and I was left poking around some glorified lettuce leaves. One bite of her sandwich and I was ruined. I'm so worried now that I'm going to regret my order (even when I'm not aboard the health-conscious train). So worried in fact, that I need my server to double as a nursing mother who reassures me that I have indeed made a good choice--and that, yes, it's all going to work out for the best.

So after asking the patient Flourish pastry man which of the two he would pick, he responded, today, I would definitely go for the cinnamon roll. And so I did. Flakey dough covered in earthy flecks of cinnamon and topped with thick swirls of creamy icing-- it was a satisfying start to the morning. That is until I spent the rest of the day wondering, what if I had gone with the monkey bread? Would I have been happier?

(I'll keep you posted-- I'm planning another trip next week. And this time I'm leaving hesitation at home.)

Flourish Bakery Cafe
1138 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.
(773) 271-2253

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Tango Sur

This is by far the longest I've ever waited for dinner, save for one famous Thanksgiving when my aunt scorched the bird and we were all left to a makeshift buffet of side dishes. If the pilgrims had been vegetarians, they would've gleamed with pride at our quick-fix spread. But this was not Thanksgiving and I wasn't plopped on aunt Mimi's sofa in front of the game. Instead it was the end of march and I was standing in the cold with a few friends outside of Tango Sur.

When we arrived to the restaurant around 7:30 p.m., the host told us it would be a two hour wait (they don't take reservations). We were already toting around our wine and beer and didn't know of another BYOB in walking distance, so we settled in at Rye Bar down the street and waited. And waited. And. Waited. Finally, some room cleared in Tango Sur's lounge so we cracked open our drinks and started the wait all over again.

Had we known that two hours really meant three (and change) we might have reconsidered. But there's a reason why we weren't the only one's crammed awkwardly into the minuscule waiting room. These people were here because they happened upon something good and they weren't about to let a little thing like time get in the way.

When we were finally seated around 11 p.m. we wasted no time ordering; the waiter arrived and we were ready. Empanadas all around ($1.75 each) to start, and various plates of meat and potatoes for our entrees. The three empanadas (beef, chicken, ham and cheese) were served around a small tin of chimichurri that amped up the already flavorful pastries. These palm-sized treats were surprisingly filling, probably because they're stuffed to the very folds with nothing but meat.

As the waiter placed our entrees on the table, my first thought was, holy shit-- who's going to eat all that? Fortunately I was in the company of those who thrive on leftovers, so the heaping portions posed no direct threat. Nonetheless, I was surprised to see that the "ideal for two" Vacio plate ($35) could've actually fed the entire room of people still waiting for tables.

Tango Sur
3763 N. Southport Ave.
(773) 477-5466