Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Golden Pacific Market

Laura needed fresh mint last night. The girl's been hooked on mojitos since long before her 21st birthday. At this point, it's more of an endearing quirk than it is a routine habit. We went to the Jewel in Andersonville, but they were all out-- this is almost always the case when I need something from Jewel.

Though, I'm probably not at liberty to complain too much, considering the only time I ever stop in is when I'm in desperate need of Greek yogurt and don't feel like making the trek to Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. This always tends to happen on a Sunday, when everyone else in Chicago is also, strangely enough, on the hunt for Greek yogurt (the stuff is damn good). Much like my Sunday dairy scavenging, Laura and I left Jewel empty handed.

Before she even had a chance to slam the grocery tyrants, I remembered the little Asian market next door. Actually, Chicago's Golden Pacific Market isn't little at all-- it just looks that way stacked against the big guys. We stopped in and, sure enough, we found some fresh mint sprigs. Some of them were a bit brown at the ends, but hey, they were dirt cheap and still reeked of minty goodness.

While Laura was busy rifling for the freshest herbs, I creeped into the snack aisle and loaded up on a few pre-packaged Asian goodies: dried wasabi peas, chocolate-infused crackers and a milky white chocolate bar (admittedly from Germany, but I needed a fix). Laura grabbed some Kasugai apple flavored gummies, sweet mini crackers and a carbonated lychee beverage. Neither of us spent a dime over $8. Our favorites out of the bunch were the little chocolate nibs that tasted like pocky, but looked like Goldfish crackers, and the heart-shaped apple gummis. Oh, and the mint was good, too.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Two Guacs and a Girl

Last Thursday I met up with two friends in two different restaurants. Go figure that they'd both be in the mood for guacamole.

6 PM: Ole Ole
Next to Carnivale's raspberry version, this Andersonville restaurant mixed up the best mojito I've had in Chicago. Rather than an overwhelmingly tall glass, the drink was served in a small rocks tumbler. And unlike many minty tipples I've had (and hated), there was no heavy dose of sugar overpowering the rum in this one. Ole Ole's bartender also used just the right amount of lime to bring in a nice citrus balance. I'm pretty sure the mint sprigs weren't slapped because their flavors weren't as detectable as they should've been, but that's a kink I can deal with.

As for the guacamole, my friend and I were both a little miffed about the low $6 cost, but our server assured us that it was all fresh and made-to-order. And then he asked whether we wanted it mild, medium or hot. Taking my companion's spice-sensitive palate into account, we opted for mild. Our server must've noted my dismay because he brought out a little ramekin of chopped jalepenos alongside the heaping square-shaped plate of guacamole.

A stark contrast to the reasonably sized mojito, Ole Ole's guacamole appetizer could've easily satisfied a table of four. But our mouths were too full to complain. The man was right, everything was fresh and prepared exactly as promised. Even the fried tortilla chips were packed with flavor. We've already made plans to head back soon, if only for the guacamole.

9 PM: Bar on Buena
I've been to the Bar on Buena several times. Initially it was the sweet potato fries and dirty martinis that warranted repeat visits and I wasn't ready to break away from the latter. So no report on mojitos at this place, but let me tell you about my martini. I ordered it with Bombay Sapphire and it arrived with no olives or garnish of any sort. One sip and surprise, it wasn't even dirty. Fortunately, when it comes to doin' it dirty or straight-up, I happen to swing both ways.

After a few quick sips, our guacamole arrived in a small, chilled white bowl with a separate basket of nearly-stale chips. The stuff tasted like it had been sitting in a cooler all day and, to make it worse, there was no trace of seasoning. Thankfully I was still full from Ole Ole's version.

I'm not writing off Bar on Buena just yet. I've had too many good experiences at this place to let one off-night knock it from my list of favorite neighborhood pubs. Also, the place is known for its burgers, beers and spirits-- but still, the bartenders here should be able to replicate those perfect martinis they've been known to shake up in the past.