Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Chicago Part 3a: mk

I can't write much now because I am so late for work. I already missed my 1st train and now I am squeezing this in before I catch the next one. I will embellish with words later.

These are from a great restaurant in Chicago called mk. The food was better then my camera work - still haven't mastered the lowlight shot in a restaurant.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Chicago Part 2: Gibsons

How can you go to a Chicago and not eat steak?

The answer was obvious to us: you don't!

As mentioned in the previous post, we research all dining options before a vacation. Our search for steakhouses turned out to be a tough one. We have a pretty strict criteria with steak houses and also we are tough critics coming from New York, where steakhouses are around just about every corner.

There was no clear consensus on the Internet. So we had to go with what seemed to have the most characteristics of the the kind of place we like best: old school, big cocktails, not much on the menu but steak, the place where captains of industry have a regular table and have three martini lunches with cigars.

Gibson's was the front runner in these categories.

Our waiter made me a little angry at the start of the meal. First, when I said I was deciding what to get to drink - he said, "I'll get you a cosmo - you'll like that."

Yes, I am a girl. Yes, I did get gussied up. But still, I don't like when people assume I like girlie things - or order for me. It is a bit of the feminist in me.

I smiled nicely and said, actually I will have an Old Fashioned with Maker's Mark. I wanted to say, bring me a double whisky neat - just to really throw him off. But I wanted to remember the meal, plus I don't really like whisky without ice and some cherries, but that is besides the point. So here was my Old Fashioned which was delicious.

The menu was real steakhouse fare. The requisite cuts of meat, the one fish dish, the creamed spinach, you get the point. The waiters also bring over a platter of steaks and a lobster tail (enormous) to give you an idea of the different cuts.

This bothered me a little. I guess because it seemed unnecessary and a little gimmicky. But whatever.

So the next thing our waiter did that made me angry was not even ask me what I wanted but say, "I know you are having the filet mignon" and then go to the husband for his order. Grrrr.

Now, there is nothing wrong with a filet, but it isn't my go to choice in a steak house. At a french restaurant with a red wine cream sauce, yes. But not at a place where the beef is on its own. I hated that he assumed I wanted the filet and even more, I hate the way he ordered it for me. Poor Elvis (that was his name) he didn't mean any harm - I spared him this rant. Instead, I smiled and I politely said I would rather have the bone in rib eye, medium rare.

The steaks came with a salad which was drowning in blue cheese. This was fine, but I didn't want to eat too much and ruin my appetite. Oh and the bread in the background was great. Wine was also very good, not spectacular, but very good. Elvis recommended something very reasonable (can't remember what it was, sorry). It was definitely a cabernet, but that is all I can recall.

We also ordered creamed spinach which was as good as any I've had. And we got a potato that looked like it ate another potato. It was huge and restuffed. Not something I would typically order, but it came highly recommended and it didn't disappoint.

The steak itself was perfectly cooked and immensely flavorful. The best part was the char on the outside of the steak. I didn't need to add any salt or pepper, which is rare for me at a SH. Even if everything else had been terrible, the steak alone was good enough to deem this meal a success. I apologize for the carcass picture, but you love it, don't you?

Here is the dessert menu. We laughed at the thought of it - and then covered our eyes in horror when we saw what people were receiving when they ordered a "piece" of carrot cake. It was about 1/2 of a total cake, I am not exaggerating. Fun at first I am sure, and then a little ridiculous.

Elvis won me over by the end and he and I were fast friends. The place had real charm, everybody was well fed and taken care of, and I would definitely recommend Gibson's if you are looking for a good old-fashioned steak house. It was worth every "overpriced in a steakhouse kind of way" penny.

That said, it didn't come close to Lugers....but I'm not sure anything will.

P.S. We also ordered a crab salad with avocado. Fine, but totally forgettable.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Chicago Part 1: Bongo Room

There are many reasons to love Chicago. At no point before this most recent visit did I think breakfast would rank high among them.

We arrived early on Saturday morning, 8am. We had been up for 4 hours so it was essentially lunch time - a real, full meal was necessary.

A little googling before we left told us that there was a highly recommended breakfast place right by our hotel. And yes, we google, chowhound, citysearch, and blogsearch every meal before we go on vacation. Sometimes I worry that it can take the spontaneity out of a trip - but when it works, there are no regrets.

The Bongo Room was such a hit, the Husband and I both went back for our last meals before our respective flights home.

The pancakes were said to be THE thing to order. This is a good time to tell you all, that apparently, I am much smarter in Chicago. There are some cities where I turn into an idiot, I can't order well, I can't find my way around, there is just something off. But in Chicago, I was on my game - and this meal was just the beginning, more on this tomorrow.

So back to the pancakes, there were ridiculous choices to be had with chocolate sauces, and fresh berries, and vanilla creams. It was hard to choose. But our research beforehand served us well.

Though not on the menu, we were tipped off that you could order a single pancake instead of the full order, a good way to sample more then one and balance the meal off with something from the salty side of the menu.

Here was our order:

Eggs Benedict with spinach pesto, fresh spinach, and thick cut smoked bacon.

One crushed oreo cookie flapjack with warm vanilla bean cream sauce. Topped with chocolate creme anglaise.

One blueberry pancake with vanilla creme anglaise and blueberry coulis.

Really, only pictures can do this meal justice.

The spinach made this seem somewhat healthy....

They brought us a full order of the oreo-banana pancakes by accident. Yes, we felt ridiculous with all this food - my well laid plan of one pancake foiled. But it did make for a better picture and sadly we ate more then one of the pancakes.

Yes, they were as rich and silly as they looked. It was like 12 year olds created the menu...really smart 12 year olds.

On my last visit, I ordered a single oreo banana pancake - my justification for returning (other then the obvious deliciousness reason) was that as soon as I got back to NY I would eat healthier.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Coming Soon

I happened to be in Chicago the past week and have just returned a little tired and a little fatter. I ate the crap out of that city and can't wait to tell you about it.

The thing is, I had these lofty goals to blog on the road and even brought my camera and a laptop. But wouldn't you know that I forgot to bring the connector thingy.

I tried to shove and smoosh the camera into the computer, I even tried my best negotiating skills, but the pictures just wouldn't cooperate and held fort firmly in the camera.

This weekend though, is the first weekend in over a month that I am not working or away so the blogfest will begin. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Yankee Game

Just got back from the Boogie Down Bronx, thanks SIL for the tix!

Yankees win - good.

Stomach after bag of Cracker Jacks - bad.

I haven't had a bag of CJ in probably 25 years. I have no idea what persuaded me tonight. Just read the back of the bag, have eaten 7 servings. Go me.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Something Healthy

Here is a peek into the 4pm conversation that happens with the Husband just about every afternoon.

Husband: "What should we do for dinner?" "Do you feel like cooking?"

Me: "I guess so - what do you feel like eating?"

Husband: "I don't know, what do you feel like?"

Me: "I don't know, just pick something"

Husband: "Fine, something healthy"

Me: "Hmmm, I'll pick something up on my way home"

(There are usually a few more "I don't know, what do you feel like" thrown in there - but I didn't want to bore you.)

Cue about 30 minutes of internet research for something more interesting then a boring salad or steamed vegetables and then off to the market.

By the way, why is it so much easier, more interesting, and usually tastier, to cook unhealthy dinners. Loading something with cheese or butter for example is just better don't you think? Does anyone really like a salad more then say french fries? I know people prefer healthy sometimes and yes, it can be refreshing and taste good. But, when pressed, and I mean "lie detector tested" pressed, can people actually say they enjoy healthy food more then unhealthy food?

But I digress...back to "Something Healthy"

So last week was no different but this was one of my more favorite healthy nights - and puts a check in the healthy food is better column (still a pretty lonely check mind you).

I had about 1/3 of a box of orzo that had been taking up highly prized real estate in my cupboard. Eviction was around the corner when the next food delivery came, so it was go time. I found a recipe and adapted slightly.

To the cooked orzo (about 1 cup or so dry maybe) I added a package of halved cherry tomatoes, about 1/4 cup chopped parsley, 1/4 cup chopped green onions, minced lemon peel, and one seeded and chopped cucumber.

The dressing was a touch of white wine vinegar, olive oil, 1 minced garlic clove, the juice from one lemon (and then some) and about 1 tbsp of lemon zest. Salt and pepper of course to taste.

The result was a fresh tasting, zesty summer salad. A definite repeat. And it made enough for a small army or lots of good lunches for the rest of the week.

Fish is almost a prerequisite for "healthy nights" and because of its relative cheapness, tilapia is a regular presence on our table. I've had this fancy hazelnut oil (J. LeBlanc) that we bought in Paris and I am always looking for new uses so Hazelnut Tilapia was born.

Super easy. I made a tin foil boat for each piece of fish and placed them on a cookie sheet. I sprinkled both with a bit of the oil, salted and peppered both sides, sqeezed some lemon juice on both and topped with chopped hazelnuts that I happened to have left over from a cake I made the night before (will post about that soon - husband has deemed it the best cake I have ever made). I closed the top of each tin foil boat to make a little packet. Popped the pan in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes and voila!

Not bad if I do say so myself.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Restaurant Review: Bianca

The husband and I went for one of those perfect New York meals. The kind that you can only get in this city. It isn't just about the food - it is that feeling that you are in an amazing place, and everyone else in the room feels it too. The energy isn't really quantifiable or tangible - it's just there. It has something to do with the lighting, the people you pass on the way in, the weather, the noise, but again I couldn't really describe what makes it great.

So I will stick with describing the food. The said meal took place at Bianca, an Italian restaurant specializing in delicacies from Emiglia-Romagna. (Blogger doesn't work well with macs so no link function - here is a link to menupages -

5 Bleecker St, New York, 10012

We had to wait for about 20 minutes for a table - time easily passed at the bar next door, Von. The host (owner?) George was pretty amazing. You don't usually see someone that attentive at these little places. We don't like waiting for tables as a rule, but George could probably have made us wait for more then an hour and we still would have been smiling when we were seated.

We started the meal with gnocco fritto, fried puffs of dough served with a cheese that appeared to be a type of mascarpone. The husband indulged me by ordering these - he isn't often up for fried foods - but they were pretty fantastic. The dough was light and the cheese was just tangy enough.

We also split a salad of shredded artichokes dressed in a lemon vinaigrette and topped with slivers of Parmigianno Reggiano. Any guilt from the previous appetizer was wiped clean with the fresh, clean, flavors of this salad. I've never had artichokes quite like this, they were crispy - even crunchy - and I loved the way the dish didn't taste quite finished unless eaten with the sharp parm.

On to entrees, I had the lasagna with a bechamel and meat sauce. Rich doesn't quite describe this dish. I am pretty sure the pasta was fresh, it was those super thin sheets that mush into one another when you cut it with a fork. No slippery lasagna sheets that spread apart when you try to eat it. The sauce was tomatoey and meaty and cheesy all at once. I ate the second half of it yesterday for lunch and it was almost as good as the first time around.

The husband had pasta with broccoli rabe, sausage, and olive oil. No bitterness in the broccoli rabe. The pasta was perfectly al dente and the sauce was light but packed with flavor. This was one of their specials that night.

Finally, for dessert we shared the tiramisu. I usually order a tiramisu at every new Italian restaurant I try - it is sort of a litmus test for me. There are so many Italian restaurants that are great, I feel like I need something by which to rate them. Well, Bianca gets high marks here. It was sort of a deconstructed tiramisu. There was a big layer of whipped topping, then a layer of what seemed to be espresso powder and chocolate chunks, and on the bottom - the coffee soaked ladyfingers. Not watery at all and the proportions of each ingredient were just right.

Add a bottle of red wine to the mix, a warm night, and that indescribable New York thing and it reminds me why I live here.