Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dollar Sushi at Pad Thai

Dollar. Sushi. What's that? Sushi can't possibly be a dollar. And who would pay for dollar sushi? Doesn't that imply some kind of "Everything Must Go" sale on old ingredients?

I'm here to tell you that yes, Virginia, there is a dollar sushi night every Sunday and Tuesday. You may know the restaurant. It used to be called Delight Thai Cafe, then they closed for a while and re-opened as Mai Thai. And now, it seems that they've just gone with calling themselves "Pad Thai." It's a fitting name, since they had a reputation for really good Pad Thai. We stuck to sushi, so I don't know if it's still as good as it used to be.

The dollar deal is on nigiri sushi only, which are a large, single piece of fish (or eel or whatever) draped on top of a mound of rice. No fancy sauce, no wasabi mayonnaise, just the real deal. Full sushi rolls are still regularly priced, but supplementing our selection of three rolls with four pieces of nigiri for only a buck each was pretty nice.

The sushi roll call: Philly roll on the left, eel to the front and right, then a "salmon tempura" roll in the back. The roll contained asparagus, crab, maybe even avocado, and salmon of course. The outside was coated lightly with tempura batter and deep-fried, cooking the salmon just slightly and giving the whole thing a satisfying crunch. It was the least traditional roll, but probably our favorite.

The Philadelphia roll was fine, just about the same as anywhere else except that it was pretty light on fish and heavy on cream cheese. The eel roll was completely bland. Our nigiri tasted just like it should - not too fishy, pretty firm. The white fish was a little sweet and buttery. Kaitlin enjoyed the Tamago and Eel.

The best part? They seem to have done away with a once-full bar and now invite customers to BYOB. We brought a bottle of Riesling and the staff happily supplied us with a corkscrew, glasses, and an ice-filled wine cooler at no extra charge.

The verdict? Don't drive all the way to Montgomery just for dollar sushi night. And if you're serious about cheap sushi, the little place up the road called Kyoto is really hard to beat for a good deal. But if you're in the neighborhood and you're looking for something to shake up your usual sushi routine, give Pad Thai a try.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

MoMA or Momo?

My business trips to New York are a mad dash to fit in as much stuff around the business as possible. When I started seeing all the press for the Tim Burton retrospective at the MoMA, I put it on the top of my "to do when not doing business" list for my next trip to the big apple.

Most of my free time fell on a Tuesday. The MoMA, as a general rule, is closed each and every Tuesday of the year. I had a little time on Wedensday, and then a little time turned into half an hour, and I was all the way down on Union Square and Tim Burton was scratched off the list.

Conveniently, I had planned ahead for such an event. I'd noted the location of Momofuku Milk Bar, a place I knew almost nothing about, except that "Momofuku" is some kind of shorthand for good food.

When at a milk bar, order milk. They sell soft serve in a variety of non-traditional flavors including "cereal milk" and the one I settled on, "salted caramel pistachio." For upwards of three dollars, I was handed a tiny dixie cup full of greenish, brownish ice cream and a wooden spoon. How New York.

But oh, how good. It was soft serve, but it was rich and so salty on the tongue. The pistachio and the caramel had a kind of peanut butter taste, except this was a peanut butter I would eat right out of the jar. I walked the long blocks back to my hotel, not bothered by honking taxis or by the vast puddles that a morning of rain left behind. Even in a city as alien and wonderful as New York, good ice cream brings me right back home.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

At Lavomatic with CityBeat's Best of Cincinnati Card

I've been meaning to get to Lavomatic Cafe since, oh, I don't know, a year and a half ago when everyone else went. Thankfully, it's still rocking the Gateway quarter of OTR in late 2009. Alex and I made the trip down Central Parkway for a Friday night dinner.

I took the opportunity to put the CityBeat 'Best of Cincinnati' card to work. It's a program that offers members a 40% discount at a slew of local restaurants. There's a $25 fee to get your own card started, but once you've got one you'll add money to it like a gift card. The 40% discount comes out when you load the card with money. Take a look at all the rules here.

Full disclosure for you, me and the FTC: CityBeat gave me a card with $50 so that I could give it a try. They're offering the card now at a $25 discount (so, for free basically) if you use promo code boc4free when you sign up for one.

Like the great adorkandhispork once said, I don't like calling what I do reviewing a restaurant. There are plenty of people in Cincinnati who do that, and they do it very well. I'll just tell you about my experience and let you decide whether you want to take your dining dollars to Lavo or not.

The dining room is elongated like a train car and stacked with a bar on the first floor and more seating upstairs. The kitchen is partly visible from the doorway, like an invitation to hurry up and get something to eat. We started off with the tater tots: your standard tot, but with bacon, truffle, and a tomato-based puree. Delicious, sort of greasy, and pretty filling.

We moved on to more re-purposed diner favorites. Alex got the meatloaf cupcake and I ordered the grilled cheese. He cleaned his plate if that tells you anything about the quality of the meatloaf cupcake. My grilled cheese came alongside a bowl of thick tomato soup with a generous sprinkling of basil and garlic. Simple and very good.

Our server was fairly attentive, though the wait times for an appetizer plate to be cleared and a glass of wine to arrive were longer than we would have preferred. Full credit to our waiter, though, who had to make mini cardio workout trips up and down the staircase to deliver food and drinks from the first floor.

Take a look at the restaurant list if you're interested in the card. It's not a bad option for a holiday gift, especially if you get in on the $25 off promotion. If one of their partner restaurants is on your usual dining out hit list, then it would be a better value for you.

A couple of facts:

  • There are no limits on what you can order
  • Tip isn't included
  • Can NOT be used on Valentine's Day, Mother's Day or New Year's Eve
No explanation necessary, Lavo rang up our dinner on the CityBeat card without a problem. My card with $50 would have cost me $30 (if we ignore the initial fee). Our dinner with beverages, an appetizer and dessert included came up just over $50. Essentially, we got a $50 meal for $30 (though we still tipped our waiter on that $50). In my book, that's a pretty nice deal.

As for Lavomatic, I couldn't be happier that I finally made it. Though you could easily spend more than $50 on dinner for two there, the options are flexible with many less expensive plates to share over a cocktail or glass of wine. Next time I'm in the Gateway Quarter shopping for a set of trendy kitchen towels, count me in for another meal at Lavomatic.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tuesday Tarragon Cream Sauce

I asked myself what to make for dinner on the eve of Thanksgiving eve, and somewhere within my deep unconscious self a voice answered,

"Tarragon Cream Sauce."

I've never made a tarragon cream sauce. I'm not even sure I've had one in a restaurant. I Googled it. A recipe from Real Simple came up, promising to deliver a creamy tarragon sauce fit for a vegetable, chicken or fish dinner in three simple steps. And the first ingredient is a half bottle of wine. Sold.

Chopped onions, tarragon sprigs and said wine went into a pan, up to a boil, and back down to a simmer for 20 minutes. The smell of boiling wine is new to me - not many tarragon cream sauces get made in our kitchen. Something about the wine and herbs bubbling on the stove gave me that reassured feeling of "Yes! I'm cooking! Nothing has gone wrong!"

Step two calls for a cup of heavy cream and more simmering. I like the very hands-off pacing of the recipe. It gave me plenty of time to devote some attention to a block of brie cheese and more of the wine. As the sauce thickened a bit, I put a garden-variety piece of Atlantic salmon on the stove.

Once the sauce was done, I added the rest of the tarragon and some salt. Voila. I brought the sauce and the fish together to get acquainted. They got along fabulously.

On its own, the sauce is slightly bitter (all those onions, all that wine) but finishes creamy-sweet. Coupled with the salmon, it was a really good, really simple Tuesday night meal. And an excellent excuse to pick up a bottle of wine.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Carbohydrate High

I've decided to start preparing for the Boston Marathon. Not for any personal goals or to achieve some sense of self-fulfillment. I'm going to run a marathon out of necessity, because I've been eating enough carbohydrate-packed foods to power a whole team of distance runners. It started with waffles at Findlay Market. Those waffles. Smothered in berries and whipped cream.

Findlay Market played host to a tweetup that same day, and the friendly people of Daisy Mae sent each attendee home with a free vegetable of our choosing. Alex and I each asked for a sweet potato. What we got was a bulging grocery bag full of them.

I hauled them back home, promising that I'd transform them into something delicious to accompany the pasta dinner we'd planned for Wedensday. Days ticked by and I still wasn't sure what to do with them. First I settled on pie, then casserole. And then, remembering a visit to the Sugar Cupcakery, I broke out the muffin tin and whipped up a starchy, orange-tinted cake batter.

The recipe was snatched from Coconut & Lime which, despite a couple of typos, yielded some nice results. Plus, their photos looked insanely good.

So what's the secret of a great pasta dinner? Let someone else do all the hard work, (in this case, Bouchard's Anything's Pastable at FM) like making the noodles and sauce. We just heated everything up, threw in a vegetable and called it macaroni. Well, spaghetti with alfredo sauce, actually.

Bouchard's put together a tasty pasta dinner. A mix of whole grain and white noodles was a surprisingly nice combo. And my mother would be so proud to see me willfully eating peas. Amazingly, we still had room for dessert.

Full Disclosure: I used canned frosting. Yes, canned. I live in a teeny apartment and have no mixer and no willpower to make frosting by hand.

Does all this carb loading add up to too much of a good nutrient? I don't think so. Let me just go get my running shoes...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Confessions of a Fall-aholic

My name is Allison, and I’m a fall-aholic.

Hi, Allison.

It started with lattes. The day that Starbucks brought the pumpkin spice latte back, I was traveling. I landed at La Guardia, knew I had precious little time to waste getting to my next gate, so I bolted for the nearest Starbucks kiosk. I threw people out of my way. I pushed old ladies with walkers aside. I kicked puppies. I couldn’t be slowed down until I had a hot, sugary pumpkin latte in my hands.

I quickly moved on to other forms of pumpkin - pumpkin beer, pumpkin ravioli. Pumpkin loaf, pumpkin scones, pumpkin soup. I thought I could give it up any time I wanted. It’s just pumpkin, I told myself. It’s a vegetable. I’m not hurting anyone by gorging on squash.

Soon, it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t getting the same rush from my bowl of three squash soup and a cold Dogfish Punkin Ale. So I did what any junkie would do and went right to the source – real, unadulterated pumpkins.

I found Alton Brown’s recipe for pumpkin bread, and it started to sound like a challenge. I can do this, I thought. Forget canned pumpkin, that’s for wimps and soccer moms. I took a knife and a grater to the flesh of a modest pie pumpkin from Kroger.

An hour later, with pumpkin seeds scattered over the table and the floor, my kitchen looked like the scene of a grizzly pumpkin massacre. And what did I have to show for it? A sack full of discarded pumpkin bits and three cups of the shredded good stuff.

A quick toast on a cup of seeds and I was ready to start assembling the dough. As a proud graduate of the Alton Brown School of Not Over-Mixing Your Dough, I was able to manage a loaf pan full of gooey, pumpkiny goodness. Into our finicky gas oven for an hour and fifteen minutes.

The smell of cinnamon wafted from the kitchen, a constant reminder each time I inhaled that there was something delicious in the oven that I couldn’t have yet. Even when the loaf was baked, and a paring knife inserted in the center came out clean, I still couldn’t have a slice of pumpkin bread. Alton insists that it must be cooled all the way – something important happens to the starches, I don’t know.

Wait I did, and when it was finally time to slice into the from-raw-pumpkins pumpkin loaf, it became clear to me what I would do next.

Eat it with Pumpkin Cream Cheese.

Behold the double-pumpkin overload.

If you too are a pumpkin junkie, you can take a look at the recipe here. There’s a nice video too in which, through the magic of television production, AB grates no actual pumpkins. But if you’re foolish like me and you have an afternoon to kill, it’s one hell of a pumpkin fix.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Cupcakes, Candy, and the CAC

I spent Monday night, the Monday when fall descended on us in a blustery mess, at the Contemporary Art Center checking out two new exhibits. This week the CAC opens a show by Marilyn Minter, photographer, painter, and all-around glam personality.

Walk upstairs to the second floor anytime during her show and you'll be greeted by a massive projected video of a model licking up various colored foodstuffs from a pane of glass. It's set to a moody soundtrack and sends you on your way wandering the rest of the exhibit kind of thinking about eating. That's what I did, anyway.

The colors across the floor reflected from Marilyn's photographs and paintings are sumptuous - candy pinks and jello greens. It's not just pretty though, it's all a little bit sticky and grimy. It's high fashion meets sugar, and the whole thing left me with a pretty serious pastry craving.

Luckily, a few days later Polly Campbell posted a veritable roadmap to the Cincy cupcake scene and I planned a trip to Milford to visit the Sugar Cupcakery.

The bakery case at the Sugar Cupcakery doesn’t squander any space to lesser items like cookies or doughnuts. It’s just cupcakes, in a variety of flavors, regular or mini sized. I quickly reverted to the mindset of a seven-year-old girl. It was the same rush I felt when I went to college and realized I could buy any cereal I wanted. By “any cereal,” I mean, of course, Lucky Charms.

And take into account the mini cupcake – by choosing the smaller cupcake, I suddenly have the latitude to order upwards of three pastries at once and consume them one by one. I threw in a mug of coffee to add as much fuel to the oncoming sugar rush as possible.

The service is beautiful, well thought-out and just plain delightful. As for the cupcakes, they’re pretty good too. Not too sugary, ironically, are the cupcakes at the Sugar Cupcakery. The carrot cake was buttery, and the chocolate chai was addictive. It packs a rich chocolate punch underneath creamy, slightly spiced icing.

It was just a little bit decadent and totally satisfying. There are a baker’s dozen cupcake shops in town, and if you find yourself craving something sweet after a visit to the CAC, I have good news – a cupcake isn’t far away.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Michael Pollan Lecture at Xavier: Better than Donuts

It's confusing and treacherous territory at the grocery store. Michael Pollan's books and articles have attempted to offer us some guidance in a time of general nutritional chaos, and on Sunday, he offered more advice in a lecture at Xavier's Cintas Center, clocking in just under an hour.

Armed with a Kroger bag of groceries in each hand as he took the stage in a pair of striped sneakers, he laid down some of the same themes he'd explored in his books. The demonizing of certain nutrients while we sanctify others, the link between our healthcare crisis and our diet crisis, and the pitfalls of nutritional science in its current form.

And then he touched on the really scary stuff, like the powerful viruses coming from cattle and hog breeding facilities. And the fact that Froot Loops cereal receives a "check" as a "Smart Choice" food because, as Pollan quotes an unnamed nutritionist, "it's better than donuts."

His lecture reaffirmed my admittedly already solid belief in the guy. He's on our side - the side of the supermarket shopper, the consumer, the eater. His passion is evident, his concern genuine, and his arguments are sound. In the confusion of the supermarket, we need some guidance. And if Michael Pollan is going to help us out, well that's a hell of a lot better than donuts.

Anyone else make it to the lecture? What were your thoughts?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

West Coast Coffee in an East Coast City

I've complained often, in a very nasal-y high-pitched voice, that I don't get to eat well when I'm in New York for business. I visit one of the greatest dining cities in our country and somehow end up with only enough time for an "Old Timer" (that's "hamburger" to those of us who speak plain English) at Chili's in La Guardia's claustrophobic Delta terminal.

My most recent trip started no differently. Stranded outside of my hotel until check-in at three, I set up a make-shift office at a Starbucks on West 31st. I picked up a New York Times, because when else would it be more appropriate to read the New York Times?

It was the Chili's syndrome again. I found myself reading a rave review of Stumptown Coffee Roasters, a recently opened outlet of a Portland-based chain just a few blocks away, while I was sitting in a Starbucks.

I resolved to put a stop to that nonsense. The next day, I marched myself right past Starbucks and found the Ace Hotel that houses Stumptown after circling the block once.

The baristas are outfitted in newsies hats, tattooed and pierced and pouring frothed milk into little wiggly leaf patterns.

Not surprisingly, the NY Times was right on the mark. A plain, no-frills latte from Stumptown was hands-down the best coffee drink I've ever had. Maybe I don't have enough street cred to say that, being a kid from the Midwest who's never set foot in a west coast coffee house. Maybe it's really just an average latte, and it only shines in comparison to the sub-par, over-roasted espresso I've been drinking all my life.

I find that hard to believe. It was just so damn good. A beautifully pitched balance between slightly sweet espresso and perfect frothed milk. Well worth seeking out if you're in Manhattan or Portland. I guarantee you won't find one at La Guardia.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Kroger Mint Butter: A Brief Review

I've already discussed how much I love free samples. I have very low standards of what I'll eat for free. If it's speared on a toothpick and doesn't appear to be rotting, I'll take one, thank you. Potato chips, day-old hummus, stale sugar cookies, even sushi (doesn't that sound like a recipe for a night in the bathroom?) - I'm pretty much a sample pro at this point.

Dear friends, I'm here to tell you that I may have just encountered the strangest sample of them all, and it was at the sample mecca of greater Cincinnati: Anderson Kroger. It was on my afternoon dinner grocery run that I found myself balancing a cracker in one hand and my camera in the other, face to face with a blob of toothpaste-green goo. Mint butter.

It's not the concept of mint butter I find strange. I'm a big fan of stuff in butter. Ever since I tried a lavender/honey butter at a swank restaurant, I've been singing the praises of stuff in butter. But at Kroger? On a cracker? As a sample?

Yes, please.

There's no trace of actual mint in the butter, as best I could tell. Just an eerie green color that beckoned me away from the hummus sample on the other side of the deli.

Kroger's version of mint butter, priced reasonably at $8.99 "wit' card," is overwhelmingly sweet. And then it's a little minty. Like maybe I'd brushed my teeth an hour ago and just gotten a whiff of spearmint from lingering bits of Crest Whitening with Scope.

With my first bite, I'd tried to make the sample a two-bite ordeal, but the cracker couldn't handle the pressure and exploded all over my shirt. So then I was not only sampling green butter, I was wearing it. Perfect.

I wiped off the crumbs, got my groceries and went on my way, changed.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Thanks a Latte, Brutopia

Let's face it, the heat is coming and it's here to stay for a while. After I haul my cookies up the street to Brutopia, one of my favorite local coffee shops, I'm not in the mood for a steamy cappuccino. It's iced latte season, and I'm going to tell you something shocking: a good iced latte is made with warm milk.

I know. It seems contradictory, but so is an iced latte when you get right down to it. Here's my scientific-ish explanation. Milk tastes sweeter when it's been heated and frothed. Frothed milk = more delicious. Therefore, an iced latte with frothy milk is more delicious than an iced latte with milk straight out of the refrigerator.

Brutopia, a bright, quirky coffee shop on Ludlow in Clifton, offers up a delicious iced latte. It comes in one size. A shot of your favorite flavored syrup, if you like, goes in first. Then frothed milk over ice. Finally, espresso is drizzled through a cloud-like layer of milk.

I spent the better part of three summers making mediocre iced lattes for a couple of different coffee shops. Brutopia does it right. They do a lot of things right, and I'm taking my good time getting around to trying it all.

The baristas are awesome, but know that with only one person minding the store at a time, they get backed up with drink and food orders pretty easily. When a really good iced latte is on the line though, I'll wait.

Brutopia Coffee on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Breakfast Times are the Best Times

I take breakfast very seriously. In fact, I was re-assessing my life the other day when I was trimming my nails, and I realized that breakfast is probably one of my top five life priorities.

When I get up, I need breakfast. It's that simple. This sometimes becomes a problem when I don't wake up in my own apartment. No matter where I am, though, it's the first thing I want in the morning. Staying at a friend's place? I want breakfast. Trapped in a cave? I want breakfast. If I have to go outside, catch it and kill it myself, I will. Usually, this just means finding the nearest Starbucks, which is always pretty easy, like finding the north star.

I like to keep weekday breakfasts simple. My breakfast ground rules are:
  • It must be un-complicated and easy to assemble
  • It must be tasty
  • It must have coffee
Here's a classic recipe I defer to most mornings:

1 piece multigrain toast, blackened
1-ish TBSP Peanut Butter, creamy
1/2 sliced banana

Spread peanut butter on toast. Lay banana slices on top in a checkerboard pattern to ensure that each bite will maintain the proper ratio of sweet/peanut butter/crunchiness. If you're feeling extra dangerous, drizzle a little honey on top.

In fact, there are endless ways to embellish this dish. Whipped cream and nuts? I don't see why not. Sliced strawberries and powdered sugar? Might be kind of weird, but what the hell.

What is your un-complicated, tasty breakfast recipe?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Some Decent Dining Deals

These are probably well-known by now, but here's the rundown on a few of my favorite dining deals across town:

$1 Burger Night: Bar Louie in Newport
They mean what they say, the burger really is a dollar. It's not very flavorful, and it comes with a thimble-ful of shredded iceberg lettuce on a food service bun, but you can load it up pretty cheaply with good toppings. See also: Blue cheese, bacon and mushrooms. Or pepper jack and guacamole. Most toppings are $.50, so you won't blow your budget pimping out your burger. Draft beer is $2.00 a pint too, so the $3.49 you spend on a basket of fries makes it the most expensive item at the table.

Servers are jumping to keep up with the rush of hungry dollar diners, and we waited about fifteen minutes last night for a table at prime time. It's hard to be impatient though when there's a dollar burger waiting for you.

Half Price Sushi: Dancing Wasabi in Mout Lookout
All day Wednesday and Thursday are half-price sushi days at Dancing Wasabi, one of my favorite sushi spots in the city. And if you're wrapping up a night of drinking at one of Mount Lookout's finer establishments, stop by DW for the same sushi savings on Friday and Saturday night from 10:00 pm into the early morning hours.

The wait for a table on half price night is usually long, and since the restaurant isn't much bigger than a dining car, you'll be out on the sidewalk waiting for your party to be seated. Go on a nice night, grab something from the bar and leer at the diners seated at the outdoor tables.

Awesome Daily Happy Hour: Palamino Downtown
This is definitely not news, but I think $5 pizzas and $3 mojitos are worth a big shout-out. Plenty of appetizers are half price, too. Happy hour prices apply in the lounge, 4-7pm. Get there early and get happy.

What's your favorite dining deal?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Foreign Exchange and the Return of the Lunch Box

Remember this? It's plastic. There's a thermos inside with a little cup that comes off the top. It's decked out in Little Mermaid or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles artwork, depending on your preference. The lunch box. It had so much right.

Foreign Exchange in Anderson serves up something called a "lunch box" during that special time of day. It's $9.99 of goodness with a variety of options, but no substitutions, please. Choices include several combinations of sushi or spring rolls, salad or miso soup, and a noodle or rice dish.

My lunch box:

  • California Roll (with imitation crab meat, argh!)
  • Sashimi (chef's choice)
  • Salad with ginger dressing
  • Red Curry with Chicken, spicy level 5
This was nothing like the sandwich-in-ziploc lunchbox meals of my youth. Not even close. Spicy level five turned out to be right at the top of my spicy tolerance scale - burning, but still a good heat. The sushi was forgettable, sashimi was decent, and the salad was pretty tasty. Comparing it to the house salads at Kyoto and Wild Ginger, I'd put this one on top.

The curry was the scene-stealer in the cast. Aside from a few rogue pieces of chicken, it was mostly loaded with peppers and other veggies. Very spicy, very tasty. Then again, I rarely meet a curry that I don't like.

I can't give you a full review of Foreign Exchange. It has an extensive menu for non-lunch hours, with wordy and often perplexing descriptions, and the portion of the ceiling painted to look like the sky is tacky. I like a little bit of tacky here and there, and I definitely liked my lunch box.

Foreign Exchange on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Urban Spoon Slot Machine: Gamble for your Dinner

Here's a form of gambling I can support - the Urban Spoon slot machine. Those with iPhones (or envied friends with iPhones) may already be acquainted with this app. It's also available for those of us who are less cool at the Urban Spoon website, and now it's a nifty little widget! This is as advanced as my HTML skills get, folks:

Cincinnati restaurants on Urbanspoon

I get a kick out of this thing even when I'm not deciding where to go eat. Is that a sign that I need help? Probably. Oh well, I can quit when I want.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What I Ate at Taste in Pictures

I spent an hour or so at the Taste of Cincinnati on Monday with adorkandhispork, who helped me overcome my fear of the bus system. I won't waste any more time telling, I'll just start showing:

First priority was the Summer Ale, then the Mythos gyro. Both excellent.

Shanghai Mama's spring roll with mango - suprisingly good. Light, crisp, and sweet.

Curry from Arloi Dee. I passed on the wimpy-looking lettuce wraps. Curry was alright.

Feeling I was reaching my limit, I went for the big knockout - Bella Luna bread pudding. It took me down hard in a custardy, buttery coma for the rest of the afternoon.

Now that we're loaded up on beer and bread pudding, who's ready for a trip down the Fun Slide?

I wasn't. I spent some serious time on my couch in recovery after my afternoon of gluttony.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How I Ate in Chicago

It was obvious that we weren’t waiting for a city bus. We had luggage. We had scones in little brown bags. We looked unhurried. The conductor, who I’d wished would be wearing a little blue suit and cap, approached our cluster. He informed us that the bus would be late. Some rare, unforeseen calamity had occurred on I-71 and the bus was behind schedule.

I bolted for the nearest Starbucks and downed a muffin on the street corner while groups of travelers made chit-chat with each other. A man with huge, hulking shoulder bag informed anyone within earshot that he had a bicycle in his bag and would be biking to his destination when we reached Chicago.

The golden, morning sunshine evaporated into clouds when we crossed the Indiana border. Secretly, I blamed Indiana and not shifting weather fronts.

A few people left when we stopped in Indianapolis. More got on. I surrendered the second seat in my row to a guy who nearly fell asleep in my lap once we were underway. I gave up on the WiFi connection, which seemed strong enough for Facebook but too sketchy to try and do any work.

Imagine a girl running through the streets of downtown Chicago with a sleeping bag and rolling suitcase. Looks kind of funny, right? Now imagine it’s pouring rain and she has no umbrella or coat. That’s downright ridiculous. When the bus arrived at Union Station and my luggage was unceremoniously dumped on the sidewalk, I was that girl in the rain.

After a soaked, streetside reunion with my college roommate and a dash through town, we headed out for dinner at a Thai place called Jitlada, just around the corner from Jon's apartment.

Pad Thai sounded appealing. “They serve it with sugar on the side.” Jon had warned me. Sure enough, there was a little white pile of crystalline sugar hanging out next to the noodles. Being of the sweet-tooth-persuasion, this factor elevated the dish from merely good to how-fast-can-I-shovel-this-in-my-mouth good.

For dessert, our server brought each of us a chilled bowl with two lychees inside. I’ve decided to demand two cold lychee fruits after every meal, anywhere. I don’t want a chocolate mint, I’ll just take two lychees, please.

We did the thing that reunited college friends do when they get together – we drank all night. In a buzzing neighborhood with the rain finally gone, this is an excellent way to spend the evening. I recommend it.

…And breakfast arrives sooner than you’d like. We took a walk through Wrigleyville with a Cubs game in full swing, dodged red-faced fans and traffic, turned a few corners and came to the Pick Me Up Café. And that’s exactly what it did for us.

Black coffee. A mess of sautéed potatoes, peppers, tofu, and a good drenching with ketchup. It wasn’t elegant, but it was delicious. I expended all those calories doing these things:

  • Walking through the Lincoln Park Zoo (free!)
  • Shopping at H&M (not free)
  • Watching the fountain at Millenium Park (free!)

That kind of productivity will wipe a person out. Homemade nachos and puppy chow (Remember that stuff? Make some. Now.) rounded out my last night in Chicago.

And there I was, back on the street with my suitcase and sleeping bag, waiting again for a late bus. It arrived, stacked two layers high, which gave me a thrill. I raced for a seat on the top, imagining it would feel like flying once we got up to cruising speed on the highway. Turns out, it’s a lot like being on the bottom floor.

We did have time for a stop at McDonald’s, and as we pulled into the bus parking lot, I felt like a seven-year-old on a family car trip. I ate my filet o fish sandwich on the bus, stretching my legs over the empty seat next to me.

The Filet o Fish isn’t good. It barely qualifies as a sandwich, but there’s something about McDonald’s on a road trip that feels right. The light outside completely faded, we were back on the road and just an hour away from home.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Terry's Turf Club as a Religious Experience

I suggested, no I told my roommate, that we would be going to Terry’s Turf Club. She hadn’t been there yet! The horror! We picked a day. I put a colorful reminder note on the refrigerator.

It would be crowded, we knew this. There was no getting around it. Terry’s on a Thursday night around 8? Good luck. We were ready to wait. The line ahead of us was long, but the weather was mild so we stood on the porch with our beer.

When you step into Terry’s Turf Club, you put your faith in Terry. You have faith that you will get a table, that there will eventually be a burger order with your name on it. Faith, beer and a bowl of peanuts sustained us.

Roomie ordered a burger with blue cheese and portabello mushrooms. I went with the swiss, red wine sauce and grilled onions again. The burgers arrived in their paper-plate glory.

The first stage of the Terry burger is bliss. It’s euphoria. It’s I-can’t-believe-I’m-eating-this-burger. Patience and faith have been rewarded, and it is awesome. The second stage is quiet enjoyment, because bliss never lasts, and the third stage is burnout. There’s only so much delicious burger a single person can handle.

Well into the third stage, we were paying our bill and we noticed the room had turned its attention to the TV behind us. Turning to get a view, we saw Terry and the Turf Club on the local news. We clapped and cheered.

In case you missed the news coverage, Julie broke the news to us yesterday that Terry’s has been proclaimed the best burger in Ohio by the Food Network.

Like bearded guys with myrrh and frankincense, we traveled from afar to find the neon glow of Terry’s Turf Club. Okay, maybe not afar, but we took a 15 minute trip down Columbia Pike. We had faith in Terry’s, we waited a long time, and when our burgers arrived, our reward was great.

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