22. December 2009 17:13
The only way to improve on perfectly-cooked steak is more perfectly-cooked steak. Thus, the steak-tasting at Urban Farmer of Portland was an improvement on excellent.
Never before did oyster appetizers present me with problems. Until now. In retrospect, I felt that every oyster to have slimed down my throat took away room from a precious bite of steak. Twas sinful leaving behind as much steak as I had but there was simply no more room. For me, this is rare indeed but the “tasting” was not at all what I expected. Instead of tiny morsels littering gigantic plates the dish was simply 4 full portions of meat. None could have been smaller than 8 ounces. Just thinking about it now, I can feel the pressure on my cardiac sphincter (and if you must know, the other one too). I had not been this full since the Cool Hand Luke inspired eating contest but I just could not stop.
The steak tasting consists of Highland-Oak grass-fed, Brandt Prime and Strawberry Mountain 21-day dry-aged. The Wagyu is an optional $30 add-on to an already $60 entree but who cares? It was one of the best cuts of the elite cow I’ve ever had. Naturally, I devoured it first. The rest were excellent too but nothing compared to the perfectly marbleized Wagyu. Have done with the childish notion of saving the best for last. According to the law of diminishing marginal return, one should always eat the best first. Children don’t know this and for this reason you never see any working as economists. The sheer size of the dish was something straight out of Barton G in South Beach. I was fully expecting a giraffe to come marching through the spacious atrium but thankfully some cheeseballishness is reserved for Miami alone.
There was no room for dessert. Barely any for drinks. At dinner’s-end I sat comatose for fear that any sudden movement would fatigue my muscularis and blow all of my undigested steak, along with my submucosa through an orifice of its own making. I would wind up like the fat dude in Se7en whose sin was gluttony. This night, mine certainly was.
19. December 2009 21:11
If pigs could fly, Publican would probably catch them, rip out their wings and make a dish so tasty it would send the diner (with late hog) to porcine heaven.
Having encumbered Publican with my presence before, I thought I knew what to expect. Indeed, had it not been for the plethora of reviews calling brunch excellent I would not have even bothered. Dinner was just adequate and there are too few Sunday brunches in a year for plain adequacy. This, however, was nothing of the sort.
Forget what you may know of Blackbird portions. Forget about fancy schmancy. This is a place of pork and beer and love. Love because of those damned communal tables which I despise but everyone else seems to, well, love.
I had the grilled pork shoulder sandwich which was so big that upon first bite, the bread buckled with some contents crashing to the plate. Not to be defeated, I picked up the escaping swine and shoved it right back in the breach from whence it came then palmed the sandwich damning good manners to the pigsty. Nothing escaped again. Nor lasted long. Several partners-in dine had the scrapple with fried eggs which, although good, couldn’t hold a bacon-scented candle to my shoulder. But – what they could do is pierce their eggs and let the yolk seep through the sticky offal scraps like an embryonic reservoir whose placenta burst. I only wish they were pig eggs since this seems too erotic a way to mix the species.
Also worthy of mention are the sides of which we sampled three. The spicy pork rinds were less spicy than dreamy with the gentle taste of ungulate undulating through the airy folds of former flesh. The bacon must have been an inch and a half thick and tasted more like a pork belly than plain old Oscar Meyer crispy salt. The hash browns were – hash browns. A little too greasy for my taste but listen to me, drinking what must be a cup of swine-fat and acting all prejudicial against a greasy vegetable.
Anyway, put on your bacon underwear, stick your boar-bristle hairbrush in your back pocket, go to Publican, eat more than I did, bring your dog back some pig ears and tell the swine-haters to go flock themselves.
18. December 2009 17:14
The Elysian made no small plans and unquestionably stirred men’s souls. Balsan elevates hotel drinking to a new level of gourmet and if they perform with their food even a fraction as well then we salute them.
We arrived at 7PM for a few drinks and appetizers. We had no reservations and would have been happy anywhere there was room for 5. In the world of trendy hotel bars, such poor planning can be treated 2 ways: Like a club or like a hotel. The former method involves cavalier disdain or even denied entry (exhibit A: The Mondrian West Hollywood) or the latter (Sunset Tower WeHo) – two polar opposites of one another located in the same neighborhood, on the same strip and presumably competing for the same dollars. Case studies like the Mondrian are few in Chicago but not null (read: W Lakeshore) and if ever there was a hotel to capitalized on its hype and step into snooty shoes the Elysian was it. It didn’t.
The Elysian staff is there to help. Sometimes comically so. A small army of valets rushes your vehicle as you make the elaborate arc around the largest parking courtyard the city has ever seen. For $23/hour they could vacuum it too or something. There is someone waiting to intercept you at the door to help with directions. He/she is not overbearing if you seem to know where you’re going. At Balsan, the hosts sadly informed us that all the tables were, in fact, reserved (none were taken). But the bar was perhaps the better choice. Let us reserve full analysis until after the first full meal but the high-level overview is excellent.
The drinks are priced correctly for Rush Street and perhaps even underpriced. Why? Because they do love them so. I watched as each of the Night/Day Cocktails received 4-5 ingredients and an average 5 minutes of bartender attention. It was great but this certainly won’t scale. 5 more people at the bar would quickly overwhelm the bartenders. To reduce the demand price such drinks at $18 and not 12. The manager told me that they do not use mixers and even make their own tonic. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, I thought, don’t cheap out on the prep work after the first month. No one is gonna wait 10 minutes for a vodka-tonic.
Independent of my prophesies, what we had we loved. Stay tuned for the full review after we get a chance to eat here.
10. December 2009 16:59
Whenever a successful restaurant opens location 2, always cringe. For all you know, like Argentinean politicians, Tango Sur could be Nestor tagging-in Cristina’s Folklore. But they came through well enough.
We arrived at 7:15 for an 8PM reservation. Usually we only do a half hour advance but since this evening we picked up an additional couple and did not change the reserved total we figured 45 minutes would be courtesy enough. It was. The host, upon being told of our party’s growth, did not whine, roll his eyes, or gesture as though we had stuck him with a used syringe. All reactions typical of “too-cool-for-thou” restaurants. Instead he pleasantly said that we shall be seated promptly.
So off to the bar we went and ordered a bottle of wine thinking we’d be there a while. We weren’t. 10 minutes before our 8PM reservation time, the host informed us that it was time to close out. Now getting the bartender’s attention became difficult. Then it became comedy. The manager (or someone acting like one) approached me twice suggesting I close out. Time 2nd I told him that I was trying my best after which he closed me out himself and probably kept the tip.
Folklore’s menu is fairly authentic. Surprisingly so. Dishes like tongue and brain were not expected this far west on Division Street and for this reason had to be tried. The sweetbreads were amazing. On par with any I’ve had at MK. The tongue however, although pretty good, fell victim to Bucca syndrome by having so much garlic that breathing on others that evening would have been cruel. It was also served cold. With every bite I could not help but wonder how it would have tasted warm. I even tried to warm it in my mouth but got creeped-out by thoughts of French-kissing.
Had the main courses held up as well this review would have been perfect. But they didn’t. Does Argentina really like their steaks burnt? A great shame indeed. The waiter told me honestly that the only thing they could do rare would be the lamb chops. When you hear advice like this, do yourself a favor: take it and don’t argue. Rare or even medium-rare requires a top-notch cut of meat. Perhaps Argentina orders such cuts but then defaults on the invoices. You want to avoid any question of quality that can be blamed on tradition so be nice to the waiters and they will usually spare you the trouble. All told, the lamb-chops were still overcooked (very slightly) but still good. However, the steak shared by the party-joining couple was unacceptably well-done. To me.
It’s hard to take seriously people who claim to like sushi and then order California Rolls. I’m not sure if I should blame Folklore or Argentina entirely for claiming to like steak – and then burning it to death.
1. December 2009 14:25
Our biggest problem with North Vietnam probably wasn’t communism as much as what we consider our best friends they consider lunch. So before you take my advice, know that if Pho Viet served Chihuahua noodle soup, I’d definitely have a bowl.
Luckily, Argyle Street doesn’t serve the “mutton of the earth” as the Mandarins have called it since 500BCE. At least to white people. This spares the beast-lovers from having to travel north of Lincoln Park to protest on broken sidewalks and me from boasting loudly and grossing people out more than I already do. The pho they do serve merely exploits America’s favorite ruminant. And exploit it they do.
If Le Colonial is your only point of reference, the contents of pho around Argyle Street may surprise and/or disgust you. Personally, I have enjoyed too many hot dogs over my lifetime to care much about what I’m eating so long as it tastes good. And the reticulum chamber of the stomach with some hot sauce bites back at me like the snappiest of sausage casings. Submucosa is predictable that way. The tendons are usually so tender from extended cooking that the only muscle fibers they can hold together are made of noodles. I will warn you that they still have enough resistance to stretch down your throat if you eat a gob of them so either practice your gag suppression or pull them apart with chopsticks first. The brisket, flank and “rare” steak (that is never anything but well-done) are all good enough for a soup dish but definitely better in the company of Hoisin and hot sauce. You’re not at Gibson’s. Garnish accordingly. My favorite way to eat pho is to take some broth, chopstick some noodles into it, then take some meat, dip it into a swirl of Hoisin and hot sauce and slurp it all down loudly enough to embarrass your date. If you spoon some mint leaf bonus! If, however, you spoon a raw pepper, good luck with that. But please, even if you like it hot, do not pour hot sauce into your broth before you try it. It’s too delicious on its own.
Pho Viet is well on par with Tank, Pho 777, Pho 888, Pho 666, Pho 911 and whatever else those people own pretending they’re different restaurants. In the back of Viet is a dance floor and karaoke machine begging the question: if sounds of slurping noodles add depth to sing-along incompetence. Yet no amount of noise could deafen me to the quality of the food. Maybe if they had a velvet rope…