Archive for the ‘chicago’ Tag

Chicago out of the Loop   Leave a comment

There’s no doubt Chicago is a culinary haven. Mention a culture and its cuisine is represented. A recent, albeit quick, trip included stops at two brunch spots, a bahn mi shop and an excellent dinner enhanced by the company of one of my sons and a new friend. I have no photos of our food at Ba Le Sandwiches or Pauline’s, but I would return to both — especially to the former for the barbecue pork bahn mi.

m.henry, a popular spot in Andersonville, features an array of baked goods, traditional egg entrees and quiche, among other items. The rustic peasant quiche was chock full of asparagus, leeks, bacon and gruyere cheese on a flakey crust. The side salad was practically a meal in itself.

Oaxaca, Mexico, is known for its mole — among other food specialties. The red mole, in particular, at Kie-Gol-Kanee is among the best I’ve ever had. Mole enchiladas and Oaxaquenos tamales are two preparations here. In order to sample the two types of moles on the menu, I had the pork green mole and chicken red mole tamales. These are wrapped in plantain leaves with a thin layer of masa. Once the leaves are removed, the mole escapes onto the plate. The green is tart and spicy, but my palate belongs to the dark red, earthy variety.

Another typical Oaxacan dish is the tlayuda, a large,crispy handmade corn tortilla is topped with a choice of meats, sliced tomatoes, avocados and cabbage. Think nachos on steroids.

AIDS, Friendship and Acceptance   Leave a comment

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The Great Believers begins in 1985 Chicago when a group of friends, who’ve been excluded from a funeral, gather to celebrate Nico’s life. He died of AIDS. It’s early days of the epidemic and their friend’s death foretells of what lies ahead for many.

Yale Tishman is among the group, as is Fiona, younger sister of the deceased. Nico’s parents kicked him out of the family home years ago, but Fiona stayed in contact providing him food, money and support as best she could. Consequently, she grew up around Nico’s circle of friends, including Yale.

Time is an element of Rebecca Makkai’s novel which alternates between Chicago 1985/86 and Paris 2015. The earlier period focuses on Yale. He’s a development director for an art gallery, is in a monogamous relationship and comes across as an intelligent, sensitive young man. Through Fiona he’s put in touch with her aunt with an art collection from the 1920s Yale tries to secure for his gallery.

The latter time frame follows Fiona to Paris in her attempt to locate her estranged daughter and granddaughter. The younger Fiona is more interesting than the older version. She took care of Nico, and many of his friends, as they contracted AIDS. She apparently exhausted her caretaking abilities when it came to her immediate family.

Still, the beauty of the novel lies in the power of friendship and acceptance. Yale, and others, faced threats and, initially, medical care for AIDS patients was scattered, at best.

The Great Believers

Four Bookmarks

Viking, 2018

421 pages

Being the Best Fit   Leave a comment

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Becoming, by Michelle Obama, loitered on my nightstand for months; I’d pick it up, read a little and abandon it again. Despite rave reviews from friends who’d read the book, I was initially underwhelmed. I wasn’t interested in her piano lessons and other accounts of her childhood. Yet, I stuck with it and was rewarded with what proved to be an engaging memoir.

During Obama’s time in the spotlight, I was impressed with her friendly, accessible demeanor and forthrightness. I came to appreciate these same attributes in her book. She truly came from humble beginnings. Her close-knit family, personal drive and obvious intellect helped propel her to the popularity she enjoyed as First Lady.

Obama shares her life story moving from those early years (piano lessons included) to her teens, from college to a high-powered legal career, from meeting Barack to becoming a mother. Each of the book’s sections highlights a specific period: “Becoming Me,” “Becoming Us” and “Becoming More.” The latter focuses on her life in the public eye as the wife of the first African American president, her efforts to exceed expectations because of a sense that many wanted the Obamas to fail and her determination to create some semblance of a normal family life for her daughters.

Through an easy-going, almost conversational tone, Obama’s narrative evokes emotion, pride and, at times, dismay. This is about someone you’d like to meet. She’s already invited you into her life through her deeds. The book simply adds an exclamation point.

Becoming
Four-and-a-half Book marks
Crown Books, 2018
426 pages

As the Crows Fly   Leave a comment

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The Atomic Weight of Love begs the question: how heavy is love? Elizabeth J.Church’s novel has war as its bookends: World War II and Vietnam. The passage of time reflects changes in attitudes toward conflict and women.

Meridian Wallace is a brilliant, young student interested in pursuing not only a college education, but an advanced degree in ornithology. This is unusual in 1940s Chicago. While at university she meets and falls in love with professor Alden Whetstone, who is secretly involved with the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, N.M. Although he can’t reveal his research, he convinces Meridian to postpone her studies, move across the country and marry him. There will be plenty of time later to pick up where she left off academically. Ha!

Alden’s commitment to his work and the slow disintegration of a loving relationship could seem a cliché. Yet, Meridian manages to flourish even when the attitudes of the day bear down on her. On her own, she continues to study birds without the benefit of academic resources, she makes a few friends despite being ostracized for not having a doctoral degree like most of the wives in her community. Although they are well-educated they do nothing with their education.

Meridian falls in love with a much younger man but maintains the façade of her marriage with Alden, who becomes increasingly narrow-minded and unlikable as the novel progresses.

The author is masterful in the transformation she ascribes to Meridian and the world around her.

The Atomic Weight of Love
Five Bookmarks
Algonquin Books, 2016
352 pages

No Buttermilk Biscuits Here   Leave a comment

crisp interior

One of my middle son’s favorite foods is fried chicken; I’ve jumped on that band wagon with him. It started with my introduction to Bouchon’s buttermilk rendition. It soon evolved to include waffles. But, for now, I’ll stick to the hens.

When Food and Wine magazine listed the best places in the country to find the crispy comfort food it was like finding a treasure map. The timing was perfect as I was making a trip to Chicago, which boasts three of the 33 on the list. We only had time to try one: Crisp.

crisp chicken

When we wandered into the small, unimpressive order-at-the-counter eatery I was surprised. The preparation here is not what’s served with mashed potatoes and peas. This was Korean fried chicken, which sent my taste buds in a completely different direction than they’d traveled before.

First, diners choose between wings or boneless strips. Then there’s a choice of sauces. These range from plain, slightly sweet, a smoky spicy and a Buffalo spicy. I went with the sweet. Honey, ginger, garlic and soy were the obvious flavors coating crispy pieces of chicken that had been flash-fried twice. They were sticky, thanks to the honey, but not at all greasy.

crisp chickens

Crisp also serve sandwiches, Buddha bowls and Korean burritos. Sides include brown rice, onion rings, greens, kimchee (sic) and shoestring potatoes.

I have my go-to places for traditional fried chicken. Nonetheless, I don’t mind continuing the quest for perfect poultry, especially when I find such different spins like Crisp’s.

crisp inside

Crisp
Four Plates
2910 N. Broadway
Chicago, Ill.

Inverted Pizza   Leave a comment

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Upside Down Pizza doesn’t sound nearly as appetizing as Chicago Stuffed Pizza, although it actually is topsy turvy. Except for the crust, everything is out of place: cheese is first covered by the generous toppings, which are underneath the rich tomato sauce – and it’s all a couple inches thick. The place for stuffed pizza in Chicago is Giordano’s. More than a dozen Giordanos grace the city, and numerous others are in the suburbs, but this does not have the feel of a pizza chain.

A recent trip passing through the Windy City’s downtown included just enough time to dine at Giordano’s – keep in mind it’s not a place to grab a quick bite; plan on 35 minutes from the time the order is placed to when the heavyset pizza arrives at your table. The waiters were consistent in their time estimate. And, they were pretty accurate. It’s worth the wait.

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Deep dish is a more apt description of the pizza at Giordano’s. Toppings, or fillings if you want to be more accurate, include the standards – pepperoni, sausage, pineapple – but also offer some creative options – broccoli, artichokes, pesto chicken. Our visit was on a Friday, during Lent, so we ordered a pie with green peppers and mushrooms.

Besides its very bulk, one of the most impressive features of the pizza is the buttery crust: it’s flakey! And, given the weight it carries, it doesn’t lose its texture. Although thin crust is a menu option, it only raises the question: why?

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Giordano’s
Four Plates
815 W. Van Buren
Chicago, Ill.