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August 2010 Archives

Suburban restaurant openings, on the whole, happen much more quietly than in the chef-driven city landscape. A casual burger joint in a shopping mall in Lombard? Yawn.

Only, this one's just a little different.

Tom & Eddie's, opening Friday at the Shops on Butterfield in Lombard, is the brainchild of Ed Rensi and Tom Dentice, a couple of retirees who, um, used to run McDonalds. Rensi, whose first job at McDonalds was working the grill, retired as CEO in 1998; Dentice was executive VP in charge of operations of training. So they know a little something about the burger business.

Their concept for Tom & Eddie's -- gourmet burgers -- isn't novel, especially these days, what with the M Burgers and DMK Burger Bars and Five Guys sprouting like weeds. But it's as far as you can get from the Golden Arches, with hand-formed patties (and not just beef, but ahi tuna, turkey and edamame, too), housemade potato chips and toppings such as Nueske's bacon, peppadew peppers and the ubiquitous, beloved fried egg.

There's no lack of marketing savvy, either. Starting at 10 a.m. Friday, the restaurant will hold a drawing for one person to win a weekly burger meal; the winner will be announced at 9 p.m. In addition, any customer who comes in "dressed to the nines" (echoing the opening theme) in a tux or gown during the first nine days gets a meal on the house.

I had a sneak peek at the burgers -- or stylized renditions of them -- back in April, when Rensi and I met at the studio of Chicago food photographer Stephen Hamilton. I was reporting a story on Hamilton; the client Hamilton was shooting that day happened to be Tom and Eddie's. Rensi, a big, tall guy, talked like a pitchman, in a big, booming voice. The story was about Hamilton, but the floor was most certainly Rensi's. We're going for quality here, he told me, a top-notch burger, no fooling around.

I saw him again at the National Restaurant Association show in May at McCormick Place. This time, he was hawking the SpinFresh fryer, which operates using centrifugal force. Rensi is on the company's board.

Did I mention he owns a NASCAR team?

Already in the works: Geneva and Deerfield locations of Tom and Eddie's. First, though, the opening Friday in Lombard. Don't be surprised to see Eddie working the grill; he's hard to miss.

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While the sweeping egg recall continues to unfurl, and you consider not making the deviled eggs in today's food pages (which you shouldn't, because if you like deviled eggs, you will adore these), consider this: You get what you pay for.

Those cartons on sale for 99 cents a dozen at your local Giant-Shop-A-Lot supermarket were more than likely laid in a factory farm setting, by birds squashed together by the thousands, barely able to move. Does such a setting automatically mean the risk of salmonella infection is higher than if the birds were raised "cage-free" (which isn't quite as free as you might imagine)? Not necessarily, say experts. But for my money, I'd much rather have eggs from birds raised in small flocks -- the kind you find at a farmers market and smaller retailers and shops that source locally (like the Downtown Farmstand, 66 E. Randolph, where the above photo was taken) -- by people who know exactly what their birds have been up to and can tell you so.

And remember this: Keep your eggs refrigerated until ready to use. Cook your eggs thoroughly. And use pasteurized if you're really paranoid.

While we're on the subject: is there a secret to a perfectly hard-boiled egg? Sixteen chef Frank Brunacci shares his in today's guest chef column, but it differs from other theories I've read. The obsessive recipe testers at Cook's Illustrated magazine swear by bringing a pan of eggs to a boil, then removing the pan from the heat, covering and letting the eggs rest for 10 minutes. In Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, it's a 9-minute rest. And then there's the all-important step of cooling the egg in ice water, which some advocate, and some don't.

Thoughts? Tips to share? Please post them -- and take care with your eggs.

photo courtesy Chicago's Downtown Farmstand

Next for Rick Tramonto: Restaurant R'evolution at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans' French Quarter.

The announcement was made this morning in New Orleans, Tramonto's new home-away-from-home, which had been the speculation for weeks. "Chicago will continue to be my home," he said in a statement.

The restaurant will serve contemporary Creole, a "marriage of Folse's classic Southern approach and Tramonto's contemporary New World style," a release says.

It appears there's more to come from Tramonto. Restaurant R'evolution will be the "first joint venture" between him and good friend John Folse, one of Louisiana's best known chefs.

by guest blogger Seanan Forbes

"If I were going to be an inanimate object," Francisco Guedes says, "then this is what I'd want to be." As he speaks, he indicates a bottle of Aveleda Casal Garcia.

Given Guedes' ebullient energy, it's hard to imagine him as anything inanimate, but it's easy to understand his choice. Casal Garcia Vinho Verde Branco is a lively wine. Its taste shoulders the edge of sparkling; it's that kind of bright. Casal Garcia - NV.jpg

Guedes is Aveleda's brand ambassador, but he's also a member of the family. That doesn't mean he's biased; it means he's a little bit in love. Clearly, though, this is a household where affection doesn't outweigh a desire for perfection. Any wine that's going to represent Aveleda is going be good - and any wine that makes a Guedes dream of being inanimate is going to be exceptional.

In Portuguese, "vinho verde" means "green wine" and the wine does have a pale green tint. The region where it comes from is lush.

"It's almost like Ireland," says Leslie Sbrocco, author, wine expert and founder of Thirsty Girl. The name, then, is a reflection of both terrain and wine - but, Sbrocco says, "It really is about the freshness and brightness that the wine has."

Those characteristics might be unexpected. For many people, the standard equation is Portugal plus wine equals port: thick, rich dessert wine that spins dreams of cheese plates.

The assumption is understandable. As Sbrocco observes, "Portugal is a very small country." It's easy to presume that a small place has only one style. Portuguese cuisine varies from region to region, however, and so does the wine.

"Vinho Verde is not far from where Port originates," Sbrocco says. "Even though they're close geographically, they couldn't be farther apart on the wine scale."

Port's perfect for autumn; Vinho Verde is made for summer. It cries for salads, grilled shellfish or ceviche. Rick Bayless makes an all-but-revered ceviche. The recipe's adaptable enough to let the market lead.

Whose Vinho Verde should you try? Go for that bottle of irresistible brightness. "Aveleda's an iconic producer in the Vinho Verde region," Sbrocco says. "Talk about a perfect warm-weather wine: That's it. Poolside or beachside, that's the wine that I would grab."

Ceviche recipe after the jump.

Congratulations to Art Smith, Chicago's most huggable chef (well, kind of, except he's lost a ton of weight), and his partner, artist Jesus Salgueiro, who tied the knot Saturday at Smith's Washington D.C. restaurant Art and Soul.

Among the important details reported by the Trib: Goat cheese drop biscuits were served. And we know why they were served. To echo our former governor: These are the best f------ biscuits ever.

Smith's recipe ran in our last issue of the year, in 2008. It remains one of my favorites.

Goat cheese drop biscuits
MAKES 10 TO 14 BISCUITS

2 cups self-rising flour

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons cold butter, plus extra to grease pan and top biscuits

4 tablespoons (2 ounces) goat cheese

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a 10-inch cast iron skillet in the oven while it is preheating. Place flour and salt into a medium-sized bowl. Cut in the butter and goat cheese until mixture is crumbly. Make a well in the middle of the mixture and pour in the milk. Stir until moistened, adding an extra tablespoon of milk if needed.

Remove the hot skillet from the oven and place 1 tablespoon of butter into it. When the butter has melted, drop 1/4-cupfuls of batter into the skillet (use a muffin scoop if you have one). Brush the tops of the biscuits with melted butter. Bake 14 to 16 minutes until lightly browned on the top and bottom. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with grated Parmesan. Enjoy warm!

Art Smith, Table Fifty-Two


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Because we seem to have hit a lull in bacon-themed events...

A Chicago Bacon Takedown has been announced for Sept. 11 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln.

This is not to be confused with Baconfest Chicago, which is ramping up for its second annual tasting in the spring with a series of all-bacon dinners featuring Nueske bacon. The first is Sept. 13 at Chalkboard, 4343 N. Lincoln, and it's already sold out.

While Baconfest and its satellite dinners are chef-focused and meant to showcase what top toques can do with everyone's favorite pork product -- April's Baconfest drew 1,000 people, and organizers are looking to hold the 2011 event at either Navy Pier or the UIC Forum -- the Takedowns are strictly home cook affairs (and sponsored by Hormel Bacon). The cost to attend is $15.

According to Takedown organizer Matt Timms, a Brooklyn actor and filmmaker who hosts these in his spare time, the event -- from 1 to 3 p.m. -- is open to amateur cooks with bacon recipes they feel are extraordinary.

"I've always celebrated the amateur cook," says Timms, 36, who says he falls squarely in that category. "It's just a really fun, incredibly unpretentious event. People come and get to try 20 different bacon recipes."

Seven years ago, Timms was just another chili-cooking Brooklynite. He felt his chili had some potential, so he joined the International Chili Society. But he found their contests to be a bit too restrictive. "I thought, why not do a no-rules event?' " he says. The Chili Takedown was born.

Timms has since hosted takedowns for everything from cookies to curry to fondue. The Bacon Takedown is part of a six-city national tour. Depending on how this goes, he'd like to return to Chicago for a Tofu Takedown.

Those interested in competing should email Timms at mtimms7@hotmail.com. What's in it for you? A year's supply of bacon. Tickets to the September Takedown can be had here.

Meanwhile, keep on top of Baconfest happenings here.

"The more, the merrier," says Andre Pluess, one of Baconfest's founders. "People call bacon a fad ... The Beatles were a fad, and they came and they went, but their music lives on. And people keep coming back to the Beatles year after year after year.

"We feel that way about bacon."

As expected, Rick Tramonto's next project is taking him (has already taken him) out of Chicago. And we're not talking fast-food salads.

An email invitation received yesterday announced a "culinary revolution" Tramonto and his good friend and respected Louisiana chef John Folse will unveil at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the historic Cabildo building in New Orleans.

Tramonto announced his departure from Tru restaurant in Streeterville in June and has dropped a hint or two on his Twitter feed as to his next big thing (he also announced next week's press conference this way).

His allegiance to the Gulf region was furthered in late June when, at the suggestion of Folse, he organized a bunch of famous chefs, including Top Chef's Tom Colicchio, to tour the region promoting the message that Louisiana seafood is safe to eat.

By guest blogger Seanan Forbes

Don't take Bridget Albert's smile for everything. It may look honeyed, but "I'm a savory girl, not a sweet girl," says Albert, author of Market Fresh Mixology and master mixologist at Southern Wine and Spirits of Illinois.

"I just really like delicious emotion that you get in your mouth when you bite into a tomato, when it's so tasty - and there's a little bit of acid in there, believe it or not." Her voice brightens as she says, "It just makes your mouth water." Bridget Albert.jpg

As with fruit, so with drinks. "I think the cool thing about savory cocktails is that I can drink more than one, because they're not so sticky and sweet," Albert says, "and they can definitely whet my appetite - and I just think they're really fun."

We all get "sweet" - but what's "savory" when it's in a cocktail shaker? "When you think savory, the first thing that comes to mind is tomatoes," she says. "Cucumbers are in that family, as well, and let's not leave out mushrooms."

Albert's list is not a limited one - not when it comes to flavor or to season. "I pickle everything, in the springtime and in the summertime, and incorporate that into my cocktails in the winter, when nothing is in season in Chicago, and they're usually savory items, like beets," she says.

Albert's happily experimenting with meat infusions. There, too, she plays on the far side of the fence. "We all know that bacon is the new black, and everybody's in love with bacon - but let's not leave out chorizo sausage, when we're doing our meat infusions. It's spicy and savory and delicious."

"There's a whole world ready to explore," Albert says, even while remarking that nothing is new. Meat in cocktails? The Bullshot (vodka and beef bouillon) has been around for ages. Tomatoes? How spicy do you like your Bloody Mary? cucumelons and heirloom tomatoes - SForbes.jpg

"What's old is coming back around, and we're rediscovering things," she says. "We're playing . . . throwing a lot of things against the wall, getting a little crazy with our cocktails, on the savory side and the sweet side, and seeing what works and what doesn't work."

Some foods cross over. Carrots are sweet, but season and roast them, and you add a savory ingredient to your home bar.

The slow food movement has a stirrer in the cocktail glass. "What's caused this resurgence is that people are looking to their farmers markets wanting to use what is local," she says. Look to the spice rack, too. "Let's not forget the different kinds of peppercorns out there. Fresh herbs, like rosemary - basil! Thai basil is delicious. All the different kinds of salts - There are so many different kinds available at your local Whole Foods. There are at least 20 different varieties to have fun with, and they all taste completely different from the next."

Albert teaches a professional mixology course, but she's used to giving advice to people who aren't in the industry. "My family are dancers and mailmen and butchers and just your average Joe, and they are not cocktail aficionados or bartenders," she says fondly. "Here's my word of advice: Don't be afraid. Get in the kitchen. Play with your food. Put your food into the cocktail glass, and the worst you can do is make a bad cocktail."

What if you don't know what you're doing? Don't worry about it. Albert grins and says, "Some beautiful combinations are made by mistake."

Recipe after the jump.


Tomato extras

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Food Worth Knowing Tomatoes.jpg

We solicited and received way more tomato-related tidbits than we had space for in today's cover story on eating tomatoes from morning to night.

Like: At Balsan in the Elysian Hotel, tomatoes are the supporting player this month and next. The hotel pre-ordered 2,000 pounds of the fruit from Heritage Prairie Farm in La Fox. It's just about time for the farm to make that delivery, after which the kitchen will be busy; 1,200 pounds have been allotted to make ketchup, 500 pounds for preserved tomatoes and the rest for pizza sauce. Not surprisingly, Balsan isn't the only kitchen around town going nuts for tomatoes.

For backyard gardeners taking notes, farmer Chris Covelli of Tomato Mountain offers this: "Water only as much as necessary. If you let the soil dry out, they taste incredible. And always harvest the day before watering, not the day after."

For tasting notes and photos of various heirloom varieties, check out this link from the Local Beet.

And if nothing about our story inspired you, there's always last year's.

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Vendors you won't find anymore at the Chicago French Market, 131 N. Clinton:

Zullo's. Necessity Baking Co. Wisconsin Cheese Mart.

"It just didn't work out, and we wish that market and the people in it great success, we really do," says chef Greg Christian of Zullo's, which joined the market in late February, then up and left in early June.

Ellen Carney Granda, owner of Necessity Baking Co., a staple at several suburban farmers markets, says while the location was great, the flow of business could be tricky (busy with train-hopping tourists on the weekends, but much slower as the weather warmed up). Ultimately, Granda says, the numbers just didn't add up; the bakery left last month.

"We didn't have the variety of product that allowed us to attract the lunch crowd outside of just the bread consumer, and for us that was a challenge. It was also straining our resources to get down there," she says.

Market operator Sebastien Bensidoun says turnover is to be expected as the market finds its footing.

"Remember one very, very important thing: This market has only been open since December. It's a very young market. As long as you get movement of some leaving, some coming, I'm definitely not worried," Bensidoun says.

Breaches of contract are another thing. Vendors are under a three-year lease. For those that have left, whether or not they will be sued, "I just don't know what will happen," says Bensidoun's father, Rolland Bensidoun.

The Bensidoun family operates indoor and open-air markets in France, New York, Connecticut, Michigan and throughout suburban Chicago. It takes a good three to four years for a market to find its groove, and at least five years for it to start turning a profit, Rolland Bensidoun says.

The Bensidouns acknowledge this summer has been tough as the market competes against all the outdoor farmers markets. But Sebastien points out that while they've lost vendors, they've also gained a few -- Fasta Pasta opened last month, and Gramp's Gourmet Foods came in the spring. There are plans to welcome a wine bar and another baker who will bake on-site; the market also is thisclose to adding an outpost of a French restaurant currently ensconced in a tres trendy North Side neighborhood, Sebastien says.

More on the upside: the Saigon Sisters. Demand for owner Mary Aregoni's banh mi sandwiches has been such that she is opening a 40-seat storefront serving small plates and even beer and wine at 567 W. Lake, just around the corner from the market, in the fall. She also is expanding her space at the French Market, and will add bao to the menu there.

Zullo's, meanwhile, whose sugar-dusted zeppole happily can still be found at the Green City and Logan Square farmers markets, is building its catering business and is working on a storefront concept as well, says owner Adriana Marzullo. Don't look for the stand-alone zeppole shop in the near future; it's ok to pray for it (and the future of the Chicago French Market), though.

Our own Michael Sneed was already on top of this, but the Chicago Department of Aviation was out with official word today: Rick Bayless is opening two restaurants at O'Hare.

Remember this, travelers: Terminals 1 and 3.

Here's hoping this bodes well the next time the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine passes through town.

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Now you see Phillip Foss, now you don't.

Early this morning, the chef at Lockwood sent out an email with details of a pop-up restaurant he and his wife are planning for Sunday at chef Matt Maroni's Gaztro-Wagon storefront at 5973 N. Clark.

This afternoon, Foss was given the boot by his bosses.

"I'm a free bird. It's official," Foss told me about 15 minutes ago.

Impeccable timing, perhaps, but Foss -- who had been on suspension this week (and not the first time that's happened) -- says the hotel's decision had nothing to do with his involvement in the mobile food rallying cry. "It's not a shocker... It's been an incredible run with them. It's been mutually beneficial and hopefully, going forward, it will continue to be mutually beneficial," he says.

So, going forward in Foss' cause- and food truck-obsessed world, about that pop-up restaurant, which is serving as a testing ground for the food truck concept Foss and wife Kenni are developing:

The menu will change every few hours, starting at 8 a.m. with from-scratch doughnuts ($2). From 10 a.m. To 2 p.m., it's brunch, with items such as the Golden Brick ($4), "oozing egg in crispy brick pastry" and a salami/egg/potato scramble called the Hopple Popple ($8).

From 2 to 8 p.m., Foss will make the switch to meatball sliders in puffy pan bread ($4).

Foss has renamed his Pickled Tongue blog to better reflect his long-term goals; it's now the Pickled Tongue and Puffy Pan Bread Chronicles.

And about that pickled tongue: Foss sent out the details of his latest venture in an email in the wee hours this morning. The contact? F.U. Public Relations Company. Which, of course, stands for Foss Unlimited.

Going hog wild for tofu

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Intrepid eater/writer David Hammond went all-out for today's cover story on the new dawn of tofu and by that I mean, he cooked and ate lots of tofu. Someone had to. 8-4-10_Hein_tofu_2.jpg

Hammond had an all-tofu Fourth of July barbecue. He tried haute tofu at Perennial (at right, chef Ryan Poli) and May Street Market. He checked out what tofu makers Phoenix Bean and Tiny Greens are up to. He even roped his family into it -- his wife, Carolyn, tinkered with tofu on the barbie, while his daughter, Josanna, developed a tofu cookie. The cookie at first was too cakey, Hammond told me a quarter of the way into his reporting. The final version is crisper and features a tiny cube of tofu in the center of each cookie -- and chocolate chips. (Read more about Hammond's tofu exploits on this LTHForum thread.)

Did I mention the new dawn of tofu? At Perennial, the tofu outsold the beef on a recent weekday night, Perennial chef Ryan Poli tells me. "What's up with that?" he asked, bemused, amused and pleased.

Meanwhile, Sun-Times photographer Jean Lachat, who shot the photos of Phoenix Bean tofu and owner Jenny Yang, came back to the office all giddy about one Phoenix product in particular -- fried tofu puffs.

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Yang calls them "Chinese Twinkies," though they're savory, not sweet, slightly crisp and chewy on the outside, delightfully airy and creamy on the inside.

Traditionally, these ersatz Twinkies are stuffed with shrimp or vegetable paste, then baked and drizzled with gravy, Yang says. In the Japanese kitchen, they're stuffed with sticky rice or cubed and added to miso soup.

Find them at Asian markets. At Phoenix Bean, 5438 N. Broadway a 10-pack is $1.35.

By guest blogger Seanan Forbes
(photo courtesy Jeffery Noble)

Are you looking for a summer cooler? Buy cucumbers - for the cocktail glass.

'Tis the season. For proof, look no farther than June - not the month. June, 4450 N. Prospect Rd. in Peoria Heights, is as seasonally driven as a restaurant can be. If it's local and fresh in the farms, then it's probably in June's kitchen - in the kitchen and behind the bar.

Rafael Tenjo is June's general manager, sommelier and mixologist. "I went down to the farmer's market last year, when I created this cocktail - and I saw these amazing cucumbers that were horn-shaped, almost twisted," Tenjo says. He didn't even try to resist them. He used them with Hendrick's gin and tonic.

Back up a step. Horned cucumbers? Lyle Allen, executive director of Green City Market, says there's more to cucumbers than those long, green shrink-wrapped things you see in the supermarkets. He's hooked on the variety from Green Acres Farm (cheat sheet after the jump) and on Iron Creek Farms' pickle cucumbers. ("They're not pickled; they're just small," Tamera Mark, of Iron Creek Farms, says. "They have a stronger taste versus the bigger cucumbers that have more water in them and are a little milder.")

Taste your way around Green Acres Farm's "cucumber island" display and you'll learn that your cucumber, as well as your liquor, can affect your drink. Cucumber Cocktail - Rafael Tenjo - June.jpg

It might not be that important when it's just a garnish, but Tenjo didn't stop at slice-and-salt. He looked at those cucumbers and thought, "I can make a cocktail with that."
The first step: juicing the cucumbers. Tenjo wanted a floral component, so he reached for St. Germaine, an elderflower liqueur. "Then it needed acid," he says, "so I decided to add a scoop of sorbet." Salted cucumber slices were one of Tenjo's favorite childhood snacks. That led to the garnish.

One customer described June's cucumber cocktail as "a spa in a glass." Tenjo pairs it with carrot soup served as a spuma with matcha green tea sorbet and sake-cured steelhead roe. At home, serve your spa with "sashimi, crudo, anything light," Tenjo suggests. "It'd go with a light salad."

Use cucumbers to make traditional cocktails new. Allen says, "I had dinner at Rick Bayless' house about two weeks ago and he made cucumber margaritas - and they were gorgeous."

You've put work into the drink; keep the salad simple. "I just love cucumbers with red onions, dill and rice wine vinegar," says Allen, who has year-round access to the best. "That's all you need; it's so refreshing. The pickle cucumbers stay crisp. With the red onions, it doesn't get much better than this. It tastes like summer."

Recipe and cucumber guide after the jump.

Even Cleveland has real, live food trucks, people. Cleveland!?

There are certain inalienable truths about this year's Lollapalooza:

*By day's end those Chicago Transit Authority air conditioned "cooling buses" are going to be chillier than any of those "tall boys" o' beer you're lining up for.

*The laws of supply and demand dictates that there are flasks on the market that look just like Blackberries. (Though someone should have advised the young hipster pingponging off other concertgoers on the way to Green Day not to alternately drink and scream out how she loaded the booze in to her nifty find. Unless the point is to draw the attention of security. As far as I could tell, she lucked out this time.)

*Graham Elliot, local chef to a U.S. president, has assembled a lovely lineup of local eateries serving up some fine trendy food (pork belly, anyone?) but an unscientific polls show concertgoers love their hot dogs and pizza...

Foodapalooza

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If you don't know by now, the real side show at Lollapalooza is the food. Chef and Presidential feeder Graham Elliot was put in charge of the Grant Park music festival's "Chow Town" after wowing Lollapalooza founder last year Perry Farrell when he cooked backstage for him. Dude's had a big week after President Obama and his pals stopped in Wednesday at Elliot's River North eatery "Graham Elliot" to celebrate the commander-in-chief's 49th birthday.

I perused the food stalls, took recommendations from staffers at some of the eateries and here's what's rocked as we hit the half-way mark of the three-day music fest....


Reubenesque, Round 2

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When I announced that I was on a quest to find the best reuben sandwiches around, I got a few suggestions of places to try, but none as unusual as that which came from my friend Dave Awl.

He suggested something called "The Radical Reuben," from the Chicago Diner, at Halsted and Roscoe. Why is this reuben sandwich so "radical"? Well, it's because the sandwich is made without what many would call a key ingredient of the reuben, corned beef. They do it this way there because the Chicago Diner is a non-meat serving eatery.

I was the epitome of skepticism when I got Dave's suggestion -- my grin upside down, my eyes rolled, the whole bit -- but I decided what the heck, I like disaster movies, so it could be fun to try what was certain to be a disaster of a sandwich. It could make good copy.

Well, I was shocked, but not by how bad this reuben was. In short, I've got to say that meat or not, it is one of the best reubens I've ever had -- maybe among the top two or three at this point.

The bread on this sandwich is marbled rye, as it should be, and on it are onions, peppers, sauerkraut, non-dairy "cheese," vegan Thousand Island dressing and the "meat" is seitan. Additionally, the Chicago Diner, though they don't serve meat, is still a Chicago place, so they don't skimp on anything, not to mention the "meat-like" product. The seitan is cooked as well as it could be and there's not much difference in taste between it and corned beef (of course there is no beef fat to deal with, which is also a nice touch). It's a hearty sandwich that tastes great. If you can get past the idea, especially in a town once known as "hog butcher to the world," of eating a vegetarian reuben, you're in for quite a surprising treat. I definitely will be back for this reuben again.

Also, the Chicago Diner, in a "Reubens for Wildlife" campaign, is donating $1 from every one of these reubens sold through August 31 to Gulf Coast wildlife rescue organizations. Could this sandwich get anymore animal-friendly?

Sunda chef Rodelio Aglibot is a 'consultant' no more.

Aglibot, who announced in March his new role as developer of Asian eateries for the New York-based BLT Restaurant Group, is officially "executive corporate chef" for the group, a statement released today says. The top toque, if you will.

And his next project is definitely non-Asian: an Italian-American restaurant in the new Marriott at 151 W. Adams that apparently will go by the less-than-stimulating name the Florentine.

The restaurant is slated to open in mid-October.

Useless tidbits picked up from helping judge today's Country Chef Challenge, an Iron-chef like contest, in Daley Plaza: (and congratulations to Blackbird pastry chef Patrick Fahy, crowned Master of the Market):

Fellow judge and WLS personality Roe Conn has a martini AND a hot dog named after him at Harry Caray's.

Channel 2 meteorologist Steve Baskerville, who emceed the event, is not on Twitter or Facebook, and probably never will be, he detests it so.

And fellow judge -- and food truck chef of the moment -- Matt Maroni has nicknamed his Gaztro-Wagon "Dorothy."

One useful bit:
Piccolo Sogno chef Tony Priolo is organizing another fundraiser for bartender Shawn Koch, a brunch on Aug. 28. Priolo's restaurant isn't usually open for Saturday brunch, but all his staff will work for free. Koch is battling a rare brain cancer. Proceeds from tonight's Speakeasy Throwback at the Palmer House Hilton will go toward Koch's foundation.

by guest blogger Seanan Forbes:

Over the past few years, consumers have become more aware of the importance of regional goods. It goes beyond local borders; the regional - wherever the region may be - has prime place in the wine glass, the beer stein, the teacup and the coffee mug.

Mindy Segal of Hot Chocolate, 1747 N. Damen, has always known that. Her menu - her philosophy - is all about the regional and the seasonal. Segal says that regions can shine in your chocolate every bit as strongly as in coffee or tea.

With single-region chocolate bars widely available online, the world can be in your mug. Sit in front of a stack of Amano single-region chocolate and the prospect can be intimidating. Do you use chocolate from Madagascar's Sambirano Valley the same way you do that from the Guayas River basin in Ecuador or the Ocumare Valley in Venezuela?

Segal's advice: find ways to highlight the chocolate's individual characteristics.

"Madagascar is vanilla and Venezuela is probably coffee," the chef says, "so you have to take the flavor profile is for that region and that's what you go with." What does that mean in practical terms? Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream to a glass of chilled Madagascar chocolate. Cut the Venezuelan, hot or cold, with coffee, making the dreamiest mocha imaginable.

Finding the flavor profile is easy: Taste the chocolate. After that, choose ingredients that will highlight what you found. hot chocolates.jpg

Outdoor temperature is no barrier to enjoying chocolate in a glass. In the winter, Hot Chocolate steams hot chocolate from a ganache base. During the summer, the steamed chocolate is iced in a martini shaker and served on the rocks. You can also strain it and add a splash of soda or a scoop of ice cream or (why not?) both.

Want an adult spin? Segal has a suggestion: Take your chocolate, "add a shot of stout and then a scoop of ice cream." (Here, adding the local is easy. Half Acre makes Big Hugs, a chunky imperial stout.)

Segal is a versatile, waste-nothing chef, so it's not surprising that her liquids are adaptable to dessert. At Hot Chocolate, Segal says, they take hot chocolate, chill it, pour it into pans "and put it in the freezer. Then, we shave it, and you have a chocolate slushie." It's easy to do at home; scrape the frozen mixture with a spoon. For an after-dinner tasting, serve three regional slushies in the cocktail glasses of your choice.

You can play with chocolate's flavors without leaving Chicago. Segal sells hot chocolate blends, each with a distinctive profile. The dark is a mixture of French bittersweet chocolate and cocoa butter; the medium and light, different combinations of French and Belgian chocolates.

If you want your chocolate with a twist, then go for the malted milk and espresso or the spicy Mexican. For proof that chocolate can have strong non-chocolate notes, try the butterscotch. There's no butterscotch in it; Segal chose and blended French chocolates that carry a clear butterscotch flavor. All are available at the restaurant or online.

If you're out to explore the world in a glass, then this is one sweet way to go.

photo courtesy Tim Turner

Some things you should know about the Speakeasy Throwback on Thursday at the Palmer House Hilton:

The centerpiece (physically speaking) of the gathering of local distilleries and some of Chicago's top chefs will be a bathtub filled with booze.

The base of the concoction -- the only word suitable here -- will be tea from Rodrick Markus of Rare Tea Cellars. Spirits from Death's Door, Koval, North Shore, Hum and Templeton Rye will fill out the mixture, says Lockwood's Phillip Foss, one of the chief organizers of the event. Forner Sepia cocktail slinger Peter Vestinos will preside over the bathtub. There may or may not be a slushie version of the bathtub beverage; Foss is experimenting.

The person for whom this event has been organized, bartender Shawn Koch, however, doesn't much care for booze right now, only red wine, and only a half a glass at most -- though that won't stop him from at least sampling all the night will have to offer. shapeimage_4.png

This time last year, Koch was working the bar at the Paramount Room, 415 N. Milwaukee. Around the holidays, he started losing dexterity in one arm and became increasingly forgetful -- though he kept on tending bar with the good arm. In late January, when one of his legs quit working on him, his wife, Katie, took him to the doctor. They found three brain tumors in his brain, the largest the size of a golf ball, and diagnosed him with a rare form of brain cancer.

"There are only 58 people in the world with this cancer," Katie Koch says.

Since then, Koch, 33, has had brain surgery, seven weeks of chemo and radiation therapy -- and a blissful four-week vacation in Arizona and Iowa with his wife and 20-month-old daughter Charlie. He's now in the early stages of a six-round cycle of chemo.

This week, while momentum has been building about the Speakeasy and its amazing lineup, Koch and his family were en route to Detroit to bury his grandmother. And this latest round of chemo has left him feeling pretty crappy on top of that.

"You never know when you have treatment, when it's really gonna hit you. And it hit me this week," Koch says.

And yet.

Koch will be at the Palmer House tomorrow. He may not stay the entire evening, like the rest of us, but he'll be there.

"I'm a bartender and I was really serious about it, so I definitely want to go around and taste everybody's cocktails paired with the food," he says.

All proceeds from the evening will go toward the Shawn Koch Foundation. Tickets -- $95 -- can be bought at the door. See you there.

This is for you, Food Network watchers. Surely you've seen how every other TV chef dices an onion (one of the few things they actually do still seem to do on "cooking shows" when afforded the opportunity), and you've probably committed that technique to memory.

Well, that's not how they do it at the Chopping Block.

Not that there isn't a right or wrong way to chop anything, says Chopping Block owner Shelley Young -- but there is a preferred way to an onion that she encourages all of her instructors to adopt. It's all about not cutting toward your fingers, Young says, and it's pretty genius (essentially, it is how every other aforementioned TV chef does it, but with one key tweak).

You can learn it by signing up for the Chopping Block's popular -- and, in my estimation, essential -- Knife Skills class (read more about the class in today's Food pages). But for those who need visuals first, here's a quick and dirty step-by-step:

You start the same way, by cutting off both ends of the onion, then halving it and peeling the outer layers.

Next, standing the onion half upright, make even cuts downward almost to the cutting board (leaving one end of the onion intact).
knife3.jpg

Now, lay the onion cut side down on the board and again, cut downward along the width of the onion, keeping that one end intact.
knife1.jpg

Turn the onion half so that the cuts you just made are now running horizontal, and proceed to dice.
knife4.jpg

Too wordy? Still don't get it? Check out the Chopping Block's "How to Chop an Onion" video here.


Go on vacation for a week, and you miss everything.

Chefs change their names, beloved soul food restaurants take their last breath, food trucks start rolling.

About those trucks -- or the one helmed by Matt Maroni that had everyone waiting with baited breath for. Less than a week in operation, and the Gaztro-Wagon already is welcoming guests. 080510foss.jpg

Today's two-fer: Maroni and Lockwood's Phillip Foss (at right), who will be serving a Tunisian lamb naanwich. (Foss says it's a nod to his wife Keni's own food truck concept in the works. Again, see what happens when you leave town?!)

Maroni says he will be riding with guest chefs for next 10 days, to drum up support for next week's Taste of the Nation event at the Aragon Ballroom. The uber-multitasking Foss will no doubt be drumming up support for his pet cause du jour, Thursday's Speakeasy Throwback at the Palmer House Hilton. The event will benefit former Paramount Room bar manager Shawn Koch who is fighting a rare form of brain cancer.

Follow the wagon on Twitter to find out its whereabouts -- and who else is coming on board. First stop for Foss and Maroni today: the Board of Trade in about a half-hour.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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