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7-1_hale_treysongz_5585.jpg There will be no shortage of pizza at the Taste. | photo by Keith Hale

When it comes to the food -- because it's about the food, dammit -- Taste of Chicago, now under the auspices of the Chicago Park District, won't seem much different this year than in years past. There will be Eli's cheesecake and Harry Caray's fried dough and Robinson's Ribs and more than enough pizza and Americanized Thai and Chinese food to go around.

But there are 12 new vendors this year. Among them: Chinatown favorite Lao Sze Chuan, which will offer dry chili chicken, salt and pepper pork ribs, crispy shrimp in lemon sauce, vegetable fried rice and spring rolls, and the Parrot Cage inside the South Shore Cultural Center, run by Washburne culinary students, which will offer turkey meatloaf, gumbo, seafood salad and red velvet cupcakes.

Another newbie, the Fudge Pot, 1532 N. Wells, looks to be filling the void left by Aunt Diana's Old Fashioned Fudge -- the Riverside shop and other suburban vendors were kicked to the curb last year because of the city's policy that all vendors be located in Chicago -- by offering chocolate-dipped frozen bananas and strawberries.

The other new vendors are:

Alhambra Palace, 1240 W. Randolph, serving falafel and other Middle Eastern fare; Banana Leaf, 1948 E. 79th, with jerk wings and lamb chops and blackened tilapia; Beggars Pizza, 310 S. Clinton; Chicago Sweet Connection Bakery, 5569 N. Northwest, with something called Atomic Cake, among other sweets; Loving Hut, 5812 N. Broadway, offering the even more inriguingly named Home Run Ball, described as a "fried vegetable textured protein with a sweet and spicy sauce"; Ryba's Fudge Shops, 600 E. Gand, offering fudge, caramel apples and more chocolate-covered strawberries; Smoke Daddy, 1804 W. Division, with pulled pork and chicken; Starfuit Café, 2142 N. Halsted, with frozen kefir, and Texas de Brazil, 51 E. Ohio, serving lots of meat.

Six restaurants dropped out: Doreen's Pizzeria, Las Tablas, Shokolad Pastry and Café, Summer Noodle and Rice, Tamarind and the Grill on the Alley.

The Taste runs from June 24 to July 3. Food tickets are 12 for $8. As always, admission is free.

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[photo by Keith Hale~Sun-Times]

Didier Durand, the animated French chef perhaps best known for his opposition to the city's short-lived foie gras ban, is running for mayor.

Well, he wants to anyway. He was trying to. Sort of.

In a newsletter e-mailed over the weekend, Durand announced he was running as a write-in candidate. He described his platform ("Good food makes people happy") and that he'd set up a website, chefdidierformayor.com (half of which looks legit).

So I had to ask: Are you serious, Chef?

"If I was able to repeal the foie gras ban, then I can take care of the city," Durand told me by phone this morning. "I'm neither Democrat nor Republican. I'm from the foie gras party. I don't think I'll be elected, at least this time. But I really believe good food makes people happy."

Durand said that because all of his relatives are in France, "I won't put any of my family on the city payroll." Other pet projects: "School food, making sure we put tables all across the city in the parks for people to eat. Also, I will do something about the cigarette butts everywhere."

"The next mayor should be a foodie just like Mayor Daley."

There is but one snafu: Durand has missed the deadline for write-in candidates. "I'm not sure if there's more paperwork to be done," he acknowledged when I asked him if he was officially on the ballot.

Indeed, Dec. 23 was the deadline for write-in candidates to file their notice of intent, says Jim Allen, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Elections. (Candidates originally on the ballot who were kicked off have until tomorrow to file.) Allen had no such paperwork from Durand.

"This souffle is half-baked," Allen said, chuckling. "Or whatever euphemism you want to use."

And so: a call back to Durand, who was unperturbed and only slightly confused.

"Anybody who wants to write me in, they can do that at the bottom, I think," he said.

Don't be surprised then if, after your meal at Cyrano's Bistrot, Durand's River North restaurant, the chef asks you to do just that. While you're at it, ask him about the cookbook he's writing on the gastronomy of Bergerac, his hometown in France. He's working on it. Really, he is.

by guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes:

Matthew Eisler knows two things: bars and how to give people a good time.

Eisler has stirrers in more than a few drinks. He's the owner/operator of Bar Deville, Angels and Kings, Empire Liquors, Nightwood and Bangers and Lace.

If you're gearing up to have a Halloween party, then you might take a tip from Eisler (a change from leaving change on the bar, but it's time for trick-or-treat, after all). He plans his menus with care, but cheerfully admits, "The offerings aren't the main draw; it's the atmosphere, the music, the experience as a whole. People are coming out to have fun." Sounds like a celebration - and it takes the pressure off whoever's throwing the party. Yes, you want to serve the best to your friends and family, but don't get too fussed if everything isn't perfect. They're there to have a good time.

Hold that thought. Eisler does. "There are trends," he acknowledges, "toward serious craft cocktail lounges." Yes, there are. Eisler's doors are open to people ready to escape the serious, ready to relax, laugh and enjoy a few hours of life.

What better night to play than Halloween? IMG_9382.jpg

Eisler has a perfect tequila drink for All Hallow's Eve. Do the prep work in advance. Buy a few bags of Pop Rocks. Pour them onto plates. You can mix the colors for a confetti effect, but if you keep them separate, then you can arrange an attention-catching tray - and, just like Eisler's customers, your guests will have a great time choosing colors.

Dip the topmost edges of the glasses in liquid. What liquid? "We started in a pretty conventional way," Eisler says. "Take a lime, run it around the rim of the glass." That's not your only option. "A little bit of diluted honey works." (Diluted: two parts water to one part honey.) Agave nectar, made from the same plant used for tequila, plays nicely with this drink. Eisler says the nectar and Pop Rocks complement each other. Want to use thinned fruit nectar? Simple syrup? It's your party.

Don't use too much liquid; you want it just moist enough to hold. Rim the glasses with Pop Rocks and arrange them as you will. (Diagonal rows look striking.)

To serve, fill the glasses with Hornitos tequila. Don't let the liquor touch the candy. Save the sweet explosions for your guests' mouths.

It's that simple.

According to Eisler, it's not just the alcohol that gives a kick. "Even when people are aware of what they're drinking, they still have a little smile on their faces afterward." If you don't tell your friends what's on the rim, then they might easily mistake the candy for colored sugar. Once they taste it, though . . .

Tequila and Pop Rocks. It's a shot of trick and treat.

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The inimitable Ina Pinkney of Ina's, 1235 W. Randolph, is one of three chefs up for a Golden Bowl Award from the culinary organization Women Chefs and Restaurateurs. The award, to be presented in Washington D.C. this weekend, recognizes excellence in baking and pastry arts.

While the nomination alone makes her giddy, here's what really tickles Pinkney: She and 20 fellow female chefs will get a tour of the White House kitchen Sunday from White House commander-in-chef Cris Comerford, she says.

"I'm going to call David Axelrod," Pinkney says. "He was a regular here [at her restaurant, Ina's], as was Rahm Emanuel and Valeria Jarrett. So I'm going to see if David's working and see if I can get a glimpse of the West Wing!"

She says this with a laugh, but she's serious. And don't think she doesn't have pull.

In 2007, the Wall Street Journal named her West Loop restaurant one of the nation's top power breakfast spots. Pinkney says that's because she never feeds the press tidbits on her powerful dining guests and because "it's very, very quiet and the tables are far apart. The deals get done."

Daley eats there. Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda have eaten there. Judy Baar Topinka just announced her candidacy for state comptroller there Sunday, with a photo in our paper to boot. ("Republicans don't tip as well, but they're still welcome here," Pinkney had to explain to a Democratic friend who groused about this to her.)

Some of you also may remember that Pinkney ran for mayor in 2007.

Ok, so she kind of did it cheekily at the suggestion of a regular customer, after Jesse Jackson Jr. and Luis Gutierrez dropped out. In her monthly newsletter mailed out to customers in December of that year, she offered up a list of city departments she would create if elected (our favorite: the Dept. of Snacks and Morale).

It was after a call from one alderman, a visit from another and a call from Daley's chief of staff that she realized, "they had no sense of humor whatsoever" -- and formally threw her toque in the ring as a write-in candidate.

Pinkney got 2,302 votes. "And three unannounced inspections from the city that day."

"Even now, it makes me laugh," she says.

You know, Ina, 2011 is coming up fast.

Oh, she knows. "And I keep saying, 'You never know,' " she says.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

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

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