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Recently in Mexican Category

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[Al Podgorski~Sun-Times]

My, these Tacos de Camaron use a lot of garlic and chipotles in adobo.

That was my first thought when looking over the recipe from Mercadito's Patricio Sandoval, who wrote today's At the Chef Table column.

A 1/2 cup -- about 20 cloves -- of garlic, and an entire can (albeit a small can) of chipotles in adobo? For four little tacos? No way.

But it worked. These tacos were dreamy, bathed in this garlicky, lively sauce cut through with just a bit of lemon juice and butter.

The roasted garlic puree is key. This actually became clear to me when I did this story last summer on tomatoes; Province's Randy Zweiban, who contributed a tomato squash gratin recipe, uses roasted garlic puree a whole bunch of ways, and though he says you can use minced garlic, it doesn't quite hit you with the same depth that roasted garlic would. Is it kind of a pain peeling all these garlic cloves? Kind of. But take the whole head of garlic and smash your knife over it, then give the cloves a good whack, and you're halfway there.

Cover the garlic with oil and bring to a simmer. Once the cloves have softened up and started to color, you're ready to puree them. And bonus -- now you have garlic-infused oil to play with.

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Big Star, 1531 N. Damen, purveyor of the hippest taco in town, this week started offering its DIY Taco Bar for very large taco and tostada orders, so you can replicate the Big Star experience in the less hip comfort of your own home.

Already, there's been one taker -- a 60-taco order yesterday for a Monday Night Football party.

"We're really hoping this is going to take off," says Big Star chef de cuisine Justin Large.

Ingredients are weighted and packaged separately to prevent soggy, sad food. Pricing is the same as the regular menu (tacos run $2 to $3 each), plus a 3 percent surcharge. Not included in the DIY options: the queso fundido, pozole and Sonoran hot dog. Orders need at least one hour of lead time.

One other thing -- the most important thing -- Large wants to clarify: The minimum order amount is 30 tacos or tostadas, not 50 as previously announced. (And so you know, the maximum order amount from the restaurant's walk-up window is 20.)

"When we first opened the to-go window, we had a guy order 70 tacos and that's great," Large says. "But what we're really trying to do is preserve the integrity of the food. When you're wrapping that 70th taco, those first 60 just aren't going to be as good. The spirit of tacos is it's something meant to be eaten fairly immediately and fresh and in-hand. It's the ultimate street food."

To order, call the Taco Hotline -- really, that's what they call it at Big Star, and it's a different number than the restaurant -- at (773) 680-7740.

This seems as good a time as any for Rick Bayless to officially announce his next project, which he did today (confirming what West Coast bloggers have been all atizzy about for a while now): a restaurant in Los Angeles. Red O By Rick Bayless (channeling the Queen of Talk, we wonder?) will open on Melrose Avenue in April, according to a press release. Bayless "will be creating and updating the menu seasonally, training kitchen staff, and overseeing the beverage program," the release says.

Los Angelenos can expect the authentic Mexican food we Chicagoans have come to know and love, as well as "lighter California-style dishes," because, well, they're wussies. We're under a foot and a half of snow -- we can say that.

Dead on Arrival?

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I was intrigued recently to see the transformation of a storefront at Irving and Broadway into a Taco Del Mar restaurant. Founded in 1992 by brothers James and John Schmidt in Seattle, the restaurants emphasize the freshness of their ingredients, have surf shack-like decor and continuing the California Baja theme, feature fish tacos on the menu. Not that we don't already have plenty of little independently-owned Mexican restaurants around here, but this could be an interesting addition to the mix (and fish tacos really intrigue me).

The Chicago location is the first Taco Del Mar in Illinois, but now I wonder if it will open as planned, in light of the news that Taco Del Mar has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

According to the Seattle Times story, "The chain's roughly 225 stores in the U.S., Canada and Guam will continue to operate, and individual Taco Del Mar franchisees are not in bankruptcy. Larry Destro, who has been CEO since May, said he expects to slow growth at the company, which lost $2.8 million between 2006 and 2008."


Just in time for this week's snowstorms, the takeout window at Big Star, the much-hyped Wicker Park taqueria by the Blackbird/Avec/Publican masterminds, has opened.

Window hours are made for nightcrawlers/late-risers: 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. weekdays, 11:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. Saturdays and 11:30 to 2 a.m. Sundays.

Now if only we could satisfy our takeout lunch cravings at that other Mexican joint in River North....

Rich Zamudio just handed me a bowl of pozole. Dear man.

Rewind about 25 minutes. There we were in the lunchroom, heating up our respective lunches. Mine, spaghetti. His? Well, it looked good, smelled good and I'm nosy like that, so I asked for a peek. Pozole!

Rich, a designer in Features, is, as they say, a good egg. He's one of those who just goes about their business, calmly churning it out amid the daily drama. More importantly, he is a superb cook. For our holiday office potluck, he made chicken fajitas, the tender, pulled chicken so pure in flavor and more satisfying than anything else on that table.

So, back to his pozole. Rich makes it with pork spine and hominy. He drives out of his way to get the meat at a little market called La Altena, 8827 S. Escanaba. He simmers the pork for a couple hours, flavors it with a puree of chiles cooked down. The hominy, rinsed -- he likes the Bush's brand -- goes in last. (Funny -- I'd had a random discussion with my editor about three hours earlier about hominy.)

If I was salivating, I didn't mean to be, honest. But then, two seconds after getting back to our desks, Rich walks over with a bowl of the pozole and two fried corn tortillas. A few moments later, he walks back over with half a tiny lime and a salt packet. Squeeze that and sprinkle this over the pozole, he says. Oh, yeah.

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More than the pozole itself -- which was luscious, as I've come to expect -- I love that this was Rich's lunch. That he shared it. That he takes the time to cook.

What a good Monday.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

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

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