Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com: Hits and misses at this year's Taste

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com
Headlines from chicagotribune.com

Hits and misses at this year's Taste
30 Jun 2011, 8:00 am

There may not be any fireworks at this year's Taste of Chicago, which runs through Sunday in Grant Park, but the annual food and music festival is providing quite a few sparklers, and a few duds.

Counting today, there are four more afternoons and evenings left to this year's festival. I've given some food items firecracker ratings (the more firecrackers, the better, and duds are, well, duds) to give you an idea how you should spend your money in the remaining days:

An enthusiastic three firecrackers to Bobak, whose offerings include an excellent Polish sausage and an eye-opening chicken chipotle sausage, available in full and Taste (small portion) sizes. The full-size chicken sausage earned a "Healthier Choice" designation from Humana, so the Taste portion (4 tickets) is that much better an option.

Two firecrackers to the steak tacos at Carbon. Not only is it a decent value at 5 tickets, but the tomatillo salsa (the medium-spicy option) has a tangy, lightly spicy kick. Not bad at all.

Two firecrackers for the mustard-catfish nuggets at BJ's Market. A Taste portion (4 tickets) is all you need.

Two firecrackers for the barbecue pork sliders (8 tickets) at Polo Cafe, but only one firecracker for Polo's close-but-no-cigar salmon burger — though I give Dave Samber's operation credit for ambition.

Three firecrackers for Lou Malnati's cheese pizza (6 tickets). Malnati's has been at every Taste except for the 1980 inaugural event, and they continue to put out a great effort.

Four firecrackers for my favorite new dish at Taste, the dry-chili chicken from first-time vendor Lao Sze Chuan. For 10 tickets, you get stir-fried chicken chunks and enough chili peppers to scorch your tonsils. This isn't just the spiciest dish at Taste; this is the spiciest dish in Taste history. And no, I'm not complaining.

Two firecrackers to the turkey meatloaf "cupcake" (8 tickets) from Parrot Cage. Parrot Cage is the student-run dining room operated by Washburne Culinary Institute, and this student-produced dish, a well-seasoned turkey meatloaf in the shape of a cupcake, topped with whipped-potato "frosting," is one of the most interesting dishes at Taste.

A conditional three firecrackers to Smoke Daddy, for its pulled pork sandwich. It's a great little sandwich, rich with smoky flavor, but at 14 tickets it sets a new high-water mark for price. I really like this sandwich, but 14 tickets? (Those who tried this sandwich late Monday afternoon got a bonus: Smoke Daddy ran out of mini-buns, so it served its 4-ticket "mini" sandwich on a full-size bun.)

A dud to the lobster roll set out by Cubby Bear. Not only is the bun wrong, not only does the sauce taste like Thousand Island dressing, but the chunks of lobster are fleshed out by what appears to be surimi. All this for 12 tickets? Pass.

A dud to the beef shawarma sandwich (10 tickets) at Alhambra Palace; the sandwich is an overcooked snore.

A dud to Beggars Pizza; I found their sausage pizza barely acceptable, hampered by a flat, cardboard-y crust. At least Beggars Pizza offers half slices at Taste portion prices (4 tickets). Then again, Bacino's does the same thing with its stuffed-spinach pizza, a much better option (two firecrackers for Bacino's).

A firecracker to Vermilion's maharaja sandwich (11 tickets), an inventive blend of shredded beef, crispy onions and mint-mayo sauce.

A firecracker to the just-spicy-enough jerk wings (8 or 4 tickets) at Banana Leaf.

And a grateful two firecrackers to Original Rainbow Cone, a Chicago classic, for being there when I needed them. Specifically, immediately after I downed a plate of that dry-chili chicken. That stuff is hot.

pvettel@tribune.com

Twitter @philvettel

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Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com: Tips for a terrific Taste of Chicago

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com
Headlines from chicagotribune.com

Tips for a terrific Taste of Chicago
22 Jun 2011, 8:10 pm

What to bring, what to leave home, where to park and other words of wisdom from critic Phil Vettel, who has covered Taste of Chicago for more years than he cares to acknowledge

Times, dates, place: Taste of Chicago runs Friday through July 3 in Grant Park, along Columbus Drive between Monroe Street and Balbo Avenue. Hours are 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. every day except July 3, when the fest closes at 6 p.m. Ticket sales cut off a half-hour before closing.

Buying tickets: Admission is free. Food and beverage tickets are sold in strips of 12 tickets for $8. Most items cost between 2 and 12 tickets each (three items at Taste are going for 14 tickets, an all-time high). Through Thursday, discounted tickets ($6 per strip) are available at Dominick's food stores (for Fresh Values cardholders only). Beginning Friday, full-price tickets will be available at Dominick's stores and the Taste site. Credit cards are accepted at Taste ticket booths, but the cash-only lines always move fastest.

Getting there: Public transportation is the way to go. For RTA, CTA and Metra information, check transitchicago.com or call 836-7000 (all Chicago-area area codes) or 312-836-4949 (TTY). If you drive, the closest parking spaces are at Millennium Park garage, East Monroe garage and Grant Park North and South garages; check millenniumgarages.com for information and discount deals. Parking is available at the Waldron Deck garage, at Soldier Field, for $13; catch the free McDonald's trolley (operating 10:45 a.m.-8 p.m. every day except July 3, when it stops at 5:30 p.m.) to and from the Taste site. Pre-purchase parking vouchers at soldierfield.clickandpark.com. Bicycles aren't permitted in the Taste area, but complimentary bike parking is available just outside the site.

Accessibility: The Taste area is wheelchair accessible, though it does get very crowded at peak times. There are designated accessible washrooms and seating areas. Braille and large-print Taste menus and assistive listening systems are available at the southeast corner of Columbus and Monroe.

When to go: The least-crowded days and times are midweek, between 2 and 6 p.m.

What to bring: When my kids were little, we'd load up the Radio Flyer with the following: blanket, sunscreen, bottled water (coolers with water and soft drinks are permitted), pre-moistened towelettes, hand sanitizer (those wash-up stations run dry frequently), small paring knife (useful for dividing food items), extra napkins, rain ponchos (more practical than umbrellas). Wagons also come in handy when little legs get tired.

What not to bring: No alcoholic beverages of any kind. No glass containers. All backpacks, coolers, etc. are subject to search.

pvettel@tribune.com

Twitter @philvettel

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Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com: Burgers, fries, beer — and a slice of history

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com
Headlines from chicagotribune.com

Burgers, fries, beer — and a slice of history
30 Jun 2011, 3:34 pm

It's a drizzly weeknight in late May, and the plastic chairs in the beer garden of Moody's Pub are empty and threatening to bolt with each gust of wind. Inside, the bar is dark and cozy and warmed by the smell of charcoal-grilled burgers. The Cubs are on TV — losing already in the first inning — but no one's paying attention. A crowd of young men sit at a long table and cackle over pitchers of beer. Nearby, a senior citizen struggles to hear his cellphone, which is pressed to his ear and set to speakerphone. In the corner booth, a handful of people gather, decorating the table with a huge flower arrangement; moments later, a woman walks into the bar and is welcomed with a subdued chorus of "surprise!"

Servers make the rounds, fists clutching a half-dozen mugs at a time, arms stacked with as many as four baskets of the pub's beloved burgers and fresh-cut french fries. It's a sleepy night, and the vibe is something like a Sunday night before a busy school week.

And indeed, busy days would come for Moody's Pub: The following week, the restaurant's sprawling, two-level beer garden draws the summer's first crowds. On sunny afternoons and balmy evenings, the 60-table space becomes Edgewater's de facto back porch. As "helicopters" flutter from silver maple trees shading the garden, children slurp Shirley Temples while their parents chat over sangria. Often, grandma and grandpa round out the table.

"We're going on our third generation of regular customers," said Glen Bernoff, who has worked at Moody's Pub for 34 years.

"We have two sets of regulars: Ones in the summertime who like to sit outside, and ones in the wintertime who like to sit inside and eat peanuts."

Moody's Pub has been a neighborhood fixture since owner John Kahoun built the building at 5910 N. Broadway in 1969. Moody's opened in 1959 at North Avenue and Wells Street, said John "Jake" Kahoun Jr., John Kahoun's son who now runs the pub. It moved to a second location on Larrabee Street, but it burned down, so John Kahoun enlisted a buddy from college who was an architect to design a building.

The new Moody's Pub was built on an empty lot along a strip of Broadway known at the time for auto dealerships. Jake Kahoun said his dad — now 78 and having difficulty with his memory — loves arches. As a result, the facade is dominated by an arch with two stories of rounded bay windows.

Once the building was up, John Kahoun set to work. He built the beer garden, constructing brick walls to house shade trees as well as miniature ponds that once were home to goldfish. Inside, he built the fireplaces, booths and bar. Jake Kahoun said his dad salvaged a fireplace from a downtown hotel — complete with a mirror perched atop a carved mantelpiece — and used it to frame bottles of liquor behind the bar.

Bits of Kahoun family memorabilia fill the walls of Moody's Pub: A portrait of Jake Kahoun's "great-great Moodys"—relatives from his paternal grandmother's side of the family — hangs over the center of the bar. A cow's skull from the Moody's family farm in McGregor, Iowa, catches the orange glow from the grill when the flames flare up.

Farther down the wall hang a pick and ax from a lumber mill on Flambeau Lake, in northern Wisconsin, where his dad worked during high school. And then there is the seashell from his parents' honeymoon in Cape Canaveral, Fla. And the Nazi helmet and fencing mask customers brought in when the bar was in Old Town.

Patches of stained glass glow along the walls facing the bar. Jake Kahoun points out the pane his father made — it features a thin red cross — and says the rest were made by a family friend. He also points out the pictures his aunt painted — one of his sister, another of his mother while she was pregnant — but it's so dark he has to pull out a flashlight to show them off.

"I asked my dad once, 'Why don't you show the art better?'" Jake Kahoun said. "And he said, 'It's not really art. It's just taking up wall space.'"

ctc-dining@tribune.com

Moody's Pub

5910 N. Broadway 773-275-2696

moodyspub.com

Open: 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday, and noon to 1 a.m. Sunday.

Established: in 1959; moved to current location in 1969

Known for: burgers, french fries, reasonably priced drinks, summertime patio, wintertime fireplaces

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Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com: The proof is in the patty

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com
Headlines from chicagotribune.com

The proof is in the patty
30 Jun 2011, 3:34 pm

Nearly three years ago, a food writer, a dining critic and a mostly vegetarian entertainment reporter piled into a Tribune-owned Chevrolet Malibu and hit the road to name Chicagoland's best veggie burger. The initial research was conducted by Tribune reporter Monica Eng, who sacrificially scarfed down more than a dozen before bringing Phil Vettel and this former pescatarian (don't judge) on board to hash out the final four: Grand Lux Cafe, The Counter and Ed Debevic's, all in Chicago, and Michael's Chicago Style Red Hots in Highland Park.

Back then, those were our best bets. The newly opened Counter, a build-your-own-burger joint offering multiple proteins (or faux) and fixings, was a novel concept at the time, while Michael's was an old standby we couldn't ignore. Ed Debevic's offered a satisfyingly meaty meatless burger, and Grand Lux, that guilty pleasure destination among Tribuners and so many others, wowed us with its wild mushroom patty and basil aioli spread — and won.

So many burger joints have opened since our last roundup, Vettel and I decided to eat in search of the best new veggie burger in Chicago, presumably one that would give Grand Lux a run for its mushrooms. Fortunately, all those options provided deliciousness to spare and also taught us that there is no one predominant breed of burger — not even among the veggies. This led to a manifesto of sorts (see story at right) to help us sort the warmed-over Bocas from the bona fide burgers.

After seeking out and sampling as many patties as possible, we settled on seven worth their weight in soy protein. Our winner, DMK Burger, was the clear standout, and the runners-up are featured on the back page

.

DMK Burger's House Veggie & Grain was the clear winner of the veggie burgers we tried, but six others also impressed us:

Rocking Horse

Loaded Veggie Burger: This one's got the works: avocado, grilled red onions, roasted red pepper aioli and provolone on a football-shaped patty that we were shocked to learn is trucked in by Rosemont-based U.S. Foodservice. Made from brown rice, carrots and green peppers and finessed by chef Ricky Rodriguez, it's almost too good to be true. $9, 2535 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-486-0011; rockinghorsechicago.com

Mity Nice Grill

Veggie Burger: It's technically portobello mushroom-based, but Mity's patty is way more complex, and delicious, thanks to a blend of spinach, pumpkin seeds and more, encrusted with parmesan cheese and panko bread crumbs. There's a reason it doesn't come with a slice of cheese: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. $11, Water Tower Place, 835 N. Michigan Ave., 312-335-4745; mitynicechicago.com

Tom and Eddie's

Yin & Yang: If you can get past its peculiar green color, this handmade patty of ground and whole edamame beans provides a nice, grainy mouthfeel. It's topped with onion, lettuce and tomato on a multigrain bun; a smear of eggplant spread adds peppery notes, and goat-cheese crumbles add salty creaminess. $8.49, multiple suburban locations; tomandeddies.com

Everest Burger

Base Camp Burger (black bean): At this North Shore spot, the produce is always organic, the meats are humanely raised and hormone-free, and the baked goods are gluten-free on request. Even the ketchup is made without high-fructose corn syrup. And every burger is available in ground beef, turkey, chicken, salmon and three vegetarian styles (portobello, walnut or black bean). $7, 91 Green Bay Road, Glencoe, 847-242-0909; everest burger.com

Burger Bar

Powerhouse Veggie Burger: There's just one veggie option at this eclectic build-your-own veggie burger joint, and it comes standard with some odd choices: arugula, avocado, chipotle mayo and goat cheese. Somehow it all works with the mushroom-based patty, thanks to copious amounts of "urban sauce." Don't ask; just eat. $9, 1578 N. Clybourn Ave., 312-255-0055; burgerbarchicago.com

The Bad Apple

Strange Famous: This "veggie burger created in collaboration with Sage Francis" (we had to look him up too) features a mushroom-and-seitan-based patty with sage marmalade, spinach and, once again, goat cheese. It left our mouths a bit dry, so next time we'll opt to try one of Bad Apple's 16 other burgers using the Strange patty. $8, 4300 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-360-8406; badapplebar.com

Tribune critic Phil Vettel contributed. lviera@tribune.com

DMK Burger

House Veggie & Grain: One bite and we knew this was the winner. As Phil put it, "This tastes like it was made by a chef." Our compliments to Misters Morton and Kornick. Aged cheddar, pesto mayo, fresh tomatoes and surprisingly yummy eggplant complement a patty derived of rice, zucchini, beans, peppers and mixed veggies for a balanced flavor profile that's as different as it is delicious. We'd go out of our way to revisit this one. $8, 2954 N. Sheffield Ave., 773-360-8686; dmkburgerbar.com

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Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com: A veggie burger manifesto for our modern times and tastes

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com
Headlines from chicagotribune.com

A veggie burger manifesto for our modern times and tastes
30 Jun 2011, 3:34 pm

It's almost easier to define the modern veggie burger by what it isn't, rather than what it is.

A veggie burger is not, for instance, a proteinless vessel comprising typical burger fare (lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions) built between two buns and melded together with a consolatory slice of American cheese. That's a sandwich, not a burger. And respectable burger joints that know better rightfully refer to it as such.

Nor is a veggie burger born by substituting a meat patty with a pseudo-exotic vegetable sliced into a half-inch disc. Many otherwise savvy places get away with this tactic, including Patty Burger (eggplant), M Burger (beefsteak tomato), et al. (portobello mushrooms galore). Yes, those are literal veggie burgers: vegetables accompanied by burger accouterments assembled on a bun. But flavor-wise, they're redundant. Does anyone honestly desire to sink his or her teeth into a "burger" whose dominant flavor is a giant rubber tire of a fungus?

The list of veggie burger faux pas is long. Among the worst offenders: turkey burgers (a turkey is not a vegetable), salmon burgers (ditto), tofu burgers (just plain wrong). The most controversial? Black bean burgers. Black beans long to be liberated, free to swim in chili, soup and dips — not mushed together into a claustrophobic pancake smothered with ketchup and mustard, only to fall apart at the first opportunity. Whoever thought the black bean burger was a good idea was probably a meat eater. (One exception made our list.)

Eliminate the impersonators and you're left with only the true entries deserving of the veggie burger title: traditional burger architecture (buns, ingredients, condiments) showing off a non-meat patty comprising a balanced combination of vegetables, grains and/or texturized vegetable protein.

That's it.

Thanks to those chefs who strive toward deliciousness within the aforementioned parameters, the veggie burger is no longer limited to consumption by vegetarians. Conversely, it is no longer acceptable to offer a veggie burger on a menu boasting a chef by name, only to plate a defrosted Gardenburger (or worse, Boca burger).

The best veggie burger, like the best hamburger, should inspire in its maker a desire to create an entree worth salivating over, one that requires two hands and several napkins to conquer, no matter the dietary preferences of its consumer. Until all burger-makers are on board with this manifesto, our work isn't done.

lviera@tribune.com

Twitter @laurenviera

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Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com: Phil Vettel recommends

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com
Headlines from chicagotribune.com

Phil Vettel recommends
30 Jun 2011, 3:35 pm

Inovasi ✭✭✭ 28 E. Center Ave., Lake Bluff; 847-295-1000. The name is Indonesian for "innovation," and that's pretty much what John des Rosiers delivers in this North Shore gem. Asian, Latin and Mediterranean influences abound in his melting-pot-American menu, where you'll find surprises like walleye sashimi and poached grass carp (plucked from a downstate lake) with chimichurri sauce. The interior decor includes echoes of the building's origins as a 1920s school, very much in character for a forward-looking concept that honors its roots. Recommended: Jackson Pollock foie gras, sweet shrimp in lobster broth, "dueling grains," pork shoulder, Scarborough Fair ice cream. Open: Dinner Monday–Saturday, lunch Monday-Friday. Entree prices: $12-$22. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible.

Abigail's ✭✭ 493 Roger Williams Ave., Highland Park; 847-849-1009. The downsides to this 48-seat American restaurant are the lack of reservations (save for the 5-6 p.m. seating) and the extremely loud noise that 48 seated and 24 hopeful diners can create in a small room. Chef/owner Michael Paulsen offers considerable compensation in the form of ingredient-dense but cunningly balanced fare, from daily flatbread pizzas piled high with goodies to memorable fish entrees in a sea of crispy/crunchy/smooth vegetables. Very good service and a smoothly professional hosts (who manage to seat people efficiently and who play fair) are big pluses as well. When summer rolls in and the season renews at Ravinia (about a quarter mile away), this place is even more popular, though sidewalk tables at least boost capacity some. Recommended: Fennel-crusted scallops, Moroccan-spiced whitefish, duck with corn-ricotta ravioli, sticky toffee cake. Open: Dinner Tuesday-Saturday, lunch Tuesday-Friday. Entree prices: $11-$21. Credit cards: DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Accepted from 5 to 6 p.m. only. Noise: Conversation-challenged. Other: Wheelchair accessible.

Xni-Pec ✭ 3755 Grand Blvd., Brookfield; 708-290-0082. This Yucatecan restaurant moved from Cicero to Brookfield in early 2010 to get closer to its west suburban customer base. It did so on a shoestring budget, so don't come expecting elaborate creature comforts. Do expect interesting, cliche-free Mexican food at very low prices. There is the occasional jolt of spice (the name comes from the Mayan term for "dog nose," a reference to some folks' reaction to hot peppers), but in general the food is gentle on the tonsils. Recommended: Empanada trio, vaporcito, papadzules, mole rojo, pok chuc. Open: Dinner Monday-Saturday. Entree prices: $11-$18. Credit cards: DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Recommended weekends. Noise: Conversation-challenged. Other: Wheelchair accessible.

Redd Herring ✭ 31 S. Prospect Ave., Clarendon Hills, 630-908-7295. Roger Herring of Wrigleyville's Socca restaurant set out to create a low-key, family friendly operation in Clarendon Hills, and he has largely succeeded. The menu is familiar and modestly priced (the Allen Bros. steaks excepted), there's a respectable kids' menu in addition to pizza choices and the wood-and-chocolate dining room is cozy and relaxing. The small-capacity dining room tends to fill quickly, even mid-week, so plan accordingly. Recommended: Hen House pizza, mussels in ale, smoked pork chop, short ribs, apple crumble. Open: Dinner Monday-Saturday. Entree prices: $13-$35. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible.

Courtright's ✭✭✭✭ 8989 Archer Ave., Willow Springs; 708-839-8000. A stellar, sophisticated restaurant that radiates country charm, thanks to its tucked-away, forest preserve location, and an Arts & Crafts-style dining room whose picture windows overlook manicured gardens and the untrammeled nature beyond. To that add chef Jerome Bacle (ex-Le Bec Fin), a one-time pastry chef who still likes using fruits and nuts in even his most savory dishes. His Friday themed menus — three courses built around a single ingredient — are cunning and creative and bargains ($35) to boot. Uber-attentive service and a spectacular wine selection push the operation into the realm of the spectacular. And with a la carte and prix-fixe options offered every night, Courtright's is one of the most price-flexible experiences (especially at this level) around. Recommended: Scallops with rhubarb puree, walleye with chorizo-peanut fricassee, butter-poached lobster, angel food cake. Open: Dinner Tuesday-Sunday. Entree prices: $28-$38, five-course tasting menu $75.Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended weekends. Noise: Hushed. Other: Wheelchair accessible, parking lot.

pvettel@tribune.com

Twitter @philvettel

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Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com: Answer this!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com
Headlines from chicagotribune.com

Answer this!
30 Jun 2011, 3:35 pm

Reader question: Recently, four of us went to a Near North restaurant. We had a 7:30 p.m. reservation and arrived at 7:15. The hostess said, "Your table will be ready in just a few minutes." Well, an hour later we were finally seated. The maitre d' said, "That was the longest 15 minutes I ever saw." His effort to be funny merely irked me more than I already was. I asked him why they accept reservations if they don't intend to honor them. His response was "Well, to tell you the truth, we get a lot of regulars who don't feel they need a reservation and, what the heck, we have to accommodate them."

Am I wrong to be livid about this shabby treatment? Is there some way I could have handled it better?

Phil says: Faced with a table of justifiably upset customers, the maitre d' attempted to make light of the restaurant's abject failure to honor its commitment after you honored yours. At the very least, his attitude should have been polite and apologetic.

It's true that restaurants, especially small operations, can have their seating plans upended by just a few unanticipated snags — a couple of lingering tables, a party of four that shows up with six, and in your case, the surprise appearance of regulars (restaurants are not purely democratic enterprises; regular customers are a restaurant's lifeblood, and, as such, get and deserve special consideration). These things happen.

But when they do, the restaurant simply cannot blithely pretend that they did not. If you disrupt one table's evening to accommodate regulars — not in and of itself an injudicious thing to do — you take the next step and do what you can to mollify the table you inconvenienced. You acknowledge the shortcoming, you apologize, and you do what you can to make that table happy.

The maitre d's attitude was dismissive and unprofessional. You have every right to be livid. About the only thing you might have said after his, "we have to accommodate them" remark was, "Regulars or not, this treatment is unacceptable. And I want to know what you're going to do about it."

And if you don't like his answer, walk. That is the customer's ultimate power.

Phil Vettel

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Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com: Drink this!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com
Headlines from chicagotribune.com

Drink this!
30 Jun 2011, 3:35 pm

9:35 a.m. CDT, June 30, 2011

State Street Gimlet: Philip Marlowe drank gimlets. He liked them tried and true, gin and Rose's lime juice, with "a pale-greenish-yellowish, misty look ... sweet and sharp at the same time," as novelist Raymond Chandler wrote. Still, it's tough picturing Marlowe, or any embittered '40s gumshoe, waltzing into State and Lake, on the ground floor of the Wit Hotel, and ordering a State Street Gimlet ($12). It only sounds hardcore. It swaps bite for comfort, gin for vodka, and not just any vodka — cucumber vodka. "It screams freshness and cool temperatures in a summer sun," says Linh Pham, beverage manager at the Wit. He created the drink, which is simple, and looks simple: a cold, clear glass, slice of cucumber, ginger ale, lime juice, grassy cucumber flavor. Pham likes "twists on throwbacks," but gin was strong for a lot of people and "good drinks needn't be that complicated." On a hot July day, you'll want to order several. Talk about a long goodbye. 201 N. State St., 312-239-9400, stateandlakechicago.com

Christopher Borrelli

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Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com: Eat this!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com
Headlines from chicagotribune.com

Eat this!
30 Jun 2011, 3:35 pm

9:35 a.m. CDT, June 30, 2011

Tamale: Tucked away in an upscale strip mall in Oak Brook is Totopo Grill, where chef Dudley Nieto is making a pretty mean tamale. Though the casual Mexican place serves three very good versions, the rajas ($1.95) is the best, filled with strips of sweet poblano chilies and covered in a green sauce with sour cream. The corn is lighter than a standard tamale, almost like a fluffy corn pudding. Even though it's more savory than sweet, we skipped the churros and ordered another one for dessert. Pork and chicken varieties feature meat so tender that it falls apart and a mole sauce that made us lick the plate. 3041 Butterfield Road, Oak Brook, 630-573-8686

— Steve Cavendish

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Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com: The art of making noodles

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com
Headlines from chicagotribune.com

The art of making noodles
30 Jun 2011, 3:35 pm

By Kevin PangTribune reporter

9:35 a.m. CDT, June 30, 2011

Liu Chang Ming is a Thor of a man, with biceps like he was smuggling mangos. He got that way by mastering the art of noodle-making, a skill he first learned in his native China 30 years ago. Now Liu, 49, has been hired as head noodle chef at Chinatown Square's Hing Kee. His noodle-making station sits windowside, where passers-by stand wide-eyed and mesmerized as Liu spins, stretches and hand-pulls a half-dozen varieties of noodles to order. So how does he do it?

1

After kneading the flour-and-water dough, Liu shapes it into a thick rope and pounds it against the stainless-steel table. He moistens the dough by adding oil and water from a squirt bottle.

2

Liu heaves the rope up and down, stretching it, twisting it into braids. He repeats the process several times. This stretches gluten to enhance the noodles' chew.

3

He breaks the dough rope into several skinnier dowels and dusts them with flour so the noodles won't later stick together.

4

Liu folds a dowel over and tugs at it with both hands. He folds the two strands in half and tugs again, creating what is seemingly four strands, but is actually one continuous noodle.

5

The noodles have a sturdy elasticity, not breaking even as Liu continues stretching and twisting them into thinner strands, occasionally shaking the noodles through a dust of flour.

6

Liu tosses the continuous loops of noodles into a vat of boiling water. They float to the surface in about 10 seconds, at which point Liu transfers the noodles into cool water to stop the cooking.

7

Of the toppings available (beef brisket, spicy lamb, shrimp wonton, seafood), our favorite might be the shredded barbecued duck with bok choy, hard-boiled egg and scallions ($6.99).

Hing Kee, 2140 S. Archer Ave. inside Chinatown Square, 312-808-9538

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Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com: Firing off critiques of Taste's hits, misses

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com
Headlines from chicagotribune.com

Firing off critiques of Taste's hits, misses
30 Jun 2011, 3:33 pm

There may not be any fireworks at this year's Taste of Chicago, which runs through Sunday in Grant Park, but the annual food and music festival is providing quite a few sparklers, and a few duds.

Counting today, there are four more afternoons and evenings left to this year's festival. I've given some food items firecracker ratings (the more firecrackers, the better, and duds are, well, duds) to give you an idea how you should spend your money in the remaining days:

An enthusiastic three firecrackers to Bobak, whose offerings include an excellent Polish sausage and an eye-opening chicken chipotle sausage, available in full and Taste (small portion) sizes. The full-size chicken sausage earned a "Healthier Choice" designation from Humana, so the Taste portion (4 tickets) is that much better an option.

Two firecrackers to the steak tacos at Carbon. Not only is it a decent value at 5 tickets, but the tomatillo salsa (the medium-spicy option) has a tangy, lightly spicy kick. Not bad at all.

Two firecrackers for the mustard-catfish nuggets at BJ's Market. A Taste portion (4 tickets) is all you need.

Two firecrackers for the barbecue pork sliders (8 tickets) at Polo Cafe, but only one firecracker for Polo's close-but-no-cigar salmon burger — though I give Dave Samber's operation credit for ambition.

Three firecrackers for Lou Malnati's cheese pizza (6 tickets). Malnati's has been at every Taste except for the 1980 inaugural event, and they continue to put out a great effort.

Four firecrackers for my favorite new dish at Taste, the dry-chili chicken from first-time vendor Lao Sze Chuan. For 10 tickets, you get stir-fried chicken chunks and enough chili peppers to scorch your tonsils. This isn't just the spiciest dish at Taste; this is the spiciest dish in Taste history. And no, I'm not complaining.

Two firecrackers to the turkey meatloaf "cupcake" (8 tickets) from Parrot Cage. Parrot Cage is the student-run dining room operated by Washburne Culinary Institute, and this student-produced dish, a well-seasoned turkey meatloaf in the shape of a cupcake, topped with whipped-potato "frosting," is one of the most interesting dishes at Taste.

A conditional three firecrackers to Smoke Daddy, for its pulled pork sandwich. It's a great little sandwich, rich with smoky flavor, but at 14 tickets it sets a new high-water mark for price. I really like this sandwich, but 14 tickets? (Those who tried this sandwich late Monday afternoon got a bonus: Smoke Daddy ran out of mini-buns, so it served its 4-ticket "mini" sandwich on a full-size bun.)

A dud to the lobster roll set out by Cubby Bear. Not only is the bun wrong, not only does the sauce taste like Thousand Island dressing, but the chunks of lobster are fleshed out by what appears to be surimi. All this for 12 tickets? Pass.

A dud to the beef shawarma sandwich (10 tickets) at Alhambra Palace; the sandwich is an overcooked snore.

A dud to Beggars Pizza; I found their sausage pizza barely acceptable, hampered by a flat, cardboard-y crust. At least Beggars Pizza offers half slices at Taste portion prices (4 tickets). Then again, Bacino's does the same thing with its stuffed-spinach pizza, a much better option (two firecrackers for Bacino's).

A firecracker to Vermilion's maharaja sandwich (11 tickets), an inventive blend of shredded beef, crispy onions and mint-mayo sauce.

A firecracker to the just-spicy-enough jerk wings (8 or 4 tickets) at Banana Leaf.

And a grateful two firecrackers to Original Rainbow Cone, a Chicago classic, for being there when I needed them. Specifically, immediately after I downed a plate of that dry-chili chicken. That stuff is hot.

pvettel@tribune.com

Twitter @philvettel

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Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com: Get this Taste tickets

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com
Headlines from chicagotribune.com

Get this Taste tickets
16 Jun 2011, 10:28 pm

4:28 p.m. CDT, June 16, 2011

Get this!

Taste tickets: Thursday is the first day you can buy discounted Taste of Chicago food and beverage tickets.

Through June 23, area Dominick's grocery stores will sell 12-ticket strips for $6, rather than the $8 that you'll pay at the Taste site. Just show your Dominick's Fresh Values card (if you don't have one, get one; they're free) at the customer service desk to buy the tickets.

There's usually a four-strip maximum per visit, so it might take a couple of visits or more to get as many tickets as you need. But securing a 25 percent discount might be worth the extra effort.

Starting June 24 (Taste's opening day), Dominick's will sell its ticket strips at the regular, $8 price.

Phil Vettel

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chicagotribune.com - Food & Dining: The five stages of grief at Taste of Chicago

Thursday, June 23, 2011

chicagotribune.com - Food & Dining
Headlines from chicagotribune.com

The five stages of grief at Taste of Chicago
22 Jun 2011, 8:52 pm

This is not my 28th Taste of Chicago (out of 31). It can't be. I can't possibly have spent more than a quarter-century of Junes shoveling fried shrimp and barbecued turkey legs down my gullet. Not possible. I don't want to hear it. La-la-la-la-la-la-la ...

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chicagotribune.com - Food & Dining: Onion stack stands tall

Thursday, June 23, 2011

chicagotribune.com - Food & Dining
Headlines from chicagotribune.com

Onion stack stands tall
23 Jun 2011, 8:00 am

My colleague Lauren has this thing for Chili's. She hasn't been in the restaurant for 15 years, the hangout spot of her youth, and now she longs to return.

Good co-worker that I was, I reunited Lauren with Chili's one afternoon. "It's safe and predictable," she said.

"It's like the Old Navy of chain food. You can always go in there and find something that you might need — like a pair of flip-flops — even if you know you can do much better."

We were on a mission for Awesome Blossom, Chili's trademark appetizer of breaded and deep-fried onion bloom. It's amazing how much surface area you can fry with one onion. The breading bore an arid brown color, like some tumbleweed in the desert landscape.

It was accompanied by an adobe-colored dipping sauce, implicitly spicy but never particularly so. It was popular for the reasons Lauren pointed out: You don't particularly need it, you know there are healthier options, but in that moment it just happens to be the most convenient way to trigger pleasure receptors in your brain.

Lauren and I scanned the menu, but Awesome Blossoms were nowhere to be found. This could not be. Chili's sans Awesome Blossom was like The Golden Girls minus Estelle Getty; the two are inextricably linked. When I asked the server, he looked around and said it was taken off the menu some time ago.

I called the company, which offered this official line: "Chili's constantly evaluates and evolves our menu to keep our offerings aligned with our guests' tastes and preferences.

In accordance with those preferences, the Awesome Blossom was taken off the Chili's menu in June 2008." (Around the same time, Men's Health published a report calling it one of the worst foods in America: 2,710 calories, 203 g fat and 6,360 mg sodium on one plate.)

In its place, the waiter suggested, was the Crispy Onion String & Jalapeno Stack, which, according to Chili's nutritional info site, has one-third of the calories and sodium (the basket also looks half the size of an Awesome Blossom).

The innovation is the new dish is Awesome Blossom: Deconstructed. Now fried onion slivers are tossed into a basket with jalapeno wheels in the same breading.

The dish is virtually the same as before — a light, flaky breading, hints of seasoned salt, sweetness from the onions and a ranch dressing dip. It's impossible to mess up. There's nothing not to like.

As we ate, conscious, rational thought faded, and the primordial reflex of hand-to-mouth took over. We lost all control. Lauren and I actually uttered, "OK, we have to stop," and, "Seriously, one last bite," suggesting there was a tinge of shame beneath the momentary pleasures. Then regret set in.

But before you can hate yourself for ingesting the oil bomb, baby back ribs arrive, and your brain's already halfway to barbecue sauce.

Nutritional facts:

Crispy Onion String & Jalapeno Stack with ranch dressing has 1,050 calories, 81 g fat and 2,230 mg sodium.

McGrade: B

kpang@tribune.com

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chicagotribune.com - Food & Dining: Tableside at Sabatino's

Thursday, June 23, 2011

chicagotribune.com - Food & Dining
Headlines from chicagotribune.com

Tableside at Sabatino's
23 Jun 2011, 8:00 am

Sabatino's is an anachronism that's hipper than you'd give it credit for. It is a snifter of brandy, a velvet smoking jacket, Buddy Rich's drum groove on "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy." It is "exquisite" and "quality" spoken with a thick Chicago accent, dressed to the nines in a bow tie and tuxedo vest.

It might also be voted Chicago's best restaurant if AARP The Magazine held a write-in poll, which is to say, the median hairstyle in the dining room is coiffed white. Sabatino's — Old Irving Park's venerable Italian restaurant for 40-plus years — has a menu reflecting its clientele's enduring tastes, with the kind of dishes sadly going the way of the dodo: shrimp DeJonghe, oysters Rockefeller, cherries jubilee, among other chestnuts.

To which I say — and I'm talking to the kids now — don't view Sabatino's as outmoded and uncool just because the chef isn't on Twitter. Remember how badly you wanted Betty White to host "Saturday Night Live," how funny you thought an octogenarian making pop culture references would be, and how despite lowered expectations the show ended up genuinely great? This is the restaurant equivalent to that: It holds up to modern scrutiny, is unexpectedly effective and, yes, so old-school it's hip once more.

The restaurant is so old, in fact, that co-owners (and brothers) Angelo and Enzo Pagni can't nail down an exact date, though they believe it's 1969. Back then, said Sabatino's office manager, Vickie Van Hove, "it was a spaghetti and meatball kind of place, nothing like it is now."

The Pagni brothers took a long boat ride from Genoa to New York City in 1966. Chicago was their destination. They were practically bambinos when they started cooking at Italian Village. After stops at other restaurants in town, they took over Sabatino's on Jan. 1, 1978. The key, Angelo Pagni said, was cooking a dish on that first day and having it taste exactly the same 33 years later. Customers here don't seek progress or innovation. They want reliability and nostalgia.

"We have regulars who drive 30 miles to our restaurant, and that's a long way to come," Angelo Pagni said. "They make the extra mile to see you, you better be on the ball."

If you grew up in Chicago, Sabatino's was probably your first exposure to fine dining at the $30-an-entree level, and your grandparents likely brought you here. You're greeted at the door by neoclassical Grecian statues, because in the '70s they were the embodiment of interior decorating chic. Then you notice the fake bunched grapes, wine barrels and Christmas lights hanging on walls and you think, "Boy, this is some classy joint."

My strategy on a recent Saturday night was to order the oldest-sounding dishes possible. Four stood out as delightfully cliche: steak Diane, Dover sole, veal Marsala and, for dessert, baked Alaska. Luck of lucks, three of the four dishes are prepared table side, and little did I realize the theatrical performance I was about to witness.

Ordering steak Diane is as much about the steak as it is status flaunting. Everyone within a 25-foot radius smells the pan-seared prime New York strip (wet aged for three weeks). They hear the sizzle. They see the rolling cart. Then, when the Courvoisier used to deglaze the pan ignites — whoosh! — every head in the room whips around, and the fire says to everyone in the room: Look at this big spender. The result is a lot of "I'll have what they're having."

The Dover sole is less flashy, but watching longtime maitre d' Eddie Chuqui debone the broiled fish with surgical precision was a sight to behold. Using just two spoons and decades of polish, Chuqui extracts four perfect strips of snow-white fish, waiting for you to drown it in clarified butter almandine. And there's veal Marsala: thin medallions of pounded veal in a mushroom-Marsala wine sauce so silky I'd bathe in it.

I was most giddy, however, for my first baked Alaska experience, the most gaudily spectacular dessert concocted by man. Pound cake surrounded by ice cream encased in meringue engulfed in a rum flame, which was then extinguished with chocolate syrup. At this point you're obligated to take out your camera phone. Others oohed and aahed around us, and if I weren't too proud to admit, I'd tell you I enjoyed the attention.

There's a reason these classics endure. Complex doesn't exist in the flavor vocabulary here. They use fail-safe sauces like mornay, marinara or pure chocolate, and the amount of butter they go through must be incredible. The textures are uniformly tender, typically requiring four chews or fewer before swallowing. Easy, accessible foods that draw a straight line from mouth to brain pleasure receptors, with no detours or byways.

A friend of mine was having trouble getting into Next, the hottest dining ticket in town. I should tell her to try Sabatino's instead, the original time-traveling restaurant, where the menu won't change every three months, if ever.

kpang@tribune.com

Twitter @kevinthepang

Sabatino's

4441 W. Irving Park Road, 773-283-8331

sabatinoschicago.com

Open: 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Friday; 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Saturday; noon to 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

Established: Uncertain; taken over by the Pagni brothers Jan. 1, 1978

Known for: Italian-Chicago cuisine, waiters in tuxedos, flaming tableside presentations

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chicagotribune.com - Food & Dining: Awesome Blossom gone, but onion stack stands tall

Thursday, June 23, 2011

chicagotribune.com - Food & Dining
Headlines from chicagotribune.com

Awesome Blossom gone, but onion stack stands tall
23 Jun 2011, 9:25 pm

My colleague Lauren has this thing for Chili's. She hasn't been in the restaurant for 15 years, the hangout spot of her youth, and now she longs to return.

Good co-worker that I was, I reunited Lauren with Chili's one afternoon. "It's safe and predictable," she said.

"It's like the Old Navy of chain food. You can always go in there and find something that you might need — like a pair of flip-flops — even if you know you can do much better."

We were on a mission for Awesome Blossom, Chili's trademark appetizer of breaded and deep-fried onion bloom. It's amazing how much surface area you can fry with one onion. The breading bore an arid brown color, like some tumbleweed in the desert landscape.

It was accompanied by an adobe-colored dipping sauce, implicitly spicy but never particularly so. It was popular for the reasons Lauren pointed out: You don't particularly need it, you know there are healthier options, but in that moment it just happens to be the most convenient way to trigger pleasure receptors in your brain.

Lauren and I scanned the menu, but Awesome Blossoms were nowhere to be found. This could not be. Chili's sans Awesome Blossom was like The Golden Girls minus Estelle Getty; the two are inextricably linked. When I asked the server, he looked around and said it was taken off the menu some time ago.

I called the company, which offered this official line: "Chili's constantly evaluates and evolves our menu to keep our offerings aligned with our guests' tastes and preferences.

In accordance with those preferences, the Awesome Blossom was taken off the Chili's menu in June 2008." (Around the same time, Men's Health published a report calling it one of the worst foods in America: 2,710 calories, 203 g fat and 6,360 mg sodium on one plate.)

In its place, the waiter suggested, was the Crispy Onion String & Jalapeno Stack, which, according to Chili's nutritional info site, has one-third of the calories and sodium (the basket also looks half the size of an Awesome Blossom).

The innovation is the new dish is Awesome Blossom: Deconstructed. Now fried onion slivers are tossed into a basket with jalapeno wheels in the same breading.

The dish is virtually the same as before — a light, flaky breading, hints of seasoned salt, sweetness from the onions and a ranch dressing dip. It's impossible to mess up. There's nothing not to like.

As we ate, conscious, rational thought faded, and the primordial reflex of hand-to-mouth took over. We lost all control. Lauren and I actually uttered, "OK, we have to stop," and, "Seriously, one last bite," suggesting there was a tinge of shame beneath the momentary pleasures. Then regret set in.

But before you can hate yourself for ingesting the oil bomb, baby back ribs arrive, and your brain's already halfway to barbecue sauce.

Nutritional facts:

Crispy Onion String & Jalapeno Stack with ranch dressing has 1,050 calories, 81 g fat and 2,230 mg sodium.

McGrade: B

kpang@tribune.com

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chicagotribune.com - Food & Dining: Cheap Eater minis

Thursday, June 23, 2011

chicagotribune.com - Food & Dining
Headlines from chicagotribune.com

Cheap Eater minis
23 Jun 2011, 4:47 pm

A roundup of recently reviewed inexpensive restaurants and dishes.

Hot Doug's: Who hasn't heard of Hot Doug's? It's not like it needs more publicity. But I'm making the case that it is the quintessential Chicago restaurant of our time. It's the one place that imbues the humble foods of Chicago's yesteryear with a fine dining ethos. Owner Doug Sohn could lay claim to being a pioneer of the low-foods-high-appreciation movement, taking the simple hot dog and elevating it with pork sausage, curry mayonnaise and a cocoa-powder-rubbed aged goat cheese. Or, add four lobes of creamy foie gras atop a Sauternes duck sausage. At Hot Doug's, you can track how the Chicago hot dog has evolved, and the path it's heading down. 3324 N. California Ave., 773-279-9550

Skylark: The corner bar at Halsted Street and Cermak Road opened eight years ago in Pilsen, and somehow became known for one item: its tater tots. Side-by-side with school lunchroom versions, these tots appear to have been fried an extra 30 seconds. They bear a hue one shade east of golden, approaching orange. Bite in, and a high-treble crunch emanates from the molars, then a mellow hit of salt-and-pepper-seasoned potato. You can't help but eat every last one. So are they worth a long drive? Well, that depends on how important tater tots are in your life. 2149 S. Halsted St.; 312-948-5275

Podhalanka: This Noble Square mainstay has been serving Polish food for 28 years, with no signs of emerging from its time capsule anytime soon. Highlights are aplenty: house-made kompot is a refreshing juice of plums and grapes. Zurek is a white borscht with half moons of kielbasa: warm, delicious, tangy through the dill prism. Stuffed cabbage is like Polish boudin, filled with pork and rice in tomato cream sauce. My favorites, though, were the cheese blintzes, the finest version I've tasted: soft blinis crisped on both ends, fluffy farmer cheese with the vaguest savory notes, powdered sugar and a dollop each of sour cream and applesauce. It's a perfect bite. 1549 W. Division St., 773-486-6655.

Big Daddy's BBQ: In the restaurant desert that is Gary, Gordon Biffle is barbecuing rib tips and more — with an Asian twist. Biffle spent his high school years working at a Chinese restaurant. One day he crossbred barbecue with sweet and sour sauce, and he liked his vaguely exotic concoction. Biffle's dream of opening his own restaurant was born. Now he's the owner/chef at Big Daddy's BBQ, and what's more, last August it was awarded "Best BBQ joint" by Steve Harvey's Hoodie Awards, a nationally televised ceremony honoring black-owned businesses and organizations. 4213 Cleveland St., Gary, 219-888-9592.

Ikea: Leave it to Ikea to become the Swedish meatball's greatest ambassador. At its Schaumburg and Bolingbrook locations, meatballs come 15 to a plate. At $3.99, with mashed potatoes and lingonberries, it's comically cheap. These aren't the pulverized-meat rubbery beef balls from Vietnam, nor coarse-ground Italian-American meatballs, but somewhere in between: minced, lumpless, consistent texture throughout. You could slice one with the side of a plastic spoon. The flavors don't scream any one animal, just a pleasant veal-ness with mellow tones of pork. The caramel brown gravy is beefy, a touch sweet with a dash of cream. When they come together — meatball, gravy, potatoes and lingonberries in one bite — it's like taking a fork to every TV dinner compartment simultaneously, crossed with that sweet-savory-tart comforting flavor of Thanksgiving, while dining in a store that outfitted MTV's "The Real World." 1800 E. McConnor Parkway, Schaumburg, 847-969-9700; 750 E. Boughton Road, Bolingbrook, 630-972-7900

bopNgrill: Will Song, a former sous-chef at the ritzy Sunda, has downgraded his digs — but not his food — at Evanston's bopNgrill. This is food that speaks to Song's heart, whose Korean-American upbringing reflects his menu. There are some terrific burgers: Our two favorites were the kimchi burger (Song's mother makes the kimchi in house) and the Loco Moco burger, based on the Hawaiian plate of the same name, with bacon, fried egg and short rib brown gravy. The rice plates offer generous portions of grilled meats. Go with the barbecue chicken, hunks of boneless thighs marinated in a soy-pear juice marinade. 1903 Church St., Evanston, 847-733-7102 (closed Sundays)

Villa Nova Pizzeria: In an area where deep-dish pizza grabs the headline, Villa Nova Pizzeria in Stickney has stuck to its Sicilian thin-crust roots since 1955. The sausage pie is a highlight: The tomato sauce leans on the proper side of acidic, and the mozzarella isn't some weighty cheese bender — there's just enough. The crisp-then-crunchy thin crust wafts an aroma of a bakery at 7 a.m., with enough structural integrity that it barely droops when held at the corners. It is portioned in the party-cut grid so prevalent around these parts, 24 democratically lengthwise slices in the family-size pie, each topped with two evenly spaced nubs of pork sausage. It's a fine, house-recipe sausage: spiced, not salty, dense but moist. 6821 W. Pershing Road, Stickney, 708-788-2944

Uncle Mike's Place: The pied piper of Filipino breakfasts in Chicago is, inexplicably, a Polish-Ukrainian man named Mike Grajewski. Married to a woman from the Philippines, Grajewski has found a niche at Uncle Mike's Place by serving traditional Filipino breakfasts. These include longanisa, the sweet, garlicky, anise-spiced pork sausage link with a lipstick red color. It's accompanied with fried eggs and served over garlic-fried rice. The tocino is just as excellent: Same flavor profile as longanisa but in grilled, sliced pork form. 1700 W. Grand Ave., 312-226-5318

Mac & Min's: Formerly Jerry's Sandwiches, owners Mark Bires and Mindy Friedler have transformed the West Loop space into this po'boy shop. Opt for the fried shrimp and oyster po' boy (known in Louisiana as The Peacemaker, so named because men who caroused late into the night offered this sandwich as an olive branch to the fairer sex). Its seasoning is simply salt, pepper and cayenne pepper; the hallmark here is the corn flour batter, which fries smoother and crunchier than corn meal without the granular texture. The portions are generous, and a few wayward pieces of seafood will surely tumble from the flaky D'Amato roll. Dressing is standard — tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, mayo and Crystal hot sauce. 1045 W. Madison St., 312-563-1008

Santouka: The ramen of your youth, the 10-for-a-dollar bricks of sodium bombs you ate in your dorm room alone, should not be the junk you associate true ramen with. The real stuff doesn't taste as if a dump truck of salt got poured in your mouth. The soup is what makes and breaks traditional Japanese ramen, and requires the passage of time for the stock to develop its flavors. My favorite ramen remains the Special Toroniku Shio Ramen at Santouka, located within Mitsuwa's food court in Arlington Heights. The broth is rich and wintry white, accompanied by toothsome noodles and buttery, luscious slices of pork cheeks. Inside Mitsuwa Marketplace, 100 E. Algonquin Road, Arlington Heights, 847-357-0286

Club 81 Too: As far south and east as Chicago goes, you'll find the neighborhood of Hegewisch. It's home to Club 81 Too, which in the proud tradition of South Side bar-restaurants, takes anything deemed edible and deep fries the bejeezus out of it. Walleye and perch are solid bets — flaky, firm, clean-tasting white fishes. But our favorite, by far, is the fried chicken: greaseless to the touch, the chicken's lightly crisp skin allows the teeth to sink effortlessly through before a surge of hot chicken juices and fat gush out, buttery and delicious. Cash only. 13157 Avenue M, 773-646-4292.

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chicagotribune.com - Food & Dining: Tips for a terrific Taste of Chicago

Thursday, June 23, 2011

chicagotribune.com - Food & Dining
Headlines from chicagotribune.com

Tips for a terrific Taste of Chicago
22 Jun 2011, 8:10 pm

What to bring, what to leave home, where to park and other words of wisdom from critic Phil Vettel, who has covered Taste of Chicago for more years than he cares to acknowledge

Times, dates, place: Taste of Chicago runs Friday through July 3 in Grant Park, along Columbus Drive between Monroe Street and Balbo Avenue. Hours are 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. every day except July 3, when the fest closes at 6 p.m. Ticket sales cut off a half-hour before closing.

Buying tickets: Admission is free. Food and beverage tickets are sold in strips of 12 tickets for $8. Most items cost between 2 and 12 tickets each (three items at Taste are going for 14 tickets, an all-time high). Through Thursday, discounted tickets ($6 per strip) are available at Dominick's food stores (for Fresh Values cardholders only). Beginning Friday, full-price tickets will be available at Dominick's stores and the Taste site. Credit cards are accepted at Taste ticket booths, but the cash-only lines always move fastest.

Getting there: Public transportation is the way to go. For RTA, CTA and Metra information, check transitchicago.com or call 836-7000 (all Chicago-area area codes) or 312-836-4949 (TTY). If you drive, the closest parking spaces are at Millennium Park garage, East Monroe garage and Grant Park North and South garages; check millenniumgarages.com for information and discount deals. Parking is available at the Waldron Deck garage, at Soldier Field, for $13; catch the free McDonald's trolley (operating 10:45 a.m.-8 p.m. every day except July 3, when it stops at 5:30 p.m.) to and from the Taste site. Pre-purchase parking vouchers at soldierfield.clickandpark.com. Bicycles aren't permitted in the Taste area, but complimentary bike parking is available just outside the site.

Accessibility: The Taste area is wheelchair accessible, though it does get very crowded at peak times. There are designated accessible washrooms and seating areas. Braille and large-print Taste menus and assistive listening systems are available at the southeast corner of Columbus and Monroe.

When to go: The least-crowded days and times are midweek, between 2 and 6 p.m.

What to bring: When my kids were little, we'd load up the Radio Flyer with the following: blanket, sunscreen, bottled water (coolers with water and soft drinks are permitted), pre-moistened towelettes, hand sanitizer (those wash-up stations run dry frequently), small paring knife (useful for dividing food items), extra napkins, rain ponchos (more practical than umbrellas). Wagons also come in handy when little legs get tired.

What not to bring: No alcoholic beverages of any kind. No glass containers. All backpacks, coolers, etc. are subject to search.

pvettel@tribune.com

Twitter @philvettel

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