Tag Archives: food

I Thought I Was Made to Wander Up to Forty Days and Forty Nights…

7 Aug

I’m at the end of my travels.  I only just arrived in Budapest for the last three days of my journey through Europe, but you always know when a trip is over, last day or not.  How?  Some of you are thinking: “you know it’s over when you’re ready to go home.”  Others are waiting for me to say: “you know it’s over when your skin and the whites of your eyes are turning yellow from jaundice because you’ve been drinking too much.”  Still, some of you out there are thinking: “it’s over when you’ve completed your traveling goals, be it lessons learned or wisdom gained.  No!  It’s over when your goddamn bank account has nothing in it anymore!  That is when it’s over.  Therefore, as I mentioned, I am nearing the end of my trip.

This, I guess, is the part where I pass on unsolicited wisdom.  It’s not because I think I have become one with the world through my five weeks of mobile seclusion; not because I think this will enrich your life—it’s because, as I said, I have very little money, and it’s free to camp out in my hostel and entertain myself writing on this godforsaken blog of mine.  So here it comes.

Over the past four or five weeks, I have traveled through six different countries in the UK and Europe.  I have spent time sightseeing alone, meeting people along the way, and trying many different beers and regional dishes.  I walked a lot.  Not just a lot—like…Old Testament a lot—enough to wear out a pair of Toms to the nubbins and imbue them with the smell of rotting feet enough that washing them or whatever wouldn’t even be worth it.  I kept one for posterity, but the other fell out of my bag somewhere along the way.  And now that it’s all flip flops all the time, the front halves of my feet are like an American ass on a Brazilian vacation: tanned from pasty white to bronze with a thong line.  And in the foot of life…no…don’t worry.

So, anyway, back to didacticism: during my sojourning, I’ve gotten stuck with a couple takeaways I’m not a fan of.  One is that people are an important variable in experience, and the other is that America ain’t so bad after all.  For most of you, these might be ideas you’ve accepted a while now or never even rejected at all.  Some people appreciate both other people and the United States on purpose.  For me, though—a self proclaimed misanthrope and hopeful future ex-pat, these epiphanies come as quite a shock to the system.

First, the people.  This is sort of in two major categories: a) people are actually quite entertaining (easy to grasp) and b) if a tree falls and no one’s there to hear it, did it make a sound?  (I’ll explain in a bit).  So first, quite a bit of my trip has involved me running out of patience for my own stupid mind.  It gets old, walking around touristy places thinking about such inappropriately timed ideas as “does any of this really exist?” or “is Europe magical, in fact, because failing to understand foreign languages protects me from passing derisive judgment on overheard conversations?”

If life is a schnitzel...what does this lemon wedge mean???

If life is a schnitzel…what does this lemon wedge mean???

Sometimes, it would really pay to walk around with a friend who could distract you by making a lewd comment about the abundant number of sausages sold in Eastern Europe or forcing you to take his or her picture with one of those creepy guys painted completely gold/silver.  Therefore, I conclude that over a month of exile has caused me to go soft and has permanently damaged my misanthropy, forever dooming me to a fate of appreciating the people in my life.  Mom, you’re welcome.

So now for the more wonky, metaphorical tree explanation.  It may seem odd, but I feel like a lot of the activities I did didn’t actually occur, because I did them alone.  Have you ever been dragged out to do something kind of pointless on a family vacation?  Can’t think of one?  Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon with family or friends?  Have you ever been there alone?

If you go with family, you feel like you must appreciate the great abyss that is the Grand Canyon/gaping hole in the ground.  Never have you been so pressured to appreciate a lack of something (here, land).  However, you feel you must like it (sort of like in The Emperor’s New Clothes, when everyone pretends they can see his beautiful new robes, but the Emperor is actually naked).  So you take a picture with your family, and you make it your fucking Christmas card, so all the other (Insert Your Town’s Name Here) families can say: “Wow!  The (Insert Last Name Here)s went to the Grand Canyon!  What a great picture!

So, yeah.  I had a couple experiences that may as well have not happened because I was there on my own.  In Brussels, I went to the famed statue of the Pissing Boy.  That, I kind of don’t mind, because I stumbled upon it and didn’t go out of my way, but it would have been a waste, otherwise.  It was very small, and I think the only right way to do it would be to go with a friend late at night and take rudely posed pictures with it.  In Munich, I went to the Chinese Tower at the English Gardens by myself, which was pretty weird.  It was just another beer garden, and there was this Chinese tower randomly in the middle of it…no real point there…In Copenhagen, I went to the Museum of Copenhagen and took funny pictures of all the captions of the pieces on display…I did sort of entertain myself, but I could think of a few people I would have wanted there to have a near-peeing experience.

The Chinese Tower...why?

The Chinese Tower…why?

"Did the child fall through the ice?"  Really, credible, quotable source?

“Did the child fall through the ice?” Really, credible, quotable source?

Enough of this, though.  Bottom line, travel three weeks alone at most, and if you want to travel with someone, take a friend who a) doesn’t suck b) isn’t related to you unless you fill out extensive paperwork beforehand citing acceptable behavior in case of disputes c) will more often than not almost make you piss yourself out of laughter d) is not the kind of person who will wander off or make you babysit them during a night out, and, most importantly, e) IS the kind of person who will find you and babysit you during an ill-fated night out.  You will appreciate the travel buddy for more purposes than just holding your hair after too much palinka and helping you find the cheapest Kinder Eggs and Happy Hippos in town.

So now for this whole patriotism thing.  It’s not that I miss the USA.  It’s not.  It’s just that I miss drinking in the USA and also having my groceries bagged.  For starters, we know how to make a drink (depending on where you are, of course), and because of our short man complex, we tend to brew a danker beer.  Secondly but no less importantly, we bag our damn groceries for the customer!  Right now, these are the two redeeming US qualities I miss the most.

At the bar: in much of Europe, you go into a mediocre bar and order a gin and tonic and find yourself with a shot of gin in a glass, maybe with a lemon slice of sketchy provenance and a small bottle of barely cold tonic on the side.  In the USA: you go to a mediocre bar and order a gin and tonic, and you get gin and tonic water on ice with a damn lime wedge, so help you god.  I’m not kidding.  Ice is a question around here, and it’s about a hundred degrees out.  I got out of the shower today and immediately started sweating; I do not want to have to ask for ice in my damn cocktail.  As for beer, the beer in Europe has been pretty great.  Cask ale in London, strong ales in Belgium, Munich Helles and Dunkel, various indie-brand Danish offerings, Czech Pils—it’s all good.  But the only thing that’s come close to the microbrews I miss from home has been those cool, indie, Danish beers.

It’s not fair, really, because a lot of the Euro styles are appreciable for their traditional roots.  And we learn a lot about brewing from European base styles.  But…I miss the feeling of hop resin on my teeth…I miss the lifting of a day’s stress you enjoy when you finish a 12-oz American Double IPA…I miss getting some convivial spirit out of a couple beers before getting full of carbs and carbonation.  It’s the hardcoreness of it all…the USA takes the cake in the hardcoreness.

And then the grocery bags.  I keep forgetting that not bringing a bag to the local supermarket in Europe means I’ll be walking down Googlymooglystrasse dropping loaves of bread, bottles of conditioner, Happy Hippos, and tampons all over the place.  It’s a shame, really.  Aside from “would you like another beer?” the only words I want to hear right now are “paper or plastic?”

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The Occurrence at Freeman Alley

1 Feb

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This is a story of a city girl and a country boy joining forces in a downtown Manhattan alley.  OK, that came out wrong—let me explain.  In the beginning of this school year, my friend, Austin, approached me about cooking a dinner for Bloomer Creek winery to celebrate their recent addition of a new plot of land to their greater vineyard.  I had gotten to know Debra Birmingham, one of the owners of the winery (and wife of the winemaker, Kim Engle) and artist at the Ithaca farmers’ market during my time at Cornell.  Therefore, I was obviously enticed by the thought of cooking toward the Bloomer Creek wines (which I have thoroughly enjoyed while in Ithaca).

To get the planning started, we took a short trip up to the Bloomer Creek winery one chilly Sunday in October to taste their wines and talk ideas with Debra and Kim.  After basically mudding through an enchanted forest to get there (damn you, GPS, who did not know the easier route), we arrived at the winery.  Before going inside, I could tell the property was beautiful; even though the day seemed gloomy, the area’s extensive green, weathered and healthy vines, and view of the lake had me excited.  Once we entered Debra and Kim’s winery (and home), I was blown away.

This place was not ordinary, and it only took a few questions on my end before I learned that Debra and Kim built the house with their bare hands, painted every wall, and distressed and finished every floorboard themselves.  It was incredible.  After taking it all in, we went over to a central island to taste some wine.  While we tasted from Riesling to Cabernet Sauvignon to distilled grape spirits, we learned how they began the winery, Kim’s philosophy on winemaking, and their take on their wines in the context of New York as well as the world.  Each wine had unique beauty, and as we noted various flavors and aromas, colors and textures, we began thinking food.

Before heading home, we saw the cellar where the magic happens.  Vats and carboys of fermenting wine took up much of the cellar, while old oak barrels housed aging wines.  Kim and Debra explained that they prefer using older oak barrels for their wines so that the grapes can be more readily expressed than they could under a veil of heavy oak flavor.  Even more interestingly, they allow their wines to begin fermentation naturally rather than inoculating with a yeast starter like many other winemakers do.  Even though the fermentation begins more slowly, they said, the wines’ flavors benefit, and this proprietary yeast strain makes their wines more notable.

When we talked about a location for the dinner, Debra and Kim suggested we either have a sit-down dinner in the Bowery section of Manhattan, at their artist friend, Jimmy Wright’s place, or have a cocktail party at the winery.  Although the cocktail party sounded fun, we unanimously agreed an off-site in Manhattan would be a fun adventure.  Besides—with a smaller crowd for dinner, we could control the wine pairing experience better and focus on creating a winning menu to show off these great wines.

Once we got on the road, Austin and I began talking food.  Between the car ride home and a stop at Chipotle for a quick dinner, we had already come up with much of the menu.  First and foremost, we chose our wine progression based on seasonal ingredients we wanted to use.  Then, it was all menu talk.  After drafting a five-course tasting menu, we sent it to Debra for feedback.

She gave the menu the thumbs-up, so we began to plan the dinner for mid-November.  Unfortunately, as the date came closer, Hurricane Sandy hit the city.  Although Jimmy’s place was not damaged by the hurricane, the city was a watery, powerless mess still, and we decided it was clearly best to wait.  After a few back-and-forth emails, we set the date for January 27th, the weekend after classes began again for Cornell.

On January 25th, a Friday, Austin and I drove out of Ithaca for my New Jersey hometown at the crack of dawn.  Neither of us really knew whey we had to leave so early, but we felt we could get more done without a rush if we arrived early Friday.  That day, we shopped for most of our ingredients, finalized our menu, and created a game plan.  We would drive into Manhattan the next day to set up at Jimmy’s and begin prep.

On Saturday, I was excited as I backed my Dad’s old Toyota into Freeman Alley, a small alley off Rivington, where the fabled apartment we would work in, was located.  As of this day, I had not seen the space, even though Austin had, so I was running on blind faith.  After all, this was a sketchy door going into an industrial looking building in an alley.  But you never know these days…  After we got buzzed in, we carried our coolers of ingredients up his couple flights of stairs to the main space.

If I wasn’t speechless from lugging coolers upstairs and being out of shape, I would have been rendered so by the sight of the living space.  When I say this place was cool, I mean it was the sickest looking apartment I had ever laid eyes on.  The apartment had everything—exposed brick, random decorations collected over the years, beautiful art, a nice kitchen with two four-burner ranges and ovens, and a lovely man living there.

Jimmy was a rare bird, for sure.  One way to explain how cool he is is to start by noting that he and his late partner renovated the apartment years ago, converting it from a near meth-lab type building to the crazy-awesome studio/apartment that it currently is.  I could also describe him by noting that over a day at his apartment, we heard music from opera to Snoop Dog to jazz to skaa-like stuff.  And he painted his bathroom like a jungle.  And he has some witty-ass humor.  Yes, the dude is awesome.

After we unloaded and organized our stuff, we parked the car and set out in search of Asian herbs and duck breast.  Being close to Chinatown certainly helped; after striking out on duck meat at Whole Foods, we knew where to look.  In a Chinese fish and meat market, we found a pile of birds in the back cooler, most of them chickens.  Fortunately, we found three ducks priced at ten dollars each.  This was great!  We would find out later that the suckers still had heads and feet on and were very possibly frozen with the guts still in, but because we did not need the carcasses, we were in the clear (and the duck passed the taste-test).  We should have known when we saw an oddly small center-cut loin that was most likely from someone’s wire-haired Schnauzer that we were probably not getting a fully fabricated bird situation.  But hey, c’est la vie, right?

Back at the house, we busted out most of our prep for the next day and planned out the table set-up with Debra, Kim, and Jimmy.  After that, Austin and I returned to New Jersey to get some sleep, print some menus, and go over final details.

The day of the party, we only had to finish some prep work, organize, and set up the space for the dinner.  Despite using my family’s old-ass computer and printer for the menus, we came up with something our artist friends deemed nice.  Once we got started with the dinner, it went by in a flash.

When guests arrived, we had cheese and aperitif wine for them.  Debra poured Bloomer Creek’s delicately balanced Riesling and Pinot Noir while we took a break in our cooking schedule to meet and befriend the guests.  Debra insisted that we not rush the dinner or spend too much time cleaning in case we miss out on the company, and her advice did not fall on deaf ears.  Everyone was really great to talk to—we talked to people in the food and wine business, the art business, and a girl close in age to us who gave me advice on where to travel in Hungary.  Cocktail hour was fun, and we cheers’d to finally making the dinner happen.

Course by course, we sent out the food, actually taking the time to eat each course with the guests—another of Debra’s kind requests.  No one was in a hurry, and even though we took time to eat, the whole dinner didn’t drag.

Our first course was a carrot salad with cashews, sheeps’ milk yogurt, oregano, and maple-lime vinaigrette.  We paired it with the Bloomer Creek Block 97 Chardonnay from 2010.  Here, the subtle oak on the wine went beautifully with the smoky, nutty cashews; the maple rounded out the pairing, adding some sweetness where the wine was dry.  Oregano added minty, herbal freshness, and the yogurt brought a tart note to the dish that echoed the Chardonnay’s clean acidity.

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The second course was a black cardamom and vanilla-spiced crispy pork rillette with mizuna salad and challah croutons.  This paired with their Tanzen Dame 2nd Harvest Riesling from 2011.  We designed this course after Debra told us she likes this wine with paté.  Since the Riesling had some spice notes to it, we wanted to bring that home with the spices in the pork.  The vanilla in the dish accented the stone fruit in the wine.  Since the wine had a little sweetness, we dressed the mizuna salad in a high-acid vinaigrette so that the overall pairing wouldn’t end up too cloying or one-note.  Overall, the pairing seemed a success.  And, of course, deliciously butter-laden challah croutons never ruin the party.

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The third course was duck with masa dumplings, squash puree, raspberry-red pepper salsa, and chevre crema.  We paired this with the Cabernet Franc from 2007.  Because we detected a lot of earthy notes and some bell-pepper notes in the Cab Franc originally, Austin wanted to give a nod to his home (Arizona) with some Southwestern flavors.  Hence, the masa dumplings and salsa.  The pairing was really nice here, because the raspberry in the salsa brought up some of the red fruit in the wine a notch and the peppers in the salsa spoke to the capsicum notes the wine already showcased.  The masa and the duck both brought some warmer flavors and umami to the dish, creating a pairing that had it all.

ImageThe fourth course was braised beef tongue with celeriac puree, sour cherry gastrique, and Vietnamese herb salad.  This went with the Cabernet Sauvignon from 2007.  This course was a funny one.  From the outset, I wanted to do braised beef tongue.  As frequent readers of Getinmebelly know, I am an off-cuts girl.  It took minor convincing on my end to get Austin on board with this, and Debra was a little unsure.  But because we went through with a risk, we did reap a high reward—none left a scrap of tongue on the plate.

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Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the heavier wines in the world.  Kim and Debra’s Cab is slightly less oaky than some, allowing the woodsy, fruity qualities from the grape to shine through.  For the pairing, we did a take on steak and potatoes.  Our steak was obviously the tongue, here, and the mashed potatoes were really celeriac puree.  To pick up the acidity, we added the sour cherry gastrique, and to add intrigue, we added the Vietnamese herbs (mint, cilantro, culantro, basil).  The celeriac met some of the woodsier flavors in the wine where a potato might have left them hanging, and the herbs came through for the subtle eucalyptus notes we found in the wine.

The last course was a clementine-saffron sherbet with whipped almond gazpacho, tonic gelée, and smoked paprika gingersnap crunch.  We served this with the Bloomer Creek grape brandy.  This course was a fun one.  We took some very Spanish flavors (saffron, pimentón, white gazpacho), and used them in a dessert.  It hit home for me, having spent time in Galicia, where some meals are finished with the house Orujo, a distilled grape spirit.  No, we did not put garlic in the gazpacho for the dessert, but a little lemon zest and a touch of sugar transformed it into a delicious dessert “soup.”

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Since we charged it in an isi canister, it was really more fluffy than soup, but let’s not get away from the bigger picture.  The spice and crunch from the cookie with the creaminess and acidity of the gazpacho, the bright, saffron-infused sherbet, and the subtly bitter tonic gelée was a pretty dynamic bomb of flavor.  And with the beautiful grape brandy?  It was the shit.  And I’m not bragging—it’s just one of those things when flavor nostalgia hits home.

By sitting down and eating with the guests (something cooks do not do often), we got to see both sides of the story—the cooking and the guest experience.  As Aly, one of the guests, pointed out, the English language does not have a word for good food, good people, and a good place.  Well hopefully, we can make one soon; it seems a few foreign countries already beat us to it.

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When the dinner was over, I think Austin and I both felt mixed senses of relief and loss—even though we were both glad the dinner went off without a hitch, it was our baby.  Since October, we had been planning, tweaking plans, re-engineering the menu…and now it was all over!  I take comfort in knowing that not only did the dinner go well, but that we met some really great people in the process and had a great time collaborating with Debra and Kim.  I know I don’t usually get all sappy here on Getinmebelly, but I am certainly grateful to have a great friend/fellow cook in Austin and that Debra and Kim took that leap of faith having us cater the dinner.  I think it was a master collaboration of Ithaca, Manhattan, food, wine, art, and friends.  May the Barrow Vineyard property we celebrated bring more great wine and great times to Bloomer Creek.

Fun in the Whirlwindy City of Food

2 Aug

I got into Chicago’s O’hare airport at 12:15 on a Friday afternoon.  After a speedy flight sitting between an old lady and an uptight middle-aged woman, I was stoked to finally be there.  When was the last time I flew on a plane?  Yikes.  I was glad to be off-board, back on my comforting land.

“Ah you pole-eese?” asked the Korean cabdriver who I asked for a ride into Evanstion from O’hare.

“What?” I did not understand what he was saying.  I later realized cabbies aren’t supposed to solicit travelers at the airport curb, and therefore he was asking me if I was a policewoman trying to arrest him.  What a jokester.  I didn’t think he would know where I wanted to go, since we could scarcely understand each other, but I had a feeling he had the divine cab driver instinct that would get me to my sister, Maddie, at the Draftfcb office downtown.  He did get me there, and all was good in the world as Madison and I got sushi on her lunch break.

Yes, I said sushi on her lunch break—she is fancy.  She was dressed to the nines like her intern colleagues, and I looked like a semi-stylized punk/hippie burnout hybrid at best.  Womp.  We had a good time catching up before she had to head back to work; we would hit the Purple Pig in a few hours.

We waited a good half hour for a table at the Purple Pig; it was busy, as I’m sure it has been every night since it opened.  We shared a cocktail before sitting down—some boozy answer to the creamsicle called a Montalena.  Once at the table, we got down to business.  I was ecstatic to see so many piggy goodies on one page, and we ordered well: beet salad with goat cheese, watermelon with ricotta salata-like cheese, pork fried almonds, tongue in agro dolce, crispy pig’s ear, Iberico lardo, and the pork shoulder blade steak with ‘nduja and honey.  Holy business.  That stuff was good.  Even Maddie, a self-proclaimed offal-hater, liked everything.ImageImage

That evening, we just crashed at her apartment in Evanston; we had more plans the next few days that required a little recharging of the batteries.

The next day, we hung out at her apartment.  In the morning, we headed to the farmer’s market and grabbed a bunch of ingredients for dinner, and I was stoked to go home with corn, tomatoes, berries, goat cheddar, and lamb spare ribs.  While we watched “Something Borrowed,” a mediocre dramaromcom, I reduced some cranberry juice with the flesh of some old figs Maddie wanted to use up.  For a few hours, I slow-cooked the ribs and then glazed them with the cranberry-fig reduction, and served it all with a corn and tomato succotash with nectarine, micro basil, and the goat cheddar.  I had an awesome time cooking those tasties in her kitchen, and the food came out pretty well.  Who couldn’t love lamb ribs?  They had all the succulence of pork ribs with that exotic, lamby flavor I find delicious.Image

Although we wanted to go out that night, I got tired after a train ride and some hang time at a weird pub called Cheesie’s, where we got margaritas and a grilled cheese sandwich filled with mac ‘n’ cheese…so we called it a night.  Talk about being a lame sister and visitor!  I hoped for more energy for the following day.  Check out my somewhat childish table art at Cheesie’s:Image

The next day, Sunday, we got ready and went to Wicker Park for brunch at Mindy’s Hot Chocolate.  Once we sat down, I was immediately impressed by the beer list offered during brunch.  Hell yeah, breakfast beer.  After checking out the menu for a while, ordering once and finding out 80% of what we wanted was 86’d already, we attempted to order again.   This time, we were successful.  One chai hot chocolate, one Alpha King beer by Three Floyds Brewing Co., one order of donuts with raspberry sauce, chicken and biscuits with gravy for me, and baked egg with ratatouille for Maddie.  ImageImage

This stuff was pretty bangin’.  Although we both thought the kitchen could have used some more salt, everything was tasty.  I think the beer, hot chocolate, and the donuts were the best-prepared things (#pleasetellthechefthebeerwasbrewedperfectly).  My chicken was cooked really nicely, but I felt the biscuit was a little dry or uninspiring, and the gravy was almost solid by the time it arrived to me.  I tried the ratatouille, and I really liked it but for its slight lack of seasoning.

We shopped for about five hours to work up an appetite again, and I actually had some success, even if it meant nearly spending all I had.  A cool ring, a top hat, sunglasses, and a record later, I was all shopped out.  Perhaps the best find was this little mascot I got myself at a funky boutique:Image

Later that day, we had dinner at Girl and the Goat.  I would stage there on Tuesday, and I wanted to get acquainted with the restaurant’s flavor.  Thoughtfully, the restaurant seated us at the chef’s table across from the garde manger station, so we got to witness the fun as we ate.  In addition to what we ordered, the kitchen sent us two gifts: the sockeye salmon tartare with squash and truffle vinaigrette and the goat cheesecake with candied beets and cajeta.

Between the two of us, we ordered the roasted beets with avocado crème fraiche; scallops with foie vinaigrette and plum; oven roasted pig face, goat belly with lobster, crab, and bourbon butter; grilled broccoli with blue cheese and crispy rice; and quatro leches cake with cereal streusel.

Everything was delicious, and I am not just saying that.  That pig’s face was pretty genius, first of all, because essentially it was a sliced, crisped up pig’s head terrine served with potato sticks and a fried fucking egg.  Fried fuckin’ eggs actually make the world go ‘round, if you’ve ever read science-type literature.  And when you eat that dish altogether, with the tamarind sauce, maple gastrique, and cilantro oil, it does taste like the best porky hash in the world.  My brain was all shouting loud, excited expletives, such that I could not hear Maddie talk very well while I was eating it.  Now that I’ve written a paragraph about one dish, I’m just gonna let this dinner experience turn into something of a Steinbeck-length novel (but not Grapes of Wrath, because even I am not cocky enough to write something that long and expect anyone to read it).Image

Now, for everything else, in the order we ate them…First, we had the salmon tartare, the roasted beets, and the grilled broccoli.  The salmon tartare was very clean and delicious; it was served with a salad of thinly sliced zucchini with truffle vinaigrette.  I can’t say the truffle was really my favorite part of the dish; I loved the freshness of the salmon and the zucchini without the truffle.  However, I do think the kitchen made a great argument for using Sockeye salmon over farmed Atlantic salmon.  It was delicious raw, and having recently served Sockeye ceviche at an event I catered, I have to say: enjoyed once, good; enjoyed twice, addicted.  Its darker color and deeper flavor really gives it extra oomph in uncooked preparations.

Moving on to the beets—I can’t begin without noting that my sister loves beets and ordered them everywhere we went while I was in Chicago.  I’m really glad she did, because everywhere we went, they were great.  Girl and the Goat was no exception.  Our beets came in a large bowl with anchovies, breadcrumbs and avocado crème fraiche.  The portion was generous, and I really liked having something besides just chevre with the beets.  Maybe that sounds obvious, but I am always surprised by how many restaurants stick to that classic combo instead of changing things up.  Anchovies were a really nice contrast to the earthy beets, and I probably would have eaten the whole bowl if I a) didn’t order five other things or b) knew for a fact that I would drop dead right after the meal for unknown reasons and therefore did not care how full I would be upon polishing off five generous portions.

The broccoli, people, was just plain stupid good.  Wood grilled and served with a velvety blue cheese sauce and toasted Rice Krispies (yes, the cereal), the broccoli had insane depth of flavor.  I love my cruciferous veggies, and I’m big on roasting broccoli and cauliflower.  But grilling the broccoli added some ‘round-the-campfire nostalgia beyond just dark roastiness, and adding milk and cereal (in blue cheese and crispy rice form), was smart.  The Rogue blue cheese sauce was piquant and in harmony with the smokiness from the grill; the toasted Krispies added crunch factor and intrigue. Image

Now, let’s talk protein.  Following the veggies, we ate some really dank scallops, a goat belly dish that challenged Victorian feasts in decadence, and that crazy pig face described in the above funky passage.   The scallops, served with plum, brioche croutons, and foie vinaigrette, were ridiculous.  Now, these were the fattest scallops I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few scallops in my day.  Seared to brown perfection, they were super tender and sweet.  The brioche croutons added textural contrast while singing buttery back up for the browned scallop flavor and rich foie.  Do I even need to say that the trifecta of scallop with foie, foie with plum, plum with scallop, was perfect?  Maddie liked it, and she is a proclaimed foie-phobe.  Is she on the path to enlightenment?  I believe so; and I thank this dish for the prospect.Image

Now, in the past ten years, the secret on bellies has gotten out.  These days, the only belly fat Americans can’t get on board with is their own.  Pork belly was always the thing.  Then lamb belly.  But goat belly…yes.  Similar to lamb belly in gaminess but perhaps more subtle, the goat belly was meltingly tender while crispy on the outside.  As for the decadence factor, if belly wasn’t hard core enough, Chef Stephanie Izard whips out lobster, crab, and bourbon butter and suddenly the dish is all, “if you’re so badass, eating your bellies all the time, try this, ya pussy!”  And I’m all like, “Screw it!  I’m goin’ in.  Because bourbon butter strikes my fancy, and lobster and crab are awesome. And all these shenanigans in one dish makes me quiver.”  The salad of shaved fennel and some delicate shoots on top offered freshness, and it was tasty, even if mocking in its sparing ray of healthfulness on a plate of lipids.

Everything worked.  The belly and seafood were fun partners, and the bourbon butter bridged the two together pretty nicely—who doesn’t like a little butter with their lobster and some bourbon-y sweetness with their belly?  I dug it.

Dessert was fun.  We ordered the quatro leches cake with blueberries and cereal struessel, and the kitchen sent out the goat cheesecake with beets and cajeta.  I think that between the two, I may have liked the cheesecake more, but it was a close call.  I love this chef for her use of cereal on the menu, because I’ve been a cereal freak since I was about three.  I was down with having corn flakes in my streusel for sure.  I thought that maybe the cake needed a little more of a leche soak, just because my experience with tres leches cake has been on the more “leche-soaked” side.  Even so, it was tasty.

The goat cheesecake was delicious.  Now, I have to say—well played with sneaking the goat cheese-chevre combo in there, chef.  And at that rate, the combo as a dessert was pretty rad.  Candied beets were both sweet and earthy, and the cheesecake was creamy and just goaty enough for a dessert.  Cajeta, a caramel/dulce de leche of sorts made with goat/sheep’s milk and sugar, rounded out the combo in a way that said, “I am not just beets and goat cheese.”  It really worked.  Our server was certainly right when he said we had to try it.

Phew.  You better feel like you just ate that meal, because that was a damn lot of words back there.  So that was my experience with Girl and the Goat.  Staging there was great, and it really didn’t hurt that I got to taste every dish on the menu during my day working there.

The swag of a Chicago kitchen seemed different from that of New York kitchens.  It may be unfair to base my judgment solely on G&TG, since their culture seemed particularly fun, but everyone just seemed more relaxed, and I never heard anyone bitch anyone out.  Everything just flowed smoothly, and no one seemed fazed on the line as they put out plates for 500 or so covers.

The day after our meal at Girl and the Goat, I hung out with some friends in downtown Chicago, and day after that, I went back for my stage.  Those two days flew, and on Wednesday morning, I found myself packing up to fly back to New Jersey.  I would be lying if I said I wasn’t depressed about leaving.  Chicago in general was fun; I could see why Madison wanted to stay and work there during her summer break from Northwestern.  If I didn’t have to go home to cater a dinner, I might’ve even extended my trip.  But Maddie and her roommates probably wanted the rights to their couch back…

Since Madison needed to lock up the apartment, I was cool playing bag lady for part of the day, carrying my luggage around until my 3 PM flight.  I hopped on the train to Wicker Park and walked around for a little, rolling my suitcase up and down the street like a nerdy child in the middle school hallway.  Finally, some stores opened and I checked them out to kill time.  Afterwards, I passed this donut shop Maddie and I had seen a few days before: Glazed and Infused.  The operation ran out of a little window on the side of a restaurant.  Could I resist the maple-bacon donut?  No.  Would it be a waste?  So many maple-bacon wannabes leave me unfulfilled.  This time, however, my doubt was misplaced.

The donut was a freaking revelation.  It was a yeast donut.  Usually, I am a cake donut person.  When I eat yeast donuts, I wonder why I bother.  They are so light and airy that I feel like I am reconstituting the essence of fryer oil with my saliva.  This one, however, was perfect.  The donut had a denser crumb for a yeastie, and it was just the right amount of sweet.  The glaze on top was maple-y heaven, in a perfectly thin but powerful layer.  When I saw that one strip of perhaps not freshly rendered bacon adorned the top, I was skeptical.  How wrong I was.

That one strip of bacon was meaty and a little crispy; one strip down the length of the donut really was enough bacon for every bite.  Warning lights flashed in my brain as I considered the tragedy that my favorite donut (a cake donut from Payne’s Dock, on Block Island) might be replaced with this monstrosity.  I decided they could tie and subsequently calmed.  In my usual obnoxious eating fashion, I ate the two ends, which had the most glaze coverage, and then I ate off most of the glazed external part of the donut, as if I was eating corn off the cob.  I got fairly messy, but I had no shame eating that thing—sitting on a sidewalk bench next to my luggage, looking like a confusing form of well-fed hobo.

I walked to my airport terminal with a heavy heart.  Was I really flying away from delicious donuts, crazy good goat bellies, Iberico lardo, and other awesome eats?  I suppose you always know when it’s time to go for real: when you have $0 in your ATM account and you are having a difficult time fitting into your pants.  I had to go back to the dirty Jerz and make some money; eat some salads and stuff.  Sigh.

Now, I’d like to take this final paragraph to disclaim the following: my Chicago food expeditions are merely a secondary and happenstance occurrence; my primary reason of travel is to see my awesome sister, Madison Loew, and it is not her fault that she lives in such a delicious city.  It is not her fault that I influence horribly unhealthy eating for a four-day period, and it is not my fault that she likes to go shopping and therefore we both spend all our money.  That is just how it happens.  And what the hell—we only see each other so often; might as well go all out.  I can’t wait to return for her Northwestern graduation next summer.  Publican—I mean commencement—is gonna be awesome!  Just kidding, Maddie.  Until next time, Midwest!