14 March 2010

Perfect Strangers (Chicago Part 2)

Chicago theatre
As usual, if you want to look at the pictures and menus in finer detail, click on them to take you to the Flickr page, where the "All Sizes" button will show you larger versions.
Annoyingly, when I tried to book a hotel in Chicago for this year's interviews, this time in late November instead of late January, hotel rates were evened out at about $350 a night - about a 200% increase over last year's rates. Thank goodness for Kayak which suggested an extended-stay apartment for much less. However, I still only stayed for 3 nights, and because of wild goose chases (I'm looking at you, Red Hen Bakery, now an abandoned warehouse in the middle of nowhere) and some repetition of visited spots, it still felt like I saw much less. Oh well.

But, I still felt like I hit a jackpot here. I've been at a toss-up of best cheapest lunch between San Francisco's Shalimar and...

Hot Doug's Exterior
... Hot Doug's (3324 N California). I honestly still couldn't tell you; it all depends on your mood. Contrary to popular belief and probably to the disappointment of some more cultured friends I have, I like burgers, fries, and hot dogs. I just like a whole bunch of other stuff too. And when it comes to these drive-in foods, I want some thought and care put into them, not an attempt to sicken me by stuffing more ground beef per cubic centimeter. Anyway. Hot Doug's is all the way in N California street, to a commuter like me only accessible by one or two buses and surrounded by practically NOTHING ELSE of interest.
Hot Doug's Interior
But look at that. Traffic McDonald's would kill for. A line that extends all the way outside at lunchtime (management pleads that the door must be closed to conserve heat, so stragglers must bear the cold for a little while). Everyone must go here, apparently, and I agree (yes, even you, my more cultured friends).
Hot Doug's Menu
It's a pity that I missed the frites by a few days. It sounds like something I should try at least once (or fifty times) in my life. I went for the Keira Knightley hot dog. It's named so because it's hot. In a spicy way. I don't know about Keira, she looks like she could break in half at any moment.
Hot Doug's Keira Knightley
But this one is made of much stronger stuff. It's really quite a depressing hot dog in the sense that once it's over, you'll wish there was more to come. I had one with everything on it - except this being Chicago, ketchup was out of the question. Hot Doug's is no sausage nazi, so they actually offer it without guilt, but I thought the hot dog was great without it. Stomach grumbling as I type. Truly the BEST thing about Chicago (hmm, we'll see about Grant Achatz when I can afford a table).
Vanille Patisserie Fall Menu
I had to visit Vanille Patisserie again and I still maintain that it is one of the best patisseries in the United States. However, I could tell that they were being stressed by the impending opening of a branch on Clinton Street (I ate at both Clinton and Clybourn), as something about the entremets seemed... Dry. Glacage was a little gummy already. Anyway, I took pictures of all but one of their Fall offerings above.
Entremet Vanille
I had the Manjari (chocolate pots de creme in chocolate mousse bombe) and their signature, Entremet Vanille (sable, coconut lime dacquoise, exotic coulis, white chocolate mousse, vanilla cream, mango glaze).
French Market, Clinton St.
On my last day in Chicago, the French Market (131 Clinton) opened. There were plenty of artisan shops inside, but I felt like it still needed a little more variety (kudos to the Vietnamese snack store inside), even with its Eurocentricity.
Sweet Miss Givings at French Market
However, I wanted to bring some attention to Sweet Miss Givings Bakery, which not only gives more than half of proceeds to charities that benefit the homeless and those living with AIDS, but also provides training and employment opportunities for the homeless. Bravo.
Fox and Obel Pastries
I must admit that general food stores, even "gourmet" ones, are not the most appealing places to get pastries. No matter what they do, they always have the impression of being assembly-line, generic fluff. However, Fox & Obel, one of Jude's haunts, has some of the prettiest cakes and tarts in town. Awesome variety too.
Fox and Obel Spices
And speaking of variety, I doubt I've ever seen a more comprehensive collection of spices anywhere. Well, you get what you pay for (and here at F&O, it's a lot).
Icosium Cafe
I had dinner with a friend I met in blogland, Ginny of justgetfloury, at Icosium Kafe (5200 N Clark) Interwebs screwed up and a Japanese pharmacy shows up at what is supposed to be its official site). What? You've never been to a Turkish creperie before? Well, we had the same crepe (Marrakech: goat cheese, red peppers, onions, olives, except Ginny subbed out the goat cheese), and it tasted lovely, though a tad large.
Bobtail Homemade Ice Cream
We followed it up with sundaes at Bobtail Homemade Ice Cream (465 South Lake Shore Dr). I've never been to a true-blue American soda fountain, so this was fun. Ginny described the area further North as boys' town, and I thought she meant that it was an area full of orphans. Go figure...
Sarah's Pastries and Candies
Because I have an unhealthy obsession with bakeries that have their own cookbooks out, I had to try Sarah Levy's Sarah's Pastries and Candies (111 N State St, inside Macy's), which came out with Sweetness last year. The cakes looked pretty and I had an eggnog cupcake, but the frosting did not appeal to me at all. I can't recall if it's because the frosting seemed too buttery or waxy to me (obviously I'm not a fan of most buttercreams). I did, however, appreciate the nutmeg in the cake and frosting.
Before we leave Chicago, I'll take you through the Christkindlmarkt shortly. I didn't know it was in town at that time and I chanced upon it serendipitously.
Christkindlmarkt Dinkel's Bakery
Dinkel's Bakery (normally found 3329 N Lincoln) had by far the most delicious display in the entire market.
Christkindlmarkt Dinkel's Strudel
They were selling several varieties of strudel, but I was having trouble reconciling their product to what I know as the classic strudel in the Austrian/Hungarian sense. The latter has a well-developed thin dough that wraps around the filling; however Dinkel's had something that looked short, more like a pate brisee. I suppose it's possible that it's an extremely thin and fatty dough wrapped around the filling a dizzying number of times, but I didn't think so. BUT. It was still no less delicious and I appreciated it for what it was. How could I not? I had cherry and cream cheese. That is a combination that's sure to win my heart.
Christkindlmarkt pepper mills
This German-themed market had several woodworkers, and if I had more money I would've bought one of these gorgeous pepper mills.
Christkindlmarkt Woodworker
Here's a woodworker etching some pieces. He had a lot of unvarnished speculaas molds beside him, but for some reason I abstained from buying any. It's such a pain to be thrifty, I know. There'll be a next time (maybe IN Germany, who knows?).

Thanks for taking this tour of Chicago with me. Next month: New York, again, finally.

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