Sunday, April 25, 2010

Chicago (Part 1)

There is a very good reason why Rick Bayless won Top Chef Masters. He is a damn genius. Naturally, on a recent trip to Chicago, I had to make a stop at one of his masterpieces, Topolobampo.

The locals call it Topolo and judging from chatting with a few Chicagoans, they are very proud of Bayless's trifecta of Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and newest fast-casual addition, Xoco. After unsuccessfully debating on which entrees to choose, my companion and I decided to just go for it and get the five course tasting menu. This was the best decision I've made in a long time.

Course one:

Sashimi-grade Hawaiian day boat catch with balled jicama, salsa, grilled pineapple and proscuitto crust - This was like a Mexican take on the classic proscuitto and melon. Salty, spicy, sweet, differing textures. This was a delicious start.

My friend started with the Pan-seared red-chile "enchiladas" of jicama "tortillas." Basically they were like tasty little croquettes of chicken, carrots and potatoes presented like sweetbreads. Cute.

Second Course:

If I could re-order any one part of this entire experience, out of all ten courses, this would be it. The slow poached egg had a consistency I wouldn't ever predict. It was a solid, essentially, but more like a gel. That sounds disgusting, I'm sure, but paired with the seared pork belly all swimming in a roasted tomato-habanero sauce, it just WORKED. Rick Bayless, you are a genius.

Second course numero dos I am really going to crave on a cold, rainy day. Badly. This was a soup with short rib and these yummy little pockets of love of masa dumplings.

Third course:

I love baby animals. Especially when they're cooked well ;) Sorry, but baby octopus, but you are delicious and were the highlight of this course.Scallops, crawfish, mussels and squid weren't exactly too shabby either. A common theme here was the quality of the sauces. They were all so complex and enhanced every aspect beautifully.

My girl's third course was my favorite in that tasting menu. Smoky walleye (great, great, great fish) accompanied with a sweet tamale-like crumble made a killer combo.
Fourth course:

Drumroll please.... I present to you the best prepared lamb I've ever had. This baby cut like butter and was surrounded by the deepest, most mind-blowing mole. Seared lamb belly (OMG) and a black bean tamalon completed this epic masterpiece.
This carnitas dish reminded me (in a very good way) of my favorite taco at Oyamel. Fatty, pork shoulder and belly cooked confit-style with tomatillo-avocado salsa melted in your mouth and got a nice limey kick from some salt lime air.

Dessert:

Considering desserts aren't really my "thing," these were pretty good. Note: I don't EVER take caffeine in any way, shape or form. I had one bite of this before my dinner date almost killed me. But that one bite was frickin delicious :)


I ended up mostly having this coconut rice pudding, which not only had infinitely less caffeine but was also sweeter and an overall good fit for me. Excellent end to a meal I won't be forgetting for a long, long time.

                                                            

445 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60654
312-661-1434

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bal-da-more

Baltimore, baltimore. You are so close, yet so far away. Your inner harbor smells like trash, yet I still have love for ya, because you have delicious food. During a recent weekend visit, I got to try some new places and some old faves.

Edo Sushi
I have been meaning to try this place in Inner Harbor since well, I'm obsessed with sushi, but only now have gotten a chance. I was a bit weary because this is in Harborplace which is total tourist zone but I've only heard good stuff about it.


It was nice enough to eat al fresco and the balcony overlooking the harbor was nice. The service was great, with hot towels at the beginning and end of the meal. The sushi was great. The fish to rice ratio was ideal and the fish was fresh. We also had the grilled calamari that was amazing.

Tir Na Nog
I don't even really know why I like this place, but we go back here everytime we're in Baltimore. The service is spotty and if you sit near the bar it always kind of smells like a wet rag. But, It's an Irish pub, so it's mostly bar fare but with a few Irish specialties (things that go good with beer, duh). I stick to the classics here, corned beef, shepard's pie, bangers and mash - you get the picture. Something about the Irish fare is comforting to me... it's simple, so I know it'll be good.

Amicci's
I can't believe it's taken me this long to hit up Little Italy. It's shameful, really. Luckily, I don't shame easily or at least forget about it with a good plate of pasta. Mmmm, carbs. Amicci's, which totes itself as a "very casual" eatery, was right up my alley with their affordable prices and atmosphere. The shrimp scampi was creamy and Ihavetorun5milestomorrow delicious, while the chicken lorenzo was also a huge portion and great with the wine.

Vaccaro's
This is a MUST when in Little Italy. This palace of amazing has homemade Italian pastries, gelato and other yummies. They fill the cannoli to order and the tiramisu is to die for. I don't think this place is capable of making something I won't like.
201 E Pratt St #2075
Baltimore, MD 21202
410-843-9804

201 E Pratt St #2075
Baltimore, MD 21202
410-483-8968

231 South High St.
Baltimore, MD 21202
410-528-1096

Vaccaro's
222 Albemarle Street
Baltimore, Maryland
410-685-4905