Pilsen Window Shopping

Last Sunday, some friends and I decided to make a day of it in the lovely neighborhood I call home, Chicago's Pilsen. We took a trip to the National Museum of Mexican Art to see their Day of the Dead exhibit. The museum is free, comes highly recommended, and has an amazing gift shop!. After looking at beautifully made (and a bit morbid) shrines to those who have passed on, we headed to Halsted and 18th, the edge of the East Pilsen Gallery district. The neighborhood was hosting the 39th annual East Pilsen Art Walk, with open galleries, wine and cheese and special deals for all the browsers. While most of the art was way (way!) out of my price range, we took in some really creative pieces and enjoyed our day of window shopping.

A new friend, the art gallery courtyard cat.

Post art-browsing, we walked over to Simone's on 18th Street, to grab a cocktail and a bite. Being inside Simone's is like living inside a pinball game - large glass light fixtures made out of old bottles, creatively sized seating, and bright colors really make this a treat for your eyes, as well as your stomach. The order of mixed empanadas (banana and black bean, spinach and artichoke and chipotle chicken) came with a side of maple aioli that was surprisingly great.

To top that, their cocktail menu is full of exotic flavors and mixtures. Cocktail menus with ingredients ranging from mint syrup to jalapeno-thyme infused pickle brine = my kind of place. Some drinks worked - some did not but one that caught our eye was cleverly called "Breakfast For Dinner". Created with Ketle One vodka, tomato water, sage syrup, salt & pepper rim with a bacon garnish, we had to order it. Take a look...

I may or may not have eaten that strip of bacon...anyway, I expected a saltier cocktail, more akin to a bloody mary but it was a little on the sweet side and could have benefited from a bit more sodium. I did enjoy the creativity of the drink and hope to head back to Simone's soon to try more of their interesting drink concoctions. Ranging in price from $7 - $11, and only $6 on Mondays, these are not Roof prices, and left a bit in our pockets for that next gallery run.

*Photos by Javier Ayala

National Museum of Mexican Art
1852 W 19th St
Chicago, IL 60608

960 W. 18th St.
Chicago, IL 60608


Tigercity Dinner Party

Smitty is back with another dispatch from LA, and hanging with our boyfriends in Tigercity! This looks like the perfect dinner party...if only I could have attended. From the looks of the pics, the night was a blurry one, which is normal when Tigercity is in town. Take it away Smitty.
Last week, our friends Tigercity spent a whole week in the fine city of Los Angeles, and in between all the rock shows and the whiskey, they even found time to make their hosts a delicious dinner, courtesy of chef Andrew and grill master Joel.

Here's what was cooking:
• Grilled Salad of radicchio, endive, romaine and fennel with olive oil, lemon juice, fresh grated Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper
• Grilled asparagus with a sauce of garlic, wine, shallots, butter and lemon juice
• Trout fillets with homemade salsa -- grilled poblano, serrano, jalapeno peppers, sesame oil, olive oil, soy sauce and garlic.

Chef Andrew prepares the salad

Radicchio, endive, romaine and fennel on the grill

Grilled salad

Grill master Joel tending to the asparagus


The party's done, the plates are cleaned

Cheers to the City Vegetable!

TC at the Viper Room


The Mean Beef in Montreal

I was recently in Montreal for a quick 2-day business trip and was delighted to discover a beautiful, European-feeling city full of sharply dressed Canadians and gorgeous old buildings. We stayed in Old (Vieux) Montreal, which is exactly what it sounds like - the oldest and most classical part of the city, lined with cobble stoned streets that wind around the historic buildings, creating a picturesque maze of trendy shops and restaurants.

Our first night in the city, we headed to Mechant Boeuf - which roughly translates to the "Mean Beef" - for a hearty meal, and I hoped, some poutine. I had heard of the famous Canadian dish of gravy, cheese curds and french fries but never had the pleasure of trying it myself so this was a goal for the evening ahead.

As we approached the restaurant, the cow's head on the side of the building gave the restaurant away and we walked in to find a large space with a trendy feel - a large waterfall on the back wall, deep red lighting, a ceiling of windows and a friendly DJ who goes by the name DJ Fake Jake.

The view from our table. I wonder what sort of interesting exchanges the people who live in those apartments have seen down below.

A beef-decorated waterfall wall.

DJ Fake Jake kept the party going well after our food was gone.

So...while the rest of our meal was hearty and delicious, the only item I felt was photo and blog worthy was this delicious pile of poutine. Mission accomplished! Yes, this was beef gravy (when in Rome...) but I didn't care! The delicious mix of salty gravy and creamy cheese curds was enough to sell me on poutine as my new favorite comfort (junk?) food. I think I consumed 2 more orders of the good stuff over the course of my stay in Quebec, and I don't regret a single bite! Now, I'm on the hunt for poutine in Chicago - any leads?

Mechant Boeuf, Bar*Brasserie
124, rue Saint-Paul Quest
Vieux-Montreal, QC H2Y1Z3


Vegetarian Challenge 2009: Chris Loses on Day 4 to a Tuna Sandwich!

Sooooooo. A few weeks (months) ago, I posed a challenge to my dear friend Chris Daniels* to eat vegetarian for one week, and one week only. Chris, the heartiest meat-eater I know, gladly took me up on the challenge and here, I am finally getting around to posting some of his reflections (we're going to get deep here people!). This took so long because Chris and I are both extremely busy (drinking). Enjoy...

*Last name changed to protect Chris' privacy.

Day 1:

Now were cooking....oh actually no I'm not. These foods are raw! Except the eggs and toast I had for breakfast. Lunch as you can see is vegetable sushi which they call "snack pack". hmmm....interesting. I should have saved the avocado ones for last.

And Fresh fruit.

By now my body might start to notice 1 key ingredient
missing from all these food items. Can you guess what it is......?
That's right! Jack Daniels!
No joke just spilled all the soy sauce on my shirt. Has nothing to do
with the diet change.....or does it?

1 day down. Stay tuned for day 2.

Day 2:

Breakfast: 11:30 AM

Now it's getting interesting because I'm beginning to see what the vegetarian goes through in regards to "Menu Choices". Don't think I needed quotes there but what the heck "right"? So today I was a wee hungover. I mean probably a 5 on the 1-to -10 scale but traditionally this has been "THE" meat meal in my life. The hangover meal.

But I think I made a very good choice because I had a bean burrito from Taco Bell (see picture).

I thought it odd that it already had those two bites in it but man I was freaking hangover hungry and all bets were off so I ate it as is. Now this is a seriously underrated American meal. $1.59? My meat eating eyes had just never considered it an option before. Now it was the "ONLY" option. It's funny because I now think if it was as hard as it is to get meat as it is to get veggie options on any given menu, people would probably eat less meat. It's all about numbers.

Lunch: 2:30 PM (Chris time is different than other people time)

Vegi Pot Stickers
Vegi Rice Bowl

I'm now realizing that if you put soy sauce on anything, it's going to taste better. If I was given the choice of giving up meat or salt, I think I'd pick meat. I loves me some salt.

So this lunch was good. Not much to write about though I s'pose.

Day 3:
Chris sent me no reflections because he is a busy executive but promised no meat was eaten.

Day 4 and A Meat-eaters Vegetarian Conclusion:

So the streak ended at four full days. I wronged a lot of people (well not a lot) by thrashing my way through a heavenly tuna fish sandwich….sounds kind of anticlimactic I know. In the beginning of the endeavor I envisioned a nice big juicy Italian beef in all its spotlighted glory as my prize at the finish line….but no, I settled for a freakin tuna fish sandwich from Subway, exactly 14 hours short of the finish line. Oh well - easy come, easy go I suppose.

Actually it wasn’t meat I craved so much on my fast from carnivorous things, it was just a general lack of menu items to choose from in general. I like almost all the same things that most vegetarians like. I just figure hey why not throw a little meat on the experiment.

I think the real issue at hand is the morality issue - how often we eat it and where our meat comes from in this country. The process of force feeding countless animals things which we wouldn’t let our house roaches eat much less the animals we intend to eat, is really a tough pill to swallow even for the fiercest of meat eaters. And yet a meat eater I still is….

I honestly think we would have less vegetarians (at least the ones who only do it for health reasons) if we had BETTER, more humanely produced meat to choose from. More organic choices at more reasonable prices perhaps? Maybe, but for now I guess the word of the day is moderation. For me at least. I don’t think I’ll ever completely give up red meaty fun, but I think my arteries could probably use a vacation or two from sausage world.

And I never claimed to get along with Will Power.


Liquid Gold

After a particularly grueling workday, my officemates (yes, mates) and I head to Tavern at The Park for a post-sitting-at-our-computers-all-day cocktail. Yes, Tavern at the Park is a bit on the pricey side but they pour the perfect dirty martini (with blue cheese olives) and once you've had the best, it's just hard to go back to Oldtimer's.

In addition to the classic dirty martini, they offer an array of other creative specialty cocktails - from gimlets and margaritas to the 20-Sixtini - Mandarin Vodka, Vanilla-infused simple syrup, Blue Moon beer, authentic ginger beer and edible gold. Yes people, GOLD. I think $12.00 is a small price to pay to drink this valuable metal! And the name of the drink, as you may have figured out, shows their support for the 2016 Olympics landing in Chicago. No matter your opinion of the 2016 Olympics arriving in Chicago(the CTA would really need to step it up), the drink is creative and did I mention, golden?

In addtion to a cocktail, we usually munch on an order of "Straws and Strings" - basically, a large plate of paper thin onion slices and potatoes, fried to golden (ha) perfection, and served with truffle aioli and spicy ketchup. The price on this delicacy? $6! Add in the steakhouse like atmosphere and cozy booths, and all the sudden this trip to Tavern at The Park seems like a bargain! (or this is what we tell ourselves). See you there.

Tavern at The Park
130 East Randolph Street


Keen-Wah (Quinoa For You)

Finally, LA-guest blogger Smitty is back with stories from her recent trip to South America and a recipe for that elusive grain, Quinoa. Say it with me, Keen-Wah. Enjoy!

A few months ago, I took an amazing trip to Peru, Bolivia and Chile with my friend (and Shannon's Brooklyn roommate) Tamara. We went on a 3 day Jeep tour to the high plains and the salt desert in southwestern Bolivia; an amazing magical journey that took us to lagoons, hot springs, volcanoes, geysers, a surreal desert landscape littered with giant boulders (Dali's desert) and the largest salt flats in the world (Salar de Uyuni). And every now and then in between these breathtaking vistas there would be small towns quite literally in the middle of nowhere which made me wonder -- what do these people do all day? Answer: raise goats and farm quinoa.

Apparently quinoa was a staple of the Incan diet, and it thrives at high altitudes which made it perfect for growing in the Andes. Quinoa is a grain that is very high in protein, so it's great for all you vegetarians out there who need to get your protein fix but want to eat something other than beans! Trader Joes shoppers may already be familiar with quinoa, and actually I had started experimenting with cooking quinoa before I went to Bolivia because I found boxed quinoa at my local TJs.

Here's an easy recipe for quinoa with black beans and cilantro:

1) In large pan, heat some oil, add a chopped onion, sautee until it begins to soften.

2) Add 1 box Trader Joe's quinoa (it's important to note that most boxed quinoa is pre-rinsed, however if you buy quinoa in bulk or from a nature market you'll need to soak it for a few hours and strain to remove it's natural coating which is somewhat bitter), 2 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp ground cumin and some salt and stir. You cook quinoa like rice, 2 parts liquid to 1 part grain. I like to use vegetable stock to give the grains more flavor but you can use water if you prefer, and now's the time to add your liquid and bring to a boil.

3) Cover, reduce to medium, and simmer until quinoa is almost tender, 10-15 min.
4) Add 1 can rinsed black beans, 1 cup green peas (blanched if fresh, or thawed if using frozen peas), and 1/4 cup chopped cilantro. Cook until liquid is fully absorbed.
5) Transfer to a bowl and garnish with more chopped cilantro and crumbled feta or cotija cheese. Delicious!

And here's some non-quinoa-related Bolivia pictures. More are here. Highly recommended!


Fancy Tuna Melt

One of my favorite hearty sandwiches to bite into after a long day is that ole' stand by, the tuna melt. The fact that cheese and tuna, which by all means shouldn't taste good together, combine so effortlessly to create a protein-filled grilled cheese, is so wrong that it's right. I like to fancify this humble sandwich up sometimes though - with exotic (oh la la) cheeses and heirloom tomatoes. I say there's nothing wrong with putting a bit of a new twist on an old classic. Try this version, I think you'll like it.

2 slices, whole wheat bread
Heirloom tomatoes
Feta Cheese
Chihuahua cheese, thinly sliced
1 can of solid chunk tuna
Celery Stalk
One small white onion
Dijon mustard
Salt & Pepper

1) Mix together the tuna, mayo and mustard (to taste), diced celery pieces, and a few pieces of diced onion. These are raw, so trust me, don't overdo it.
2) Line the bread with the tuna mix, add sliced tomatoes, feta cheese and top with a thin slice of Chihauhua (cheese, you weirdo). Season with salt and pepper
3) Toast in the over for 15 minutes or so, until the bread is crispy and the cheese is perfectly melted.
4) Enjoy your fancy comfort food.

Abuelo's = Awesome

While Abuelo's Grand Opening wasn't quite as exciting as a Macy's Glamorama party, it was a great day when I saw this new restaurant, half a block from my apartment and right across the street from the Damen stop of the Pink Line, open up for business. About a week after, I stopped in for a pre-Lollapalooza bite.

The meal started with chips, served with thick fresh green and red salsa, which were both a bit different from the other local taquerias in the area. The chef also brought out a delicious little amuse - stewed pork on chips, with pickled red onions. Different but also delicious. The green salsa was heavy on the cilantro, which works for me. (sidebar: do you know that genetically, some tongues interpret cilantro to taste like soap. Weird.)

Then came burritos, chilaquiles and tortas galore! Above, you'll see my roommate's vegetarian burrito, served with a side of jicama slaw. By his accounts, it was quite good (and large - only $5.50 for all that), and you'll notice that there was some thought put into the nice presentation.

Because I am a breakfast enthusiast, I went with the chilaquiles, which was invented as a smart(delicious) way to use up stale tortillas. This version came with fresh tortillas chips, a lovely green sauce, a fried egg, and beans. I think I like this dish because it reminds me of what I usually make for breakfast on the weekend - eggs with anything else I have in the fridge. It just works and it worked for Abuelo's too.

Next up, Peen's steak torta: also huge, also cheap. The best part, according to her, voice of meat, was the grilled green onions, cebollitas, layered throughout the sandwich. All in all, a hearty success.

So at Abuelo's - the food was great and very affordable, but they've also taken great pains to have a (for lack of a better word) cute interior. No offense to the other taco joints in my hood, I love you still too, but decor was never your strong point. Painted in reds and yellows, with clever art and National Geographic covers lining the walls, the look is more cafe than taqueria. Free wi-fi and flat screen TVs tuned to soccer games will hopefully bring the crowds in as well, but the food, if this meal was any indication, will keep 'em coming back. See you there!

2007 S Damen Ave
(at Cullerton St)
Chicago, IL 60608
Open Mon - Sat, 7am - 9pm
Closed Sundays

Maxwell Street Market

The Maxwell Street area in Chicago has a rich history as a bustling metropolis for Russian, Italian, Greek and African American immigrants, and at the turn of the century, became know for its large open-air market where anything and everything was sold. Over the years, the market has grown considerably smaller and moved locations many times, due to the impending dominance of UIC in the neighborhood. But every Sunday morning, hundreds of vendors still setup shop - and for a culinary-enthusiast like myself, a trip to the Maxwell Street Market is pure heaven.

The majority of the vendors we saw this Sunday, we're actually peddling food, made on the spot. Many of the stands sell tacos, tortas, and other Mexican delights. Here we found a stand that deep fried little papusas (round dough) and sliced them open to make a sandwich. You pick the filling.

I had to get a shot in of Peen's Warriors shirt, just because it rules. WARRIORS!!!

And this was quite the treat - a mushroom and Chihuahua cheese quesadilla with all the fixings for $2.00! Each stand has a few tables where you can rest your weary shopping legs, and the best part, usually a few homemade salsas to taste.

A handful of masa gets pressed into the shape of a tortilla, and grilled to perfection.

The scene on the street.

Grilled corn.

There were many sellers of dried fruit, nuts, and various spices. Here we see dried Jaimaica flowers.

More sauces for tacos.

What looks like tree branches at this spice stand, is actually cinnamon bark.

Maxwell Street Market
Desplaines Street and Roosevelt Road
640 W. Roosevelt Road


Fake Mexi Meat! Muy Super!

In the heart of Little Village, a neighborhood even more southwest than Pilsen, there lies a vegetarian paradise. Anyone who knows me, knows of my cravings for fake meat - Boca Burgers, Soyrizo and Tofurkey - I can't get enough of the stuff. It's not that I even necessarily think that these treats taste like real meat - they don't and that's not the point. It's that they easily give a vegetarian something extremely hearty to chow down on, while simultaneously expanding our options for yumminess. I am, to say the least, a fan.

So I was so happy to find El Faro, on the corner of 31st Street & Pulaski - a Mexican restaurant that serves fake "chicken", "ham", and even "steak" alongside the real stuff. This is a place for everyone and can easily solve the "where to go to dinner" dilemma for a half-vegetarian couple!

We started out with some jamaica flower water, and an order of molletes - toast with beans and cheese. I've apparently been making and enjoying molletes for years, I just never knew what it was called.

Then, on to the main course, Peen represented the meat eating people of the world by ordering 2 carne asada quesadillas, which were, according to her, quite delish. Her face says "oh yeah."

I had a fake-steak taco and a Cuban torta - which came with fake ham, fake bacon, fake steak, a fried egg, mayonnaise, avocado & tomato slices and queso. Um yes, it was a lot of food, but I enjoyed every last bite of it. And was super full. I think that fake meat may expand once it hits your stomach...

Lailah, also on team vegetarian, enjoyed a trio of tacos - soyrizo, fake chicken and fake steak. She loved the soyrizo version so much, she ordered an extra one and gave me her leftover "chicken".

El Faro also has breakfast specialties - pancakes and chilaquiles, and an entire portion of the menu dedicated to healthy juice drinks. So really, regardless of your preferences for meat or no-meat, any fan of Mexican food can be happy at El Faro. This place...brings people together!

Something is so funny.

Hee Hee.

Fake meat causes the giggles.