chicago


Besides Orange, these were a few other places I ate while in Chicago last weekend:

Phoenix Restaurant
One of the few banquet restaurants in Chinatown, Phoenix is justly popular for the largest and freshest selection of dim sum in the Chicago metropolitan area. A table for five at 11am on Sunday morning requires a 45 minute wait, so be early or be prepared to spend some time lingering in the lobby. My girlfriends and I fed each other with months, years worth of gossip as we noshed on classic dishes: bouncy shrimp in the har gow, chewy lotus paste filled jian dui, yam cake squares with crispy fried edges. While I reconnected with friends, I also introduced Kathy and Maggie to TPS and Kayla. We’ve always thought that Phoenix was pricey for dim sum, but after the bill only came up to $10 per person, we realized it was the inclusion of boys with big appetites that pushed up the tabs during previous meals. So from now on, dim sum is an all girls affair.

Joy Yee’s
I don’t really care for its brusque service and the MSG laden food, but Joy Yee’s does serve the best fruit shakes. UofC alum who’ve had many late night suppers at Joy Yee’s will be glad to know that despite moving to a larger space close to the center of the same complex (yes, the coming soon signs finally came off), the shakes are still as good as ever. They definitely do not stint on the fresh fruit and my lychee-mango shake was fragrant with the perfume of lychee and yielded stringy mango pulp as I sucked up the juice via an extra large straw. Tapioca pearls here remain large and chewy, none of those mini undercooked crap found at Joy Yee’s.

Tango Sur
Midwesterners are reputed to be meat and potatoes type of people, so it should be no surprise a BYOB Argentine steakhouse like Tango Sur thrives in the Lakeview district. This is Peishan’s go-to place whenever visitors come into town, and do the flavorful steak and mild prices wow guests. We sat outdoors on the balmy night, on a wide sidewalk that would make any New York restauranter green with envy and shared a bottle of red wine Jon, one of TPS’s friends brought. Spicy and minerally were terms the wine afficionados thrown out as they swirled and sipped. We split a saganaki-like melted cheese appetizer that paired well with the warm, crusty rolls and a stuffed portobello that unfortunately suffered from an overdose of tomato sauce. 2 large chunks of filet mignon came in our El Filet entree shared between TPS and I, presented with a nice char and on top of wine sauce, as well as garlicky spinach mashed potatoes. The meat, while rather nondescript in flavor was tender, bursting in juices and the red wine sauce added oomph to the taste. Her friends shared an assortment of sausages, sweetbreads and meat served on a table top grill, enough meat for a family of five but shared amongst only 2 men. Needless to say, we rolled out of the restaurant many hours later very sated and satisfied. Once again, Peishan outdid herself.

Friends, food and fun. This almost makes the painful airport shenanigans bearable and has me looking forward to the next visit to Chicago!

Phoenix Restaurant (2131 S Archer Ave, Chicago)
Joy Yee’s (2159 S China Place, Chicago) http://www.joyyee.com/
Tango Sur (3763 N Southport Ave, Chicago)

Advertisements

Just like in New York, brunch is a big deal in Chicago, and people are not afraid to wait for it. Orange in the lakeview area is one such place where brunch devotees congregate, where clumps of people form along the sidewalk and happily wait for their names to be called. Peishan, Kayla and I were there at 11am last Saturday, unearthly by New York standards but mightly late in Chicago. We put our names down, headed back to Peishan’s loft just around the corner to check out Peiyun’s wedding photos, went back to wait some more, and were finally seated a little before 1230pm. Peishan even gave a little hop and skip when the hostess mercifully called for us.
Like its young, tanned and generally thin clientele, Orange exudes a fun, hip vibe. The orange (at this point it gets a little trite) walls creates a cheerful setting for a nice big meal while the very high ceilings and well spaced tables help keep the noise level comfortable. The juice bar is the focus in the main dining room, and an enormous juicer works double time making fresh squeezed fruit juice. Coffee is poured as we pore over the menu of innovative eats, smelling and tasting like orange, as these beans have been roasted with orange essence. Funky more than tasty. Frushi, or fresh cut fruit on sushi rice was another gimmick we did not fall for.
The brunch dishes were eclectic, huge and in general pretty good. My eggs benedict were smothered in a basil flecked hollandaise sauce and the perfectly runny poached eggs sandwiched between to thick slices of tomato. Instead of ham, the eggs sit on barely melted pieces of milky mozzarella. What was my eggs benedict channeling? A caprese salad!got it?
Kayla’s plate of coconut french toast kebab looked like a CSI crime scene, with the fruits bleeding passion fruit and raspberry blood. But the fresh mango, pineapple and strawberry slices were just tart enough to balance the sweetness of the coconut crusted brioche, which in turn did an admirable job of soaking up fruit purees. All she needed was a margarita to feel like she was on a beach in the Carribean. My favorite dish however was Peishan’s green eggs and ham. Scrambled eggs and pesto is for me a new flavor combination I will forever keep and employ at home, and the generous chunks of ham didn’t hurt, adding savoriness to the heap of fluffy eggs. With all these and other intriguing dishes, like a daily flight of silver dollar pancakes dolled up in various styles and chai-tea flavored french toast, no wonder people line up here.

Orange
3231 N Clark St (bet Aldine & Belmont Aves
Chicago

As a student with a limited budget, I spent four years in college largely surviving on dorm food, take out from Hyde Park chinese joints and home cooked meals made by myself, my roommate or friends. Even when I did go out for meals with friends, we invariably wound up in Chinatown, where huge plates of roasted meat along with slushy and sweet bubble tea can be had for next to nothing, or to cheesecake factory along Michigan Avenue, to reward ourselves with cake after a day of window shopping. On those special occasions where pak and I did go out for dinner, I would yield to his francophile tendencies and we would test out the house’s coq au vin and creme brulee each time. Hence, with the exception of an arsenal of knowledge around french bistros in chicagoland, my grasp on the local restaurant scene was a little less than desirable.
Without the tight budgetary constraints and with the absence of a certain escargot lover, TPS, ruoying, rosie and I set out to out-eat each other at various Chicago restaurants serving a myriad of different cuisines.
We went russian for lunch at the Russian Tea Time a block away from the Art Institute. With its dark wood furniture, chandeliers, oversized pots of fresh flowers and dark colored walls, the room exuded a faded glamour. And under the ministration of our charming server we noshed on a lamb stuffed blinchinki and enormous platters of assorted appetizers and meats. We washed down the sweet stuffed cabbage and dumplings with house flavored vodka. The black currant tea, slightly bitter at first sip but with a wonderfully fragrant aftertaste was a clear favorite.
Next stop is Cafe Iberico, an old favorite of mine. If you can endure the sometimes interminable wait during dinner time, you will be rewarded with potent sangria, luscious desserts and the tasty and big “small-plates”. The tapas portions at Cafe Iberico are huge, and for less than $15 one can get full and/or roaring drunk and all have a great time. Between the four of us, we had my favorite tortilla espanola, a big plate of potatos in pungent and garlicky aioli, perfectly pan seared scallops served with saffron rice, more garlic in the generous bowl of shrimp and a big platter of paella. Throw in half a pitcher of sangria and we were only $12 poorer each leaving the place compared to when we got there. Unfortunately, the wait can be a trial to all, especially those with little patience. Thankfully Macdonald’s is always nearby for a short respite while we endure the hour long wait.
Even though the crema catalana at Cafe Iberico’s one of the best I’ve had so far, we saved our stomachs for the real treat of the night, a luxurious night-cap and dessert at Tru. Tru’s one of the top restaurants in the city, and when I heard about its dessert offerings in the less formal lounge, I jumped on it and made reservations. I have had dinner a few years ago at Tru, and had shelled out an obscene amount of money for the caviar staircase in the multicourse tasting menu. Dessert was a high point then, and I was hoping it to be the same this time too. Unfortunately dessert this time was rather mundane and unimaginative. The cornbread topped with blueberries was really dry while the napoleon with chocolate mousse and caramel ice cream was merely passable. Luckily, at around $10 per piece, it wasn’t too much of a heartache. The unimpeachable service and the after meal gift of moist banana bread helped soften the blow. But what really saved the evening and made it a truly memorable one was what happened post meal. We asked the hostess to help us hail a cab, and instead she offered us the use of the restaurant’s towncar! So instead of having to stand unglamorously at the kerb waving for an elusive cab, we were whisked back to TPS’s apartment in no time in a slick black limousine. That, my friend, is class.
The next morning, we woke up still full. Still TPS wanted us to try breakfast at Melrose Cafe, her favorite brunch spot, and so we dragged ourselves to Belmont for a spot of hot coffee, gigantic omelettes and a first class hash browns. The runners participating in the Chicago marathon was passing Belmont as we ate our fill and rubbed our bloated bellies. Talk about compare and contrast!
By the time we rolled out of Melrose Cafe, rosie and I were already planning our salad lunches for the rest of the week to pay penance for our gluttonous exhibition. But, we had still one last stop to make before swearing of cholestrol and calories. Peishan had been raving about a certain bread pudding at Rose Angelis, a really cute Italian restaurant that would be a sure neighborhood favorite had I lived in Lincoln Park. Walking by a bar in the front of the room, we were led through a short corridor to our table located in one of the multiple partitioned rooms. Walking through the restaurant reminded me of walking through Peishan’s old house on Kimbark, the one she shared with Chuck and Amanda, where a similar corridor connected the living room from the dining area. Anyway, the salad with a peppery ceasar dressing and the chicken marsala wafting in a haze of steam and alcohol was sized with Midwest sensibilities. The pudding was also enormous, more like a brick than those dainty things you find in martini glasses in a New York eatery. The dense pudding was drenched in warm sweet, slightly salty caramel sauce and wow was that a potent combination. Even without wine, I was feeling heady with all that good food and that much sugar in the system.
While I dont lament my poor student lifestyle ( time in the kitchen did hone my culinary skills), am I glad I have another chance to check out what Chicago has to offer!

This weekend I returned to the alma mater, to relive some good old memories with TPS and to show off to Rosie, our small but charming campus. As visitors, TPS and I reveled in the ordinary, delightfully witnessing the creeping ivy that adorn the grey gothic buildings change from green to gold to red. We walked through the silent hall of the Rockefeller chapel trying to remember the “Aims of Education” message we heard 5 years ago as freshmen while Rosie admired the stained glass. We peered into Hutchinson Commons so that TPS could catch a glimpse of the picture of “the president who looked like Richard Gere”. I was comforted that I still remembered all the names of the halls, and gaped in astonishment at the dvd machine on the basement of Reynolds Club, where the ORCSA noticeboards were. What a sign of progress!!!
Unfortunately, the weather, while not too uncharacteristic of a Chicago fall, was a little too chilly for us to continue hiking beyond the main quads, so we decided to warm ourselves over hot drinks and maybe something sweet to eat. And by dessert, both TPS and I wordlessly agreed, that we had to go to Medici for the definitive slice of apple pie.
For the thousands of students attending the University of Chicago each year, Medici is a familiar haunt. With its graffiti loaded walls, good and filling diner food and very, very affordable prices, scores of bookish students take the short walk from the quads to 57th St each day to the Med as we call it, where politics and the arts are discussed, gossip shared and soup sipped. For me and my friends, it was a place to share in our love for good food and great company, as well as to revel in our common identity as survivors of the harsh UofC regime. Between me and my friends, we have had multiple first dates, pre-exam binges, post-exam leisurely chat-n-chew, bitch and snitch sessions at the Medici. We have slurped thick milk-shakes during hot summers and warmed ourselves with spiced cider during winter. When the proprietors opened a bakery next door to the restaurant, I had on many occasions taken the long way home so that I could duck in there for a cup of spicy mexican hot chocolate. But while we mulled over the long list of appetizers and entrees, dessert was a foregone conclusion. We would like to order Gracie’s apple pie, ala mode, thank you very much. Sure, our affection for this apple pie may be tinged with more than a little bit of fond memories, but that’s not to say that it isn’t a mean slice of pie. The pie at Medici is baked to order, wonderfully crusty and redolent of cinnamon. The generous scoop of vanilla ice cream melts slowly into the bowl, its sweetness balancing the tartness of the apples. And the sensation of both hot and cold is plain amazing. Unsurprisingly, we licked this bowl clean, like the many orders of apple pie before it. While the school has progressed in my absence, the taste of apple pie remains the same.

Medici
1327 E57th St