Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Next (French Laundry Menu) - Chicago, IL

Our original plan for New Year's Eve was to dine at Naha, which is a Chicago institution that I've never had the pleasure to experience; by sheer luck, a few extra tickets were released for the current menu at Next (focusing on some of the most famous dishes of French Laundry around the time period 1996-1997) on that evening and, at the behest of my beloved, we ponied up the fee to go there instead.

Next founder Grant Achatz worked at French Laundry under iconic American chef Thomas Keller for several years and his time there greatly influenced his philosophies in the kitchen and dining room. Even to this day, tables at French Laundry (which is located in Napa and is currently undergoing a major renovation) are notoriously difficult to secure. Mrs. H. and I plan to visit the original someday, but this will likely be the closest we can get for the foreseeable future.

As is always the case with Next, the food, drinks, and service were impeccable. My only regret is that I was afflicted with a nasty case of heartburn (courtesy of Jolibee, I suspect - see my last posting) during our meal that was significantly exacerbated by some of the indulgent plates we were served (for example, the lobster and foie gras dish was dynamite, but couldn't have been better designed to induce gastrointestinal distress).


Cornet of Salmon Tartare and Red Onion Creme Fraiche


Gulf Shrimp and Avocado Salsa


Blinis with Bottarga and Dehydrated Pepper Sprinkles


Barbecued Eel with Sesame Seeds and Yuzu


Black Truffle Custard with Chive Potato Chip


The famous "Oysters and Pearls"
Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Golden Osetra Caviar


The plating for this dish was somewhat elaborate...


Hawaiian Hearts of Palm with Medjool Date Vinaigrette, Cilantro Infused Oil, and Frisee


Pompano "Amandine" with Orzo, Pole Beans, and Preserved Meyer Lemon


Five-Spiced Lobster with Port-Poached Figs and Moulard Duck Foie Gras


Storey Farms Chicken with Red Pepper Reduction, Confit Biyaldi, and Fines Herbs


"Pot au Feu"
Beef Short Rib with Root Vegetables and Sauteed Bone Marrow


Chaource Cheese with Bartlett Pears, Clove, and Lolla Rossa Lettuce


Northern Spy Apple Sorbet with Honeycrisp Butter Lattice, Cranberry, and Barley


Another signature dish "Coffee and Donuts"
Cappuccino Semifreddo with Cinnamon-Sugar Donuts


Chocolate Truffle Mignardises


Assorted Mignardises (had to take these home - too full)

Friday, January 27, 2017

Jolibee - Skokie, IL

I first heard of Filipino fast food chain Jolibee on an episode of Parts Unknown in 2013 when Anthony Bourdain (who called their famous spaghetti dish "deranged, yet strangely alluring") visited one of the US locations in Los Angeles with Chef Roy Choi. The chain (which has 36 locations here now, including one in Queens) has developed a loyal cult following in the States among expat Filipinos, first-generation Filipino-Americans, and a few curious gringos willing to expand their fast food comfort zones beyond simple burgers and pizza. Luckily for us, a Jolibee location recently opened in suburban Chicago at 3534 W. Touhy in Skokie not far from our home-away-from-home over the holidays in the city, so Mrs. Hackknife and I agreed to meet up there with my brother-in-law (an aficionado of all things fast food) to check it out.


All hail our new overlord the happy Bee mascot

Diners can conveniently order the chain's two most well-known offerings, the fried chicken and the spaghetti, as part of a combo meal.  The chicken (called "Chickenjoy" on the menu) isn't particularly distinctive in any way, other than it's definitely now on my short list of best fast-food fried chicken, all crispy and juicy and tender as advertised.  On the surface, the spaghetti (which includes noodles, slices of ham and hot dogs, shredded cheddar cheese, and a slighty-sweetened tomato sauce) sounds a bit disgusting, but the components actually work together in a stoner food-kind of way.  I can definitely see the allure.  The combo meal comes with a side of gravy (I didn't use it) and choice of drink (I selected pineapple juice).



Jolibee is also known for its Filipino desserts, including halo halo (not the best we've had - the old Filipino Fest in Tampa spoiled us forever) and pearl coolers (you're looking at the ube, or purple yam, below), but the best of the bunch is the peach-mango fried pie that puts to shame anything McDonald's was doing, even back in the 70s when their fryers were still powered with beef tallow.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Fat Rice (Revisited) - Chicago, IL

Anytime Mrs. H. and I want Macanese food, we know we can find it just around the corner from our Xmas holiday rental condo in Chicago at Fat Rice (2957 W. Diversey Avenue). This year we stopped in for brunch and also checked out a few goodies (such as the Portuguese egg custard tart and the savory Macau rice crisp with nori, sesame, fish sauce caramel, and pig floss) at their new bakery next door.

Curry vegetable samosas with tamarind mustard seed chutney


Boiled pork and ginger dumplings


Minchi (meat and potato hash) croquettes


Bone-in pork chop sandwich with spicy mustard and crab chips

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Dinkel's Bakery - Chicago, IL


Founded in 1922, Dinkel's Bakery in Chicago (3329 Lincoln Ave.) is one of the last old-school German bakeries in the city and, as luck would have it, was located just down the block from where we were meeting some friends for dinner.  Their most famous product is their stollen; however, Dinkel's donuts also periodically appear on local and national best-of lists, so we popped in to pick up a frosted maple cake donut to share for breakfast the next day.  The thick frosting was a little on the indulgent side for 8 am, but was a fine accompaniment to Oatmeal Squares, nonetheless.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Parachute - Chicago, IL

Mrs. Hackknife and I have been fans of the Korean-American cooking of Johnny Clark and Top Chef-alumnae Beverly Kim ever since their very brief residency at the now-shuttered Bonsoiree a few years back. The duo has since opened Parachute (3500 N. Elston Ave., Chicago), what they dubbed as their "last shot" restaurant at the time and which has garnered great acclaim among the food cognoscenti in Chicago (Michelin even awarded them a star in 2015). Since it's located only a 5-minute drive from the condo we usually rent for the holidays in Logan Square, we decided we should snag a reservation on our latest trip to Chicago. Although the space is small, noisy, and a bit on the trendy side, we brought the progeny with us because the chef-owners have a reputation for being very accommodating to smaller guests (indeed - each kid received a bento box-style metal tray filled with a delicious 4-course meal that would be the envy of school cafeterias everywhere).


A "collage" of vintage speakers along the side wall


The house specialty baked potato bing bread (contains scallions, cheddar cheese, and bacon) served with a slab of sour cream


Housemade kimchi, pickled spaghetti squash, and tofu with bonito flakes


Pork belly and mung bean pancake with fried egg


Dolsot bi bim bop with beef, maitake mushrooms, and smoked onions (crispy rice on the bottom)


Brussels sprout leaves with scallions

Friday, January 6, 2017

Longman & Eagle - Chicago, IL

This was our second ever visit to the Michelin-starred Longman & Eagle (2657 N. Kedzie Ave., Chicago) and our first time for brunch. Even though it was technically a workday Monday, most places in and around Logan Square were closed since Christmas was on the Sunday immediately before. The missus and I were eternally grateful that L&E chose to open their doors to hungry diners that day (especially to those of us seeking an indulgent breakfast).


Fried chicken and waffles, sweet potato/pork belly hash, maple syrup

Thursday, January 5, 2017

NYC Mini-Food Tour #1 (Di Fara Pizza, NY Dosas, Bolivian Llama Party)

With the family gone for the weekend, I took it upon myself to cross some food venues off my lengthy to-do list.  First up, I traveled to the far reaches of Brooklyn to get some of New York City's legendary pizza at Di Fara (1424 Avenue J).





Di Fara opened in 1965 and founder Dom Di Fara has been there since the beginning, making pies one at a time.  Now in his 80s, he's a little slower, but no less masterful with his craft.  Waits can extend past 90 minutes if you happen to arrive at peak times, which is why my friend/local fixer Adam and I came out 30 minutes before the doors opened at noon.  We were fortunate to be among the first patrons of the day and received our pizza slices in only about 5 minutes.


(that's Dom Di Fara doing his thing)



My understanding was that the house thin crust and the Sicilian (which is a little thicker) are both Platonic ideals of pizza, so, of course, I had to try each of them.  The Sicilian is on the left above, studded with fresh basil leaves, and the regular thin crust sported a handful of tomato chunks and a drizzle of chili oil that I added from an unmarked jar sitting at the counter.  After one bite, I now get the appeal - Dom Di Fara belongs in the Smithsonian as a national treasure (if not a concessionaire).

Next up was a subway ride back across the East River and over to Washington Square Park, home to the city's famous dosa man and his trusty food cart.





Thiru Kumar is a native of Sri Lanka who came to America in 1995 and worked several odd jobs before starting his food cart in 2001.  It took a little while for his rendition of South Indian cuisine (which includes samosas, crepe-like dosas, and pancake-like uthappams) to catch on, but now he's one of the most popular food cart vendors in NYC, especially with vegans and vegetarians.



Customers get a small cup of spicy lentil soup (good for clearing your sinuses) with their purchase, which in my case was the hearty and delicious uthappam filled with veggies like carrot/eggplant and an interesting-looking can of lychee-flavored soda (I don't need to have another one of these for a while).

There was one final stop for the day after our park visit.  Adam has been wanting to try out a very hip Bolivian food stand that opened earlier this year in the TurnStyle (a shopping center in the subway tunnels underneath Columbus Circle, between 57th and 58th Street along 8th Avenue) called Bolivian Llama Party, so we popped in on our way to his condo for a snack.  The snack item in question here is something known in Bolivia as a saltena, similar to an empanada (just don't call it that unless you want to start a border war with the staff) in that it's a thick, braided pastry filled with a combination of meats, vegetables, and spices.  There's also a slab of gelatin that gets included during prep, which melts into a gravy during baking (not unlike Chinese soup dumplings).