Monday, July 19, 2010

Kith & Kin

Grandma Hackknife has been agitating to see her grandkids for a while, so we chose this past weekend to have her come down to the commissary and spend some quality time with them. This enabled Mrs. Hackknife and me to sneak into the city for a nice adult dinner on Saturday night. Our original plan was to visit Purple Pig (the city's latest homage to all things pig parts prepped in an Italian fashion); however, this plan was thwarted by the shutdown of Michigan Avenue due to filming for Transformers 3 pretty much right outside their front door, so we fell back to Plan B: Kith & Kin. K&K is a relatively new restaurant located in Lincoln Park, mere steps away from the Hackknife ancestral homestead at 2119 N. Racine. Unfortunately, no valet was available and the usual dearth of legal, non-permit street parking in the neighborhood was exacerbated by the annual Sheffield Garden Walk this weekend, forcing us to drop the car about 4 blocks away (I'm sure the ancestors had a much easier time finding spots on Racine for the Model T back in the day).

Feeling a bit frazzled, we arrived about 10 minutes late for our 6:15 reservation, but we needn't have worried as the place was less than half full, populated mostly with bar patrons. The decor was upscale, but most of the diners (and the servers, for that matter) had sort of a hipster fashion vibe going on, meaning we were a bit overdressed. After pre-meal drinks (martini for the missus, a capirinha for me), we chose two appetizers, or what they call "crocks": a duroc pork creton (which is a spread w/spices, similar to a rillette) and a brandade de morue (another spread, this time w/salt cod, olive oil, and potato). These were both served w/tasty crostini and both were delicious to the bottom of the crocks. Our entrees were equally good, with Mrs. Hackknife ordering a baseball steak (American Wagyu, very nice) slathered with anchovy butter on a bed of chickory and me choosing a bowl of orzo mixed with shrimp, dill, okra, and veal heart confit. Now, this was my first experience eating heart of any type, not to mention one from a baby cow, but I've been trying to be open-minded about organ meats as I continue to listen to Anthony Bourdain extol their virtues. Looking at the strips of heart in the dish, I expected them to have a squishy consistency, but they were actually firm and tender, with a flavor and texture not unlike pot roast (not bad, actually).

We were both too full to indulge in dessert or cheeses this time, but I suspect we'll be back to K&K before too long.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mitsuwa Japanese Marketplace

This past week, Hackknife Jr. has been attending a gifted math class offered by Northwestern University for precocious youngsters such as himself (obviously, he gets his brains from his mom). Unfortunately, this has required me to drag both children out of the house by 8 am and haul them to the class site in Glen Ellyn up a construction-choked 355, no easy feat I can assure you, even without Hackknifette barfing up grape chunks all over her clothes and car seat on Tuesday morning. My reward for this tap dancing act was Wednesday morning off during classtime while the baby stayed home with Grandma. After stopping at a bakery for a fruit tart and a quick trip to Toys R Us for a swim vest (see the aforementioned NC trip in my last posting), my ultimate destination was a Japanese marketplace in Arlington Heights, Mitsuwa. This complex includes a grocery store, food court, liquor store, bakery, travel agency, arts/crafts shop, and a video store, all targeted to satisfy the myriad Japanese expats working at electronics companies in the area, as well as intrepid gaijin like myself. If you are a fan of Japanese cuisine and culture (as Mrs. Hackknife and I are, having spent 2 weeks touring Japan in 2005 before the progeny arrived), there is no better place to visit probably in all of Middle America. It happens to be located just a bit more than a mile from my childhood home in Mt. Prospect, and, amazingly, I never visited it in the 10 or more years that it was open while I was living there (of course, we're not Japanese, knew no Japanese people, and had someone asked me in 1991 what "unagi" was, I probably would have had visions of something you might find in an adult bookstore).

This was my second visit to Mitsuwa and certainly the first since I caught the extreme foodie bug a year or two ago. The smells and sights are well worth the trip. I wandered slowly up and down the aisle of the small grocery store (catching the attention of the security guard, who probably was wondering what kind of nefarious activity I'd soon be up to), marveling at the bizarre produce, the multiple freezers full of fresh cut fish for sushi and meats for shabu shabu, packages of dried noodles, rice cookers, fish sauces, and shrimp-flavored chips. I picked up a bottle of ponzu sauce (citrus-spiked soy sauce), some green tea cookies, exotic-looking fruit chews for the kids and milk caramel Pocky for Mrs. Hackknife (her favorite).

The food court opened at 11 and I loitered around until it did, looking at the various menus and plastic food (just like we saw at restaurants everywhere in Japan) in front of the sushi take-out, noodle bar, Chinese dim sum shop, Korean bbq, and teriyaki burger stand. After much deliberation, I settled on a bowl of shrimp tempura udon from the noodle bar, savoring it down to the last drop of broth. As I hadn't really made much in the way of planning for dinner that night, my last purchase was a couple of tonkatsu bento boxes, one w/pork cutlet and one w/fried chicken, both with pickled veggies, rice, fish, and cold scrambled egg. On my way out (and I easily could have spent another hour or two there), I noticed what appeared to be a Japanese street food stand set up right by the front doors (it didn't open until 3 pm). Mrs. Hackknife and I both greatly enjoyed the diversity and quality of the street food we found all over Japan and this I decided would be the impetus for my next visit, hopefully not too far off.

Don Quijote

This month has been officially designated as "Travel Month" here at the Hackknife Commissary (hence the lack of recent postings). We packed up the family truckster and traveled to Youngstown, OH over the 4th of July weekend for Cousin Caroline's wedding, which will soon be followed by a longer car trip to Ocean Isle Beach, NC for the annual DeToro family beachhouse excursion (I'm sure this will provide plenty of fodder for future postings, probably in the form of Carolina BBQ joint reviews). Because we are insane, we also opted to make a last-minute day-jaunt to Indianapolis last Saturday (a mere 400 miles round-trip) for a 75th birthday party at Broad Ripple Park. The timing of our return home worked out so that we reached NW Indiana around dinnertime, prompting a stop at one of our favorite tapas restaurants, Don Quijote, located just a block or two from the Porter County Courthouse in downtown Valparaiso (the visit was also encouraged by an incessantly-howling Hackknifette, who was protesting her extended car-seat imprisonments of late). The folks running the place bill themselves as the only Spanish restaurant in Indiana and I, for one, am not in a position to debate this assertion.

This was our second visit to the restaurant, both times on a Saturday evening with the progeny while returning home from a day spent outdoors in the Indiana sun. Both times, Mrs. Hackknife and I have been very pleased with our food offerings, not to mention the hospitality of the place to overtired children reeking of sunscreen. We began our meal with fresh bread/garlic butter and a very tasty cold potato salad, washed down with a nice glass of red sangria. We chose to again do a combo tapas platter, which included tortilla a la espanola (omelet w/potatoes and onions), albondigas (Spanish-style meatballs), chorizo, champinones a la plancha (grilled mushrooms w/garlic and olive oil - as always, I politely declined this mushroom dish), and patatas bravas (potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce), plus we added on higaditos de pollo al Jerez (sauteed chicken livers w/onion, garlic, and herbs in a sherry sauce) and alcachofas rebozadas (french-fried artichoke bottoms). To their credit, the kids ate a little of these here and there, but were mostly satisfied with their kids menu choices. All 4 of us left the table full and feeling refreshed despite our earlier dosing of recirculated car air. One of these years, me and the missus will have to make an evening of it and return here (only 45 minutes east of the commissary) just the two of us.