Monday, January 31, 2011

Tin Fish

We here at the Commissary are going to conclude this surprisingly-productive month of postings (9 in total - apparently, I have too much time on my hands) with a very brief summary of our dinner this past Friday evening at a local seafood restaurant, Tin Fish. In spite of being located a mere 5 minutes from our house and despite the fact that I was a frequent diner at their now-defunct 2nd location in Oakbrook (by virtue of it being just steps from my old office - yes, I did actually have a real career not that long ago), we'd yet to stop by in the almost 5 years that we've lived in Tinley Park. An opportunity to go finally presented itself when we were looking to choose a nice place to eat with our new foodie friends, the Gs (Hackknife Jr. goes to preschool with the Gs' younger son).

When the 4 of us first sat down, my initial impression of the restaurant vibe was noise, and lots of it. This was mostly due to the manager (at least I assume he was the manager) conducting what I could only describe as an extended bout of grotesquely animated storytelling with some patrons at the table next to us. I couldn't quite get the gist of what he was saying, but it was impossible to miss and I was pretty much distracted to the point of uselessness while reviewing the wine list. Crazy story having concluded, we were finally able to narrow down our menu and drink choices. Starting out, we ordered some of the house specialty Maytag blue cheese potato chips and a half dozen oysters (this was Mrs. G's inaugural oyster experience, which she handled quite admirably, I might add). For entrees, Mrs. Hackknife opted for some Georges Bank scallops sauteed in a lemon balsamic butter sauce with smashed potatoes, roasted tomato, and prosciutto, while I decided to buck convention and go with the lamb chop special (medium-rare, which included mashed potatoes with marinated Kalamata olives, pickled vegetables, and sherry vinegar) instead of seafood. Neither of us was disappointed - in fact, I think the Gs were pleased with their entrees as well.

So, to summarize, given the opportunity (and a slight noise reduction), we'd be happy to make a return visit sometime soon. We're also looking forward to our next foodie excursion with the Gs....

Friday, January 28, 2011

Chicago Food Trucks

There has been a lot of press in the local news lately about an initiative by several chefs to lobby the Chicago City Council to modify the city's health laws for mobile food trucks. Unlike many cities nationwide, Chicago's existing restaurant codes prohibit any kind of non-"bricks and mortar" restaurant within the city limits; that is, no vans or trucks with a food preparation kitchen inside. Many chefs elsewhere have embraced the food truck concept in the last year or two as a low-cost way to start a retail food business without having to sink a large amount of capital or overhead into a traditional restaurant; naturally, interested dining entrepreneurs here are fearful of missing out on this trend without the aforementioned legislative change. Rather than wait out the notoriously neurotic and incestuous city council, a few plucky cooks have found an interim way around the restrictions by preparing the food for sale in an approved kitchen, then loading it up in their vehicles for sale around town. It is these trailblazers that caught my attention and caused me to devise a plan to make a run downtown yesterday to sample their wares. The main problem with this scheme was, you might guess, the weather. Why, who wouldn't think that January is the ideal month to spend an afternoon walking around a Midwest city's streets buying food from vehicles while completely exposed to the elements with no place indoors to actually eat what you buy? As always, dear readers, I refuse to let sanity come between me and the desire to gather material for a blog posting. So, with thermal underwear in tow, I headed out into the 25-degree, intermittent snow shower miasma for some tasty vittles.

My first destination was the corner of Dearborn and Monroe, trying to locate the Meatyballs roach coach, which I happened to find across the street from the Inland Steel building. Meatyballs began just a few months ago when local chef Phillip Foss (well-renowned for his work at Lockwood, a fine dining restaurant) left his old job over a dispute with his bosses and decided to attempt to reach the masses with gourmet meatball sandwiches. The chef himself was there to greet me (looked like he was working solo) and give me a quick rundown of his offerings for the day, which included among others a traditional meatball sandwich, a Thai version (turkey, coconut milk, chiles), ricotta balls for the vegetarians out there, and, um, Rocky Mountain oysters (creatively named "Not Yo' Daddy's Balls"). I opted for the "Bouilla-Balls" sandwich ($9), a nice combo of crab/brandade (salt cod)/potato balls in a mild smoked paprika sauce with pieces of zucchini and peppers for texture, all on a very good baguette. For an extra $2, I had him throw in a small bag of truffle chips. Brown bag in hand, I wandered a couple of blocks north on Dearborn and managed to duck into a Starbucks-type coffee shop, where $3 bought me a bottled water, stool spot by the window to watch people dodge snowflakes, a semi-warm place to eat, and a restroom when the time came. All in all, my sandwich was excellent, the truffle chips not bad (mostly good, a few were soggy), and a fine start to the day's excursion was declared.

My 2nd of 3 stops was to be the Merchandise Mart (along the north bank of the river, between Orleans and Franklin), which was about a 10-block walk away from my current location. Given that I'd be consuming more than my usual allotment of lunch calories in order to get the full food truck story, I figured that a nice wintry trek would do me some good, so off I went. The truck I was seeking this time (Gaztro-Wagon) is run by Chef Matt Maroni, whose specialty is naan (Indian-style flatbread) sandwiches. Unfortunately, I had some trouble tracking the van down at first. For those of you not familiar with Chicago buildings, someone telling you to "meet them at the Merchandise Mart" is a little like saying "meet me at Kentucky". I made 2 long loops around the behemoth monolith (which was, in fact, the largest building in the world at some point - thanks, Wikipedia) before falling back on the warm glow of my iPhone and Gaztro-Wagon's Twitter account, which had posted a few minutes prior a change in truck location (now near Franklin and Hubbard a couple of blocks away due to lack of parking). Ah, this was a cold lesson in one potential drawback of eating at food trucks; namely, they don't always stay in the same place like Burger King does. The extra walking was worth the effort, however - I was able to snag a Frisee Aux Lardons sandwich ($10), my 2nd choice after they'd run out of the lamb cheesesteak I'd singled out on the menu (apparently, I was lucky to get even that as the chef posted on Twitter that they were completely out of food less than an hour later). This time, I hunkered down in the Merchandise Mart food court with my naan-wich, which contained pork belly (the lardons), frisee (a type of endive or chicory), and grilled onions, topped with a mustard sauce. Although very good, my preference thus far was Chef Foss's seafood sandwich (not that I'd be averse to doing significant additional research come the warmer months).

Last, but not least, was dessert. For the final course, I hopped on the Blue Line L Train and headed over to the University of Illinois-Chicago campus to find Flirty Cupcakes, a "bakery on wheels" as it were parked near Morgan and Harrison (see Photo #1 above). The nice ladies inside the blue van sold me a sampler 4-pack of mini-cupcakes (see Photo #2 above), including red velvet, Paradise Island (pineapple rum cake with coconut frosting), turtle chocolate, and traditional chocolate, plus a full-size Curious George (banana chocolate with caramel frosting) cupcake, all for about $10. Since it was starting to get late, I decided to start walking back to my car and wait until I returned to the Commissary to eat these delectable treats. By the time I completed the 1.5-mile jaunt to the parking garage and drove home, the frosting on them had solidified in the cold weather so that the impression was that of eating solid butter at first, which was something of a turn-off for me (even I have my limits). Later that evening, when Mrs. Hackknife and I split the remaining samples, the frosting had softened nicely at room temperature, creating a much more pleasant cupcake consumption experience (that is to say, they were absolutely awesome).

At press time, there are several other local food trucks (tacos, mac and cheese, etc.) that are in the works for when Spring arrives. Check back here for the latest on the burgeoning mobile cuisine scene in Chicago (I've got more work to do).....

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Shaw's Crab House

As nearly happens every year, we here at the Commissary are faced with a plethora of travel opportunities, and 2010 was no exception. Given the youthful ages of the progeny (5 and almost 2, to be specific) and the limited availability of extended time period babysitters, we just can't make it everywhere that we'd like. For example, Mrs. Hackknife and I were invited to 4 out-of-town weddings last year, one involving a first cousin of mine, another involving one of my best friends, and two others that were more like destination weddings - a distant cousin whom I haven't seen in several years opted to tie the knot in Key West and a good friend of Mrs. Hackknife's family got married in his partner's hometown of Austin, TX. The first two were clearly can't-miss affairs (and we brought the kids with us to both of them) and with all of our other travel obligations for the year, we had to sadly decline attendance at the other two.

Which brings me to our foodie posting today. In lieu of attending the Austin wedding, Mrs. Hackknife and me, my in-laws Dan and Michelle, and my wife's cousin Bob (with his girlfriend Gwen) asked the newlyweds Kevin and Xavier if we could buy them Sunday brunch at Shaw's Crab House and they happily accepted. I had eaten dinner once at Shaw's Schaumburg location many moons ago, but had never been to the downtown location (21 E. Hubbard), which is where we found ourselves on a chilly Sunday morning just a scant hour-and-a-half before kickoff of the Bears divisional playoff game with the crowd in question. As it turns out, we were pretty much the first ones seated and got a firsthand view of the dining delights being prepared at the front of the room. Now usually I'm a little leery of the quality of most brunch buffets as 1) the restaurant usually doesn't assign its A-team cooks to work on Sunday morning since those people are reserved for the really important services (i.e., Friday and Saturday nights) and 2) Sunday is a good time to clean out the walk-ins and serve up whatever leftovers might be lurking about from up to 6 days past before the new raw materials show up on Monday. I have to say, however, I was quite impressed with Shaw's buffet offerings. I started out with a house Bloody Mary (not a lot of garnish, just a pickle) as a palate cleanser, then moved on to the cold buffet items, set up at a serving station in the bar. These goodies included Alaskan king crab bites (neatly trimmed down to avoid most of the messy work), chilled shrimp, various ceviches, a couple of sushi offerings, smoked salmon and pastrami-cured salmon, grain salad, and possibly the best of the bunch, a surprisingly-good roasted vegetable salad. The only problem was getting hands on oysters - the small tray on the table was constantly emptied out before it could be replenished.

Feeling pretty sated from Round 1, I moved on to the hot entrees. Here sat possibly the best bacon I'd ever eaten - a smoked and caramelized number that went down like candy (although several strips into my gluttony, I realized that the darker, crispier ones weren't as good as the slightly-undercooked group). This was accompanied by regular and chicken sausage links, a fantastic chicken artichoke strata (probably loaded with many of those leftovers cited above, but who's paying attention?), a lobster/brie penne pasta, seafood pot pie (just ok, in my opinion), crab cakes, scalloped potatoes that I'd kill to learn how to make at home, and tasty lobster bisque (although by that time, I was pretty much beyond digestive capacity). I took a brief respite, ducked out to the bar a few times to check the Bears score, then made my way over to the omelet station for a homemade waffle. They were also doing Bananas Foster there, but I had to pass lest I end up in ER for the rest of the day. No such well-being fears prevented me from assailing the dessert station (more of a closet, I'd say) a little while later, sampling key lime pie bites, creme brulee, flourless chocolate cake, and fresh fruit salad. They even had Cracker Jack and (possibly the most popular item there, given how fast it kept disappearing) homemade cotton candy for the kids.

There you have it. I never did get my oysters. Never was able to eat an omelet or a pecan tartlet or imbibe a mimosa, all things that would have made it down my gullet under normal brunch buffet conditions, but no, this was far from normal. I don't think my brother-in-law ever ventured beyond the pile of crab bites in the bar ("Hey, Dan, the ocean called....."), but regardless, the crab and all of its friends were in top form that day. And the Bears even won.....

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hey! Hot Dog

This past Saturday, Mrs. Hackknife and I took Hackknifette to a Sesame Street Live show in nearby Joliet at the Rialto Square Theater (Hackknife Jr. stayed with Grandma). For those of you not local, Joliet was for many years a thriving and vibrant city by virtue of its location on the Des Plaines River, steel industry, and relative proximity to Chicago (about 40 miles southwest). Its current prominent businesses are mainly casinos and much of the city's demographics have changed, but it still has its historic downtown (the Rialto opened in 1926) and some outlying neighborhoods with more of an old-fashioned feel to them. It is in one of these neighborhoods (northwest of downtown, on the west side of the river) that you'll find Hey! Hot Dog, a Joliet original that started serving chili dogs and frosty mug root beer around 1960. I came here for the first time on a warm summer day back when Hackknifette was still small enough to be toted around in her baby carrier and I quite enjoyed my chili dog and ice-cold root beer while she dozed. Once our Sesame Street show ended at noon, Hey! Hot Dog seemed like a good place for us to grab a quick lunch and attempt to clear our heads of the numerous ditties spouted by Elmo and friends.

When we arrived, we pretty much had the place to ourselves (most of their lunch business is the weekday blue-collar crowd). The building is small (lunch counter with stools, plus a side room with a few tables), but the decor is very diner-ish, probably having changed little since its beginning, with an orange/brown color scheme. The menu is very basic, no-frills-or-circus: hot dogs with or without cheese and chili, polish sausage, barbecue beef, chips, root beer, and that's about it. The owner was kind enough to comp us on a tiny mug of root beer for Hackknifette (her first ever soda pop), which she sipped a couple of times before deciding that her hot dog was a little better tasting than this strange, dark milk. Mrs. Hackknife went with a basic cheese dog, while I tried the polish with onions, mustard, and sauerkraut. All told, I have to say that I prefer the chili dog over the polish (allegedly the house chili is a secret recipe) and really the root beer (which is also house made) is the standout of the operation, made doubly good by the frozen mugs that it's served in (there's nothing better than root beer slush at the bottom of the mug). Bottom line - if you're looking for a dose of nostalgia, a sinfully cold root beer, and a good value on a decent chili dog, Hey! Hot Dog is your place. If you're seeking a higher-end encased meat (of the Hot Doug or Franks 'n Dawgs variety, for example), you'd best set your sights back upriver towards Chicago.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sausage & Cheese Quiche

I stumbled across a nifty little on-line tool the other day while looking for a recipe to match some leftover ingredients: the Allrecipes Ingredient Search function. It asks you which ingredients you want to include in a particular recipe (as well as those you don't, if desired) and it spits out those recipes in its database that match the specified criteria. In my case, I was looking to free my refrigerator of 3 orphan eggs about to expire, about 1/2 c. of chopped parsley leftover from my making pasta sauce the other night, about a cup of half-and-half remaining from the penne pomodoro al secco (see last posting), and a little bit of unused shredded cheese from a New Year's taco dip. I entered these ingredients into the search tool and out popped sausage mushroom quiche, which was pretty much spot-on to what I was seeking. Now, given my rabid dislike of mushrooms, I quietly opted to replace them with a chopped up green pepper and onion in the recipe. I also decided to use only 1/2 lb. of sausage (as opposed to a full pound) after reading the associated recipe reviews, several of which stated that you could probably cut down on the sausage without much difference (you can, actually).

To my best recollection, I'd only made quiche once before, but with a pre-fab uncooked Pillsbury pie shell, it was pretty easy to throw together and made a tasty meal on a cold winter night. The only slip-up I made was not leaving it in the oven quite long enough (25 minutes instead of 30 or 35 even) - it ended up a little looser than I'd hoped, also possibly due to the extra moisture from the green pepper/onion in the filling. Mrs. Hackknife found it acceptable, if not decent, Hackknife Jr. picked at it a little, Hackknifette poignantly declined to eat any, and I was happy to rid my fridge of the offending articles without further adding to the local landfill woes.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Penne al Pomodoro Secco

In honor of Mrs. Hackknife's cousin Glenn and his wedding this past Saturday, I decided to try another one in the pile of recipes he gave us last year: penne al pomodoro secco (sun-dried tomato). This is one of two recipes of his that features noodles that are browned in olive oil before cooking to add more depth of flavor, a little trick that Glenn learned from an Italian housewife in a cooking class many years back. The rest of the recipe (all of it, actually) is pretty straightforward and produced a nice pasta dish for a Sunday night, so nice in fact that even Hackknife Jr. and Hackknifette ate a little without their usual meal-time consternation. Given that it contains some half-and-half/butter, the reheated leftovers lost a little over time, but were still perfectly edible for a few repeat meals.

5 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. penne pasta
5 cups chicken stock (I used 4 cups stock and 1 cup chicken broth)
3/4 c. half-and-half
5 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
3 Tbsp. butter
1/2 c. fresh basil, chopped (or 1/4 cup dried)
2 oz. sun-dried tomatoes, sliced (I probably used closer to 4 oz.)

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add pasta and saute until it browns, stirring often. Add 2 c. chicken stock and simmer uncovered until liquid is absorbed. Add 2 more c. stock and repeat. Add last cup of stock along with tomatoes. Cook until liquid is gone. Turn off heat, then add cream and butter, stirring until well-mixed. Add cheese and basil. Stir and serve immediately.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pork Shoppe

We were 45 minutes early. This wasn't entirely an accident as the Saturday evening expressway traffic in and out of the city can be a little dicey, and if there's one event that you don't want to risk walking into late, it's a wedding. Mrs. Hackknife's cousin Glenn (whose recipes have been oft featured in this blog, one of which will be the centerpiece of my next posting) and his longtime girlfriend Cindi made the decision to formally tie the knot this past Saturday night at a venue located on the Northwest Side, Michelle's Ballroom. This particular neighborhood (a 3-way intersection between Elston, Belmont, and California) is notable for a couple of things, mainly that it's very close to where my Great-Aunt Evelyn (still going strong at almost 97) and Great-Uncle Joe (Pep) lived for many years until Uncle Pep met with his unfortunate end, hit by a Godfather's Pizza delivery car while crossing the street at Elston and Nelson on his 80th birthday in 1987 (I wish I were making this up; alas, not all of my family food stories are good ones - RIP Uncle Pep).

On a less morbid note and of great recent interest to local foodies, the intersection is now the epicenter of 4 highly-regarded casual restaurants: to the North, Hot Doug's, the city's showcase encased meats emporium, to the South, Urban Belly, a sought-after noodle and dumpling lunch counter, to the West, Kuma's Corner, which features one of the best burger selections in town, and to the East, Pork Shoppe, one of the bumper crop of new BBQ joints to open here in the past year. Getting back to the wedding - having ducked our heads inside the banquet hall and determining that there really wasn't anywhere for us to inconspicuously hang out while the pre-nuptial photos were being taken, Mrs. Hackknife, her parents, and I decided to take refuge in a Burger King across the street. While they all noshed on fries and coffee, my eyes happened to wander down the street and made contact with the Pork Shoppe's sign, beckoning me as a flame would to a wayward moth (I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't already aware that we'd be close to these food places, nor if I said that I hadn't been scheming of ways to slip out unnoticed at some point during the reception to re-fortify myself as it were after dinner). Politely declining to partake in the King's offerings, I high-tailed it down the block to the mostly-empty Pork Shoppe for a little pre-meal snack (which you now see in the photo above). My meal consisted of a beef brisket sandwich (with a little sweet BBQ sauce on the side), hand-cut fries, homemade coleslaw (featuring pineapple and raisins, a little different from your run-of-the-mill slaw), and Shiner Bock in a can (SB was my tipple of choice during my 5-year stint as a Texas resident, but I had never seen it in a can before).

I can easily tell you which part of the meal to avoid: the Shiner Bock can was pretty much awful, worse than Pabst Blue Ribbon if you can believe it. Apparently, either the beer has really gone downhill or the canning process has done it no favors. Anyway, the food was all pretty tasty; however, having recently dined on brisket sandwich at Lillie's Q in Bucktown (see related December posting), I'd have to give Lillie's the slight edge, mostly because of the heavenly buttered brioche they use there (Pork Shoppe's roll was more of the standard variety). In any case, I'd be interested in making a return trip here to try some of the other offerings (ribs and chicken, for example), if not to make a pilgrimage to the other three restaurants nearby.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Dark Chocolate Sorbet

Having an interest in cooking/eating makes it pretty easy to peg you for appropriate gifts when the time comes. For example, this Xmas alone I received a signed copy of Charlie Trotter's vegetable cookbook (quite an unexpected and unnecessary gift, found at an estate sale by my sister-in-law, blog follower, and antique guru Michelle), the well-regarded "On Cooking" textbook that many culinary students use, a renewal of my Saveur subscription (nice), and (last but not least) an ice cream maker (ICM) from Mrs. Hackknife. I've been wanting an ICM for a while as it seemed that I couldn't come across a recipe last summer that didn't involve the use of one (at least those pertaining to frozen desserts, or, if you're Charlie Trotter, the occasional savory side dish such as goat cheese ice cream). Now that I actually have one, I find that they're remarkably simple machines: you have the base, the freezer bowl, the mixing paddle, and the cover. Could I have rigged up one of these things in the garage on my own? Probably not, but you get the picture.

Anyway, this past weekend, I decided to try it out. My first choice for recipe was the dark chocolate sorbet, mostly because I already had all of the ingredients on hand to make it (cocoa powder, sugar, salt, vanilla, and water); also, by going dairy-free, my lactose-intolerant mom (who was visiting) could try some. The only advance prep required is that you have to freeze the freezer bowl overnight on a level surface (i.e., so the ice cream forms uniformly when you use it). This is trickier than it sounds since at the Commissary, we only have one of those bottom drawer freezers that is currently packed to the gills. So, I took it outside to our backup refrigerator/freezer in the garage. Funny thing about that, though - the freezer part in the backup unit doesn't work so well when the ambient temp falls below 32F (our garage isn't heated), probably due to some violation of the thermodynamic principles that allow refrigeration to be possible in the first place (enlighten me, all you engineers out there). As we're now in the middle of a typical Midwestern winter, there was still a sloshing noise in the bowl when I took it out. Cursing, I brought it back inside and managed to stuff it into the Commissary freezer by removing the ice cube tray (we don't use any of those infernal things anyway).

By Saturday morning, the bowl was nice and solid and we were ready to begin. All I needed to do was mix up water, sugar, and salt on the stove until the sugar dissolved, whisk in the cocoa powder/vanilla, let the whole concoction cool for a couple of hours, then throw it into the ICM for 20 minutes. Bam! Out came a surprisingly good and refreshing chocolate sorbet that we are still enjoying around here. I'm stoked about trying future recipes from the ICM booklet that actually include cream in them (probably not going to help my cholesterol much).

3 c. water
1 2/3 c. granulated sugar
pinch salt
1 2/3 c. cocoa powder, sifted
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1. Prepare a simple syrup with the water, sugar, and salt by combining all three in a medium saucepan set over medium-low heat. Cook mixture until the sugar is fully dissolved (about 10 minutes).

2. Gradually add the cocoa powder to the syrup by whisking constantly until smooth. Add the vanilla and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate 2-3 hours or overnight.

3. Turn on the ICM, pour the mixture into the frozen freezer bowl, and let mix until thickened, about 15-20 minutes. The sorbet will have a soft, creamy texture. If a firmer consistency is desired, transfer the sorbet to an airtight container and place in freezer for about 2 hours. Remove from freezer about 15 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Siam Marina

The general craziness of the holidays led Mrs. Hackknife to suggest that we get her mother to watch the progeny one afternoon last week so we could have a rare afternoon "date" of sorts. Of course, most of our dates involve some kind of dining activity and this one would be no exception. After a long hiatus, we recently began watching our local foodie program "Check Please" again - for those of you out-of-towners, "Check Please" is a public television show in Chicago where a hostess (in this case, the lovely Alpana Singh) interviews three average Joe guests about their dining experience at restaurants chosen by the other two guests (i.e., 3 restaurants per show are reviewed, one for each guest). In the early days of our foodiedom, the missus and I discovered that we could learn about a lot of lesser-publicized Chicagoland eateries by simply tuning in each week. In any case, one recent taping featured a Thai restaurant in nearby Calumet City (only about 20 minutes away from the Commissary) called Siam Marina that was liked by all 3 guests. This definitely got our attention as Calumet City is not exactly known as a dining hotspot (as far as the South Suburbs go, it's among the most economically-depressed areas in the region), so we made a mental note to check it out at some future date.

Some future date having arrived, we headed over to River Oaks Mall (which experienced its peak of popularity about 25 years ago and has faded somewhat since then) at 1:30 pm on a Thursday to eat Thai food. As you might expect on a midday afternoon between Xmas and New Years', the place was mostly empty. Like many Thai restaurants, the menu was long and varied (I didn't ask about a "secret" menu, which is sort of the in-vogue thing to do at SE Asian dining places these days), with lots of intriguing choices. We each started with a nice hot bowl of a ground chicken soup, followed by an appetizer characterized as a "ravioli" or banh cuon ("rolled cake" in Vietnamese), which included two steamed rice flour crepe-like rolls filled with shrimp, chicken, mushroom, basil, carrot, mint, and onion, with a chili garlic lime dipping sauce (very nice). Mrs. Hackknife selected a soft shell crab entree, while I opted for a spicy fried catfish curry (pieces of fried catfish cooked in red curry sauce with basil and baby eggplant), both of which were quite amazing (see photo of catfish dish above). Although stuffed to the gills and still suffering from post-Xmas meal fatigue, we still managed to conclude the meal with a banana in sweet sticky rice dessert.

Now, I can't profess to be an expert in Thai dining - I've had it maybe 10 times before - but this was clearly a standout experience. We dined at Arun's (Chicago's finest Thai dining restaurant) about 5 years ago and it wasn't to that level, but it pretty much beat the pants off of just about all other Thai I'd had and at a fraction of the price of what Arun's prix fixe set us back, not to mention a much shorter drive from home and the option to get a soft pretzel in the mall later in case you want one. I'm pretty excited about making a return visit and intend to tell all of my little foodie friends about it.....