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Wednesday Food: Chicago Round Up

If the city of Chicago could be a drug I would be its junkie.

One ecstatic week.  168 hours to get my fix, 40 of them occupied by work and maybe 29 devoted to sleep.  In the time that was my own I hit 3 galleries, 1 museum, 2 libraries, 7 restaurants and… ahem… 9 bars.  I also attended precisely 3 papers at the French Theory in Translation: The Question of Archive Conference at DePaul, but that was just gravy on the substance of my stay.

So what made the cut last week?  I’ll focus on the consumables.  On Wednesday I eased into the week with drinks at 42 N Latitude.  This was my first time inside the establishment because they have a fantastic patio and I’ve only been a patron when the climate allowed for patio dining.  The beer list has something for everyone, and it’s a good place for those not infatuated with brew, above average wine options and cocktails are available.

After Latitude I met a friend at the Grafton, a few doors up the street.  The Grafton is an “Irish pub.”  It’s self-identified as such with old photos of the country and its inhabitants papering parts of the bar, and at least one Dubliner on staff.  Beyond that I think of it as a neighborhood place, cozy because of warm lighting and a big mahogany bar, and always bustling with neighbors and musicians.  Being adjacent to the Old Town School of Folk Music makes fiddle-playing and banjo-strumming commonplace, but the bar is long enough for you to engage or avoid them.  Lincoln Square is packed with restaurants and drinking establishments and it’s usually on a whim that you choose between Huettenbar, Hansa Clipper, The Daily, Ricochet’s (for tragic days) and more.

Thursday I set the whole evening aside for the place closest to my heart– the Four Moon Tavern in Roscoe Village.  Nestled on a residential block, they offer a fantastic rotating beer schedule, classic jukebox selection (Sam Cooke and The Beatles are heavily played), hearty, homey food, and vibrant patronage.  Four years ago in the midst of an apocalyptic August rain storm, after helping push a stalled car out of flooded water, I took shelter in the Four Moon.  Power was out throughout the grid so every seat was taken, but spirits were high because the outage had passed over this warm tavern and friends were made that night whom I now consider my best.

Then Friday found me.  I left work early to hear Michael Naas, Elizabeth Rottenberg, and Peggy Kamuf speak at the Depaul conference– a full enough day if it had ended there.  I ducked out prematurely and briefly mourned the graduate academic life I never pursued over espresso at Savor the Flavor.  But my moment of pity was behind me by the time I arrived at Delilah’s to log a few hours before the culinary peak of my week.

Delilah’s is the finest whiskey bar in the Chicago area.  Beyond a laudable collection of Scotch and Bourbon they have beer events second to none in the city.  Don’t just take my word for it– Michael Jackson called it one of America’s most important bars, along with Monk’s in Philadelphia, and the Toronado in San Francisco (over which I drooled a few posts back.)  It’s very low-lit, making it an ideal place to brood on a sunny summer day while hiding from the Trixies and Chads who line the tv-clad walls of nearby bars.

By late evening it was time to make my way to the Near West Side for a late dinner at Girl and The Goat— the culinary highlight of my trip to Chicago.  If you’re wondering how an unemployed waif such as myself afforded such gallivanting, I am blessed with fortunate friendships.

This restaurant was opened by Stephanie Izzard, of Top Chef fame, in the summer of 2010.  She was first known in Chicago for the short-live but much loved Scylla in Bucktown, but moved up to celebrity chef after her big win in 2008.  The menu is small plates divided into three sections: vegetable, fish, meat.  My vegetarian dining companion ordered the hen of the woods mushroom ragout with golden sweet potato.  It was enriched by a drizzle of mushroom creme fraiche, and densely packed with flavor from the earthy mushroom and pillowy sweet potato to the salty tang of caper.  He also ordered the chickpea fritters with an egglplant-tomatillo caponata which was tasty and balanced but unremarkable compared with the ragout.  On my end there were seared scallops with pumpkin– flesh from the sea and garden– made hearty with roasted brussel sprouts and accented by juicy bites of pomegranate.  There were sweet and sour cod cheeks, battered and fried so lightly that they became succulent parcels enveloped in a thin, crispy shell.  Bacon and potato aoili, and tempura broccoli offered salty and cruciferous notes with the cod, and all flavors were brightened with the vinegary pineapple sprinkled over the top.  As an after thought I ordered smoked pork ribs which were so tender they fell off the bone when the plate shook, having been gently smoked over 17 hours to render delicate, fatty meat.

It’s not an ideal restautant for vegetarians, even the desserts are made with animal fat, but can be omitted.  Such was the case with the doughnuts that come with honey yogurt and caramelized figs.  Forgetting the menu description I finally had to ask the waiter what provided the tart citrus bite– it was very lemony but the texture was not the same fruit. Eggplant, soaked and tenderized in lemon juice, was what I never would have suspected as the final ingredient in this vaguely familiar dessert.

It would have been more than satisfactory to end my eating escapades on such a high note.  I really enjoyed Girl and The Goat.  The only issues I had were oversalting– not just restaurant-seasoned, but left me gulping down water– and the hour.  The only reservation we could get a month in advance was for 11 pm.  By the time you are settled with drinks and the food has arrived, it’s near midnight you have to convince yourself that you’re still hungry.

There were still three days left in my stay at this point, but this post is entering ridiculous lengths so I’ll do my best to summarize.  Sunday I watched your Weblog host get “accidentally drunk” at the Hopleaf.  Of course he wasn’t so far gone that he couldn’t still coin brilliant phrases like “accidentally drunk” and say them about himself.  But isn’t it just the perfect descriptor for that phenomenon that happens between feeling like a king with a few Tripels behind you and then, LO!  Fortuity tops off your pint glass.  It’s not something you pursue, it just happens to you– a jolly occasion.

In the remaining 30 hours I finagled a trip to the Local Option, Village Tap, and Hot Doug‘s.  That I rarely ate or slept and managed to drink steadily without getting drunk was nature granting me a final ‘freebie’ of youth.  I expect my metabolic rate to dance right off a cliff from this point on.

Why did I schedule an itinerary that made the writing of On The Road look like a casual diary entry?  Because the uncertainty of when I may next return constantly pressured me to get more in.  I had no choice but to feverishly dart about the city, relishing every street corner and every quenching ale, living in fear that the week would be over before it really began.

Don’t get me wrong.  I remain energized and motivated by my move west.  San Diego and I are in a deep flirtation, San Francisco feels like an old friend, and even Los Angeles and I are gradually getting acquainted.  But Chicago.  Chicago is a city that lingers.  It’s a lover you had to leave behind but whose embrace you just can’t shake.  It’s a drug that pulses through your veins and can’t be quit.  Acclimate as I may to California, in the back of my mind I wonder if, come January, you’ll find me curled up in a fetal position entranced by back to back viewings of The Untouchables and Adventures in Babysitting.  Crazier things have happened.

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November 17, 2011 - Posted by | Wednesday Food

4 Comments

  1. Once again a lovely and beautifully written post. I’ve been to Chicago a few times, and always feel like I’m missing out on any recommendations of the hole-in-the-wall local pubs and eateries. My only experience has been with the vastly over-touristy sports bars around the Loop, and pretty disappointing offerings of famous deep-dish pizzas.

    Comment by Brandon Buck | November 18, 2011

  2. Damn it! Once again a coinage of mine is attributed to Adam… before you arrived we were pretending to the be the other person and I said “ruh roh, I got accidentally drunk!”

    Why didn’t that frozen pizza from Simon’s make the list?

    Comment by Anthony Paul Smith | November 23, 2011

  3. How’s the grading going, Anthony?

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | November 23, 2011

  4. Anthony, I know it’s shocking that a frozen generic brand cheese pizza which took only slightly under an hour to microwave, didn’t make the cut. Your company should have. WAIT! Are you also the source of “YOU’RE A GENIUS”?! Drink glogg for me.

    Deep dish pizza is a travesty Buck, even at NY&C. You’re next visit will be amazing.

    Comment by ebolden | November 23, 2011


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