Friday, March 30, 2012

Chicago Diner or Garden of Delights

The Slow and Savory Review

Rabbit Food.  That's what carnivores generally call vegetarian fair, and a fair enough accusation it once was.  Many a fledgling vegetarian will make the mistake of partaking in various types of salad before feeling a bit bored with their menu selection at even the finest of establishments.  But as Brandy has learned over the past few years, Chicago can be a vegetarian's paradise if you where to look. 

Enter the headquarters for foodie vegetarians everywhere, The Chicago Diner, which has been serving all vegetarian cuisine since 1983 in the form of familiar, comforting diner favorites like Chicken Fried Steak and Nachos.  Many a meat eater has been converted on these holy grounds, and Brandy, a lover of most meats, decided it was time to brave the tofu, the seitan, and the textured vegetable protein to discover the truth about this Lakeview staple.

On first impressions, Chicago Diner has done everything to make you feel like you've entered just your average diner on Main Street, USA.  Red, black, and chrome is the color scheme, with neon lights and high booths added in for an even more nostalgic feeling.  Though a bit small and cramped, which might make for uncomfortable seating on a busy day, Brandy was able to seat herself at a table with an adequate amount of elbow room.

First off, as she was sadly suffering with a sore throat, Brandy eyed up the milkshakes and ordered herself one of the Vanilla Chai variety.  Believe us, dear reader when we tell you that our normally more vocal lady's only note was "Heaven." After a little more pressing, we eventually got out of Brandy that this shake was utter perfection in both texture (thick and creamy, but not so thick that it couldn't be drunk through a straw) and flavor (a brilliantly fine mix of spice and sweetness with subtle floral notes from the vanilla). Brandy also came up with a very odd theory when asked if she had wanted to order another. "No," she said, "This is the sort of thing I would only get once a year. It's so special, so magical that to have it over and over again would somehow bring it down to the level of common food, and that cannot happen."

For her entree, Brandy decided to go all out veggie and ordered the Breakfast Bowl with soy sausage and scrambled tofu. She was rather disappointed to see how sloppily plated the dish was, with gravy splattered on the sides of the plate and no color other than a few small bits of bell pepper to liven up the dish. The biscuits that topped the hash were a lovely texture, but rather bland. This was helped by the country gravy that covered everything, though for someone like Brandy who is a little sensitive to herbs, the flavor proved to be a bit over powering. The sausage was rather nice and chewy, while the tofu was light and fluffy, almost indistinguishable from the real things. The potatoes were also cooked perfectly, though Brandy could have done with bigger pieces.  All in all though, a rather bland dish.

Sadly at this point, Brandy's sore throat got the better of her. She longed to try one of Chicago Diner's famed desserts, though, so she decided to take a meal to go for when her esophagus had decided to cooperate.

She ordered one of Chicago Diner's signature dishes, the Radical Reuben with a side of sweet potato fries. The fries, even after re-heating, still had a lovely crisp on the outside and a supple softness of the inside. Somehow, these fries tasted a bit more savory than a typical sweet potato fry, but Brandy greatly enjoyed the contrast. Brandy was hard pressed to tell the "meat" on this sandwich from real corned beef, as the texture, flavor, and even the look of it was spot on. The sauerkraut provided a nice tangy contrast to the sweet grilled onions and peppers (an unusual, but bright addition to a classic Reuben) and the cheese (she did cop out here a little and asked for dairy cheese) had melted wonderfully into the pungent marble rye.

At last, the dessert; a chocolate chip cheesecake. Here, a few points were added back on for plating, as even in the to-go box a nice drizzle of chocolate had been applied. The crust seems to be made of crushed nuts, rather than the traditional graham cracker, which proved to be a looser, more crumbly texture. The chocolate layer on top was divinely soft and rich, with an almost fruity flavor. The cheesecake itself was creamy with just a little bit of sourness for good measure. Brandy appreciated its slightly dense texture, as she finds fluffier cheesecakes not quite decadent enough.

Though she won't be switching to vegetarianism any time soon, Brandy did enjoy her encounter with so called Rabbit Food this week. For as she put it, "If this is what the rabbits are eating, then I want to be one in my next life."

The Short and Sweet Review

Chicago Diner on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 23, 2012

Vinci or Veni Vidi Edi

The Slow and Savory Review

Ah Rome.  The art, the architecture, the history... the very scale and beauty of the place are enough to knock a tourist over backwards.  Of course, Brandy is anything but a tourist when it comes to Rome.  In fact, there was one infamous summer in her youth when Brandy threw caution to the wind, rented a Vespa scooter, and spent three months in a charming villa down the street from the gates to Vatican City (some say this part of her life was the actual inspiration for the film Roman Holiday, but Brandy has never confirmed this rumor).  She would often wile away the summer days on her balcony with a glass of Limoncello in one hand and a good book in the other.  Other days she would ride to Venice and hire a gondolier to pilot her down the canals for a few hours.

It is perhaps Chicago's unusually warm March weather that had Brandy longing for her days in Italy, so she shuttled Biscuit Brown down to Vinci, a fine Italian eatery on the border of Lincoln Park and Old Town.  Upon arrival, they were greeted like old friends by the host and taken to an empty table at the back of the vast space.  The restaurant had been decorated to reflect the airy and ancient feeling of Rome and Venice, from the faux marbled walls to the linens draped from the ceiling, to the murals of the country side painted on the walls.  "Some might say this type of decoration is hokey and old fashioned," Brandy said, "But I'm hokey and old fashioned too."

Brandy and friend started off with drinks.  Biscuit, as per her expertise, ordered a her favorite brunch drink in the form of Curt's Bloody Mary, the usual mix of spices, spirits, and juices, but this time also with Guinness and topped with Fontina stuff green olives wrapped in salami.  The result was a bit heavy, but very flavorful.  "One more of these and I'll need a wheelbarrow to get home!" Biscuit remarked.  Brandy opted for three drinks in one (no surprise really) by ordering the Gondola Volo; a flight of fruit flavored Bellinis in Strawberry, Peach, and Mango.  The drinks came adorably served on a little wooden gondola, which made Brandy smile.  All three were cheerful and packed with the true flavor of their listed fruits.  Brandy sided with the peach saying it tasted the most like sunshine.

Brandy was delighted to find a bread basket being presented to the table, along with fresh whipped butter and jams.  "It's been a while since a restaurant thought to include a complimentary offering," Brandy grumbled as she slathered butter and apricot preserves onto a soft piece of raisin bread.

Brandy insisted on splitting a plate of Polenta Pancakes, which Biscuit didn't object to, since they were served with a generous helping of bacon.  Brandy very much liked the texture on the pancakes, which had a slight crunch to them.  Biscuit wasn't as fond, feeling they were a touch on the dry side (to alleviate this problem, Brandy simply drowned hers in the real maple syrup that had been provided on the side)

Biscuit's entree choice was the Potato Hash.  The shredded potatoes at the heart of the dish were nicely crispy, but the true star was the marinated vegetables on top, which consisted of eggplant, zucchini, tomato, and red onion.  "I'm obviously not a vegetarian, but if I was, I wouldn't be wanting for any meat in this here plate," Biscuit commented.

Brandy chose the Breakfast Bruschetta, two eggs over easy served on some crunchy toasted bread with spinach, tomato, and Balsamic vinegar.  Brandy felt the dish had the perfect mix of sweet and sour, though with the nature of the bread and its toppings, it was a bit difficult to eat both by hand or with knife and fork.  Once the bread had soaked up all the liquids though, it made cutting into it a bit easier.  The potatoes on the side were lovely as well, being nice and crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, with a delightful richness and subtle herby taste.

With her memories of bygone days in Italy fresh in her mind (and plenty of money in her wallet, for the entire meal came out to only about $25 a person), Brandy dragged Biscuit out to Lake Michigan, where she insisted they would be able to find a gondolier for hire.  Perhaps those three Bellinis were a bit too much for her after all.

The Short and Sweet Review

Vinci on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 16, 2012

Tre Kronor or Swiss Army Knife and Fork

The Slow and Savory Review

Its easy to become dazzled by the huge array of culinary delights available to the Chicago eater.  Its easy to get get bogged down by the glamorous plates of fashionable food, the sparkling cocktails, the handsome waiters, and the dolled up hostesses.  Brandy knows full well how easy it is to become spoiled and jaded by the pampering, the groveling, and of course, the freebies.  Luckily, Brandy also knows of certain spots in the city where, without sacrificing good quality food, service, or anything else she prizes so dearly, one can be once again pulled back down to earth and reminded of the simpler joys of life. 

It was this desire that led Brandy to invite an old friend of hers, Babka (yes, THE Babka, glamorous Polish super model so famous she needs only go by her first name) out for a lovely brunch at the very Swedish Tre Kronor.  Babka had just arrived in Chicago after a very busy fashion week in Paris, having launched not only a line of faux fur bathing suits, but also a fragrance line that doubles as salad dressing.  After one look at the exhausted and bedraggled beauty, Brandy just knew she could do with the comforting food and surroundings of Northern Europe.  "I used to spend my childhood winters in Sweden with my Auntie," Babka sighed, "It was there that my love of fashion was first ignited when I designed my ski suit to be more figure flattering at the age of 4."

Once entering the quaint establishment, there is no denying their national affiliation.  A charming mural of Swedish fairytale creatures adorns one wall, a garland of Swedish flags festoon another area, and the entire place, though a little small, burns with a cheerful, casual atmosphere.  Though the room was small and closely packed, each table's conversation didn't seem to be competing with its neighbors.  Right away a cheerful waitress greeted them and began to list a massive array of daily specials (Brandy was mightily impressed by her memory until she noticed the chalk board listing them all over her shoulder).

Brandy and friend decided to start with a fresh baked pastry; a Vanilla Hazelnut Danish.  It took some convincing for Babka to even consider ordering anything that wasn't a carrot stick, but once the confection was placed in front of them, there was no stopping her fork.  The pastry was flaky and warm with a filling that more resembled custard than the traditional cheese.  Brandy wished for a bit more hazelnut flavor, as the only hints came from small slivers of nut atop the custard.

Babka's choice of entree was one of the quiche specials, specifically the Broccoli and Cheese.  Babka was quite taken with the incredibly creamy, yet slightly dense filling and the buttery, firm crust.  "I've eaten plenty of broccoli in my time, but never did I think it could be this delicious!" Babka exclaimed.  After a little probing, Brandy discovered this might have been because Babka hadn't tasted cheese in close to ten years.

Brandy herself chose the Anders' Hash and Eggs.  At the waitress's suggestion, she ordered the eggs over medium to retain the texture of the white with just a little runny yolk to mix with the hash.  The hash itself was a lovely mix of salty corn beef and tender potatoes, which had a subtle herby flavor.  The whole dish was wonderfully tender and filling, with a smartly placed wedge of orange to cut the fattiness.

To finish, the duo split an order of Orange Vanilla French Toast.  The bread was wonderfully soft, with the orange flavor coming from the pads of melting butter, dotted with zest, that sat atop each slice.

Her friend's smile and vigor restored, Brandy escorted Babka from the restaurant (with an additional slice of quiche in hand) and sent her on her way back to the land of sparkle and salaciousness (otherwise known as the fashion business).  "You've inspired me, my friend," Babka said as they parted, "I shall stage a photo shoot where I am dressed as a vegetable, encased by cream and egg."  Brandy is quite certain that Quiche Wear will be the next hot thing, but she'd still rather eat the stuff than wear it.

The Short and Sweet Review:

Tre Kronor on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Southern or Belle of the Ball

The Slow and Savory Review

Greetings readers! We do apologize for our unscheduled interruption last week, but Brandy was unable to make her regular Sunday brunch trip due to a rather unexpected and unwelcome theft. On her way to her restaurant of choice, some crafty criminal had the gumption to slip her houndstooth pocket book right out of said pocket and attempted to abscond with it. Sadly, the thief did not count on Brandy's unnaturally refined skills of observation or her prowess at rugby, the first of which alerted her to the theft in progress and the second of which enabled her to sprint after him and tackle him before he could get away. After hauling him by the ear to the nearest police station, Brandy was kept waiting for most of the day as the local beat cops begged her to join their ranks. But something good did come of this little adventure, friends, in that the remorseful criminal did give Brandy a lovely brunch recommendation when she visited him in his cell.

Brandy dragged along Biscuit and Birdie Brown on the off chance that the wayward young man had directed her to a den of thieves.  Instead, the party was delighted to find The Southern to be a quite lovely upscale yet rustic Southern American inspired gastro-pub.  Every surface seemed to be made of heavy woods, from the bar to the tabletops to the floors, giving the feeling of being in an enclosed porch.  "My grand pappy used to have a room like this on his plantation," Birdie commented, "Grand mama made him smoke his pipe out there so it wouldn't stink up her chintz curtains."  The room itself was a little crowded and cramped, but the tables were large enough to comfortably seat any sized party.

Brandy and friends were excited to see a wide range of creative sounding house cocktails available for purchase, so a round of drinks were ordered.  Brandy chose the Winter Infusion, a strong smelling bourbon infused with spices and black mission figs, which arrived softly on the tongue with a subtle sweetness.  Biscuit picked the Jezebel cocktail, a delicious twist on a traditional mimosa with the addition of peach infused tequila (Brandy was heard to say that this concoction was one of the best "mimosas" she had ever tasted, which is a major compliment coming from an expert such as her).  Birdie was drawn to the Walker Texas Ranger, a sweetish combination of Johnny Walker and Templeton Rye spiked with cherry tobacco and garnished with an orange peal.  The result was a rather distinctive bright flavor, perfect for sipping in the morning.  "Smells just like my grand pappy's old pipe!" Birdie exclaimed, wiping away what might have been the beginning of a tear from his eye.

The group started out with a pair of appetizers; spiced doughnut holes with coffee cream dipping sauce and the ever popular poutine disguised as a dish called "Breakfast Mess."  The poutine was delivered first (their cheerful waitress informed them that the dish of doughnuts had been dropped in the back and a new order would be out shortly) and had been decimated in no time at all.  The fries at its base were crisp, the cheese curds had been baked to gooey perfection (the party spent a good five minutes fighting over chunks of the melted goodness), the ham gravy was divine, and even the bacon and egg on top somehow seemed to make perfect sense in the context of the dish.  The doughnut holes came out in no time (in fact, if the servers hadn't mentioned the incident, Brandy and friends would scarcely have noticed their delay) and were devoured just as quickly.  Their crispy interior was ideal, as was their doughy insides.  A little selection of berries had been added to help cut the richness of the fried nuggets.  The only disappointment was in the coffee cream, which had such a subtle coffee flavor that it was practically non-existent.

Moving onto entrees, Biscuit quickly eyed up the House Made Bacon, a sort of cured pork belly steak served with creamy collard greens and a fried egg.  The so called bacon was tender, smokey, and incredibly filling.  Biscuit was heard to remark that she could happily continue to eat that pork belly at every breakfast for the rest of her life.  "I might even loose weight eating this pork belly," she said, "Because I wouldn't be able to eat anything else for the rest of the day after having this for breakfast!"  The greens were also a nice surprise, providing a lovely bright contrast to the heavy meat.

Birdie opted for the Crawfish and Grits (seeing hot sauce in any ingredient list is a sure fire way to draw Birdie's interest).  The grits were a bit loose, but very creamy and balanced with just the right amount of kick.  The crawfish were a bit fishy, but as Birdie pointed out, this was to be expected as they were being served so far away from their homeland in Louisiana.

Brandy, who has been avoiding omelets as of late in favor of more unusual dishes, decided on the Roasted Mushroom Omelet, which drew her attention for being the only omelet on the menu.  The eggs were cooked to fluffy perfection and beautifully encased the wonderful variety of mushrooms and creamy pepper jack cheese.  Over the top was a crisp mix of shaved radish, arugula,and crunchy strips of fried cornmeal, which lent an excellent texture to the dish.  The only down side was the slightly odd, bitter after taste, which Brandy suspected was from the grilled radicchio that had been mixed into the omelet filling.

The Southern turned out to be an excellent recommendation from such an unexpected source, with near perfect service, presentation, taste, and quality.  Brandy was so delighted with this little Bucktown gem that after the nere-do-well was released from jail, she decided to treat him to a few more of the house cocktails.  "Forgive and forget is all very well," Brandy always says, "But its hard to do either without a good bit of drink in your system."

The Short and Sweet Review

The Southern on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 2, 2012

Postcards from Bunny

Greetings friends!  First off, we would like to issue an apology on behalf of Brandy, who had meant to grace us with a review as per usual, but due to an unforeseen incident involving a criminal, a wallet, and Brandy's unending wrath, we are instead bringing you some exciting news we've received via one of Bunny's lovely Postcards!

Bunny (whose latest adventures brought her to the southern coast of Cyprus on an excavation to find the long lost Temple of Baconopolis, a shrine to a very obscure god in the Greek arcana who governed over breakfast foods), has recently become quite taken by Mediterranean culinary delights, which is probably why when she heard that Chef Cat Cora was coming to Macy's on State Street to do a live cooking demo and a book signing for her newest cookbook, Classics with a Twist, she asked us to help spread the word.  We submit the following details of this event for your viewing:

What: Macy's Culinary Council Present Cat Cora Cooking Demo and Book Signing
When: Monday March 12 @ NOON
Where: Macy's State Street (Chicago, IL)
RSVP: The event is free. Seating is limited. Please call 1.800.329.8667 to reserve a space.

We suggest you do call rather quickly as Bunny has threatened to reserve all the seats for herself to ensure she gets to try whatever delicious dish Chef Cora decides to prepare.

*This is a sponsored post for which the writer's of this blog have been compensated.