Friday, November 30, 2012

Postcards from Bunny

Well, that time is upon us again, friends.  Time for joy and cheer, tinsel and glitter, family and friends, but mostly... food!  Glorious, fattening, tasty holiday food!  And it is the lure of this delicious food that brought dear Bunny back, if only for a short while, to Chicago from her world travels with her husband Benedict.  You see, once again Bunny heard tell that another member of the Macy's Culinary Council (a few months ago it was renowned Chicago chef Takashi Yagihashi) would be giving a demo on holiday food preparation at Macy's on State Street in the heart of downtown.
This time around it was Chef Tom Douglas, owner and head chef of 13 wonderful restaurants in Seattle, head chef of Amtrak Trains, and partner chef with Columbia Crest Wines.  Chef Douglas apparently has a soft spot for Chicago, being that his parents originated from the city, but apparently does not have plans to grace the Midwest with any of his culinary vision outside Macy's.  "You guys have Rick Bayless," he said, "What do you need me for?  You have so many good restaurants already.  Don't be greedy."

For his demo, Chef Douglas set about preparing some of his signature recipes from The Macy's Culinary Council Thanksgiving & Holiday Cookbook   He started off by preparing a prime rib roast using the same methods as in his Coffee Bean Turkey recipe from the book.  His special tip when butchering the roast: never "French" the bones of a rib roast, or you will lose the preciously tender "baby back rib" meat.  To go along with that was a stuffing with dried cherries, hazelnuts, and oyster mushrooms (which originally took the place of more traditional oysters in order to satisfy Chef Douglas's staunchly traditional mother in law).  Lastly was the Pear Tart, made with puff pastry ("Our puff pastry at the restaurant is 1000 layers and made by hand.  You can use store bought," Chef Douglas instructed the crowd), almond cream, sliced fresh pears, whipped cream, and a "dreamy" caramel sauce.

As Bunny could not resist an opportunity to talk brunch, she asked Chef Douglas what his favorite breakfast dish is.  "We have a dish at one of my restaurants that's named after me, actually," he said, "It's red wine braised octopus with eggs, bacon, and a big slab of garlic bread."  At this, Bunny swooned and ran out of Macy's to book her next trip to Seattle.

So thanks to Chef Tom Douglas and Macy's for a wonderful afternoon of holiday cooking!

*The writers of this blog have been compensated by Everywhere Society for the information contained in this post, but the opinions stated were not influenced.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Hamachi or Seems Kosher to Me

The Slow and Savory Review

Brandy does love a good challenge.  She has climbed mountains to prove points, won scavenger hunts for bragging rights, and once in her youth she ran with the bulls in Spain purely because a stranger in a cafe had remarked to someone who was not Brandy that he doubted a woman could do it (what he actually said, it turned out, was he doubted that a wounded man could do it, but Brandy's hearing has never been what it should be).  So when Brandy's dear friends Bailey Blue and Hawke from Cider Press came to her with a difficult request, she was more than happy to meet it head on.  "We need to find a kosher sushi restaurant, preferably on the north side," Bailey told her, "Hawke is thinking about keeping kosher for his health, but doesn't want to give up his favorite foods, like sushi and cheeseburgers and bacon."  "I don't know about the cheeseburgers and bacon, but I think I can take care of the sushi," Brandy said with confidence.

Luckily, Brandy had recently received an invitation to Hamachi in Roger's Park, which also just happened to be an all kosher sushi restaurant, so she organized as afternoon tasting for the three of them.  Hamachi's interior was filled with classic colors: reds, black, and whites all stood out in stark contrast with each other, culminating in a beautiful mural on the wall behind the sushi makers.  The space was a little cramped, but the seating was fairly varied with counters under the windows on one side, stools in the middle where one could watch the sushi making action, and larger tables along another wall.  "So how does kosher sushi happen?" Hawke inquired as they took a seat.  "I'd imagine about the same as regular sushi, only without shrimp or crab," Brandy responded, eyeing a few interesting looking roles on other people's plates.

The table was first presented with some bowls of warming Miso Soup.  Brandy thought the broth was just perfect: not too salty, oily, or bland, but a little unconscious, a little creamy, and loaded with umami.

A plate was then brought to the table, boasting the best of the best appetizers on the menu,  including a selection of sashimi and nagiri and some more adventurous rice based bites like the Nasu Tempura (which consisted of eggplant, spicy salmon, and mango salsa) or the Crunchy Shrimp (with faux shrimp, spicy tuna, and a sauce made from bell peppers).  "I can't believe its not shrimp!" Hawke exclaimed when Brandy reminded him of the culinary trickery in the tidbit, both of them fumbling a little bit with their chopsticks and desecrating the lovely food in the process.  The favorite of the group was most certainly the Crispy Rice, which came topped with salmon and pineapple salsa.  "Crispy rice indeed!" Brandy proclaimed happily, "I'd take this over those saccharin marshmallow things any day!"  The slices of fish they had been provided with were incredibly tender, practically melting on the tongue.  Brandy liked tasting the subtle differences in the preparation and type of fish from bite to bite, favoring the white tuna out of the bunch.

The next plate presented to the table was rather surprising.  "Sandwiches and fries? At a sushi place?" Bailey said as the plate was set before them.  Brandy smiled quizzically at the soft spoken waitress as she explained the dishes, then the three diners dived in.  The sandwich, it turned out, was a Katsu Salmon sandwich, a fried filet of salmon topped with avocado, mayo, and coleslaw.  "I admit, I've never seen something like this as a sushi restaurant, but I would like to in the future," Brandy said through a mouthful of sandwich.  The salmon had a nice crunch to it, mixing well with the sweetish cole slaw and the soft bread.  What Bailey had thought were french fries turned out to be traditional Tempura Vegetables, served with a Wasabi Mayo and a Spicy Mayo.  They found the veggies to have a nice fresh texture on the inside, and the crunchy exterior was free of any greasy residue that can sometimes come from inexpertly prepared fried food.  "Look, it is a fry after all!" Bailey piped up as she bit into a stick of sweet potato.

The third plate of food brought some of Hamachi's signature rolls to the table in a stunning array of color.  Firsty was the Black Spider, made with black rice, faux crab meat, avocado, cucumber, and topped with salmon and a sweet soy sauce.  The group found this one to have a savory slant from the nuttier black rice and a slight tanginess.  Next was the Baked Madai, which had faux shrimp and crab, asparagus, avocado, and came topped with red snapper and a sweet soy sauce.  Brandy especially liked the subtle sweetness of the sushi and found it a little more filling and heavy than the other rolls.  The White Sox roll, a mix of tuna, avocado, cucumber, mayo, and a special garlic black sesame sauce, was the unanimous favorite of the bunch because of its spice, sweetness, and all around refreshing flavor.  Then there was the Red Dragon, a surprisingly creamy, sweet, and not overly spiced mix of faux crab and vegetables.  Last but not least was the most stunning of the sushi, the Blue Man Group, a mix of tuna, salmon, and avocado coated in a mysterious mixture called "blue crunch."  This roll had the most spicy kick to it, but it was still well executed and not about to light anyone's mouth on fire.  Sadly though, the blue crunch was a little less crunchy than expected.

Lastly, the group was presented with dessert, Tempura Ice Cream.  The sight of the dish brought a little patriotic tear to Hawke's eye, as it was topped with a bright red strawberry sauce and more of the "blue crunch."  "All it needs is a few sparklers," Brandy smirked.  Inside the crispy coating was a smooth vanilla ice cream and a little pound cake, which made for a slightly grainy texture, but the dish was so fun that no one seemed to mind, and the plate was soon scraped clean.

Though kosher sushi isn't what one would normally think of for brunch, Brandy and friends had a wonderful time at Hamachi, and left thoroughly stuffed.  "So, are you still thinking of going kosher, my boy?" Brandy asked Hawke as they all waddled down the road.  "Still not sure, but its good to know I have options," he smiled.  "I wasn't even thinking of keeping kosher," Bailey said, "But I could definitely live off that sushi for the rest of my life."

The Short and Sweet Review

Hamachi Sushi Bar  on Urbanspoon
* The writers of this blog were invited by this restaurant and provided with a free meal in exchange for a review.  The opinions of the writers have not been influenced by this transaction.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Postcards from Bunny: Behind the Scenes Edition

Greetings dear readers!  We have a rather special treat for you today!  Recently, Bunny and Brandy's head translator and scribe did a little interview with Seth Resler of the Mystery Meets Find Dining Podcast about some of Bunny and Brandy's favorite Chicago haunts.  Make sure to give the link a little look and listen to see which Chicago brunch spot got their recommendation!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fabcakes or The Ladies Who Brunch

The Slow and Savory Review

There are three types of people in this world: those who brunch for fun , those who brunch for fashion, and those who brunch in order to cure a hangover.  Brandy has always prided herself on being one of the first kinds of person (and occasionally one of the third kind), but never one of the second kind.  "Brunch is about togetherness, friendship, enjoying good food and good conversation, not about whose wearing the fanciest bloody hat," Brandy has been known to extemporize, "I can't stand the kind of woman who buys a new pair of shoes and a designer bag just to wear out to brunch.  They only go to the most fashionable places, not to taste, but to be seen.  It's contemptible."

But there are times when even Brandy wants to impress, especially when Mama Bee is in town, so for this week, she decided on a little boutique bakery called Fabcakes in the River North neighborhood (this was a place that Brandy felt for sure would not disappoint Mama Bee's insatiable need for honey).  Inside, they found a very whimsical yet chic interior with large patio tables sets scattered around the room, Gothic looking red curtains hung over the unfinished brick walls, and an antique and very ornate tin ceiling ("I had a ceiling like that in an apartment I had in the 20's," Brandy said, to which Mama Bee inquired, "Your 20's dear?" and Brandy replied, "No, THE 20's.").  The overall effect was a sort of Alice in Wonderland feeling, which Brandy very much liked in the context of a bakery.

They first approached the small display case at the back of the shop and examined its wears, deciding on a little tea and conversation before they broke into the sweets.  Brandy ordered a Georgia Peach Tea Latte, which was made fresh from the jar of loose leaf tea on top of the display case, while Mama Bee chose a Hazelnut Latte.  "Oh, let's get a spot to eat!" Mama Bee insisted after a little while, and they once again went to the back of the shop to examine the menus.  For a few moments, they stood behind two very fashionable looking women who were all in black and were barking questions at the poor sweet thing behind the counter.  "Is the coffee all organic? Fair Trade? Dairy free? Gluten free? Caffeine Free?" asked one of the women, not even letting the girl answer one question before asking the next.  Once she was satisfied that her coffee had nothing but actual coffee in it, the next woman began her barrage of specifications.  "I want a fruit tart, but one with only one or two blueberries.  Make sure to warm it, but not too much.  And I don't want one with too much glaze.  The sugar will make me too jittery."  Brandy watched as these two took up a table next to the window and proceeded to place on their large, darkened sunglasses and take tiny sips from their drinks while complaining loudly about the weather, causing Brandy to growl under her breath.

Mama Bee decided on an egg sandwich with tomato, basil, cheddar, and bacon on a croissant.  All of the ingredients tasted deliciously fresh, and looked it too, making a rather pleasing array of color inside the soft and buttery croissant.  Mama Bee was especially impressed that the croissant held together rather nicely, as most sandwiches made from the delicate pastries end in messy disaster.

Brandy also got a croissant sandwich, but hers housed a frittata cooked with mushrooms, Swiss cheese, and thyme.  The flavors of the sandwich were spot on with the earthy mushrooms mixing perfectly with the herbiness of the thyme and the richness of the cheese and egg.  Brandy was also impressed by how well the sandwich was put together, and also adored the way the utensils were presented in a simple napkin and tied up in a red yarn bow.

At last, the ladies decided to split a little dessert, a Chocolate Coffee Buttercream Cake which resembled a multi layer opera cake in cupcake form.  The buttercream was at once rich and airy, tasting entirely of coffee with none of the bitterness that flavor can sometimes impart.  The cake was equally rich and moist and had a surprise layer of marinated cherries in it, indicating a sort of nod at black forest cake. The fashionistas at the table next door sneered at Brandy and Mama Bee, nibbling their pastries with as little food going into their mouths as possible.  Growing frustrated with these two, Brandy stood up and announced  "I'm getting some pastries to go!  This food is too good to let it only last for one meal!"  To which Mama Bee enthusiastically cheered, "Here here!"

Brandy approached the harried looking girl behind the counter and started ordering whatever her eyes landed on.  She ended up with a rather interesting, but delicious assortment, which she and Mama Bee enjoyed the following day in the comfort of Brandy's parlor: There was a bacon and mozzarella quiche that had a crumbly crust and a nice meaty flavor, but was a little short on the egg and cheese, making the baked good more of a tart than a quiche.  Also, there were the delectable Mixed Fruit Muffins, which were doughy and not too sweet, with beautiful fresh berries and stone fruits baked inside.  Lastly there was the Nutella Pumpkin, a sort of creatively costumed cupcake with a small, delicate crumb and a lovely hazelnut ganache in the middle.

In all, Brandy absolutely adored Fabcakes for their bold, clean flavors, their reasonable pricing, their originality, and their excellent service, but the fact that they seemed to be a rather fashionable spot for a quick breakfast didn't even factor into her rankings.  "Even the most expensive bag will stain with chocolate, and I'd rather have a cheap, stained bag filled with cupcakes than an empty designer one," as she put it.

The Short and Sweet Review

Fabcakes on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 2, 2012

Senza or Gluten Free Bird

The Slow and Savory Review

The whole "gluten free" trend has been perplexing Brandy lately, mainly because it has never been so fashionable to have a food allergy.  "You don't often see a menu proclaiming to be 'peanut free' or 'shellfish free' do you?" she has questioned understandably from time to time, "What if I want gluten? I don't like the idea of it being taken away because it bothers someone else's constitution."  Brandy is what you might call Gluten Free Intolerant.

Having the legendary Mama Bee, owner of Honey Bee Bakery, in town this week, Brandy knew she would have to find some place special, as the honey maven had come to expect nothing less.  "Oh, and I have recently discovered I am sensitive to gluten, so if you could take that into account, I would appreciate it," said Mama Bee during a recent phone conversation.  Brandy, not thrilled with the idea of missing out on some gluten-y goodness, began doing a little research and found the newly opened Senza, a new American style restaurant serving up both enticing plated dishes as well as fresh baked goodies and artisan coffee drinks, all of which are certifiably gluten free.

Brandy and Mama Bee just loved the interior of Senza right off the bat.  Bright pops of lime green and orange made the place light up with positive energy, while the warm woods and scattering of plant life made it feel comfortable and airy.  The setup was definitely not what Brandy had expected; rather than being greeted at the door by a host or hostess, customers were required to walk to the back of the restaurant in order to survey the menu and place their order, then seat themselves at whichever picnic table or banquet they wished. "Unconventional for such a high end place, yes, but it keeps things moving along, I supposed," Brandy commented.

The ladies decided to start their meal off with a couple of Lattes (vanilla for Brandy and hazelnut for Mama Bee) and a plate of Beignets.  Having been given the choice of several toppings, Brandy had sided with Powdered Sugar, Cinnamon, and Chocolate ("Was honey not an option?  I'll need to have a word with them about that," said Mama Bee when the plate was presented).  The beignets were rather dense and chewy, but in a good way, with a nicely crisp exterior.  Brandy's personal favorite topping was the cinnamon, but Mama Bee preferred the sticky sweet chocolate.

Mama Bee had chosen the Flatbread for her entree, which came topped with a little pecorino cheese, Parma ham, chimichurri, and egg.  The dish had crisp, clean flavors, being meaty but not heavy, and with some tomato to provide freshness.  Mama Bee did find the dish a tad awkward to eat, as the bread was too hard at first to cut through easily, but the pieces were too messy to pick up and eat.

Brandy chose the Everything Gnocci, served with fresh ricotta cheese, arugula, crispy shitake mushrooms, and an egg.  The gnocci were quite delicious, with a good sear on the outside that, along with a coating of sesame seeds, gave them a little texture, and an incredibly light and airy interior.  The mushrooms were particularly delightful and the cheese lent an unexpected brininess to the dish.  The egg was cooked very softly and delicately, but Brandy was a little disappointed that the yolk wasn't runny, as she had hoped it would serve as a kind of sauce to the otherwise dry, but very flavorful plate of food.  While initially disappointed in the size of her portion, Brandy did find the dish rather filling and rich.

In the end, Brandy completely forgot all about her missing gluten and happily sipped away the rest of her latte, listening to Mama Bee extol the virtues of orange blossom honey over clover honey.  A shared starter, two coffees, and two entrees set the ladies back less than $40, which brandy regarded as quite a value, and she considered splurging a little more on some of the decadent looking pastries in the display case that the front of the restaurant, but decided against it, as she didn't want to hear another lecture from Mama Bee on what type of honey they would be best served with.  She also became a tad suspicious of Mama Bee's gluten sensitivity when later at dinner, the woman ordered a full bowl of semolina based pasta.  In her defense, Mama Bee insisted that her gluten sensitivity was generally worse in the morning, especially after watching lengthy reports about gluten allergies on morning talk shows.

The Slow and Savory Review

Senza on Urbanspoon