M went to school in Wisconsin and while there became fascinated by the concept of the classic supper club – a true marker of quirky Wisconsin culture. Supper clubs are usually old-school establishments serving Prime Rib and traditional American fare, with bars and entertainment, making for a complete night out. Supper clubs were popular throughout the US in the mid-20th Century, and though they faded in popularity in most of the country, they remained strong in Wisconsin (where they always serve the state drink, the Brandy Old Fashioned, of course). The documentaries “Old Fashioned” and “Supper Club” document Wisconsin supper clubs and their loyal fanbases. Though many of these Wisconsin Clubs seem preserved in the past they are still surviving – and in some cases thriving – today. One of our favorite parts about supper clubs are their usually-fabulous mid-century signs, like this one from the Hob Nob in Racine. Everyone in Wisconsin has a favorite supper club, and if you need some help starting out, WisconsinSupperClubs.net provides a thorough database of supper clubs in the state. A wave of food nostalgia has also brought new spins on the supper clubs to the fore, like one of our favorites, the Old Fashioned in Madison, and there is now even a faux-retro Wisconsin supper club in Chicago!
Photo By Jerry Luterman
We recently returned from a trip to Mexico, where our love for tacos (particularly, Tacos al Pastor) grew ever stronger. Our favorite taqueria is in Pilsen, but sometimes you just get a taco craving, and driving all the way down to 18th street isn’t feasible. So we decided to give the North Clark Street corridor in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago a thorough exploration for tacos. You know, we feel pretty badly that we have ignored this teeming avenue as a spot for Mexican food for so long. However, slowly but surely, we are stating to explore the area, and with good reason – practically every 4th storefront is a taqueria! Do you have any favorites in the North Clark area you can recommend (especially for al pastor)?
With our quest to find the best açaí bowl in Rio de Janeiro now complete, we turn our energies to sorting out the best of our favorite Bahian dish: the classic acarajé. From the cobblestone streets of the Pelourinho to the beaches of Barra and the largos of Rio Vermelho, no Baiana in Salvador is safe from our rating scale. We’ll be searching far and wide to find our favorite in the city. Here’s our rating scale:
Value: Out of 5. Below R$3, 5/5; 3-4, 4/5; 4-5, 3/5; 5-6, 2/5; 6-7, 1/5; over 7, 0/5.
Taste/Texture: Out of 15. We need a solid acarajé, not too mushy or too hard, and a fresh, baiana-made taste.
Vatapá: Out of 5. How amazingly peanuty is it? How’s the texture? Did you let it sit too long in the sun? You will be harshly judged for messing up our favorite condiment; but handsomely rewarded if you do it well.
Salada: Out of 5. Perhaps even more overlooked than Vatapá – salada is the Pico de Gallo-esque mix of tomatoes and cilantro that is supposed to add a little crunch to the mix. How fresh is it? Does it add anything to the acaraje or is it just a watery mess?
Extras: Out of 5. Friendliness? Speed? Cleanliness? General awesomeoness of baiana outfit? Anything extra goes in this potpourri category.
For now, please enjoy our favorite song about Acarajé – “Retratos da Bahia” by Riachão
Filed under Quest, Reviews
You know we love rankings – and here’s a new list for one food that we will never turn down – falafel! Chicago Magazine has a new list of the top falafel places in Chicago. We are happy that one of our picks for falafel in the city came out on top: Falafill! Here is a review from our visit to Falafill (and their fabulous topping bar).
A falafel sandwich from Falafill
One of the things that we most loved about Turkey were the extraordinary breakfasts we had everyday: yogurt with fresh honeycomb, fresh fruit, cheese and olives, Turkish pastries, the whole works. At one such breakfast we were also introduced to the enigmatic helva, a sweet treat made with sesame seed paste. I have a lot of trouble trying to describe helva since its texture is so unusual – it’s sugary and crumbly, but with the creaminess of peanut butter. The specific variety of helva we had in Istanbul was Tahin Helvası (as in tahini), and we enjoyed varieties with chocolate swirls and pistachio. Helva or helva-like products are widespread throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East, but it was the first time we had ever tried any other nut butter candies like this. Fortunately, we found Turkish helva in a few middle eastern grocery stores in Chicago.
Where to get your Helva Fix in Chicago:
Pita Inn Market & Bakery (Next to Pita Inn Restaurant)
Middle East Bakery and Grocery
1512 W. Foster
L and M head to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Cambodia.
My (M) quest for the perfect Rama Chicken began years ago when I first had the dish at a Thai restaurant in Urbana, Illinois. Since then, I’ve gone around the Chicago area looking for the perfect manifestation of my favorite peanut-sauce chicken delight. But it had never occurred to me to actually try to make the dish myself, so last week, L and I gave it a try. A while back we had picked up a copy of Jennifer Brennan’s Original Thai Cookbook at a used bookstore in Wrigleyville. It’s the first Thai cookbook ever published in the United States, so we figured it would be a good bet for a more “authentic” recipe. Here’s the recipe the book gives (this makes 4 servings, we halved it for the 2 of us. Our variations are in parentheses):
1 pound young spinach, washed and cut into pieces
4 cups thick coconut milk
2 pounds chicken (cut into thin slices)
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons palm sugar, or brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour, mixed with 4 tablespoons water
5 dried red chillies, seeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon Laos powder (we couldn’t figure out what this is, so we didn’t use it)
7 shallots, chopped (we’re not big on oniony things, so we used less)
8 cloves garlic
1 stalk lemon grass, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter (we used organic PB for a more natural flavor)
1/2 cup coconut cream
Blanch the spinach in boiling water and drain. Set aside. In a large saucepan, bring the coconut milk to a boil. Add the chicken, fish sauce, and brown sugar. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is cooked to your taste. Remove chicken and set aside. Simmer remaining liquid in saucepan until it is reduced by one half. Add flour/water mixture and stir until it thickens. Set pan aside. In a mortar or food processor, pound or grind the chillies, Laos, shallots, garlic, lemon grass, and salt to a paste. Stir in the peanut butter and mix well. Reserving two tablespoons of the coconut cream, heat the remainder in a wok until thick and oily. Introduce the peanut/spice paste and stir-fry until it changes color (about 2 minutes). Add chicken slices and stir until coated. Now add the coconut chicken sauce and simmer, stirring for five minutes. Arrange the spinach on a platter. Lift the chicken slices from the sauce and arrange on the bed of spinach. Pour the sauce from the wok over and around the chicken slices. Spoon the little dollops of the reserved coconut cream on the chicken slices and serve immediately.
We have to say, for our first time making a really complicated dish, this turned out pretty well. The sauce could have been more peanut-y, so we’d probably recommend reducing the coconut milk/peanut butter ratio. We also didn’t feel the need to bother with the “little dollops” of coconut cream. We also made some rice to serve alongside our concoction – because really, what is Thai food without a small dish of rice next to it? All in all, this recipe provided a really intelligent mix of good flavors. I was originally leery about the amount of shallots and garlic in the sauce, but we trusted the recipe and were rewarded in the end. We’re looking forward to making more from this book!
Sometimes there is a food so great, so delicious, that its perfect incarnation must be sought after. The subject of our latest food quest is Rama Chicken (aka Pra Ram Long Song), a traditional Thai dish consisting of peanut sauce, broccoli and rice. While deceptively simple, Rama Chicken varies greatly between restaurants. Therefore, we have set out into the world of Thai restaurants in Chicago, finding the perfect incarnation of Rama Chicken. Follow our adventure!