Monday, January 31, 2011

Garrett Popcorn

Garrett Popcorn is a Chicago institution - you'll see them scattered all over town and no one can get enough of it. K took me there after lunch to make sure I had my authentic experience of The Chicago Mix. A small bag is still enormous, and what makes it special is the mix of cheesy popcorn with caramel popcorn. Many of my friends will know that I have issues with mixing salty and sweet, and while I did have a couple of bites with cheese and caramel together, I definitely preferred them separately. I ended up pouring it into a bowl, eating all the cheesy ones first, and then finishing with caramel for dessert. This stuff is incredibly moreish, so watch out - you may find yourself finishing a bag even though it seems impossible at the start.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Green Zebra

1460 West Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60642

More fun with M & C (baby O stayed at home, it was a grown ups night!)  They chose the Green Zebra, since they had been once before for the tasting menu and really liked it. It's a vegetarian restaurant, but so creative that you really don't notice. A bit like Terre a Terre in Brighton. Plates are small, so they recommended that we order three or four dishes per person - we went with three each, and then shared a dessert, and it was a perfect amount of food. Here's what we ordered:

Fresh Burrata, crispy crimson lentils, pickled peppers, Nichols Farm radish, pistou
Potato & Spring Garlic Dumplings, roasted garlic, aioli, smoked paprika
Couscous with cauliflower, confit artichoke, arugula and parmesan tuile
Roasted Pumpkin Soup, whipped creme fraiche, Thai basil, pepitas, garlic
Trio of Onion Soup, Vidalia onion, grilled ramps, leeks, sherry 
Foraged mushroom bread pudding with fennel brown butter and chestnut puree
Slow Roasted Shittake Mushrooms, crispy potato, savoy cabbage
Spence Farm Poached Egg, smoked potato puree, country sourdough
Risotto (can't find this on menu, I think it was made with something other than rice though)
Spiced Pumpkin Cake, butterscotch puddding, pistachios, apple

I've italicized the ones that were particularly outstanding (three of which were my choices, wow I'm good!) With a lovely bottle of half price Spanish Garnacha wine, we had a fantastic evening with extraordinary food for quite a reasonable bill. I'd certainly be keen to go back if I lived in Chicago.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Sun Wah BBQ

5039 N Broadway
Chicago, Illinois 60640

A lucky trip to Chicago for work meant that I could hang out with M, C and their adorable baby O. N also came along because we're generally unseparable when we have the chance to be in the same place. Anyway, since M lives pretty close to this place and it was dinner time, we headed off here for a girly meal. Apparently they are famous for their Peking duck, but we opted for a mixed BBQ platter instead, which came with roast pork, roast duck, and soy sauce chicken. I also ordered some Chinese broccoli and a small order of the fried chicken (which is not at all what you would think - it's not battered, it's just lightly fried so the skin gets a bit brown and crisp). M got some wonton noodle soup which she finished, so I assume she enjoyed it. Everything tasted fresh and I really liked the BBQ meats - plus it's all really reasonably priced. Funnily enough, when I met up with my cousin later, she said this was her favorite place for Chinese BBQ in Chicago and goes there all the time herself, so there you go - two stamps of approval.

Bear Moon Bakery & Cafe

401 S Main St
Boerne, TX 78006

While wandering around Boerne, A and I passed by this little bakery and had to stop in. The first thing A said was "cheesy pigs", and I agreed immediately. We were planning on having lunch so we only got one to share - the bakery warmed it up and we went outside to continue walking. One bite into this, though, and we stopped in our tracks. The sausages had cheese inside them, and the bread was soft and perfect. We scarfed it down greedily, then debated getting some more, but in the end, reason won out and we kept moving. Secretly, I wish we had just bought an entire bagful and skipped the relatively bland lunch we had later on.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Magnolia Cafe

2304 Lake Austin Blvd.
Austin, TX 78703

On our way out of Austin for a trip along the Wine Road 290, we stopped at Magnolia Cafe to fill our tummies with some breakfast. A and I decided to share, so he ordered a special of fried eggs over a mini-mountain of home fries mixed with cheese and sausage. I had the Big Breakfast Tacos, which were stuffed with scrambled egg, avocado, cheese and bacon. Strangely, we both thought the portions looked a little small when they came out (maybe we'd already been in Texas for too long) but it turned out to be the perfect amount of food - we left full but not grotesquely so, and we headed off to get started on our tastings of Texas wine in good spirits.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hula Hut

3825 Lake Austin Boulevard
Austin, TX 78703

Once I had both my A's with me in Austin, we headed out to Hula Hut to enjoy the sunshine and some festive drinks. To use up a Groupon deal I had, we ordered Queso Compuesto (queso with fajita beef, guacamole and pico de gallo), Shrimp Quesadillas, and Chicken Flautas. The flautas were my favorite - crispy cigars of tortillas stuffed with tender chicken - and the shrimp quesadillas made me realize I'm not too fond of shrimp with cheese. Cocktails were fun as well - I wish my memory was better but all I can remember is that mine had sweet tea vodka in it. Sadly, later on the same day we were there, the pier where we sat caught on fire due to some errant fireworks from the restaurant next door - I hope they repair it soon so that Austinites can continue to enjoy eating outdoors during the winter months!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

59 Diner

3801 Farnham St
Houston, Texas 77098

We took another of E's recommendations for breakfast - 59 Diner is also open 24 hours and serves the most ridiculous portions of food. The three plates at the bottom of the picture above are one breakfast. One. For one person. There is an entire chicken fried steak in there, in addition to three eggs, a pile of hash browns, and two pancakes. Cream gravy on the side. Thank god A and I split this - I cannot imagine anyone eating this entire breakfast without taking years off their life. This breakfast cost a grand total of $9, which explains a lot about the obesity problem in America. But dang, it was good, and J enjoyed his migas as well. The kitschy 50s decor made it fun for the Brits, and I got my helping of Southern food, so it ticked all our boxes for that meal.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

House of Pies

6142 Westheimer Rd.
Houston, TX 77057

More Houston experiences - House of Pies was a recommendation from E, who has fond memories of 2am pie fests from her college days. Clockwise from top: a New York style cheesecake, a piece of Bayou Goo pie, a piece of pumpkin pie, and a piece of strawberry-rhubarb pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Why do we have four slices of pie for three people? We each ordered one, and J insisted on a fourth "comedy" pie, which was the Bayou Goo. A accurately described it as a "festival of cream" and it was sickly, over-the-top sweet. The cheesecake was terrible, but that's what we get for ordering something other than pie. Thankfully the pumpkin pie convinced J that it is actually a great idea to put pumpkin in pie, and the strawberry-rhubarb was probably the nicest pie we ordered as it wasn't too sweet. I suppose if you need pie 24 hours a day, I would send you here - but I think maybe I'm not the kind of person that needs pie 24 hours a day.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Onion Creek Cafe

3106 White Oak Blvd. 

Houston, TX 77007

On a visit to Houston to see J, we ended up at Onion Creek, ostensibly for a drink, but then the dinner menu looked nice so we ate there as well. I made J try a Frito pie since it's such a Texan dish, and A had a chili cheese dog. I am pretty sure I ordered a tuna panini, but that is not what I received - looking at the menu I think I got a Julius panini instead, which is supposedly Italian herbed chicken, creamy caesar spread, tomato and parmesan cheese. Since it was good, I didn't bother sending it back. The potato salad on the side was a disappointment though - incredibly mayonnaisey, which overwhelmed the other ingredients. Slightly sad pickle as well. But while I wouldn't necessarily recommend Onion Creek for the food, it was great for atmosphere - a really chilled out place to have some interesting beers with friends - and sometimes that is more important.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Empress of Sichuan

6-7 Lisle St
London WC2H 7BG

P and I continued our quest for numbing Sichuan food at the Empress of Sichuan. This came highly recommended by some friends and as soon as we walked in, I thought it was one of the more nicely decorated Chinese restaurants I've been to. It's certainly a more luxurious joint than Chilli Cool (which I thought I blogged but apparently haven't yet), and the service was some of the most helpful and gracious I've ever experienced (P and I wanted to hug our waitress, she was so sweet). But what about the food, you ask? Brilliant. We went a bit nuts with the ordering - spicy duck tongues, some pickled vegetable that was crisp and chewy at the same time, kung pao chicken full of chillies and crunchy cashews and peanuts, dong po braised pork knuckle which fell off the bone with the slightest prod of a chopstick, and beef tripe in extremely spicy soup, which carried a powerful kick of heat that became more and more enjoyable as we ate. We managed to finish almost everything, which is a testament to how good it was, and certainly plan on returning, once we've tried a few other places to make sure we've covered all our Sichuan bases in London.