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Those of us who love to travel also tend to be passionate about food. We often search out great eateries before we go, and sometimes plan a good bit of our trip around these gastronomic sojourns.
This can have a delightful carryover effect in our own kitchens, especially now that so many great restaurant chefs write a cookbook or three. (And of course now, many recipes are available on the Interwebs.)
My first foray into this realm was the chicken tortilla soup from Rick Bayless of Chicago's Fronterra Grill. It's now a staple in our menu rotation, and a great winter company dish. Then came morel-dusted scallops from Patrick O'Connell's Inn at Little Washington in Virginia (amazing kitchen below).
And then I got serious. Smitten with the food at Donald Link's New Orleans mecca Herbsaint, my way better half and I decided to cook our way through his "Real Cajun." The amazing smothered pork roast, the biscuit-y chicken and dumplings and the uplifting sauce picante have been beyond stellar.
Eating these dishes doesn't quite transport us to New Orleans, but at least we can see it from there.
There are contests and then there are contests. This one sounds too good to be true. The San Francisco-based tour company Viator is looking for travelers with wanderlust and video acumen. Winners will get an all-expenses-paid junket to visit 20 cities in 60 days, shooting video in two-person teams. Official details are slated to be announced March 1, but Escape Artists got the scoop a little early and is happy to share the following press release. (We're also guessing Chicago will be among the cities on the list, so we've included a photo from the North Pond restaurant in Lincoln Park)
CHICAGO -- Everyone agrees: Chicago is a major-league eating town. From its cliche deep dish pizzas to its upscale gourmet restaurants such as North Pond and Spring, there is something for everyone along Lake Michigan. But nothing's more thrilling than finding an out-of-the-way, unpretentious gem with good prices and good food.
To wit: The City Cafe at 3234 N. Pulaski, just west of Interstate 94 between W. Addison St. and W. Belmont Av. We were heading over to visit our nephew's new house and intentionally got lost to wander the Sunday morning, rainy streets of my hometown.
Just as our hunger and edginess began to build, we spotted the City Cafe in a decorative corner building. My daughter ordered the huevos ranchero. My wife picked a fluffy spinach omelette, My son, complaining about being rushed, jumped on a huge breakfast burrito. I ordered the 2-2-2 special, which included two eggs, two slices of French toast and two slices of bacon so crisp I'd swear an iron was involved.
My breakfast came with a homemade custard sauce made with sugar and milk that rendered the maple syrup unnecessary. Our waitress joked that she couldn't tell us how they made it. The whole deal cost $5.50 and the massive breakfast for four came in at a reasonable $36.
Owner and chef VIcente Duran (left, with assistant chef Pedeo Coss in the hat) said the 2-year-old family business justed expanded its hours at the request of the neaby Kindred Hosptial staffers who frequent the place. Perfect way to start the day.
CHICAGO -- Black Friday 2011 in the Windy City brought unusually balmly sunshine and the typical crowds on Michigan Avenue, deals in the stores and animal rights protests outside Elan Furs and other places still selling mink coats and other politically incorrect fashions..
And just like every years dozens of organized protesters descended on the furriers, shouting things such as:
"STOP THE INSANITY; NO BLOOD FOR VANITY."
Anthony, the doorman at my friend's condo near Lake Michigan, said the highways were jammed at 5 a.m. for the door buster electronics deals.
The beatific weather was only supposed to last one day. The weekend was slated to bring back the typical Chicago crud. Tonight's entertainment: Ike Reilly at the Double Door.
I didn't get to Chicago or San Francisco during the last few months, but I did the next best thing: connecting friends who love great food with some of my favorite restaurants, then hearing about their experiences after they returned.
My friends Brad and Rose never had been to the Bay Area, and there are so many great options there that it's hard to distill them (also the case with Chicago). There's wonderful Vietnamese (Slanted Door), stupendously fresh and inexpensive seafood (Swan's Oyster Depot), countless Chinese treasures and some of the nation's best Italian eateries (A16, Quince).
I mentioned those but strongly touted three places: the dim sum mecca Ton Kiang, the classy brasserie Boulevard and our personal favorite, Zuni Cafe (which merely boasts ridiculous oysters, about the best burger around, definitely the best roast chicken I've ever had and myriad fancier options).
With late notice, Brad and Rose had to scramble to get into Boulevard and Zuni, and weren't able to make it to Ton Kiang. But they positively gushed about their experiences, and my mouth was watering during their soliloquies. (In fact, it would be hard to even write this if I were not headed to Zuni myself on Saturday .)
Earlier this fall, my longtime buddy Kyle emailed me for Chicago tips. Knowing his palate, and how similar it is to mine, I suggested three places: perhaps America's best Mexican restaurant, Frontera Grill, and the neighbor/partners Avec and Blackbird.
Kyle and his lady friend were wowed and dazzled by Rick Bayless' fantabulous cooking at Frontera, but they spent much of their trip basically parked at the other two places, especially the more informal Avec. Kyle's one of the most articulate people I know, and hearing hiom recount his experiences at all three places was almost as much fun as actually being there.
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