February 18, 2014

Whole fish trending...

There's something homely and satisfying about ordering a whole fish with the bone, head and tail intact so that you can pull the gentle and juicy flesh away yourself. Here are 2 places in East Village that serve particularly notable versions.


Here you can order a whole roasted fish for two complete with potatoes, fennel, lemon and rosemary for $68. It was more than enough for two hungry people. I can't recall what the fish of the day was but here is its' skeleton afterwards...


Ok, so this time I managed to take a photo of it before eating it. Back Forty serves up a wonderful grilled Catskill trout stuffed with herbs. A few months ago, it was served with a wonderful, sweet red pepper relish but they specialize in seasonal ingredients so it appears to now be served with a root vegetable and pork belly hash. For $24, this generous serving is also cooked wonderfully with a slightly crispy and salted skin and sweet flesh.

It is the month of Chinese New Year after all and the Chinese believe that eating whole fish is a symbol of prosperity and if you're the guest at a party, the head should be pointed at you. Gong Xi Fa Cai!

November 21, 2013

Chicago conference city

I've been to the windy city several times now just for a conference. I embrace the challenge of seeing a city in a short space of time and ensuring I don't have a bad meal or visitor experience. Here are the highlights from a recent work trip:


Start with the lobster spring rolls - 2 long and thin rolls with fresh lobster meat for $7, served with sweet chili sauce which tasted like it was from a bottle but the fresh rolls were so good that they didn't need the sauce.

Try a fun cocktail like the one with Beets but beware beet lovers only need apply! Does this look like a party in your mouth or what? Blood orange liquor and other things lighten this up.

Between 2 of us, we shared 2 special rolls and 1 of their standard ones. The Fire & Snow was the best one - light and fragrant with gentle citrusy flavors. The Smoked Atlantic Salmon was a much stronger which I liked better, given the torched fish on top, the sweet soy glaze on the bottom and the tempura shrimp inside mellowed with avocado and sweet potato! The classic roll we ordered was the comparatively boring Spicy Tuna which was still a lot better than any standard one we'd had.

The seaweed salad was a refreshing delight unlike the usual slimy stuff, $9.

Overall, a fun place to dine at with fresh and tasty sushi rolls with combinations that actually work. Decor is playful, clever and trendy as is the music and service.


Yes, this place is huge and you could spend hours here gawking at the amazingly vast Impressionist and Modern Art collections. My favorite was the room of Renoir and under-rated and lesser-known works by Munch and Toulouse-Latrec. However, on the back of the gallery guide, they make it easy for those of us with only an hour or so to spare - they set out highlights and where they can be found.

I agree with most of them including this huge and wonderful seated Buddha in the Asian gallery wing:

I would also add this larger-than-life, portrait of Mao by Andy Warhol given his play on propaganda and size. You literally can't miss this!


Hire one of these if you really want to make the most of your time!


Make a booking here, it's worth it! This place is a haven to well and ethically sourced produce, assembled or cooked to enhance those flavors. Between a group of 4 we shared around 6 small dishes and 2 larger ones, plus 2 desserts. Order the grilled octopus with patatas bravas and aioli, spinach salad with pomegranate and hazelnut, gem salad charred with soft and sweet bur rata, mussels in garlicky butter sauce served with a mini loaf of crunchy and hot white bread and then end with the chocolate mousse with baby basil, salty chocolate cookie crumbs and chocolate sorbet. I'd skip the hamachi crude, pork chop with greens and charred cauliflower served (intentionally?) cold.


More Modern American food - well, why say no when it's done so well around here? The Gage is conveniently located nearly directly opposite The Bean and Millenial Park. It's a gastopub and restaurant with some great lunch deals such as half a sandwich with fries and a small soup for $13. I'm told the chicken soup was great (light broth) with the toasted grilled mushroom sandwich. I ordered the seared scallop butter lettuce salad which came with three juicy pieces just cooked so that they were no longer translucent, nor firm and dry, i.e. perfectly! The lettuce came out in uncut leaves with grapefruit segments and deep-fried onion bits in-between a slightly sweet vinegar. It was great but at $17, quite a pricey lunch that doesn't quite fill you up so I ordered a side of mashed potatoes. $4 for a huge cast iron pot of them that were well-seasoned and ended up complimenting the salad well.


Yet more Modern American but this is one of the latest and greatest places to open in recent months! I came here with a group booking/function so it wasn't the usual dining experience but the menu items were the same as those on offer. I started with the house made ricotta mezzaluna with truffle, garlic and spinach. The pasta was rolled too thickly so that the edges were a little hard and dry which undermined the entire dish whilst the garlic overpowered everything leaving no real truffle flavor. At least the spinach was tasty.

For my entree, I had the market fish (cod) that was poached in olive oil but this was not as soft and silky as I imagined it should be. Luckily the 'tomato broth' with blistered shishito peppers saved the day as did the potato cake which did a great job of soaking up the delicious juices.

The chosen dessert was the pumpkin cheesecake which was well spiced and sweet with a soft cookie crumb. The other dessert which I managed to also eat was the flour less chocolate cake that was a magnificent blend of dark chocolate ganache, soft and nutty cake and on a base of crunchy chocolate coated biscuit balls. Divine!


Now the last meal in a city always counts so I had to end on a high with a guaranteed good lunch - enter Rick Bayless' Xoco, only a short walk from the Mag Mile. The weekday lunch time was not too busy. I got a seat without waiting. You are assigned a table number which you then inform your server of and once you've placed your order and paid, you're taken to your table or seat. The Caldos - soup/meal in a bowl are always excellent and much better than they sound. They're full of spice and flavor whether you get the meat, seafood or vegetable option. I opted for the vegetable one filled with fried onions, black beans, avocado, sliced mushrooms, arugula, zucchini chunks, chili and lime on the side. The potato masa dumplings (around 6 small ones) round out the robustness of this meal. $10.50.

See? There's no time or need for a bad meal or drink even if you're here for a conference or weekend getaway. Chicago, I came, I ate and I left!

 (Painted fire hydrants at the Chicago Fire Station beside Xoco!)