December 2005 archives

Chicago Is My Kinda Town

I love Chicago.
Chicago is The Great American City. It’s a city that didn’t turn its back on it’s downtown, which is a modern, vibrant, and a beautiful metropolis marked by the great American invention: skyscrapers.

My favorite place to eat in Chicago is the Big Bowl. It was started by Bruce Cost, who I worked with several years ago as his pastry chef and I literally crave his food. (He’s cooked for me some of the most extraordinary Chinese food I’ve ever had. He’s perhaps the most naturally gifted chef I know.) I made sure to eat there at least once a day, chowing down on Kung Pao Chicken (which bears no resemblance to what’s served at your local Chinese place), slithery chow fun noodles, steamed dumplings stuffed with spicy chicken, and green tea mochi ice cream, a perfect little dessert, wrapped in a paste of rice flour.

I ate well no matter where I went and I met wonderful folks at the Sur La Table stores in Chicago and Naperville. One such wonderful folk-person/local I got to meet was Barrett of Too Many Chefs at the Bongo Room for a modern take on the great American hybrid; Sunday Brunch.
Crammed into this café with several hundred other people, we drank bottomless cups of Joe and I watched in awe as Mrs. Barrett polished off an astounding breakfast of French Toast with Toffee Butter, Creme Anglaise…topped with a scoop of ice cream!

breakfastinamerica.jpg

Later, of course, I paid a visit to the new Hershey chocolate store where I found the world’s largest Hershey’s Kiss….(which looked almost as dangerous as a giant M & M)…

jumbohersheykiss.jpg
And there was some, er, yummy looking muffins which I, um, declined to sample…
hersheysmuffins.jpg

And tucked away in the corner of the store were bars of Scharffenberger chocolate, which was recently acquired by Hershey’s. It seems a bit out of place in this emporium of excess.

hersheybrands.jpg

I was very sad not to be able to get a bag of Garrett’s caramel corn.
The first time I stopped by, the line snaked out the door, and I said to myself, “No way!”

Then I sauntered around the neighborhood a bit, went to the Apple store, but the craving within me was growing to strong to ignore for a sack of their fabulous warm caramelized popcorn, so I got back in line. I waited 20 minutes, it moved very little, and when I heard the wait was over 2 hours, I decided to skip it and return back to my hotel, sad and empty-handed.

But the next day when I was across the street I noticed there was no line snaking out the door, just the people inside, and I practically got run over by a bus racing to get over there. Unfortunately after another 20 minute wait, I realized the line wasn’t moving this day either (they must employ French civil servants), and left empty-handed.

Coming back to America is always a bit of a culture shock. While I love going into Walgreen’s and finding everything from scrunchies to munchies, you come across something like this…

stirmug.jpg

…and as hard as I try, I’m unable to write about it.

Where does one begin?

(Long pause of silence)

At the airport, I found a Corner Bakery, which I’ve dubbed, “The Little Bakery That Should“. Scattered throughout America, these convenient ‘bakeries’ serve full meals, as well as coffee drinks and baked goods. Unfortunately the food isn’t very good and the pastries and baked items are sad reminders of what makes a true corner bakery so wonderful: fresh and wholesome treats, baked with pride.

cornerbakery.jpg

Just prior to take-off, on my way to Seattle, I spooned up their Swiss Yogurt Cup, which was the only thing on the menu that didn’t make my teeth chatter from excessive sweetness.

Time to put on my polarfleece and Teva’s and head to Seattle and Portland…

Thoughts From Richmond Airport, USA

-Does anyone really watch all the reruns of “Saved By The Bell” that run all morning on television?

-Why is the air-conditioning turned on full-blast, everywhere…in December?

-Why can’t they open a Rite Aid in Paris? I love a drugstore that sells yogurt, socks, and clocks with singing Bass.

-What insane person first decided to manufacture yogurt with gelatin in it?

-I am certain that Tyra Banks is a Vulcan.

images.jpg

-I am certain that Larry King will one day peel off his head and reveal himself to be an alien intent on sucking the content from American minds.

-Does anyone actually finish one of those jumbo caramel-flavored coffees with a pile of whipped cream from Starbucks?

espressostarbucks.jpg
My daily espresso, from Starbucks

-Does anyone actually buy a copy of USA Today or do the same copies float from person to person at airports?

-Why does Oprah appearing as a guest of David Letterman make national news headlines?

-It’s so easy to forget how vibrant and beautiful the colors of the changing leaves are when you drive around the east coast of America.

-Next year for Thanksgiving, I will give thanks there’s no French equivalent of Nancy Grace.

nancy-grace.jpg

-Thank goodness for Starbucks.
Say what you want, but before they came along, it was impossible to get a decent cup of coffee almost anywhere in America when on the road.

-Three arguments why Americans should be constitutionally prohibited from making “croissants”

croissant1.jpg

croissant2.jpg

croissant3.jpg

The Mexican Virginian

One of the greatest things about America is the cultural mix. Which often means that you can get great food in the unlikeliest of places. Like very good Mexican food in, um, Virginia!

mexicandude.jpg
A previously satisfied customer?

Arlington, Virginia, is best known for the cemetary and a large, five-sided building called the Pentagon. (There’s lots of military people lurking in the Metro and on the streets, which feels somewhat disconcerting.)
It’s an unlikely place for good Mexican food, but I found it at Oyamel.

chipsnsalsa.jpg
It wouldn’t be Mexican without chips ‘n salsa verde
tacos.jpg
Tacos stuffed with Carnitas ‘Cristina la Guera: Braised baby pig with tomatilla salsa, cilantro, and crispy-fried pork skin
guacthingsclosed.jpg
Corn puffs seasoned with chopped avocado leaves stuffed with…
avocadoexplosion.jpg
…guacamole!

Oyamel
2250-B Crystal Drive
Arlington, VA
Tel: 703-413-2288