Tag Archives: restaurants

Chicago vs. NYC foodie smackdown: Who eats better?

The James Beard Foundation recently announced that its awards ceremony honoring the best chefs and restaurants is moving to Chicago after 24 years in New York City.

It’s more proof that Chicago is home to one of the country’s hottest restaurant scenes.

But who’s got the better eats?

Here’s a foodie smackdown between the Windy City and the Big Apple.

• MUST-GET (but you probably won’t) RESERVATION

Chicago: Grant Achatz’s Next

New York: David Chang’s Momofuku Ko

• VIRAL PASTRY

Chicago: Wonut (doughnut meets waffle) by Waffles Cafe

New York: Cronut (croissant meets doughnut) by Dominique Ansel Bakery

• MODERNIST MAESTRO CHEF

Chicago: Grant Achatz

New York: Wylie Dufresne

• PIZZA

Chicago: Deep-dish

New York: Thin crust.

• EPIC FOOD HALL TO BE GLUTTONOUS AT

Chicago: Chicago French Market

New York: Eataly

• FEMALE CHEF WITH ANIMAL-THEMED EATERY

Chicago: Stephanie Izard, Girl and the Goat

New York: April Bloomfield, The Spotted Pig

• HOT DOGS

Chicago: A walk through the garden — mustard, onions, pickle relish, dill pickle spear, tomatoes, pickled sport peppers and a dash of celery salt. And NEVER ketchup.

New York: Nathan’s in Coney Island, with mustard on a plain white bun.

• ODE TO FARM-TO-TABLE DINING

Chicago: Paul Kahan’s The Publican

New York: Dan Barber’s Blue Hill

• BAR SCENE TO BE SEEN AT

Chicago: Grant Achatz’ Aviary

New York: Wallflower

• HIPSTER FOODIE NEIGHBORHOOD

Chicago: Restaurant Row on Randolph Street in West Loop

New York: Williamsburg, Brooklyn

• TOP CHEF AWARDS (from the Beards, of course)

Chicago: Rick Bayless (1995), Charlie Trotter (1999), Grant Achatz (2008) and Paul Kahan (shared with New York’s David Chang in 2013)

New York: Larry Forgione (1993), Daniel Boulud (1994),  Jean-George Vongerichten (1998), David Bouley (2000), Lidia Mattichio Bastianich (2002), Eric Ripert (2003), Mario Batali (2005), Alfred Portale (2006), Dan Barber (2009), Tom Colicchio (2010), Daniel Humm (2012), David Chang (shared with Chicago’s Paul Kahan in 2013)

• TOP RESTAURANT AWARDS (also from the Beards)

Chicago: Charlie Trotter’s (2000), Frontera Grill (2007)

New York: Bouley (1991), Le Cirque (1995), Union Square Cafe (1997), Le Bernardin (1998), The Four Seasons (1999), Gotham Bar & Grill (2002), Chanterelle (2004), Gramercy Tavern (2008), Jean-Georges (2009), Daniel (2010), Eleven Madison Park (2011), Blue Hill (2013)

Go For the Food: The Admiral in Asheville

In downtown Asheville, N.C., good restaurants are as handsomely conspicuous as the artsy boutiques and bodegas that give the Blue Ridge Mountain mecca its trendy, vibrant flair.

Across the French Broad River, in West Asheville?

Not so much. This is the funkier side of town, where families, artists and workers live in frame bungalows lining narrow, hilly side streets, and the main drag, Haywood Road, has an earthier, slightly gritty feel.

That’s why driving down Haywood, you’re more apt to notice the gas station across the street than the squat cinder block building that houses The Admiral.

“Chances are, you will pass us at least three times. You won’t be able to find a good parking place,” said Admiral co-owner Drew Wallace.

When Admiral opened in 2007, Wallace and business partner Jonathan Robinson called this “the wage-earning side of town” and their aim was to create a successful dive bar/unexpected restaurant. It has more than met their desires. West Asheville has blossomed since those early days, and the Admiral has morphed from a neighborhood tavern into a destination restaurant, but it still feels like a wonderfully hidden gem.

Reservations are a must, unless you want to sit at the bar and are willing to wait. But those are the best seats in the small, dimly lit space. That’s where you get the best view of the open, galley kitchen, where a quartet of chefs busily cook up small plates of unforgettable mussels, bathed in a slightly smoky sauce of San Marzano tomatoes; entrees like meaty, barbecue sauced pork chops with collard greens and root vegetable gratin; or an other-worldly version of steak frites, featuring black Angus rib-eye, sweet potato chips, green beans and quail egg salad. Desserts might include a sinfully delicious chocolate mousse with cherry clotted cream and red wine cherry sauce, but the eclectic menu changes regularly, so prepare for the unexpected.

“There is really no straightforward summary of our style” Wallace says. “The food tends to be a little more experimental than most of our peers.” And much of it is locally sourced, from family-owned businesses.

The slightly kitschy decor includes a neon “Dive” sign in one corner, a handful of industrial-looking hanging lamps, and black-clad, tattooed and welcoming servers.

There are no uppity attitudes at the Admiral, and that’s partly what draws Boomers, hipsters, business execs and obvious out-of-towners. Most appetizers and small plates cost $12 or less, and entrees run up to $30. On Friday and Saturday nights, tables are pushed aside at 10 p.m. for dance parties.

Also on Haywood Road is the informal Sunny Point Cafe, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but best known for amazingly fluffy and delicious biscuits and legendary waits for breakfast and brunch.

If You Go…

THE ADMIRAL: 400 Haywood Road, West Asheville, N.C., 828-252-2541, http://www.theadmiralnc.com 

SUNNY POINT CAFE: 626 Haywood Road, West Asheville, N.C., 828-252-0055, http://sunnypointcafe.com 

Making Mardi Gras taste a little more like home

The sad fact of the matter is, most of us won’t make it to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras. But that’s no reason to forsake some of the city’s classic cuisine.

This year, honor Mardi Gras by making jambalaya at home. It’s the perfect dish for out-of-towners; it’s easy, it’s weeknight- and kid-friendly, and it’s extremely versatile. Because while there are several basic approaches to jambalaya — Creole and Cajun among them — there really are endless variations on this dish of rice, meat and seafood.

So we decided to put a local spin on jambalaya, with variations playing up ingredients drawn from New England, the Southwest and the West Coast. Just follow the base recipe, adding in the local ingredients of your choice (see the variations below the recipe). And don’t hesitate to mix and match. The beauty of a dish like this is that it will be delicious pretty much whichever direction you head.

JAMBALAYA ACROSS THE COUNTRY

This is a have-it-your-way approach to jambalaya. Follow the base recipe below, adding the local variations where indicated. Our suggestions for those variations are listed below the base recipe, but feel free to substitute the ingredients of your choice.

Start to finish: 1 hour

Servings: 12

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 large yellow onions, diced

1 large green bell pepper, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 pound sausage (see below)

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces

2 cups crushed fire-roasted tomatoes

Regional variation of vegetable and seasonings (see below)

2 cups long-grain white rice, such as basmati

2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth

3 bay leaves

1 pound seafood (see below)

Salt and ground black pepper

In a large Dutch oven, preferably cast-iron, over medium-high, heat the vegetable oil. Add the onions, green pepper, celery, red pepper flakes and sausage (see below). Cook, stirring, until browned, about 10 minutes.

Add the chicken, tomatoes, vegetable and seasonings (see below), rice, chicken broth and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender, stirring occasionally. Add the seafood and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until the seafood is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper. Remove and discard the bay leaves before serving.

NEW ENGLAND VARIATION:

Use bulk breakfast-style sausage. For the vegetables and seasonings use 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage, 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, 1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced, and 1/2 bunch of Swiss chard, chopped.  For the seafood, use lobster meat if available, otherwise use peeled and deveined raw shrimp.

Nutrition information per serving: 360 calories; 100 calories from fat (28 percent of total calories); 11 g fat (2.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 85 mg cholesterol; 36 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 26 g protein; 500 mg sodium.

SOUTHWEST VARIATION:

Use a diced spicy sausage, such as chorizo. For the vegetables and seasonings use 1 tablespoon chili powder, 2 teaspoons cumin, 1 cup frozen or canned corn kernels, 1 minced chipotle pepper plus 1 tablespoon adobo sauce from a can of chipotles in adobo, and a 3.8-ounce can sliced black olives. Omit the seafood and instead use a 15-ounce can of drained and rinsed black beans. Finish with 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro.

Nutrition information per serving: 450 calories; 180 calories from fat (40 percent of total calories); 20 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 65 mg cholesterol; 42 g carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 24 g protein; 810 mg sodium.

WEST COAST VARIATION:

Use 12 ounces of an herbed chicken or turkey sausage, along with 4 ounces chopped prosciutto. In place of the crushed tomatoes, use a 6.35-ounce container of prepared pesto and a 14-ounce can of artichoke hearts (drained), the zest and juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon, and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon. Use lump crabmeat for the seafood. Serve topped with sliced avocado.

Nutrition information per serving: 450 calories; 170 calories from fat (38 percent of total calories); 18 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 105 mg cholesterol; 39 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 31 g protein; 1,050 mg sodium.

Gay bars to hold ‘Uprising of Love’ events during Opening Ceremonies

During the 2014 Winter Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies, a coalition of restaurants and bars across the United States will donate $1 of every drink sold as part Uprising of Love: Pride House 2014. The campaign will raise money for LGBT activists in Russia through the Russia Freedom Fund.

The Opening Ceremonies campaign will take place on Feb. 7, from 9 p.m. to midnight.

Pride House events celebrating LGBT athletes and culture took place at the London and Vancouver Olympics. Russia, however, has banned Pride House from Sochi, according to an Uprising of Love announcement.

So Pride House celebrations will take place in the United States to protest the ban and the anti-gay law signed last summer by Russian President Vladimir Putin, which makes it illegal to tell youths that LGBT people are normal or equal to heterosexual people.

Restaurants, bars, clubs, and other commercial establishments in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago and New York will participate in Uprising of Love: Pride House 2014. There currently are no Wisconsin clubs or restaurants participating, but a number of Chicago bars are involved.

Also, the city of West Hollywood issued a proclamation this week declaring Feb. 7 as Uprising of Love: Pride House 2014 Day, with almost a dozen popular venues becoming Pride Houses.

On the Web

http://uprisingoflove.org 

http://uprisingoflove.org/pridehouse/

4 hours, 4 Super Bowl meals with Guy Fieri

The idea: With Food Network star Guy Fieri and comedian Judy Gold as my guides, find the best spots for Super Bowl-style grub in Manhattan.

The reality: Fire up “When Harry Met Sally” and loop it on the diner scene (yes, the moaning). Now blast a laugh track, then add a profanity-spewing rabbi, enough X-rated commentary to render much of the evening’s dialogue unquotable, and such gluttonous portions of high-fat food that by the end at least one of us would be vomiting.

You have a sense of the evening. Which is to say, pairing up with Fieri and Gold was more amusing, but less helpful, than hoped.

With the Super Bowl coming to the New York area next month, I wanted to know where to go for the over-the-top fare we’ve come to associate with the big game. So last month I got a tour from Fieri, a master of too-much-is-not-enough eating. He’s pimping the new season of his show, “Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off,” so he brought along Gold, one of his co-stars.

A little predictably, we started the evening at Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar, Fieri’s Times Square restaurant made as famous by a scathing New York Times review as by the celebrity himself. This was my first visit and — true to the hype — this is not the place to go for great food. It was, however, an excellent place for great grub.

As Fieri regaled us with his Super Bowl party food philosophy — “You can’t just order 10 pizzas! That’s a throwaway! That’s an insult to the game. You’ve got to put some time into it.” — the onslaught began.

Something called Mongolian chicken wings bathed in a sticky honey-soy sauce had Gold moaning loudly. “MMMMM! MMMMMM! Oh my God, it’s so good! AHRRRRRRR!” And except to occasionally ask waitresses about gynecological procedures (just roll with it), this pretty much became her soundtrack for the evening.

We were all smitten with Round 2, a rack of sashimi tacos (crispy wontons filled with ahi tuna, mango jicama salsa and a soy glaze). Knowing we had three more meals to come, we could and should have stopped there. We didn’t. General Tso’s pork shank — a massive hunk of tender, sweet meat — landed with a thud on the table and in our guts. It was followed closely by a colossal French dip sandwich.

“I don’t think everyone will subscribe to this, but I put in as much time and attention when I’m putting together a Super Bowl spread as I do Thanksgiving,” Fieri said. “This is the greatest day of the greatest game.”

Still it came. A burger topped with mac and cheese, bacon and six varieties of cheese. Bowls of beef, sausage and bacon chili. Tiramisu. Bread pudding doused with Jack Daniels.

And then we piled into a car. Up next, Ben’s, a kosher deli on 38th Street. Gold: “Ben’s?” she yelled. “We’re gonna have some pastrami!”

We did. And matzo ball soup. And stuffed cabbage. And latkes. And a knish. And kreplach (a dumpling). And a rabbi so excited to stop by our booth he dropped F-bombs while telling Fieri what a fan he is.

But a Jewish deli for Super Bowl grub? Not your conventional accompaniment to spreads usually populated with guacamole and nachos. But Fieri and Gold agreed — whether it’s classics like chicken soup or bagels and cream cheese, Jewish food is comfort food. It’s rich and easy. It’s right.

“Especially this time of year, if you’re getting ready to go to the Super Bowl or you’re going tailgating, man, I want somebody to bust out matzo ball soup,” Fieri said.

Gold was getting concerned with being only halfway through our culinary agenda. “How are we going to eat anywhere else today? I’m going to puke!” So we compromised. Instead of going into Defonte’s of Brooklyn — the Midtown outpost of the nearly 100-year-old Italian sandwich shop in Brooklyn — we pulled up outside and got takeout to eat in the car. We ate it as we headed to our fourth stop.

Four massive subs and a pile of much-needed napkins came through the window — a Nicky special (ham, salami, fried eggplant, provolone cheese, and marinated mushrooms, among other things); a hot roast beef (roast beef, fresh mozzarella, fried eggplant and jus); a Sinatra special (steak pizzaiola and fresh mozzarella); and a firehouse special (roast pork, fried eggplant, broccoli raab and provolone cheese).

“Oh my God, you’ve got to try this,’” Gold said, shoving a hunk of the firehouse special at Fieri.

“You’re like a Jewish drug dealer! ‘I’ve got a sandwich! Try it! Eat it,’” he said.

Yes, we were getting sick. Yet, slopping and dropping food all over ourselves, we passed hunks of the massive, crazy good hero sandwiches back and forth through the car. These are sandwiches that need no translation. You order up a dozen or so of these, slice them and line them up, and you have an incredible Super Bowl feed. If the food is this good, there is no shame in takeout for a Super Bowl party.

By the time we reached Gold’s contribution to our agenda _ Fred’s, a restaurant with a sports bar feel and walls plastered with photos of customers’ dogs — the car reeked of grinders. The only thing less appealing than getting out to eat another meal was staying in and smelling it longer. “Do you have any place I can lay down?” Gold asked the hostess.

Our table quickly filled with food and wine. A rich Buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese that had you not already consumed three dinners you wouldn’t be able to stop eating. A Super Bowl salad (that’s its real name) of beets, goat cheese, oranges, walnuts and pineapple. A bacon and mushroom cheeseburger. “I’m sweating,” Fieri complained as he kept eating. “I’ve got the shakes.”

And then we were done. We kind of stared at each other. Our mission accomplished, we were all thinking the same thing. Gold put words to it.

“If I throw up, I’m texting you.”

The next day, at 2:07 p.m. my phone beeped.

“Puked all night. So sick today. Not kidding,” Gold’s text read. “I’m going to KILL you the next time I see you!!”

I’d say we’re ready for some football.

If You Go …

• Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar, 220 West 44th Street, New York, N.Y., 10036. (646) 532-4897. http://guysamerican.com/

• Ben’s of Manhattan, 209 West 38th Street, New York, N.Y., 10018. (212) 398-2367. http://www.bensdeli.net/

• Defonte’s of Brookl, 261 Third Avenue, New York, N.Y., 10010. (212) 614-1500. http://www.defontesofbrooklyn.com/

• Fred’s, 476 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, N.Y., 10024. (212) 579-3076. http://fredsnyc.com/

60 percent polled say restaurant certificates are desirable gifts

If you’re looking for a gift that’s almost certain to please everyone on your gift list, look no further than your favorite local restaurant.

 According to the National Restaurant Association survey, 60 percent of those polled said they’d like to receive a restaurant gift card as a gift. Of those, 29 percent said they’d like to get one from a restaurant they haven’t been to before.

There are plenty of restaurants to choose from. The association counts more than 980,000 restaurants in the United States, and Wisconsin has more than its fair share of interesting eateries of all kinds and price ranges. 

Here are four reasons the association recommends giving restaurant gift cards for the holidays this year:

It’s what people want. The majority of people have stated that a restaurant certificate is what they want, so the odds are good it will be well received.

You can’t go wrong. Sometimes people give gifts that end up being pushed to the back of a closet and never get used — or they re-gift it at the next office Christmas party. That isn’t likely to happen with a restaurant gift card. 

They are convenient. Want to avoid the crowded stores during the holidays? Restaurant gift cards simplify your holiday shopping experience. They can also save you shipping charges and the hassle of wrapping.

They are great for everyone. One thing that we all have in common is that we eat. That makes a restaurant gift card an ideal for everyone on your gift.

Go For the Food: Walker’s Point in Milwaukee

Drive south from downtown Milwaukee into the Walker’s Point neighborhood, where you can enjoy some of the best farm-to-table food in a city that prides itself on being the heart of America’s Dairyland.

Your first stop should be La Merenda, a tapas bar where farmers and artisanal food producers vie to get on the menu. With so many restaurants naming their suppliers these days, serving local food seems unremarkable and increasingly faddish. But Peter Sandroni and a growing group of like-minded chefs have demonstrated the power of buying locally.

When Sandroni opened La Merenda in an old woodworking shop seven years ago, Walker’s Point had only one truly notable restaurant, Peggy Magister’s Crazy Water, a pricey-by-Milwaukee-standards bistro with a quietly loyal clientele.

Today, its neighbors include Braise, run by James Beard nominee Dave Swanson; c. 1880, operated by Thomas Hauck, the former executive sous chef at Citronelle in Washington; and Blue Jacket, a Great Lakes-themed restaurant that’s rapidly making a name for itself after opening last summer. Magister has opened a second restaurant in the area, called All Purpose, or AP.

The restaurants are within blocks of some of the city’s most acclaimed artisanal producers, including the cheesemaker Clock Shadow Creamery, Purple Door Ice Cream, Atomic Chocolate Co., Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co. and Great Lakes Distillery, which makes small-batch spirits. Sandroni has made a point of buying from these companies and encourages other chefs to do so as well.

He knew the dark, dead-end street where he opened La Merenda on Valentine’s Day in 2007 was a gamble. Customers were afraid to walk too far in a section of the city with few street lamps _ a problem that remains. But the artsy and upscale neighborhood to the north had no space left for a newcomer, and the neighborhood just south was rapidly filling with hipsters.

Sandroni’s menu has a few staples — ravioli and empanadas stuffed with seasonal vegetables, meat and sometimes fruit. The ravioli on the current menu — filled with winter squash and soft quark cheese from Clock Shadow Creamery — comes in a brown butter that is swoon-worthy. Later in the year, the squash may be replaced with mushrooms or spinach.

Another mainstay is patatas bravas y chorizo, a dish of fried potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce with Spanish pork sausage. The potatoes cut the heat in the sauce, leaving the dish sweet and tangy.

A similar dish with a Wisconsin twist features LaClare Farms goat cheese curds melted on garlic crostini under a tomato and chorizo cream sauce. You might want to order a side of Rocket Baby Bakery bread to wipe up the extra sauce. Or, order the bread just to taste Sandroni’s homemade jams and butters flavored with garlic, herbs or spices.

Most La Merenda small plates run $7 to $10 and are designed to be shared among four people. With a group of six to eight, it’s possible to order much of the menu and still walk away with a bill of $20 to $25 per person.

The restaurant’s top seller also is its most expensive, a $15 Argentinian-style grass-fed beef marinated in chimichurri, grilled and served with mashed sweet plantains. The beef is fork-tender, and the plantains put mashed potatoes to shame.

The cost of the dish reflects Sandroni’s recent switch from a national meat supplier to a farm north of Milwaukee. Knowing the cows are treated right, he says, is worth the higher price.

If You Go . . .

LA MERENDA: 125 E. National Ave., Milwaukee, 414-389-0125, http://www.lamerenda125.com/index.html

CLOCK SHADOW CREAMERY: 138 W. Bruce St., Milwaukee, 414-273-9711, http://www.clockshadowcreamery.com/ .

PURPLE DOOR ICE CREAM: 138 W. Bruce St., Milwaukee, 414-231-3979, http://purpledooricecream.com/

ATOMIC CHOCOLATE CO. (inside Times Square Bistro and Pizzeria): 605 S. First St., Milwaukee, 262-384-1236.

GREAT LAKES DISTILLERY: 616 W Virginia St., Milwaukee, 414-431-8683, http://www.greatlakesdistillery.com/ 

Milwaukee LGBT Community Center comes out every second Friday

Looking for something different to do on a Friday evening after work? A way to meet new LGBT friends away from the bars and the fundraisers?

The Milwaukee LGBT Community Center has the solution. The second Friday of each month, the group hosts an after-work mixer in a different Milwaukee-area restaurant or bar. Appropriately titled TGIF, the roaming event offers free hors d’oeuvres donated by the host venue.

Frequent attendees say TGIF also offers a laid-back and upbeat experience.

Realtor Wendy Young started the event “two or three years ago” as a way of getting supporters of the center out into the larger community together to socialize, she said.

“We have to start mainstreaming,” Young said at the Feb. 8 event, which began at 5:30 p.m. at the Mexican restaurant Riviera Maya, 2258 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. in Bay View. 

When the event started, TGIF was mostly a women’s affair, Young said. Quest Mortgage served as the event’s sponsor, picking up the food tab for more than a year.

But when Young handed off the event to John Cassanos – she now organizes a monthly dining-out social event for the center – the men started showing up, she said. Cassanos, who moved to Milwaukee about a year ago when his husband took a job at Kohl’s, has “taken this about five levels higher,” Young enthused.

TGIF is a win-win event for both the LGBT community and the host, Cassanos said.

“It’s good exposure for the restaurant, and it gives the restaurant an early dinner boost,” he said. At the same time, it gives LGBT folks and allies a break from all the serious issues and the bars, he added.

“It’s not about causes or raising money,” he said. “It’s just a social event.”

About 40 people braved slushy weather to attend the February TGIF at Riviera Maya. Depending on the weather and the venue, as many as 70 people have attended – and the number continues to grow, said center board co-president Paul Williams.

“I’ve made more friends with more women through this event than anything gay I’ve attended,” Williams said.