Sunday, June 30, 2013

Pappy's Smokehouse

Generally, when I go to a barbecue place, I will order a half-rack of baby back ribs so I can better compare one barbecue place to another.  When I went to St. Louis, I actually expected that I might have to change that because St. Louis style ribs are spare ribs.  That was not the case however because Pappy's Smokehouse serves what they say is a Memphis-style barbecue.  Having never been to Memphis, I can not say that conclusively but they serve baby back ribs instead of the St. Louis style spare ribs so there is that.  When we arrived, there was a line out the door and I was told (and saw as we progressed that the line inside was also pretty long.  The line wrapped through a hallway which passed by the rear entrance to a brewery that shares the building and a couple of storage areas before entering the L-shaped dining room.  The line turned the corner before we came to the counter where we made our orders.  The dining room was rustic, as most barbecue places are with hardwood floors and tables although there were some high top tables to one side of the dining room which is where we sat.  One wall was glass which looked out at the street where the smokers were and the other wall, while it did have windows, they were curtained when we were there.  Above the windows hung t-shirts from a number of different barbecue places and on the opposite wall, the wall that separated the dining room from the kitchen was the wall of fame which had signed menus from many celebrities, both local and national.  Many of the autographs were from professional athletes, but there were a few chefs and actors as well.  When I got to the counter, I ordered my half-rack of baby backs but I also ordered a quarter pound of brisket so I might get a more complete feel for their cuisine.  For my sides, I ordered baked beans and potato salad.  A good slab of ribs should be able to stand alone without the help of sauce.  They should be meaty and the meat, while tender, should not easily fall of the bone.  The ribs should pull apart fairly easily but the meat should stay with the bone and there should be a nice smoke ring in the meat.  Up the time I had come here, I had thought that I had had some good ribs.  These were some of the best ribs that I have ever had.  There was a lot of tender and juicy meat on the bone that had a good spicy and slightly tangy rub on it.  The ribs pulled apart easily enough but the meat was "chew off the bone" tender.  There were three sauces that were served on the side.  Their Original is a a tangy tomato-based sauce with a peppery kick at the end which I understand uses apple sauce and soy sauce.  They have a Sweet Sauce called Sweet Baby Jane which tasted like it uses honey and brown sugar.  While I will grant that it was more than one note, I did find it too sweet for my palate.  Their last sauce was a Texas-style spicy barbecue sauce.and I have to say that it was really subtle.  There was a bit of a bite to it but that came at the end with a hot pepper flavor.  Besides that, it was hard to make out over the great flavor of the ribs.  While the sauces were unnecessary to enjoy the ribs, I enjoyed the Original best of the sauces.  While I really enjoyed the ribs, I really cannot rave about the brisket.  I will not say that it was bad, it just wasn't spectacular.  It had a good flavor but it wasn't as tender as it could have been.  The sides were very good with the baked beans having a nice spice to add to their sweetness and the potato salad had mustard in it as good potato salads should have (in addition to the well cooked potatoes and celery).  There was a slice of bread served with the ribs as well but I thought it was unnecessary and didn't try it.

I really liked the ribs at Pappy's Smokehouse although having said that, after having the best example of food that you have ever had, it is tough to go back to the lesser examples.  I will not however, reject a chance to go back or to try other great foods.  While I did not think that the brisket was all that, there was a lot more on the menu to explore besides the ribs and brisket (although I will not turn down a chance to have those ribs again).  

Monday, June 17, 2013

Fat Rice

I have long bemoaned the fact that Chicago is sorely lacking a Portuguese restaurants.  Now I will grant that for an ethnic restaurant to survive, it really helps to have an ethnic population that would eat such cuisine.  While there isn't a Portuguese population as such, I am sure that there are Portuguese people here and there are people that have been to Portugal so I have thought that a Portuguese restaurant could succeed.  Last year, Fat Rice, a restaurant that serves the food of Macau, a Chinese district/territory/autonomous zone (like Honk Kong) on the coast of the Indian Ocean that was for a long time, a colony of Portugal.  The cuisine is a fusion of Portuguese and Chinese cuisines.  Both areas are on the coast, so there is a lot of seafood but there are many Asian spices like ginger and chilies and because it is a natural fusion, it doesn't feel forced.  Located on a corner, the entrance to the restaurant is on he corner of the building.  The dining room is relatively small but has two communal tables that seat about 10 people each, about 4 4-top tables, and a corner bar surrounding an open kitchen that will seat another 12 people.  The place has kind of a rustic look to it.  The place is done in dark wood and has old kitchen tools hanging on the walls.  Because the place is small and they seem to do a pretty good business, they have opened a separate waiting area which is also attached to the kitchen but diners have to leave and go to down two doors down the street to enter.  This room has a couple of benches with hinge-attached seating that swings around and a small bar where you can buy all of the drinks in the restaurant as well a small menu of bar snacks.  As I came without a reservation at a busy time, I did have to wait about 40 minutes but it was fine because serendipitously, a couple of my friends decided to try the restaurant at the same time.  I had a beer, they have a good selection of craft brews, and an order of Jamon Iberico Mangalica which was slices of Jamon Iberico, a cured ham that comes from pigs that live in the woods of Spain and Portugal and eat acorns and truffles for the last few months of their life.  It is very light and in addition to the excellent pork flavor, it also has a nutty and buttery flavor.  The jamon was served with Asian Pear, Garlic Almonds, and Mustard Sprouts.  The dish was very light and good and the pear went very well with the ham.  I am generally not a fan of ham but this was much less gritty than most pears normally are and was actually pretty good.  My friends ordered a mixed bowl of warm Mama's Nuts, which were also very good.

When I was seated, I was seated at the bar because I like to watch the goings on in the kitchen.  My friends, while they weren't with me, were seated very close.  Which while nice, the room was loud so it was hard to carry on a conversation unless you were next to each other.  For my appetizer, the first official course of my meal, I ordered LinguiƧa with Chili Cabbage (cabbage with piri piri peppers), Cilantro, Ginger, and Olives.  The sausage was cooked well and was juicy.  It kind of reminded me of kielbasa but it went well with the spicy cabbage and ginger.

The main courses at Fat Rice are large and are generally meant for two people.  One person could eat it but if they also got an appetizer and dessert, they would probably be pretty uncomfortable.  For my entree, I had a dish with a very descriptive name, Porco-Clamo, and that is exactly what it was.  Served in a clay pot it was a stew of slow cooked pork shoulder, littleneck clams, potatoes, olives, and more peppers in a natural jus.  This was very good and more than I was going to be able to comfortably eat.  The pork was served on the bone, but it was so tender that it easily slid off the bone when you took a knife to it.  This was all served with coconut rice which provided another good flavor to the mix.  I enjoyed what I could of this and took the rest home so I could also enjoy dessert.

For my dessert, I ordered what was called a Serradura and was a custard type dish like a flan or a panna cotta.  The custard was actually thinner than flan or panna cotta but it was sweet cream based and pretty good.  It was served with Guavas, Bananas, and topped with Almond Brickle Cookie Crumbs.  It was sweet and fruity with a variety of textures from the fruit, the creamy custard, and the layer of nutty cookie crumbs.  It was very good and a fitting end to a very good dinner.

I really enjoyed my meal here at Fat Rice.  The staff was friendly, the place was nice, and the food was really good.  While Chicago still does not have a Portuguese restaurant, they have come much closer with Fat Rice and I will definitely be back.  

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Pork Shoppe

There are many barbecue spots that have opened in the last few years in Chicago and while I like barbecue and do try to visit the different places to see the different ways people do the same things, there are actually a few spots that are close to where I live that I haven't been to.  I reduced that number by one recently when I visited The Pork Shoppe.  When I go to a barbecue place, I will choose the same thing, a half rack of baby back ribs.  Unfortunately, while all barbecue places do ribs, some of them have found their specialties in something other than ribs.  The Pork Shoppe is located close to one of the major six-corner intersections in the city.  There is a counter just inside the door and a small dining area beside the counter that will seat about 30 people.  The room is done in dark wood and seems to reference Texas.  The walls are decorated with old license plates and beer logos.  There are a couple of tables at the back of the dining room which has the plasticware, the barbecue sauces (Sweet, Tangy, and Spicy), and a roll of paper towels. 

Unlike many of the barbecue places around town, this place has a liquor license.  The beer and bourbon lists are on boards behind the counter.  The beer is mostly mass market but they also carry Shiner Bock and Brooklyn Lager and there are six different bourbons.  The food menus are paper takeout menus that are on the counter in front where you make your order.  In addition to the ribs, The Pork Shoppe also carries pulled pork, pulled chicken, brisket, and house cured pastrami.  With the meals, you are offered two sides.  I had fries and cole slaw as my sides.  The fries were very good.  They seemed to have been double fried because they were crisp on the outside and soft on the inside and they were coated with coarse-ground salt.  The cole slaw was different than standard cole slaw in that it had raisins and apples in addition to the standard cabbage, carrots, and a mayonnaise based sauce.  It was also very good.  It was nice that the ribs were served dry so I was able to try all of the sauces which, while all tomato based, were very different.  I think I liked the Carolina style best.  The ribs themselves, while they didn't taste bad, seemed to be a little dry.  They weren't too bad but I am not sure that I would try them again.

The staff at The Pork Shoppe seemed very friendly and the sides were good, but if I were to return here, I am not sure that I would have the ribs again.  I am still interested in their pulled pork and their brisket tacos so I will probably return.      

Friday, June 7, 2013

Table, Donkey and Stick

The space doesn't look like much from the outside, and the address to the small building is bigger than the restaurant name but the space has been a restaurant of note for years.  Occupying the space formerly occupied by the Michelin starred Bonsoiree (which didn't have a restaurant sign at all), Table, Donkey and Stick goes in a completely different direction, serving rustic alpine food.  The space is small, seating about 20 people but it does have a covered patio in back that has a thick lumber communal table that seats about 10 people and several 2-top tables for seating for an additional 30.  The name of the restaurant comes from a Grimm's Fairy Tale about an ever full table, a donkey that spews gold, and a stick that punishes those that have wronged the owner.  We were seated at the communal table in the patio.  All of the furniture in the restaurant was rustic and looked like it would go well in a hunting lodge.  While the building itself is not exceptionally rustic, there are rough hewn wall hangings that contribute to the rustic look.  The menu is divided into Wanderteller (charcuterie), Cheese, Small Plates, Large Plates, and Sandwiches (with a separate menu for dessert).  With the many varieties of cured meat available, if a restaurant offers charcuterie, I will always try it.  Table, Donkey and Stick offered six types of Wanderteller, all of which seemed to be of the forcemeat type.  We had three Wandertellers, all of which were very good.  On the left (for me) was Duck Liver Mousse with Blueberries.  In the center was a Pork and Burgundy Snail Pate served with Walnuts, and on the right was Beef Tartare.  A Housemade Buckwheat Baguette was served to eat with the meat.  The duck liver mousse was very creamy and the flavor kind of reminded me of liverwurst.  The blueberries actually went very well with it.    The pate was mostly pork but you could see the snails, which were a gray brown color as opposed to the rest which was kind of pink.  The snails had been soaked in burgundy so there was a good, red wine flavor, as well as the savory flavor of the snail.  The walnuts add a textural variety to the pate.  While I like beef tartare in general and I did like this beef tartare specifically, it did surprise me.  The beef tartare that I have had in the past was finely ground like hamburger.  This was more roughly chopped.  It was served with a raw egg (a quail's egg in this case) and seemed to have been marinated in a soy-type sauce.  While it was a little different than your typical beef tartare, this was very good.

What goes with charcuterie (wanderteller) if not cheese?  We also got three cheeses although I can only remember one of them because I had had it before.  The one cheese that I can remember the name of was the Gorgonzola (blue).  There was also a semi-firm cows milk cheese that had a slightly sweet grassy flavor and a natural rind cheese that was slightly funky.  The cheeses were served with another housemade bread, honey, and walnuts.

For my small plate, I didn't really need to go back to snails because I had them in my wanderteller, but the dish sounded so good that I had to try it.  I had the Snail Agnolotti with Cocoa Cured Pork Loin, Green Garlic, Rhubarb, and Cocoa Nibs.  The flavor in this dish was amzing.  The pork was sweet and slightly bacony with a bitter chocolate edge.  The green garlic isn't as pungent as regular garlic and it has a green flavor in addition to the garlic.  The rhubarb and cocoa nibs were both used lightly did add to the flavor when they were encountered.  The rhubarb adding tartness and the cocoa nibs, bitterness.  The snails were in the perfectly cooked and toothsome agnolotti.  It was a nice chew and a joy to eat.

For my entree, I had a chicken that actually had some taste.  The chicken I had was from Slagel Farms and was served boneless with Smoked Pickled Ramps, Bulgur Wheat, Boiled Peanuts, and Chicken Hearts.  The chicken was tender (and tasteful) and the boiled peanuts were chewy.  The chicken hearts were mixed with the peanuts and I really didn't notice it.  It was tasty and very good.

Dessert was a perfect ending to a great meal.  I had a Goat Cheese Panna Cotta which was served with Pickled Cherries, Pickled Rhubarb, Granola, a Horchata Sauce that was poured over it, and garnished with mint leaves.  It was sweet, tart, crunchy, creamy, a little minty, and I really liked it.

I enjoyed my meal at Table, Donkey and Stick and am glad to see that while the look has completely changed and the food is much more rustic than the previous restaurant, it is maintaining the high standards established by Bonsoiree.