Bikin’ Chicagoland

Stacey and I were due for a bike ride. Not that kind, a motorcycle. Yesterday we followed #53 to Wheeling, across to Highland Park and down to Chicago itself. We were headed to an early dinner but my bike inexplicably routed us to Intelligensia on Broadway. Rote memory. Damn good capuccino.

We then headed over to Piccolo Sogno for a dinner of appetizers. Good grilled squid/shrimp/octopus, a nice authentic pizza, some burrata and proscuitto and fried squash blossoms. All in all, good, simple food and a great patio.

Soda Scam

The problem is: how does a restaurant make money? For many chain types, it’s soda (or pop as they say around here; weird). How so?

Next time you’re in a chain restaurant, look at the soda pricing on the menu. Guess what. It ain’t there. That’s right, no pricing. They may list their sodas (coke, diet coke, sprite, tea) but no prices. Then ask your server how much a Coke is. He/she will probably say they’ll have to check. They don’t know. They say no one has ever asked.  It has happened to me three times in the last month.

When they come back, the answer should shock you. Eighty nine cents? Ninety Nine? One eighty nine? Nope, $2.50. How in the world can they get $2.50 for a Coke that costs them 17¢ from a soda gun? Because no one asks. If you were told that soda was $1.99, you’d say “I think I’ll just have water with a lemon”. If it were $1.29 you might say “I think I’ll just have water with a lemon”. If it were 99¢ you might say “I think I’ll just have water with a lemon”. But if there’s no price guess what? Four people order sodas and spend an extra $10 for lunch.

P.T. Barnum would be proud.

Our best meal? For the value, passion, and all the good that represents our industry I would have to say Peasant, even if he had presented us a bill.  Frankie De Carlo represents what a cook should be.

However, Geoff and I agree that the perfect meal, the best of the best, was lunch at Le Bernardin. Cost aside (I’ll get to that in a minute…wow) I have always ranked Eric Ripert as one of the top three chefs in the country. I stand by that.

Geoff and I were joined by my great friend, Myra Fiori of illy caffe. I’ve been one of illy caffe’s biggest fans for 20 some years and Myra has been a friend for most of that time.  But enough about friendships, let’s talk food:

1st was a bowl of smoked salmon salad for the table, sort of a gimme.  Next, a tasting of six Kumamoto oysters, each with a garnish a bit spicier than one before.  3rd came a sous vide poached egg with osetra caviar.  Cheater.  Oh yeah, served with a ’95 Dom Perignon.  Cheater.

Then a thin slice of zucchini rolled around curried peeky toe crab.  Spot on I say.  Next was poached halibut, black cod with octopus stuffed with peppers, and an entree of kobe beef and escolar.  Not sure which was richer, or better.  Awesome.  Then fromage blanc with almonds and honey and finally an eggshell stuffed with some chocolate, orange meringue and chicory ice cream.  In the interest of ‘keeping it clean’ I’ll not shout out how great it all was.

And it was all finished off with a great espresso.  Illy, duh.

The cost?  Sit down.  No, really.  Sit down.  Eric ‘comped’ me for old time’s sake (and I didn’t partake in the wine tastings that accompanied the lunch) so the tab was for Two People with tasting menus and tasting wines, tax and tip.  Ready? $1,000.  For the love of god, who eats like this?  And should they?  The debate will rage on (or not).  The fact is that you’re certainly paying for the experience.  Sort of like a week long cruise, or a trip to Paris.  Only more expensive.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Tuesday dinner. Peasant. Frankie De Carlo is a great friend. I found this place 9 years ago because my good friend Nabil had built Frankie a wood burning rotisserie, wood burning grill and a wood burning pizza oven. I went to look at it and fell in love with Frankie’s food, and style. It’s simple food cooked with passion.

Three years ago Alain Ducasse, arguably the best known chef in the world, was asked to name his three favorite restaurants. He named one in Japan, one in Italy and Peasant. It’s in NoLita (SoHo) on Elizabeth and Spring. You’ll love everything from the house made ricotta to the oven seared sardines. And maybe the world’s best panna cotta.

I didn’t mean to overlook lunch Monday at the Carnegie Deli, a must for each trip to NYC. A mile high tower of the world’s best corned beef, great pickles, Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda (diet).

NYC meals: round 2

Monday night was all about Soto. I knew him when he was in Atlanta. Word was he wigged out a time or two. Such is genius. (I don’t wig). He’s in Manhattan now, being compared to a working man’s Nobu. And work he does. It’s a small place at 357 Sixth Avenue. That’s important to know because there is no signage at all. The six of us asked him to send what he wished, make it easy for him. He refused saying we were too large a party and must order a la carte (?). I’m confused. Anyway, we ate 19 different plates of food. Most were terrific, a couple were stellar. One was awful. If you think the stinky shark I had in Iceland was bad, try the fermented sea cucumber intestine mixed with pureed squid and a quail egg yolk. But the rest was so good we have to figure it’s about as good as Japanese food gets. And his knife skills make me look like I wear boxing gloves when I slice.

New York Meals round #1

Landed in NY Sunday, visited our son in Brooklyn and went by train to Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Stunning. Wow. It’s a Rockefeller farm circa 1930, renovated by David Rockefeller. The farm apparently is run by different entities and the restaurant (Blue Hill) buys from them. The food is seasonal and very good but the setting is spectacular. It’s in Tarrytown, 30 miles from NYC. Oh yeah, the economy hasn’t seemed to hurt this, and other high end restaurants. More on this soon.