18 June 2010

Raging the Windy City à la Wind God Gau Pt. 3

After putzing around the city for a while we finally worked up the stomach room to sip a few beers at The Map Room. The sign out front was easy to spot from far off and looked like... Well, it looks like something, doesn't it?

It's not my imagination right? You see it too? Good, we're on the same page then.

I loved the interior of the place and at 7pm it a perfectly sized crowd going. I loved the interior with all of the old maps and National Geographics. The fans were probably some of the coolest fans I've ever seen, looking like rotating single prop sentry bots straight out of Crono Trigger.

Steampunk ftw. We perused the beer selection and finally selected a Orvel for myself and a Metropolitan Krankshaft Kolsch for M. Hanging out we entertained ourselves by reading an outdated Spanish atlas.

Good times. The Orval was unlike any beer I've ever had due to the very fine carbonation that reminded me of champagne and a flavor I can only describe as having a great zing that really assailed the taste buds.

The more I drank it, the more I liked it. The lingering aftertaste left me yearning for wood-grilled chicken. The Krankshaft was smooth and very drinkable but M was pretty unimpressed with it.

We nursed our beers due to our bloated stomachs and and judging by the timestamps on my voice memos it was over an hour before we ordered our second round. By this time we were feeling a bit better so we opted for some porters. We ordered the Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter and the Tyranena Benji's Chipotle Smoked Imperial Porter. Care to fit any more descriptives into that name? I don't think it's quite long enough.

Don't click that one bigger, it be blurry. I picked up on a lot of smokiness from the head of the Tyranena brew which had a medium balance of carbonation and hopiness. The Edmund Fitzgerald had a subtle sweetness and was very smooth and I think it would pair amazingly with barbecue.

Too bad my local beer emporium can't order the stuff as I've tried in the past. This was my favorite beer of the night.

Yet another hour and a half went by before ordering our third round. By this time MG and her sister came out to meet up with us. We ordered the Schneider Aventinus as I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered when we had it at Matchbox in DC and the Rochefort 8.

The 8 was very strong (sorry, those are the only notes I have...) and while I stilled picked up on the banana and clove of the Aventinus, it wasn't nearly as good as I remembered it, but it got bonus points for being served in an awesome spiralled pilsner glass. Out of the two I preferred the 8, but neither of these beers were as good as the porters we tried.

Even though we had nixed the dinner plans after spending a few hours at the bar the ladies had a late-night craving for nachos so we headed off to their favorite late-night Mexican dive Lazo's Tacos. I talked some smack about nachos as I think they're one of the most overrated appetizers in the American pop food scene and they informed me that my world was about to be shaken to it's core. Hmm, as you might imagine, I was intrigued.

This place was hopping with karaoke and a full-blown salsa dance floor going strong. M and MG went up and had their fun while I declined because, while I love to dance, I tend to shy away from any dancing that requires proficiency. When I dance I just go up there and do whatever comes to me, which usually entails a lot of pelvic thrusting and the robot. Getting back to the food MG and her sister ordered the nachos, M ordered two chorizo tacos, and I opted for a single lengua taco. I'd heard great things about tongue tacos and was eager to finally try one at what seemed to be a pretty legit Mexican restaurant.

As soon as my taco was placed before me I knew this place to be the real deal. No sloppy mound of mass-produced shredded cheese, watery sour cream, and jarred salsa here. Just meat, cilantro, and diced white onion.

The tongue was just oozing the supreme essence of beef. I loved it. It was like walking up to a cow and taking a bite out of it's flank. As promised the nachos put all typical bar nachos to shame. The thing I hate most about bar nachos is when you reach for one chip and pull half the chips onto the table as a coagulated sheet of cheese melded them all together, leaving a mountain of naked chips underneath. There was only one layer of thick crisp chips here each with a light layer of cheese and ground beef and their own individual dollop of sour cream and guac. Genius.

You don't know nachos until you try these nachos. While the toppings were generous, the chips were substantial enough to hold up and not get soggy. Genius, again. This was by far the best Tex-Mex food I'd ever had. I thought La Tolteca in Bel Air was pretty damn good. Guess I have a lot to learn about Tex-Mex.

I knew I wanted to get brunch Sunday so after researching my trip I had it narrowed down to three places: M. Henry, The Bongo Room, and Lula Cafe. Location was what decided it as M. Henry was the closest to M's place.

We got there at 10:15 and there was a 35 minute wait so we put our names in and headed across the street to browse La Baguette bakery.

The extensive display of baked goods combined with the smell of freshly baked doughnuts had my mouth watering.

Awww, look at the cute couple. What a bunch of dorks. Since we'd had a light dinner we were pretty hungry so M and I split a Mexican Eclair.

The texture was similar to a croissant but once you got through the light sugary cocoa topping it didn't really have much taste. We were all expecting it to be filled with something so ultimately it was a disappointing purchase. One bite was enough. We returned to M. Henry and were sat after a mere 20 minutes.

We opted to dine outside in their back patio and as the hostess led us to our table I was amazed at just how big the interior of this place was. There was a rather large crowd waiting outside but with this many tables I could see how they managed to keep the wait times down. Ultimately I ordered a decaf latte and an order of their 'Out of this World' Breakfast Bread Pudding to share. Check out the list of their daily specials (the Blackberry Bliss Cakes aren't on there because they're on the breakfast menu):

GD, it was hard to make a decision about what to order. M and I decided to share the Blackberry Bliss Cakes and the Key Lime Brioche French Toast and MG ordered the Lemon Crab & Shrimp Cake Benedict.

My latte took forever to get because apparently the cafe was swamped with orders. When the waiter finally brought it to the table he spilled it on my leg so that hurt a bit.

Ow. Not a great start to the meal. Luckily the food more than made up for it. One thing M. Henry definitely had going for it was every single plate of food they served us was visually stunning. Good morning everyone and welcome to Food Porn 101:

Just look at the pretty colors! The bread pudding was unique as it was almost soupy at the bottom, whereas I'm used to more custardy versions.

It had huge fresh raspberries and peaches and had a consistency reminiscent of my late grandmother's peach cobbler, which I loved.

The Blackberry Bliss Cakes weren't quite as mind-blowing as ravers on the intarweb made them out to be, but that's not to say they weren't damn good. The oat crumble topping is definitely what makes this dish so great.

The blackberries were not only piled on top, but also heartily stuffed within making for super moist mushy pancakes, which may have been a turn off for some, but as you may already know from reading this blog, I love the mush. The dollop of fresh mascarpone was just icing on the cake, although I could've used a bit more.

The Key Lime Brioche French Toast was a little on the sweet side and a little more one-note. The bread was nice and fluffy and the scoop of mascarpone on this plate was much more substantial than on the Bliss Cakes.

If you use a magnifying glass you can see some of the promised honey graham cracker crumbs, which had the potential to be on the same level of awesomeness as the oat crumble. Unfortunately, I barely noticed them. Boo that. On the other hand, that picture is great for showing just how tender and pull-aparty the bread was. I was left wanting a bit more tartness to this dish to offset the sweetness, but overall this was another successful dish and I really am splitting hairs here.

Surprisingly, the table favorite was the Benedict. Everything on this plate just screamed freshness.

The hollandaise tasted like it was made seconds before landing on the plate, which it probably was, and the shrimp and crab cakes tasted like they came right out of the ocean, with an added brightness from a hefty dose of lemon. M and MG pointed out that since Chicago is so far from the coast it's pretty tough to get decent seafood so that made the shockingly fresh ingredients all the more impressive.

Some complaints about the restaurant itself: There were only 3 single serving bathrooms for the entire restaurant which caused quite a line during peak brunch time. The patio itself was really great and I would've loved to whittle away the day basking in the wonderful weather. Here's a fantastic pic of my two dining buddies with a gorgeous mural in the background:

Props to M for rockin' the robot shirt. Nerds represent. Overall, we most certainly enjoyed the experience, but there were only two servers assigned to the outdoor seating and we could tell they were both flustered and rushed. During our meal we actually witnessed our waiter take a nasty spill down a few wooden stairs.

At this point we went back to their apartment to figure out the rest of the day and to enjoy some lovely beatboxing videos courtesy of Flutebox and Beardyman. We had to drop MG back off at her house and while she was getting her things together I pulled up the SE eating guide to Chicago because I was curious to see what Taquerias they recommend after having great late-night eats at Lazo's last night. I spouted off the list and apparently Cemitas Puebla was within blocks of MG's place so we decided to check it out on our way to the airport. The final destination of the day was probably the one I researched the most: where to get my first tasting of an authentic Italian Beef sandwich. This was another decision that was ultimately made by location as Johnnies Beef was in the general direction of O'Hare. So, with our route all planned out I packed up my things and we headed out the door.

I was a tad frightened as we walked the few blocks to Cemitas Puebla. This didn't exactly look like the nicest part of the town. As soon as we crested the entrance the owner came up to us with a very long and rehearsed speech about how they'd been featured on DD&D (which I didn't know until then) and why his food stood out among the abundance of taquerias in Chicago. I appreciated hearing about the roots of his culinary point of view but the whole DD&D spiel really turned me off. This was the first place I had come across that really milked their appearance for all it's worth. As I looked around the restaurant I saw Guy Fieri's face everywhere, even plastered right in front of the register and on the menu itself.

M pointed out they even had a stack of his cookbooks for sale on the counter. In the end we did end up taking the bait as we ordered both dishes the owner recommended which were the Tacos Arabes and the Carne Enchilada Cemita.

The Tacos Arabes were spit roasted pork and onions wrapped in a flour tortilla with chipotle salsa. The taco had nice big meaty chunks of pork and the tortilla was soft and fresh and lightly grilled.

Don't click that one either, horribly blurry. As expected the chipotle salsa added a nice smokiness and we both could've easily pounded half a dozen of these tacos. It really came alive with a squeeze of lime and a douse of the bottled chipotle sauce.

The Carne Enchilada Cemita featured chile guajillo, marinated butterflied pork chop, avocado, adobe chipotle peppers, and fresh Oaxacan cheese. The cemita was another thing I vowed to get on my last trip to NYC but never made it out to Sunset Park to try it so I was excited to have this opportunity.

Being a lover of all things sesame, I was all over this fresh, light, slightly toasted bun. I appreciated that it was thin, perfectly proportioned so that it didn't weigh down the sandwich and let the toppings shine through.

The Oaxacan cheese tasted like a super-fresh polio string cheese and the fresh spread of avocado added a nice layer of fattiness. This sandwich really went well with the bottled cilantro cream sauce. This was my first cemita experience and it turned out to be a great one.

We were in and out of Cemitas Pueblas in mere minutes as we had one last stop before dropping me off at the airport: Johnnie's MF'n Beef. The second we got out of the car (it was in the 90s and we had the A/C on) we were slammed with a wall of beefy charcoal smoke. Glade needs to get on that smell ASAP. I want my crapper to smell like Johnnie's Beef damnit!

We arrived at around 3pm on a Sunday and the line was substantial but since they have their assembly line service honed to perfection we had our food in minutes. As I watched the guy dipping the sandwiches I noticed that it wasn't a cannonball into a huge pool like I saw in videos of various beef places online, but more like a splash in a rain puddle. So what did I do? Exactly what you would expect a glutton like me to do, I asked the guy if they double-dip. Of course, he said.

I know that's not the greatest picture, but the guy in the back is dipping the beefs while the guy in the front is scooping Italian ice out of a bucket. So, that being decided I ordered a hot double-dipped with a small lemon ice. My taste buds had no idea what they were in for.

We nabbed a half-occupied table and spread out our sandwiches. One thing to note: These sandwiches are HOT AS HELL. I mean temperature-wise. It took crazy ninja skills to unwrap the thing without severely burning myself.

M must have a lead tongue because he dove right in, but I had to wait for it to cool off a bit. Eventually I was able to take a bite and then I saw the light. Tons of thinly sliced beef covered in the peppery gravy which was just wonderfully spicy. Not too spicy, mind you, but just right. I peeled back the wrapper and went back in for bite after bite. I was amazed at just how well the bun held up to the gravy even after being completely soaked through from the double dippage. I thought they forgot my giardiniera, but after 4-5 bites I finally hit a pocket of vinegary crunchy pickeled veggies.

They added a great saltiness and even more spice from the jalaps. My mouth wasn't burning, but my lips most certainly were.

That's where the lemon ice comes in to balance out the salty heat. I was very glad I got a small after seeing the mountain of shaved ice they pile on top of your cup.

What I thought was truly ingenious was that you could eat the mound of ice on top which wasn't as sweet and then you could use the straw to suck up the syrup in the bottom so you had complete control over how sweet you wanted it. The sugar-coated lemon slices were quite literally diamonds in the rough. This combination of flavors was truly remarkable and delicious and the best possible way I could think of to conclude my weekend in Chicago.

I would wrap this up in a more elegant manner, but this Chicago series has really taken it's toll on my sadly broken body. Not only that, but we spent last weekend in NYC attending the 2010 Big Apple BBQ Block Party and now I have that whole thing to write up so I am quite spent. Until next time, thanks for reading!

Map Room on Urbanspoon
Lazo's Tacos on Urbanspoon
M. Henry on Urbanspoon
Cemitas Puebla on Urbanspoon
Johnnie's Beef on Urbanspoon

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