Sunday, August 07, 2011

A Fat Kid's Guide to Chicago

I'll be the first to admit that my time in New York has perhaps instilled in me a slightly obnoxious city snobbery when it comes to other U.S. cities. "Oh yeah, [insert U.S. city name] is nice...for a huge, sprawling suburban town" or "It's great - reminds me of Jersey." Plus I haven't really explored cities that don't fit neatly into my bi-coastal domestic travel patterns.

But Chicago has remained one big unknown. Everyone I know loves it (in the summer) but it only brings to my mind unsettling images from The Jungle or Native Son. To settle this cognitive dissonance once and for all, I decided it was time to venture into the Great Unknown (aka the MidWest) and see for myself. In the spirit of communal happiness, I offer the guide below for those of you who have also never been:

Step 1: Get on an aeroplane (or, a train, car, bicycle - whatever) and go, meng!
There are tons of cheap flights to Chicago out of New York, especially for the weekends. While you're booking that, find a nice 'lil airbnb to stay in in a cute neighborhood like Wicker Park or Ukranian Village.

Step 2: Find a local to drive you around and take you to their favorite places to eat.
I was extremely fortunate in this category, as I was visiting my good friend Josh Brau. In addition trying to make McDonalds more sustainable, Josh has spent his summer in Chicago getting to know every good place to eat. I knew I could trust this bonafide fat kid to take good care of my taste buds.

As soon as I landed, Josh brought me to Urban Belly , where creative Asian fusion is served on communal picnic tables, fast-food cafeteria style. Efficient yet delicious - I love!

Seasonal kimchi with some BYOB rosé in the background. Chicago is a BYOB type of city.

Lamb brandy dumplings. A fait accompli for Asian fusion, I still dream about the intensely divine flavor/texture combination. Definitely the star of the show.

Spot-on ramen with pork belly in pho broth

Step 3: Wash it down with dessert and drinks.
We went to Josh's favorite watering hole Big Star with the intention of having some tacos for dessert, but sadly we had to settle for drinks only since the kitchen had some kind of debacle and closed early. Not to fear! We had unintentionally thought ahead by first eating some insanely good gelato from Black Dog, with flavors like salty peanut and goat cheese.

Step 4: Wake up early and treat yourself to a sweet, fluffy breakfast.

Forget your hangover. Saturday mornings at 9:30 is when the Donut Vault opens and remains open until all their freshly made donuts have run out. Astoundingly, by the time we got there around 10:00 on a hot 90+ degree day, there was already a line (of the excruciatingly slow-moving variety) that extended a full city block.

Vanilla, chestnut, pistachio, and chocolate glazed, buttermilk old-fashioned, and ginger stack.

Luckily, it was worth the one-hour wait.

Step 5: Keep a balanced diet.
For example, why not add some protein to your diet with these fresh pork sesame buns from Butcher and Larder? They're only $1.50 each, and they taste like Taiwan!

Step 6: Decide for yourself if there is any reason to consider the Chicago pizza debate.
Okay, I have to confess that I didn't actually try Chicago-styled deep dish pizza. But that's really only because the pizza house of the moment, Great Lake, is decidedly not Chicago-styled. It was, however, remarkable. Never again will I scoff at the notion of wait-worthy pizza in Chicago.

We got ours with sausage and spring onions. I can't even look at this picture without getting hungry. It's a blessing and a curse, I tell you.

Accompanied by some farm fresh tomato salad with Dante cheese. So fresh and so good.

Step 7: Send yourself off with a hearty brunch.
Longman & Eagle may be the coolest place in all of Chicago. Not only do they have a cute hipstery staff, they also have a cute hipstery B&B right above the restaurant.

What's brunch without some brunchy cocktails? Like a good brunch cocktail, mine was floral and strong.

Watermelon salad. Every summer there is one thing that I can't get enough of, and this year it's watermelon salad. Gimme!

I loved this version of shrimp and grits because 1) the heads are still on the shrimp, and 2) the addition of the one hour egg. Hallelujah.

Housemade biscuits and gravy. What's not to love about this?

Step 8 (optional): Feed your mind!
Like the true great city that it is, Chicago has a ton to offer in the cultural enrichment category.

You can get your history on via an architectural boat tour of city. There's even booze on the cruise!

The Chicago Institute of Art is stupendous and world-class. Just as importantly, it's not crowded.

Millenium Park is a kick-ass public space, complete with it's own Frank Gehry bandshell and behemoth work of public art.


So there you have it. Now you have no reason not to go and see for yourself what all that relaxed, friendly, reasonably-priced fuss is all about.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Taiwan: Epic Breakfasts Build Character

Waking up the next morning, we needed, of course, to follow up with a ginormous breakfast. I've waxed poetic about the subject before, but for the record let me just state that there ain't no breakfast like a Taiwan breakfast. Period.

Take for instance, this purple sticky rice roll.


You can have a number of yummy fillers, but here we have a Chinese churro, some pickled vegetables, and dried pork floss (just trust me on that last one - it's great).

This is freshly made cao bing. They are flaky pastries with black and white toasted sesame seeds.

You can eat them with Chinese churros inside for full effect, like so.


One of my all time favorites is man tou, which are a very basic steamed bun that has a fluffy and light consistency. I love the taro ones, which are normally purple in hue and have a sweet taro paste inside.

Ahh and then there is the venerable institution that is soy milk. There is the sweet variety, which can be served hot or cold. But more amazing is savory soy milk, which comes in a variety of ways but is always piping hot. Below, it is mixed with Chinese churros (are you noticing a pattern here?) and vegetables/condiments to create an almost tofu like porridge.

And THIS. My oh my, is this good. It's like a scallion pancake but more bread-like and with toasted sesame seeds and abundant amounts of black pepper. IT IS SOOO GOOD.

While all of the above is street food, not everyone eats out for breakfast everyday. Many people might have a simple and light bowl of congee. My grandmother prefers homemade turnip cakes, which are pan fried until crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside.
Mmm...turnip cakes.

Most of this food is not that easy to find stateside unless you go to somewhere like Flushing (which is essentially a microcosm of China in the middle of Queens, New York). So next time you are in Queens or watching the U.S. Open in Flushing, you could perhaps show a picture of one of these breakfast delights to some random Chinese person off the street, and they can point and guide you to breakfast nirvana. You can thank me later.

Taiwan: Night Markets Bring Bliss

At MyLu, one of our first company "policies" was officially declaring August a month of stepping back and reflecting, using space and time to reflect on lessons learned and their implications for future decisions. As such, I decided there could be no better place to reflect than in Taiwan and China -- my food mecca.

First stop: the tiny but oh so delicious island of Taiwan. I have blogged about it before, but once could never be enough for what I consider a major contender for Culinary Capital of Asia.

Last year I visited with my dad and his side of the family, and this year with my mom. For both sides, food is an unending source of delight, entertainment and obsession. It is unclear where my fatkid genes come from exactly, but likely it is due to the unique combining of both gene pools. Case in point: below is a photo of my mother as a child. She is the one in the front. Notice what she is doing that others are not.


The first thing we did when we landed was go to one of Taipei's many night markets. My wonderful Aunt Xiao Ling brought us to the best dumplings my mother and I have ever tasted. Wrapped ever so lightly in paper thin dough, these little bundles of joy exploded with delicate flavors without over-whelming the taste buds.

They had meat with either chives or cabbage. That's really all you need in a good dumpling.

Next up, stinky tofu! This house didn't deep fry their stinky tofu, and made it in more of a Shanghainese style with Thai basil and shitake mushrooms in a hot and spicy broth.

After that we had to have some dericious oh-ah-jien (egg omelets with oyster and tapioca flour) and took home some shaved ice dessert home for later.
These are different kinds of jelly. On the bottom right is grass jelly, my favorite dessert for the summer because of it's cooling properties, wonderfully herbal, bitter taste and jello-like consistency. It's actually made of real grass!

Eating all this helped us overcome our first night of jet lag by inducing severe food coma and restful sleep and dreams of doing it all over again the next day...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fun Times with

This weekend, serendipitously, both Mssr. BromBom and I were hanging around in the Have. Each of us intended to spend the weekend packing for our upcoming moves. However, given the 90 million degree heat, plus our shared penchant for fun, packing was foregone to make room for more inviting activities.

We started off the weekend (which henceforth shall be referred to solely as "The Weekend of New Haven Revival") right by stopping by the Union League cafe for some cocktails and oysters. Afterwards, we ventured forth into the New Haven night to try out some of the new fresh made ice cream from the MooBella machine that I was really eager to taste. We went to Durfees on the Yale College campus and to the Yale-New Haven hospital, but sadly found them both to be closed and no MooBella's to be found.

The next day, inspired by the previous, Brom and I got up early to go to the Wooster Square farmers' market. We purchased all kinds of delectable farm fresh items and returned home to make lunch in my backyard.

Here he is dining with Cat, another NH revivalist.

For starters, I made a pesto in the VitaMix out of garlic scape from the farmers' market, basil from my "garden," shredded parm, pine nuts and walnuts. We ate it with rosemary olive bread, fresh carrots, and honey goat cheese. Soooo good.

The farmers' market also had on offer one of my absolute favorite things to eat in the summer: SQUASH BLOSSOMS! These beauties came from the Yale Farm. I stuffed some with goat cheese, others with the all-purpose Siggi's plain Icelandic yogurt, and then sauteed them with some of the garlic scape. Very easy and very derishious.

Because I had been excited by the one I had the night before at Union League, I decided to make some Nicoise salads. I have gone through periods where I eat these exclusively, and they are also one of my favorite summertime treats.

Afterwards, we ventured forth and finally got to try MooBella's at the hospital. The instant fresh made ice cream idea is absolutely brilliant, but the experience unfortunately failed us on two sorta pivotal accounts:
1) my banana ice cream did not taste like banana (this made me wonder about the supposedly all natural flavoring used)
2) the machine kept malfunctioning before it spit out the ice cream.
On the plus side, the texture was creamy but light and wonderful.

All this running around and eating made us tired, so we took a little afternoon nap, and then reconvened with some other friends to go to The Place, which is one of the coolest seafood barbecue restaurants you will ever go to.

I stuffed myself with steamed clams, corn, lobster, and catfish. So much so that it was decided I had reached the golden ratio -- consumption:body weight parity. Just one indication that "The Weekend of New Haven Revival" was aptly named.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What's for Lunch?

These days I am working on starting a food company with my friend Ben, a fellow SOM '10 graduate. We're called MyLu Foods and our mission is to make healthy (but delicious) foods more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Our first product is a healthy and convenient lunch pack for kids. Something that is fun and appealing and can be taken easily on the go. Basically, we're trying to take the nutritious, fresh qualities of a homemade lunch and package it into something that kids will be excited about.

We are currently brainstorming names, packaging design, and ingredients. Please let us know if you have any suggestions by leaving a comment here, or by emailing Below are some initial homemade prototypes.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Chinatown San Fran style

I can't believe I almost forgot about this. After our morning brunch and ice cream at Henry Slocomb's, we took a walk in Golden Gate park. We saw buffalo! We decided that all that moving around and animal watching and whatnot warranted yet another meal, and meandered on over to the Richmond. There we went to this amazing Chinese/Taiwanese restaurant where this lazy susan original footage was shot.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Last Days of Frisco

I was obsessed with the farmers' markets in San Francisco. Especially the Ferry Building one because they always had squash blossoms and this AMAZING quark cheese that tasted like cheesecake, but was apparently very good for you and probiotic and stuffs.

Mmmm...squash blossoms.

For one of my last days there, I decided I wanted to eat everything that I hadn't had the chance to eat yet, or wanted just one last bite of. Greg, Alex were good sports and accompanied me throughout. I ate so much that I wasn't hungry for about three days afterwards. For me that is really quite a feat.

What we ate:

1) Porchetta Sandwich

Roli Roti's porchetta sandwiches from the Ferry Building farmers' market. It's a serious sandwich, and my favorite sandwich anywhere. They use this wonderfully crunchy and chewy sourdough bread, heap on a giant portion of freshly roasted-to-perfection sliced porchetta, lovingly layer it with crisp skin shavings, pour secret delicious sauce with the fatty fat fat juices, and make it all very healthy by topping it off with some delectably complementary green stuff (pepper cress, apparently) and sea salt. This sandwich tastes like all the goodness of the world combined in your mouth while having a dance party.

Here is Alex eating just some pork knuckle, which they also offer alone:

It's the size of his face!

There is a funny French guy who runs the whole production. When I asked him how he got the pork knuckles so damn good, he leaned over and made me promise I wouldn't tell a soul. After I promised he whispered some Frenchie-English in my ear. Unfortunately I couldn't understand a word of what he said, so I couldn't break my promise if I tried.

After the porchetta sandwiches we shuttled ourselves on over to Russian Hill for some seafood at Swan Oyster Depot, where we had some yum yum oysters and other seafoody salty squishy goodness.

Freshly smoked salmon hurrah!

Then we decided we needed to wash down the salty sea taste with some donuts. They really love donuts in California, and they're basically on every block in SF. A lot of the donuts are sold by Chinese people, which I find interesting. Anyways, the donuts were really good, but for dessert we decided to have fish tacos at Nick's Crispy Tacos, a place that Greg and Alex really like. They do some variations on the traditional fish taco with crispy shells added to the softshell.

I've loved fish tacos since I first visited California as a tween. They are definitely one of those things that are just better on the West Coast (although Josh may beg to differ since his dad has started Dorado's Tacos in Boston, which is apparently awesome)

I had my first fish tacos in SF in Sausalito. The picture doesn't do it justice, but this taco was probably the best fish taco I have ever tasted. Lightly fried and succulent fish, with fresh fresh fresh cole slaw to top.

Needless to say, after this over-the-top (even for me) day of indulgence, it was necessary to follow up with a big giant "light" brunch at Alex and Jackie's.

Alex made "Dutch Babies." Despite the twisted name, they were delicious.

With lemon quark and lots of Kerry Irish Gold butter!!!