Monthly Archives: June 2010

Taste of Chicago

We have arrived for burgers — the kind that people talk about on the Internet long after having wiped the final crumbs from their lips. But we are distracted from the mouth-watering scent of smoke and beef by the hostess, standing with clipboard in hand and pen poised, telling us the wait will be about two hours.

Kuma’s Corner is a popular place. Glimpses at the burgers coming from the coffee-table-sized kitchen are enough to make me pause and then put my name down on the list.

After all, what’s waiting at one more restaurant?

Kuma's Corner - the burger

We’ve already lined up around the block for a hotdog, sipped drinks to pass time while hoping for space at the counter of a trendy hotspot, and waited on a ramp overlooking the dining area of another restaurant, mouths watering as another platter of chicken and waffles was carried by.

Chicagoans, it appears, know what is good, what they like and are willing to wait.

And so will we.

It begins at Hot Doug’s, a hotdog joint well outside of the downtown core, where the faithful begin to line up before the place opens at 10:30 a.m. When my friend, Suzi, and I arrive around 11, the queue snakes out the front door, around the corner of the building and along its brick facade. Inside, every seat is filled.

Hot Doug's

Hot Doug's - waiting

But the delay is productive. The man in front of us, a regular, gives us the low down on what dogs are worth the wait.

For him, the Linguica — a Portuguese pork sausage — will always be the first pick. It’s one of the myriad specials proprietor Doug Sohn has dreamed up for the restaurant featured on TV shows and numerous newspaper and magazine articles, including Bon Appetit and Saveur.

The Linguica is on the menu, along with a curry lamb sausage, a chicken one with cranberry and walnuts and the item I already knew we’d have to try: the foie gras and sauternes duck sausage with truffle aioli, foie gras mousse and fleur de sel.

This is no ordinary hotdog place.

Hot Doug's - menu I
Hot Doug's - menu II

A side of fries cooked in duck fat — Friday and Saturday only — to go alongside and we were ready to go.

The thick squiggle of saffron aioli and cubed chunks of Iberico cheese played against the spicy sausage flecked with red chili. It was the hands-down winner between the two, although the duck dog with the rich mousse was worth the excursion.

Hot Dogs at Hot Doug's

Sauternes - cross-section

Linguica - cross-section

We would have thanked our lineup buddy for the recommendation, but he vanished after gobbling down his two dogs and disappeared into the sunny afternoon.

Total wait time: 45 minutes

In the daze that often follows a decadent lunch, Suzi and I headed back downtown to wander Millennium Park and admire Cloud Gate — a.k.a. the Bean — the stainless steel sculpture designed by Anish Kapoor that reflects Chicago’s stellar architecture, sunny skies and tourists like a classy funhouse mirror.

The Bean II

The Bean III

The wait for Avec is estimated at an hour, but we’re allowed to give a phone number and we head next door to Meiji, a Japanese influenced restaurant, for a sushi roll appetizer and glass of wine.

Just as we finish up the phone rings and we wander back the 25 steps or so to squeeze into two seats at the counter that runs almost the length of the narrow restaurant.

Avec, a wine bar part of a series of successful restaurants in Paul Kahan’s stable, boasts a menu of homemade charcuterie, flatbreads cooked in the fire-burning oven, tender salads and other items all easily shared.

The decisions are tough, but we settle on the flatbread stuffed with tallegio cheese, a salad comprised mostly of prosciutto and apple, the signature dish of chorizo stuffed dates in a tomato sauce, and another dish or two.

From the counter, we watch the chefs bustle at the two wood-burning ovens and chat with the server who offers up a few nightlife recommendations, while pouring a glass of rose.

The prosciutto salad that mixes the salt of cured ham and sweet apples is a clear winner, but it is the crisp flatbread with its oozing cheese centre that I can’t stop eating.

Total wait time: 60 minutes

At Jam, we wait only 10 minutes for a free table for brunch. We have to chalk it up to good timing because after we sit down, the queue starts to stretch along the half-wall from cash register to front door.

Jam

The grey walls and concrete tables could feel industrial, but instead the air is cosy. From our table we have a clear view into the open concept kitchen — a tiny space that somehow fits at least three people co-ordinating plates and getting them out to patrons quickly and with style.

Amuse Bouche

The eggs benny with crisped pork belly and beet hollandaise is almost art with the black-salt-topped eggs and bright pink smear of sauce. The braised pork cheeks are not quite as attractive, but meaty and tender.

Eggs Benny at Jam

Steaming coffee

Total wait time: 10 minutes

The next morning, the waiting is a little more tedious as we join an almost two-hour line at Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles. It is a Sunday, after church, and the view of gorgeous hats sprinkled among patrons at the tables is beautiful but not enough to take our minds off the time we have to kill.

Chicago's Home of Chicken and Waffles

Trays of hot waffles and crisp-skinned chicken passing almost under our noses seemed to only prolong the wait.

The first bite made it almost seem worthwhile. Apart, the fried chicken and waffles drizzled with maple syrup were good. Together they were a revelation. The hot, crisp chicken and the sweet tender waffles combined to become something better. Salt and sweet and crisp and soft. If I could have polished off the plate, I would have.

Chicken and Waffles

Total wait time: Two hours

We work it off by wandering the Art Institute of Chicago where I gaze, just as they did in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, at Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. I’m hypnotized by the pointillism, though that could be a soporific side-effect of breakfast.

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte

But by the last day, my patience for waiting has waned.

There is one final stop before the flight home: a burger joint that has received rave reviews online.

Kuma's Corner - Exterior

It’s a takes-no-guff place that has posted rules on its website, including no reservations, no music requests and “We will not ‘put on the game, bro.’ ”

When the hostess tells us the wait could be up to 2 ½ hours, we are prepared. And we’re learning. We put down our names and then head back out to hail a cab to take us to a nearby neighbourhood where we can window shop.

About 90 minutes later we’re back at the restaurant, hungrier than ever and only 20 minutes away from being seated at a tiny table near the equally tiny kitchen where staff are pumping out burgers like a machine.

Kuma's Corner Interior

Next to us, two young men are tackling the macaroni and cheese platter — a behemoth portion of pasta that can be topped with just about anything: prosciutto, caramelized onions, peas, sweet corn.

I, however, have eyes only for the burger and the two-hour wait has sharpened that craving, so I’m quick to decide on the “famous Kuma burger,” adorned with bacon, cheese and fried egg.

The patty alone is almost a softball of meat, slightly flattened. With the egg, cheese and bacon atop, this burger is a force to be reckoned with. When I attempt to cut it, the steak knife is buried to the hilt in the centre of the burger.

Kuma's Corner II

That first bite makes the wait dissolve into a distant memory.

The crisp waffle fries push it even further away.

Leftovers in hand — which will serve well as an inflight meal — we push out into the sunny afternoon.

There is nothing left to wait for, except the next trip back.

This article first appeared in the Calgary Herald’s Travel section. For more articles, visit CalgaryHerald.com/travel/index.html.

Flourless Chocolate-Walnut Cookies

There is often debate among brownie fans on whether it is better to be fudge-y or cake-y. I have mostly stayed away from this because I’m not enough of a brownie enthusiast to really care one way more than the other.

Besides, the only thing that really matters when it comes to the brownie is the slightly crisped edges and the crackled top. For me, that is where the beauty of the brownie lies.

But, let’s face it, unless you have one of those special “all edge” pans with their labyrinthine shape, someone is getting stuck with the middle bits.

And that’s how I thought things would always be, until I tried these flourless chocolate-walnut cookies.

Flourless Chocolate Cookies

OK, they are not brownies. For someone like me, they are even better. They are cookies that taste like the crinkled surface layer of a brownie with its slight chew and crackle goodness, studded with chunks of walnuts.

To be honest, flourless chocolate cookies were not high on my list of things to bake when I stumbled across the recipe. But I came upon it after I had put some egg whites in the freezer, unsure what to do with them after using up the yolks.

I could have saved them for a pavlova, but figured it was worth trying out something new.

The list of ingredients was straightforward, if not a bit puzzling. I’ve never measured out three cups of icing sugar for a cookie recipe before.

Nor was I actually convinced that the airy ingredients would transform in the oven to some sort of cookie delight.

However, it did have a few things going for it: I already had egg whites ready to go and the recipe reminded me of a package of cookies I bought from a chain store grocery store once.

I served them to friends with a dollop of vanilla ice cream sandwiched between: a gourmet version of the childhood treat. It seemed worthwhile to see if these could compare. Or, as the case ended up being, improve on the store bakery version. The chocolate chew and nuts in a tender cookie package were so right. And they were light and not overly sweet. (Though, that was dangerous too, as it was easy to eat more than one or two and feel I still had room for another.) Mine did not get as shiny as I have seen in other people’s photos of the same type of cookies.

Normally I’d get a bit worried. Or envious.

Why do mine look different?

But after sampling one — OK, several — of the cookies, I realized I didn’t care what they looked like. They were fantastic.

I have since found myself trying to find recipes that use up only yolks so that I can take advantage of this cookie recipe again.

Toasted walnuts

Cocoa and Icing Sugar

Cocoa Sugar mix

Flourless chocolate cookie batter

Cookie dough puddles

Chewy goodness

Francois Payard’s Flourless Chocolate-Walnut Cookies

from New York magazine

  • 2¾ cups (675 mL) walnut halves
  • 3 cups (750 mL) confectioners/ icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp (170 mL) unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Spread the walnut halves on a large-rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 9 minutes, until they are golden and fragrant. Let cool slightly, then move the walnut halves to a work surface and coarsely chop them.

Position two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and lower temperature to 320°F (160°C). Line two large-rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk (or use an electric mixer on low speed) the confectioners’ sugar with the cocoa powder and salt followed by the chopped walnuts. While whisking (or once you change the speed to medium), add the egg whites and vanilla extract and beat just until the batter is moistened. Do not overbeat or it will stiffen.

Spoon the batter onto the baking sheets in 12 evenly spaced mounds, and bake for 14 to 16 minutes, until the tops are glossy and lightly cracked; shift the pans from front to back and top to bottom halfway through to ensure even baking.

Slide the parchment paper (with the cookies) onto 2 wire racks. Let cookies cool completely, and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

This story first appeared in the Real Life section in the Calgary Herald. For more delicious recipes, visit CalgaryHerald.com/life.