Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hot Doug's

3324 North California Avenue
Chicago, IL

Last I checked, Hot Doug's shared the highest score for Food in Chicago (with Alinea) on Zagat. Yet a large meal and a drink will probably run you about $15 total, if you're really going for gluttony. Depending on when you go, you might have to wait in a rather long line (especially Friday and Saturdays, when they do their duck fat fries), but it moves pretty fast, and it's totally worth the wait. It does, however, close at 4pm (and is closed Sundays), so keep that in mind. Also, it's Cash Only.

As has been pointed out, the sausages at Hot Doug's aren't made in-house, and can be purchased elsewhere. So while they're pretty effin' delicious, they're not really the main reason to go. No, the main reason is the toppings. While they do all the standards, each week they also feature some far more exciting options - a fancy sausage with a fancy topping. Check out today's menu for an example - Chardonnay and Jalapeno Rattlesnake Sausage with Spicy Guava Mayonnaise and Moody Blue Cheese, Calvados Smoked Duck Sausage with Morello Cherry Mustard and Camembert, etc. It's pretty exciting stuff.

For some reason, every time I've gone I've ended up ordering a sausage with saffron remoulade and aged machego as a topping, but you know what? That's because they've always been delicious. Still though, I chide myself for not being a little more adventurous.

The fries are good, though not amazing - warm, soft and chewy. You can get cheese fries, but the cheese is just Cheese Sauce, and it's not that exciting. I wish they did cheese fries with some of their more adventurous cheeses melted on top, but that probably takes too much time.

The drink are the usual soda fountain offerings or a variety of bottled sodas in the fridge, which are kind of fun. They do vitamin water, but also things like cel-ray soda.

Is it the most mind-blowingly delicious thing you've ever eaten, as the hype implies? No. But it's pretty damn good. And for the quality of food you get, it's also an unbelievable bargain.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


1952 N. Damen, Chicago

I needed to do a little celebrating, so my parents gifted me and my dude a nice dinner. We decided to hit up Takashi and try the omakase - the chef's tasting menu. The dinner runs $68 a head, and the wine pairing is another $30. First off, let me tell you this - the wine pairing is for realz. These are not dinky pours. These are some strolling around to sober up a bit before you drive home pours. I'm useless in terms of telling you what exactly we drank (there was a vouvray, and a pinot, and some other stuff...) but in terms of how it paired with food, it was interesting. It was a slightly more daring, challenging concept of pairing. My sommelier-to-be would taste the food and say something like, "huh. I wouldn't have gone with this grape myself." but then we'd pause, take another bite and a thoughtful sip of wine and realize, actually - they were very cleverly matched. It wasn't an obvious choice, but it was always a very complementary one. My dude also got hisself a cocktail before dinner - gin with lime and cucumber, and really well done. I don't like cucumber, myself, but I had to admit that the flavors blended beautifully.

The room, I have to say, was kind of unimpressive. I think the idea is that it doesn't feel too stuffy or formal, but it felt kind of... I dunno. Odd. The ceilings were too low. My feng shui was awry. Not that I really care about that sort of thing, just pointing it out.

So, the food. The amuse was a square of homemade tofu topped with yuzu, bonito flakes, and a ginger soy dressing. The accoutrements were delicious, but the tofu was a little on the crumbly-yet-mushy side. I have yet to meet a homemade tofu that I'm really excited about. I really enjoy tofu, but the texture of the homemade varieties is always kind of off-putting.

Next up were the spring rolls. I don't remember exactly, but I believe they were crab and prosciutto? with greens and some crispy baguette, topped with a golden raisin caper vinaigrette. The textures were phenomenal - the crunchiness of the baguette was a really nice touch - but the flavors didn't really pop. The prosciutto was completely undiscernable, and generally, the melange was kind of a cool and pleasing but undistinguished, and largely overwhelmed by the vinaigrette (though the vinaigrette was delicious, so that wasn't really a bad thing).

Then some charcuterie action rolled in - a country style pate, a chicken liver mousse, and a slice of prosciutto. It's funny, we did dinner at Oceanique awhile back and got the pate, and were really baffled by the fact that it came in a moussey form. But apparently we were just ignorant of the many forms that liver takes in this world, because we've since encountered it as a cream several times. And we're still not sure how we feel about it. The country style pate was tasty, but the texture was a bit too tough - no spreadability whatsoever. The prosciutto was fine, but as I said before, I'm a prosciutto snob. Overall, I think the Rootstock spread was more impressive, though my boyfriend thought they were pretty evenly matched.

So those first three items, tasty but not that exciting. I was feeling a bit miffed, but then, but then! The skate wing arrived. Goodness gracious. Skate wing topped with a medley of japanese mushrooms, and served with a cauliflower risotto (topped with parmesan FOAM, natch), and belgian endive with a creamy vinaigrette. Heaven. Absolute heaven. The skate was cooked perfectly - crispy on the outside, melt-in-your-mouth tender on the inside. Absolutely glorious. The mushrooms, the risotto, the endive - it was a symphony. Absolutely incredible.

And from there, we were aces. The next dish was a soy ginger pork belly served with a pile of greens, two slices of steamed bun, and a schmear of chinese hot mustard. One assembled it into a delicious little sammich. And it was glorious. The tastes, the textures, oooh-wee! So good.

Then came the roasted duck breast with a confit of duck leg, which was a triumph. I can't even tell you what it was served with. The duck was so moist and tender and flavorful - oh man. My dude declared it hands down the best duck he's ever had, and I have to say, it was cooked to absolute perfection. Really amazing.

The conclusion was a dessert of some kind (we are neither of us big dessert people) - it was some kind of chocolate fudgey square, I think with blood orange? And some vanilla ice cream. Very nice, but not thrilling.

Overall, I think if I ever got the opportunity to go back, I would order off the menu, rather than doing the chef's tasting. To begin with - everything on the tasting was available a la carte. I had assumed, for whatever reason, that the tasting menu would have some exclusive aspects, but no. I would definitely swap out our first three courses for some other things on the menu that look more exciting, like the garlic soup and the steak tartare. In terms of amounts, for two people you'll want to each get an entree, and then 2-3 small plates to share, I suspect. When it's done right though, the food is impeccable - classic french with a japanese influence. Delicious. Overall, an absolutely glorious experience. I don't know if I'll make it back for dinner in the near future, but they also do a noodle lunch, which I'm dying to check out.