Monday, 27 September 2010

The Wild Garlic this Friday - Burmese Night


Back in June, I told you all that the lovely Mat Follas (MasterChef winner 2009) was allowing me to take over his restaurant in Dorset.

That time is finally approaching - this Friday, with the help of Mat and his brilliant crew, I will be cooking a Burmese feast for 40 diners at
the Wild Garlic.

The menu is a secret, but one of the ingredients I will be using is pictured above.

Mr Follas and me

You can read more about my forthcoming Burmese night on Foodies South West.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Edzo's Burger Shop, Evanston


Sometimes when you go somewhere, there's something you always have to try. If you're in Italy, you need to go for pizza. If you're in Hong Kong, you need to check out the dimsum. If you're in Japan, you need to track down some sushi.

And if you're in the US, you really ought to have a burger.

I'd heard folk rave about In-N-Out before, and been impressed by Harold and Kumar's quest for White Castle, but as I was based in Evanston, the place I was interested in was a small, independent joint called Edzo's Burger Shop.


Open every day except Monday from 10.30 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon, Edzo's is a quirky treasure. Whilst it's true that the bottomless soda machine comes as standard, there's also a range of unusual soft drinks such as bottles of guava and tamarind pop.

And the four dollar milkshakes come in a range of enticing flavours, with specials for a dollar more - the day we visit, the specials are Spicy Mexican Chocolate and Michigan Blueberry, but we happily settle for a standard hot fudge shake.


We also order a Char Burger, medium rare with swiss cheese "and everything", a Hand Dipped Corn Dog, and two different types of hand-cut fries - Angry Fries (which come with four types of chilli), and Cheese Fries - sadly they're all out of the Truffle Fries (with truffle salt and parmesan).

The genial Edzo himself (aka Eddie Lakin) takes my order and asks my name - this startles me before I realise it's just to identify me when my food is ready.


The hot fudge shake arrives first. This is the best milkshake I have ever had, bar none.

Rich, saucy, creamy, caramelly sweet, and topped by swirl upon swirl of real whipped cream and a glace cherry.


My name is called again, so I spring up to collect the Char Burger, Corn Dog and fries.

The Char Burger is fat and perfectly medium rare, dripping meaty juices and tastes of proper beef (it's USDA choice chuck which they grind themselves every morning).
No wonder it was voted Best New Burger of 2010 by the Chicago Reader.

It's so good I wonder just how good the special Farmer's Market burgers they do on Saturdays must be - those babies are made from well-hung, artisan beef and cost $15 a pop.

The Corn Dog is also fantastic - a crunchy batter shell gives way to moist cornbread surrounding a fine dog inside.


The Angry Fries are a little too OTT for my liking - the jalapeno peppers are a nice tangy touch, but the pepper sauce (Tabasco?) is a dousing too far, rendering the hand-cut fries a bit of a soggy, spicy mess.

However, the Cheese Fries are a guilty pleasure - somehow the clagginess of the fries is forgiveable when hot melted cheese is the cause.

Portions are huge as well as delicious, the atmosphere is fun and friendly - I can see why Edzo's is packed every lunchtime, and if I'm ever in the area again, I'll definitely stop by.

Edzo's Burger Shop
1571 Sherman Avenue

Edzo's Burger Shop on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Girl and the Goat, Chicago


I don't like trendy restaurants. You won't see me at the launch for the latest hip and happening place unless it's an accident; for example I once walked off the streets into the Wolseley when it first opened. I probably couldn't get a reservation now, but for what it's worth I rather liked it.

But when I'm abroad, I often find myself homing in on places that are "cool", because those are the places that come onto my radar - certainly whenever I ask for a recommendation, nine times out of ten someone will suggest a fashionable hotspot.

However, it's thanks to some local friends personally taking us that the husband and I find ourselves going to Girl and the Goat which has just that week graced the cover of Time Out Chicago. I have to admit I feel a certain frisson at being on the cutting edge for once, but this thrill is clouded rather by the concern that a certain Nathan Barley-esque Chicago-dweller who I have no desire to bump into might also be there.


The male friend A is aghast to hear that neither the hubby and I are very keen on goat's cheese, as he's under the impression that the venue's name denotes a goaty theme, but the female friend J quickly sets us straight - the West Loop restaurant in fact focuses more generally on Mediterranean flavors and local ingredients. The chef is "Top Chef" Season 4 winner Stephanie Izard, which makes the place even more media-friendly.

We arrive for our reservation to be told that despite booking we have to wait for our table. So we stand in the entrance as there's nowhere else to go - there's a lounge area to the left but it's already full of impatient looking people. Such is the price of popularity / TV fame. This place is LOUD and "funky", but after 15 minutes, it's thankfully time for us to sit down - and we move a metre diagonally to a table next to the front of house's desk.


The waitress tells us that three dishes each is a good idea as they're "sharing plates". The menu is pretty irresistible, so this carte blanche to order with abandon is brilliant. Our menfolk are nerds - out comes an iPhone to make a list of exactly what we want -
no duplications so we can cover all bases. The waitress takes drinks orders and then asks us to whip out our IDs which I find hilarious and slightly inappropriate.

While we wait for our drinks, I coo over the goaty paraphernalia - the adorable logo is emblazoned on everything. The glassware is similarly desirable - J's wine comes in the cutest carafe. The boy's beers arrive - A's is twice the price of my husband's for no obvious gustatory reason. I've ordered a cocktail called the Pirate Norman, mainly because it sounds a bit like the Dread Pirate Roberts.


The waitress then goes AWOL whilst we sip our drinks slowly to eke them out. Finally she returns to take our order and says, "That's too much" with a stony face. She retracts her statement that three dishes each is appropriate, claiming she meant three per couple. Rats. After a short and slightly heated confab, we manage to whittle down our choices.

Bread comes swiftly - we've asked for the special of "Nutty Apple Smack" (how could we not?). It's the best bread I've ever had - warm, slightly crusty and studded with generous nubbins of pistachio. The dips of apple sauce and mayo are just gilding the lily.

First proper dishes arrive - shaved kohlrabi salad, fennel, blueberries, Evalon (a raw goat's milk cheese from Wisconsin's Saxon Homestead Creamery), toasted sliced almonds. This is refreshing with lively textures - and the Evalon is actually pretty good.

The "animal" special is smoked duck-stuffed shrimp. There's just two of the beasts and they're kinda dainty.


They're tasty, but not half as good as the waitress made them out to be - she really sold us that specials menu.

Another "animal" special arrives of smokey whipped fat back, Bourbon onions and biscuits. It's exactly what it sounds like - smokey pork fat whipped to a creamy texture - and much too greasy for me, even when schmeared over the wonderfully flakey biscuits (the American kind) and eaten with pickled onion slivers.


Next up is hiramasa crudo, crisp pork belly, aji aioli and caperberries. I really, really like this dish - the combo of sashimi and sweet, crispy pork is wonderful.

But there's not nearly enough of it for my liking. Damn this sharing plates system. Damn it to hell.


Next is escargot & goatballs, romesco, bagna cauda, almonds. Sadly not caprine naughty bits, but dense meatballs - well-made and well-flavoured, though the accompanying snails are rubbery.

I can't really taste the romesco either - at least nothing that resembles the gloriously smokey stuff I've been taught to make.


We're really excited about the next dish. It's billed as pork liver mousseline, ham hock jus, apple mustarda and crumpets. Crumpets!

Like any good Brit, the husband and I adore a hot crumpet, enraptured by every hole oozing with butter. A & J, our American friends are equally excited as they've no idea what to expect. The food turns up and -

These are not crumpets.


The rest of it is sound - a smooth, meaty mousse, a feisty take on picallili.

But -

These are not crumpets.


The next dish is the one I've been looking forward to the most, described as wood oven-roasted pig face, sunny side egg, tamarind, cilantro, potato stix [sic].

Awful spelling apart, I can't wait to add to my roster of animal's faces I have eaten, so I'm sorely disappointed to receive a slice of underpowered brawn.

The wood-fired wiley point oysters with horseradish aioli are even more disappointing - neither hot, nor cold, but creepily lukewarm, suddenly I get why some people liken oysters to snot.


You may have noticed that that's eight dishes so far - the waitress was wrong - six clearly isn't enough, so we order a few more.

The next couple of dishes are magnificent as far as I'm concerned.

Seared scallops, braised veal, caponata and marcona almond butter provides enormous, tender, juicy scallops (I think they're just big over here) - and the dish as a whole is well-composed.

Our friends think the seasoning for the grilled baby octopus, guanciale and lemon-pistachio vinaigrette is too heavy-handed, but I'm lapping up the umami and trying not to purr.


Our last dish is ham frites with smoked tomato aioli and smoked swiss cheese sauce. Apparently Izard dehydrates ham, pulverizes it and then tosses it with salt to season these crispy fries.

Our friend A sums them up perfectly when he dubs them "the dessert-killers". The fries are just too salty, too savoury, too intense for anything else to pass our lips.

Mind you, the puddings don't sound too appealing anyway - sweetcorn nougat? Candied eggplant? Dragon's milk?


So we call it a day and finally ask for the bill, and when it comes we're pleasantly surprised.

Partly because it's fairly reasonable, partly because it's by the far the funniest list of items we've ever seen.


Girl and the Goat - slightly silly name, slightly silly place, slightly silly food.

But I liked it, you know, and it's definitely a keeper.

And it shows what good can come out of these cookery competition TV programmes ...

Girl and the Goat
809 West Randolph St
IL 60607

Girl & the Goat on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

L2O Restaurant, Chicago (3 Michelin Stars)


It's my first trip to the States. I've just quit my job. I'm waaay too over-excited, but I catch my breath long enough to ask where's good to eat in the Windy City. L2O is suggested to me by gourmet traveller and, without hesitation, I book.

The husband and I are revelling at the view from the top of the Hancock Tower - he waves his hand loftily in the direction of L2O and said "It's just over there - it'll take us 20 minutes to get there, 25 minutes max".

45 minutes later, we're hot and bothered and seem to have overshot L2O as it's nowhere to be found. Turns out it's hidden inside the Belden Stratford hotel behind a nondescript door which is shut tight. The restaurant website is not clear about this, but then it's an arse to navigate and the background muzak meant I did not spend long perusing.

A family in front of us tug on the door handle and peer inside curiously, and then, seemingly startled, scurry off to leave us to walk in gingerly.


The dining room is dark and moody and reeks of hotel. Four suited members of staff spring from nowhere and show us to our table.

One of them delivers a dome of Australian butter to the table which for reasons unknown my husband christens "the Brain" and then offers us a choice of seven different types of dinky bread.

I choose a small baguette and a square roll (is that an oxymoron?), hubby chooses a rosemary croissant and a whorl of some sort (look, I don't know bread names and she reels them off way too quickly).

I chew on my tiny breads and stare at what looks like a filing cabinet next to our table. I can't resist opening the door - it's full of napery and cutlery for our meal.


There's a four course menu of Cold, Warm, Main and Dessert, or a choice of two tasting menus. We umm and ahh and then go for the Seasonal ie standard tasting menu rather than the Singular ie super-deluxe one.

The Seasonal menu comprises twelve courses described in an infuriatingly laconic way as Medai • Tuna • Tofu • Fluke • Scallop • Tai • Lobster • Hiramasa • King Salmon • Beef Tenderloin • Raspberry • Peanut Butter.

The waitress also gives us a sustainable fish glossary which I fail to read as I'm too busy stroking the paper - all the menus feel oddly velvety - it's addictively pleasing and yet somehow worryingly redolent of the Evil Dead Necronomicon.


First though are two amuse bouches - a flavourful morsel of lobster, and a savoury (yet anaemic-tasting) egg custard.

The latter is presented to me by a male waiter with a shy smile and the words, "Look, your one has a face". Husband's in hysterics.


Next up is "Medai, Ume, Sudashi, Fried Garlic".

The fish is deliciously ceviched (if I can use that as a verb), the Japanese citrus and apricot sauce providing a fantastic bite, though my husband thinks it's too sharp.

We both love the crunchy garlic chips though, which haven't a trace of bitterness.


This is followed by their take on a fish taco - tuna in a "taco shell" of agar with tiny melon balls, freeze-dried corn and salsa verde.

This is fun and the flavours harmonise well.

By the way - that filing cabinet is about to see some heavy use. After every course, someone scoops away all our cutlery and other accoutrements and lays out a new set. Seems like overkill to me.


A light dish of "T
ofu, Itogaki, White Miso" comes next - basically hiyayakko with home-made tofu. The miso sauce is too strong for the delicate tofu.

And I've just looked up "itogaki" to find out exactly what the difference is between it and katsuobushi (bonito flakes) and apparently itogaki is blue fin tuna and now I'm upset - what the feck is the point of your sustainable fish glossary, L2O?

I digress.


Fluke! Fluke is next. I don't like the word "fluke" - it makes me think of liver flukes aka parasitic flatworms aka boak - but it's what they call flounder in the States.

It's a tiny piece on a vast plate - despite the dainty little flower, it looks sad. I eat it in one bite. It's fine.


Things look up with the next course - "Diver Scallop, Sauvignon Blanc, Vanilla, Passionfruit".

It's the fattest, sweetest scallop I've had in a long time with an unexpectedly delicious floret of caramelised cauliflower on top.


Even better is the first of the "mains" in our tasting menu. This is "Tai Snapper, Green Curry Deconstructed". This, my friends, is freaking awesome and not just the snapper itself. The wafer of fish-skin is crispy-awesome. The cilantro (cough, coriander) meringue is chewy-awesome. The green curry sherbet is crumbly-awesome. Even the random Brussels sprout leaves perched on top are leafy-awesome.

I want to dance around the floor wearing this dish on my head like a crown. But I want to eat it as well. I decide against the dancing.


More bliss comes in the form of more lobster - this time two generous chunks in a rich and frothy bisque.

Not quite as exciting as our green curry but it still calls for a tiny jig.


From great heights, we sadly have to descend. Hirama
sa shabu-shabu is next on the bill.

What larks to swish-swish cook the food ourselves, but it's a flaccid fondue at best. I suddenly feel a little daft waiting for my slice of daikon as it warms through feebly in the konbu bouillon - especially as I prefer it in its crunchy-raw state.


King salmon next. I have zero recollection of this dish apart from the asparagus. Because asparagus stays with you, right? Right?

(dear God, being in America has turned me into a third-rate late night US chatshow host).


Some "Korean Barbecue" to follow - Beef Tenderloin, Kimchi, Rapini, Lettuce.

The home-pickled kimchi is brilliantly authentic-tasting. The rapini is also good, similar to celeriac remoulade. The lettuce is nicely braised with sesame, but the beef is just an un-barbecued wodge of tedium.

Doesn't seem right that the veggie sides should out-perform the meaty centrepiece, but they do.


Sweet stuff arrives. An un-billed cube of Guanaja chocolate truffle.

Deep, dark and deliciously bitter - things are looking up again.

And then something amazing.

Another un-billed pudding which looms at me delightfully. What is it? It's ... it's ... it's Kuato from Total Recall.

This pleases the husband and me no end. Hubby says "Why don't you ask Dr Tim* to make you a Kuato cake? He's a cake genius. That would be incredible". And I think yes, yes, that would be the most wonderful cake in the history of wonderful cakes ever and I resolve to do so.

And incidentally folks, that's two dishes with a face from L2O. That's got to be unprecedented.

The pud itself is just fancy Angel Delight. But that's not the important thing. The important thing is Kuato.


My cup of happiness then overflows when they bring out the first advertised dessert - "Raspberry, Golden Yuzu, Mascarpone".

A cube of solid yuzu essence and gold leaf is dissolved in light syrup before being poured over the mascarpone, fresh raspberries, and tiny spheres of raspberry juice, the last of which disperse whimsically and mix with the gold flecks looking like real raspberries which have somehow collapsed.


Not only is this dish the prettiest of them all, it's heavenly to boot. One of the best desserts I have ever had.

Look how happy I am. Look!


I'm still basking in the glory when suddenly three dark-suited people appear above us.

I'm momentarily concerned we're about to be carted off for some unknown misdemeanour, but it turns out that the last dessert has arrived - and a little prematurely.

"Sorry, it's hard to time these things", they shrug at us, as they whisk away the remnants of my raspberry joy and set down our peanut butter souffles.

A shadow passes across my face as I think we're paying them enough to get it right.


The shadow turns to thunder as we quickly realise the souffle is a disappointment, tasting of nothing but over-cooked egg and peanuts, making it weirdly savoury.

I have a few spoonfuls and leave the rest, wishing I could replay my time with the raspberry dessert.


But no time for nostalgia, the meal is coming to an end. Some petits fours arrive - a honey canelé "sealed with beeswax" and a passionfruit marshmallow.

The canele is solid and crunchy and tastes of candle - I decide right then that there's no need for anyone to eat beeswax in this world. The passionfruit marshmallow is okay, but was executed much better at Seafood Cellar in Reykjavik (possibly the best meal I have ever had, so Lord knows why I haven't written about it yet).

We don't feel like coffee, so we ask for the bill. I have a vague idea of how much it will be, but I'm still not prepared for the shock.

My husband says, "Hey, it's to celebrate your new job".

I say, "Hey, we'll be living on ketchup sachets pilfered from Burger King for a month".

So despite the wondrous deconstructed green curry and raspberry yuzu dessert, sadly the most memorable thing about L2O is the price. There are too many misses to justify the expense.

The fact is, I've eaten food just as stunning as those two magical dishes for a fraction of the cost and luckily I don't need to cross the Atlantic to enjoy it.


L2O Restaurant
2300 Lincoln Park West
IL 60614

L2o on Urbanspoon

*aka Tim Kinnaird

EDITED 16/11/2010: So L2O has just been awarded 3 Michelin Stars. THREE MICHELIN STARS. I am surprised.