chinatown, chicago

I know I posted a few pictures of Chinatown, but I never got down to really talking about it. I feel like I’ve been cutting you all short (by you all I mean my mom and whoever else has time to read this). So, I will now describe my journeys through the little piece of China in Chicago.

“Old” Chinatown takes up most of Wentworth Avenue starting at the intersection of Wentworth and Cermak. A big red pavilion that reads “Welcome to Chinatown” makes this pretty obvious. When our Chinatown tour guide, Ploy asked us what the four Chinese characters said, my guess was YOLO. It actually says: “The world belongs to all,” written in the handwriting of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, founder of the Chinese Republic. I think my guess was pretty close though.

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Ploy led us on a decadent tour through Old Chinatown and NewChinatown (a coule blocks North), where we sampled “real” Chinese food and forgot about the blasphemies of Orange Chicken and General Tso. Even though I missed my Sweet n Sour Sauce just a little bit, the surprisingly delicious flavor in the taro puffs (which is a potato-like vegetable) and even the “Chinese” broccoli Tanner and I tried made me forget all about that heretic Panda Express. And hey, while I’m using all of these religious analogies, I should mention that the tour wasn’t ALL about food. We also visited a Buddhist temple and Ping Tom Park, where Ploy told us more about the history of China and one of its most popular religions. I really liked that she included personal stories of her time growing up in Hong Kong and Thailand as well. Even though the food was enough to keep me content, Ploy’s stories about the origin of some Chinese dishes, the miraculous powers of ginseng, and even how people in China tap the table to indiscreetly say “thank you” really rounded out the experience and gave me some time to digest after each mini-meal.

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If you are thinking about taking this tour or are just super nosy about what we got to eat, here’s a list:

1. tea, taro puffs, pork buns, Chinese broccoli, and pork dumplings at Triple Crown Restaurant. I don’t have any pictures of these because I was fighting against three grown men to get my fair share of food, but I plan to go back. For the pictures, I mean…

2. green tea with peach at Ten Ren. I went back for more…

3. ma po tofu, rice, eggplant (look at that purple!), spicy cabbage, and fried chicken with spicy peppers at Tony Hu’s Lao Sze Chuan. Very spicy, but so worth the tears, runny nose, and four cups of water.

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4. peking duck “crepes” with cucumber, scallions and “pancakes” at Lao Beijing, another Tony Hu restaurant. Ploy was so cute as she demonstrated to the group how to make a duck crepe using Tanner’s plate and ingredients. She tenderly placed several bits of duck meat and skin on the “pancake” (more or less a tortilla), followed by perfectly positioned sprigs of cucumber and scallion. She lighting baptized the creation in a plum sauce and had Tanner fold the pancake to make a sort of duck burrito. I was greteful for this demonstration, knowing that Tanner and the other men would have probably loaded up there ’tillas with the meats and ignored the green stuff. Or maybe that was me….

(I actually took a picture of this one too cuz it was so pretty)

IMG_0602[1]5. egg custard tart at Saint Anna Bakery. The crust was so good but the filling tasted like an omelet. I like omelets. But I didn’t know how to feel about this.

IMG_0638Even though the final restaurant and dessert didn’t impress me too much, Tanner remained curious and proceeded to get dried plums from a candy store as well as pork cookies, a moon cake, and other Chinese sweets from the local stores. I thought they were all pretty gross, being low in suger and lacking any chocolate at all. Or maybe it was the fact that most had either vegetables or meat in them. Bleh.

Overall, however, I found the tour of Chinatown to be worth every cent ($60 from Chicago Food Planet Food Tours). Ploy’s narration and the food we sampled made me feel as if we were actually in China for a little bit, and our day spent in this part of Chicago sparked my interest in actually going there myself and sampling more authentic food from local restaurants  After I got home I immediately looked up where I could get some quality dim sum in Cincinnati and quietly wept at the sparse results. You probably think that’s pathetic but I believe it’s a REAL ISSUE. Someone please let me know if you frequent a great dim sum place near the 45247 area code or just happen to own a little Asian woman with some great cooking skills (I’d like to borrow her). In the meantime I’ll be contacting Tony Hu to see if he can open up a couple places in the Nati.

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GIRL AND THE GOAT

I’m still dreaming about this meal. 

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And mourning the future of my bank account.

But it was all so worth it.

As soon as I found out I would be working in Chicago this summer, I immediately made a reservation for Girl and the Goat. Like, seriously, I didn’t make a packing list or even find an apartment, I made a reservation for dinner. I wasn’t even sure what Girl and the Goat offered (although goat items was a guess). I wasn’t sure if I could afford to eat there (which is still in question). All I knew is that that is where everyone told me to wine and dine. But mostly dine.

So when the day arrived (yesterday), I could hardly believe I was finally going to the place I made a reservation at THREE MONTHS AGO. You plan things like vacations and class schedules that far ahead, not one night’s dinner. All the hype and anticipation only. The girl, the goat, and Maddie. Two girls and a goat. I like  made me more excited for my dinner with The Girl and the Goat. The girl, the goat, and Maddie. Two girls and a goat. I like it.

But in actuality it was just me and Tanner. And some goat.

I had had a pretty rough day by the time I got there, but suddenly the hours of AutoCAD and the sandstorm/sideways rain I had just endured were now unimportant. BECAUSE I WAS AT GIRL AND THE GOAT. The waitstaff were the most polite and attentive waitstaff to have ever waited on me, and I desperately wanted to be friends with our waitress, Danielle (is it creepy that I remember her name?). She was very upbeat and gave us great recommendations and explanations, even if she warned us that three plates each might be a little heavy. Haha, Danielle. You do not know the depths of my stomach.

And so, here it is, our feast line-up:

Blood and Goats. Monkey Shoulder Scotch, Leopold Tart Cherry , Savannah Madeira, Orange.

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Kona Kampachi Crudo. Crisp pork belly, chili aioli, caperberries.

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Goat Empanadas. Romesco, radish-endive slaw.

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Wood Oven Roasted Pig Face. Sunny side egg, tamarind, cilantro, red wine-maple, potato sticks.

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Peek a boo!

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Chickpea Fritters. Royal trumpet mushrooms, okra-tomato relish, mushroom aioli, prairie fruits chevre.

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Duck Tongues. Tuna & black bean poke, crispy wontons, piri pir.

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Crisp Braised Pork Shank. Grilled spring onion kimchee, buttermilk dressing, naan.

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Everything was delicious–especially the pork shank. Danielle informed us was a take on the chicken wing with a crispy outer skin and fall-off-the bone meat, complete with a ranch-like sauce and buffalo sauce.

If that wasn’t enough, we also got dessert. And I wanted two.

However, Danielle, being the sweetheart that she is, took note when we said that we were celebrating our three-year anniversary and brought us a third dessert as well!

Strawberry Parfait. Buttermilk custard, shortcake crumble, salted pistachio.

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Miso-Butterscotch Budino. Bacon toffee, glazed pineapple, candied cashews.

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Goat cheese bavaroise. Sweet corn nougat, blueberries.

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Since I measure my nights in laughs had, calories consumed, and money spent, I’d say it was a night well spent. 

livin’ like a local

This weekend I totally felt like a local Chicagoan, and this time it wasn’t because all of my meals consisted of hot dogs with no ketchup and deep-dish pizza.

Saturday involved heading to the Near West Side for a volunteer day with archi-treasures. The event was cancelled because of rain, so instead I headed to the Loop to shop. That sentence sounds pretty casual, like I just walked down my neighborhood street to Snobug. But I was nearly sweating bullets about which train or bus to take, and my phone was acting like it only knew how to tell time. I knew that if I took the bus I took to get to the volunteer site I could get to a Blue Line stop, so I decided to go with that and see if I could get myself there. Fortunately I didn’t accidently end up in Oak Park or anything and exited the subway safely in the heart of the Loop. I could hardly believe that I had been able to do this at all, much less without using my phone. I found myself on State, a shopping mecca, but I knew I had to get some food first. I remembered that a place called Max’s Takeout was somewhere in the Loop, so I searched Google Maps for “food” on my phone. While my phone clearly doesn’t pick up on my anxiety towards getting lost, it certainly knows that a full stomach is my biggest priority and located Max’s a mere three blocks away.

That it where I encountered this, a Gyro Burger. Mmmmm…..

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That baby supplied me with all of the energy and fat I needed to shop for the next three hours and head off a hangover from the night before. It succeeded in both, but I neglected to think about how bloated it would make me feel while trying on crop tops.

Next I went to get my haircut at Bello, a place that’s almost as north as Evanston but was rumored to only charge $20 for a haircut and still be great. So, although I had to sit on a train for an hour each way, I did get a pretty great haircut and some cool photos of my commute.

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I still find it so amazing to just hop on a bus or train and have it take me anywhere in the city. Sure, I put myself in the position of having to give a dollar to desperate accordion players and maybe sit next to someone smelly, but it beats having to find a parking spot or stress out about taxis cutting me off or accidentally dooring a cyclist.

The unique part of Chicago’s trains is that they aren’t completely underground–they come up for air most of the time, careening over streets and bridges, swerving through high-rises and houses, and giving glimpses of each neighborhood it passess through. I found it amazing to be at eye-level with somebody’s office while still in the loop and viewing the details of each building from a place that wasn’t on the ground or in the building itself. It was odd to be viewing something in a way that was so unnatural, yet obviously so commonplace for the city itself.

After becoming a food and transit connoisseur this weekend, I became an official Chicago library card holder, a true mark of my Chicagoan status. With this plastic, poorly designed (?) card, I have the freedom to check out all the books I want (limited to 5 within the first month, however). Getting this card was nothing less than a pain in the ass after needing proof of my residency, but acquiring it means that I can wear it as a symbol to all that I am, in fact, NOT a tourist.

IMG_0434[1]Also, our library is ironically located in the Chicago Visitors’ Center. Even though this card is an obvious sign that I am a true Chicagoan (now), I didn’t really help my cause when I spent a good amount of time looking through Chicago brochures and attraction information.