Thursday, October 28, 2010


A few years ago, a group of friends gathered on a Monday night at a wonderful Portuguese establishment known as Alfama for what became a historic dinner. On that night, John introduced me to Shawn, Max and Beth and their assorted friends for the first time.  We had the best group chemistry since organisms hatched on Keith Richard's coffee table. We made a pact do gather for what would henceforth be known as the Alfama Rectangular Table every couple of months on a Monday. And with a revolving group of special guests, we made it happen.

Sadly, in 2009, Alfama was forced to close and we thought we had nowhere to go. For months, we languished. Then after a few friendly and delicious dinners at Kafana, New York City's first Serbian restaurant, opened by architect and beloved former Mona's bartender, Vladimir "Vladdy" Ocokoljic, John and I realized we'd found a new home.

This past Monday was our fall gathering. In attendance were the usual suspects mentioned above, along with Max's lovely girlfriend, Maya, as well as Steve and his wife Kristine, who I got to hang out with for the first time. As usual, the wine (this time a juicy, light, red Montenegro, Plantaze Pro Corde 2007) flowed with the laughter. And it was hard not to gorge ourselves silly.

I had forgotten my good camera at home, and so you'll have to put up with the slightly blurry images from my iPhone here. As Shawn sang while I snapped, to the tune of the Smith's "Boy With the Thorn In His Side," I was the Girl With the Phone and the Blog:

The water is served in these great milk jars that say, "Milk is your best food buy."
The vino.

The food came to the table in abundance family style. First out, the cheese and spinach pies along with the smoked meat, pickles and cheeses.

Then my personal favorite, warm, fresh baked pita style bread with soft cheese melted inside.

Little fried spelts. Spicy aoli on the side (not pictured).

We were then served bright purple cabbage slaw with tangy vinegar sauce and tomato and cucumber salad with feta cheese. 

Then the meat platters! Roasted pork loin, chicken skewers, chorizoesque sausage, link sausage, bacon-wrapped chicken livers and dates. My heart "thanked" me repeatedly, building speed.

This is served with perfect, crisp fries and smoky-sweet baked beans. I love that they use large butter beans for this.

Sadly, the limitations of my phone camera did not allow the photos of the group to come out. But just know we were smiling. 

And... scene.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cross Blogging

A little shameless self-promotion here. My first review on Brooklyn Foodie went up today! Click beginning of last line for the link.

bklyn foodie

 A review of Sam's around the corner. Abondanza!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Chicago! Part Two

When we last left our vacationing heroes, we'd had a fantastic haute Mexican meal with Anastasia and Liza in Pilsen. My highlights of that meal were a salad of jicama, yellow squash, greens and pumpkin seed vinaigrette as well as chipotle grilled shrimp with cilantro cream, thick bacon fried rice with basil and the best ever vanilla creme brulee with cinnamon ice cream. John and I found the Silver Cloud bar on the way back from the Damen Ave. "L." Still able to leap tall glasses of Templeton Rye in a single bound. But first, a cool Sailor Jerry ad painted on the side of a building there.

And Audrey.

Facade of building. Space below for rent!

Next day was spent brunching, walking and seeing "Detroit" at the Steppenwolf Theater. A thrill to see Laurie Metcalf live in action.  After the play, we all walked back downtown. Here are Liza and Anastasia in the park adjacent to the Newbury Library.

With time before dinner, John and I split to have a quick drink at Mike's Fast Food and Bar, a lovable dive, while the ladies continued to stroll. We met up again at the Publican for an incredible feast. An homage to Chicago's hog industry roots, the menu is heavy on the pork, with fresh seafood and market veggie dishes too. Everything meant to be shared. Standout dishes were Fideus served in an iron pan with pasta, chorizo, braised rabbit, escargot and an amazing rich tomato sauce as well as marinated grilled ribs with a tangy salty/sweet rub. But even the broccoli and brussels sprouts were insanely flavorful.

Next up, the Violet Hour. Gorgeous setting for cocktails both in and out of the glass. Chandeliers, gray velvet curtains, soft white light, it really feels like stepping into homemade twilight. The drinks are pretty awesome too.

Hibiscus Old Fashioned: Old Weller Antique 107, hibiscus syrup, house orange bitters. 

Liza started playing with my camera.

She had been working on this project for school all weekend, furiously folding origami from found flyers, subway maps and posters. Here's a peak into her bag of folded paper.
Liza's beautiful brown eyes.

We did stop at our new local, the Silver Cloud on the walk back (hey, vacation, plus when were we coming back?). I loved the Schlitz sign on this bar further up the street.

We had a few hours the next day before our flight. Sadly, no time for the deep dish pizza I'd been hoping for, but at least a quality visit to the Arts Institute museum. Liza was in class across the street and Anastasia joined John and me for a look in the various galleries. I loved how spacious and well laid out the art was, bringing that into focus instead of busy surrounding architecture and rooms cramped with too much to look at. I get easily fatigued in museums, but this one felt energetic and light.

I especially enjoyed the old Stock Exchange trading room designed by Louis Sullivan, which had been painstakingly salvaged and rebuilt after the rest of the building was demolished in 1972.


It was also thrilling to see some essential iconic paintings such as "American Gothic" and "Nighthawks" up close. John was especially into the "Portrait of Dorian Gray."

Then in a blink, quick goodbye to Anastasia, and John and I were back on the "L" to O'Hare, JFK and life as I know it. I'd been to Chicago before, in another life, but it was great to play there when it's not too cold to explore. You were delicious, Windy City! Hope to see you again soon. And get pizza this time.

Oh wait, Gino's East ships????

Chicago! Part One

Got a little break this past weekend, finally. Anastasia's birthday was coming up, and her daughter, Liza (you might know her from such blog posts as "Drinking Nancy's Wine"), had just started school at the Art Institute of Chicago. John had plans to meet them there and invited me along. Thanks to a Jet Blue sale and a rare free weekend, off I went!

Arrived Friday night and checked in at Ray's Bucktown B & B. Highly recommend this comfortable, friendly, modern and convenient place to stay if you're ever in town. Then off to a spectacular dinner nearby at the Bristol, where, after a moderate wait at the bar upstairs, we shared a bottle of Vietti Barbera Tre Vignes '07 and gorged on warm monkey bread, a salad with pumpkin croutons, bone marrow with red wine shallot jam, braised rabbit with artichokes and duck egg sammy. Liza came to meet us and after a failed attempt to get into the Whistler, found a great Spanish bar for tapas de la noche.

John and I had some time next day before meeting the ladies. Fab brunch at Hot Chocolate (although I've seen faster service at the DMV in Snailville) and off for a walk downtown. A beautiful, crisp fall day for a city tour, the river boat cruise was booked for the day, so what the heck, we got on a double-decker bus. Sober. Despite an irritatingly showy tour guide who felt the need to LOUDLY point out chain store ubiquitous shopping sites along the way, saw some cool building.


I was especially taken with the Aqua building, designed by Jeanne Gang. A truly feminine, elegant design, it evokes movement and undulation at every angle. Too bad we were moving so quickly as we approached.

We met Liza and Anastasia (just in from Seattle) at Liza's apartment in Pilsen before dinner nearby. The hood is mostly Mexican, with lots of public art and great food.

Waiting for the "L" Pink line to Pilsen.

Even the manhole covers in Pilsen reflect ancient Mexican art.

John on the Pink line stairs.

City view from the "L." Train arriving soon to take us to our Damen Ave. local, the Silver Cloud. Delicious Templeton rye from Iowa (not yet available in NYC) and "War Games" on the bar telly await.