Ladies Who Brunch

Waffles by disastercouch
November 27, 2011, 4:39 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Oh, the one-word named Brunch place.  Nothing says “We are a family friendly but style conscious breakfast eatery” like a name that evokes a single breakfast staple:  Yolk, Jam, Toast, Orange, and of course the ultimate: Brunch, recently opened in River North.  What separates Waffles from this pack?  Unlike the above listed establishments, which all serve the full range of breakfast items, Waffles pretty much sticks to the promise it makes in its name:  this place specializes in Waffles, Waffles of all shapes and sizes with all kinds of toppings.

They do have a small collection of non-waffle based items — you could get an omelet here, or, I imagine, the two eggs, bacon, and hash brown breakfast that boring people seem unable to live withou — but seriously, when in Rome, order waffles.

We tried three variations, which ranged from the inexplicable to the sublime.  The short rib and cheddar waffle, which called out to me from the menu as a siren calling out to Odyseuss, was a big dissappointment.  The braised short ribs themselves were quite tasty, if a touch on the dry side, but the cheddar was severely lacking; instead of the gluttonous pile of melted cheese I had hoped for, the dish was garnished with a few stray crumbs of cheese — not even proper shreds but literally little crumbs.  The waffle itself was supposedly cheddar infused — again, bitter disappointment.  Visions of the breakfast equivalent of Cheddar Bay biscuits danced in my head, but I must say there was no discernible cheddar taste.

Another savory waffle combo, the house variation on eggs benedict, was greeted with much more success.  Two waffles topped with pork carnitas, nicely poached eggs, and hollandaise — the key to success here was the use of sweet waffles as the base, which took this from what might have been a mundane but palatable benedict to the level of iconic item, the best sweet-savory waffle combo since chicken and waffles.

Still, our hands down favorite was the over indulgent breakfast-as-dessert Red Velvet waffle.  Visually stunning, bright red waffle battered, cooked to cakety-crispety perfection, liberally dolloped with an unholy hybrid of cream cheese and whipped cream, and a sugary macerated red fruit jam.  I generally count myself amongst Red Velvet haters, perhaps having sampled one too many uninspired RV cupcakes, but this was the proof of concept my taste center had been waiting for.

I pretty much don’t recommend visiting the South Loop, but in case you wake up one day and find you live in one of those horrible plain vanilla high rises around 14th street, you could do worse for breakfast.

Waffles.  1400 S Michigan Chicago, IL 60605. (312) 854-8572.  Open daily 8am-3pm.  $18-22 per person.

Put a little chili pepper in it: Lao Szechuan by disastercouch
November 27, 2011, 4:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Every chef I know swears by this place and its no wonder.  It’s one of the only restaurants in town that serves legitimately spicy food (insert obligatory shout out to Khan BBQ, Xni-Pec and Sticky Rice).

It’s mandatory to start out with a bowl of the extra spicy soup.  Add in a handful of the Szechuan pepper spiked cabbage and you’ll be sweating within a few bites.  The particularly bite of the Szechuan pepper is irresistible, a dry heat that tickles the back of the throat and sends you back for more before the pain of the first bite has subsided.  In terms of raw heat, it’s a few notches below the habanero or thai bird, but definitely not for the faint of heart.

The pepper shines again in the restaurant’s signature dish, a spicy chicken hot pot.  Over time, and many meals at venerable establishments such as Sun Wah, I have come to appreciate the Chinese technique of butchering poultry.  Unlike the Western method, in which the goal is to separate as much meat from the bone as possible, Chinese chefs tend to cut directly across the bone, insuring a little shard in most every bite.  It makes for a messy experience, but what is lost in convenience is made up for in flavor, with the earthy and rich flavors of bone and marrow adding an added dimension to each bite.  This is showcased well in the bubbling hot pot, where piping hot bits of fried chicken float in a broth of chili pepper and scallion, each steaming bite a harbinger of severe but well earned heartburn to come.

One of the standard dishes we use as a basis of comparison amongst Chinese restaurants is Ma Po Tofu.  Typically, my favorite thing about this dish is the addition of ground pork to the tofu base, a delightfully delicious slap in the face to tofu chomping vegans.  Lao Szechuan’s version actually is vegetarian, but they are forgiven, as the silky smooth tofu becomes yet another vehicle for spicy pepper infused broth.  The final touch is a generous scoop of toasted rice powder on top, adding depth and soul to the dish; this exactly the kind of thing that can sustain you through a dreary Chicago winter.

The service at Lao Szechuan is pretty much par for the course in Chinatown; I would appreciate a few more concessions to gaijin-style dining, such as regular water refills, but with few enough options in town for true chili-heads, I’m willing to suffer regular long lines and somewhat inattentive service for a few tongue tingling bites of true Szechuan cuisine.

Finally, a word about dumplings:  try the pork dumplings here, they are nothing special but they are oh-so-special in that they are exactly right, the perfect size with a perfectly spiced dense pork meatball in the center, pefectly steamed and perfectly pan fried to just the right level of char on the outside.

Lao Szechuan 2172 South Archer Avenue  Chicago, IL 60616.  (312) 326-5040.  Open daily from 11am to midnight.  Reservations accepted for large parties.  $15-20/person.