Dining Memories of 2009

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p1010253.JPGAll my close friends know that I am as passionate and as intensely curious about food and cuisine, from sourcing to plating, as I am about theater, film, and art, but I rarely write about them on this blog (in the two years and change that http://www.fromtheledge.com/ has been alive and kicking, I’ve posted approximately 16 food-related entries as compared to 143 for theater and 57 for film).  There’s only so much time and intellectual capacity that I have in a year to write about all the things and experiences that have made an indelible impression on me, so sometimes culinary matters get shunted aside in favor of other blog topics.  And, as I have said previously, there’s so many other people in this gastronomy-obsessed city we live in who can write about food more authoritatively and vividly than I can (plus have more gut-capacity and better digital-photo-taking skills than I have) that unless the culinary experience was quite unique, I probably wouldn’t be writing about it.  So my dining end-of-year-list has always been my attempt to share the myriad of dishes and dining experiences that left an impression on me during the year past.  I’ve tried very hard to keep the list to my Chicago dining experiences this year, unlike in previous lists, but I had to make an exception for the arguably singular, but also ambivalence-inducing, dining pilgrimage I made to The French Laundry in the summer, where some of the dishes stunned me into speechlessness, but where the overall culinary point of view felt somewhat old-fashioned.  Here, then, are my top ten dining memories of 2009:

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Pig Out

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So it was going to be on a Saturday, at 10:30 in the morning, with 20 F weather (relatively summer-like, though, compared to the past several days of 20 below weather) and massive snowbanks still blocking the alley behind my garage which restricted any conceivable ability to get my car out and running after a week.  But it was an event held by the Green City Market, one of the most essential fixtures of Chicago’s vibrant food culture and an organization I love to support, to celebrate their first year as a year-round market. It was going to have renowned Chicago chefs such as Topolobampo’s Rick Bayless, Blackbird’s Paul Kahan and Prairie Grass Cafe’s Sarah Stegner offerring tastings.  And the whole event, called “Snout to Tail: Showcasing Green City Market Pork” was going to be all about food which was near and dear to this Filipino’s heart.  So my friend Eric and I hightailed it to the Peggy Notebaert Museum in Lincoln Park, the site of the indoor Green City Market during the colder months, to partake of all kinds of pork tastings imaginable, on-a-freezing-Saturday-morning.  Well, I should have known, given the amount of food cooked and consumed at last year’s Green City Market Summer Barbecue, “tasting” was probably going to be an understatement.  Despite the massive crowds (the event was free, but you had to RSVP to the Market), there were boatloads of pork dishes on display which begged for not just seconds, but third and fourth helpings. My personal favorites were Bayless’ pozole, a luscious, pungent, seasonally-appropriate Mexican pork soup with chilis and cabbage, topped with a crispy tostada, which he was personally ladling on to tumblers; Kahan’s and The Publican’s Brian Huston’s surprising, hearty pork confit stew with chorizo and mussels; Stegner’s delicately grilled homemade pork sausage on top of sweet-savory pureed black beans; The Bristol chef Chris Pandel’s porchetta sandwich, the salumi wonderfully seasoned and finely sliced, served on a flaky brioche-like bun with mayonnaise; and Carnivale chef Mark Mendez’s robust, gut-kicking, system-shocking pork soup which employed all types of pork meat from all parts of the pig, from shredded pork to homemade chorizo to crispy chicharones to even crispier fried pig’s ears to tender pork jaw meat- it was wonderful!  My only relatively minor criticism, which hopefully the Market would improve in the upcoming tastings (there would be one every other Saturday at the Notebaert) would be to arrange the room flow and set-up better so that the Market’s vendors (who were all stationed at the outer perimeter of the room) would not be crowded out by the rabid, hungry, pushy foodies.  But it was a terrific event overall, which was a good way to spend a wintry Saturday morning.  With the heat generated by the passionate Chicago food community, chefs, purveyors, and consumers coming together once again, who needs Florida beach time?

Summer Feasts

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Chicago is food festival central every summer.  Of course, the motherlode of culinary shamelessness, the Taste of Chicago, just wrapped over the weekend (with the hue and cry over violence at the Taste overshadowing any discussions of the quality of the delicacies on view, or more apropros, in mouth).  There’s something for every self-styled Chicago foodie over the next several weeks; from street festivals such as the Taste of Lincoln Avenue (where Chad and Trixie-watching will trump any attempt at true gastronomy) to high-end food celebrations/benefit events such as the very noteworthy Share our Strength/Taste of the Nation at the Trump International Hotel and Tower to idiosyncratic discoveries such as the Sugar Grove Corn Boil in, uhmmm, Sugar Grove, Illinois.  Since corn isn’t my vegetable of choice and Sugar Grove isn’t this white-linen-pants-wearing boy’s kind of town, I’ll be attending, instead, two of the most interesting, culinary-wise, and most significant food events of the season.  Next week, on July 17, I’ll be at the Green City Market’s Chef’s Summer Barbecue Festival.  Of course, the Green City Market, with its wonderful selection of fresh, sustainably-farmed meat and vegetables from small farmers and agricultural producers, is legendary among Chicago food lovers, and this annual benefit event helps the Market continue to enrich Chicagoans’ culinary lives. The restaurants and chefs participating in the festival are some of the boldface names of the Chicago food scene:  Rick Bayless, Blackbird’s Paul Kahan, North Pond’s Bruce Sherman, James Beard winner Carrie Nahabedian of Naha, Food and Wine Best New Chefs of the Year Koren Grieverson (Avec) and Guiseppe Tentori (Boka), Green Zebra’s Shawn McLain, and Top Chef Chicago winner Stephanie Izard.  Wow, with this lineup, you know foodies are going to be buzzing like fruitflies to honey at the corner of Clark and Stockton.  Tickets are available online at the Spice House website or at the Green City Market every Wednesday and Saturday.  Check out the mouth-watering reportage, with yumm-o pics (yep, this whole post is unleashing not just my hunger but my inner Rachael Ray!), on last year’s event that was posted at foodie blog www.lthforum.com.

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