Archive for July, 2010

#45 – Sushi at Lawrence Fish Market


2010
07.25

One of the benefits of living in Albany Park is certainly the diversity in food and culture. While gentrification continually creeps its way into this northwest side neighborhood, Albany Park still keeps plenty of secrets in its boundaries. One a hot day bordering on triple-digits, I stopped by Lawrence Fish Market to take in the scenery and wait for some under the radar sushi.

Inside Lawrence Fish Market, you’ll find the charm and glitz befitting an Albany Park butcher shop with its mopped over tiles and disorganized random assortment of boxes throughout the shop. Being nearly 100°F out, I fully expected to wait out the ten minutes for them to roll together sushi in near swamp-like humidity. Stepping in, I was greeted with a blast of cold air coming from the cooling system and various vents throughout – the cargo here is fresh and precious, and Lawrence Fish Market does its best to protect it!

I filled out for an order with a spider roll, rainbowl roll, tuna maki, unagi nigiri and some ika nigiri all for under $20. The waiting game began and I took my camera to take a better view of the classic mini-van back seat that serves as a chair for waiting patrons. The front display case was filled with plenty of salmon, white fish, tuna, and fearsome deep purple octopus tentacle. Lawrence Fish Market is rumored to supply some of Chicago’s sushi restaurants and I’ve definitely seen some people leaving the fish market with over $300 in fish. Soon the ten minutes were up and I was loaded with a giant heavy box of sushi to take home.

The sushi lover in me always enjoys a trip to Lawrence Fish Market no matter how long the wait. You can always call ahead and order from the menu, but there’s always the charm of sitting down and taking in the view of the fish market. With certainty, you’ll find some of Chicago’s freshest sushi without watching your wallet go up in smoke. If you are looking for a great place to supply your party with sushi, make sure to check out one of their $20 or $50 platters that will leave your guests wanting more.

Below is a Yelp review that I wrote after my first visit, I can honestly say that my opinion’s still unchanged: top notch and delicious!

“In the sushi world there are polished wooden floors, fountains in the background, ambient lighting, smooth light brown wooden tables, bowls of miso soup waiting and bento boxes. Hot towels greet you with a starter appetizer salad dish and music plays in the background while you sip on a Kirin or Ichiban. Nope, forget everything you’ve ever learned about sushi dining when you got to Lawrence Fish Market. Here you will find all of the trappings of the local Albany Park butcher, cracked tiles that have been muddied and mopped, muddied and mopped time and time again that you can’t tell if the tile is worn out or just plain dirty.

The dingy state of the store front would likely send most people scurrying for the hills and crying about why they have ever listened to Yelp and stepped foot in this place. But this is Albany Park you must remember and not all things are what they appear in this secretive, magical neighborhood. Boxes lay all about disorganized, poorly stacked, half open, or open and folded shut again while the two tables in the middle of the waiting room sport the largest bag of shrimp chips that can be sold to the general public basking in the overhead lights, open and ready to eat if you so dare.

Even I did not dare touch the shrimp chips on the tables as who could tell how many hands have dipped into the bag or if it was the owners’ own personal stash of shrimp chips that they put on the tables only because there was barely any room behind the counter? Upon arrival two women, a man and a very small toddler were patiently waiting for sushi. I grabbed a menu and quickly scanned it only to have my eyes light up with glee, the tales spun by the Yelpers were true! Sushi heaven I had dropped into!

After making a quick series of slash marks on my order sheet that a samurai would appreciate, the order was quickly relayed to the backroom where one elder sushi chef diligently worked on roll after roll while his younger apprentice dabbled at the craft as well. Hands were washed very often and orders on the telephone kept coming in. Spicy tuna, uh-huh, unagi no problem, rainbows, caterpillars, and dragons flew from the telephone to the paper to the cash register to the kitchen only to be reincarnated into fresh sushi forms.

The group waiting received their goodies and marched out triumphantly, as I jealously watched and waited. While waiting I nodded at the minivan seat serving as a waiting seat. In the glass case of the fish counter I saw a giant octapus tentacle that was big as my forearm and could be used as a weapon if the right situation presented itself. Bright orange salmon for $19 a pound and a healthy looking tuna was glaring red at me for $32 a pound. The freezer turned on in the background and a frosty mist filled the giant refrigerators carrying various groceries for those willing to make sushi themselves at home.

In the corner wall was a lacquered wooden portrait of Jesus while on another fish counter stood two large bowling trophies and one golf trophy with Korean characters that I was unable to decipher. In the middle of the room also stood a bowl of tangerines and behind the table was a television that wasn’t turned on and magazines and various newspapers littered the table with four or five chairs situation against the two tables mashed together in the middle of the room.

The clock behind the counter let me know that time was passing by and I was slowly taking in all of the detail. Fifteen minutes passed by and a giant container was being arranged and I was shown my dragon roll, rainbow roll, spicy tuna roll, and crunchy salmon roll all decked out in the strongbox of sushi. The register rang up for $19.31 for twenty six pieces of rolls and I walked out protecting my sushi strong box as I would guard Harold’s Chicken Shack’s finest.

At home, I wanted to take a picture of all of the food but could not resist. The chopsticks were unleashed and bright pink ginger was laid out across my wall of sushi. Every bite was a miracle and my mind wondered how it was such that so grimy and dingy a place could manufacture such sushi of superlative quality and flavor in such a short amount of time for basement bargain recession prices.

You can forget everything you’ve learned about sushi dining once you step into Lawrence Fish Market. It’s take out only and if you can’t deal with that or the wait or failed to call ahead, then get on out of the line and let me get my hands on this sushi. Lawrence Fish Market personifies Albany Park’s no nonsense, no frills attached dedicated workmanlike demeanor of its Northwest side location. Now excuse me while I fantasize about my next trip to my new favorite sushi joint.”

#44 – Eat at Girl & the Goat


2010
07.13

If ever in the history of Chicago restauranteering had expectations ever been hoisted to its highest levels and followed through with flawless execution – this was it. Tonight I witnessed the birth of a new Chicago landmark so masterful in its flavor that words simply cannot express the degree to which the palate remains stimulated and satisfied. The degree of hospitality and creativity to which Girl and the Goat subscribes to can only be written in superlatives, best of lists, and Frommer’s travel guides. When it’s December and we reflect on Chicago’s new hottest restaurant I have no doubts in my mind that Girl and the Goat will prevail!

By bestowing Girl and the Goat with a magic goatcrown, I was given the privilege of being one of the first in Chicago to have a sneak peak at dinner at this fresh Randolph Street. Two other friends happened to get an invite to the friends and family dinner and I was a bit concerned we wouldn’t be able to sit with each other. Problem solved – Girl and that Goat bended to our will and let us sit together. I came in with my own goatcrown on and they quickly took care of my heavy backpack and swooped and stashed my wine for later consumption.

It was booming, it was bustling – a sound and scene I hope never to extinguish from its beautiful wooden interior. We were seated in front of the magnificent giant goat painting, eerily reminiscent of a Tim Burton movie. I noticed my napkin was held together by a small ring of paper with the ubiquitous goat imprinted on it. The menu too, marked by goat let me know this was the finest of goat establishments and we were racked with indecision on what to possibly order.

The waitstaff displayed great personality and teamwork in loading our table with the maze of glasses for white and red wine and water. Our server had the enthusiastic personality of your favorite bartender and the sophistication of a sommelier. We oohed and we ahhed and went on an ordering blitz!

Grilled baby octopus, green beans, beet salad, seared NY strip, seared fish, goat pizza, roasted chicken, beef tongue, scallop, crispy soft shell crab, and delicious fried pig made the top of the list and we ordered this in quick fashion. Our server stood by ready for our questions but there was a 100% chance that if we closed our eyes and selected our dishes by throwing darts that we would end up wholly satisfied.

Never having to look at my wine or water glass, we waited as our glasses were magically replenished by the attentive staff. In short order the veggie dishes arrived. I must say that I detest salad and can think of no worse thing to eat but on first bite of my beet salad, I lifted my eyebrow in surprise and enjoyed a fully texturized and flavorful salad. Salad is supposed to be boring, but this salad already knocked my socks off with its crispiness and simple ingredients. The fried pork was uber crispy with a delicious sauce sending explosions of taste on my tongue.

The seared scallop was so delicious, it would have been more suiting to take the whole bowl of braised veal and drink it all without sharing! Being that it is the civilized world, while such a move was veritably warranted, manners won the moment. In came grilled baby octopus with an array of nuts and beans. If you are a fan of subtle combinations of flavor along with high texture – rock the baby octopus!

Roasted chicken featured watermelon! Watermelon!? Such subtle sweetness like a peck on the lips kissed me as the tender slivers of chicken were consumed. The other veggies on the dish gave the chicken an additional unanticipated freshness. That’s what the best chefs are able to unlock and the pleasure was all mine to be in the presence of such excellent food.

The nomgasm continued with seared fish in an aioli with fried potato chips. Tender on the inside and crispy on the out, the texture and flavors melted my heart away. We all agreed on how delicious fish was especially taking a bite out of Girl and the Goat’s fish! Everyone’s favorite far and away was the crispy soft shell crab coming straight from the Atlantic! We probably should have all ordered one per person with the beasting nature of the soft shell crab. Fried to a crispy exterior with waves of rich sauces no finer dish could be imagined.

The seared NY strip had a flavorful crust while staying medium rare in the middle soaked in a delicious sauce and onions. I must admit, I gave up all hope of avoiding goat meat and jumped into the pizza and had a ball with the goat meat and goat cheese loaded up with veggies. Twas delicious and wholly worthwhile.

Girl and the Goat is so wonderful in its taste that I had to sit back, put my fork down and just take it all in to savor all of the amazing flavors that came rushing at me. I am absolutely grateful and delighted that one of Chicago’s brightest chefs has decided to anchor down and offer up an amazing array of tapas to whet the appetite and send our taste buds to the highest level of nirvana.

Check out Girl and the Goat’s amazing menu here.

And don’t forget to make reservations!


Chicago on a Low Budget: A Survivalist Kit


2010
07.09

It happens to everybody – at some point there just isn’t more money to spend and we can’t issue bonds like the US government with its unlimited credit. A few summers ago before I enrolled into grad school I recall that they were some of the brokest days of my life. Very little money generally means a limited range of options, not being to hang out with friends when they price you out, and having to eat with austerity.

Things have changed, while I’m longer scrounging around spare change bins and asking friends for a spot, every once in awhile I take a look at what’s cheap and what’s new. To begin, let’s take a look at the I am po’ survivalist kit.

1) Metromix – Did you know you can find hundreds of things going on any given night? With features such as Booze for the BuckCheap Swills, and Best Budget Bites of ’09 – you’ll be equipped with good ideas. Don’t forget Metromix also lists all specials at all bars.

2) Smalltabs – Any neighborhood, any kind of drink special, any night of the week. Not only is this good for when you’re low on coin, it’s also good when one of your friends insists on staying in a neighborhood but refuses to spend anything!

3) Drinktown – Need a more visual presentation of bars and their drink specials? Drinktown is it, they show the map where the goods are and you can sort by food or drink specials. Zip code search is kind of a hassle and you do have to log in, so it’s certainly lost a bit of its luster.

4) Brokehipster – Use Brokehipster to find free and cheap things to do around the city on any given night. Brokehipster has given me the scoop on several open bars, launch parties, and random free stuff.

5) Chicago Specials – While Smalltabs and Drinktown may be encyclopedic in their listings, think of Chicago Specials as a tiny cheat sheet. Chicago Specials is more like Smalltabs Lite.

6) Local Tourist – Here is another cheap deal search sortable by neighborhood and day of the week. It’s a fairly comprehensive list, too bad you can’t look at all of the specials at once.

7) Centerstage – Looking for a specific special? You can look for specials like Stella Artois in Uptown on a Wednesday in West Loop.

From personal experience, you can always search through all of these sites to find something new but I do have a few favorites that have stood the test of time no matter the circumstance. Here are my best bets:

Goldies – Daily $1 PBR / $4 Pitchers. Do you like board games? They’ve got it. How bout some Pac Man? Yep. Steel darts? Definitely. Pool? Amen! Old school Nintendo? Oh you got that right! Goldie’s is the #1 for being po’ hands down.

Christina’s Place – Every day all day until 4 in the morning you can get Guinness for $2. $2 for a Guinness is a deal, although you may have to deal with a few roughnecks in this Avondale bar. Fortunately, the hipsters and popped collar drunkards of Wicker Park/Lincoln Park won’t be found in this northwest side haven. If you’re looking for some serious pool competition get on over! My favorite bartender in the world, Silvana is there on the weekends, so tip her well!

Weekly Budget Hotspots

Monday: Kelly’s Pub – $1 Coors Light Drafts & $1 Tacos. Yes, you WILL have to deal with the Lincoln Park DePaul students, and you will have to be in popped collar and backwards cap heaven, but if you are penny pinching you’ve got to make every last dollar count. With this combination you will get your fill of drink and eats on the cheap.

Tuesday: Joe’s on Weed – 25¢ Beer, $2 Pitchers, Half Price Pizza. Nope, you won’t be getting some high quality beer here, but beer is beer! For a $3 cover before 9pm or $5 cover with student ID / $10 cover with no student after 9pm you can rush to the bar, grab a seat, and stop worrying about the horse by loading the wagon.

Wednesday: Brownstone Tavern – $5 All You Can Eat Wings with purchase of $5 Jumbo Drink. Last time I went here for my birthday the service was tremendously poor and I was outraged. If you are looking to get your fill of wings and beer you will likely get the job done if your server complies. The deal itself is terrific and the food tasty, but exercise caution lest your server ruin your evening.

Thursday: McGee’s Tavern & Grille – $1 Bud, Michelob Ultra, Rolling Rock – Just like Kelly’s on Monday it’s going to be filled with DePaul kids. That’s not always a bad thing is it? For $1 you will get your money’s worth with cheap beer and cheap thrills as DePaul students launch their weekend with drink til you get sick hijinks.

Friday: Duffy’s Tavern & Grille – $20 All You Can Drink Drafts, Well Drinks, and Food Buffet 6:30-11:00pm – Is this list getting a bit Lincoln Park-centric? That’s because Lincoln Park has the highest numbers of bars and places to drink. How high is your tolerance for chads and trixies? If you have a limitless tolerance then head on over for their excellent beer selection featuring Bell’s Oberon, Stella Artois, and Guinness. $20 is not too steep when it’s an all-you-can with the goods. Food includes corn dogs, wings, and some other foods I haven’t been able to eat due to people snatching up the food as soon as it comes.

Saturday: Crossroads Public House – $20 All You Can Drink Domestics, Well Drinks, and Food Buffet. You will find yourself in Lincoln Park yet again. As long as it’s not college football season, Crossroads will not be filled to the brink Duffy’s-style and you will be able to get a booth, walk around unimpeded, and get a drink in a reasonable period of time. The pizza is good and the drinks will work their magic on the cheap.

Sunday: Day of rest. Seriously, if you are trying to get wrecked on a Sunday there is probably a reason you need a Chicago on a Low Budget Survivalist Kit. Just kidding 🙂

#43 – Watch a Cubs Game from a Company Suite


2010
07.09

I remember my first Cubs game, my dad got some company tickets near the third base line and my dad didn’t watch baseball. Instead he dropped my brother and I off at Wrigley Field while we watched the game against the Braves. I’m pretty sure they lost that day but I was the beneficiary of corporate tickets. Fast forward to this past weekend and a good friend of mine @TheAW gave me a call and let me know he had one extra ticket for the company suite at the game! Of course there was World Cup going on and of course I was going to go do a million other things and meet people, but would I drop all these plans to go see the Cubs? The answer was a resounding, “YES!” and I found myself up the stairs to the suite in no time!

Opening the door, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Inside was a wall-mounted flat screen TV, some furniture that kind of looked like it belonged on a boat, a beer fridge, and a giant tray of hot dogs with all the fixin’s. The room was a bit tight but there were chips, popcorn, and all manner of beverages all around. Someone wanted to order wine and of course the obligatory introductions were made. I took a step outside at the seating area and marveled at the view. It really was great – you could see all of the other suites and the best view outside of behind home plate.

The TV had a long delay from the field action, which was understandable and it was beautiful outside. There’s very little yelling in the suite areas and definitely no chants of “Let’s go, Cubbies!” but I could see Cubs Hall of Famer Billy Williams two suites down. As the game progressed the Cubs shockingly took the lead over the Reds and Randy Wells had a no-no through five.

As Carlos Marmol stepped in to finish off the game, I pulled out my vuvuzela and began to make insane amounts of noise. The airhorn-like projection of the horn caused an executive from the suite next door to step out and marvel at it. I offered him a try, but he said I should so I played the vuvuzela again letting out a loud drone. Through the window I saw Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry and he was staring right at me! Instead of running back inside, I nodded and waved at him and he waved back. As Marmol finished off the game, Steve Goodman’s “Go, Cubs Go” rang throughout the stadium and Jim Hendry stepped out.

Seeing Jim Hendry, I blew the vuvuzela again and he asked me if I got it at the stadium. I hadn’t but then I asked if we could take a picture and he happily obliged. @TheAW1 declared me the biggest Cubs fan and that he had been a Cubs fan since Dawson.

“I’m sorry I’m not doing better,” Jim Hendry lamented.

I found his statement to be very humble and honest. He asked if we were going to be back tomorrow, but this was my first time ever in a company suite! Very cool to be rubbing elbows with the Cubs top brass and the company suite was probably the best seat I’ve ever had. Every Cubs fan should make their way to a luxury suite at least once just to take it all in, drink and eat limitlessly, and knock themselves out. It was a great time and wouldn’t have happened without the great benevolence of @TheAW!


#31 – Visit the Virgin Mary stain at Fullerton and 90/94


2010
07.08

Back in 2005, there was a giant wave of rain that rocked Chicago leaving a mysterious water stain under the viaduct at the Fullerton exit on the Kennedy Expressway. A passerby declared that it appeared to be the Virgin Mary, setting off a media frenzy. Flocks of the faithful gathered around the stain, leaving a vast array of flowers, prayer candles, wreaths, and all manner of offerings for the blessing of the Virgin Mary.

The crowds went on for days if not weeks with many of the believers praying and kneeling with full faith that they were indeed peering at a veritable miracle. Driving past, you could see the impressive display of floral arrangements and wonder if something special really did materialize out of nowhere. Of course there were skeptics, but that did not turn away the crowds who stayed relentlessly guarding the stain.

Skeptics on the other hand, remained unconvinced that this stain was of supernatural origin and ridiculed those who stood watching the mysterious stain. With all the hubbub about the stain, city employees decided to take matters into their own hands and in a stealth operation reminiscent of the bulldozing of Miegs Field, painted over the stain of the Virgin Mary with dark brown paint. As I struggle to recall the details, there were a pair of brothers who worked on cars nearby who heard that the stain had been defiled and quickly went to work expertly removing the last of the brown paint. With the last of the paint removed and public outrage, the city decided to leave the stain alone.

Fast forward five years and you’ll find that a seesaw battle has been raging on between the believers and non-believers as the stain has seen days of vandalism and restoration. Making my first visit to the shrine, I found candles still lit in the middle of an idle Tuesday afternoon. Flowers laying near the shrine were fresh and there was a garbage can and broom left next to the shrine for its anonymous custodian. There’s certainly a mystic aura with all of the scribblings left behind and pictures along with the candles and flowers. It’s quite remarkable and while I can’t profess to say if the Virgin Mary is there or not, the stain is well worth a closer examination.

Looking up close, you’ll see that paint still marks the perimeter of the stain. Around the stain is a wooden frame bearing the picture of the stain in its former unblemished state while a ledge of candles lies directly underneath. The homeless take shelter on the opposite end of the overpass, but as I approached the sleeping bags and bags of garbage I didn’t see any people sleeping. It’s not up to me to say whether or not the Virgin Mary can be found here or if the stain is the result of rain or some miraculous act. All I can say is that it was a neat trek to take a close look at one of Chicago’s most obscure landmarks.