Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Favorite/Not-So-Favorite Restaurants in 2012

As I mentioned in my "Cooking Corner" introduction, food (cooking it, eating it, going out to eat) is one of my biggest passions.  Trying new restaurants is my favorite way to spend a night out, and it's made so easy in a food-lover's city like Chicago.  I thought it would be fun to recap my favorite and not-so-favorite restaurant experiences of 2012.  By the way, I'm a foodie, but not a food-snob.  Looking at this list, 2012 seems to have been a bit of a fancy year, but rest assured we were also frequenting Franks 'n Dawgs and Flub a Dub Chubs...they just weren't "new" to me in 2012 and thus didn't make the list :)

BEST (in no particular order)

- Goosefoot:  It's teeny, situated in a bit of ghetto stretch of Lincoln Square, and we had to make reservations 3 months ahead of time (and even then could only get a 9pm on a Tuesday).  But the food was spectacular.  9 courses of straightforward, modern food with a French twist.  This place is no frills, it's a small space with little flair, and the food is served with zero pretension.  Most memorable to me were the soups and the beef dish, though the menu changes all the time.  The chef is Chris Nugent and we spoke to him for a while after the meal.  He was so modest and so thankful people were coming to his restaurant (we had to remind him that people weren't only coming, they were waiting 3 months to come).  Best part about this place?  BYOB. 

- Elizabeth:  24 courses.  Yes, that is correct, 24.  Most of any restaurant in Chicago.  (There was another menu choice w/ fewer courses, but, come on, 24!).  This place is another no-frills, "all about the food" type of place and the food is, simply put, flawless.  The food is clean, very much inspired by nature, and the chef Iliana Regan cooks right in front of you as if you were in her home (which, interestingly enough, is what she used to do!).  She came over several times to ask about the food and we were able to tell her what we enjoyed most - I love that.  It's communal seating, and our party of 4 soon felt like a party of 8.  The seafood courses were stand-out.  My only complaints?  Like Next, you have to buy tickets for this place, I'm still a traditionalist in this respect.  Also, it became a 5 hour meal....and with 24 courses with wine pairings, this meant I was black-out drunk by the end of the meal.  Fun, sure.  But don't come here if you have somewhere to be after (or the next day, as it were).  My guess is that's a new-restaurant kink that will get better with time.

- GT Fish & Oyster:  I had heard so much about this place and was excited to try it.  It did not disappoint.  Seafood, small plate style.  Stand-outs were the oysters (but not the shooters, eh), the shrimp bruschetta, oyster slider and fish tacos.  We splurged for the caviar service as well which was really good, but probably won't do it again.  We also tried a white wine that I had never had before, but was spectacular.  Nora Albarino (Albarino is the style).  The vibe is fun, loud, and sceney (it's River North), but not annoyingly River North-y.

- Other two notables of the year were Acadia (South Loop) and Wood (East Lakeview).  Both very solid overall.


- Charlie Trotter's - It's a moot point because Trotter's is gone now, but I was so surprised that I was let down, that I had to note it.  Trotter's has been regarded as one of the best restaurants in Chicago (and the country) for many years and we were able to go right before it closed down.  The food was good, but not memorable.  The ambience was pretty old-fashioned (and not in an endearingly traditional kind of way, just sort of outdated) and I expected nicer service for the level of restaurant that it was.  We did tour the kitchen after, and that was pretty neat, but I wasn't blown away by my meal. 

- Tavernita:  Go for the drinks and the scene, but not necessarily for the food.  The main entrees were better than the small plates.  We went here on our first real post-baby date night and a loud, River North spot may have been a bit much.  But fun place for a group.

- Nellcote:  Beautiful restaurant, disappointing food.  This place is pretty scene-y, as well, and I think is better for pre-dinner cocktails (they had a really interesting drink menu and the space is just visually stunning).  The flatbreads were probably the best thing on the menu. 

- Anteprima:  Everyone always talks about how much they love this place, but I didn't really get it.  Loved the space and the vibe in Andersonville, but thought the meal was just ok.  Also, we had reservations but still had to wait 30+ minutes.  No likey. 

TO TRY IN 2013

I'm excited to try BellyQ, Au Cheval, Acre, RPM Italian, Nightwood, and a host of others in the upcoming year.  We also haven't been to Next, yet (I know, I know, but it's that ticket thing and the inability to decide in 2.3 seconds that we're going out with a baby at home to plan for).  If you have any spots I have to try (or should steer clear from), would love to hear it!!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Keeping Up With The Patels

A non-Indian friend of mine joked to me recently that she was going to an Indian couple's party and she knew she was in the right place because her Lexus was the shittiest car in the parking lot.  I laughed it off, but then it got me thinking.   Many first-generation Indians have gotten rather....fancy, right?  The striking engagement rings followed by the lavish 700-person weddings, the expensive cars, the big houses, over-the-top vacations.  It's certainly not the norm for all of my Indian friends and I think it may be more prevalent in certain geographies, but the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) extravagance feels more commonplace now and perhaps - dare I say it - expected?  On one hand, the fact that many first-generation folks can afford the finer things is a wonderful tribute to our parents, all immigrants who worked their butts off to give us a life they did not have.  They seem to have collectively succeeded, as Indian-Americans are wildly overrepresented in most professional categories, and have attained higher levels of education and earn a higher median income than all other ethnic groups in the U.S. (whites and other Asians included) despite making up only about 1% of the population.  But are we setting a standard that strays far from the ideals with which we were raised and, if so, I wonder if people are feeling a certain pressure to reach that new standard.  Are we still trying to keep up with the Joneses?  Or are we now trying to keep up with the Patels?

My parents left India and moved to London in 1968, and then moved to the United States in 1980.  A fairly typical immigrant story, they worked extremely hard to build a life for my sister and me.  Though my family had the means, we didn't buy fancy cars, we didn't wear expensive clothes (though in the 5th grade I got a pair of $60 Girbaud jeans for Christmas that were freakin awesome), and we didn't go on luxurious vacations (we went many places, though.  My dad would come home from work on a Friday and declare we were driving somewhere like Florida - from Texas, mind you - and off we'd go with a cooler full of Indian food and we'd stay in HoJo's (at best) along the way.  Kind of awesome, really).  My mom still, to this day, randomly sends me packages in the mail of groceries that she thinks are cheaper in Texas than in Chicago.  I've gotten things like Pam non-stick spray, lots of Goldfish, boxes of cereal and after I got married we started getting pickles and Reese cups (if you know Adam that makes perfect sense to you).  It's pretty comical, but it's the mentality that allowed them to provide us everything we needed, including giving us a pretty profound (and often unappreciated) sense of security.  I think most of the Indian kids I grew up around in Texas were raised pretty similarly.

When our immigrant parents left India, they didn't have parents to fall back on if they hit a tough patch like many of us have.  They navigated American culture from scratch, with Indian educations and English as a second language.  They came with nothing, yet somehow gave us everything.  How amazing is that?  And now, much to their delight (at least to my parents') their kids can now  maintain nicer lifestyles and can provide even more for their kids than they could.  But what are we doing with that gift?  Are we too interested in show?  Do people in our generation feel pressure to attain a certain amount of wealth/success?  Are we focused enough on paying it forward to society, future generations and back to our parents?  Maybe it's more prevalent in certain cities, and maybe it's not unique to the Indian-American community?  I am curious to hear others' takes. 

My husband and I work hard so we can enjoy a great lifestyle, but I try not to feel too bogged down by external pressures to do so.  Even so, there are times where I will catch myself thinking so-and-so is doing xyz, maybe we should be too.  Often it is in the context of wanting the best for our son.  But I have to remind myself that we have to always do what we think is best for our family, regardless of what others are doing.  And if we ever needed to scale back because we weren't happy anymore, I think (hope) we would without worrying too much about our decline in social status.  After all, we could always take last minute road trips and stay in HoJos.  Sounds pretty good to me.