Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Chicago: Metropolis Coffee, via a wormhole and a dollop

Last Chicago post!   The title makes sense, I promise.  Right after our visit to Hot Chocolate, we walked a couple blocks to Wormhole Coffee, which turned out to be one of the most unique coffee shops we'd seen (their website is also rather quirky).  This place is some kind of homage to video game culture, as the drinks menus indicate.  There is also a Delorean parked/mounted at the upper rear of the shop.  Plenty of people were crowded around the counter, and every available seat was taken, but as two people left, we managed to snag space on one of the couches.

At left is the honey latte (lightly sweet), and at right is a cappuccino, which comes with a Nilla wafer.  The coffee at Wormhole is actually from Metropolis, a rather acclaimed Chicago coffee shop/roaster.

Metropolis also supplies Dollop Coffee, just a few steps from Andrew's friend Kristen's apartment, and where we got a late breakfast before heading to Midway Airport.  In addition to coffee, Dollop also serves some tasty baked goods, such as various pies (which we did not try) and coffee cake (which we did try, along with some cliche but pleasant Naked Juice).  There is plenty of seating and workspace, including a quiet, library-like room toward the back of the shop.  Below is a cortado - espresso with steamed milk - that made Andrew very happy, plus the juice and coffee cake:

Take-home message: Metropolis coffee is pretty great, and is available at a variety of Chicago establishments with diverse atmospheres.  Maybe on our next trip we'll actually stop by the Metropolis cafe itself....

Friday, March 16, 2012

Chicago: Mindy's Hot Chocolate

Two Sundays ago in Chicago, having seen a SeriousEats article on some of the city's best hot chocolates, we decided to check out Mindy's Hot Chocolate.  We arrived in the late afternoon and the restaurant was only serving drinks to go (or to be enjoyed in the lounge area at the front), but that was just fine for us.  We tried the Mexican hot chocolate and the dark hot chocolate, and also ordered some cookies from the display case; the cookies ended up being on the house, which was very nice.  This is indeed some serious hot chocolate that tastes even richer once it starts cooling down.  I wasn't able to finish my cup, even with intermittent sips of water (which our server brought, along with an admonition that we would need it).

Dark hot chocolate

Bacon chocolate chip cookie (crisp and rich), lemon brown butter shortbread (tender and rich), chocolate cupcake (fluffy and rich, with a light buttercream frosting), and a perfect housemade vanilla marshmallow (which comes with every cup of hot chocolate):

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Coconut muffins

As soon as I saw Smitten Kitchen's post on double coconut muffins, I wanted to try the recipe, and it turned out to be a great baking break for the [Oscar] Sunday right before exams.  My yogurt was nonfat instead of full-fat, and I used unsweetened shredded coconut instead of sweetened, which Whole Foods doesn't carry.  Because of the latter change I added a little extra sugar in the batter (still not much more than the stated 1/3 cup in total, though, given my sugar reduction habit), and also mixed in some sugar with the coconut that I sprinkled on top.

Before baking

After baking

Helga, Sophie and I all liked the results, especially how the sugar on top added a slight crunchy texture that contrasted with the soft muffin.  Since I still have most of the jar of coconut oil, I may make this again in the near future.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Westwood: Espresso Profeta

Espresso Profeta is an "espresso bar" in a brick building on Glendon Ave., with an attractive courtyard and carefully crafted drinks.  Both the environment and coffee quality made Profeta a nicer-than-usual place to visit for a coffee break the last time Andrew was in town.  Here is the Caffe Nico, a concoction of espresso, half-and-half, orange syrup, and cinnamon.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Beverly Hills: afternoon tea at the Peninsula

On the afternoon of my birthday a couple weeks ago, Karthik and I drove over to the Peninsula Beverly Hills for tea.  We started with a glass of champagne and a cup of strawberries with whipped cream, and then had the signature "Belvedere Blend" of black tea with some fruity flavors.

On the top tier were plain and currant scones, served with clotted cream, lemon curd, and preserves.  Sandwiches, on the bottom tier, included chicken curry, smoked salmon, egg salad, and cucumber.  Desserts on the middle tier: pear profiteroles, tiny gingerbread tea cakes, chestnut macarons, lychee raspberry mousse cake, and opera cake.

The "living room" in which tea is served is amusingly ornate, almost stuffy, and service is attentive to the point of being excessive (no one actually needs a server to monitor the volume in one's teacup and refill accordingly).  That said, tea here did provide an indulgent and peaceful interlude during our normally studying-obsessed, jeans-or-scrubs-wearing lives.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Westwood: 800 Degrees Pizzeria

I started hearing about 800 Degrees from classmates back in January, with the common description being "It's like Chipotle, but for pizza!"  Quite accurate, actually: this is a Neapolitan-style pizza place where you choose your sauces and toppings and your thin-crust pizza is constructed in front of you, starting with the dough being stretched onto the pizza board and ending with a minute-long stay in the wood-burning oven.  Prices are very reasonable: $6 for a pizza margherita and $1 for each additional topping; on my two visits I've gone with broccolini and/or sausage.  Adding more than one or two toppings would probably destroy the thin crust's already tenuous structural integrity.

Here's the pizza with broccolini and sausage.  Brandon joined me for this first meal after the Lipids Exercise (two weeks of pre-prepared, restricted meals from the Metabolic Kitchen).

A view of [part of] the assembly line:

This is pretty great pizza, and the leftovers (two or three of the six slices, in my case) reheat pretty well.  Not surprisingly, 800 Degrees has become incredibly popular since it opened, with the line stretching out the door and onto the sidewalk during peak lunch and dinner hours.  It's definitely advisable to go very early or very late.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Chicago: Girl and the Goat

Above and to the right of our table

Block 3 ended last week, and afterward I spent an extended weekend in Chicago with Andrew.  Soon after we planned this trip, we made a reservation for a Monday night dinner at Girl and the Goat, an astoundingly popular restaurant run by "Top Chef" winner Stephanie Izard.  The only dinner slots available were for 4:45pm or 10:00pm, so we took the former.  Upon walking in, we were offered one of the two two-seat chef's tables, which are like bar tables at both ends of the open kitchen and line; this was quite a dose of luck, and of course we jumped on the opportunity to see the kitchen in action.  Above and below are some views from our seats.

Bryan ladles chickpeas, at left
Dinner prep starting to speed up
Behind us, the main restaurant

We were soon introduced to the line cooks working across from us, including Joseph, Bryan, and a couple others whose names I forgot.  Soon after, our server Tony came and talked us through the menu, which is all designed for sharing and is divided into sections of specials (including goat dishes), vegetables, seafood, and meats.  We had two great cocktails to start: "Winter Negroni" for me (gin, citrus, Campari, and bitters), and the "Smoking Jacket" (bourbon, syrup, bitters, and an atomized hint of pipe tobacco) for Andrew.

Water, cocktail, and bread.  Joseph is plating something.

Pretzel bread, served fresh and hot with honey mustard butter and Thousand Island dressing (it works!):

Kohlrabi salad with fennel, toasted almonds, and a fruity ginger dressing:

Plating a duck dish:

Roasted beets with green beans, white anchovies, and avocado creme fraiche:

Grilled baby octopus with guanciale, wax beans, radish, and vinaigrette.  This was one of our favorites.

Sauteed green beans with fish sauce vinaigrette and cashews:

I should mention that the beets, green beans, and some later chickpea fritters were all surprise extras from the kitchen.  Right around the arrival of the green beans, with several items that we had ordered still to come, we started panicking about the number of dishes hitting our table.  Fortunately Tony came over and counseled us to pace ourselves, and he packed up everything we couldn't finish (which was enough for brunch the next day).

And so we continued with the confit goat belly with crab, lobster, bourbon butter, fennel, and a puree I can't remember.  This was incredibly decadent; the 3 oz portion of goat belly, shared, was more than enough.

Here is Bryan, presenting some chickpea fritters with chickpeas, masala, house-made pickles, red onion, and mozzarella.  The fritters had the texture of fried fresh tofu, in a good way.

Pork shank with butternut squash and shitake mushroom kimchee, served with toasted pita bread, kimchee puree and creme fraiche.  The meat was crispy on the outside, but needed no knife:

Thai chili gelato with chocolate cake, crisped rice (I think), pine nuts, something resembling toasted marshmallow, and pomegranate seeds:

Pear wonton with parsnip puree, pineapple, ginger, and tamarind stracciatella:

Truly a splendid meal!  We lingered and finally left around 7:00pm, after the sommelier stopped by to ask how everything was (a polite nudge that the table had to be turned).  Between the interesting and delicious food, the fun of our table, the smooth and friendly service, and my most excellent date ;-), I was in heaven.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Seared scallops with kale and roasted vegetables

Since this week is spring break, I really have no excuse not to catch up on some blogging.  Accordingly, here is some evidence that amid the intensity that was Block 3, I managed to cook at least once (it was much more than once, of course, but most of my cooking is extremely boring and thus not blog-worthy).  One of my more interesting meals consisted of sauteed kale, roasted vegetables, and seared scallops - my first time cooking scallops!  Obviously they're a splurge item, but I think well worth it as an occasional treat.

The vegetables were just potatoes (the little multicolored potatoes from Trader Joe's), red onion, red bell pepper, and cherry tomatoes, tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and some grated parmesan cheese for extra flavor.  Here they are, post-roasting, with the kale in progress:

I seared the scallops and then dressed them with just a little sea salt, black pepper, and lemon juice.  Very tasty!

Next up, I'll break my usual chronological order and post about an absolutely fabulous meal I had this past Monday in Chicago.  I just have to transfer the photos from my phone to my laptop....