The Whale Wins

by Steven Behling


The Eton Mess.  That's what I'm writing about.  The Eton Mess.  It's what I can't stop thinking about.  The Eton Mess.  More on that later.

Famed Seattle (and James Beard award-winning) chef Renee Erickson's The Whale Wins has long been on my radar, even before I moved to the Fremont neighborhood.  Soon after my arrival in Seattle, I remember hearing friends and colleagues sing its praises, alongside two of Erickson's other restaurants, (the now closed) Boat Street Cafe and (the still open and very much thriving) The Walrus & the Carpenter.  Erickson's empire has since expanded to include several other sea creature-based ventures and concepts, but believe it or not, the first time I sat down in one of her establishments was just a month ago.  My colleague Lisa and I met one evening in May to "practice self-care" (an oft-uttered yet rarely-implemented graduate school phrase referring to those times a therapist ensures s/he is managing his/her own needs in order to be able to sufficiently care for the needs of others) at The Whale Wins, and whilst seated at a table of Carrara marble with whimsically-lit letters spelling H-E-L-L-O floating overhead, sampled such epicurean delights as chilled asparagus with poached garlic scapes, vanilla butter, Israeli feta and chive blossoms; roasted carrot and fennel (again chilled) in a yogurt and harissa sauce (the perfect blend of spice and relief); and creamy Jasper Hill Oma cheese with Boat Street pickled cherries.  As both of us were relatively satisfied, we decided to continue onward to dessert, Lisa giving me the coveted position of choosing our final dish of the evening.  I chose the Eton Mess with tart strawberry rhubarb cherry jam and the fluffiest, airiest whipped cream you've ever set your tongue upon. 

Let me be clear...I've never been a fan of meringues.  They seem untrustworthy.  I can't explain why...it's just the way it is.  Why are you so light yet so hard?  Egg whites?  What is going on here?  Yet, as I was contemplating the likes of a chocolate terrine, butter roasted zucchini bread, and a cream biscuit with strawberries, the sight of the Eton Mess arriving at the table to my left swung me hard in the direction of this traditional English dessert.  Because Lisa is a paragon of all things food and culture, she was able to easily explain the story of the Eton Mess; I can't remember the details other than a Pavlova falling or getting crushed during an event at Eton College and being served despite its then-changed appearance.  Ask Lisa.  It's so much more interesting when she tells it.  

But THESE meringues, broken up in a careless, yet thoughtful manner, and the layers of whipped cream...not weak, and not buttery...just delectable, simple whipped cream, and the bite of the multidimensional jam...so simple, yet so complex.  I have thought about this dessert on a weekly basis since then, so when my friend Laird and I were finishing up dinner at Ba Bar last night and he suggested dessert, I had the answer before he even finished posing the question.  Racing across town (within the speed limit and at the mercy of Seattle traffic), we made it to The Whale Wins just in time for a plate of Eton Mess.

And you know what?  It was even better the second time.

And you know what else?  I didn't bother sharing. 

image.jpg

The Whale Wins is located at 3506 Stone Way North in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. 

 


Lido

by Steven Behling


In late September 2015, preceding a conference in Pittsburgh, I spent a weekend in New York City.  It was quite the whirlwind trip; NYC, Pittsburgh, and Vancouver BC consecutively for three days each.  Nestled between Broadway shows and museum visits was a Sunday brunch with my friend and former co-worker Stefanie, who was two weeks away from the delivery of her son, Marcus, who, for the record, has a delightfully squidgy smile, although we didn't yet know this at the time.  

My goodness...that last sentence really highlighted my love of commas. 

Our search for a spot within walking distance of her apartment in Harlem led us to Lido, a delightful Italian restaurant named after an island off the coast of Venice, Lido di Venizia.  The weather was warm enough to forego a jacket, but the scent of autumn was in the air, influencing my ultimate selection of their gnocchi with rich cream, umami truffle butter, melty bits of guanciale, fragrant sage, and shaved parmesan.  Delizioso.

image.jpg

I have ordered gnocchi at other restaurants three times since then, hoping to get the same perfectly soft-yet-firm, full-but-not-too-starchy pillows of potato, but to no avail.  It really was the perfect dish to usher in a colder season, one which seems to be slowly wrapping up in Seattle as we transition our way into another über-long springtime.  The brave green leaves preceding the arrival of violet crocuses and sunny daffodils are already piercing the soil, and it seems a shame to let this perfect winter dish go unmentioned before their blossoms arrive.  There's something about the ingredients...especially sage, potato, pork, and cream (so basically everything)...that make it just right for cold weather, and I'll no doubt be stopping by Lido again in future...and not just to spend time with Stefanie and Marcus.

Lido is located at 2168 Frederick Douglass Boulevard at 117th Street in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan borough in New York City, New York.  


Pok Pok

by Steven Behling


NOTE: I've been sitting on a first draft of this post for nearly a year.  Pok Pok is special to me, and I've felt hesitant to put a period on the end of the sentence/experience that is Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings.  Nevertheless, it seems like the time has come to discuss our relationship, so without further ado:

Two summers ago, my friend Claire and I took a road trip down I-5 to visit our mutual friend Tamson in Portland.  The weekend was filled with delicious food, Oregon Coast tide pools, and general road trip wanderlust, all accompanied by a playlist created by a fictional 13-year-old with a lisp (her retainer gets in the way), an obsession with Taylor Swift, and a sample vial of Elizabeth Taylor's White Diamonds perfume ("for special occasions!").  

Our first stop in town was Voodoo Doughnuts (obligatory given that it was Ain't That a Peach Fritter season), but the genuine star of the evening was Andy Ricker's Pok Pok.  I'd long heard mythical tales of their famous chicken wings, but was feeling skeptical given that I'm not a fan of tearing meat off bones with my teeth. I spent my twenties in college and graduate school so I could eat meat that has been cut up into little cubes, served in a completely unrecognizable but oh-so-tasty manner (I'm looking at you, Chipotle!). 

Oh, how wrong I was.

Enter Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings.  Created by Ricker's first employee, Ich "Ike" Truong, these fresh, natural chicken wings are marinated in fish sauce and palm sugar, deep fried, tossed in caramelized Phú Quoc fish sauce and garlic (plus red pepper flakes if you get 'em spicy, and trust me...you want to), served alongside a simple Vietnamese table salad of pickled carrots and daikon, the latter being a welcome treat to soothe your burning tongue.  Hurts so good.

Subsequent trips to Portland have always included a stop at Pok Pok for wings.  Although our initial visits included such delectable dishes as Kung Op Wun Sen with wild caught gulf prawns baked in a clay pot over charcoal with pork belly, lao jiin, soy, ginger, cilantro root, black pepper, Chinese celery and bean thread noodles, served with piquant nam jiim...

...wing bean salad with grilled pork, Thai chiles, coconut, toasted peanuts, fish sauce, and fried garlic...

...charcoal-grilled corn on the cob with coconut cream...

...or even Neua Nam Tok (remember the first time I had this?), a spicy Isaan flank steak salad with fish sauce, lime and chili powder dressing, shallots, lemongrass, mint, cilantro, and the oh-so-texturally-important toasted rice powder...

...I've recently taken to just ordering an entire portion of Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings with extra hand wipes and many glasses of Pok Pok's pandan leaf-infused table water.  That is all.  Oh, and maybe one of Pok Pok's Som Drinking Vinegars to wash it all down.  

Let me be clear: If the world devolves into a dystopian future wherein we must resort to cannibalism, my dying wish is to have my body prepared in the manner of Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, bringing a bit of sunshine, splendor, and spice to such a  dark, cruel world.  I love you, Ike.  And I love your wings, in all their spicy chicken candy goodness.  

 Want to make your own wings?  Ricker has graciously adapted most of his recipes for the home cook in his 2013 cookbook, published by Ten Speed Press.  Signed copies are available at the address below or the PDX airport (yes, you can get his wings during a layover, bringing a whole new meaning to the saying "spread your wings and fly").

Pok Pok has many locations throughout Portland and New York City.  The original can be found at 3226 Southeast Division Street in Portland, Oregon. 


Paseo

by Steven Behling


Oh, Paseo.  What is there left to say that hasn't already been said?  Perhaps the haiku below can get the rest of the world up to speed:

Caribbean food
loved by all Seattleites
vanishes o'ernight

Paseo, a Caribbean take-out joint painted in shades of vivid aqua and electric pink and topped with a corrugated metal roof, has been a prized staple of Fremont and Ballard, nay, Seattle...nay, Pacific Northwest foodies for over two decades, winning awards and mentions from Yelp (#2 on their list of Best Places to Eat in the U.S.), Esquire, and Seattle Magazine to name a few.  Smart folks line up before the place even opens, with sheeple arriving later in the day for a long wait.  Slow-roasted meat takes time, and in the past, it wasn't uncommon for them to cross out menu items as the day progressed, signaling that they'd sold out of one or more ingredients.  Sometimes they'd even run out of bread, relegating patrons to forgo their signature sandwiches and slum it with a tasty Caribbean platter of delight.    

My favorite, above all, is their Caribbean Roast Sandwich: a toasted baguette slathered with aioli and topped with a leaf of romaine, "pork shoulder coated in Paseo marinade & slow roasted 'til falling into succulent morsels" plus still-crisp caramelized onions, pickled jalapeños, and fragrant cilantro. God bless this mess and send lots of napkins my way.  Let's be honest...summer in Seattle isn't complete until you've sat in the sun-soaked sand at Golden Gardens and, feeling peckish, meandered over to the Ballard location for a little nosh.

image.jpg

In early October 2014, I moved to an apartment just around the block from the Fremont location, and on mornings when I was feeling indulgent, would crack open my dining room window, letting in both the crisp autumn air and the tantalizing aroma of Paseo as we both started our respective engines up for the day.  On the morning of Tuesday, November 11, 2014, hope disappeared faster than The Nothing devoured Fantasia when a modest sign was posted at both locations stating that Paseo had closed permanently, with no warning or explanation.  The following day, the owners filed for bankruptcy.  Per The Seattle Times, the restaurant allegedly "owed more than $30,000 to various creditors and potentially faced unknown tax debts stemming from a pending civil suit filed by four ex-workers" regarding unpaid wages and work breaks not given.  

Sad Empress.gif

Sadness reigned over The Emerald City, and friends who'd never made the time to stand in line for Paseo's divine Caribbean cuisine, imagining that they'd someday find an open hour or two to visit the iconic establishment, were devastated.  Well...most of them were.  One of my friends responded to the news by saying that if what the former employees were alleging was true, she was glad they'd shut down and that she'd never eaten there.  My response, amid all the controversy, and despite my liberal political views, is captured in the text conversation below:

image.jpg

How glorious a day it was, and how the citizens of Seattle did rejoice, when just over a month later, Ryan Santwire, investor in Fremont's Rock Creek (located just around the corner from Paseo and the planned site of SeaPsych's one-year anniversary dinner), purchased the name and assets of Paseo and promised to re-open it soon.  A few weeks later, I was walking home from work and saw a beacon of light shining through the dark winter's night.  That light was coming from inside Paseo. 

image.jpg

In the weeks following their re-opening, I'd say that not much has changed.  The sandwiches taste the same, credit cards are now accepted, the lines are shorter (for now), and when I manage to get out of the office before 9pm, it appears that they aren't running out of food to serve hungry customers.  Let us hope that this new chapter of Paseo is truly neverending.

Paseo is located in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle at 4225 Fremont Avenue North, with the original Ballard location at 6226 Seaview Ave Northwest.


Bruges Waffles & Frites

by Steven Behling


I have a love-hate relationship with the land of my birth...mostly the latter.  Nevertheless, one must return periodically, if not for the food, then to spend time with family and friends.  And return I did for two weeks this holiday season.

It's no secret that I became a foodie after leaving Utah.  Jell-O salad and cream of [insert] casseroles are great and all, but the world seems to hold something tastier beyond, as opposed to within, the shadows of the everlasting hills of the Salt Lake Valley.  In recent years, I hear folks like Chef Viet Pham and Modern Family's Ty Burrell have begun to transform the valley's cuisine into something more diverse, interesting, and delicious, but to me, Utah shall always be the place where I lose, as opposed to gain, weight...like that time in college where I biked to campus and took a karate class and lost 40 pounds in six months.

Just after my plane touched down at SLC, my mother and her friend, Shirley, picked me up at the airport.  A longer than anticipated day of travel left me famished, and I had no choice but to stop at In-N-Out for a Double Double Animal Style.  Man I miss that burger.  A celebratory post-burger Facebook post brought a response from my friend Jackson, a missionary who used to serve in Seattle, with a request to get together for some waffles at Bruges Waffles & Frites in downtown Salt Lake.  This past Monday, that request was honored, despite my Columbia Bugaboot snow boots from Chicago cracking and the soles falling off one block after I got off TRAX near Gallivan Plaza.  Shuffling through snow and slush down Third South, I reflected on Jackson's proclamation that when he went to high school at West, his frequent visits to Bruges led owner Pierre Vandamme to name a waffle after him: The Jackson, a Belgian waffle with dark chocolate squares inside and covered in gooey, melted dark chocolate outside.  Any guesses as to what I ordered?

After he left Seattle over a year ago, Jackson became a ripped Muay Thai fighter.  I became a food blogger.  His path may be more manly, but mine is tastier.  

Tonight I celebrated my friends Adam and Natalie's wedding during a classy reception at Publik Coffee Roasters on West Temple.  Tic-tac-toe games made from woodburned wafers, roast-your-own marshmallows over stone-enveloped Sterno (complete with pre-pubescent tweens trying to light things on fire before noticing that someone is watching and sheepishly retreating), and cheerful wedding guests were surrounded by exposed brick and illuminated by candles and strands of simple, clear globe string lights.  I couldn't be happier for Adam and Natalie, but little did I know that such joy would very nearly be surpassed when I turned around to see a mobile waffle cart from Bruges.  

image.jpg

Turns out beginning and ending a week with sweet, caramelized waffles cushioned the blow of a return to my homeland more than I ever thought it could.  Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to boarding a plane home, as Adam and Natalie soon will, to Seattle.  I've missed those gray skies terribly.

Bruges Waffles & Frites is located at 336 W 300 S in Salt Lake City, with a second location at 2314 S Highland Dr in Sugarhouse.    


Sweet Mandy B's

by Steven Behling


The time has come to close the Chicago chapter of NOSHology, at least for now.  And what better way to say goodbye than with a slice of something smothered in buttercream frosting...the kind that doesn't leave a Crisco-like film inside your mouth and cause your teeth to ache.  The kind of buttercream that fills the swimming pools of your dreams, into which you dive and burst forth in a shower of rainbow sprinkles.  The kind of buttercream frosting I've only ever had at Sweet Mandy B's.  

image.jpg

I can honestly say that Sweet Mandy B's is responsible for at least 15 of the 30 pounds I gained during graduate school.  Situated just down the street from DePaul University's Lincoln Park campus, this one-of-a-kind bakery features ample seating and a little step upon which your ill-mannered children can climb and plant their faces and palms directly on the glass display, showcasing row after row of sweet treats.  Over the course of the five years I lived in Chicago, I can't count how many times I walked down Webster Avenue for a cupcake or two...or six.  I celebrated more than one birthday and drowned countless sorrows at Sweet Mandy B's, and would likely be celebrating/drowning many more if I still lived in the Windy City. 

image.jpg

When it came time to plan my week-long celebration of graduating with a PhD in clinical child psychology during the summer of 2010, I called Sweet Mandy B's to order a simple-yet-glorious chocolate cake with...you guessed it...buttercream icing.  

image.jpg

When the time came to commemorate my friend Rachel's completion of all the many cumbersome requirements for licensure in psychology, who do you think I called? Sweet Mandy B's.  

image.jpg

When the time comes for me to order a wedding cake, who'm I gonna call? SWEET MANDY B's.  I'm also going to try to order a whoopie pie, even though they don't make them anymore.  

Sweet Mandy B's is located at 1208 W Webster Ave in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois.  It's also located in my dreams, but those are harder for you to access. 


Xoco

by Steven Behling


My friend Lauren's wedding wasn't the only reason for my trip to Chicago in May 2013. Approximately eight years earlier, I was in my first year of graduate school and received an enthusiastic email from a girl named Rachel. My graduate program matched second year students with first years in a mentorship role, and Rachel had just been matched with me. In her message, she expressed profound excitement to begin her studies at DePaul that upcoming fall, and was eager for advice on how to best prepare. My response included the following excerpt:

"...your primary task RIGHT NOW is to relax and enjoy yourself. Do fun things and don't think about grad school...you're in already so just chill for a bit before you jump into the swirling black hole that is grad school."

Over the following eight years, Rachel and I developed the kind of relationship that only mutual suffering, confusion, frustration, despair and, ultimately, triumph over evil can bring. Early May 2013 brought not only a return to my beloved Chicago, but also Rachel's final step in becoming a licensed psychologist: 225 questions answered over the course of 240 minutes covering every aspect of the field of psychology, regardless of the questions' relevance to the actual practice of psychology, formally known as the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). You see, it's not enough to obtain a doctorate in psychology and accrue thousands of hours of supervised experience. One must also jump through the flaming hoop of multiple-choice standardized assessment in order to become properly licensed.

Rachel arrived at the restaurant on the verge of tears, which is a typical response after being ravaged and cast aside by the EPPP.  Nearly everyone I know has walked out of the exam thinking, "That's it.  I've failed.  Everything I ever thought I knew isn't enough.  It's all been a lie."  Then, weeks later, nearly everyone finds out that yes, they did indeed pass.  Fortunately for Rachel (and for me and her husband Justin), we had chosen Rick Bayless's counter-service Mexican wonderland, Xoco, as our meeting place post-exam.  I had dined at Bayless's Frontera Grill, with dessert from the upscale Topolobampo, once in 2004 when my sister and brother-in-law were visiting Chicago, but alas...until Xoco, his masterful representation of Mexican cuisine was beyond the reach of a graduate student's budget.  

After noting Bayless's presence near the front of house, I ordered a cochinita pibil torta with tender, wood-roasted suckling pig in achiote, creamy black beans, & pickled onions on a crusty roll perfect for dipping in a burning hot habanero sauce.  Perfection on a plate, photographed in a darker area of the space and subjected to an Instagram filter I was particularly fond of at the time.

image.jpg

Crispy-yet-doughy, sugary churros dipped in melty Champurrado hot chocolate (of which we did not waste a drop), followed our respective meals.  The coarseness of the sugar balanced out the hot, doughy interior of the cinammony churro, and the hot chocolate was less Swiss Miss and more "thank you, miss."  Liquid chocolate would have been a better description.

image.jpg

Trips back to Chicago are now dictated by jam-packed (pun intended) food itineraries, and there simply isn't time to stop at the same place twice.  Although this may surprise many readers, my stomach does reach capacity at some point.  Nevertheless, after Lauren's wedding and before the reception, I found myself both peckish and down the street from the Bayless block (North Clark Street between Illinois and Hubbard).  Again, he was physically present throughout the restaurant, overseeing the various operations and working the line.  The positive impact of his presence was felt in many ways, not the least of which was my bowl of wood-roasted chicken pozolé with Gunthorp chicken, tender hominy, smoky broth, crunchy cabbage and crisp radishes, a generous amount of ground red chile, and a squeeze of lime.  Not since I lived and worked among the migrant farm workers of central Washington State had I tasted the familiar flavors of a rich and satisfying bowl of pozolé.

image.jpg

I can still taste it.

Xoco is located at 449 N Clark Street in the River North neighborhood of Chicago.  A cursory search of teh Interwebs reveals a second location at 1741 N Milwaukee Ave in Wicker Park, just down the street from my old apartment.  I never should have moved.


Hot Doug's [CLOSED]

by Steven Behling


It seems as though NOSHology, conceptualized as a place where friends and family can "virtually" join me at the table for a delicious meal, or perhaps in the kitchen for an experiment in cooking, or maybe in the theatre for a screening of a food-related film, is turning into an online memorial of sorts for eateries long since shuttered, including Katsu Burger (thankfully re-opened), La Bête, and Frog N Snail.  Either I have very esoteric tastes or the restaurant industry is more transient than I once thought it to be.  Regardless, let us take a moment to "pour one out" for Hot Doug's.

This Avondale homage to encased meats led hungry patron after hungry patron to willingly wait in line for hours for a chance to wrap their lips around gourmet sausages created in-house by wildly popular charcuterie czar, Doug Sohn.  Some went so far as to tattoo themselves to proclaim their love for Sohn and his creations.  The regular menu at Hot Doug's was filled with affordable and tasty staples with periodically-changing names based on current pop culture and references to Chicago's history and people, with multiple gourmet options on rotation detailed on the Today's Specials board.  You even got to choose how your sausage was prepared: steamed, grilled, deep fried, or fried AND grilled.

image.jpg

I'll never forget the summer of 2008 when my friend Lindsey and I were rewarded for our patience with an antelope sausage with blackberry crème fraîche and goat cheese.  We also enjoyed a smoked debreziner with bacon-garlic mayonnaise and smoked gouda and a traditional Chicago Dog.  For all you newbies out there, that means an all-beef frankfurter on a poppy seed bun with mustard (NO KETCHUP!), raw chopped onion, toxic-sludge-green sweet pickle relish, a tart dill pickle spear, slices of tomato, pickled sport peppers, and a pinch of celery salt. 

image.jpg

It's no surprise that when I was planning my week-long celebration of finally completing my PhD, Hot Doug's was one of the stops on my food tour of Chicago.  Hey look!  My double chin is so adorably pinchable!  Say what you will about the recent rise of the lumbersexual, but I must endorse the effectiveness of my current beard on downplaying my pudge.

image.jpg

When my mother and Uncle Rob rolled into Hot Doug's, we picked up some Chicago Dogs, duck fat fries (available on Friday & Saturday only) and an über-rich foie gras and sauternes duck sausage with truffle aioli, foie gras mousse, and sel gris.  Yeah, I know how foie gras is made.  You don't have to tell me.  No, I'd never had it before, and I've not had it since.  I ate it purely out of spite.  Ain't no city council gonna tell me what I can and cannot eat.  Little did I know, this visit would be the last I would ever make to Hot Doug's.  In May of 2014, Sohn announced that he would be closing his iconic restaurant forever.

image.jpg

Unlike the other NOSHology entries for now-defunct eateries, this one has a self-directed and happy ending...at least for the chef/owner, if not for the general public: Sohn simply wanted to direct his creative energy toward something else.  Coverage from the local news media on the day of Doug's announcement and leading up to his last day on October 3rd, 2014, reflects the love and appreciation Chicagoans and out-of-towners have for Sohn and his work.  Fare thee well, Emperor of Encased Meats.

Buy Hot Doug's: The Book here.  It doesn't taste as good as the real deal, but it's all we have left.

 


The Bongo Room

by Steven Behling


True to form, my tribute to the city of Chicago and the food that got me through graduate school is taking longer to complete than promised...much like the graduate school experience itself.  October 2014 was a crazy month with some rather tough stuff in it, but here we are in November and I'm hungry to continue celebrating some of my favorite Chicago eateries. 

The Bongo Room.  Photos simply do not do justice to the decadence that is brunch at The Bongo Room.  Very few photos exist of my many trips to this fine establishment, mostly because I could not wait another moment to take in the fluffiest pancakes coated in crushed pretzels and drizzled with chocolate and bananas, or perhaps an aromatic vanilla crème anglaise and ribbons of salted caramel, or maybe a dusting of graham cracker and webs of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla sauces with fresh strawberries dancing in a Neapolitan wonderland.  If you play your cards right, you might happen upon said pancakes topped with crushed candied praline and buttery hazelnut cream.  I could go on and on.  And on.

image.jpg

Pancakes not your thing?  No prob.  How 'bout their chocolate tower French toast?  Bittersweet chocolate chunk bread with maple mascarpone (did someone say autumn?), banana crème brûlée sauce (what?!), fresh bananas and a little chocolate tulip plus chocolate shavings on top. #becausechocolate

image.jpg

I suggest going with a friend and ordering one sweet, one savory, and splitting them amongst yourselves.  My favorite savory has always been their baby spinach, roasted red pepper, and feta Benedict, shown photobombing the chocolate tower French toast above.  That Benedict is such a ham.

The Bongo Room has three Chicago locations: 1470 N Milwaukee in Wicker Park (check out the ceiling fans!), 5022 N Clark in Andersonville (perhaps the most seating of the three), and the original South Loop location at 1152 S Wabash.


Vosges Haut-Chocolat

by Steven Behling


Le Cordon Bleu-trained Katrina Markoff clearly demonstrates her mastery of the art of chocolate, along with skillful use of creativity and mischievousness, through Vosges Haut-Chocolat, a Chicago-based chocolatier with a storefront just down the street from DePaul University's Lincoln Park campus.  Although the line has since expanded to include moderately-affordable chocolate bars, when I first started graduate school in 2004, their truffle collections, hand-made marshmallows, and exotic caramels were beyond the reach of my student loan/stipend-based budget.  Nevertheless, for special occasions such as a thesis defense, successful completion of my graduate program's horrific comprehensive examinations, etc., I would treat myself to a select-your-own 9-piece violet box of chocolate heaven.  Over the years, I grew to eagerly anticipate the smooth feel of the truffle between my thumb and forefinger, the tiny ping of the shell cracking beneath the weight of my teeth, and the slow drop into another world as my senses became aware of flavors and textures such as sweet Indian curry powder and coconut in milk chocolate (the Naga®), Guajillo and pasilla chiles plus pepitas in 75% Tanzanian dark chocolate (the Oaxaca), ginger, wasabi, and black sesame seeds in dark chocolate (the Black Pearl®), and, to my surprise, extra virgin olive oil and green olives in white chocolate (the Olio d'Oliva).  My favorite, not pictured here (because I ate it) was the Rooster: Taleggio cheese, organic walnuts, and Tahitian vanilla bean in bittersweet dark chocolate. 

image.jpg

Even my own mother, a diehard devotee of See's Candies, was powerless against the forces of Vosges.  If you thought her smile was big holding this gift certificate (given to her during a blustery Chicago Christmas visit), you should have seen it after she cashed it in for some truffles.  Okay...it was exactly the same size, but that's because she has a very tiny mouth, a fact which she will be happy to tell you more about should you run into her sometime. 

image.jpg

My favorite Vosges Haut-Chocolat store is located at 951 Armitage Ave in Chicago, Illinois.


Margie's Candies

by Steven Behling


I first enjoyed the time warp that is Margie's Candies in the summer of 2007 when I was looking to move from Lakeview to the Bucktown/Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago.  Still close enough to bike or bus to DePaul's Lincoln Park campus, the area had a different feel from Lakeview, and Margie's was the first sign that my world was about to change.  I may or may not have selected my new apartment based on its proximity to Margie's.  

Opened by Peter George Paulos in 1921, Margie's serves up an impressive variety of ice cream in all its forms: sundae, shake, split, malt, and scoop.  They've even got phosphates.  If you're looking for something to-go, choose from Margie's expansive counter of chocolates, truffles, and fudge.  I'm ever so partial to the turtles.  You can send me a box if you'd like.

The decor at Margie's must be mentioned.  Much of the space feels like a time warp, with butterscotch-hued, vinyl-upholstered booths that are perfect for snuggling, now-defunct individual jukeboxes with hits from decades past adorning each table, and relics from the parlor's history, including stained glass windows, photos of the family, and memorabilia from some of Margie's famous visitors, including Al Capone, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones.  No mention of former mayor Richard M. Daley's visit to this historic Chicago ice cream parlor, but [the] rumor [I just made up] has it that his consumption of a World's Largest Sundae led to a sugar-fueled rampage, resulting in those bulldozed Xs across the runway at the former Meigs Field Airport on that fateful night in March 2003.   

By far, my favorite part of the Margie's experience is the freaking gravy boat of hot fudge served alongside select sundaes.  Yes, please.

image.jpg

Pour it on top.  Just like that.  Aww, yeah.  You know how I like it.

image.jpg

Even my own mother can finish an entire sundae.  You should be ashamed of yourself if you can't.  

image.jpg

Margie's Candies is located at 1960 Western Ave in Chicago, Illinois.  


Toast

by Steven Behling


Mascarpone-stuffed French toast, lightly dusted with powdered sugar and served with seasonal berries.  Shh.  Don't say another word.  Nobody likes it when you talk with your mouth full.

image.jpg

Toast has locations in two Chicago neighborhoods: 746 W Webster Ave in Lincoln Park & 2046 N Damen Ave in Bucktown.


Green Tea Japanese Restaurant

by Steven Behling


During my first year of college, I worked in a bookstore with this girl named Courtney.  Oh, Courtney.  How did I feel about Courtney?  Perhaps the Jets said it best:

During a particularly slow day in the store, Courtney and I got to talking and she appeared incredulous when I told her that I'd never had sushi.  "Wait, never?!  You've never even had a California roll?" she asked.  "No," I responded, "but would you like to be there for my first time?"  IT WAS A DATE, one proposed with only a moderate amount of innuendo.  

Courtney was there the first time I ate sushi, and I'm glad, because to the outside observer, deciding to take raw fish and rice, wrap it up in dried seaweed, and actively choose to put it in your mouth seems wrong.  Sadly, Courtney and I never ended up together, but that's okay, because the real star of that evening, sushi, is now my main squeeze.  Sushi and I hang out all the time, and when I'm feeling lonely or upset, sushi is always there to help me feel better.  Thanks, sushi.  

A few months after I moved to Chicago, Sara, one of the students in my cohort, introduced me to what would become my favorite sushi spot in town: Green Tea.  A tiny, inconspicuous spot along Clark Street just north of Webster, Green Tea was within walking distance from DePaul's Lincoln Park campus...plus they delivered (to many a team meeting during my time there).  Green Tea was where I and a few of my friends went to celebrate my 28th birthday (after the Harry Potter Exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry and before going to Sweet Mandy B's for cupcakes), and even though we had to wait for nearly two hours due to the minuscule amount of seating (four tables and the sushi bar), it definitely made for a very happy birthday.  Green Tea was where I took my friend Brett and his wife Janeen when they came to visit, and they loved it.  Green Tea was the last place I ate before departing Chicago, and is a must whenever I visit.   One of the best parts about dining there is that when you grab your coat and head out the door a satisfied customer, the staff stop whatever they are doing and shout, "See you tomorrow!"

When you've got some time, and a hankering for deliciously fresh sushi, head on over to Green Tea.  My favorites are the Chicago Spicy Crazy roll, the spicy scallop roll, and the "special" Dai Shiro Maguro roll.  The Chicago Spicy Crazy roll is composed of tuna, salmon, whitefish, white tuna, spicy sauce, avocado, and cucumber shaped into a giant triangle and rolled in red tobiko.  It's a big maki, so you probably only need to order this if you're by yourself.  But c'mon...it's SUSHI.  Get more.

image.jpg

The Dai Shiro Maguro roll isn't on the main menu.  If you're lucky, your table has a soy sauce-stained little placard announcing the tastiest roll ever: seared superwhite tuna on top of a shrimp tempura avocado cucumber roll, garnished with a colorful assortment of tobiko and a touch of homemade special soy sauce.  Simple, understated perfection.

image.jpg

Green Tea is located at 2206 N Clark St in Chicago, Illinois.


Firecakes Donuts

by Steven Behling


Weddings make me hungry.  Possibly because I eat my feelings, and weddings, as much as I enjoy the celebration of loved ones making a commitment to cherish and honor one another, also remind me that I am alone.  So alone.  More doughnuts, please.

On my way to my dear friend Lauren's wedding in the spring of 2013, I had exactly 15 minutes between getting off the red line at Grand and the first chords of the processional music.  Just enough time to stop in at Firecakes Donuts, take a photo, eat a fluffy lemon verbena meringue Firecake the size of my head, straighten my tie, and walk in to Assumption Roman Catholic Church with six minutes to spare.   

image.jpg

There's always time for doughnuts.

Firecakes Donuts is located at 68 W Hubbard St in Chicago, Illinois. 


¡Bang Bang! Pie & Biscuits

by Steven Behling


On a sunny Sunday afternoon in May of 2013, I was catching up with my friend Amber and was feeling peckish.  She suggested a little (then up-and-coming) spot down the street, ¡Bang Bang! Pie & Biscuits.  It was toward the end of the day, so the selection was a bit sparse, but I settled on their silky smooth Kentucky Mud Pie with a chewy honey graham crust and fresh whipped cream...and I'm so glad I did.  Next time I'm in the neighborhood, I'm stopping by when ¡Bang Bang! opens and will have myself a one-person pie-eating contest. #winning

image.jpg

¡Bang Bang! Pie & Biscuits is located at 2051 N California Ave in Chicago, Illinois.


Frog N Snail [CLOSED]

by Steven Behling


I admit it.  I'm a big fan of Top Chef.  Although I've never been a reality television supporter, something about [variably] delicious food prepared in the pressure cooker of competition and ingredient sabotage keeps me glued to the television.  During my visit to Chicago the spring before last, I stopped by Top Chef Miami finalist Dale Levitski's Frog N Snail on the morning of my friend's wedding for a delicious start to the day.  While I was waiting for my breakfast to arrive, I sipped silently on a velvety milk chocolate violet steamer and contemplated what unique finds I might discover at Foursided, one of my favorite shops in Lakeview that offers framing, unique cards, and little bits of this and that (all of which you need).  

image.jpg

Post-steamer, I enjoyed the rabbit dumpling hash with salty truffle dumplings, tender braised rabbit, garden fresh asparagus and peas, smooth "broccoli n cauliflower" purée, and preserved lemon jus.  Gorgeous!

image.jpg

Just when I thought my meal was complete, Dale himself stopped by to see how I liked it.  What?!  This is what my Top Chef obsession has turned me into: one of those guys who asks for a photograph.

image.jpg

It was glorious.  Sadly, Frog N Snail, along with Levitski's other Chicago venture, Sprout, are both closed now.  You can still enjoy Dale's haute cuisine if you're willing to drive for seven hours down I-65 from Chicago to Nashville to arrive at his newest venture, Sinema, located at 2600 Franklin Pike, Suite 102.  I'm pretty sure you should.


Hot Chocolate

by Steven Behling


After my third year in graduate school, I moved from a studio in Lakeview to a one-bedroom in Bucktown, where I was rocked to sleep every night by the rattling Blue Line that ran past my kitchen window.  A few blocks away from my new digs was Chef Mindy Segal's Hot Chocolate, the center of all things decadent and rich.  I remember going there with my friend Richie one time and thinking, "Oh, I can totally handle a cup of their dark hot chocolate AND an entire serving of their mac & cheese.  Totally."  No.  I couldn't.  Not without something savory to cut it.  Too rich.  I spent the next hour lying on my bed in this weird space between bliss and anguish...and that's okay.  

When I returned to Chi-Town for a visit in the spring of 2013, I stopped by Hot Chocolate and ordered the Mexican hot chocolate and an order of mac & cheese.  Perhaps it's because my foodie chops had grown since I was a resident, but this time, I was ready.  And it was glorious.  Glorious.

image.jpg

Go on...zoom in a little closer on those floating house-made fluffy marshmallows atop a 2/3 mix of melty 72% French drinking chocolate, 1/3 milk chocolate, fresh cinnamon and cayenne with a kick. 

image.jpg

Aww yeah.  Mmm-hmm.  Hey mac & cheese, with your super sharp cheddar and misleading portion size.  I know you spent some time under the broiler, and I like that.

image.jpg

The richness/awesomeness was nearly enough to send my very pregnant friend, Sonya, into an early labor.  Nearly.

Mindy's Hot Chocolate is located at 1747 N Damen Ave in Chicago, Illinois.


Garrett Popcorn

by Steven Behling


It can't be a month of NOSHology posts dedicated to the city of Chicago without a mention of Garrett Popcorn.  Homeslice, you haven't lived [in the Midwest] until you've put a handful of their puffy popped kernels in your mouth, half salty, half sweet.  That's right.  I'm talking about the Garrett Mix®, a combination of Garrett's signature CaramelCrisp® with a savory cheese popcorn. 

image.jpg

Hey buddy, don't knock it 'til you try it.  I remember when Sonya, one of the students in my cohort, brought a tin of the Garrett Mix® to our ethics class first year.  "Eww. Cheese and caramel?" I asked.  Unethical.  Or, at least that's what I thought until I tried it.

Listen, there's a reason this place has a line a Magnificent Mile long. 

Try it.  I triple dog dare you.  

Garrett Popcorn Shops are located throughout the Chicagoland area and have since branched out to cities throughout the United States and worldwide.  The waxed bag of joy pictured above was obtained at 625 N Michigan Ave in Chicago, Illinois.


Tank Noodle

by Steven Behling


I've often wished that I could pick up Chicago and set it down on top of the hills of Seattle, being careful to preserve the architecture and people of both cities, ultimately ending up with a Pacific Northwest weather pattern with a Windy City + Pike Place Market feel.  Unfortunately, doing so would change the Chicago culture, at least with respect to the way the city comes alive in the summertime.  Seattleites are, of course, glad to see sunny blue skies after months of grey darkness, but temperature-wise, we only have about a 20-30°F difference between our average summer and winter temps.  Contrast that with Chicago's 50°F differential, with temperatures exceeding that shift depending on the day.  I remember the first summer I was in Chicago, a friend from Washington State came to visit, and the weather was 119°F with humidity.  Ugh. UGH.  I also recall going to a Super Bowl XLI party in February 2007 to cheer on "Da Bears" and it was -40°F with the wind chill.  Unacceptable.  I was so appalled, I may have taken a photo of my computer screen with the foreboding forecast, which proved too generous on the actual day.

image.jpg

Sometimes the Chicago River freezes.  THE RIVER FREEZES.  Unacceptable.

image.jpg

It was on an unusually crisp, almost wintry autumn morning that I flew back to Chicago from Southern California where I was doing my final year of clinical training.  I was in town to defend my dissertation, and the stress of all that was going on at the time nuked my immune system.  Thanks to the passenger in seat 12A on my LAX to ORD flight, I was the recipient of a burgeoning head cold that would have seriously thrown a damper on my dissertation defense had it reached full capacity.  Luckily, my friends Rachel and Justin knew the perfect remedy, and took me down the street to Tank Noodle for some phở.  I'd never had this Vietnamese soup before, yet its anise-and-cinnamon-infused fragrant beef marrow broth, bounteous rice noodles, thinly-sliced sirloin and onions, with a side plate of add-your-own jalapeños, mung bean sprouts, lime, cilantro, saw-leaf and basil was just the thing I needed to obliterate the cold and send me on my way to a successful defense.  Tank Noodle, you'll always be my first, and nobody can change that.  Nobody.

image.jpg

After a frigid, cruel winter in Chicago, restaurants open up their sidewalk seating, the palm trees that were "put away" for the winter are re-planted at Oak Street Beach for the summer months, and nobody seems to mind that the heat and humidity cause their nether regions to stick to the insides of their legs. But it doesn't matter what the weather looks like...there is always room for phở.

Tank Noodle is located at 4953-55 N Broadway in Chicago, Illinois.


Ann Sather

by Steven Behling


One of the first places I fell in love with after moving to Chicago in the autumn of 2004 was a little place just around the corner on Broadway off Roscoe (and also down the street, by the Belmont El stop) that served the gooiest, sweetest, frostingest cinnamon rolls this side of Scandinavia: Ann Sather.  This Swedish-inspired breakfast and lunch spot delivered reliably delicious offerings the many times I stopped in over the years, but the one thing I always went for was a[t least one] cinnamon roll.  Hey, they come with your breakfast entrée.  How can you not?  On more than one occasion, I stopped by the Belmont Ave location and picked up a dozen (extra frosting please!) on my way to campus for a meeting; take note...dry research meetings are made better with gooey frosting.  Always.

Also, if you're headed to Seattle from Chicago, note that Ann Sather's cinnamon rolls travel fairly well, at least within the day.  Message me for my address.  I'll stay up late for you.  

image.jpg

Ann Sather's flagship restaurant is located at 909 W Belmont Ave in Chicago, Illinois, next to the Belmont El stop.  They can also be found at 3145 N Broadway St and 1147 W Granville St.