For the past several Decembers, we’ve made a tradition out of attending the annual julbord, or Christmas buffet, at Tre Kronor, on Chicago’s Northwest Side. The Swedish restaurant turns itself into a Christmas jewel box, offering two seatings every night at 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. (except Sundays) and lays out the largest spread of Swedish fare I’ve seen outside of Stockholm. The centerpiece: a dozen types of herring, with flavors ranging from curry to dill. In an era where the experts tell us how important the small, oily fish are – both on the environment and our health – I love that the fraternity of herring, mackerel and anchovy are now considered the cool kids. There are plenty of other surprises on the julbord, including a nip of glögg to start things off, followed by deviled eggs, gravlax and a cream-laden potato dish called Jansson’s Temptation that still haunts me. Servers don traditional white dresses, and sing folk songs while you nibble from the dessert table. Note: the main floor only has seatings on Fridays and Saturdays this month, but the upstairs has two seatings every night (except Sunday). Go to Brown Paper Tickets to sign up. But hurry!
They don’t advertise or tell anyone about these special dinners, as word-of-mouth pretty much fills every chair at every seating. Many years ago we sat next to Studs Terkel; who knows who’ll show up this time around. If you haven’t been, don’t worry. They sell herring throughout the year (although the dozen-plus varieties only show up during the julbord). Big thanks and shout-out to Todd Rosenberg (@toddrphoto) for the fine camera work this week.
The numbers alone are staggering: $70 million invested in a 63,000 square foot space (13k larger than New York’s, by the way), and a labyrinth of 10 different eating opportunities/restaurants. Add to that a Lavazza coffee bar, a butcher, a fishmonger, a dry goods section, some fresh produce, a wine shop, a brewery, a gelato bar with two different styles of creamy sweetness and a dizzying array of imported jams, chocolates and cheeses, and the Chicago version of Eataly boggles the mind as much as it tempts your stomach. 70% of what they sell, they actually make here, including the bread, the pasta and the mozzarella; just the second American outpost of this sprawling international business, Team Batali-Bastianich also made sure this heartland version would have a few things its older sibling in New York City did not. Read More
I typically toss the freebies and swag into the garbage or put them out on my desk for co-workers to devour. But when the folks at Echelon Foods (a former Canadian company that has moved to Chicago) asked if they could send me an Original Turducken, I was intrigued. I had never had one, let alone cooked one, and the thought of a duck inside a chicken inside a turkey – with layers of breadcrumb and sausage stuffing for extra richness – proved an irresistible allure. Read More
The far western suburbs have a few food and drink highlights, among them, Paul Virant’s Vie, Katy’s Dumplings and the massive Super H Mart in Naperville. But head out to Warrenville, and you’ll come across the headquarters of Two Brothers Brewery, one of the region’s craft brewing pioneers. This week’s pick is a red rye ale called Cane & Ebel, and we love how it combines tangy rye with the smooth, cool sweetness of Thai palm sugar. Cheers.
I’ve often sung the praises of the mango with sticky rice or the som tom (papaya salad) at Aroy, which, coincidentally and appropriately, is translated as “delicious.” The tiny mom-and-pop only has only about 12 tables, but their old-school approach could rival any Thai restaurant in the country, including the revered Pok Pok, now wowing New York City food media from its perch in Brooklyn.
The thing I love about Aroy is that they don’t hold back. The food doesn’t feel restrained, as if they’re cooking for delegates to a Southern Living convention and don’t want to offend or scare off anyone. They cook as if you’re their long, lost uncle from Isaan, and they make no apologies. When you tell them you want it “Thai spice,” they deliver the goods. The same is true with their pork neck salad. Made from marinated and grilled pork that would be fine on its own, they toss it in a powder, made from wok-seared and pulverized sticky rice, galangal (young ginger) and kaffir lime leaf. I could eat this dish all by itself and be happy that I made the trip to Ravenswood. But obviously, I’m ordering mango with sticky rice if it’s in season.
I spent a few hours over the weekend working on my entry for the 2014 James Beard Awards, which will be held in May. The deadline is right after the first of the year, and the nominations come out on March 18th. But a few years ago, the Foundation started releasing the semi-finalists, that is, all of the chefs, restaurants and regions that received more than a couple of votes (there are no semi-finalists in the cookbook and broadcast categories) which means the PR machines will have a few weeks headstart so they can start generating buzz. Why did they start this practice, when, for years, we just waited until mid-March for the official nominee list? Perhaps it has something to do with the recent flood of awards programs that continues to dilute the process. Read More