Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Jon's 60-Minute Chicago Layover with Upscale Vegan Dining

Andiamo: (Chicago Hilton O'Hare) Chicago
O'Hare International Airport
(773) 686-8000

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Jon and the pasta (photo: Chris)
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Mommy-O and Daddy-O (photo: Chris)
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Chris and Jon (photo: Mommy-O)
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A gift from Mommy-O: home-molded heart-shaped chocolates (photo: Chris)
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A blur of Jon; he had his flight (photo: Chris)
The Blue Line took Daddy-O and I straight into O'Hare, steps down a few corridors from the hotel lobby that's a floor below the restaurant named Andiamo where we met up with Mommy-O and got the table Mom had reserved for us.

Andiamo's menu includes the roasted vegetable and sun-dried tomato hummus wrap (mushrooms, onions, peppers and zucchini) Daddy-O enjoyed and a bruschetta starter; but despite having just one vegetarian pasta on the menu, they didn't have any trouble with my use of their menu as a vegan shopping list. They gladly tossed bowtie pasta with tender sundried tomatoes, small broccoli and baby zucchini sliced down the middle in olive oil and garlic. Of course, it was simple; but they knew how to make it tasty, so we rolled with it.

Jon went off to his plane just a bit after he sat down with us; Mommy-O gave both of us some of her signature heart-shaped home-molded vegan chocolates; and one of the Blue Line trains that always seems to be waiting at the O'Hare stop was ready to let me on for home. My stomach was full of warm crusty bread that we'd been lapping up olive oil and salt with before Jon came. A touch of salt is key to bringing out a bit more of the olive flavor; and with salt, Mommy-O told us, the oil doesn't taste so green.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Don't Go Home Before Going Out: Hema's Kitchen and Neo's New Wave

Hema's Kitchen: (Lincoln Park) Chicago
2411 N. Clark Street
(773) 529-1705

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Above: Phil (left) and Dan (right) with heart-shaped potato cutlet
Dan's learned that it's best not to go home before going out (to avoid feeling like staying in once you get home). Thursday, Dan and his fabulous goodbye team took it to Hema's and then to Neo for a night of Planet Earth, "where everything revolves around classic new wave/new romantics music from the late 1970s, early 1980s," as Dan put it.

Hema's took care of us, lining up as many tables as needed to fit us together and making sure to thank us again and again as we left. A quick dash a few doors down took care of BYOB wine, and Hema's took care of making everything vegan so we could share - everything except the dishes with meat and cheese. Deep fried heart-shaped potato cutlets with peas, onions and coriander were quite tender soft on the inside with the crispy outside you'd expect from fried food. The samosas were classically crispy with a similar inside, and everything else was wonderful, too.

Neo took care of the rest - for the first time since 1983 for one of us. Afterwards, bicycling home was speedy as could be.

Photos: Christopher Brunn

Sunday, January 28, 2007

“Punk Rock Pastry”

Bleeding Heart Bakery: (Ukrainian Village) Chicago
2018 W. Chicago Ave.

Original post: 14 December 2006

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Mom out front Bleeding Heart with a Chicago Police car passing in the extreme foreground
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Owner Michelle Garcia out front her shop
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"The Specials" of Bleeding Heart hang on the wall, taken on a previous trip
Punk rock music plays and the checkered stripe, font and text placement used by the punk and 2 Tone band The Specials mark a board hanging on the wall indicating “The Specials” of Bleeding Heart, quite in line with their Web site’s claim of “Punk Rock Pastry.” Owner Michelle Garcia rolls up just as my Mom and I do and I ask for a shot of her for the blog. We know each other from my many visits, in my various states of great excitement, to her bakery and her stand at Green City Market, and our discussions on bicycling, community and vegan goodness. She suggests snapping a shot outside, telling me we should do something different from the usual inside photos. Inside, you can see why people like to photograph here. Pink, red and cute all over, the place is dressed up in a well put together combination of vintage display cases, tables and chairs, thoughtfully presented treats and smiles from the staff.

Their treats are tops, giving a place to Bleeding Heart in Chicago Magazine’s best of Chicago issue this year (2006). Mom and I enjoyed a gluten-free vegan chocolate chunk cookie. Michelle told us she uses rice flour instead of wheat and the girl working the counter told us how the gluten-free cookie feels softer. It is much more tender than the crispy wheat-based vegan one. All of the options might have paralyzed me had I not been so familiar with their vegan offerings: raspberry pecan bars, Take A Hike scones, fudge-like walnut or plain brownies, corn bread, chocolate chunk or molasses cookies, banana tea cakes, and many more seasonal and occasional offerings. Michelle’s husband, Vinny, makes some savories (sandwiches and soups, some vegan) for the case, too. And their weekend brunch continues the vegan offerings.

They sell and brew coffee roasted on the North Side at Metropolis Coffee in Edgewater, along with various jars of sauces from River Valley Kitchen (a Green City Market vendor) like the spicy olive bruschetta, wild mushroom burgundy pasta sauce, and portabella salsa with cilantro and key lime. The work of River Valley tastes so fresh it put smiles on my face.

I’m always excited about Bleeding Heart because their treats are so very good and because Michelle is fun and tirelessly full of life. But it’s not just me that’s excited about his place. Looking at packages of their “Holiday Cookie Collection”, one customer exuberantly exclaimed “oh my God.” Everyone working here seems in to the scene, too. I overheard an employee say how she was looking forward to baking gingerbread cookies at home. Bleeding Heart and the people the bakery brings in are nothing short of vibrantly amazing.

Pre-Cafe Brunch: December 30, 2006 update

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Update: My bro Jon enjoying a cup of spicy vegan hot cocoa.
This morning, I had just come to Bleeding Heart for their garage sale of dishes, baskets and miscellaneous kitchen gear when I accidentally met up with my pal Sherry. The Bakery will be closed for a week on January 1 to change in to a full cafe serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. I'm very much excited to anticipate more savory choices after sampling this bakery's vegan brunch options over time, especially their magnificent implementation of chilaquiles jalisco this morning. Vinny, the husband of baker and owner Michelle Garcia, brought it out to my table dressed in his white apron. My plate was loaded with tortillas sautéed in volando sauce and refried beans. I'm used to refried beans that come uniformly smooth and homogenously colored; but it looked like Vinny had made these to order. A little of some of the beans' individual identities were still recognizable, adding a much welcomed variation in texture and color. Pico de gallo cooled it all off. Other vegan brunch options include: biscuits and mushroom gravy, "Plain Jane" pancakes, tofu and avocado soft tacos, and of course, Michelle's bakery.

photos: Christopher Brunn

Brunch with Laura Photo Update: Sunday, 28 January 2007

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Chilaquiles Jalisco (front), waffles (back), Laura (further back) (photo: Christopher Brunn)
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Chris out front Bleeding Heart (photo: Laura R.)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Almost the Lula Cafe of Ukrainian Village

Dodo: (Ukrainian Village) Chicago
935 N. Damen Ave.

Original post: Saturday, 20 January 2007

Tofu Scram at Dodo Cafe_2.jpgThe moment I walked in I liked the place; and it wasn't just because of the bike rack that I locked to directly out front. Dodo holds a warm eclectic feel that reminds me of Lula Cafe - the Logan Square vegan-friendly brunch institution that I've loved ever since they were on the first Veggie Bike and Dine in 2004 (as a matter of disclosure though, I have co-produced these events and am a big fan of supportive restaurants). Dodo sports vibrantly colored walls, cooks partially visible from the tables, well hung local artwork, and small unpretentious tables with well presented food. Dodo doesn't have a liquor license, but from talking to the co-owner, William, it sounds like they'd like one if they decide to open for dinner. William's co-owner stood behind the counter cooking up her magic besides another cook, and the hot pans turned around from the stove and came up to the counter to finish plates for the servers.

Tofu Scram at Dodo Cafe.jpgThe place was jumping when I rolled in just about 11 a.m. on a Saturday. I got the last good two-person table, and as more groups flowed in, William nicely asked them to "hang out in" the gallery that runs beside Dodo. My server told me the art here is mostly from people in the building, and some is from one of the owners. The art refreshed me; some of it looks ambiguous and colorful, with roughly outlined characters. My server kept me happy with seemingly endless strong coffee.

Dodo tries to do one vegan special on the weekends, my server told me. William added that sometimes they have seitan; but this time, it's tofu scram tossed with, as the specials card puts it, "an abundance of crisp veggies, toasted grains & sunflower seeds." In other words, it's no ordinary tofu scram. Their core menu (available on weekdays, too) offers more vegan choices: McCan's steel cut Irish oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar (sounds like it's made without milk by default), fresh seasonal fruit, house granola with banana slices, various toasts plus a toasted ciabatta with tomato and cucumber (hold the cream cheese), and maple sauteed banana (hold the yogurt). William told me that today the hash could be made vegan, too (hold the pancetta).

They're not kidding about the goodness of the tofu scram; mine floored me. Tiny slices of mushrooms, Asian flavors, a hint of citrus, and just the right amount of oil to lightly coat the tongue with each bite finish the scram quite brilliantly. It's an incredibly generous serving of tofu, millet and quinoa (sometimes they use rice), and perfectly sized shreds of red onion and leeks. The kale is ripped small enough to make it all toss together quite evenly. The eighths of red potato root the dish along with discs of carrot and parsnip. It arrived quickly garnished symmetrically with tiny cubes of chilled tomato on both sides of the plate.

Dodo is almost the Lula Cafe of Ukrainian Village. Sure, Dodo is less refined, and I don't know if their non-vegan options are as impressive, but if they made bakery like Bleeding Heart does, they might take over the world.

Bringing Mom and Dad: Saturday, 27 January 2007 update

Mom loved Dodo. They're very accommodating; she got just what she wanted. After our server checked in with the cooks in the prep room behind us - one whose wall-lined shelving units make it look like a warehouse of food that happens to have a prep table in the middle and whose door was always open for inspection during our visit - they were glad to give her the french toast topped with their waffle's mango compote. Mom commented on Dodo's extensive menu and that everyone here of far-reaching ages looked well put together. I loved the dodo pictures on the bathroom's walls, the casual two-person grey-topped tables put together to make space for four, the boxy camelback sofa along the wall as a booth, and the thick and dark warm-looking wooden floorboards.

Service was great down to their astute passing in tight areas, softly pulling aside to let you go first just as good hosts do, and just like Lula Cafe has perfected. The staff operates charismatically, too. A kind man with a green bandanna around his neck came to pick up Mom's plate before she was ready; after Mom finished and he returned, he joked "finally" with a full smile that I think all of us appreciated.

I'm glad I came here the first time a week ago; I almost didn't. The co-owner, William, didn't make it sound very vegan-friendly on the phone; but I think he knows how much they offer now. This time, the vegan special was a seitan burrito topped with twisted tomato slices and avocado pouring out, filled with seitan sliced thick like gyro meat, herbed lemon potatoes and a twig indicating fresh thyme in case you couldn't taste it, radicchio that came with a warning of its bitterness as I ordered it, over bed of tabbouleh with adzuki beans and greens. Their tea menu describes each option, and the variety of tea leaves you'd find in Irish Breakfast, English Breakfast, and all the others.

Photos: Christopher Brunn

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Shan Restaurant: Roadside Indian in Chicago

Shan Restaurant: (Uptown) Chicago
5060 Nhttp://www2.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif. Sheridan Rd.
(773) 769-4961

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Satya and Oakley above the spongy injera sour bread you scoop an Ethiopian meal with at the bottom of the shelf (above).

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Take-aways from a previous trip: Gram masala (second from bottom) with onions and cilantro for $1.50; apples, grapes, bananas and chili for $1 (bottom).

My friends tell me that in India, dhaba (Punjabi) refers to a roadside restaurant that serves tasty authentic food suitable for someone who drives for a living. In Chicago, dhabas are pretty much the same, and Shan Restaurant certainly fits the description from the moment you walk in past a lot full of taxi cabs.

The last few times Satya brought me here, I remember feeling, as I sat in the cafeteria-style dining room, that the other diners knew each other and the restaurant crew. This time Satya, Oakley and I were told we could sit in a new dining room. It's a bit nicer as cafeteria seating goes, but it was much emptier, and didn't invoke, like the other room does, the feel of - for an instant - being a part a street cabbie food culture that I'm obviously not really part of. Ironically, in a place where the surroundings made me feel perhaps as far away from American politics as I could in Chicago, President Bush's State of The Union address was tuned in on the TV in this room and the real dining room.

We ate well, using roti we ripped into pieces to pick up very authentic (Satya, who grew up in Bombay, told me) chana masala (chickpeas, ginger, garlic and onions), aaloo mutter gajar (potatoes, green peas and carrots) and bhindi masala (okra). Pickled pepper kicked it up a bit. Satya told me how Shan's is a favorite for post-cricket game traditional Pakistani breakfasts of halwa puri (sweet semolina and puffed fried bread (recipe)).

As we left, we walked through the attached grocery aisles stocked with spice mixes, the spongy injera sour bread you scoop an Ethiopian meal with, and Red Label black tea labeled in Arabic and English. I picked up plenty of cookies and bags of chaat (savory snacks served roadside in India) for my hard working colleagues: cumin, pistachio and cashew cookies and bags of channadal (fried and salted spit chickpeas with red chili powder and paprika), chevdo (a crunchy fried mix of salted rice flakes, moong beans, split chickpeas, peanuts, cashews and raisins with red chili powder and a bit of sugar, turmeric and fennel, mustard and coriander seeds), and dal mooth (a mix of fried and salted lentils, chickpea flour sticks and masur beans with red chili powder, paprika turmeric and black salt).

I can't wait to taste Street Food in India.

Photos: Christopher Brunn

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Homey Bourgeois Pig Café Warms a Winter Chill

Bourgeois Pig Café: (Lincoln Park) Chicago
738 W. Fullerton Pkwy.
(773) 883-5282

I'd just locked up my bicycle and ducked into the Bourgeois Pig Café with my pal Oakley for a bite just as the new snow began accumulating. We sat in one of many wood-detailed rooms on the Café's second floor. Inside, this old brownstone looks like it could have been someone's home. It feels like it almost still is. A painting of a jester hangs under a candle-topped fireplace across a sofa from our table. The warm feel, even cosier in the other rooms - they lack southern light coming into this one - lends itself perfectly well to cap an amazingly long day of exhausting work. The counter on the first floor - with espresso machine, tea jars to pick from, and bakery cases below chalkboard menus - takes orders in back of small wooden tables in the front.

Upstairs, someone calls out my name, I answer and my sandwich arrives with a pickle. My Veggie Panini on focaccai is super crisp with cheeseless basil pesto, artichoke hearts, slightly savory black olives, tomatoes, red onions, spinach and cilantro (omit cheese for vegan). Another panini, the Peppernini, with roasted red pepper pesto and roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, garlic, and grilled portobellos mushrooms (hold the goat cheese and ask about this pesto for vegan) reads "Marvelous darling!" on the menu.

East of Eden tastes brilliant on its sundried tomato bread with avocado, alfalfa sprouts, "lots of fresh homemade vegan basil hummus," black olives, tomatoes and spinach (hold the Swiss cheese for vegan). If somehow you could pass up the full mouthfeel that hummus gives a sandwich with avocado, the Secret Garden still has avocado but no hummus, plus alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, and cucumbers on multigrain bread (hold the cream cheese for vegan).

You could forget bread altogether if you'd nix the pita in the plain or basil hummus plate that comes with tomatoes, cucumbers, bell pepper, red onion and celery and carrot sticks.

I cycled back past many beautiful brownstones just as the snow started accumulating on the side streets I coasted along. As I turned from one calm street to another, I slowed with a squeeze of the back brake to forget about sliding in the snow. The Cortland Avenue bridge's non-slip bike lane works brilliantly, as does leaning against the angle of the railroad tracks crossing before it. Bicycle fenders kept the snow away from all of me but my boot tips. At Oz Park, I hopped onto the snowy path past smiling snowbound pedestrians and a hill full of happily sledding children as could be in some winter wonderland where small soft flakes forever drop and give all of the townspeople bliss.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Winter Bike to Armenian Food Day: Sayat-Nova

Sayat-Nova Armenian Restaurant: (Streeterville) Chicago
157 E. Ohio St.
(312) 644-9159

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Photo of Chris from a previous visit with Sujata, Satya and Amod (Photo: Sujata B.)
Today was Winter Bike to Work Day, celebrating bicycling despite cold weather. It was also my good pal Dan's last day in an official position advocating for bicycling in Chicago; and the day of a 28-person lunch with him down the middle of Sayat-Nova just off Michigan Avenue. Our group overflowed to booths lit through geometric cutouts in the walls they sunk into - perfect to get lost in with a date and a bottle of wine. Dan's getting ready to open his vegan general store in Cincinnati (Park and Vine), and judging from all the laughs, hugs and admiring words, every single person sitting with him will be very sad to miss him.

Vegan options at Sayat-Nova include the typical hummus (perhaps nicely a bit more tangy than usual with lemon), yalanchi sarma (similar to dolma: grape leaves stuffed with rice, chickpeas, pine nuts, onions, tomatoes and cooked in olive oil), eggplant fried in olive oil and served with sautéed peppers and onions, baba ghannouj (smoked eggplant blended with tahini, lemon juice and garlic), and a very smooth plaki (great northern beans and onions in an olive oil sauce that has a touch of tomato) - of course with pita bread.

Indian Delivered

For a late night, we ordered in the office from CEO Deliveries, a delivery service to The Loop - if not other areas, too - from a number of nearby restaurants. Klay Oven (414 N. Orleans St. in River North, Chicago) took care of me with hearty unleavened roti and chana masala (spiced chick peas with a couple big potato chunks and slivers of fresh ginger), but it needed to be moistened with some sauce from my colleague's peas, onion, garlic, ginger and cumin in tomato sauce. On a previous dinner, CEO Deliveries brought me a chana masala from India House (58 W. Grand Ave. in River North, Chicago) that tasted incredibly wet and savory; but this time, Klay Oven's version seemed to have considerably less oil and salt.

Cycling back home in the sub-freezing cold refreshed me. I kept warm under a few good layers and the pedalling was my meditation, relaxing and processing thoughts of the day.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

On a Cold Day, Oasis Warms Me Through My Stomach

Oasis Café: (Loop) Chicago
17 S. Wabash Ave.
(312) 443-9534

Oasis Café, Moussaka pita and Foul (fava beans).jpgOn the way to a lecture on Daniel Burnham's Plan of Chicago - one installation of Landmark Illinois' monthly Preservation Snapshots at the Chicago Cultural Center - I stopped in Oasis Café for a quick lunch. They're in a new home next to three buildings that are being torn down - all except for the windowless historic faces that an exterior rig holds up - one block south of their previous location in the back of a jewelers' mall, a spot that's been reclaimed by another Middle Eastern spot called Kabob 2. If you overlook Oasis Café's new food court location aside a few chains, you might taste some really good food in a relaxed crowd, from hipster students to workers in dress slacks and others in jeans.

Thursdays they serve a portobello mushroom pita sandwich special, but I had the moussaka pita sandwich (roasted eggplant, tomato, garlic and spices blended together). The new location lets you see through a glass sneeze guard to the steam table. I asked the fixer behind the counter what the beans I saw were. Foul, he told me - Egyptian broad beans with vegetables and "special spices." These beans, also known as fava beans, make an appearance on my friend Michael's official family cookbook. Michael told me this is "THE classic Egyptian dish," but that different people make it different ways; some use tomatoes or garlic, and his mom uses good amounts of cumin with lemon and Kalamata olives - they're "key". Foul sounds a little like "fool", as in the fool I was for not ordering a full plate of these. So I came back later for one and got a taste of their tender portobellos, too. These beans can warm you from the inside out on a cold day. Of course, Oasis Café also serves the Middle Eastern classics falafel, hummus, baba ghanouj and tabouleh.

Burnham's Plan was to make Chicago beautiful - a destination place. And so it is. After leaving the Cultural Center down a grand staircase, through a gallery and with a stop at the water fountain, I thought of Chicago's majesty as I walked down Clark Street in front of the Art Deco La Salle Bank Building. This building's streamlined lobby is a hallway that tunnels through to La Salle Street past elevator banks with catwalk-style bridges crossing above and endless Art Deco finishes.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Berghoff Cafe rocks Portobello and Avocado on Olive Bread

Berghoff Cafe: (Loop) Chicago
17 W. Adams St.

Berghoff Cafe rocks Portobello and Avocado on Olive Bread_2.jpgMany don't think of great vegan food when they imagine a German restaurant like Berghoff Cafe, but that might change if they would try Berghoff Cafe's juicy grilled portobello and asparagus, roasted red pepper, and avocado between slices of olive bread toasted in a panini press.

Walk down a flight of old stairs that are open to the sidewalk, and find a revolving door at the bottom. At the long and wrapping cafeteria-style counter inside, call out an order for a "portobello, no cheese but avocado instead." I highly recommend a side of their thick and crispy potato chips. This place runs a tight operation, from the person in charge of the line to the very effective bus staff. They're friendly, but zippy, so make sure you're ready to order. They have pasta, too, but I have seen absolutely no reason to stray from this amazing sandwich.

Berghoff Cafe rocks Portobello and Avocado on Olive Bread.jpgGarlands with small white holiday lights flow along the tops of the golden wood walls in the dining room that's lit through stained plastic or glass panels and shades. You'll see diners in suits and business casual. The formal suits and elegance of the wood remind me of an old Chicago, the kind I imagine bustling with street cars and pedestrian traffic around 1933, when Berghoff received Chicago's first post-prohibition liquor license.

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Inside a side room at the Berghoff Cafe: an old photo of Berghoff with a streetcar passing down an old Adams St. teaming with well dressed people.

Photos: Chris B.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Big Bowl of Vegan Noodles just off Michigan Avenue

Big Bowl: (River North), Chicago
60 E. Ohio St.

Vegetarian Menu at Big Bowl.jpgAfter joking about chain restaurants, Dan asked what we were both thinking, "don't you want to go to those places to make sure chains keep up the vegan options?" Apparently, PF Chang serves "really good tofu," but we rolled into Big Bowl, part of the Lettuce Entertain You Restaurant empire. They have an explicit vegetarian menu; plus, they are a few blocks closer to all of the usual rave that goes on about the general love of Macs at the Michigan Avenue Apple Store that we had just left surfing for inspiration. As we walked in Big Bowl, we got excited about the locally roasted Intelligentsia fair trade coffee on the chalkboard.

Kung Pao Spinach and Tofu at Big Bowl.jpgThis wasn't my first trip to Big Bowl, but tonight the service was especially good. Our server seemed sincerely attentive, frequently tiding the table, and offering sharing plates to "family style it," as Dan put it. Kung pao spinach comes with seared tofu that brilliantly matches its pan-fried thick noodles, roasted peanuts and blackened chilies. Dan enjoyed it quite well, too. The sichuan eggplant was a respectable choice - very tender and caramelized, but no match for my love of seared vegan food. Servers can flag the order as vegetarian for the kitchen, and ours offered to steam the tofu instead of searing it in a pan also used for meat; but we wouldn't have it. You can walk up to the back counter and put your own combination together, too.

Sichuan Eggplant at Big Bowl.jpgAs we were about to leave for groceries, Dan smiled and held up a flyer from San Francisco Bicycle Coalition: "Waving Wednesdays. If you're on a bike & it's Wednesday, then Wave!" The back answered common questions: What is it? You wave to them and they wave back. Does it cost anything? 3 calories per wave. What counts? Moving your hand back and forth three times; nodding or saluting do not count. And my favorite: Do I really have to do this? Yes, you have to. Dan finished, "too bad it's not Wednesday."

Chris with Groceries at Trader Joes on Ontario (photo: Dan K.)_2.jpgAfter stocking up on groceries, I felt like putting my bicycle on the train. I didn't want the cold outside. But I wanted to lug bags of groceries on a train I'd likely need to wait for even less than simply putting them in my bicycle's carriers and pedalling off. As I cycled home, Arrow Messenger's billboard showed 22 degrees F, but - as lofty mittens, a thickly woven office button down shirt and a glass of red wine kept me warm - I was glad I hadn't let the cold take charge over me. I was even a bit too warm once inside my home. My dad calls later and tells me he walked to the train today from his home in the suburbs, about 3 miles each way.

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Photos: Chris B. and Dan K.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Chicago Diner: Vegan Institution

Chicago Diner: (Boystown in Lake View) Chicago
3411 N. Halsted St.

I love the Chicago Diner, so much that I got excited when I had been spending a short stint in their kitchen. Tonight, I was taking down one of The Diner's - as they're affectionately know - super thick and rich cold vegan cookie dough and peanut butter shakes in a comfy booth, sitting across from my pal, Amod, drinking a fresh carrot juice. I thought, it's been all too long since I've had one of these shakes; but now that I am crushing on someone who lives on this side of town, perhaps it won't be so long before the next time.

Chicago Diner's menu reads of almost entirely vegan comfort food, from macaroni and cheese to hearty breakfasts. Amod and I shared spicy jicama "fries" - not fried but thick and long sliced raw jicama generously dusted with cayenne. As the hot pepper burned, I asked Amod, are these spicy for you? You're used to eating spicy Indian food, right? "Not this spicy," he smiled at me with a serious face. After diner, with a water glass quickly emptied by the fries, Amod lobbied for some pie to wash the spice away; but neither of us was anything less than full.

We talked about food: from the deep fry session that was the last Family Style to finding vegetarian versions of andouille sausage in the supermarket. I explained how making fresh donuts starts like making bread. You let the yeast rise your dough, then divide it into donuts, then let it rise again, and then put it in the deep fryer, where the yeast really gets crazy and puffs the donut as it becomes golden and rises. My family's donut sessions began last Thanksgiving, with tradition beginning as my brother and his lady, Kerry, took it home to Durham, North Carolina.

We split the enchilada pie special, a brilliant combination of soy chorizo, soft tortillas, wet with tomato sauce through and topped with soy mozzarella aside a lot of guacamole. I ate most of the food - Amod had just eaten - but we split the bill anyway. "Next time you're not hungry, call me," he joked.

Now, I'm all jazzed up to start snapping photos of inspiring magazine photos of tasty looking food. If you want to feel like this at home, find the same non-dairy frozen dessert used in The Diner's shakes, Temptation brand - made by a few people from the vegan community in the suburbs - in area Whole Foods and Sunflower markets.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Viceroy of India

Viceroy of India: (Devon Avenue in West Ridge) Chicago
2516 W. Devon Ave.

Bleeding Heart Bakery with Dan and his pal, Michelle and Anita in background.jpgEating out vegan isn't just about enjoying good vegan food; it's about enjoying everything: the dining experience as well as details about the day that contains it, especially the people you're with.

The day began with the most gentle
cab ride - the way it should be: no nail biting wondering if you're going to arrive before or after crashing - and started to close, after a long day working to better banking, riding in the seat next to my friend who was driving through the alleys behind Devon Avenue Indian restaurants looking for place to park.

Earlier in the Day

Gustavo Rodriguez that the cabbie was cruising to providedViceroy of India with Rose.jpg smooth grooves perfect for waking up - reminding me of bossa nova gently thumping me out of bed. I met Dan and his pal at Bleeding Heart, where Anita told us as we ordered coffee, "obviously, I'm going to give you guys the bottomless cups." They know us - seriously. We talked about Dan's new vegan store that'll be opening in Cincinnati this year, called Park and Vine; and we talked to Michelle Garcia, the owner. I can't believe we know her; she's amazing. I loved everything about the morning, including Bleeding Heart's vegan cream cheese on scones and bagels, their "Legalize Frostitution" sign, and that they're making even more of their items vegan, including the previously not vegan pumpkin scone.

Going to Viceroy

My pal drove, Viceroy of India with Rose_3.jpgmaking me laugh and think I'm living in an episode of Seinfeld as she told me how she had to shop for something to wear on the way to her office. She had stopped off at the doctor's wearing yoga gear and left her change of clothes at home. She wore a shirt out of the store with tags still attached. None of this affected the taste of the food at Viceroy, but it did set an amazingly fun mood.

Just after we sat Viceroy of India with Rose_4.jpgdown, they brought us papad (crispy bread) with chutney. Viceroy was elegant and relaxing, including the friendly and hospitable way they brought out the candle holders that rested under and warmed our entrees: aloo gobi masala (cauliflower cooked with potatoes, tomatoes, garlic and cilantro) and bengan bhartha (eggplant barbecued in a clay oven and sautéed with onions, tomatoes, ginger and coriander). The flavors were smooth and deep, a good following to the smooth potato samosas we'd just enjoyed. My pal challenged me to eat with just my right hand, in preparation for my trip to Bombay and Bangalore in India - where the left is reserved for restroom duties. Ripping roti and scooping food with it using just one hand was quite simple so long as I didn't care how neatly the roti tore. Viceroy of India with Rose_15.jpgAs we rolled out, with two power adapter plugs for India (2 for $1) in my bag from one of many general stores on Devon, we stopped in Viceroy's adjoining cafeteria to be treated to a couple of afters: a coconut burfi for my pal and a jalebi for me. I think they recognized my pal from her take-away a dozen samosa days. I'd gone from a little treat in the morning to a little treat at night, wrapping up the day just as perfectly as it had begun - with amazing people.

Coming Home to new DIY Clothes

Viceroy of India (photo: Rose G.)Just before I walked up the stairs to my apartment, I picked up a bag Katy Keefe had left on top of my mailbox with the jogger she had prepared for me. She buys them wholesale from American Apparel, dies them in a pot of boiling water on the stove (in this case, colored terra cotta) and screens them (for mine, with the brown coffee pots I loved from her T-shirts at The Lot). The jogger goes perfectly with the Alison Rose cruiser bicycle T-Shirt I'm wearing as I write this.

Photos: Chris B. and Rose G.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

L'Appetito with Dan and Michael

L'Appetito: (River North) Chicago
30 E. Huron St.

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It took under 10 minutes to cycle to this Italian Café and Deli from my office in the heart of the Loop. I untucked my slacks from my socks - this kept them out of the bicycle chain (tight rolling also works) - and I was ready to ask L'Appetito's deli staff to make me a custom Tostino, one of their "signature grilled sandwiches .. drizzled with extra virgin olive oil." Roasted eggplant, olives, roasted red peppers and arugula - all picked from descriptions on various items on the overhead menu boards at the deli that's tucked behind a row of groceries on the other side of the seating nook - were all brilliant together. The olive oil brought it all together. Walking down the street into sight of the historic Medinah Temple and the lower flowers of the incomplete Trump Tower, Dan told me "that's the way to eat .. all those oils are key."

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Chris at Lunch with Dan and Michael at L'Appetito (photo: Dan K.).jpg

Photos: Chris B. and Dan K.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Lunch Break: My Thai Restaurant with Rose

My Thai Restaurant: (Loop) Chicago
333 S. State St.

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This place fills up with a lively Loop lunch crowd, so I'm glad we made it in effortlessly at about 11:30 a.m. What doesn't have fish sauce? They came back to tell us lard nar, cashew chicken, mixed vegetables, and a few more. We got the first two, with tofu instead of the non-fish animals. Our food came in just minutes and was quite refreshing. Nicely, it tasted like it didn't have nearly as much salt as I'd expected. The great natural lighting was perfect for snapping photos. My Thai advocates family style meals, giving each person an empty plate to incite sharing. I love variety and love sharing vegan food with my meal pals - except lollipops. Soon we went back off to work, but not before a stop at Intelligentsia Coffee in the historic Monadnock Building. The hip barista taking orders wearing a nicely knotted tie - with a fuller knot than I know how to tie - volunteered a moment to demonstrate how to tie such a knot when the line died. This gesture made my day. Then, I was back to work at the bank to change the world.

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Two food lovers. Rose snapping another photo in the background.

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Menu with note from server indicating options without fish sauce (click to enlarge).

Photos: Chris B.