Eating Chicago

Eating Chicago

Where, oh where did Dianderthal go? Oh where, oh where can she be?

It seems that autumn has sucked me up. The Sunday before Labor Day, I fell into a busyness swamp, then pulled myself out only to be swept up into a vicious cyclone of overwhelm, and was then thrown into a sea of tight schedules and deadlines. Oh, and then came Ebola (remember my full-time gig as a public servant at a local health department?). With three of four kids playing on volleyball teams in addition to dance classes, solo rehearsals, team leader duties at church, a half marathon, a birthday, a couple work trips, homework assistance, my part-time teaching job, and a 15-year anniversary, I blinked and it was mid-November.

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But now I’ve found a new determination – a re-commitment to my blog and the seven of you who read it. In late August, I spent four days in Chicago, and ever since have wanted to share my food experiences.

So to Chicago, what I remember of it – the many tasty bites I enjoyed now a savory blur. I’ll pull up the pictures I took and let them jog my memory.

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Here are just a few of the doughnuts I tried in the Windy City. Of the many I tried, Firecakes served what I recall as my favorites, in particular the Butterscotch Praline, the Valrhona Chocolate & Espresso Cream, and the Triple Valrhona Chocolate Cake. Firecakes was just a place we passed on our way to Navy Pier, yet was drawn to by its buzzy glow and enchanting entry. Actually, it was the husband who initially spotted it, pointing towards it with a grunt, compelling me to join him. Well played, Mr. Brown.

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This is Weber Grill, a place recommended by the concierge at a hotel where we were not staying [*when traveling with Mr. Brown, its our goal to stop at every Double Tree hotel and affiliate we happen upon to get warm cookies; at the Double Tree Magnificent Mile – our second DT of the trip – he also asked for dining suggestions]. While not a major chain, Weber Grill still had the feel of one due to the association with the Weber brand. If there is such a thing as Chicago BBQ, I’m not sure how authentic this place is. However, as skeptical as I was, this joint wasn’t terrible. In fact, my sangria proved mighty tasty.

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I didn’t eat at Mickey D’s but picked up McNuggets for my kid following my solo adventure to Little Goat. With leftovers in hand for my husband, I knew she’d be ready for some grub by the time I made it back to the hotel, so I stopped to get her some deep fried awfulness. But if that wasn’t the swankiest McDonald’s I’d ever been to…

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If I’d travelled with girlfriends instead of the family, I’m sure several hours might have been spent here, in Eataly, one of only two in the States. A third is supposed to open in Los Angeles but by the time it gets here (2017!), I’ll have busted open from all of this eating. To Chicago’s, I ventured twice – once with the gang for a stop at the Nutella bar and then dessert shop for sweets, and then again a morning later, waking as my husband and kid still snored for a coffee and croissant getaway. When I return to Chi-Town, I’d love to indulge in Eataly’s cheese offerings, wine, pastas, seafood, olive oils, vinegars, pastries – I guess it’s a good thing this outlet won’t be nearby for another couple of years to give me time to lose the 30 lbs I may gain in just one trip.

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As cute and sweet and lovely as Doughnut Vault is, I only had one bite of my DV buttermilk old fashioned. Not because it wasn’t tasty, not because I enjoy wasting my precious duckets, but because I purchased these doughnuts soon after finishing breakfast at Xoco; and though I set them aside for later, I had that dessert visit to Eataly I mentioned. And then more food and more food and more food (including yet another doughnut spot, Glazed and Infused). You know you’re eating well when you can’t finish off a couple of doughnuts.

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Across the street from our hotel sat XOCO, a place I’d visited years before when in Chicago for a conference; and a place I frequented twice on this occasion, and would have a third time for churros if I hadn’t been stuffing myself with various other Chicago treats. It’s owned by the celebrated Rick Bayless, one of my first favorite chefs. Likely my most memorable dish of the trip was their Torreja, a wood-oven baked French toast topped with bacon-pecan sprinkles (while on vacation, I take a vacation from abstaining from bacon). Yes, Hyatt Place offered a fine selection in their complimentary breakfast buffet, but rarely do I get a chance to eat Bayless for breakfast.

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And there he was! I saw him as we passed by the restaurant one morning. My husband tried to get me to go inside and ask to take a picture with him but I got cold feet.

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And you can’t leave Chicago without pizza. I made the mistake of going touristy with my deep dish at Gino’s East – not awful but I’m sure there’s better Chicago-style pizza in the city. As our first meal, it wasn’t the best way to start our trip but, as you’ve seen, I easily made up for it.

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And that’s Chicago (with a stop on our way to Purdue at MJ’s childhood home in Gary).

Xoco: 449 N. Clark and one other location
Doughnut Vault: 401 N. Franklin
Firecakes: 68 W. Hubbard
Weber Grill: 539 N. State Street and other locations
Glazed and Infused: 813 W. Fulton and other locations
Eataly Chicago: 43 E. Ohio
McDonald’s: 600 N. Clark and other locations

Lunch Date :: Restauration

Lunch Date :: Restauration

You may recall that I have a work son. There’s also a work wife, a work daughter. A work sister. I claim a work baby daddy, but he hasn’t yet been told of his familial bond with the rest of us. He’s too normal, wouldn’t get our extreme connection and need to define ourselves beyond friends. As if working together eight hours each day isn’t enough, we find excuses to get together in the evenings and on the weekends. We do concerts in the park in the summers and exchange gifts for Christmas and go to karaoke. We really like each other. The work fam is surely the biggest perk at my job.

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For his first birthday (as my son), I thought it important to take William (that’s work son’s name) for a special meal. Brunch. And something local, because we love the LBC. And because there are so many new restaurants to try in our fair city these days. So I picked one of the recent arrivals to Long Beach’s Retro Row, a spot called Restauration, boasting a mix of quintessential SoCal fare and freshened up diner favorites. Work sis (William’s work auntie) joined the party, making it a Sunday afternoon trio.

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Since it was brunch and William was driving, I went for the bottomless mimosa. They don’t play around with this. Unlike most spots, where a waitress visits just every 25 minutes or so to pour you another slim glass of watery champagne juice, Restauration keeps you happy with pulpy fresh OJ suffused with plenty of bubbly, a thick carafe of the stuff left at the table. Surely worth the $15 I spent on it. I could definitely settle in at this place on a future visit, finding a corner to relax in on a weekend afternoon, getting my tipsy on over a book.

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And a good bite to eat along with it. I tasted many a phenomenal bite over our triple date (thank goodness for sharesies). While I didn’t try my son’s BLAT (braised pork belly, bacon, watercress, avocado, and tomato), I did steal several of his fries, each of which were fried, fluffy dreams. Work sister’s pizza, the Get Shorty, sounded wonderful with short rib, peaches, watercress, and blue cheese, but I barely had enough stomach space to finish my sweetly plated huevos rancheros, especially with the mimosa and all the fries I stole, and the bread and jam we ordered just for fun. All was tasty, playfully plated, and very fresh. I’m so happy Restauration has landed on 4th Street – a definite plus for our little city.

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The best discovery, however, was finding that my neighbor works there. I’ll be sure to hit him up the next time I see him outside watering his lawn about his choice for best dish at Restauration. And maybe he’ll be able to hook me up with my happy weekend corner with my book, a carafe of mimosa, my own fries, and more huevos rancheros; and possibly the French toast, as I always order the French toast at brunch (don’t know why I didn’t do so this time). Whether I get my corner time or not, Restauration is sure on my return list for more eating, more celebrating with friends. It’s another wonderful example of what makes Long Beach a fabulous place for me to live, work, and dine.

Restauration
2708 E. 4th Street in Long Beach

Eating Las Vegas :: 2014

Eating Las Vegas :: 2014

With yet another summer begun for me, it was time to head to the border (the Cali-Nevada border, that is) for another dance competition with my youngest and the rest of the family. I started Dianderthal two years ago just before this same competition in Vegas with not much hope that I’d keep it going for more than a week or two, as I’m good with starting, not with maintaining. And still I’m here, with many, many food experiences shared and plenty of unfortunate typos and grammatical errors (I’m working on my revision/editing skills).

While I tried some great dishes on my previous trips, to the LV, this time I was on a straight-up mission to eat Vegas. I think I did a pretty good job considering I was there just three-point-five days and had to juggle gambling (I lost), two days of dance, lazy rive time, and the preferences of fam of five. Good thing I stayed busy – who knows how much more of Vegas I may have eaten. I probably should have jogged back home rather than nod off in the passenger seat as the hub drove so I could burn just half of the calories I must have sucked up on my trip.

I buffeted it.
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I’m definitely not a buffet girl but everyone said I had to try Wicked Spoon, the bad-ass buffet at The Cosmo. Nowhere to be found are troths of gravied meat or jumbo pans of warming vegetables in a stewy bath. This place puts the individual in buffet with single-serve plates and dishes (and baskets!) that eaters can pick up to populate their plates. This sort of thing thrills me since I have a thing about disparate types of food touching one another (e.g. I wouldn’t appreciate the sauce from my teriyaki chicken sliding over and seeping into, say, my cornbread muffin). They offer “all you can drink” wine (in quotes because there’s a time limit of 2 hours, which doesn’t even begin to contain all that I can drink) and lots of options from around the globe. My favorites were the fried chicken wings and the Heathbar chocolate covered strawberries.

I repeated it.
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This wasn’t my first time at 800 Degrees but it’s still wonderful enough to mention.

I continued the quest.
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Check out Burger Quest entries on Holstein’s and Bobby’s Burger Palace.

I didn’t turn down – until the wee, wee hours.
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No food involved, but I had to mention my first experience with Vegas nightlife.

I late nighted it.
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Also in The Cosmo, I enjoyed two greasy slices of pie late night at the joint that has no name, but is known by the masses as Secret Pizza (and also Hidden Pizza). We just walked up to staff and asked “Pizza?” and were quickly told to go upstairs and down the hallway plastered with retro record albums.

I indulged my sweet tooth.
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They are short and sweet – two Sweet Spot posts on Hershey World and Blvd Creamery.

And I made it back home, full and then some. Good thing it’s time to start training again for my next half marathon.

Dinner Date :: Post & Beam

Dinner Date :: Post & Beam

My first of this new series – Dinner Date, where I try out a new restaurant with one of my fabulous friends – started off on the sour side. After hefting my camera out of my bag, pointing the lens at Post & Beam’s appropriately lintel framed exterior, I found that I’d left my memory card at home in my computer. Not that the singular purpose of heading to Post & Beam was for the photos, but I am Dianderthal – I love nothing more than whipping out the DSLR and asking my dishes to say cheese so I can write witty (I try) descriptions of them for the five of you to read, as if they were my toddler children. With a patio reservation, the day’s sunlight thinning out and the air soothing and still, it was destined to be a great shoot.

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But I couldn’t let the lack of a camera ruin what had the potential to be a sweet afternoon. Besides, I had my aged but handy 4s – not the best way to document but if it weren’t for my Iphone, I may have had to interrupt the couple sitting next to us, asking them to snap photos of our plates (at least three of each), giving them my e-mail to send the pictures once they finished their meal.

I’ve known my Post & Beam dinner date Jeannine since I was 17. We didn’t start out well – I think I may have called her a name and thrown something at her once or twice. The boy was the source of the tension. But that was a couple decades ago.

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I don’t really like the term best friend, as it assumes I’ve evaluated and ranked all my friends, the one with the highest score winning the title. But if those who know me well were asked to name my “bestie” (can you hear me cringe?), they’d likely say Jeannine’s name. She’s really like a sister to me. We have daughters the same age and they dance at the same studio. Our husbands ride bikes together. We don’t live too far away from one another. Point – we see each other a lot. But rare is the chance for us to get away and get down with some cocktails and a couple plates of fine cuisine.

Post & Beam certainly delivers in taste, atmosphere, and just dang quintessential coolness. Located in LA’s Crenshaw District, Post & Beam offers a chic spin on soul food, fresh and marvelously simple. Chef Govind Armstrong – who happened to be dining al fresco with what appeared to be his family while we were there – grows a range of greens right on the premises.

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Having studied the menu for the last several months, I arrived torn between the fried chicken and the salmon. And the garden pizza. And the spicy turkey meatballs with marinara. But since Jeannine ordered the chicken and the meatballs were more of an appetizer and I could always return for pizza with my kid, I went with the salmon – mac n’ cheese and wood oven Brussels as siders. All were satisfying, the salmon succulent with major texture thanks to a flaky top. The mac n’ cheese slithered down my insides a bit too quickly – it was gone faster than my cocktail, which I sucked down pretty handily.

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As we were finishing up with a not too sweet, just rich enough, and perfectly creamy slice of sweet potato pie, a jazz band was setting up, scheduled to play at 8:00 p.m. Next time, I’ll arrive a little later, and with my husband so he can drive us home after getting drunk on the live jazz and a few of those P&B cocktails. Yet another dinner date – and for that one, I’ll remember my memory card.

Post & Beam
3767 Santa Rosalia Drive
Los Angeles

Ladies Who Dine Flashback :: Simmzy’s

Ladies Who Dine Flashback :: Simmzy’s

Simmzy’s was my pick a couple of years ago. I wanted to make up for my first LWD pick, a well-established and known LA spot that underwhelmed the taste buds and sickened at least one member of our party (perhaps more – she was the one brave enough to tell me). I also wanted to keep it local, so Belmont Shore became the destination; and Simmzy’s, the place.

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Simmzy’s was relatively new at the time, taking over the corner location where the beloved (by some, like my husband) Shore House Cafe once plated up comfort food into the teeny hours of night. Now, walls have been replaced by ginormous sliding windows; long, communal tables & benches taking over for vinyl booths; brick in favor of wood. The menu slid to contemporary as well, with pizzas, burgers, and a rotating selection of craft beers. It’s just the kind of place Long Beach needed.

I have to tell you that Simmzy’s changed my life.

It was at Simmzy’s that I first tried one of my now favorite foods: Brussels sprouts.

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I’ve since tried plenty of other Brussels sprouts dishes (including my very own roasted balsamic Brussels sprouts that I’ve served the last couple of Thanksgivings), but Simmzy’s remains the bar for which I compare all others.

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These days, Simmzy’s is a standard lunch spot for me and my fro-workers. We’d probably do Happy Hour too if it weren’t so difficult to park around 2nd Street. My favorites remain their Spicy Que pizza, the fish tacos, and their Mixed Bag – both sweet potato and shoestring fries served with garlic aioli and avocado buttermilk sauce, both super delicious.

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So check out Simmzy’s – with your own Ladies Who Dine, for lunch, for Happy Hour. Just be sure to feed that Belmont Shore meter so you don’t get a ticket.

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Simmzy’s
5271 E. Second St.
Long Beach, in addition to Seal Beach and Manhattan Beach locations

Salty Face :: Twelve the Hard Way

Salty Face :: Twelve the Hard Way

Saturday was scheduled as my longest run before my next 13.1 – the OC Marathon. I’d been looking forward to it all week, excited to be running with my fro-worker and offical race ace William, and to check off the final long run from my training schedule. Compared to my training three months ago for the Surf City Half, I’d made improvements in pace each week, last Saturday beating my previous 11-mile time by ten minutes. My 12 was going to be my best long run yet.

Then Saturday came. The run was nearly thwarted with scheduling conflicts and familial obligations. My final decision was to leave my 11-year old at home by herself for the first time ever (she’s almost 12, and recently completed the Red Cross’ Babysitting Certification class – if she can watch a baby, I figure she can watch herself) and run while the sun was nice and high, at 10:00 am. Despite the sun, William was game and so the plan became real.

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Even with the heat, we set off at a good starting pace. I typically speed up during miles two and three. Instead, Blythe time I reached that point, my legs got jiggly and heavily weighted. Something was wrong – I felt drained, as if I’d already run a good 10 miles or so. And that’s when I realized it – I hadn’t eaten enough the day before. Work had been busy – I had a bagel for breakfast and coffee for lunch. I’d been famished by late afternoon, so I got a bean and cheese burrito while I watched my kid’s volleyball practice. It filled me up for the time, but it wasn’t enough to power my next day’s run.

Not wanting to ruin William’s 12, and unsure how far I’d make it, I told him to keep on without me. Run-walking miles 2 & 3, I eventually found a little steam from inside, and I reunited with Will near the halfway point. Just shows the value of a run buddy – without him, I may have quit after mile one. I kept going because I didn’t want to let him down. We made a deal as we headed back – that we’d go get pizza once we finished. Eventually we did, taking a moderate pace until we got our 12.

I ordered my pie with basil and garlic. Famished, William topped his with just about everything the place had available. We sat down to eat, barely a word between us, nor my kid, William and I exhausted and starved and grateful to be done. “You have something on your forehead,” he said to me at one point, as sipped my cup of icy blue Powerade.

Rubbing my head, I figured it must have been lint. But when after asking if it was gone and he said no, my daughter giving me a face that said it wasn’t cute, I figured out what it was. “It’s just salt,” I said, used to the ashen skin that typically follows my hardest runs. I’d showered but apparently forgot my face.

As hard a run as it ended up being for me, it was nice to end the event with a salty face. It tells me that I worked it. Looking forward to getting nice and salty again at the OC Half. This time, I’ll be sure to eat well and eat plenty. And just in case I don’t, my race ace will be there too to get me across that finish line.

Tasty Places :: Pieology

Tasty Places :: Pieology

The line was backed up. Service was slow. The employees behind the build-your-own pizza bar didn’t quite seem to get the whole assembly line thing. The one putting the pizzas in the oven actually yelled at her co-worker. I almost left before reaching the counter.

I didn’t want to like Pieology.

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When making my pie, the lady was stingy with the sauce. The guy who topped it with basil didn’t spread it around liberally – he dropped a clump here, another there. The girl who scribbled down the pizza orders at the end of the line tried to give my pie to someone else. Service was a hot mess.

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I didn’t want to like Pieology. Then, I tasted my pie. I’m sure you can figure out how this story ends.

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Quite wonderfully. Quite solidly. Quite deliciously. Oh, well. Maybe a different crew will be on the next time I go (possibly tomorrow).

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Pieology – Lakewood
5027 Lakewood Blvd.
Lakewood, CA 90712