Sunday, June 19, 2016

Restaurant Review: The Purple Pig - Chicago

If I lived closer. . . 

this would probably be a "go to" place

There are restaurants that I think about returning to when I am a tourist in a different city that isn't local. The issue is that when you are only somewhere once in a while you don't want to repeat restaurants especially in a city like Chicago with everything it has to offer. However, Purple Pig, well that's one I would return to because it was fun and the variety of small plates would make this a different experience every time.

Small plates. I'm a sucker for small plates. Call them tapas or appetizers. I really don't care. Small plates give you an opportunity to graze and to try different things without the commitment of a large plate. Chicago restaurants are pricey and this was no exception but with small plates you still can try a few more things than you usually do.

I'm not sure why this place is called the Purple Pig but it was funky, just like its name. They are big on charcuterie here (cold cooked meats) and cheese. I love cheese and I love me a cheese plate so that was enough to hook me in. My good friend, who is now a local Chicagoan (I don't know at what point you can call yourself a "native" if you are a transplant, can you ever?), suggested this place for us to meet up when I was in town last week for a conference. It was close to the hotel, and located on the Magnificent Mile.

You can tell that while this is in the heart of downtown, it has an eclectic group of visitors, comprised of both locals and tourists. It's jam packed and there are smaller tables inside but on the covered patio there is communal eating with a long high top table where you mingle with others. While that can be intimidating it gave me an opportunity to note what those around me were eating.

We started with the cheese. Mmmm cheese. You can pick one, or three (we picked three), to make a custom cheese plate from their variety of choices. They also have accompaniments, and you can pick two of those. For cheese we picked, a smoked Gorgonzola, Drunk Monk (cow's milk cheese rubbed with a dark brown ale), and Grand Truffiere (Camembert with little pieces of truffle). Like fine wines, these menu provided not only a description but where these cheeses originated from. Wisconsin, Connecticut, Wisconsin respectively) along with the texture of the cheese. For the add ons, we asked for a marsala jam and a fig spread. I don't know that a review on cheese would be relevant but they were all delicious. I routinely get fig spread at Trader Joe's for home use and this was definitely a step above. The marsala jam was outstanding.

We moved on to some of the small plates that they had to offer. This included a fried deviled egg. It tasted much like a scotch egg and didn't seem all that "deviled" to me but I think that is because the fried coating was the main attraction. It came with a kale salad studded with pistachios and sliced cornichons which was an interesting combination but really good. I liked the tang of the little bit of pickle with the sweetness of those nuts and it all went really well with the egg.

The salt roasted beets with whipped goat cheese was the showstopper for me. These were so fresh and the cheese with it was divine. I am not sure how to go about salt roasting the beets rather than the conventional roast but I also know how difficult and messy it is to work with beets so I figure leaving it to the experts might just be the way to go. However, Trader Joe's has roasted beets and I'm wondering if I could try my hand at whipping some chevre, perhaps the honey variety. The sign of a good dish for me is when I try to figure out how to recreated it at home. I am still thinking about these beets and it's been over a week! I just looked it up. Salt roasting is indeed a "thing" where you roast the vegetables while they are buried in salt. Don't tell my doctor, he would be upset, that I'm thinking about trying this.

We did order just one of the larger plates. This was ink squid, stuffed with sausage and some other yummy things. I think the presentation was just beautiful with these two swirls of sauces that I can't really describe but were so very good. This plate was a close second to the salt roasted beets. The squids were just a lovely texture and the stuffing was not overpowering but a good compliment in the dish. This dish did not scream "sausage" but was really a mild nice filling. I really wish I knew what the sauce was but let's just leave it as "delicous". Since I recently was watching the first season of Hell's Kitchen, I'm really impressed at the squid preparation. I know from Gordon Ramsey yelling at the two teams, getting these ready for stuffing would not be easy!

Now I would be remiss to not mention that this place boasts "cheese, swine and wine" and I didn't mention anything about drinks. I didn't partake in any wine but if you wanted to, there would be no shortage to choose from, even by the glass. Wines came from all over the world and were not limited to the usual geographic regions. They also have some very interesting cocktails but I stuck with a hard cider and called it a day. For me the food was really the main atrraction on this evening along with good company.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Restaurant Review: Bad Brad's BBQ

Pretty Darn Good BBQ

Pig Candy in Itself is Worth the Trip

I really do love BBQ but it has to be good BBQ. I'm particularly fond of beef brisket and a nice smoked sausage with a middle of the road sauce that is both spicy and sweet. For me, the side dishes are often more important than they meat as I really enjoy a good slab of cornbread with sweet butter and love sweet potato mash and cream mac and cheese.

We go to Woodshop a lot and I really love that joint. Why am I speaking about Woodshop while I write about Brad's? Well, first Woodshop is my barometer because that's my favorite BBQ joint. It's also a way to provide a comparison as I can easily analyze everything we ate for the most part with something comparable there. I also think that a lot of what's going on at Bad Brad's may be a homage, whether conscious or unconscious, to Woodshop anyways. There are a lot of similarities. . .

We visited the Bad Brad's in Shelby Township. They have a few locations scattered across town, including a brand new one in Orion Township, actually very close by to Woodshop. I know comparison #1 right at the beginning of this review. While I will grudgingly wait 2+ hours for Woodshop I was pleasantly surprised that I only had to wait 20 minutes at Brad's. I have to admit I was nervous about that but my fear was unbased in reality. Score 1 point for Brad's for allowing me to eat almost right away.

Our trip to Brad's was actually triggered by talk of local BBQ and my insistence on traveling much further for Woodshop. During this conversation with friends today, they specifically mentioned Brad's and went on about Pig Candy. Pig Candy was an objective today for an appetizer. Pig Candy is delicious. Smoked and candied thick bacon hanging from a little clothesline. Yes, this stuff was good. No, there is nothing like this at Woodshop. If there was anything I would do differently with this Pig Candy would be to kick up the heat slightly by adding just a touch of Cayenne. They didn't ask me by the way, but that's what I would do. We also got an order of Chicken and Waffles. My family is not always as adventurous when it comes to spice as me so there were plans to request that this dish be minus the hot sauce. They forgot. I'm glad they did and quite honestly no one thought it was too spicy. Waffles covered in more pig candy, maple syrup, hot sauce, country gravy, and scallions. Ultra crispy pieces of chicken alternating with the waffles. I don't like chicken but those waffles were good. It's an appetizer but I can see this being a meal. In fact, after these two appetizers I really was ready to be done. I was full.

I wish we had had a little more time to work on appetizers but the main dishes were here before we had time to get through them. We ordered a half slab of St. Louis Ribs with a 1/4 Chicken, and a plate with Chopped Brisket. The Ribs were very tender and had a really nice smoke ring. I would say - and I hate to say this - they were a little bit better than the ones at Woodshop. I did miss my combination of Texas and NYC sauces to dip in from Woodshop but the 321 Sauce was pretty darn good.

The chopped brisket was double smoked and I think next time I would try the sliced instead. The reason I went with the chopped was I really do like those little shavings and I was forced to pick. At Woodshop you automatically get both. Here you have to choose. . . I don't want to choose. They were a little bit dry and more like burnt ends when you got to the bigger chunks. I'm not sure I would get these again here.

Now sides. . . Sweet potato mash was really delicious. I wish they didn't serve it in a bowl that reminds me of the plastic ones my kids used as toddlers. I'm pretty sure that is what they are truly. Cornbread was a little different, with almost a crispy muffin top consistency but they were delicious. Lots of nice jalepeno inside and there was a sweet component that was really complimented by the butter.

Mac and cheese at Brad's was creamy even if it was baked. I like my mac to be creamy. Woodshop's mac is not creamy and while it's rated as some of the best in Michigan, it's not my favorite side. However, Woodshop has Green Bean Casserole and Brad's does NOT have that so I this it's a toss up.

All in all this was a very nice meal. Brad's also serves wood fire pizzas. We ordered one to go - I really couldn't eat anything else - I had a little taste later on this evening. We ordered the Burnt Ends which had brisket, pig candy, blue cheese, grilled onions and garlic. While I'm still full, even now, it was damn good pizza. I just can't look at any more meat for a while.

I should mention the decor because the atmosphere there was fun. Reclaimed mismatched bricks and lots of wood made this really a very cool place. I can't help but think this was Woodshop reminiscent too but it worked and it was an enjoyable meal.

We will be going back. I now will be more strategic in what I order. I think Pig Candy and then a couple of sides would be plenty for me. I definitely think with the shorter wait we will be visiting again. 

Book Review: A Breath of Snow and Ashes (Outlander) by Diane Gabaldon

Installment 6 is back on track

I have not been as positive about the last few books in this series and have maintained consistently that they just can't live up to the beginning of the story of Jamie and Claire. Many of the more recent books focus on other characters and give them voice, including Jamie and Claire's daughter Brianna and her husband Roger.

While this book also provided different perspectives I have to say that this one was enjoyable and I found myself sneaking off when I had a few minutes to return to this story. While the other characters are still giving their voices it seems that they have fully developed now or maybe I have come to care about them as well? In any event this story is better and really provides us with an opportunity to see the rebellion being ignited along with Jamie and Claire that will lead to the American Revolution.

One criticism I do have is how many times can rape, or potential rape, be a central theme in these books? It seems like each installment has at least one woman falling victim or having to fight off someone . . . It seems like some twists and story elements keep returning to these books and I wish the author would come up with something new.

All in all I really loved this book and have already started Book 7. I'm curious to see what Jamie and Claire are up to next as this book will take place during the American Revolution.