Saturday, February 19, 2011

Living the Cold Life

OK. This blog is about Living the Good Life, but we all know it's not all good.

So, in the interest of balance, I have to discourage you from visiting the Chicago area in the winter.

I was hanging out in Glenview, a Chicago suburb, a couple of weeks ago, and it was right after Snowmageddon, when about two feet of snow got dumped on the area.

About the best I can say about the experience is that these people know how to move snow. If snow like that had fallen in Amarillo, we'd all be stuck in our houses for a week, but in Glenview, the roads were clear and dry, albeit lined on both sides by six-foot mounds of frozen leftovers.

The temperature, though, was another thing all together. While I was there, the high was 14 degrees for most of the week until a heatwave moved through, and it got up to 24.

So, as fun as Chicago can be and has been, I'd say stay away in February.

To me, Livin' the Good Life doesn't involve wearing a big-ass coat, gloves and a scarf and still freezing your butt off.

With that said, if you find yourself in the Chicago suburb of Glenview, here are a few dining suggestions:
Chilean Sea Bass prepared Shang Hai style - steamed with fresh ginger
and scallions, served with sticky rice, spinach and rice wine soy sauce
Mitchells' Fish Market
I didn't realize that Mitchells' was a chain, but don't let that deter you. This ain't no Red Lobster. The upscale restaurants are mostly located in the eastern half of the United States. My friend and co-worker Jeff Robertson and I dined there our last night in Glenview. According to Mitchell's Web site, their menu is printed twice a day to reflect the freshness of their fish.

I felt like going all out, so I started with a half-dozen oysters. I got the mixed plate with three East Coast and three West Coast oysters. While both were good, the East Coast oysters have a milder, cooler taste while the West Coast oysters are little more briny.

I opted for a Titanic Wedge Salad with bacon, tomatoes and blue cheese dressing (leaving off the egg). Wedge salads are my new favorite. Why? I just think it takes a lot of chutzpah to throw a quarter of a head of iceberg lettuce on a plate, sprinkle it with bacon bits and a few cherry tomatoes and call it a salad. Hell, I've been doing that for years. Who knew I was so trendy?

The piéce de résistance, though, was the Chilean Sea Bass. Now, I know what you're thinking, but the menu said their Chilean Sea Bass was certifiably sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, so I laid aside my guilt and ordered it the recommended Shang Hai preparation — steamed with fresh ginger and scallions, served with sticky rice, spinach and rice wine soy sauce.

If you've never had Chilean Sea Bass, you're definitely missing out. It's like no other fish I've ever had. The meat is silky and tender. It's like the tenderloin of fish. Even if you don't like fish, I bet you'll like sea bass. There's absolutely no fishy taste and the texture is divine. It's probably the most expensive fish you'll ever order, but it's worth it.

If you ever get a chance to try Mitchell's, don't pass it by.

RA Sushi
RA Sushi is another chain I'd never heard of. In fact, the idea of a Sushi chain seems sort of strange to me. I'm not sure why. RA Sushi has a creative menu, and is shooting for the hip, LA look. The liquor bar was as big as the sushi bar, so I'm guessing it's a happening place at night, but for a late lunch, it was almost empty.

I ordered the Ra'kin Shrimp Roll, which wasn't bad, but the supposedly tempura-fried shrimp on top of each piece was more like a regularly fried shrimp rather than the lighter batter normally associated with tempura.

The other comment I'll make is a complaint about this trend toward super-sized sushi. In my mind, sushi should be bite-sized. Not only is it easier to pick up with chopsticks, but you can also pop the whole piece in your mouth at once. But like the Happy Meal, Americans seem to be taking a good thing to the extreme. These Ra'kin shrimp rolls were more like three-bite pieces. While it was easy enough eating the shrimp off top, sushi rolls really aren't designed to be bitten into. They don't tend to hold together that well and one of the delightful things about sushi is how all of the flavors come together. Come on America, do we really have to super-size everything we eat?

With that said, RA Sushi was pretty good and would be worth visiting again. The menu has some creative items on it, and I would like to go with a group. It's always more fun to order a bunch of different things and share.

For you Texas readers, there are RA Sushi locations in Plano and Houston.

Johnny's Kitchen & Tap
A staff member at the Pioneer Press office in Glenview recommended that Jeff and I try Johnny's Kitchen & Tap. I was a little wary when the menu stressed that they served "real mashed potatoes." I mean, let's face it, is that really a big deal? Anyway, I chose the Skirt Steak Salad and Jeff picked one of the house specialties — Rotisserie Roasted Pork with pine-nut stuffing, real mashed potatoes, housemade applesauce and natural pork gravy. They only serve it a few days a week. 

There wasn't anything wrong with the food at Johnny's, but it wasn't anything special either. The one highlight was an introduction to a new beer (for me) —  Bell's amber ale, which is brewed in Michigan. Very nice. I need to see if I can find some in Texas.

Gulliver's Pizza and Pub
You can't go to the Chicago area without trying Chicago-style pizza. Gulliver's was located right next to our hotel, which meant we only had to walk 25 yards in the 0-degree weather. That was reason enough to try it out. The pizza was good, but the service was harried. Our waitress usually delivered items to our table from about three feet away, requiring her to hurl them at us rather than set them down gently. 

If you haven't had deep-dish pizza, just a word of warning, order a small. These pizzas are a good 2 inches thick, and it doesn't take much to fill you up.

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