Halle of Justice

Forget about “greatest meals,” for a second. Think about “greatest bites.”

I mean, BITES. Eyes roll to the back of the skull kinda bites. Little apocalypses in your mouth that make you want to move to Valencia and grow what you just nibbled on. Bites that stay with you even after you forget the name of your girlfriend or the smell of her hair. THOSE kind of bites.

I’ve never compiled an omnibus list of my own, but I’m pretty sure two of them occurred this past weekend in Chicago.

I like to joke about the Chicago Curse. If I go there with you, our relationship is forever ruined, in no small part because of said visit. Did it start in the second grade when my dad had to testify in some weird federal court case and I was stuck for two days in some crummy hotel room? It was Or maybe in the eighth grade, on a school trip, when I was left behind at the aquarium. I hadn’t cried that hard since Han Solo was dipped into the carbonite. And don’t get me started on visits since then.

But, we survived the weekend. I rode the El for the first time without a longtime resident telling me what to do. We gazed in awe at the Wrigley Building, squinted at the Seurat, snarked at the Trixies in Lincoln Park, got lost a few times…

And had two incredible meals.

I don’t do many restaurant reviews. It’s partially because I don’t go out to eat very often, and, when I do, it’s typically well known comfort food in Cincinnati’s Gaslight area. But really? Ever since Mallorca shut down I’ve pretty much stayed home. Also, I don’t like taking my camera into the establishment and snapping weird shots of my salad. But that’s just me.

So These Bites. Both, oddly, occurred at dessert and both, even more oddly, occurred while tasting items I did not order.

Bite Number One:

A friend of mine recommended Brassiere Jo, just Northwest of the Loop. Everything about it seemed very… correct. It was as if someone made a list of the typical elements of “authentic” brassiere dining: tile floors, mirrors along the walls, menus that look like Audrey Tatou’s shopping list with the squiggly little fonts and lack of white space.

Don’t get me wrong. The food was good. I ordered a steak frites with herb butter and GF ordered a chicken paillard with a peppery salad. My steak was a perfect medium rare, which takes a LOT of skill for such a thin, traditional cut. Chicken, also very juicy. Had we not ordered dessert, however, I would have left feeling like the place had no anima.

But that changed with the Grand Mariner Ice Cream. I was allowed only one bite, and it fully convinced me. I don’t know how they did it and I do not care. Just enough alcohol was added at just the right time to impart the flavor without adding any harshness. And it didn’t undercut the cream, either, it was so well balanced… sweet and flavorful and orangey and bright and it made my eyes roll back into my head like as if I had never tasted ice cream before. Words fail me.

Bite Number Two:

Café Babareebais just… FUN. I had tapas there a couple of years ago and remembered how warm the place felt. But this time it was all about the paella. Nothing more and nothing less than perfect. You could smell the saffron right as Senior plated us up tableside. What I love about good paella is that the ingredients can remain moist without imparting a sogginess to the rice. And plenty of soccorat to go around. But I’ve had paella before.

But this is all about the last bite.   Dessert was almost an afterthought, here, and, I,  pedantic as always, opted for chocolate.  And while good, it didn’t even compare to Butterscotch Cream.

It wasn’t a custard, or a pudding, or a sauce.  Nor did it conform to any other dessert archetype with which i was familiar.  It had the consistency of a very loose mayonnaise but with absolutely no rubberyness.

I was allowed, again, one spoonfull.  I savored.  At first, a luxurious fatty feel, and then the flavors hit you.   Sugar, then a bright caramel with no hint of burning or syrup.  Then, a long, lingering butterscotch finish, as if one flavor gently cascaded another as it slowly dissolved on my tougne.

This last paragraph?  Okay, I write it with a smirk on my face.  But seriously.  These two bites were not of this Earth.

It May Have Choked Artie. It Aint Chokin’ Stymie.

I don’t argue much.

I don’t fight about money. I either have it or I don’t.

I really don’t even fight about sex. See above.

But when it comes to a discussion of “What are we having for dinner…?” Bring it, Poindexter. Because I’m taking you DOWN.

The following conversation occured pretty much verbatim. It has only been edited to make me look funnier.

Me: Stir Fry Okay?
Girlfriend: I want potatoes. Don’t care what with.
Me: I’m have like one small potato.
GF. I Have two. Unless you really want something else. I can do pork chops, even.
Me: BFD then?
GF: It’s just that I had eggs for breakfast. Want to do pancakes?
Me: Out of syrup. And I thought you wanted potatoes?
GF: You can have potatoes with pancakes.
[Socio-Dietary Sidenote: This was clearly the Atkins option.}
GF: Is that what YOU want, though? I can do lasagna or stuffed peppers.

This conversation unfolded over a series of text messages Thursday mid-morning, and I think it was at this point that I hurled my celly into my desk and started hitting myself over the head with my stapler to dull the agony.

I’ll stipulate for the record that there is nothing truly momentous about this conversation. And I’ll try to spare you the Mars/Venus tirades, too. Yes, people communicate differently. And not everyone will be as quick to articulate his or her needs as others. So the non-committal shifting back and forth from potatoes to pork chops to lasagna… all of this is fine. Or at least it should be.

So I guess it begs a question, WHY do I get so animated about my frikkin dinner?

There are, of course, practical ideas. Dinners provide leftovers. Stir fry and BFD, as any good CIO would recognize, are “scaleable,” which means less money handed over to the clowns who run the work cafeteria and don’t understand basic things like salting ground beef before burger-izing it. It would also be a late night for me at work, which means that a trip to the grocery store would just make things unwieldy, not to mention silly as we are going to Chicago after work tomorrow.

Because. When you fight about food you fight about EVERYTHING. I try not to be a snob, but dinner, where possible, ought to be done well. I won’t do pork chops unless they are either brined or the thick cuts with the bone, which I don’t trust others to buy. Pancakes demand REAL maple syrup, Lasagna, good lasagna, takes hours, and stuffed peppers would require a lot of ingredients I don’t keep on hand.

So you are fighting about time. And effort. For that limited quantity of mental real estate in that precious neighborhood of the evening. And, for me, life is too short to eat poorly.

Forgive my long digression. THIS is what I wanted for dinner.

BFD is Jeff-shorthand for Breakfast for Dinner, a throwback to the days when I felt it necessary to pre-chart every meal, wardrobe decision and accomplishment for the upcoming week, the idea being that if you spent your weekend sort of “Mis en place-ing” the upcoming seven days, things would go much smoother. Did it work? Meh.

Anyway, this is the meal I would chart for myself most Fridays when I did not have big plans. Which meant basically every Friday night. There are actually four recipes here. Two are no-brainers, one is easy, one is complicated but quick.

BFD as pictured should take no more than 30 minutes to prepare. Simply measured in terms of epicureal bang for the buck, I can’t think of anything better. It is almost always a triumvirate of bacon or sausage, roasted potatoes in a spice rub, and double boiler scrambled eggs, which are simply perfect – rich and creamy, and still tasting like egg.

The key is just timing. The goal here is for the potatoes to come out of the oven just after you plate les ouf.

Note: i usually make this for one, but included notes on doubling.

3 eggs (use 5 if cooking for two)
dash of milk
dash of butter
pork product sufficient for number of diners.
2 small yukon gold potatoes per person or three medium YGs for two people.
Spice mix for the potatoes (see below)
Salt, pepper.

Preheat oven to 375 and place your double-boiler pan to simmer. Preheat a cast iron skillet to medium.

Assemble a spice mix for your potatoes. Large pinch of salt, a smaller pinch garlic powder and very small pinches of something red, like either paprika or cayenne.

Pour about a T of oil in a medium sized mixing bowl, sprinkle in the spice mix.

Place eggs into the bowl that would typically set atop your double boiler. Whisk the eggs, add the milk and a pinch of salt.

Do your potatoes. Now, there is a vaguely Willy Wonka-esque quality to the potatoes. when you look at the potatoes it will seem like too little, then when you look at them on the cutting board it will seem like too much, then on the cookie sheet, again, too little. And, as a child of the Midwestern Prairie, I do love my spuds. But, two potatoes will serve a person well. You wont want for more, and, trust me, you will eat every single one.

Okay. You want to cut the potatoes into little half moons about 1/4 inch thick. So place the potato on the cutting board – it obviously will only sit one way, and cut from top to bottom. You will have a little medallion, which you will then cut in half. Place your half moons into the spice mix, and toss to coat.

Bake for about 12 minutes.

While the potatoes are baking, cook your meat. set aside, when cooked, to keep warm.

After 12 minutes or so, open the oven door. Look and listen. The potatoes should be just beginning to brown around the edges and should be “squeaky” from the water inside the spud turning to steam and trying to force its way out. Flip the potatoes and re-insert into oven.

Okay, the eggs. When your double boiler water is at a gentle simmer, place the eggs atop the saucepan and stir, CONSTANTLY, with your spatula. stir the sides and the bottom of the pan, and, eventually, small curds will form. Yes, this is a pain in the butt, but, trust me, it’s worth it. These eggs will be rich luxurious. If you have ever prepared any sort of custard you know what principles are at work – you are trying to slowly increase the temperature of the eggs.

It SHOULD take about 10-12 minutes until the eggs are done. As they near completion, mix in a small pat of butter, pour out onto a plate, garnish with pepper and, if possible, some fresh herbs.

Place the meat on the plate next to the eggs, and now, the potatoes should also be done. Devour.

Yes, this is a simple recipe and yes, THIS is why I’m willing to fight over food, even when it seems as juvenile and as absurdly comic as watching the Little Rascals ponder a strange green vegetable in the neighbor’s garden.

Okay, confession, I would feel a lot better about typing all of this out had we not ended up going to Perkins for dinner.