It was a good week for food: Crave Cupcakes, lunch at Thai Lanna, dinners at Mary'z, Kubo's, and Feast, and Jenny's miracle berry party.
Crave Cupcakes is a cupcake boutique in Uptown Park. The store has a beautiful design -- lots of glass, wood, metal and soft aqua colors -- which emphasizes the racks of artistically designed cupcakes.
Prices are a little shocking. Most are $3.25. Far more than your average cupcake. But also less than a gallon of gas. So as splurges go, one cupcake is a cheap splurge.
I first tried a maple-syrup-flavored breakfast cupcake. It tasted very similar to the overly sweet maple nut scones at Starbucks, which I can only eat with an overly strong cup of coffee. Fortunately, the Starbucks next to Crave is not part of Starbucks' mass closings.
I returned with Anonymous Child who insisted on a strawberry cupcake. The small bite I negotiated for myself was fruity, far better than the ordinary strawberry cupcake. But it also was too sweet for my tastes.
Admittedly, I don't have a high sugar tolerance. But if you do, and you like cupcakes, you may be impressed with the high-quality, sweet cupcakes at Crave.
Chicken at Mary'z Lebanese Cuisine
Summer is the time for grilled foods. My favorite grilled chicken in town is the chich tawook chicken served at Mary'z Lebanese Cuisine. This juicy chicken has a rich, tangy, salty, slightly-sweet flavor. It is served with a concentrated, pungent garlic sauce.
The secret is the marinade. The menu says it is marinated in garlic and lemon juice. Surely there is more to it than that.
Thai Lanna is a quaint Thai restaurant next to an adult movie store in a grungy strip center where the West Loop meets the North Loop. The history is a bit confusing. Once it was Vung Thai, a quirky Thai restaurant with good, home-cooked food. Then, the owner/chef Pim sold the restaurant, and it became Thai Touch -- which sounded more like a massage parlor -- and quality plummeted.
Now, Pim has returned, re-purchased the restaurant, and called it Thai Lanna.
I like Thai Lanna more than 80 percent of the Thai restaurants in town. Unfortunately, it is near my two favorite Thai restaurants -- Vieng Thai and Asia Market. Against these competitors, Thai Lanna's spicy dishes are not as spicy. And Pim caters to the palates of her mostly-Western customers. Still, the food tastes like it was cooked at home.
This week I ordered a traditional papaya salad, called Som Tam. Made with unripened papaya, hot chile, sour lime, salty fish sauce, a little sugar, tomatoes, and ground peanuts, Som Tam is a study in the balance of flavors. At Thai Lanna, I ordered it "spicy," yet it was nowhere nearly as spicy or as exotic as the same dish at Vieng Thai or Asia Market. Yet, most Americans would probably prefer the mellower version of this dish at Thai Lanna.
Kubo's Summer Specials
The best dishes at Kubo's Sushi Bar and Grill are often the bi-monthly specials. The specials this month are particularly good.
The flavorful inside of the summer scallop roll consists of chopped scallop and something crunchy (panko?). Outside are strings of kanikama and three kinds of tobiko. The primary flavor here is scallop, but the the fun part of this dish is the play of contrasting textures.
I liked the flavors of Kubo's cold udon special even more - shrimp, kanikama, egg, barbecue pork, seaweed, cucumber, green onion, and ginger served over cold udon. The bowl of cold ingredients struck me as a single-bowl summary of Japanese flavors.
Kubo's desert special is chestnuts tiramisu. Kubo's has experimented with some very good tiramisu desserts, but this one is particularly interesting. The chestnut-flavor tiramisu is matched with ginger sorbet and sweet "satuma potato chips." I was stunned at how well the potato-chip flavor complimented with the sweet and spicy ginger sorbet. And I wondered why I had never seen potato chips incorporated into a dessert.
Kubo's recently celebrated its 7th anniversary and is soon opening a second location in Chinatown.
Every meal at Feast is an adventure. This week, my wife and I dropped in on a weeknight, unfortunately without a camera. We just concentrated on appetizers.
Duck necks were interesting. I found them impossible to eat without my fingers, which the chef later told me is the correct method. The best part of the dish is a highly pungent garlic aioli, made with only raw garlic and oil. This wonderful condiment stayed with me for hours.
Brawn with pickled cauliflower was even better. This pig head cheese was served in a terrine form and was even tastier than the last terrine I tried at Feast. I usually avoid cauliflower, but this relish was surprisingly good.
My wife concentrated on less adventurous dishes. She ordered a egg/spinach salad and a monkfish / scallop ceviche, which had an unusual marinade. It was tangy, with strong vinegar and citrus flavors.
Fest makes a delicious chocolate mousse cake. The cake combines both mousse and cake textures and the flavor is only slightly sweet, which gives the focus to the flavor of chocolate.
Even when I can't go to Feast, I find myself reading its fascinating daily menu.
Miracle Berry Party
There must have been 100 people at the miracle berry party. Jenny did a great job organizing, but La Strada was inept. I was reminded why I stopped going to La Strada 15 years ago.
The berries triggered different responses. Misha was disappointed. But he had a cold.
I found that the berries made lemons and limes taste like very sweet candy. Vinegar potato chips tasted like sweet barbecue chips. Guiness tasted not so stout.
On the other hand, the balsamic vinegar tasted like balsamic vinegar. The blue cheese tasted like blue cheese. The schnozberries tasted like schnozberries. (Thanks Misha).
Perhaps we needed more than one berry per person. Perhaps I was expecting something more psychedelic. Still, the party and the berries were a lot of fun.