September was exciting, because it started with a fun trip to Cuba, and I got to explore their very interesting food scene. A detailed blog on that, here: http://www.thechicagopescetarian.com/internationally/2016/9/21/that-week-i-was-a-habanera
Immediately upon my return from Cuba, I got to host my first Media Dinner at one of my favorite French restaurants in the city, Le Bouchon. Now headed by Chef Oliver Poilevey, son of the late, legendary Chef Jean-Claude Poilevey. I recently became friends with Oliver and his brother Nicola and got to learn a little more about the restaurant, its concept and history. Poilevey senior’s vision was to serve pure French food and he did it with no fuss and no fusion. And as a food blogger always seeking authenticity, I was very pleased to hear that.
Together, Oliver and I decided to host a small, intimate dinner and invite other foodies and culinary influencers to experience the magic of Le Bouchon.
Chef’s menu, which he specially created for this dinner, was on point and a good balance of meat and seafood dishes. We also had a wonderful wine pairing to go along with our spread. I have endless favorites at Le Bouchon, but from this tasting they were, the Salmon Rillettes which came with fresh smoked salmon and beer bread and basil and the Tuna Nicoise Crudo with Anchovy Vinaigrette, quail egg, olives, tomatoes, green beans, fried caper and fennel. Both were amazing! The tuna was obscure in a non-fishy way but managed to add a brilliant, briny taste to the dish. And in the non-pescetarian section, the Pink Pearl Apple Salad was delightful. A refreshing medley of hazlenuts, Manchengo, arugula, radicchio, gooseberries and cider vinaigrette. I was in heaven! We finished with a sugary Apple Tart that sealed the meal perfectly! Everyone had such a wonderful time enjoying an authentic French meal and also at French pace, where we truly relished the company and conversation throughout the night. The vibe at Le Bouchon just makes you want to linger but alas, we had to go home.
To continue the French theme, I also got to attend Toni Patisserie’s Open House to celebrate some of their new menu items and had an absolutely wonderful time. What’s not to love about a soiree involving beautiful French pastries, savory crepes, cocktails and coffee concoctions?
The very festive décor truly complemented the beautiful trays lined with colorful macaroons, bite-sized raspberry tarts, éclairs and the most decadent assorted cupcakes. We also sampled the delicious petit baguette sandwiches that were being passed around, my favorite being a Brie and apple mini sandwich that was different from every other I’ve had.
From the specialty cocktails of the evening, the Bellini Monte Carlo La Peche was my favorite pick. A Mediterranean classic including gin, Lillet Blanc, house made lemon sour, refreshing peach puree and sparkling wine. Another fruity drink that I saw floating around was the La Rouge; a striking red concoction consisting of sparkling wine, Linderman’s Framboise Lambic Ale and raspberry liqueur. Chef Toni and her husband were personally making the rounds and it was nice to chat with them for sometime about the restaurant’s evolution in the last five years. Plus, I got to brush up on my Francaise a bit. My friend and I stayed until the very end and left with our goodie bags in tow, so happy and so full!
The following week, I went to the Fortune Fish hosted Chicago Seafood & Specialty Food Show held at Navy Pier. Almost 200 of the finest seafood companies from the U.S. and around the world showed up to give attendees a taste of good food and eclectic drinks. When I signed in for my media pass, I was given a map and told that the seafood vendors were set up on their own floor, but rest assured the aromas took me straight to it.
My very first encounter was St. James Smokehouse’s smoked salmon and I was quick to consume a couple buttery pieces of fish as I made my way to Rushing Waters Fisheries booth where they featured an amazing trout dip. It was so good that I immediately read up on it and was so happy to hear of their environmentally friendly farm practices where trout are only harvested to order. You know what that means, it means absolutely fresh fish and I can vouch for that.
Bristol Seafood’s scallops, which I had next, were equally amazing and there’s something to be said about watching your fish cook right in front of you. There is an element of freshness that cannot be matched when that happens! The taste of these scallops absolutely harmonized their appearance, and once again I couldn’t stop at just one.
The place was packed and I was secretly pleased to see the love of seafood by so many. Then I made my way to the Heartland Catfish table, where the owner cooked some yummy, crispy catfish for me. Catfish has always been one of my favorites, even though I’m afraid to admit sometimes because of its bottom-feeding reputation. But I’ll tell you this, good, fresh catfish if cooked right can be immensely gratifying.
A new discovery for me shortly after was the domestic Sauger. Another fresh water fish from the perch family and closely resembling walleye, but the taste much more unique than the other two; lower in fat but one of the flakiest fish I have ever had. I imagine it would taste good in any preparation, although I had it fried. I was beginning to get full, but couldn’t pass up on the Sex On The Bay’s premium oysters they were serving. I’ve always maintained that oysters are an acquired taste, but I may have to take that back. These racy oysters just awakened your senses; it was like kissing the sea on the lips! Plump meat with a creamy finish and no condiments needed. The food show also kept up with the health kick we are in lately. I stopped by Sealord’s table, where they were serving a gluten-free, healthy version of Fish N Chips. And what we had was a Taro chip with seared Hoki (from New Zealand), with a jalapeno-tartar sauce and Hawaiian lava salt. This one you just had to be there for. The dish was right up my alley!
When I wasn’t able to consume any more fish, I decided to venture upstairs to the dessert and drink vendor’s section. On-Time was featuring some amazing cocktail mixers that were all non-GMO and gluten free; my favorite being the Pineapple-Jalapeno mix which I blended in with some tequila, and maybe more than once.
All the while, there were also fun demos and contests happening throughout the venue. People seemed to be truly interacting and enjoying conversations with vendors. Vendors in turn seemed more than happy to discuss their product and educate consumers. This is exactly the type of exchange that’s nice to see at an event like this, but I was more so impressed that it was happening despite the sheer size of the event. I went back to the seafood area one more time for a few last bites and concluded with the most delicious Shrimp Cocktail that St. Elmo was serving. The seafood show was every pescetarian’s dream come true. I literally didn’t want it to end, but left for fear of having to be rolled out of there.
As if I had not had enough seafood, I then attended my second Sitka Salmon Shares dinner at the Heartland Café. Hosted by Paul Sippil, a Chicago based food enthusiast, whose goal is to bring people together via dinners, and nurture meaningful conversations about healthier eating and farm-to-table ingredients. As we were educated by the founders Nick Mink and Marsh Skeele, about deciphering labels used for salmon and other fish in stores, we were also served the most delicious meal. And Heartland Café couldn’t have been a more appropriate venue for our theme. The café offered an artsy atmosphere that paired well with Chef Kim Gracen’s use of local, seasonal ingredients to honor the wonderful Sitka salmon.
Our first course was like nothing I’ve ever had before; a pecanwood smoked cod and Chevre dumpling placed in a tomato coulis and thyme oil was served. And inside the dumplings were a couple fillets of salt-cured Carribean lox carefully folded in. Let’s just say I wiped my plate clean. The second and main course was a butter-based Coho Salmon with white tea-honey glaze, a lovely black garlic polenta patty and the most flavorful, wilted kale. Dessert, which we didn’t have room for until it arrived, was a delightful apple cider bread pudding using apples harvested by owner Tom Rosenfeld himself. And this came drizzled with an unbelievable bourbon caramel and cinnamon ice cream. A subconscious part of me resented how good this was because I couldn’t show any restrain. While the food is always hearty healthy and utterly delicious at these community dinners, the best part is meeting and mingling other like-minded culinary conservationists who care so much about what they put in their bodies and how they treat the environment. Paul Sippil is a true visionary, and to learn more about his work, you can visit: http://communitydining.com
The month ended with the 28th Annual Oyster Fest at Shaw’s Crab House. Shaw’s as you know by now, at least from some of my other blogs, never does anything mediocre.
Another amazing soiree full of oysters, fresh seafood and craft beer! It was raining on the day of the fest, but that didn’t stop anyone from having a good time. The event was held outdoors with lots of tents selling both hot and cold seafood items; anything from swordfish tacos to shrimp cocktail. The featured item of course was, oysters. The first thing I ate was the Oyster Po’boy. This classic sandwich did not disappoint as crispy, golden brown oysters were carefully placed on soft, French bread that was thick enough to hold the juices oozing from every bite I took. How Po’boys are together so crispy and airy will always remain a mystery to me. We obviously didn’t satisfy oyster fill so we also ordered the grilled oysters, which were also a knockout. Grilled in shell, the garlic seasoning and lemon juice were a nice touch. The drinks selections were also extensive and I discovered that the Peach Paloma with grapefruit juice and tequila is THE perfect accompaniment for shellfish.
We were definitely having a blast amidst all the ‘oystering’ and also listened to a fun lineup of live music bands that provided entertainment the entire time. I could tell that attendees had been eagerly awaiting the fest by the excitement on everyone’s’ faces. What a great way to bid summer one final goodbye!