Schwa, Chicago, Illinois

November 11th, 2010

Imagine a dark crappy storefront. Covered up. Like it’s been abandoned but not quite. Probably used as storage for who knows what sort of illegal enterprise. Now imagine a street gang walking by and debating the merits of either a) dragging someone in there, beating the crap out of them, and taking their money, or b) taking all their attitude and energy to create incredibly clean fresh flavors that belie categorization. Basically, strip away all the bullshit of your typical fine dining establishment, inject all the anger and passion of the hardcore and hip hop blaring from the speakers into creating incredibly thick meaty yet delicate flavors with no pretense and an incredibly warm, generous, and informal approach to service. And then they take your money.

The gang chose option B and named it Schwa. Chef Michael Carlson has worked at three restaurants that I adore – San Domenico in Imola, Trio in Chicago (now closed), and The Fat Duck in Bray. I can’t say I’m surprised. Don’t mistake lack of pretense and overt formality for a lack of professionalism. And don’t think the frenetic energy coming from the kitchen and the staff is a lack of discipline. These guys are motherfuckers and so is their food. I would have told them that I had a crush on their restaurant but they probably would have kicked my ass for being a wuss.

(There was almost no light in the restaurant so the pics are pretty grainy.)

Hot Doug’s, Chicago, Illinois

November 9th, 2010

There’s a reason the line is so damn long… it’s worth the wait. I’d also like to think their penchant for alliteration as something to do with it as they call themselves “The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium”. Foie Gras and Sauternes duck sausage? Brown Ale and Chipotle Buffalo Sausage? Unlike many snazzy hot dog joints that just slather different crap on one or two commercial hot dogs (potato chips? peanut butter?), the folks at Hot Doug’s focus on the meat first and then complement it with appropriate (and delicious) condiments and add-ons. Not convinced? Three words: Duck. Fat. Fries. What are you waiting for? (Apologies for the iPhone photography.)

Naan-N-Curry, Renton, Washington

November 3rd, 2010

Despite the bunch of Indian restaurants in metro Seattle, finding a good one is harder than you might imagine. The only reason it took me so long to try is because it’s located 20 minutes south of Seattle in Renton. The distance will no longer dissuade me as I the savory crispy hot Chicken Pakora was the best I’d ever had.

Chef Cafe, Seattle, Washington

November 1st, 2010

What about Books Library? Or Instruments Music Shop? Wacky name aside, Chef Cafe stands out amid the plethora of Ethiopian restaurants that litter Seattle. My favorite was the Katenga — toasted Injera (spongy bread) coated in butter and spice. More please.

Gryfe’s Bagel Bakery, Toronto, Canada

April 20th, 2010
“They’re not from New York.
The best bagels in the world
seem to like hockey.”

· Earth ·
Gryfe’s Bagel Bakery

· Toronto ·
Gryfe’s Bagel Bakery

3421 Bathurst Street, Toronto, ON M6A, CANADA (416) 783-1552

The French Laundry, Yountville, California

March 31st, 2010
“Technically perfect.
But does it have any soul?
More salmon cones please.”

Fine Dining
· San Francisco Bay Area ·
The French Laundry

6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599, (707) 944-2380, website

Kampuchea, New York, New York

March 26th, 2010
“It’s Cambodian.
Refined but not pretentious.
Mayo on my corn?”

Refined Cambodian
· new york city ·

78 Rivington St. (at Allen St.), New York, NY 10002, (212) 529-3901, website

Mistral Kitchen, Seattle, Washington

March 24th, 2010
(This post is being simulcast on the Seattle PI and Tastingmenu. I encourage readers of each to check out the other. End of announcement.)
“Simple confidence.
Seafood stars. Buttery tones.
Belickis relaxed.”

Fine Dining
· seattle ·
Mistral Kitchen

2020 Westlake Avenue, Seattle, WA 98121, (206) 623-1922, website

Aburiya Kinnosuke, New York, New York

March 11th, 2010
“I’m in Manhattan.
But it feels like Tokyo.
Tsukune’s divine.”

· new york city ·
Aburiya Kinnosuke

· new york city ·
Aburiya Kinnosuke

213 E 45th St., New York, NY 10017, (212) 867-5454, website

Blog for Us

March 9th, 2010

For the first time, we are actively looking for bloggers to help spread the word about great places to eat all over the world. You think you’re up for the task? We’ll see. Here’s what we’re looking for:

  • You must love food and love to eat.
  • You must take beautiful pictures of the food you eat when you go out to eat.
  • You have numerous opinions on the topic of where to eat and aren’t afraid (and love) to share them.
  • You’re willing to post here on TastingMenu at least once a week or more.
  • You need to find a way to prove to me (Hillel) that you have great taste in food (or at least that we’ll agree most of the time).
  • You love to travel and do it semi-regularly.
  • You recommend restaurants and eating establishments based almost entirely on the flavor and texture of the food. Things like service, decor, typeface of the menu, and even food presentation to a certain extent and price are either not relevant or a distant consideration.
  • You live in Tokyo, London, Paris, Rome, New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Hong Kong, Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin, Bangkok, Tel Aviv or somewhere else with a large selection of extraordinary eating establishments that need to be recommended.
  • You’re an honest and decent human being with a love for recommending wonderful restaurants to friends and strangers alike.

But not so fast, there a bunch of things we’re not looking for:

  • People looking to get paid. There ain’t no money in this gig.
  • People looking to get their meals paid for. (See above.)
  • People looking to tell the restaurant they’re blogging about them in order to get a discount or better treatment. Tacky.
  • People looking to exclusively own the photos/opinions they post to TastingMenu. You can own them but by posting them here you’re giving TastingMenu a perpetual license to do whatever we want with them. [TastingMenu Legal Affairs Department].

What’s in it for you? The distinct pleasure of getting to recommend wonderful food from around the world, not to mention the honor of being on the TastingMenu team. Other than that… not a whole hell of a lot. ;) Oh… but you do get your glamour shot in the sidebar.

If you’re up for the task… get in touch.