Friday Feast: hands-on dining...and plenty of offal

February 5, 2010

 


pita and kababs at Naf Naf Grill

No one likes doing the dishes. I, for one, am a huge fan of wraps, rolls and other items that require no forks or knives. As I was researching my story this morning for ABC 7, (which airs at 11 a.m.) I discovered there are plenty of ways you can eat like a native, and never use a knife. Take the Middle East, for example. Whether you choose to dine in a Lebanese restaurant or an Israeli, Syrian, Jordanian or Egyptian one, chances are you'll have access to pita bread. My first instinct is to tear off a piece and drag it through a thick, savory spread of hummus or, more likely, baba gannoush (one of my "barometer" dishes in Middle Eastern restaurants, incidentally). I especially love the pita bread at Naf Naf Grill in Naperville, because they make their own in back, all day long. It rarely sits for more than 20 or 30 minutes. The place has become so popular, they're now looking at moving to a larger space down the road. I know that if I'm ever in the area - which is not that often - I'm going out of my to eat there, just to get my hands on that pita. 

 
the homemade pita at Naf Naf Grill
 
Another cuisine that relishes the use of hands is Indian. If you're in the South, in Kerala, for example, you would be more likely to use one hand to scoop up flavorful, spicy biryani (rice dishes), managing to scoop up the spicy mango pickle alongside. You would also be able to order enormous, elephant ear-shaped dosas (rice flour and chickpea crepes), containing a savory mound of potatoes and spices; you would simply tear off pieces of the dosa, grab some filling, and then perhaps dip it into tamarind or mint chutney. In the North, there are the ubiquitous breads - naan, kulcha, ramali roti - that constitute the starchy support staff of a cuisine that is loaded with gravies and chutneys. At Gaylord - which has a location in the Gold Coast as well as Schaumburg - they make several types of bread themselves, including the puffy, charred naan, as well as some other versions on that same (dough) theme. I love using the thinner roti to pick up kebabs, while I perform unabashed dunking, dipping and dredging of the naan through the rich, tikka masala and assortment of freshly-made chutneys.
 

Puffy naan from Gaylord

 In Ethiopia, the thin, spongy injera bread is just about the only type of bread there is. Made from teff flour, the bubbly injera is cooked in a flat skillet, kind of like a crepe, and when it's finished, it lines the bottom of a giant, circular platter. Depending on your order, a variety of soupy curries, chunky wats and vibrant vegetarian dishes will dot the landscape of your platter; you simply tear off a piece of the injera, wrap it around some of the savory stews on top, and pop it into your mouth. I think one of the best places to try it out is at Ras Dashen in Edgewater, where the family who runs it is truly excited to turn newbies onto their cuisine. Just ask questions, and start grabbing!


The Purple Pig entrance on Michigan Ave.

Tonight I'm tackling some offal, or rather, as it's listed in the indispensible "Deluxe Food Lover's Companion:" variety meats. I quote: "called offal in Great Britain, variety meats are animal innards and extremities that can be used in cooking or in the production of foods such as sausage. The category includes brains, cheeks, intestines (chitterlings), feet and ankles (pig's feet) heart, kidneys, lungs, liver, marrowbone, spleen, stomach (tripe), tail, testicles, thymus and pancreas (sweetbreads) and tongue."

Jimmy Bannos (Heaven on Seven) and Scott Harris (Mia Francesca) enlisted Bannos' son - Jimmy Jr. - who is recently back from a few years working for Mario Batali's restaurants in New York, to head up the kitchen at The Purple Pig. He learned how to cure meat; he learned how to use some offal and make it delicious. At their new restaurant, just off Michigan Avenue, they're integrating offal into a deep menu, full of tasty treats. I've already written about the place a little bit (very excited within their first week of opening) and I've already been back for lunch (equally impressive). Don't turn your nose up so fast: there are plenty of other more recognizable items on the menu, but seriously, you want to call yourself a foodie? You need to step out of your comfort zone once-in-a-while.


you could win this pig charm

TRIVIA QUESTION:

I'm going to offer up something incredibly valuable today. This unique pig wine charm (pictured), which you can impress your friends and neighbors with at your next cocktail party. All you have to do is be the first commenter on this blog with the correct answer. The winner will be contacted via the blog to inform them they are the winner, and I'll get your mailing address at that point.Here we go:

Jimmy Bannos is celebrating the 30th anniversary of his family's restaurant, Heaven on Seven. The original location is still in the Garland Building, on Wabash. Can you tell me the name of the original place - before it became "Heaven on Seven"?