Elk lasagna, antelope burgers laced with blue cheese and spinach, BBQ beaver: These were among the highlights at this year's annual Wild Game Dinner at the Harvard Sportsman's Club in pastoral McHenry County.
That last item was gone by the time I reached the hot buffet at the all-you-could-meat meal, but I did not leave hungry.
Did you know this is the week of not only the quadrennial Leap Day but also the first day of meteorlogical spring? Me neither, on the latter, until my friend, Illinois Master Gardener Catherine Lambrecht told me. So with meteorlogical spring in the air and the sap flowing, I'll be road-tripping down to the National Maple Syrup Festival this weekend—after the fullest week in food events since the holidays, that is.
Monday, February 27
Food meets art again, as Tru Exec Chef/partner Anthony Martin cooks for The Dinner Party at Mayne Stage, presented by Fear No ART.
Last Saturday morning, at 7:07 a.m., I learned chubs were back at Calumet Fisheries. At that moment, my day—perhaps my year—changed. It's been seven months since the James Beard award-winning so-called fish shack has had the elusive little golden fishes in house. These are indeed the fish—and I do understand the risk of repeating this today, but I'd be remiss if I didn't—once dubbed fish crack.
They were back by wildly popular demand just in time for Lent, the Fisheries' busiest time of the year. By the way, I find it miraculous that it's considered abstemious to eat "only fish" on Fridays.
The Friday night fish fry is the more famous seasonal ritual, but its stronghold lies north, in Wisconsin.
Last week, a provacative, food-and-drink-focused, major art exhibit opened in our city—and yet, in a town where ideas for restaurants make news, only a few in our culinary community are aware of its existence, much less significance.
I admit, I didn't even begin to understand the breadth and depth either until I attended the opening of Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art, at the Smart Museum, and became an unwitting part of the exhibit itself.
Did you get your Baconfest Chicago 2012 tickets today? Yes? I'll see you there! No? They're sold out! Demand rivals Next vs. El Bulli. But Bacon Nation, do not despair! Watch the official BFC Facebook page for ticket giveaways, including your chance to enter the Amateur Bacon Cook-off. In the meantime, this week laissez les bon temps rouler, plus a chocolate fest and an intimate rib feast. After all, BBQ is chocolate for men, to paraphrase Anthony Bourdain.
Monday, February 20
We all know about speakeasies in this town, but blind tigers? Back during Prohibition, speakeasies were respectable law-breaking drinking establishments, while blind tigers were a bit seedier. They charged customers to ostensibly see a sideshow-esque animal curiosity, like a poor blind tiger (or pig, even), then gave the viewer a "complimentary" alcoholic drink, thus circumventing the Feds.
The fifth annual Chicago Restaurant Week kicks off at lunch today, but it's not actually a week; it's 10 days, and officially ends next Sunday, February 26 at dinner. Some restaurants extend until the end of the month, this leap year, the 29th.
But it can be a love/hate relationship, with both diners and restaurants, and sometimes a battle for reservations—and in some cases, no reservations at all.
Here's the deal: restaurants offer special $22 lunch menus and/or $33 or $44 dinner menus. But it's wise to confirm if the Restaurant Week menu is being offered during your desired dining time. The special menus may not be available on certain days or certain meal times—like Sunday brunch for example.
Any restaurant in the greater Chicagoland area could participate, and this year more than 262 restaurants are in (despite what the official list looks like it says; Café 28 is listed twice).
Fat Thursday or Tłusty Czwartek. Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. No matter what you call them, Chicago is the only city in the world that widely celebrates Pączki/Paczki Day on both days. A pączek is the jelly doughnut's Polish cousin with a richer, eggy pastry, but only modestly filled. Paczki (POONCH-kee) can be found here year-round, but some bakeries only offer old world fillings like prune or rose hip jam this Thursday and/or Tuesday, along with new world favorites like strawberries and cream. And in our world, there's even a paczki-eating contest that still needs eaters on Saturday.
Wednesday, February 15
The Journey of a Sweet Leaf: In Search of Plant Originated Sweeteners at the Garfield Park Conservatory will be led by "plant taxonomist and economic botanist, Dr. D. Doel Soejarto ("Doel"), who is best known for his more than 40 years of plant exploration work, covering more than 20 countries."