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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Cool your sweaty corpus with stir-fried ice cream at Legend Tasty House

Posted By on 07.13.17 at 04:35 PM

Avocado, Legend Tasty House - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Avocado, Legend Tasty House

It was high noon in late June in Chinatown on the first really swampy day of the summer. There were a few customers at Lao Sze Chuan. There was nobody in the new Korean barbecue joint except three fat, sweaty white guys. And who the hell could even think of eating in any of the dozen or so hot-pot joints on a day like that?

There was nothing going down in Chinatown.

But wait—what's that crowd of teenagers and others idlers doing down on Wentworth?
They'd gathered under the red faux pagoda that is home to Legend Tasty House, an ice cream parlor trafficking in the alluring confection known as rolled iced cream or, as the kids say, stir-fried ice cream. This is a delightful treat popularly enjoyed in Japan, Korea, China, and, most importantly, Thailand. That's where a breakthrough in the dairy arts occurred more than half a decade ago in a Bangkok ice cream shop. More about that later.

First, what is it? The easiest comparison to make for Westerners, it seems, is Cold Stone Creamery. But instead of a marble prep surface, what you have here is a freezing-cold metal pan upon which an ice cream jockey of heroic abilities pours a liquid as if she's making crepes. She adds some kind of fruit, or cookie, or cracker, or sauce and haughtily smashes it with one of two metal spatulas she wields in each fist, then begins rapidly scraping and chopping the mixture until it begins to crystalize and hold shape. With the grace of an interpretive dancer she quickly smoothes and flattens it into a thin square, and—this is the really hypnotizing part—scrapes wide ribbons of ice cream that roll up like scrolls of papyrus. These are placed upright in a cup and garnished with garish combinations of whipped cream, gummies, sprinkles, sauces, fruit, marshmallows, jimmies, and other flair. The base flavors include coffee, mango, strawberry, s'mores, green tea, and, God bless them, durian. And more. I lost myself awhile in the dreamy depths of the avocado, which I've come to suspect is the perfect match for ice cream.
This is a treat made for Instagrammers. You can watch them standing in front of the counter agog, their phones up recording the transfixing ballet. Legend Tasty house opened last January, an inauspicious month for ice cream, but it looks like it's doing just fine now. There's a full menu of savory stuff too—skewers, soups, even oden, which is perfect fuel for January. Not so much in June.

Legend Tasty House—which has a whole-fish hot-pot sister restaurant, Legend Spicy Bar, down the street—invokes the "streets of Hong Kong" on its website. But there'd be no rolled ice cream in China or Chicago, for that matter, if it weren't for a Bangkok dairy disruptor. Friend of the Food Chain and author of Bangkok: Recipes and Stories From the Heart of Thailand, Leela Punyaratabandhu is working on a piece about Thai-style rolled ice cream for a future issue of Dill Magazine.* She explains:

"The method of manipulating ice cream on a cold surface had been around for a long time. You could find it in Korea,  Japan, etc.—and Thailand too. But about 6 years ago, a small shop inside a mall in Bangkok started making their ice cream on a steel pan (that very much resembles a commercial pad thai pan, which is a wide, flat carbon steel pan with a short, flared rim) whose temperature registers at minus 30° Celsius. According to the owner of that ice cream shop, this is about 20° lower than the surface on which the same type of ice cream had been made in other countries. This means you get the job done in much less time—about one minute. They called it "Ice Cream Phat" (literally 'stir-fried ice cream'), because the way you prepare it looks like you're "stir-frying" the liquid ice cream base into solid ice cream, and the vessel also looks like a flat stir-fry pan. That shop eventually outgrew their original location and is now operating in over 60 locations throughout Thailand. Lots of copycats these days."

This ice cream is phat.

Legend Tasty House: Next to the fish counter at Mayflower Food, it's the best place in Chinatown to cool off on a hot summer day.

Legend Tasty House - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Legend Tasty House

Legend Tasty House, 2242 S. Wentworth, 312-225-8869,

Legend Spicy Bar, 2358 S. Wentworth, 312-929-2758,

*Full disclosure: I'm a contributor to Dill. It's a quarterly that focuses on Asian foodways. Its first issue, which drops Saturday at the Thai Food Festival, is all about noodles.

Correction: This post has amended to correctly reflect the name of Legend Tasty House's sister restaurant. It is Legend Spicy Bar, not Legend Spicy House.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Get the sandwich of the summer at Daley Plaza Farmers Market

Posted By on 06.13.17 at 12:59 PM

Baked Cheese Haus's ham-and-cheese sandwich - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Baked Cheese Haus's ham-and-cheese sandwich

Baked Cheese Haus is not the name of your older brother's stoner-metal side project. But it may be the only outdoor-market sandwich slinger worth its own stoner-metal soundtrack. It's definitely the most theatrical.

It is, however, a side project, an increasingly heroic one from the folks behind Brunkow Cheese of Darlington, Wisconsin, a perennial presence at Chicago farmers' markets and the brains behind another brilliant market act: free samples of its molten Finnish-style Brun-uusto "bread cheese."

Baked Cheese Haus exists primarily to push Brunkow's 12-pound, three- to five-month-old raclette wheel. But the epically metal sandwich has proven so popular that the cheesemaker is out of raclette and Brunkow is now importing it from Switzerland to accommodate the savage demand. Picture it: You're wading through the lunchtime throngs at Daley Plaza. An intoxicating fungal aroma in the warm summer air alerts your olfactory system: It's alive! The crowd ahead parts and a booth appears where a maestro—his T-shirt relays a ninth beatitude, "Blessed are the cheesemakers"—plays a half reel of raclette like he's Tony Iommi.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

A sandwich designed for vampires at Revival Food Hall’s Danke

Posted By on 10.17.16 at 03:24 PM

The Backyard Dracula - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • The Backyard Dracula

The chalkboard menu at Revival Food Hall's Danke doesn't specifically say what species of gore is in the blood paté. But given it appears on a sandwich called the Backyard Dracula, the natural assumption is that it's human*. The sanguineous sandwich is the October special at the charcuterie bar from the fellows behind Logan Square's Deutsch-ish Table, Donkey and Stick. One of the few original concepts in the marvelous, sprawling, ever-thronged food hall, Danke features cured meats from chef Scott Manley (formerly of Vie and Blackbird), who—in view of his work at TDS and, more recently, Steadfast—has emerged as one of the most accomplished charcutiers in the city.

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Seattle-style sticky meats go Chipotle at Glaze Teriyaki

Posted By on 11.20.15 at 08:00 AM

Chicken thigh/steak combo, Glaze Teriyaki - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Chicken thigh/steak combo, Glaze Teriyaki

Every city has its own exportable signature-food cliches. We have our deep dish. Philly has cheesesteaks. Seattle has . . . teriyaki. But so far the ubiquity of grilled and sweetly glazed proteins in the Emerald City, a Korean-Japanese fusion born in the 70s, hasn't spread too far beyond the west coast. That's beginning to change with Glaze Teriyaki, a New York-based chain fronted by a native Seattleite, with branches in San Francisco and (soon) Madison.

Of all the infinitely variable permutations of this frequently cheap and often trashy specialty, Glaze takes the Chipotle approach, touting local ingredients (unverified), scratch cooking, and a build-your-own-plate model that includes a choice of protein, rice, and salad dressing. Among chicken breast or thigh, steak, salmon, tofu, vegetables, and pork loin there's the option of choosing a two-protein combo. The chicken-and-steak duo pictured above features almost finely chopped bits of muscle that nearly drown in the piercingly sweet, sticky, but respectably spicy teriyaki sauce. Pair that with a similarly sweet carrot-ginger dressing for the (wan, limp) greens, and no amount of brown rice is going to make this sugar bowl virtuous ($10). Lakeview somehow seems the appropriate setting for this concept, which also offers a handful of sides (edamame, shrimp shumai, shishitos, chicken wings, gyoza, et cetera) and a Jones Soda machine.

Glaze Teriyaki - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Glaze Teriyaki
Glaze Teriyaki, 3112 N. Broadway, 773-697-3580,

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Monday, October 26, 2015

The Biscuit Man's roasted lamb naan roll is a subcontinental surprise

Posted By on 10.26.15 at 03:34 PM

Lamb naan roll, Sidecar, the Long Room - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Lamb naan roll, Sidecar, the Long Room

Speaking of bar food, ever since Lakeview's Long Room opened its kitchen, Sidecar, this summer, I've been wondering if slinger consumption has taken a hit across the street at the Diner Grill. Late night the little window to the side of the barroom has been manned by chefs Kyle Schrage and Jim Torres, calling themselves Beard & Belly. They're putting out exactly the sort of cheesy, palliative drunk food you head for when you leave a bar, and it's good enough that people might just stay put instead of heading across Irving Park Road to get fixed: pickled eggs, burgers, fries, chili-cheese fries, poutine, and something called a poutinewich. The burgers, draped with melted butterkase, are moderately sized, and aren't smothered in a bunch of nonsense. The fries are crispy and hand-cut, and the chili, while a bit sweet and tomatoey, really comes into its own in the chili-mac—floral campanelle pasta, smothered in gooey cheese-curd sauce ($8).

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Friday, October 16, 2015

Skip the fish and go French at Nami Sushi Bar

Posted By on 10.16.15 at 03:48 PM

Duck rillettes - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Duck rillettes

I don't know about you, but I can't count the times I've been working through a Kewpie-drenched spider roll when I'm interrupted by a hankering for fine French charcuterie—because it's never happened before. And yet there I was at Ravenswood's newish Nami Sushi Bar, standing at the edge of the abyss wondering if the sky would implode if I augmented my negi hama and salmon skin maki with an order of duck rillette with dijon, frisee, dried cherries, cornichons, and. . . yuzu gelee and shrimp chips.

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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Do the Cha Cha Cha at Jinya Ramen Bar

Posted By on 10.01.15 at 03:41 PM

Cha Cha Cha, Jinya Ramen Bar - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Cha Cha Cha, Jinya Ramen Bar

By now we've all gotten used to the idea that when it comes to ramen there's nothing to fear from chains. The long-standing dominance of Santouka in the Mitsuwa Marketplace food court and the rise of Misoya in Mount Prospect have conditioned us into thinking that these imports can offer predictable consistency and quality. Things have changed in recent times, of course. Now there are some very good locally grown ramenya that stand out from the crowd of weaker ones, and it's become difficult to categorically dismiss it every time someone who didn't apprentice rendering lard in Asahikawa for six years decides to jump into the fray.

But now comes Jinya Ramen Bar, a Toyko-based outfit that, since Jonathan Gold first sung the praises of its first U.S. outpost, may well have become the largest and fastest-growing ramen chain in North America, with some 17 stores in six states and Canada. The Chicago shop is located on a dense stretch of Diversey Fullerton in Lincoln Park that until MFK showed up wasn't worth going out of the way for if you expected to eat anything memorable. The good news is that Jinya is pretty good, specializing in a variety of tonkotsu-based ramen but also offering variations on paitan (chicken-broth-based ramen), a few sides (or "tapas"), and rice bowls.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Worlds collide with the banh mi cevapcici at Sunset Pho Caffe

Posted By on 08.13.15 at 10:00 AM

Banh mi cevapcici, Sunset Pho Caffe - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Banh mi cevapcici, Sunset Pho Caffe

Some time ago I threatened to start posting a cevapcici of the week, celebrating the ubiquitous Balkan sausage in all its glorious diversity. Other sausages got in the way—there was just so much sopressata and morcilla to write about. But then I got word of an intriguing cross-cultural hybrid in a West Rogers Park Vietnamese restaurant: a sandwich already born of colonial culinary miscegenation, joined in perfect union with the skinless beef sausage from southeastern Europe.

My friends, I give you the banh mi cevapcici.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Don't just drive by this taco spot's house-made tortillas

Posted By on 07.29.15 at 01:00 PM

Housemade tortillas are the thing at El Comalito

A friend was talking up some tacos on Twitter; another, Titus, turned out to have written about them on his taco blog two years ago. I asked for the name and coordinates of the taqueria in question and was astonished to find that the place, El Comalito, was on a stretch of Western (think basically the old Honey 1, but on the other side of the street) I drive down all the time. How had I never seen it?

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Dispatches from Olive Garden's #BreadstickNation

Posted By on 07.21.15 at 04:34 PM

  • Gwynedd Stuart

Waiting in a line roughly 50-people deep for a free half sandwich is one of the least dignified things I've done recently (that I can remember). 

That said, I don't have all that much dignity to begin with and an Olive Garden breadstick sandwich isn't just any sandwich—it's a sandwich on a breadstick. OG rolled into Chicago last week and over the weekend for a series of events during which they parked a big brown food truck someplace, belched some marinara smells into the air, and waited for the salivating hordes to come a-running for a sample of the chain's newest lunch item.  

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