Beijing Duck Feast at Sun Wah BBQ: Chicago, IL

Sun wah whole duck

This is a fun concept for a meal. The idea is that you order a whole Beijing (Peking) duck, and the restaurant makes a multi-course meal from it. You'll get the duck meat and skin, along with pancakes for wrapping. They'll then take the carcass and make duck fried rice from the scraps, along with soup from the bones and remaining bits.

I'm relatively certain they aren't doing this real-time, with your duck's carcass, but regardless, the food is pretty damned good, and quite a bargain to my mind.

Relatives who live in Chicago recommended that we trek up to Sun Wah to give this meal a shot.

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Best Dishes of 2013: The not-necessarily-NJ edition

It's time for a list, right? End of the year type thing? Wrap-up? Is that what they call it?

Every now and again I'll put together a year-end wrap-up thing, generally focusing on the most notable dishes that I ate (rather than the "best" restaurants). When I started reviewing Amex statements and photos for this year's list, I quickly determined that we enjoyed a greater number of memorable meals outside of New Jersey than we did inside. And this list reflects that fact. So if you're not interested in ever leaving NJ, you should probably close your browser's tab now.

For those still reading, I present to you, my completely self-indulgent list of the Best Dishes of 2013: The not-necessarily-NJ edition.

Let's start with a cocktail, shall we?


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La Sirena Clandestina: Chicago, IL

It's been a few weeks since we ate very, very well in Chicago. Since that time I've forgotten most specifics, but it would be silly to not report on our meal at La Sirena Clandestina, one which I recall as a contender for the best meal of the trip, even though the details are pretty much history.

So here it is, a high-level overview of what I think was a super meal.

t:e reader "Curlz" (@curlz66) pointed me in the direction of La Sirena Clandestina.  A quick review of the website showed a short, concise and focused menu, a smallish restaurant, and an interesting cocktail list. This is exactly what I was looking for.


We grabbed two seats at the smallish bar, and my eyes immediately started getting all googly, staring at all of the pretty bottles.  We dove right into the short, concise cocktail list.

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Sable: Chicago, IL

The internet advised us that Sable Kitchen & Bar has decent food and something of a cocktail program. So, you know, off we went.

Our first visit was for cocktails only, and Sable went quickly to the short list of places to try in Chicago.

The cocktail list is truely voluminous. Several pages of original cocktail after original cocktail, and then another one or two pages of classic cocktails. Holy cow you could spend a week here and not make a dent. But that didn't stop us from trying.

Sable-cocktailI assume I took this shot while falling off the stool

While I didn't take any notes and quite frankly don't have the foggiest idea what the hell we drank, I can say with some authority that they were deftly made and all interesting. Lots of use of fresh juices and bitters and herbs at Sable. Lots of gin. More bourbon than even my own liquor cabinet. Certainly a very serious cocktail bar. Oh, and lots of tattoos and funny clothes on the bartenders, too, which helps.  By funny I mean suspenders and vests and old time-y stuff like that. I think I spotted a Fedora.

Sable-menuNow this is a proper freakin' brunch menu

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The Purple Pig: Chicago, IL

Purple-pig-menuThis is a light and those are menus at The Purple Pig

A last minute-trip to Chicago left me wondering not so much what hotel to stay in or what museums to visit, but where to eat.

I put that question out to the people who occasionally read this blog, and got lots of good advice. One reader mentioned The Purple Pig. When I saw the tag line of "cheese, swine & wine," it quickly made a place onto the short list. When I saw the menu, it went to the top.

It was a rainy, miserable day in Chicago when we arrived, and we didn't have a lot of time to fit in our first meal. On the bright side, we had chosen a hotel right across the street from The Purple Pig on N. Michigan Ave, so we could check-in and run across the street to eat. On the not very bright side, the hotel wasn't to our liking, and we had to call an audible, ultimately landing at The James a few blocks away. Much better. By the time we got back to The Purple Pig, we were sweaty, stressed, and wouldn't you know it, the place was a madhouse

Rather than follow my instincts and bail before finding out how long the wait would be, I did have the sense to ask. We were told it would only be about 5 minutes, which turned out to be accurate.

The place isn't very large, considering its location right on N. Michigan Ave. The bar probably holds 20 people, and much of the seating is communal. Thankfully we got a two top, with just enough room between us and the couple next to us to be comfortable, which translates to about 5 times the space you'd find in a NYC restaurant.

We had obligations that afternoon, which gave us only about 40 minutes to eat. This is not preferable, but the server was nice enough to expedite for us. Here's what he expedited:

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Red's Dips and Flips: West Caldwell, NJ: Chicago Italian Beef [CLOSED]

Sandwich closedChicago Italian Beef in New Jersey

Update (6/2015): Red's has closed. The owner notes that she is looking into starting up a food truck.

For a while there, I guess my entire adult life, I was finding myself in Chicago somewhat regularly, eating.  Chicago is a fantastic city, like no other I've visited, and it has a great food culture.  While many may think "hot dog" when they hear Chicago, or worse yet, "deep dish pizza" (an abomination by any reasonable barometer), I think "Italian beef."  This is because of the undeniable fact that Chicago Italian beef is one of the greatest sandwiches ever invented. I'd say it even comes close to the roast pork Italian coming out of Philly. Close. 

Unfortunately Chicago Italian beef isn't easy to come by in the NY/New Jersey area.  We did have J's Beef in Linden for a brief moment, but after they closed up I figured we were left with nothing.  And we were, until recently.

A place called Red's Dips and Flips opened in West Caldwell.  You heard me: Red's Dips and Flips. And damnit if they aren't serving Chicago Italian beef.  And I suppose flips, too, whatever they are.

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Chicago: Lollapalooza 2006, 4 days, 3 guys from Jersey


It was the confluence of a few of my favorite things:  music, food, booze, and Chicago.  Lollapalooza 2006. 

Note:  this is a blog about food.  I don’t normally post about anything other than food.  However, this trip to the great city of Chicago was inspired not only by the food of Chicago, but also the music of Lollapalooza.  Three guys, going to Chicago, to listen to music, drink beer, and eat.  So I’ll include some observations about Lollapalooza as well, and you’ll just have to deal, or close your browser.

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chicago: one of the great food cities

i’ve been to chicago more Fourseasonspeasthan i’ve been to any other city. at the somewhat green age of 23, business brought me to chicago for a week and for the first time. at that point in my life, i was head-over-heals for thai food (still am, in fact). NJ and even NYC didn’t have very many thai restaurants (that i knew of at least). but when i got to chicago and started pouring through the magazines and papers and whatever else you poured through before the internet, i found at least 5 thai restaurants. i know it was at least 5, because i went to a different thai restaurant every night of the week for the week i was there. yup. i didn’t eat anywhere else. just thai restaurants.

but that’s not important right now.

what’s important is my more recent trips and the food and good times i’ve had. for some reason my cyber-friends guajolote and ronnie act as my personal food tour guides when i’m in town. a typical day goes like this: they swing by the hotel in about noon and i jump in the back of an enormous SUV with no idea where i’m going, or if these 2 nuts are going to hack me up into tiny pieces and throw me into the river for that matter. then we’re off to 2, 3, 4, maybe 5 food destinations, sometimes with a lot of sort-of-getting-lost-but-not-really detours. i’ve seen parts of chicago that i had no idea existed. several times in some cases.

on my most recent trip, ronnie and guajolote  suggested a trip to Al’s Italian Beef for lunch. and what lunch would be complete without dessert at Jim’s Original for polish sausages and pork chop sandwiches (with the bone, of course). and then there’s the leisurely walk around a gourmet market. in this case, it’s chicago’s Fox & Obel, which to my mind rivals anything we’ve got in NYC. just a fantastic place.

i can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon in chicago.  and neither can you.


Jim’s Original’s menu with 1950’s prices.

Jimsporkchop1_1 pork chop sandwich at Jim’s Original.


Mrbeef1_1 sausage and beef combo sandwich at Al’s Italian Beef. please note that no level of digital photography equipment would have made this sandwich appear less fuzzy and sloppy because the sandwich is, in fact, fuzzy and sloppy.  and delicious.