Saturday, February 25, 2012

Queenie's Treasury: Texas-bound.

It's that time of year again, folks. Time for me to head down to Austin for SXSW, where I'll be staying with Nick and Louisa, cuddling with their dogs - and, most importantly, soaking up the sun on their patio. (Oh, and learning a whole lot of work-related stuff at the Interactive conference, and listening to awesome music, and eating a ton of good food.)

All of these activities demand, of course, serious preparation. Here are a few of the things I'm eyeing in anticipation of the balmy Texas springtime.

First up, a new swimsuit (or two). Lounging by the pool requires a wardrobe update. I can't decide between this floral number from Boden and this striped one from J. Crew. Both are winging their way to me right now, and I don't quite trust myself to send either back.

My toes will be getting the post-winter treatment with this juicy new color from Essie. It's called Ole Caliente, which seems just right, especially as I plan to consume many a plate of migas and many a taco.

Lastly, I'm in need of a little dress to wear as I gallivant from concert to concert (and bar to bar). This bright blue linen dress from Old Navy fits the bill: cheap, cute, and the shape I'm loving now. And it'll look awesome with sandals, flats or even flip flops. Sold!

Austin, here I come!

Friday, February 24, 2012

A quick cocktail.

Hudson Buck at The Vanderbilt in Prospect Heights. A bit sweet for me (it had cider and ginger), but tasty nonetheless. If you go, make sure to order the Brussels sprouts and the shishito peppers. And the merguez sausage.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Stumptown pitstop.

Monday was Presidents' Day here in the States, which meant I had a full extra 24 hours off. I spent my morning going to the gym and drinking a lazy, giant cup of coffee, then headed out for an afternoon of errands and a showing of The Artist. Afterward, I made my way down to 29th and Broadway to stock up on coffee (the lazy, giant cup having rather depleted my stash) at Stumptown.

I grabbed an Ethiopian blend from the shelf and ordered myself a cappuccino. I drank it standing in the window, watching dusk fall over the neighborhood. It was a bittersweet moment, knowing I had to head home to do a bit of work before the evening was out. But the sweet outweighed the bitter - just enough.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Impulse baking.

Last Sunday, I felt the need to bake. I made my mom's fudge brownies, which came out pretty well. The texture was awesome (beating the egg and sugar until they are very pale and thick is the trick), but I used inferior chocolate, and it showed. Or tasted. You know what I mean.

Good chocolate: it is key.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Encased meats, indeed.

When in Chicago, one should probably eat sausage. The city's heritage lies in its former stockyards, and a Chicago dog is still one of the best things the city has to offer. These days, local folks in the know (and lots of obnoxious tourists like moi) venture north to Hot Doug's for their sausage needs.

The line at Hot Doug's is ever-present, but they keep the pace up and people move through so quickly that there's always somewhere to perch once you get your order in. (And don't forget to bring cash - they don't take plastic.) sEllie and I decided to order two sausages and some fries to split between the two of us. We ordered a chicken sausage, Italian-style, topped with everything (pickle, onions, tomatoes, celery salt) and a brat, topped with grilled onions and mustard.

Both were delicious. The brat was beery and porky and marvelous, split down the middle to allow for just the right amount of mustard and onions in each and every bite. The spicy chicken sausage was brightened up by the vegetables, and its casing snapped as perfectly as any pork link's.

And the fries! We didn't even make it on a weekend (Friday & Saturday, to be exact) when they have duck fat fries, so these were the low-end version - and they were still insanely delicious. Perfectly cooked, but clearly made with fresh potatoes. In-N-Out, take note.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Queenie's Treasury: Escapes.

Thanks to the unseasonably warm weather, I've begun thinking a bit about spring. And summer. And vacations. That said, I also miss the snow, and would give anything for one whopper of a storm before time runs out. My contradictory wishes have led me down a twisty path of vacation home fantasy. First up, winter.

This is Maison Roly, a bed and breakfast in Belgium. When its owners wanted more space, the architects at AABE gave them a modern glass addition that seems to float between the brick of the original house and the snowy ground outside.

It seems to me the perfect thing for a snowy day - sitting right in the middle of the storm, wrapped up in a cashmere throw, drinking coffee or hot chocolate, with the snow swirling all around.

Yes, please.

Now, for my summertime fix, a little midwestern goodness. This is Camp Wandawega, a rustic outpost on Lake Wandawega in Wisconsin (an easy drive from Chicago), which has been around in one form or another since the 1920s.

I absolutely love this treehouse, with its antler chandelier and sleeping loft, and can imagine it would be the perfect place to play Scrabble and make s'mores all summer long.

And, I mean: who doesn't love a rope swing?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Hipster Chicago.

While in Chicago, I got a chance to see its hipster side in full effect. Examples include this meticulously-curated collection of vintage kitchenware at the Randolph Street Market (the whole place was lousy with hipsters)...

...and this chair at Buzz, a coffee shop in Oak Park. (Oak Park, I understand, being the place where Chicagoan hipsters go when they pop out the babies.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Déja vu, sushi-style.

On Saturday night, before we went out drinking (but not really carousing), Ellie and I decided that we needed some serious sushi. Ellie suggested Oysy, which, hilariously, is where Nick, Louisa and I ate lunch when we were visiting Chicago in 2009 for Louisa's incredible birthday weekend-of-eating. (If you haven't seen those posts, you should - it was an insane couple of days. Alinea, Tru and Trotter's.)

And so we hopped on the El and made our way to Oysy, where we sat down at the sushi bar and proceeded to eat ALL THE FISH. First, though, I had a most excellent seaweed salad, which came with cucumber. GENIUS.

I did a few orders of ngiri, including scallop (creamy and mild), toro (luscious and meaty), sweet shrimp (chewy and rich) and omelet (sweet and satisfying). Sometimes I forget how wonderful sushi is, especially in its simplest incarnations. It's the ultimate in all-about-the-ingredients eating - not that skill isn't a huge part of it, because it is. But there's something so primal about unadorned, raw fish. Love it.

And then to the not-so-simple. This was the (adorable) red dragon roll, with cucumber, tuna, salmon, roe and spicy mayonnaise. It was good, though not as mouth-poppingly exciting as I'd been hoping for. But really solid.

Mmmmm, sushi.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Watershed moment.

On the Saturday night I spent in Chicago, my friend (and hostess extraordinaire) Ellie took me to a cocktail bar called Watershed, which is hidden below a Champagne bar at State and Ohio. The name is a nod to the bar's focus on local beer, liquor and wine. The room is lovely and warm, with generous banquettes and little tables, and the staff were so freaking friendly in that unpretentious Midwestern way.

I ordered a Manhattan made with a local rye: Lion's Pride Dark Rye, which is distilled just a few miles north of the bar, right in Chicago proper. It was rich and a bit sweet, and made a delightfully old-fashioned (pun not intended, but not edited out, either) cocktail.

On my next trip, a distillery tour is most definitely in order. Or maybe a class about distilling? So many options! Chicagoans, go forth and make some whiskey!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

When in Rome.

My friend Nicholas is headed to New York for vacation, and asked me to suggest some places where he simply has to eat and drink. Places that fall into the category of "quintessential NYC, on a budget." Well, Nicholas...ask, and ye shall receive. Here are some ideas!

Frankies Spuntino

You all know how much I love the Frankies. (If not, all you need to know is this: it's a lot.) You can't come to New York without eating at least one Italian meal, and these guys do it right. The menu is incredible, the wine list wonderful and reasonably-priced, and it's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner - especially good when you're on vacation and have so many opportunities for deliciousness. Go, and make sure that at least one of you orders the cavatelli with browned butter and spicy sausage. And the escarole salad.

Momofuku Noodle Bar

Another one of my obvious favorites. The Momofuku empire encapsulates the most recent evolution of the New York dining scene, where casual has replaced sumptuous as the go-to model. You may sit on wooden stools, use paper napkins and bump elbows with your neighbor at Noodle Bar, but you'll also eat some of the very best seasonal dishes around.

Café Sabarsky

This cafe is meant to recreate fin de siècle Vienna on the Upper East Side, and it pretty much achieves its goal. Set in a paneled drawing room in a Fifth Avenue mansion-turned-museum, it's filled with Thonet chairs and adorned with Hoffmann sconces. The savory food is good, but the sweets (especially the linzertorte) and the coffee (especially the einspanner) are the best part. Go early to avoid the nutty lunch crowd that inevitably gathers on weekends.

Two Little Red Hens

Some people will tell you that the city's best cupcakes are to be found elsewhere. Those people are, in a word, wrong. Just...wrong. The Hens make the best cupcakes - not too sweet, full of quality ingredients and bursting with flavor. All that said, their breakfast pastries (scones, muffins, sticky buns and - my favorite - cinnamon rolls) and non-cupcake sweets (date bars, fruit pie, cream pie) are my usually choices. But I do have a weakness for their mini chocolate-peanut butter cupcake, too.

And lest this become a novel of truly epic proportions, I'm going to list the rest of my recommendations a bit more briefly. In no particular order...

Head to this classic SoHo bistro for breakfast. You'll save some dough (lunch and dinner can be pricey here), enjoy delicious pastry, and spy on many a power diner.

The Breslin
Another great place for breakfast. You won't have to wait for a table, and you'll enjoy one of the best breakfasts in the city. After all, isn't eating breakfast out one of the great pleasures of vacation?

Best croissants in the city. For reals.

The Dutch
My favorite things here are the cocktails, the oysters and the brunch. Go for drinks or go early.

Five Points
This place isn't new, but it was one of the flag-bearers in the local-and-seasonal-but-not-obnoxiously-self-righteous movement of the early-to-mid aughts. Fantastic cocktails and really great emphasis on seasonal veggies. The kale Caesar is to die.

My new favorite restaurant - also a great place for a drink. New Nordic cuisine with local ingredients and really cute waiters.

First of all, this will get you out of Manhattan. Second of all, it's the best Thai food in the city. Take the 7 to Woodside and make sure to order the papaya salad and the pork with chili and basil.

Really delicious cocktails in a quiet bar. Entering through the phone booth in Crif Dogs only makes it more fun. (You can order hot dogs to your bar stool or booth, too.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I'm back!

Hi, all! I'm back from Chicago, and can report that it was awesome. I had sushi, a Manhattan made with local rye, sampled two sausages from Hot Doug's, visited Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio, and...lots of other stuff, too! Detailed reports to follow, so get ready for some midwestern goodness.

For now, I leave you with a shot of the moody sky above Frank Lloyd Wright's first home, in Oak Park. Cool, right? Right.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Just the way I like it.

Best way to eat leftovers? Spoon them into a ramekin, top them with an egg and bake the whole thing at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes, until the whites are set and the yolk is still a bit wobbly.

Sriracha is optional, but recommended, as is a sprinkling of sea salt and a grind of black pepper. A green salad on the side wouldn't hurt, either.

Oh, and - the leftovers in question (this time)? Lentil salad with bacon.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Chicago, here I come!

My last trip to Chicago was something of a whirlwind. It was Louisa's 30th birthday, and we were there to sample the most luxurious fare the city had to offer. The chef's table at Trotter's, a caviar staircase at Tru, and pure imagination at Alinea.

This time around, I'm going for something a little more low-key. A tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio, dinner at Longman & Eagle, and brunch with the lovely Jessi.

But what else, folks? What else shall I do? I'm off to Chicago tomorrow, where the weather is unseasonably warm and the food is notoriously tasty. I wouldn't mind a bit of shopping, either. Tell me your secrets, Chicago dwellers and lovers! Share your favorites, and I'll do my best to visit them all.
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