Tag Archives: Chicago

Folklore Argentine Grill

Unique Wine Pairings at Folklore Argentine Grill

Folklore is the latest concept by the team behind Tango Sur in Lakeview, a Chicago institution that to this day boasts two-hour waits for tables fifteen years after its launch. Known for its authentic Argentina cuisine, the original concept evolved from the butcher shop next door, El Mercado Meat Market, which expanded into a restaurant once the son of its immigrant owners came of age. The owners, now mentors to the family restaurant group run mostly by their children, brought their knowledge of Argentina traditions to Chicago through their restaurants, which became known not just for their grilled meats, but for a BYOB policy that allowed generations of steak and red wine lovers to indulge freely without breaking the bank.

The newest incarnation of the dining group brings wine and cocktails to the multi-unit operation, but keeps the spirit of free-flowing drinking still going by serving the affordable and drinkable wines their youthful clientele seem to prefer. At the same time, as their customers become more sophisticated, so does the wine list, which bar manager Pablo Javier continues to evolve, in keeping with the newer styles and varietals coming from the emerging wine markets of Argentina and Chile.

The wine list is limited to Argentina, Chilean, Spanish and Portuguese wine selections, a rare focus that allows for a wide range of selections in its categories. Because of its specialized nature, the list can afford to include multiple selections of the most popular varietals growing in those countries – there are seven Malbec offerings alone. And while the big fruit bombs beloved by Folklore’s faithful clientele remain ever popular, the newer inclusions on the menu veer in the direction of Bordeaux-Style blends.

The restaurant itself looks like Argentina suspended in a certain era in time and sensibility. Full of leather, wood, natural artifacts and fall foliage, a single white candle glows from each of the thick wooden tables. Loud with the boisterous sounds of a mostly young and South American clientele, the place bustles with the dream of old-time Argentina haunts. Staffed almost exclusively by Latino employees, servers are knowledgeable in Argentina wine and cuisine, and hospitable and accommodating to a fault. Everything about the place supports a vision of Argentina, flanked by a wine list with unusual varietal selections and a breadth of offerings.

The original list was conceived by Jason Norman, owner of now-shuttered Telegraph notoriety, and is now run by Pablo Javier, an industry veteran who worked alongside Norman since Folklore’s opening. Some of Norman’s strongest picks remain on the list – the Mendel, the Tikal, La Posta and the Cocina Blend—wines Javier believes are indicative of the region and what it shows best. At the same time, he continues to evolve the list in keeping with some of the newer expressions emerging in the region, yet stays close to the original spirit of the wine program, one that continually seeks out new wines and varietals that show great quality at truly affordable prices.

One of the other changes instituted by Javier was putting more descriptive language on the menu. As Javier puts it, “People can’t always relate to talks about winemakers and how long they’ve been around. What they want to know is what the wine tastes like. Not everyone has a vocabulary for wine.”

The list Javier put together reflects the dual challenge of keeping customers happy who are in love with a particular grape or a fruity style, while introducing them to what else South America has to offer. “I think people have this idea of what Argentina and Chilean wines are about, because of what they’ve been doing for the last 20 years (as in Malbec). I don’t think they realize that there’s a shift in the wine culture coming out of South America,” he says. The wine list at Folklore showcases a number of wines that pair well with the broad range of offerings on the menu.

Check out some suggested wine pairings

soy good P1020206

Terroir of Tofu

Known for its bland taste, the last thing I’d ever associate with tofu would be an aroma. Yet, that’s exactly what drew Jenny Yang into the storefront location of Phoenix Bean Tofu for the first time, a company she later bought and grew. You see, Jenny grew up in Taiwan, a place where tofu was common at all meals, especially at breakfast in the form of a tofu shake. Each morning, as she took her morning stroll, the aroma of tofu hung in the air, drifting from morning stalls in the manner that coffee does in America’s streets.

One morning, a few years back, the distinct taste memory of fresh tofu popped into her head as she pushed her stroller through a Chicago neighborhood, having long ago emigrated. Following her nose, she landed in the nondescript storefront of Phoenix Tofu, a place where she found a team of workers clustered behind a thick plastic curtain, hard at work producing the fresh tofu that was to be delivered to surrounding restaurants that day.

What led Jenny to buy the business, ultimately, was her belief in the craft of fresh tofu. Usually only available in restaurants, Jenny believes people will come to want the fresh stuff as soon as they taste the difference. What makes Phoenix tofu different from supermarket varieties is not just the flavor, but also the lack of preservatives and the quality of the beans, which are locally sourced and non-GMO.

I asked Jenny, who I met the Good Food festival in Chicago, why the previous owners of Phoenix tofu didn’t use preservatives. “They don’t even know what preservatives are,” she laughed. “They just deliver it fresh to the restaurants each day, which order more of it when they run out.” To that point, Jenny is hesitant to sell tofu to any retail grocer not able to sell its products fresh. She dreams of tofu bars in the not too distant future, akin to today’s mozzarella bars, where customers order fresh tofu in different formats and flavors.

In an effort to take tofu mainstream, Jenny’s team sets up shop at local farmers markets and food festivals, preaching the gospel of tofu through sampling and educational demos. Curious onlookers happily chow on the assortment of toothpick-spea

Edible Alchemy Underground Dinner

A True Underground Dinner Experience

Underground dinners have always held a certain allure – that sense of mystery and exclusiveness that makes you feel lucky to get “in.” Unfortunately, most of the ones I’ve attended have not lived up the hype. I remember going to one a few years ago that sounded great on paper, but failed to deliver the great food, sense of community and just plain fun that I had imagined.

But I held out hope that the one I was planning to attend last weekend would fare better. I’d never heard of it before in the popular press, having  only found out about it after subscribing to the Edible Alchemy newsletter at the Good Food Festival in Chicago. It promised an “immersive vegetarian dinner experience focused on using local ingredients in traditional ways,” pretty much summing up my own philosophy of food. This particular monthly community gathering centered on the Persian New Year, or Nowruz. I was in.

The Altar of NowruzLocated in Pilsen, we arrived at a non-descript residential street and knew we’d found the right place when we spotted a few other curious-looking people hovering outside the building. We stepped inside and at once were immersed, as promised, in a Mid-Eastern feast. Friendly servers, chefs and hosts dressed in Mid-eastern garb swirled around us as we took seats at one of many long tables.  The menu explained the unusual décor we found at our tables, featuring the seven elements of the traditional table setting for the celebration, including fishbowls of live goldfish.

Edible Alchemy Mixologist
Pomegranate Rosewater Cocktail

The evening’s mixologist was hard at work with the first of the optional beverage pairings for the night, a vodka, pomegranate and rose water cocktail, garnished with drunken grapes. Mid-eastern music echoed through the lofted space, and we got to know our neighbors, friendly in the community way we’d always imagined.

Persian Appetizer Plate
Persian Appetizer Plate

Each course was introduced by the evening’s menu consultant, a Persian woman who shared the backstory on her mother’s recipes and the Nowruz traditions. The first course, a medley of salads and cold dishes, was akin to what you’d imagine Mid-Eastern food to be, but with interesting variations, such as the Koo Koo Sabzi, an insanely green quiche heavier on herbs and greens than eggs.

Vegan Kebab and Sweet Saffron Rice
Sweet Saffron Rice

One of the highlights of the evening was the Sweet Saffron rice, a sweet, chewy pilaf, highly aromatic from a long bath in Iranian-smuggled saffron, garnished with large bright strips of pickled carrots. It was served with a vegan kebab.

Date Nut Cake with Saffron Ice Cream
Date Nut Cake with Saffron Ice Cream

Finally, the night had to end, but not without a grand finale – dessert was the surprise hit of the evening. Described merely as “date nut cake + homemade saffron ice cream” it was way better than described.  More  fudge than cake, this utter slab of decadence was thick with dates and richly coated in pistachios. Cooling notes from the accompanying saffron ice cream  as dense as wet sand was the perfect complement.

At last, a true underground experience. But, shh! Don’t tell anyone. We’ll be back.

Flageolet, Feta and Arugula Salad

Flageolet, Feta and Arugula Salad

It was time for beans – yes beans once again. Part duty, part pleasure, my healthy eating regimen prods me at least once a week to peer into my pantry, choose a bean, and make something healthy out of it.

“What in the heck are flageolets?”

This time, I peaked in and found a bag of flageolets, stamped with the reassuring label from the bulk bin section at Whole Foods. “What in the heck are flageolets?” I wondered, having no memory of why I bought them. A quick Internet search revealed that they are a type of white bean, prized by the French in a manner similar to the reverence held for Le Puy lentils. Sounds goods, I thought, and then immediately recalled the baby arugula in my fridge and how those two could pair together in my attempt to duplicate the wonderful arugula and white bean salad they sell at the Sopraffina Marketcafe in Chicago as part of their lunchtime antipasto trio selection.

Sopraffina Marketcafe’s Killer Dish

Flavor memories of the dish flooded my mind –the zing of the lemon, crunch and herbaceous notes from the celery, and the salty tang from the occasional fleck of feta. With these thoughts in mind I cooked the beans, set them aside and later quickly tossed a bean salad that come out even better than my memory of that famed Soprafinna version.

Here’s my take on a Flageolet, Feta and Arugula Salad

You can substitute Cannellini or Great Northern or any other white beans for the Flageolets.

Ingredients

  • Flageolet Beans, 1.5 cup cooked (1/2 cup dried)
  • Lemon zest, minced, 1 tsp.
  • Lemon juice, 2 T
  • Red pepper flakes, pinch, to taste
  • EVOO, 2 T
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • Red onion, finely diced, ¼ cup
  • Celery, finely diced, ¼ cup
  • Celery leaves, chopped, 2 T
  • Arugula, small handful, about ½ cup, loosely packed
  • Feta, 1 T, small dice

Method

  • Cook the beans, use some from a can
  • When beans are cool, add to a bowl and toss with lemon zest, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, extra-virgin olive oil, red onion, celery and celery leaves
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper
  • Right before serving, add arugula and toss until it wilts slightly
  • Toss with feta and serve