Anyone who thinks of Spain only as the land of flamenco, bullfighting (olé!), and Antonio Banderas (or, if you prefer, Penélope Cruz) might be surprised to learn the place is surprisingly diverse in a variety of different ways. This largest country in southern Europe, located on the Iberian Peninsula, spans an area in size about halfway between Texas and California and across its 17 autonomous regions, the geography and cuisine vary greatly. (As far as climate goes, in case you were wondering, My Fair Lady’s “the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain” is only a song title.) Spain borders France, Portugal, Andorra, Gibraltar, and notably, is the only European country to share a border with one in Africa (Morocco). All of these influences, and more, are present in the local cuisine.
To mark Inauguration Day (and our broadcast of the 2001 Check, Please! episode featuring then-State Senator Barack Obama), let’s take a whirlwind tour of some favorite foods and culinary quirks of some of our past presidents.
Hey there! It seems that winter has officially arrived and the restaurants on this week’s episode are perfect places for warm-your-belly, comforting food. Our stops are River Roast in River North, La Largartija in West Loop and Fat Rice in Logan Square.
Fat Rice is unique in that it is the only restaurant serving Macanese food in Chicago. This week, I spoke with chef/co-owner Abraham Conlon and co-owner/director of operations Adrienne Lo of Fat Rice to get the lowdown on Macanese cuisine. Here’s what they had to say.
The Urban Dictionary defines comfort food as follows: “Food that gives emotional comfort to the one eating it, [such as] favorite foods of childhood, or linked to a person, place, or time with which the food has a positive association.” In other words, food that warms you and makes you forget your troubles. These might include your mother’s meatloaf, your grandmother’s chicken soup, and baked goods made from scratch. The kind of food you might find at a retro diner, pub, social house, or communal kitchen, like two Check, Please! restaurants, River Roast and Fat Rice.
This diverse Eastern European country gained its independence when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, and by area, it is Europe’s largest, if you don’t count Russia (France comes in second, followed by Spain). Ukraine’s people are known for their friendliness and hospitality, and in honor of one of this week’s featured restaurants, Shokolad, here are some mouthwatering Ukrainian culinary mainstays. You will notice that most of them incorporate a readily available common ingredient.
Hello and Happy New Year! I hope everyone had wonderful holidays and that you are ready for some great new restaurants. This week we take you to Osteria Langhe in Logan Square, Shokolad in Ukranian Village, and New Star in Elmwood Park.
“For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.”
– Scottish poet Robert Burns, 1788
“Come, for I am drinking stars!"
– Dom Pérignon, allegedly after tasting his first champagne
Yes, New Year’s Eve has come around again, and that calls for celebrations the world over...most of them including a toast with the contents of that “cup o’ kindness” that is traditionally smashed over the prow of newly christened ocean liners and sprayed in the locker rooms of winning sports teams: champagne.
Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah
Come light the menorah
Let's have a party
We'll all dance the hora
Gather round the table, we'll have a treat
Dreidels to play with, latkes to eat.
And while we are playing
The candles are burning low
One for each night, they shed a sweet light
To remind us of days long ago.
– Traditional Hanukkah Song
Hanukkah, of course, is the eight-day Festival of Lights beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, commemorating the successful revolt against an oppressive king and the subsequent rededication of the temple in Jerusalem. This year, Hanukkah happens to coincide with the traditional Christmas holiday – beginning on Christmas Eve, December 24, and running through New Year’s Day, January 1.
“The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.”
– "A Visit from St. Nicholas,” Clement Clarke Moore, 1823
What is a sugar plum, anyway?
As travel expert Rick Steves can tell you, each country the world over has its own special Christmas traditions, which includes what foods you find on the Christmas dinner table. Here in America, many of the holiday mainstays we enjoy were brought over by our ancestors when they emigrated, and standard fare can vary by U.S. region, and even by state. But whether you dine on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, some are universal. Here are the origins of a few of them:
Say the word “fondue,” and most Americans are instantly transported back to an age of leisure suits, pet rocks, and disco – and a time when your kitchen décor and appliances incorporated such trendy hues as avocado green, burnt orange, and harvest gold. But today, as communal dining has become increasingly popular, it’s only natural that fondue has returned to the restaurant (and party) scene.
You certainly don’t have to be British to like the idea of afternoon tea. What’s not to like about an afternoon snack of finger sandwiches, scones with jam or lemon curd and Devonshire cream, small cakes and cookies, and a pot of freshly brewed tea? Perhaps enjoyed with gossipy friends in an elegant hotel lobby or upscale restaurant? Just the sight of that three-tiered display of mouthwatering goodies makes it easy to imagine yourself trading witty bon mots in the library on Downton Abbey, or as a character in a Jane Austen novel or a Merchant-Ivory film.
“Grateful for each hand we hold
Gathered round this table.
From far and near we travel home,
Blessed that we are able.”
— “Thanksgiving Song” (Mary Chapin Carpenter)
Anyone who has ever prepared or partaken of a Thanksgiving dinner probably has a funny story about the experience – thigh-slapping tales of leaving the plastic bag of innards inside the turkey while it roasted, the family dog stealing the bird from the kitchen counter, the oven catching on fire, a crucial ingredient forgotten, etc. Perhaps you frantically dialed the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line so the dinner could be salvaged, or maybe you avoided the trauma altogether and gratefully decamped to a restaurant to let someone else do the cooking.