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Monthly Archives: February 2008

Lost in Transliteration, Rich in Flavor

BabaghanoushWhen I first heard about the Lebanese restaurant Al-Khayameih, I had trouble finding it online. The person who recommended it to me wrote “Al-Kayam” on a slip of paper. When I googled that name, I found a few references but no official-looking sites. I tried a few different spellings and found results under “Al-Khayyam,” “Al-Khayam” and “Al-Khayameih.” When I finally went to the restaurant, the awning said “Al-Khayameih,” the menu said “Al-Khaymeih” and the neighboring Middle Eastern grocery store was labeled “Al-Khayam.” The fact that these conflicting transliterations of the Arabic name were apparently never unified under one consistent spelling probably creates some marketing challenges for the restaurant and store, but neither seem to lack for devotees. Empanada Boy and I joined the fan club after tasting the baba ghanouj (baba ghanoush, baba ganouj) pictured here.

FalafelSince moving to Chicago, Empanada Boy has remarked on the surprising lack of good falafel stands, at least compared to those he enjoyed as a student in New York City. While it’s true that Chicago has almost nothing in the way of stands, the falafel at Al-Khayameih is exceptional. It has a perfect, crisp shell and an interior that’s soft and not too heavy. I ordered a plate of it, accompanied by bright, vibrant stuffed grape leaves, tahini and yogurt sauce. The pita was also fresh and warm from the oven at the bakery and grocery next door.

Schwarma A vegetarian could go wild at Al-Khayameih, but in many ways, this place is about the meat. The menu includes everything from kababs to kibbie to roasted cornish game hens and seafood. Still yearning for the stands of his New York days, Empanada Boy ordered the shwarma (shawarma, chwarma, shuarma, etc.) platter. It came with a massive pile of lemon-drenched meat (probably goat or lamb) cut straight off the skewer turning in the open kitchen. There was also rice, tahini and a traditional salad of lightly dressed cucumber, tomato, parsley and onion. There was enough food for three people on that plate!

We ate until we could eat no more, except, of course, dessert. After paying the bill, we went to the bakery next door. Along with some pita and a few other Middle Eastern items, we chose two baklava from among the numerous shapes and sizes available in the case. These were coated in crunchy pistachio, and their honeyed, flaky layers melted in my mouth like the mass of butter they were undoubtedly made with. After a great meal, the question of how to spell the restaurant’s name is rendered unimportant. Al-Khayameih by any other name would taste just as good.

Al-Khayameih
4748 N. Kedzie Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625
773.583.0888

Wine Note: Al-Khayameih is BYOB. Try bringing a fruity red wine from Southern France or the 2005 Massaya “Classic,” from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

Al-Khayameih in Chicago

Bon Appétit Fish Feud

Steelhead

The following is a story about sloppy reporting and the gradual decline of a once-worthy food magazine.

The January 2008 issue of Bon Appétit tried to sum up some of the culinary trends of 2007. What resulted was an unbelievably mundane list, including “Indulgence of the Year: French Fries” and “Dish of the Year: Asian Noodle Soup.” (Why French fries could be classified as 2007-ish and why I need Bon Appétit to suddenly reveal the greatness of a long-standing Asian street staple is beyond me.) But the entry that irked me the most was “Ingredient of the Year: Fish.” Not only is it stupid to call one of the primary dietary staples of a large portion of humanity the “ingredient of the year,” but the article contained a notable factual error. Bon Appétit doesn’t print letters of complaint from readers, reserving its pages for pithy requests for recipes, but I decided to write to them anyway.

Here is my letter to the magazine detailing the error:

January 7, 2008

Bon Appétit
6300 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Dear Bon Appétit Editors:

As the daughter of a serious fly fisherman and environmental educator, an error immediately caught my eye in your section “Ingredient of the Year: Fish” from the January 2008 issue. The piece repeatedly recommends the use of “steelhead salmon.” There are two problems with this: the first is that steelhead are not salmon. In fact, they are a type of rainbow trout that lives in saltwater for a portion of its life and returns to freshwater to spawn.

The second problem with recommending steelhead is that they are a threatened species throughout their range. Because of this, they are not easy to come by. Steelhead trout are only available commercially from Native American fishermen who retain the right to fish them for sale. No other true steelhead is legally available. As a magazine that purports to understand the value of sustainable food, Bon Appétit should not be recommending threatened species to readers. It should also be more careful to use correct terminology so as not to create more confusion in a fish market already filled with moral dilemmas.

Sincerely,

The Mango Lassie (my real name was inserted here)

I sent the letter off (with Daddy Salmon’s proud approval), and you can click on the following image to see what I got in return:

Letter from Bon Appétit

In addition to completely dismissing all of my contentions, Ms. Katherine Odell from Bon Appétit sent me photocopies of Paul Johnson’s book Fish Forever as proof that the article was correct. It seems that Ms. Odell hadn’t read the passages herself. Much of the proof for my argument, including the fact that steelhead are rainbow trout, was printed right there on the pages she had sent. In addition to the following letter, I sent Bon Appétit a page printed from NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources. Here is my second letter to Bon Appétit:

January 22, 2008

Bon Appétit
6300 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Dear Bon Appétit Editors:

I recently wrote to you about an error in your section “Ingredient of the Year: Fish” from the January 2008 issue. The piece recommended the use of “steelhead salmon,” which, I contend, is actually a trout. I also stated that it is the same species as rainbow trout and is threatened throughout its range.

I received a response from Editorial Assistant Katherine Odell. Ms. Odell wrote that “steelhead salmon” is a known species, distinct from rainbow trout. She said the fish was not endangered or threatened. Ms. Odell included a photocopy from the book Fish Forever by Paul Johnson, referenced in the article.

After reading the segment she sent me, it was clear to me that Ms. Odell had not read it herself. Mr. Johnson parenthetically mentions the scientific name of steelhead, O. mykiss, or Oncorynchus mykiss. A simple Internet search would have shown that this is indeed the scientific name for steelhead trout. Mr. Johnson also directly states in his article (attached and highlighted) that steelhead have “the same fine texture as their stay-at-home freshwater version, the rainbow trout.”

In regards to steelhead’s threatened status, Mr. Johnson states that steelhead are “under review…as a sustainable fishery” in Washington State. This is hardly an assurance that they are not threatened or endangered. A quick Internet search on O. mykiss yielded the enclosed document from the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources. I have highlighted the sections relating to the contentions I made in my earlier letter. A review of this document should satisfy Bon Appétit editors that: (a) steelhead is a trout; (b) steelhead trout and rainbow trout are the same species; and (c) steelhead are endangered and threatened throughout their range.

Bon Appétit owes it to readers to print a correction or clarification of this error. The magazine’s fact checking has fallen short of what readers expect. I hope that future articles, especially those concerning protected natural resources, will be more carefully reviewed. I also hope that future letters from readers will more carefully considered than my first letter to you on this topic.

Sincerely,

The Mango Lassie

I have not heard anything from Bon Appétit since I sent the second letter. I can only relish the slight satisfaction of their embarrassment at the realization that I was right. Interestingly, the February 2008 issue of Bon Appétit was “The Green Issue,” supposedly meant to highlight local, sustainable eating. All I can say to that is too little, and way too late.

Hot Diggity Doug

Lamb and fries1I know this page has been consumed with the unhealthy tales of burgers, hot dogs and fries recently, but I can’t resist one more meat-laden post. Mango Mama and Daddy Salmon are visiting us in Chicago this weekend. Needless to say, we’ve done a serious amount of eating. The indulgence began after Mango Mama landed at O’Hare on Friday afternoon. (Daddy Salmon had to work, so he stayed in Portland until Saturday.) I picked her up at the airport, and we drove directly to Hot Doug’s. Hot Doug’s takes the Chicago dog and made it gourmet. Already a popular spot, Hot Doug’s rose to even greater prominence when it was the first establishment to receive a citation under Chicago’s notorious foie gras ban. A rebellious foie gras dog was the cause of all the commotion. It serves about 20 different kinds of house made sausages made from meats ranging from chicken to kangaroo. Toppings correspond to the ethnic influences and flavor profile of the meat. Fries cooked in duck fat (Fridays and Staurday only!) are a must. The decor could be described as “sausage.” And even on weekdays, the line is out the door.

Duck sausage1There is a lengthy sausage menu, which includes celebrity-inspired choices like “The Keira Knightly” (“Mighty Hot”) and “The Salma Hayek” (“Mighty, Mighty Hot”). There’s also a menu of specials, changing every day according to the whim of owner Doug Sohn. Mango Mama and I ordered specials because their descriptions were just too mouthwatering and original to pass up. We settled on the calvados-infused smoked duck sausage, pictured here, topped with apple mustard and duck rillete (basically duck pate). Our second selection was the Mediterranean lamb sausage with roasted garlic butter and Les Frères farmstead cheese, pictured above. Both sausages were fantastic, but we agreed that the duck made for the best all-around combination. The already rich meat was made juicier with the addition of the calvados and the rillete sealed the deal. Apple flavors in the sausage and the mustard made for a satisfying underlying sweetness. The lamb sausage was also pack with flavor, but the cheese on top didn’t add much to the ensemble. It had creamy texture, but not much flavor. Another vegetable addition might have been preferable. Olives perhaps? You can be sure such a combination will show up on this creative menu someday.

Gothic 1Almost as good as the encased meats are the duck-fat fries. Mango Mama and I got a small order, which could have easily served four. Still, we couldn’t resist gobbling up the delightfully crispy, deeply flavorful, spears. “We’ll take some home for Empanada Boy,” we told ourselves. A few minutes later, we had eaten the whole basket.

Hot Doug’s is worth the wait. You can pass the time examining the hot dog-strewn walls of the multi-colored restaurant. Signed pictures of celebrities hang next to a hot dog clock and other goofy retro posters. Even the bathroom was a tribute to all thing encased and meaty. I whipped out my camera when I opened the door to find “American Gothic” with hot dogs filling in for ma and pa. Mango Mama and I had a great meal and our gorging was a sign of things to come. Hot Doug’s is a perfect place to introduce guests to the Chicago way to do gourmet.

Hot Doug’s
3324 N. California Ave.
Chicago, IL 60618
773.279.9550

Hot Doug's in Chicago

Does Extra Umlaut Make the Bürger Better?

signIt’s usually a good sign when a burger joint offers toppings like wasabi or curry mayo, whole grain mustard aioli and chipotle ketchup. Crispy, home-cut fries and fluffy cornmeal-dusted buns are further pluses. But when that burger joint calls itself Ãœber Bürger, the burgers had better be the stars of the show. I went to this retro, flower-power-inspired Evanston diner with Empanada Boy, Sushi Sister, Croque Monsieur, Slim McDinner, Sous Chef, the Reading Corn Dog and Avocado Boy to see whether it would live up to its name.

burgerI ordered the “Big Bürger,” which comes with one patty (as opposed to the “Bigger Bürger” and “Ãœber Bürger”, with two and three patties, respectively). I couldn’t help wondering whether the umlaut on burger would make it BOO-guhr, but I pushed the thought aside so it wouldn’t cloud my vision of the food. The mustard aioli was my topping of choice. The burger arrived on that distinctive, cornmeal-topped roll with a not-so-distinctive clump of iceberg lettuce, a tomato slice and a pickle spear. The bread and sauce were points in its favor, and the meat was of far better quality than most cheap places, but the patty was over-cooked. This is the ultimate sin in burger preparation; good meat should be left slightly pink and juicy, not cooked to the point of being almost indistinguishable from its fast-food brethren. This was a decent burger, but I wouldn’t call it “über” in any way. The fries I shared with EB, Sushi Sister and Reading Corn Dog were nicely browned and tasty. They tasted even better dipped in Sous Chef’s curry mayo. I’ll order that sauce the next time I come.

PoboyBurgers aren’t the only option at Ãœber Burger. The menu also includes mac and cheese, grilled cheese and chili. I tried all of these, thanks to Avocado Boy, Reading Corn Dog and Croque Monsieur. None was very memorable. True to his contrarian nature and spirit of adventure, Empanada Boy decided to try the chicken po’boy picture here. It came on a fittingly dry and crackly bun with another tasty mayonnaise, but the breaded chicken breast was fairly mediocre. I’m not even sure the meat was prepared in the restaurant. Ãœber Burger’s true specialty might have been its ice cream and frozen yogurt. Empanada Boy and I would have liked to finish things off that way, but we had to drive Sushi Sister and Croque Monsieur to the airport for their flight back to Portland.

The next time I’m looking for a quick, cheap burger in Evanston, I may give Ãœber Burger another try. I still don’t think it will be able to live up to its name. I’m more likely to stop in for an ice cream cone. That’s one dish that’s almost never disappointing.

Ãœber Burger
618 Church St.
Evanston, IL 60201
847.866.5200