October 09, 2006

Starving children at the Ethiopian restaurant

Addis Abeba
1322 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, IL 60201
(847) 328-5411
Entrees run $10-$15 per person; many vegetarian options
Menu

It pains me to make such an obvious and cheap joke, but it's true. We arrived at Addis Abeba after a busy three-hour beach clean-up and the boys were tired and hungry. While waiting for our food the boys were moaning loudly, "We're starving! When is the food coming?"


I'd say it was worth the wait.

We started off with a shorba, a satisfying cold soup made of with yogurt, honey, cucumber and mint. Given that the boys like all of the ingredients I was sure the soup would be a hit, but the "starving children" stopped after only a taste. Oh well, that meant more of the yummy soup for me and DH.

After soup, we moved onto the main meal. We selected the "combos" which allowed us to try small portions of several items. The meal is served on a single platter mesob (traditionally a hand-woven basket, but the large metal substitute is likely more sanitary) and accompanied by a basket of injera, large flat Ethiopian bread. To eat, one tears off a piece of the spongy bread and scoops up the food in small mounds. Once the novelty of eating with his hands wore off and he'd filled his rumbling tummy Smartypants decided he didn't like the food after all. The rest of us enjoyed the whole meal.

Our choices included:

Asa: fish cut into cubes and sauteed in Ethiopian herb butter seasoned with garlic and pepper. I found it a bit salty, but Splinter could not get enough of it.

Yebeg Alitcha: this lamb stew is always a hit.

Yeater Kik Wot: DH really liked this dish of yellow split peas cooked in spicy wot with garlic cloves and cinnamon.

By the end of our meal, the platter was wiped clean and we'd exchanged several gursha by rolling samples of the food in injera and feeding them to each other. According to the menu it's a traditional way of showing somebody that you care.

If you've got adventurous eaters definitely give Addis Abeba a try!

October 08, 2006

Something for everyone at Old Country Buffet

Old Country Buffet
8780 West Dempster Street
Niles, IL
(847) 296-9681

Although we drive by this place twice a day during the school year, we've never bothered stopping in. We figured it was worth a try though after the boys received free OCB meal passes upon completion of our library's summer reading club.

OCB is a generic, but clean, all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant (chain). They've got salad, Mexican, Italian, and kids-themed stations plus a full line of desserts and unlimited soft drinks. Lunch runs about $8 for adults and kids pay something like 55 cents per year over age 2.

Here's how the boys describe it:
You walk in the door and wait in line to go to the cashier and pay. Then you get a plate and put food on it. Then you find a table and sit and eat. OCB is a good place to go if you are really hungry because you can get as many servings as you want They play music and there are lots of people talking and having a good time.

Kinds of food: They have healthy foods like fruit and salad and chicken and corn and watermelon and unhealthy stuff like mashed potatoes and dessert. (Eight year-old Smartypants could not believe that cornbread stuffing fell into the later category- after all, it's got corn.)

The kids' buffet has fries, burgers, nuggets, hot dogs, mac and cheese, pizza and chicken legs. The chicken legs are bone-sucking yummy, the cornbread is delicious, the Orange Fanta is great and the service is good (they picked up our dirty plates promptly so we could get more food.)

Bonus tip from Mom:
Feeling ambivalent an upcoming 30th, 40th or 50th birthday? Stop in here and you'll leave with a renewed spring in your step. With the exception of a few families, the average patron age hovers around 67. This may explain the stewed prunes at the salad bar.

The boys eagerly await their next trip to Old Country Buffet. OCB offers variety, speed and convenience in a clean setting- key factors when you're dining en famille. If you're the kind of parent who takes the path of least resistance when going out with the kids, consider this a key stop on your route.

September 10, 2006

Read Up and Dine Out: Rolf's Patisserie

Rolf's Patisserie
4343 W Touhy Ave
Lincolnwood
(847) 982-9400

Rolf's pastries go great with Laurie Keller's Arnie the Doughnut. Keller's vibrant artwork and silly stories are always a hit in our house. As for Rolf's, despite being so close to home, this is the first time we ventured in.

We stopped in out of desperation on a recent rainy day after a cancelled playdate. Our four year-old friend Miss L. joined us for pastries and, according to her mom, she talked about Rolf's all week long. Due to their wide selection of mini-pastries, the kids were able to taste-test several items.

Here's what our trainwreck of a review team had to say:

"Everything here looks good, but some things are like optical illusions because you see it and it looks super-good then you try it and you're like, 'this doesn't taste so good.' Like the puffy, delicate, sphere-like cream puffs that had an unexpected banana flavor." (The fruit tart also failed to live up to its promise.)

My tiny trio loved the the mini-cupcakes and were big fans of the eclairs. "They have chocolate on top, crust on the bottom and cream inside. The cream was really good...exquisite ." (This after I pressed for more adjectives, BTW).

The croissant, "a kind of buttery bread," was also a hit. Smartypants says it's the best croissant he's ever had. "It was the most buttery, finger-lickin' good. [The croissants] looked so shiny and slippery like they could be used as ice skates." (This is a good thing, apparently.)

Rolf's is a tasty and sophisticated alternative to the now-ubiquitous $15 Costco cake. Indeed, I heard they made the wedding cake for an "Oprah" show about weddings, and Miss L was thrilled to see an enormous 1/2 decorated wedding cake when she peeked into their storage fridge.

Rolf's is also a pleasant and quiet (when we're not there) place to grab a morning treat- they offer free coffee if you dine-in.

Bottom line: thumbs-up to both Rolf and Laurie Keller. Next time you're hosting a brunch for the really special people in your life, be sure to invite Rolf's. Invite Laurie, too. Wouldn't that be so cool if she showed up?

August 23, 2006

Eli's Cheesecake World: life is uncertain; eat dessert first

Eli's Cheesecake World
6701 W Forest Preserve Drive (Harlem and Montrose), Chicago
(just down the block from the pyramid-shaped building at Wright College)
Specialty sandwiches ($6) in cafe from 11:00 - 2:00
Tours daily $3 for adults, $2 for children over age 5; price includes a piece of cheesecake!
Farmer's market Thursday mornings in summer

What can we say about this little slice of heaven on Chicago's northwest side? It's not only the world headquarters and bakery for Eli's Cheesecake, they've also got a cafe and store. The boys and I showed up wearing our proverbial critic hats, but later traded them in for hairnets in order to go on the factory tour. We arrived too late for the made-to-order artisan sandwiches like chicken salad with grapes and pecans, but grabbed a decent ready-made Caesar salad to tide us over until dessert. Dessert. Dessert.

I mean, you could come here for a cup of coffee and free wi-fi or to grab a gourmet grilled cheese, but you'd have to be a fool, or possibly a diabetic, to show up at Eli's and not eat dessert. Their cases are overflowing with delicious looking desserts- and not just cheesecake. They've got eclairs, tarts...I asked my boys to write down the names of one or two of the most delicious-looking items, but they told me that was impossible to choose.

Here's what the world's most ticklish restaurant critics and their friends had to say about Eli's Cheesecake World. (Please note that all exclamation points appear at the request of the boys.)

Eli's is fun! Their cafe is good. They have desserts, sandwiches and salads. They sell cheesecakes, little cakes, lemon meringue tarts and everything looks yummy.

Six year-old Splinter says: Out of three thumbs down, I give it seven forks! (I've previously mentioned that we don't yet have a uniform rating system. What he means is that Eli's is more than twice the opposite of bad... in others words- great!)

The tours are cool and fun! And everything smells delicious. Really delicious. A tour guide shows you almost the whole place, but only staying on the path. Sometimes you go into a big freezer (we did this on a previous tour, but not today). The freezer room is for freezing the cheesecakes before they decorate them. The decorating room is cold, but not as cold as the freezer.

The room where they bake the cheesecakes is really hot--over 100 degrees F in the summer. The cheesecakes go on a cool conveyor belt. It is so cool to see them pour the batter and watch the cheesecakes go on the belt. It takes the cheesecake though the 70 foot-long tunnel oven and then up a big corkscrew cooling tower with about 19 curves. Then people take them off pans and put them on racks. Then they go to the freezer room and then the decorating room.

In the decorating room we saw them making Chocolate-covered Lava Cake for Wal Mart.

This is a cool tour! But if your brothers or sisters are under five years-old, they have to stay home with a sitter.

They make over 100 kinds of cheesecake if you can believe it!

This tour is definitely recommended for kids!

August 20, 2006

Quiznos and Panera Kids' Meals

Quiznos
Their kids' meal includes a choice of sandwich plus a drink, a 100-calorie pack of baked Cheetos, a cookie and a "surprise" (the boys each got unique, sea-themed memory game). I'd choose this over a crappy meal any day.

Panera only recently added kids meals to their menu, but I don't think it was worth the wait. At $5 a meal, it's a bit pricey for a peanut butter and jelly, Horizon "organic" milk (see an interesting write-up in today's Chicago Tribune for more info on this company's suspect actions), and chips or fruit. Chicago Tribune reporter Monica Eng (who served on the college newspaper with DH) recently reviewed this for the Trib. I will share some of her thoughts when I finish unpacking.

I give the Quiznos kids meal two thumbs up, four forks, or a top rating with whatever symbols we decide to use here at the CAKE. However, my opinion may have been influenced that it was the only proper meal (if it can even be called that) we ate yesterday during our drive home from Tennessee. We'd subsisted on crackers, cookies, one large shared apple and water all the way from eastern TN, through Kentucky until we made it to a Quiznos in southern Indiana.

August 10, 2006

Superdawg Drive-In

Superdawg
6363 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago 60646
HOURS: Sunday-Thursday 11am-1am, Friday-Saturday 11am-2am
Cost: about $5-$8 per person

My star reviewers-Smartypants, age 8 and Splinter age 6- share their thoughts on this unique Chicago Institution (with my comments in parenthesis).

Superdawg is a not-healthy place, but it's a very good experience for your family because they bring the food to your car and you eat it in there. It's goofy because almost every food they sell starts with "super" like Superfries and Superburger.

The mascots, Flaurie and Maurie, are on top of the building. They look like giant hot dog people. Maurie, the boy, is in a caveman suit but with human arms and legs and his eyes blink because he's in love with Flaurie. The girl hot dog is the one who is in a dress. You can buy Flaurie and Maurie souvenirs. (We did not partake of the souvenirs, but if you live outside the Chicago metro area and contact kim@moldofsky.com by Sept 5 with your address and I will send you one.)

*Bonus* Smartypants adds that the crinkly fries are crispy, but the good thing about that is you know they are cooked enough to kill all the germs. (BTW, did you read my piece? My mom is right, I've made my kids nuts!)

Bottom line: if you are coming to Chicago, definitely try this place, especially if your kids are hungry because their food is very filling. (Neither boy finished his hot dog or the "pillow of fries" on which it rested. They don't offer a kids meal, so consider sharing portions. The extra thick milkshakes sounded promising, but we were too full to try, even for the sake of you, our dear readers.)

Overall impression: Super!

July 24, 2006

Read Up and Dine Out: The Magic Pan (crepes)

Many moons ago one of my boys picked up Crepes by Suzette. This fun, colorful book is full of mixed media collages based on photos that author Monica Wellington took on her trips to Paris. Readers follow Suzette as she takes her crepe cart around the city. In addition to a crepe recipe that has become a favorite of my boys, the book has a glossary of French words as well as descriptions of the famous artwork that Wellington alludes to in her collages.

But perhaps you're not up for making crepes (they are easier than pancakes IMHO). Then by all means, run, don't walk, to The Magic Pan. Remember The Magic Pan from your youth in Chicago? I only recalled the name of this revived Lettuce Entertain You joint. I must not have eaten their food as a child, because their chocolate crepes are unforgettable. Yum! If you are on Weight Watchers you may consider skipping a day or two worth of meals in order to save your points for one of these. They also offer savory crepes including a pizza crepe that the boys still talk about, but didn't seem to enjoy so much when eating it. The savory crepes seemed very rich; I recommend saving all those calories for dessert.

Since our visit to Magic Pan crepes have become a morning staple in our house. They're a good substitute for pancakes. I even find them easier, less messier to produce and more versatile than pancakes as you can pair them with a variety of fillings.

For a good dessert crepe, take a single size Dove Bar ice cream treat (bonbons? I can't think of their name and they are long since devoured) and let it melt in a hot, fresh crepe. Not quite the *magic* of The Magic Pan's chocolate crepes, but a close second.


July 18, 2006

Indian Garden

Indian Garden
2548 W. Devon Ave., Chicago
Tel: (773) 338-2929 2548

Summary: We recommend the lunch buffet. Full of vegetarian and meat options, it's an ideal way to introduce children to northern Indian cuisine. Plus, kids eat free; You don't have to spend an extra $10 or so just to learn your kids don't like it.


Rambling version: On the children's CD NO put out by They Might Be Giants there's have a song about John Lee, super taster, a real-life superhero. A man who can't drink coffee or beer for their bitter tastes, but loves sweet treats like ice cream and pie. "John Lee, super taster, tastes more than you do. Everything has a flavor, some flavors are too much." I instantly recognized myself in the song. I am a super taster. As such, I'm very sensitive to strong, bitter tastes and even the slightest hit of hot spices can set me off.

Granted, I come from a home in which the most exotic spice to grace our food was sea salt. When I was in college and overheard some in the dorm cafe ask for pepper I was stunned. I always thought pepper was on the table just to keep salt company. In my 18 years, I'd never actually seen anyone use it. So ultimately, my sensitivity to spices is an unfortunate combination of nature and nurture. Unfortunate because DH loves spicy food. On our second date he took me for some exotic, cuisine. It was hot and spicy and I couldn't handle it after about two bites. DH was incredibly disappointed in my lack of fortitude; I didn't sleep with him that night either. Frankly, I'm not sure why he even asked me out again.

The other day our family had a lovely trip to Devon Avenue and stopped to eat at Indian Garden. The lunch buffet was about $9 per adult and kids ate free-what a deal! And while the smells were enticing and the food was tasty, I just couldn't hack it. I mostly stuck with the nan (bread) and water.

"Are you okay?" My friend asked midway through the meal, "your face is all red."

"You should feel her nose. It gets really cold when she eats spicy food," volunteered DH as he closed in to touch it. "And when our mom eats spicy food her nose sweats," the boys giddily announced to the entire restaurant.

No one said being a superhero was easy.

Read my published "Super Taster" essay (musings on coffee and kids music) here.

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