Spicy Green Mango

--Living and eating with a dash of whimsy and a sprinkling of spice--

  • I'm a budding food-tographer turned blogger who's insanely passionate about food..real food...the kind that sprouts from the earth and you have to wash it to eat it. Yes, hearty real food. I live to eat and I eat to live and am loving every bit of it! If you're here, then I suppose we share the same passion! Enjoy!

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Dear Chicago, 

I've only heard about you through Oprah and read about you in one of my favorite childrens books, Chasing Vermeer, that chronicles the artsy adventures of a duo of young sixth graders through Hyde Park.  But more recently, my friendly couple of Chicago transplants, M & B, further piqued my budding curiosity with the city of long-winded politicians and former home of the Obamas. 

So I went.  Okay, so it was really to celebrate J's birthday, but I went to see you.  It was a blind date and we only met briefly, but you've totally won me over..deeply.  It was short, yet sweet and here I am back in California still tempted to return.  Your amazing architectural icons took my breath away--little by little--I found myself completely captivated by your charm.  From the grandiose John Hancock Tower that took me miles above the city to the gothic castles that made up the University of Chicago, I was beyond mesmerized.  Your neighborhoods in Wicker Park, Andersonville and those nestled by Lincoln Park made me envision how happy I could be running through the city, wind whispering in my ear as I  make my way along Lake Shore Drive, while crooning jubilantly towards Lake Michigan.  Yes, I could really be happy with you, Chicago.

And until we meet again, here are my best memories of you.

Wicker Park/Bucktown:  Big Star Mexican Food (no signs at all, just happy people dining al fresco)

**Walking along an up and coming Wicker Park, the first thing that caught my eye were the mustard yellow chairs in front of a remodeled gas station that serves up the freshest fish tostados, pork belly tacos and mini glasses of Schlitz beer to wash down the goodness.  By far, the best meal of my trip--cheap, quick and so much fun!**

Making our way to Millenium Park.  The entire park felt like I had just wandered on to the set of Alice in Wonderland.  The neatly manicured hedges adorned with vibrant lavender-, rose- and tangerine-colored tulips made me want to set up tea time right smack in the middle of the park.  Oh, if only, right?  And then there was the "Bean" (or formally known as Cloud Gate).  Now a Chicago landmark, this was the hub of touristy activity.  Of course, yours truly just wanted to take a peek.

The Chicago Water Tower was the only building to withstand the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. 

And of course, dinner at Reza's Restaurant in the lovely neighborhood of Andersonville thanks to our native Chicago tour guide, Rose. We feasted on a huge family dinner that consisted of herb roasted feta cheese w/tomatoes and black olives, baba ghannoouj, grilled (moist and soo tender) chicken & beef skewers, dill rice and possibly the most buttery chunk of grilled Chilean sea bass I've ever tasted.  I was filled to the brim after this extravaganza and if I recall, I think I may have had to unbutton a few buttons to make room for my extra belly.  The portions were ginormous, but our waitress could have benefited from a bit more practice.  After dinner, Rose gave us a personal whirlwind tour of much of Chicago and I can honestly say the womyn knows her city (and her food)! 

And then of course, capping off our weekend with our hostess through the outskirts of Hyde Park and the University of Chicago campus.  If there's any campus on your list of places to visit, U of Chicago has got to be one of them.  Taking a cue from our bus driver into Cottage Grove, we took the scenic path on foot towards the University and had an amazing time.  The gothic structural castle-like wonders teeming with ivy are drool-worthy for anyone who appreciates a dose of beauty (and may even cause you to imagine that you're among royalty or even gargoyles for that matter) and the lush green sycamore trees that line the entire block will simply knock your socks off. 

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This city gets a bum rap. There are those who scoff at the mention of its name and are more than quick to pass it on their way into San Francisco.  But let's stop for a moment and think of all the little treasures in life that you've possibly overlooked merely b/c you didn't take a second glance.  I'm talking about my beloved Oakland.  Berkeley's little sister past the Alcatraz border (the street, not the island) that moves to the beat of its own spoken word artists.

Many moons ago, as a college student who pretty much cooked her way through school as a means of sustenance and securing lifelong foodie friends, Oakland was my mecca of an ethnic food enclave that served up some of the best Chinese dim sum, fresh rice noodles, hearty Vietnamese pho,  and in my case, fresh, green papaya (so perfect for my papaya salad obsession).  I remember making Saturdays my "Let's Venture into Chinatown in Downtown Oakland" days and hopping on the 51 bus line to make my 45 minute jaunt into a hub of life and personality that only Oakland could have provided for me at the time.  As I oohed and ahhed over the bounty of the greenest bok choy, ong choy and scents of star anise that clung to the glistening skin of succulent Peking ducks hanging from the shop windows, all I could think of was how I missed home and being surrounded by so much food. To this day, the sight of these ducks brings me back to Oakland.

I will be updating this post with more pictures of Oakland's Chinatown (so please stay tuned), but for the time being, I wanted to capture a scene from my dining al fresco at the lovely Levende East Restaurant in Historic Old Oakland and getting a chance to sample a tidbit of the city's lunch-time Farmer's Market with my amazing friend and budding vintage fashion guru (and fellow Dragon Fruit lover), Miss. Jenny.  The restaurant screams of swanky/cool/casual all at once, and J and I were able to walk right up to it with our bag of cherries in hand.

BTW:  In case you're wondering.  I will only blog about restaurants that I feel are worthy of the rave and have received my personal stamp of approval (thanks to my handy dandy tastebuds).

On our lunch menu:
Starting off with a savory tomatoe bisque topped w/caramelized sweet onions & fresh chopped basil that was thoroughly enjoyed with a crispy grilled cheese sandwich that could have been an entire meal in itself (it was THAT good!)

And then followed by a sweet braised pork belly with a light salad mizuna greens and tart apples, shitake mushrooms with a champagne dressing.

And finally, we nibbled on some good ole' Latin American favorite:  fried plantains w/brown sugar.  

I love seeing the ooey goodness of cheese being pulled apart.

And then from the there was the farmer's market..so fresh and yet another reminder of why I love California.

And of course, my dear Jenny:  the coolest chick ever!  She never disappoints me when it comes to our eating adventures--which is precisely why we are headed to Chicago together to celebrate her amazingness.  Check back next week for a food tour through the eyes and mouth of yours truly as I devour my way through the Windy City! So excited! I've already put in a request to my host to have my bib & spork  ready as soon as I land.

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