Every once and a while you come across a friend who will do terribly inconvenient, difficult things, solely because they are your friend and they would never begrudge you anything ever. Those friends are few and far between, and despite my somewhat abhorrent personality, I have that kind of friends. I would currently like to give a major interweb shout out to my beautiful and talented friend Miranda, without whom I would not be typing this blog from Argo Tea in beautiful Chicago, IL.
She is currently watching BOTH my baby AND my dog. My baby doesn’t sleep through the night. Basically ever. He’s 14 months old.
My dog is an effusively loving, enormous whomping moron who sheds enough fur in a given 10 minute span to crochet a normal-sized, average-fluff dog. He lumbers, knocks over small children, chews up pacifiers, and barks at neighbor dogs.
On top of all of this, she personally owns her own 14 month baby AND her own giant gallumping furball of a dog. So she’s doubled up on both for a long weekend, while Chris and I jet off to Chicago to eat our own weight in ridiculously expensive, pretentious, delicious food. That’s two self-lethal toddlers, and two dogs who make up for any shortcomings in intelligence by being ENTHUSIASTIC. ABOUT EVERYTHING. ALWAYSALLTHETIME!
Bless her heart. We’ve only been away one night, and I’m sure she and her husband are exhausted to tears and questioning the net value of a friendship with the Webbers.
I, however, am living it up. We arrived in Chicago yesterday around lunchtime, and immediately dragged our luggage through the freezing, humid, piercing cold to visit Xoco.
Xoco is Rick Bayless’ most recent venture in downtown Chicago. I heart Rick Bayless something fierce, ever since seeing how talented and humble he was on Top Chef Masters. Which he won, and which he totally deserved to win. It’s basically a Mexican street food restaurant, with lots of tortas (sandwiches), Mexican hot chocolate, churros, chips and salsa, guacamole, and soups.
But okay, the food? OMFG. All the ingredients are local/organic and handmade into creations that will blow the top of your skull off of your noggin. When I say “handmade,” I mean that they hand grind the cacao beans into chocolate. I mean that they lovingly create every single one of their many salsas by hand, from scratch, every day. I mean that they hand knead the dough to freshly fry each of the churros to order. I mean that they make the soft serve ice cream mix from hand scraped Mexican vanilla beans and organic, pasture raised Amish dairy products.
We were blown away. It was a jam-packed restaurant that had a similar seating layout to a Panera or something like that. Nothing fancy, stand in line to order your food at the counter, pay the cashier, and then you get assigned a table number and you sit at that stool/counter/table until your food is brought to you. We waited about 30 minutes to order, which was expected, and then delivered our gluttonous list of wants to the darling, tiny Mexican girl taking our orders.
Here is the order in which our food was delivered (which is what we asked for, so no judging our priority system):
Chips, salsa and guacamole
Churros with ice cream and chocolate
The chips were in a generous basket, and were still hot from being fried, and topped with a coarse salt and some hint of bright, fresh lime flavor. The guacamole was just fresh and excellent and simple, and the two salsas that accompanied the guac were equally good. One was a salsa verde with tomatillas and some bright acidity. The red was roasted tomato salsa (I think?) and was rich and deep and incredibly tasty. I wished I had more of it to drizzle on everything, but was quite pleased to just hog all of the small dish they gave us.
Then the churros. Oh. OOOOHHHHH. *Blatantly erotic moaning*
That was, bar none, the absolute best dessert item I have ever eaten in my life. And, being the whore for sugar that I am, I have eaten a LOT of dessert items in my life. I’ve had everything from cupcakes at a famous bakery in Washington D.C., to flights of dessert courses at Alinea in Chicago, to desserts with bacon in them from The Berkshire in Colorado. I spent a block of school at the CIA learning how to make French pastry from an incredibly French, elderly pastry chef who could knock out a pate a choux with both of his eyes closed. But these churros (cost for 3 was $3.75) were better than any and all of the above by a significant margin.
Hot from the fryer, buttery, flaky, chewy, delicately sweet and almost eggy with richness, then enrobed with an aggressive dusting of coarse, crunchy sugar and freshly grated cinnamon. There was a satisfying crunch to get through the sweet, cinnamony bedazzlement, then the slightly toothsome fried ridges that are part and parcel of the churro experience, followed by a tender, decadent pastry middle. SO MANY SUPERLATIVES.
Oh, and the ice cream– a homemade Mexican vanilla soft serve — was so creamy and rich that I would have happily eaten a bowl independent of the churro. Except for I didn’t, because the churro was available for dipping. When the hot churro was combined with the cold ice cream.
Words fail me.
And Chris got a shot of the fresh chocolate for dipping, but I tried that once and it overpowered the churro too much for me to get into it. Good chocolate, but I was really busy making sex eyes at my pastry.
By the time the sandwiches came, I could barely draw my focus back to my plate, instead of just lusting after a second, third, fourth order of churros. But I managed. And it’s a damned good thing I did, because the sandwiches were pretty phenomenal in and of themselves.
I had the conchinita pibil, which was wood-fired suckling pig, shredded and piled onto a toasted bollilo bun, topped with pink, pickled onions and a thin layer of smashed black beans. It was served with a green salsa, which I tried, and then immediately started drinking the dregs of my ice cream to try and quell the fire. HOT. Too hot. Not the kind of hot where you enjoy it, but the kind of hot where ethnically diverse natives feed it to white people and then sit in the corner laughing while tears stream down our sad white person faces. Fire.
Chris has the milanese, which was a chicken breast, pounded thin, dredged and fried to golden brown, and topped with local, organic jack cheese, avocado spread, and cilantro crema. It was fantastic, and I got sandwich envy, so we ended up just each eating half of each sandwich. It was a lot of food, so I finished about a half sandwich in total. And I was incredibly impressed by the quality and care and depth that went into each one of these “street food” sandwiches.
Our total for this meal was about $45, which is about how much one would spend at Chili’s. That just makes me very, very sad. Because Xoco is at least 200 times more enjoyable, uses all responsibly sourced ingredients, and makes you feel like you just experienced something really special.
Then we went home and had a 2 hour uninterrupted nap to let our bodies digest our winnings. And that was our first meal of many in Chicago. Stay tuned for stories about bears, frying pans, Canadians, tripping balls, and being mistaken for a spy.