Bien Trucha in Geneva IL

We tried to eat here last year, but the line was out the door. This time we arrived well before 5 o’clock opening on a weekday and sat outside in the crazily-warm November breeze in the al-fresco area watching traffic go by. A woman came out to light our votive candles on the table; sorry we were not able to order a drink. Presently a gentleman came out and asked if we had reservations, we did not. He explained there was the “fancy” dining room with more large-plate selections, and the main room with small plates – he would try to get us into the dining room.

Come 5 PM we were escorted by the same gentleman (who as it turns out was an assistant manager) into the small room — he was not able to get us into the main room. Bummer, On the way in he described briefly the history of the space. We sat at a nice table for two at the window – good to be early. A busboy brought wonderful chips and a black bean dip with a subtle spice — nice change from the usual salsa. I ordered a guacamole-of-the-day with pomegranate pips – one of the best guacs I have had. I will say again, chips were excellent.

The server Jessica introduced herself and her trainee at her hip, and pointed at the wall full of different tequilas. I ordered a Tradicional margarita, she asked if I wanted to try an “upgrade” tequila and described the differences. I stuck with the stock version. My wife had a Coladita, pineapple juice and coconut liquor. Both were good; the margarita was not great, and for $10 seemed small. I have trouble identifying good tequila, so it may be better than I can tell.

The server described the dishes available. I chose the Bien Trucha tacos, with grilled skirt steak & chorizo. Wonderful. My wife had the a la Diabla with sauteed shrimp and a butter-mojo de ajo. The tacos came 4 to a plate, sized to be easy to eat. We traded a taco (food is very shareable) and we both liked the other’s dish.

For our dinner drinks, I had a Michelada with Negra Modelo Dark and various flavorings in a salted glass, as I had discovered in Cancun, and it was as good as I remember – reminiscent of a Bloody Mary with a Mexican twist. My wife had the Chelada which was basically Negra Modelo Dark in a salted glass with lime. She preferred the Michelada. I forgot how good they are, especially in summer.

Summary: wonderful meal and drinks, fun, loud atmosphere, impeccable casual service. I would not hesitate to return, perhaps with a reservation to try the larger-plate dining room. ¬†They also have a lunch time “LIL DONKEYS” menu that really looks good. Recommended.

Also reviewed on Yelp

Chicago Day 2013

No traffic. What is wrong? Off to The Antique Lady for selling some pictures. Not good enough, no pedigree. We ended up donating them.

Lunch at the Little Market Brasserie in the Talbott hotel. The last time, it was a different place. Got to sit outside in the lovely weather. Chellie had the chopped salad, Bette had the Lobster roll, I had the Big Baby burger. Good. Damn parking in the Gold Coast garage cost more than lunch.

Drop Bette off at her Tri Delta event at the Women’s Athletic Club. Lots nicer than the Body Club at home. Even had an elevator operator. And bathrooms — surprise! — Men’s rooms are kinda hard to find.

Raced to make the boat at 3:30P. Chellie and I paid at the kiosk, jumped on and seconds later were off on the Wendella Architecture boat tour. Lots of fun. Good guide. Never saw the buildings from that angle. Want to take the Chicago Architecture Fdn one to compare.

Then we head to Gage on S Michigan where we got Moscow Mules, the new hot drink from the 40’s. We waited for Bette in the bar, who was waiting for us at the boat – she finally called and we called her in. We had a Mule waiting, so it was all good. After supper – some roasted bone marrow, and split beet salads. And some good draft beers.

Then it’s off to The Book Of Mormon at the Bank of America Theatre, 18 W Monroe. If you like South Park, you’ll love it. Then pay another gob of parking money, drop Chellie off at her apartment, and off to the 1.25 hour drive home.

Note: if you park for a show, try to show up within 5 hours of the show. We got there earlier and were charged the full standard rate, not the discounted rate specified on the ticket.

Lodge Seconds

For those traveling to Florida or other points, make sure to stop in the Lodge factory store in Sevierville TN. The traffic and construction made it a bit tough, but it was worth it.

We got a 12″ Carbon Steel Skillet for $40, a blemished cast iron 10″ skillet (absolutely perfect for corn bread) for only $12, and a blemished cast iron two-burner (e.g. pancake) griddle for only $40. The blemished items are completely don’t care – as far as I can tell, they are perfect.

Worth the trip. You are there anyway!

Pruning Tomatoes

For a long time if have suspected pruning tomatoes would be beneficial, but, after examining the rat’s nest of green on my plants, it just looks too hard.

This year, I have an Earthbox with two cherry tomatoes, heirloom Black Cherry and Tomato Berry, from W&M Land Corp from the Woodstock Farmer’s Market. Note the mechanics creeper which allows me to push it around the deck for cleaning and access. Of course, in the recent 70-MPH derecho we had, it tipped over, so I now have a bungee cord to hold it to the deck.
Earthbox with Tomatoes Summer 2011

And I found a great article on tomato pruning with a clear drawing, so I gave it a try.

Once you start pruning, it’s hard to stop. Make sure you look at the pile and you should only take off stuff in 30% chunks.


Got an email from Dr Weil re wasabi. I like it on sushi, but his article scoffs at US store-bought wasabi – as it is really wasabi, horseradish and coloring. The real stuff is the superfine ground root, like horseradish.

He tried growing it, and it looked cool. Maybe I can do this. Head over to the website. 1 lb of plants = $100. Yow. Looks like I won’t be growing this anytime soon. Sigh.

On My Boyfriends’ Bicycles

Our friend Shannon Mayhall appeared in a play reading. What is a play reading? The playwright wants to see it performed, see where we laugh and don’t laugh, before everything is locked in stone. So we trucked down to Elgin to eat our fave Shanghai Restaurant in downtown area a block from Hemmens. Good dinner, nice iced coffee. Mmm.

Then drive two blocks to park and walk to the historical Professional Building and up the elevator to the 8th floor and in a lovely old room with white pillars. The event is free, but first-come and we sit in end seats on the second row. There is free wine and cheese in the back, and water, and the playwright is selling her Whiskey Mattimoe mystery paperbacks in the back. I bought the first, Whiskey on the Rocks.

When the players come out, they are on bikes. Not bikes, but music stands which they carry around and dismount from. The director, Richard Pahl, explains beforehand that this is to simplify the reading, not having to balance, and you can put the script on the music stand. Most of the actors are pros, and don’t really need the script.

The play was a nice one about a wild woman who rides helmetless thru a bunch of boyfriends and steals bicycles from them. She is in an accident. Shannon was the main female, and was magnificent. I talked to Richard at intermission and he said if she was available, she could easily work downtown. I agree. She has presence.

Afterwards, the playwright, Nina Wright, came out and talked, and commented on how different the Saturday and Friday audiences were in their reactions. Richard said the cast knew where the audience would laugh on Saturday, so were able to play up their parts a bit more.

Lots of fun. A neat way to see a play-in-training.

Bangkok House & Shanghai Restaurant 11 Douglas Ave, Elgin, IL
Elgin Art Showcase, 8th floor of the historical Professional Building, 164 Division St., Elgin IL
Newspaper Article

Wine Review – Oak Leaf Cab; Dominio de la Peseta 2002 Crianza

So on our trip to Iowa, we did our pilgrimage to Walmart, and found their $3 answer to “two-buck Chuck”Oak Leaf Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. It has no vintage. I couldn’t resist.

I drank this. Its color is very weak, does not have much aroma. Kind of a nasty start. Finish is harsh. In short, it’s probably as good as 2BC, and worth every penny.

But, I found a wine at the Armanetti’s in Woodstock which is night and day better, and is $6. It is a Spanish red blend, Dominio de la Peseta 2002 Crianza. Aged 10 months in oak. I’ll bet 2BC is aged 10 minutes in pine. Not a lot of cash, but with a powerful aroma, notes of earth and grit. I really didn’t like it much at first, but it grew on me. The wine dude at the store said it is a good wine, they got a good deal on it, but it is not a cellaring wine, and it’s already 7 years old. Good, I’d rather drink it! Considering a case.

-Update 5/21 Got a case – save 15%, and no shipping!

Mai Thai

Bette and I were out delivering Grace to her new digs in Wheaton, and saw an interesting restaurant on a corner in downtown Wheaton. We went back and went in.

The place was packed – most of the tables were pushed together in the center for a big birthday party – but a gentleman on the window left about this time and we had his table.

No booze, but they do have wine glasses for BYO. We had Thai iced coffees instead.

The woks are behind a big wall off of the dining room, and you can hear the guy cook.

Bette had the Red Curry with chicken, medium spice. It was too hot for her, she should have gotten the mild. It had a good flavor, though, and had lots of veggies, including eggplant and tofu cubes. I had the Hot and Spicy Curry, which was hot and spicy with similar veggie loading and beef. I was tearing and my nose was nice and clear. Both the curries were tasty but surprisingly watery. I just had the leftovers today, and it was still good.

Fun place, casual, not fancy, dinerish. Good food, fast, fresh. Friendly staff. Reasonable prices ($7-$10 for entrees). Small, so might be a wait.

Mai Thai Cafe, 140 N Main St. (at Wesley), Wheaton, IL (630) 510-3680

Williams Street Public House

Out on the run after looking at cars, need some food. We were near Crystal Lake, went to Williams Street again. We were not disappointed.

We are trying South Beach now, so were picky about our selections. I picked steak fajitas, hot, sizzly, good fixins, no fries, just three tortillas. Bette had a Southwest Shrimp Salad, lots of shrimp, nice. We each had one glass of wine. Perfect.

Only problem: Coffee was a little weak. Not as good as last time. We mentioned it to the waitress, who was amazed as they get it pre-brewed in concentrate ala an orange juice dispenser. Mmmm.

Good service. Again, recommended.

Pasty Heaven

Anyone who has been up the UP of Michigan should be familiar with the pasty, a pie-crustish pastry blob stuffed with good stuff, typically ground beef, cubed potatoes and onions. Bake it, and it is like a pot pie without the pot. We got them in Ironwood when skiing at Joe’s Pasty Shop. I must say, the kids didn’t care for them, but we brought them home and loved them.

During our last trip to Rhinelander, WI, we found Joe’s Pasty Shop, where Jessica Barbera continues in her Dad Joe’s tradition of pasties, with cool new twists. We bought about 8 to take home, and we just had the Pizza pasty last night. (Diced pepperoni, sausage, potatoes, onions, & mozzarella cheese.) Wonderful! We also had the classic one, but I was full and kept my half for lunch. It was chock full of rib-sticking goodness. Winter food, if I ever had it.

We have yet to try the whole wheat crust pasty, or the Southwest pasty. Looking forward to it.

Check em out when in the Rhinelander area.

Joe’s Pasty Shop, 123 Randall Ave, Rhinelander, WI 54501, (715) 369-1224