One of the reasons I didn't post much last week was that Dave was in town. For my birthday. I was busy having a life instead of reporting on it. But now he's gone and I can resume my exhausting schedule of surfing the internet and writing about things.
And one of my favorite things to write about (and explore!) is food. So let's cut right to the chase and talk about what I ate on my birthday.
The morning started out right with a brunch date with my friend Heather. Heather is like a walking encyclopedia of the amazing places to eat in this town. Plus, she's always interested in trying new things. Which is what we did on my birthday. We decided to try Rick Bayless' new place, Xoco. Um. I don't really know what so say about this experience except that it was so good that I want to go back there and eat ALL THE TIME.
The menu is based on Mexican street food, full of tortas, churros and the like. The tortas come baked or fried, and they are perfect. I had the Cubana, and the beauty of eating someplace run by people who like food was evident right away. I have a dairy allergy, and they not only kept the cheese and cilantro crema out of my sandwich, they marked it dairy allergy in the ordering system, just to be sure the kitchen was clear on it. Even without all the melty, cheesy yumminess, that torta was one of the best things I have ever eaten. Ever.
I also had chocolate with my meal. That's one of Xoco's specialties. They grind Mexican chocolate beans right there and cook them up into these amazing hot drinks... I had the Almondrillo or the Almondrado (I am blanking on the name and it's not listed on the website) which is made with almond milk instead of regular dairy. It was so rich that I had to sip it. One taste filled my entire mouth with a deep chocolate flavor, and it took me a good thirty minutes to get through one small cup. With the torta, it was an indescribable flavor combination. Good, but better than good. So much better than good. Way, way beyond good, tasty, delicious, and any other words you can think of for really, really good food.
They don't do takeout yet, but I understand that day is coming. I'm not sure how my pants size will withstand the draw of takeout Xoco.
So that was the food I started my day with.
I finished my day with a birthday dinner at Uncommon Ground on Devon. Again, magical, amazing food. I can't even tell you what I had because it was all specials. The salad was topped with fried artichoke bits and had an artichoke something dressing-type thing moated with some other really good dressing-type thing, two different types of cherry tomatoes and some other really tasty stuff. On my first bite, several different things happened in my mouth at once. Almost to the point where I couldn't focus on anything else because of the flavors. Lovely.
My entree was the salmon--Columbia River wild-caught salmon--with a corn and veggie mixture, sitting on top of a potato and sauteed onion patty. I told Dave at one point that I couldn't decide what to take a bite of next, though it really didn't matter because it was all so wonderful. I practically licked the plate clean.
And then, because it was my birthday, I got dessert. A chocolate stout cake with a chocolate gelato and some kind of flavored whipped cream. All served separately on a long plate. (One of my cousins used to take charge at family Thanksgiving meals and be sure that no foods were touching on the plates of us youngsters. She would have been pleased by this plate.)
I know I mentioned above that I have a dairy allergy. Eating dairy makes my glands swell and can trigger asthma attacks. But I didn't know this until I was in my early 30's and sometimes I just say "To hell with it." Which is what I did so I could have that dessert. I didn't eat all of the whipped cream, but I did eat all of the gelato. What was amazing was how much better they all tasted when combined than they did as separate entities. I almost licked that plate clean as well.
One of the best parts of the evening, though--I mean, aside from the food, which was hard to top--was our server, Whitney. If all of the staff at Uncommon Ground on Devon are as fabulous as she was, you can't possibly have a bad dining experience there. She was friendly, funny, cheerful and knowledgeable. And she promised to not sing when Dave mentioned that it was my birthday. For that alone, she has my undying thanks. If there's one thing I hate about dining out on my birthday, it's being sung at by a group of servers.
So that's the food I ate to celebrate my luck in surviving another year. Great good fortune indeed, if I was able to live long enough to eat at both Uncommon Ground and Xoco all in one day.
Things you need to know: Xoco is at 449 North Clark Street, though you enter on Illinois. Uncommon Ground on Devon is at 1401 W Devon Ave. Check their websites for hours.