Max’s Letter

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I got a letter (a real letter, written and delivered by hand) from Max Wolod, the manager who preceded me at Xoco. Max was my manager for most of the year that I was a Xoco server. He kept the standards high and earned my respect. When he decided to leave to open Parson’s (and create their famous Negroni slushy!) Max set me up for success in my first management job with excellent training and resources, and for 2 years has been just a phone call away whenever I need help.

I tried to read the letter when it first arrived, but I was too tired and it was too much. I had to ride in to work because it was the lunch rush at Xoco. I put the letter down. Etta screeched, “Are you going to finish reading that letter?! Are you crying?! You’re a baby!!!” I had already been on a little bit of an emotional rollercoaster, the first work week of the new year, my ChowNow testimonial was up, we changed the menu… it wasn’t easy.

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Max (in part) wrote, “I want to thank you sincerely and without a hint of my normal trademark cynicism for always taking care of me and my family so generously at Xoco. I’m tremendously proud of what you do for Bayless and I hope you know how impressive and genuine your work really is. Sometimes it seems like you doubt yourself or your abilities, but dude, you are a bad-fuckin’-ass restaurant manager and hospitality pro, working for a badass company, doing creative and cool things.”

It’s hard for me to take a compliment, especially from someone I know and respect so highly. I don’t think Max knew this letter would arrive three days before I turned 32. This letter was a great gift and a benediction for 2015. Thank you Max!

Charlatan

charlatan west town tavern 3rdarm chicago arthur mullen pasta pigs head boar grilled octopus spaghetti meatballs affogato

I’ve lived in the neighborhood for a few years and was a big fan of the fried chicken at West Town Tavern- the restaurant this spot used to house. In fact, I work with Chef Alonso Sotelo who was the head chef at WTT for 10 years! I am happy to report that Charlatan is an awesome restaurant and great addition to the neighborhood.

charlatan west town tavern 3rdarm chicago arthur mullen pasta pigs head boar grilled octopus spaghetti meatballs affogato

charlatan west town tavern 3rdarm chicago arthur mullen pasta pigs head boar grilled octopus spaghetti meatballs affogato

We walked over on a snowy January Monday night for the 6PM reservation we’d made online. It got pretty busy so I’m glad we made that reservation! Etta enjoyed her cocktail made with scotch, and the fact that two of the cocktails names begin with, “Don’t…” She also loved her glass of red.

For dinner we started with the beef carpaccio, which was excellently seasoned and complimented by crispy potatoes, and the grilled octopus, beautifully charred and given a hit of acid from romesco. The big hit of the night, for me, the boring one, was the spaghetti and meatballs. The spicy red sauce and especially the meatballs were delicious.

For dessert we had coffee, hot, and cold espresso poured over vanilla gelato- an affogato. We ordered just about everything except the pig’s head and everything was done very well- the coziness of the room, the flawless service, high levels of execution from the kitchen. I can’t wait to get back to Charlatan!

Café de Olla

xoco arthur mullen manager roly poly cat 3rdarm alonso sotelo cafe de olla chicago maine coon cat

Back in that same old place, sweet home Chicago, Etta glued the the lizard’s foot back on.

xoco arthur mullen manager roly poly cat 3rdarm alonso sotelo cafe de olla chicago maine coon cat

Roly Poly rolled from my lap to hers, purring, for days on end.

xoco arthur mullen manager roly poly cat 3rdarm alonso sotelo cafe de olla chicago maine coon cat

Chef Alonso shared his “abuelita receta” for café de olla, to be cooked down on the stove in boiling water, and strained before serving:

20 anis star
20 cloves
10 allspice
2.5 oz stick Mexican cinnamon
6 orange zest (1.5 oz)
1.5 teaspoon black pepper whole
1 # piloncillo
2 cup brown sugar
5 cup ground Oaxacan coffee beans

Atlantic Seafood

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Atlantic Seafood came highly recommended by my attorney Bull, who lives in Old Saybrook. His brother DotCom and my aunt Judy confirmed its the place for serious seafood on this stretch Connecticut shore.

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Etta called around and priced lobsters. Not only was Atlantic Seafood a dollar or two cheaper than competitors, they also did not have a tiered pricing structure for different weight lobsters.

atlantic seafood lobster maine connecticut shore reins deli pickles kosher 3rdarm judy blasko judith etta kostick 3rdarm

The selection of seafood was fantastic with multiple delicious species of fish, oysters and shellfish, and shrimp of gigantic size as well. We stuck to the lobster. Etta gave these guys a 12 minute hot water bath.

atlantic seafood lobster maine connecticut shore reins deli pickles kosher 3rdarm judy blasko judith etta kostick 3rdarm

The lobsters were filled with sweet meat! The last night in Connecticut, I had my sweets (Aunty, Etta, Roxie) and my treats (lobsters, pickles, Nutter Butters). Who could ask for anything more?

Into the Mystic

yakaitis larry ray junior senior the third 3rdarm arthur mullen dotcom mystic connecticut old saybrook

On the drive home from Massachusetts, we took a detour to Mystic. I got to say hi to Uncle Dotcom aka Larry, and pester Ray for Quake 2 photos.

yakaitis larry ray junior senior the third 3rdarm arthur mullen dotcom mystic connecticut old saybrook

I learned that Mystic is one of those places, like Stony Creek or Wampum, that belongs to the former world. There is no town called Mystic, as the maritime village is actually split down the middle between Groton and Stonington.

yakaitis larry ray junior senior the third 3rdarm arthur mullen dotcom mystic connecticut old saybrook

Etta and I also stopped at the office of YFS where I helped Bull with some paperwork.

Glenn Smelting

smelt steamer glenn kostick 3rdarm winchendon cornmeal fried wood stove

For dinner, Glenn had procured some steamer clams from Maine. He fed them some cornmeal, a trick to help clean away all the sand and grit. They were delicious in drawn butter.

smelt steamer glenn kostick 3rdarm winchendon cornmeal fried wood stove

Glenn also used the cornmeal for pan-fried smelts. At the East Coast Grill, we called them “fries with eyes.”

cornmeal smelts anchovy 3rdarm glenn winchendon

I fell into the trance of Glenn’s stove-top cooking and captured some of the magic on video.

Scumpas

etta air plants terrarium winchendon glenn kostick glass 3rdarm handblown

We made it up to the wood stove in Winchendon just in time, as the snow and arctic air enveloped the Northeast.

etta air plants terrarium winchendon glenn kostick glass 3rdarm handblown

Glenn brought down a trove of Kostick family photographs and we spent the evening looking back at funny relatives!

Rein’s Delicatessen

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I had this amazing day of polar vortex eating. It started at Rein’s Deli with 3 eggs over easy, steak-cut hash browns, and an onion bagel with chive cream cheese.

octagon house victorian reins delicatessen bagel eggs 3rdarm manchester connecticut massachusetts

We made a stop at Rein’s on the drive from the CT shore to the north woods of Massachusetts. We picked up a half dozen bagels, vegetable cream cheese and a bucket of pickles.

Rein’s delicatessen has mastered the art of the half sour. Their pickles are perfect. That bucket became the gift that kept on giving.

octagon house victorian reins delicatessen bagel eggs 3rdarm manchester connecticut massachusetts

The temperature dropped to twenty below… for dinner Glenn fried us smelts and steamed us steamers.

octagon house victorian reins delicatessen bagel eggs 3rdarm manchester connecticut massachusetts

The next morning Glenn topped a Rein’s bagel with leftover smelts!

Wooster Street

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We drove down from Guilford to Wooster Street to pick up treats for Aunty. We started with pizzas from the legendary Frank Pepe. The next stop was for Italian pastries from Lucibello. It was my first time there but it won’t be my last.

frank pepe pizza new haven connecticut wooster street little italy lucibellos 3rdarm

I don’t think I will be able to come back to Wooster Street without remembering what Lucibello’s calls Cannoli Napoleon. These are “cream horn” puff pastry filled chocolate and vanilla custard, dusted with powdered sugar.

frank pepe pizza new haven connecticut wooster street little italy lucibellos 3rdarm

The Cannoli themselves were classic beauties, filled with sweet ricotta and chocolate bits. And I am still looking forward to my last minute impulse buy of an eclair.

Next time I want to try what other reviewers have loved those flaky, custard filled Lobster Tails! And I’m also bookmarking a box of cookies and their homemade Italian ice.

Stony Creek

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Stony Creek is one of the storied seaside villages of the Connecticut shore. It is accessible only by Thimble Island Road which passes under the Shore Line East railroad tracks to the heart of this densely populated harbor community.

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Victorian homes, art galleries, the historic Puppet House theater, the Stony Creek museum, small restaurants and the last but certainly not least Thimble Island Cruise are all reasons to visit. In all seasons Stony Creek makes for a lovely stroll or sightsee from the car.

stony creek connecticut branford judy blasko arthur mullen 3rdarm thimble islands

Directly offshore, the Thimble Islands are an archipelago of glacial remnants. The Thimble Island cruise weaves stories of how these rocks were made habitable, Long Island pirates, local writers such as Jack London and Ayn Rand, with the sights of the island-bound homes and the natural beauty of Long Island Sound.

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Stony Creek is an essential stop on the Connecticut shore!

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