Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Naha in 2013

With the tsunami of internet and reviewer activity every time some hot-named chef so much as blinks in the West Loop, I wonder whether there are stalwarts languishing in other neighborhoods as they try helplessly for attention in an era when only the newest places seem to get any press.  Erwin. Crofton. Trotter’s.  Once-famous places run by chefs once seen as the best around seem to be dropping out rapidly and suddenly in this environment.

It was with concern about this phenomenon that I paid three visits over the last few months to a stalwart that I’d put in the same mix as the places above.  I’ve been eating at Naha for almost a decade, and did so with regularity in the early years.  It was among my favorite places, but for no good reason it had been three years since my last visit, and I started to wonder whether I’d been playing a role in the demise of the type of restaurant that puts great food and great service before great social media strategy. 

In 2013, Carrie Nahabedian doesn’t get the kind of press that someone like Stephanie Izard gets, but their cooking styles are similar.  Both marry sweet with savory flavors in ways that might at first sound odd, but end up working.  At Naha, bacon is served lacquered with syrup in a pastry crust with pineapple and fennel.  Chicken thighs are treated with middle eastern liqueur and served with sweet oranges.  Even a burger gets an extra dose of sweet via a slow roasted tomato and deeply caramelized onions. 

Izard does it better.  Her flavors are bolder and more sharply contrasting.  At Naha, the sweetness dominates rich-tasting but otherwise muted broths, sauces and marinades with spicing that’s too subtle to work the kind of magic that happens on Randolph Street.  In the bacon tarte tatine, the bacon had sticky-sweet lacquer, the sweet pineapple was caramelized to make it even sweeter.  Fennel added an even further sweet note, and there was just nothing to give an Izard-style jolt to what became palate-tiring dish after just a couple of bites.  The chicken thigh tagine sat in a sweet, anise-flavored broth with raw honeybell slices.  The dish needed the advertised coriander seeds and “Turkish spices” to add some complexity, but they’re way too far in the background.  An heirloom squash soup had deliciously deep squash flavor, but garnishes that included herb spaetzle and horseradish cream needed more oomph.  I couldn't taste any herbs or any horseradish, and as good as the squash flavor was, it was one-dimensional and I wasn't interested in coming close to finishing the soup.

The pastry chef's name was printed in bizarrely big, bold letters at the top of the dessert menu.  Something like "Our Famous Pastry Chef So and So Introduces The following Desserts".  I'm sure he's a respected guy even though I'd never heard of him, but this sort of showmanship seemed out of place at Naha.  Perhaps it should have warned of a chef interested in glitz and glamour over taste.  I had an almond dacquoise.  Actually, it was barely a sliver of dacquoise amidst a veritable kaleidoscope of garnishes.  There were white powders, off-white stick-shaped things, tiny purple berries, a flavorless tan gel that might as well have been aspic, some greenery, and surely more.  Other than the aspic, nothing on the plate tasted bad.  None of it made any sense to me either.

I'm not sure whether Naha has declined or my tastes have just changed since those days when I loved it.  You'll probably find me contemplating that question with everyone else at the next iteration of Fulton-Market-Buzz-Restaurant.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sassafras getting ready - The Maine Way

Sassafras has been competing with her Middle School Nordic skiing team. She had never been on skis before the season, but is doing great. She had done lots of snowshoeing and winter hiking , including an overnight hike on Mount Washington last winter, but this is her first time on any type of skis.

Even though she was the only girl on the team without any experience skiing, she said she wanted to be on the team because she needed to stay in shape for hiking. Her coaches are very impressed, she is a very hard worker and never quits. She is holding her own in the last few meets, but I think next year the competition had better watch out. She did the same thing with cross country running, the first year was a learning experience for her and this year she was the fasted girl on the team and very competitive with the girls from the other school.

We can not wait to get started. We leave in less than 5 weeks.

(If you can not tell, I am very proud of her - Kaboose).

Friday, February 8, 2013

Oscar Party Invitation

I finally finished my Oscar Party invites.  I cut out Oscar silhouettes in glitter paper and glued them to the front of the envelopes.  I tried about 500 different designs and decided on the little aqua stars.  I tried to get them more mint in color but this was as close as I could get.  I'm really happy with how these turned out.  I wanted a mix of Oscar chic and a little French but the cute macaron side of French so I think I found a happy mix.  I have got to get better at cutting my invitations.  All that hard work and I sloppily cut out the invites.

I used Paper-source.com again for my envelopes and note cards, the color is slate and it's a beautiful charcoal gray, and the glitter paper is left over from Christmas also from Paper-source.com.  It's not my favorite glitter paper, it's not very glittery but one day I hope to use it all up.  I've noticed both Michael's and Hobby Lobby carry very glittery paper.

Inspiration for my invitations this year came from two places.

I've always loved Twig & Thistle's invitation with the falling stars.

You can see the obvious influence with my invitations.

Also Studio DIY designed these favor bags.

I don't really use favor bags but I liked the idea for the outside of the invitation envelope.  The include a PDF of Oscar that I shrunk down and used for my invitations.

Monday, February 4, 2013

House Tour - Dining Room

Next in the continuing series of the house tour is the dining room. The wall between the dining room and the kitchen was removed before we moved in. I thought this would really help open the space of the house and more importantly after using the tiny yellow house kitchen, make the kitchen larger and not so closed off from the rest of the house.

  Dining Room Through the Arch

I thought about taking out the arch but I'm glad I left it in. It closes off the living room just enough to make it feel more cozy and intimate but still open to the rest of space. The whole floor plan now really works well for parties.
Dining Room to Kitchen

Unfortunately the dining room photographs very dark. I did paint it a dark color but I think because of the double windows and the slider windows it picks up strongly from that natural light and the photos come out so dark. This is really not a dark space at all. I originally painted it an inky blue color and it always felt like it still looked purple to me (the yellow house's dining room was purple and I really wanted something different). I went with this color, a dark browny gray, that I was hoping would look like a chalkboard that the chalk had just been wiped away from, and I do think that's kind of how it looks. If you're curious, and you should be, this color is really great and BOYS like it, it's Kendall Charcoal by Benjamin Moore.

Dining Room to Living Room

Because I wasn't sure of the colors in the room before we moved in, I went with some very simple Pottery Barn silk curtains. These have a blackout lining that make them extra heavy. I wasn't looking for a blackout liner but that's what was on ebay so I went with it. I do think one day I'll make curtains for this room. I'm kind of over the silk curtain thing. And this room is easy, just two curtains. The mirror came from the old house. I left a few things there but I really wanted to take this mirror with us. It worked pretty well at the yellow house but I had to shuffle somethings around and put the china cabinet against the wall the mirror should be. One day, I really hope to buy a buffet to put where the china cabinet is and put this mirror above it. The china cabinet can go either where the mirror is or right next to the kitchen counter. But without the buffet it throws the balance of the room off so I had to put the china cabinet where it is. One day it will make more sense. I recognize that the mirror looks crammed into this corner, trust me.

 Dining Room

The china cabinet has been a life send for all those special serving dishes that don't fit into the cabinets. I love being able to see all my pretty things.

 China Cabinet

This is the same cabinet you may recall that we bought from a tiny little yard sale we happened to be driving past in our hoody neighborhood. I got it for a steal and then took it home and painted it and put fancy anthropologie knobs on it. It's one of my favorite pieces, so useful and pretty.

 Art in the Dining Room

A closeup of some of the art. This print was given to us the Christmas we got married. Brian's aunt didn't know it but the restaurant in the background is where we had our first date and where we celebrated our engagement. I also have a thing for these butterflies. I hope to keep adding to my collection. The colors are amazing.

 Close Up in the Dining Room

That "wish" banner has been on that mirror for years. I put it up one Christmas and then left it while we were going through our fertility stuff. And then the real desperation of trying to sell the old house in time to avoid foreclosure, that could have been really really awful but it worked out. I think about taking down the banner all the time but I'm still wishing.

 Bird Plates from Anthropologie

I went through a plate collecting phase (there's more in the kitchen!) and I really love these bird plates I found at Anthropologie. I am not afraid to verge on granny chic, it's a fine line.

Dining Room from the  Hallway

View from the hallway.

Let's see, what I love most about the dining room, I love the extra space.  I really love my table.  We were going to replace it with a new table (new, old table) with a leaf and even got it home and I got cold feet.  I love the lines of my table.  I can't let it go.  We are going to try to fabricate a leaf for this table, we did determine that we could separate the table I just need a leaf.  That's on the to-do list. 

I love my parson chairs.  I've had them for-ever.  They are from Ballard Designs and I can tell you they last forever.  I haven't even replaced the slipcovers. 

I'm really happy with the wall color and glad I decided to repaint my inky-blue even though I thought for sure I was done painting once we moved in.  Sometimes paint doesn't work out.  I took me less than a day to repaint and a gallon of paint.  So worth it!

I love my chandelier.  I bought it from Crate and Barrel when we first moved into the yellow house and when we moved here I decided to bring it here.  It's so simple but it's large and makes an impact.  I'd love to put it on a dimmer.  Right now I just have 15w bulbs in each spot to keep the light down.  Dining rooms, in my opinion are meant to be moody and cozy.

Things I'd love to change.  I really want a new buffet.  The current layout was meant to be temporary but something always seems to come up (like right now we have to do the front porch before the plywood rots away).  But one day I'll get this layout perfect and have extra storage. 

I'd like to change the curtains.  I already have a good idea what fabric I would use and I think it's going to happen not too long from now.

We need a leaf!  We don't have many dinner parties, we had four, I think last year, but when you have a bunch of folks over a little more space would be great.  I think this will relatively easy for the handyman to make.  I don't need anything perfect, just something to get by.  We'll always use a tablecloth when we have the leaf in so I don't have to match the paint or the edging of the table doesn't have to be perfect. 

The chair situation.  Another issue we have during dinner parties is having enough chairs to sit everyone.  I already know what I want to replace my chairs with, actually I'd keep two of my chairs and put them against the wall (the way it is now, sort of) and then get either 2 or 4 smaller chairs to keep around the table.

So that's the dining room.  Kitchen should be next up.