This is my last article for Time Out Chicago, so you might be able to imagine the pressure I feel to come up with something important to say. Trust me when I tell you I’ve tried to come up with such a thing. I’ve considered apologizing to the chefs I have offended over the past eight years (sorry!). I’ve considered taking to task the chefs who have offended me. Instead, I’m going to do what I usually do and write about chicken.
The first memorable chicken I ate in Chicago was at mk. I wasn’t working that night, which, at the time, was a rarity—this was in 2004, when Time Out was just getting off the ground, and I was eating out ten times a week in order to fill our empty database. I don’t remember anything specific about the chicken; I don’t remember if it was sauced, or if it came with veg. What I do remember is the chicken was a reprieve from the heavy and/or highly designed food I’d been eating so much of. It was notable because of the many ways it was not notable.
That night I found my therapy. (Later, I would find actual therapy, the kind that involves psychologists in leather chairs trying not to yawn as I described getting bullied by Internet trolls. But I digress.) After that, I began ordering chicken regularly, though mostly on nights when I was off-duty, as the lowly chicken is often, I admit, among the least exciting prospects a restaurant can offer. On evenings when I was particularly tired or stressed, I would order the chicken without looking at the rest of the menu. Mostly, it worked out. At Hopleaf and Pecking Order, I fell in love with chicken with char marks and hints of smoke. At Nightwood, I learned chicken is better with once-crisp, now-soppy croutons that soak up chicken juice. Last year I reviewed a steakhouse, Bavette’s, and dictated that chicken be the image we use on the page. I was technically working that night when I ate at Bavette’s, but the chicken lifted me out of my nitpicky critic haze and into a friendlier, softer place—my chicken safe space, you might say.
Chicken isn’t perfect, obviously. Once, a restaurant served me a chicken that was completely raw. The chef came out with a new chicken and said, “I assure you, this kind of thing doesn’t happen in my restaurant,” but, of course, it was hard to believe. I’ve also had fried chicken that was served raw. My companion took a bite, found bright pink flesh underneath the crust, and sent it back. The chicken was returned to us a few minutes later. It had been re-fried—we could still see the bite mark.
But this did not deter me. Just the other weekend, when the reality that I would stop writing for Time Out Chicago was just beginning to sink in, I found myself at Paris Club, where I ordered the roasted half chicken with fingerling potatoes. It was the right choice. Everything else changes; a simple and good roast chicken is always the same.