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There’s this new falafel place in my neighborhood, housed in a store front that was formerly home to a greasy, fluorescent lit hotdog joint called CJ’s Diner.  When CJ’s Diner was shut down by the health department for rat-related reasons, they closed for about a month and emerged, triumphant, like the mythical phoenix from the ashes, as AJ’s Diner.  Alas, the resurrection was short lived, and the restaurant formerly known as CJ’s closed.

I ventured out into the frigid weather yesterday because I was in desperate need of some plexiglass and a new toothbrush.  After completing my errands, I felt that I might have had a touch of frostbite, and so I ducked into the newly opened falafel restaurant to warm up.  The place was still ill-lit and run-down, but seemingly free of rodents.  I decided it would be rude to not order food, so in the interest of politeness (and laziness.  Also self-servingness. Romeo looked at me as if I was his sun and stars when I came home bearing Mediterranean food.) I decided to order something. While perusing the takeout menu, which was full of the standard fare one would expect in such an establishment, I came across a sentence that stopped me dead in my tracks.

“Come into one of our locations and try one of our dishes made by our world famous 5 star chef…”

Wow! Like seriously, WOW! When I think “world famous” and “five star” in Chicago, the first name that comes to mind is, yes, Grant Achatz of the Michelin-starred Alinea.  People are wait-listed for months and months and do embarrassing things like beg for tickets on twitter to get into his restaurants.  I cannot confirm or deny anything, but let me tell you, the beef shawarma was spectacular.  As the menu promised, it was indeed “grilled to perfection”.  I don’t care what anyone says about Achatz, the man knows his way around the stove.

And that is why, when he is on the Huffington Post giving some real talk about grilling steak at home, on a regular gas stove for mere mortals, I drop that plexiglass I am holding in my hands and force my vegetarian boyfriend to drive me across town to pick up steak.  I tried his technique tonight, and Grant was right, as usual.  The only drawback is the tremendous amount of smoke that is produced during the cooking process, which is a fine thing in baba ghanoush, but not so much lingering in your apartment for hours afterwards.  But if a culinary superstar chef can find time in his busy schedule to moonlight in a fast food place, I can deal with opening a few windows.

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