Town House Books & Cafe: A Gem of a Meal

When you are known for your appetite and have spent some months on the road, taking the gospel of Tiger cookery through cities from far west Seattle to down south Atlanta, people invariably want to know: What was the best meal you had?

I have been incredibly well-fed, that is true. There was an unforgettable meal at Thistle, a quaint hyper-locavore place in McMinnville, Oregon, where some of the produce on our table that evening came from a co-owner’s mother’s garden nearby. In Seattle, there was the discovery of a superb rendition of New York-style pizza at food blogger Molly Wizenberg’s Delancey. And then there was the restaurant that made me consider packing up and moving to Houston just so I could eat there every week: El Real Tex Mex, where the ethereal refried beans, crunchy puffy tacos and stacked enchiladas share a sacred secret ingredient: lard, which the kitchen itself renders from heritage pigs.

The meal that stands far above all others, however, didn’t occur in a restaurant of great repute or one of the must-try scenes of any city I’ve visited. Rather, it took place in a darling little bookstore in St. Charles, Ill., a town 40 miles west of Chicago that’s perched by a pretty river. At Town House Books, owners Doug and Dave set out to not just host a reading for “A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family.” No, they were determined to truly bring the book to life.

And so it was that just a few days before my June reading there, I got a call from Doug, asking me how exactly did my Singaporean aunties wrap the bamboo leaves around the bak-zhang (rice dumplings) and did my late grandmother’s pineapple tarts need to be kept in a fridge if they were made far ahead?

Bak-zhang? Pineapple tarts? When Town House had mentioned a dinner pairing for my reading, these ambitious offerings were certainly not what I had in mind.

The pangs for my family’s dishes immediately set in. And suddenly, I just could not wait to get to St. Charles …

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Vino Rosina: The New Italian On The Block


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Years ago, I found myself creeping along the quiet streets of a swath near Baltimore's Little Italy, squinting through the darkness as I tried to find Charleston, a restaurant that had been highly recommended.

Even though this roughly eight-block area was flanked by the perennially packed and fratty Fells Point on one side and the touristy Inner Harbor on the other at the time, its streets were still largely undeveloped in the late 1990s. Charleston, a Southern-inflected French restaurant, was an early adopter in the neighborhood and once we'd located it, we were glad we went. The meal was phenomenal and it was thrilling to be at a place that felt like it was on the cusp of something larger.

The husband and I recently returned to Baltimore for a short visit and decided to trek to Charleston to take a look at the place where we'd had one of the first romantic dinners of our courtship. The restaurant, helmed by the talented Cindy Wolf in the kitchen, is still there and hopping but the area around it has since become unrecognizable. Now named Harbor East, the area has sprouted gleaming condiminium, office and hotel buildings and has become as packed with restaurants, cafes and bars as its nearby neighborhoods. (You can check out a piece I wrote for the New York Times Travel section this past weekend on Harbor East here.)

Amid the current hubbub, a new little place caught our eye: Vino Rosina, a modern Italian restaurant in the Bagby Furniture Company Building, a historic red-brick structure that used to be a factory. Outside on the street, we could hear laughter wafting out along with the intoxicating smells of oven-roasted meats. So of course, we decided to step in and give the place a whirl …

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Paris: A Lunch With A View


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For a first-timer in Paris, the Sister had not done badly.

Sure, we hadn’t managed to get into L’Ami Jean or Hidden Kitchen, but the basics had been covered: Berthillon ice-cream, Laduree macarons, cervelas at Brasserie Lipp, a cocktail at the Hemingway Bar.

What was left on the list? Much too much.

Nonetheless, we decided, end with a bang we must. And so we found ourselves packing into a tiny elevator and rocketing into the gray Parisian sky.

The lunch to end our lunches (for now) in Paris would be at a classic — Le Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower, which, at more than 400 feet above ground level, offered a sweet spot to sip some bubbly and look out onto the city beneath.

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