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Posts Tagged ‘beef’

Even since it was featured on CheckPlease a while back I have wanted to check out Blue 13. I don’t know why, but it really appealed to me for some reason. When I saw that Chef Curren was doing a Restaurant Week menu I took that as an opportunity to finally get off my ass and take my wife out for some rockin viddles. Turned out to be a damn good idea.

Located in the River North area, Blue 13 is on a very residential strip just off the hwy. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because it allows for a neighborhood feel without any pretension. It’s bad because there’s nowhere to park! I hate paying for valet. I am Jewish (culturally, not religiously) after all. After finding a place to park a couple of blocks away Yuki and I were ready to get out of the cold and fill ourselves full of tastiness.

When we got there a couple of tables lingered a little longer than expected and our reservation was about 15 minutes late. No worries, 15 minutes is acceptable. So, we headed to the bar and I had a beer while we bitched to each other about how frustrating both of our jobs are. Basically, a nightly routine. When we got to our table we already knew what we wanted so we ordered up dinner, ate some good bread with great olive oil, and awaited the feast.

Yuki started off with the Duck Confit Tortellini. Served in a caper and cilantro butter sauce it was absolutely delicious. The only thing wrong with it is that the pasta was just a little too al dente, and not by much. Maybe another 45 seconds or so in salted water and it would have been perfect. On the other hand, this was the first time I’ve ever had capers with cilantro. I hope it’s not the last because it was a really weird pairing that actually works quite well.

I got the Beet Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette. I did tell you the other day that if there’s a beet salad on a menu I’ll probably get it. It didn’t hurt that their restaurant week menu only had two options (they did have a $44 pre fixe option with more choices, but that’s a little pricy for my blood). I will say this, Chef Curran’s beet salad is one of the most creative ones I’ve ever eaten. Nice sweet golden beets, frisee, endive, candied hazelnuts (quite possibly my favorite of all nuts, excluding my own of course), and, get this, marshmallows made with beets and balsamic vinegar. It was the marshmallows that set this salad over the top.

Yuki got the Arctic Char entrée. A beautiful piece of fish with a nice crispy skin and juicy flesh (is there anything better than juicy flesh?). It was served on a grain salad that consisted mainly of quinoa and pearl barley as well as a big smear of pureed butternut squash. All of the flavors worked in harmony and completed a very satisfying dish.

I got the Guinness Braised Veal Cheeks. These were some of the most tender cheeks I’ve tossed into my organs, like a really soft brisket. Served on buttered noodles with sautéed brussel sprouts and a smear of creme fraiche. It was garnished with a baby carrot and some baby cilantro. I’m beginning to realize that Chef Curran likes to use cilantro. Honestly, I got no beef with that! In fact, I got veal. The only problem with this dish is that I found that it could have used one more pinch of salt to really bring out the beery goodness of the guinness. Otherwise this was a success.

With two dessert options we decided to get one of each, and that really wasn’t a hard decision to make. Yuki had the Apple Cobbler with Vanilla Gelato. A classic that he didn’t really fiddle much with. It was very straightforward but executed nicely.

I got the Chocolate Peanut Butter Waffle. Waffle with candied peanuts, peanut butter sauce, chocolate sauce, and a scoop of vanilla gelato. As I started eating it I was greeted with a very nice surprise, very nice indeed. In the chocolate sauce were little pieces of BACON!!! It’s desserts like this that make me glad I don’t keep Kosher. Bacon truly does make everything better.

Service throughout the night was spot on. The servers were casual, yet professional. Food was brought out in good time and plates were cleared promptly. The atmosphere was also very casual. Exposed brick walls with heavy rock’n’roll on the speakers, but not too loud that it hindered conversation.

Way back when I worked at a restaurant called The Outpost I always thought that it should have been something more like this. Honestly, if I ever did open up a restaurant it would be along the lines of Blue 13, except I’d play more classic rock and throw some Fela in the mix. Otherwise I wouldn’t change a thing.

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Restaurant Week started here in Chicago this past Friday. Unlike last year where Yuki and I ended up going to 6 or 7 different places we’ve decided to only do 2 this year. We started off Saturday night at a place that’s been high on our list of places to try for a while but never got around to hitting up…BOKA. Located in a very sheik area of Lincoln Park we were a little concerned it’d be a little too pretentious for our tastes. What happened though, is that our tastes were pleasantly surprised.

I know that Restaurant Week menus don’t fully show off all of a chef’s skills, but it does do a good job of giving an idea of what a particular chef is all about. I really dig what Chef Tentori is all about. You gotta love an Italian who effortlessly blends Asian flavors with French techniques. I used my phone’s camera again, and of course, in dark lighting it does a terrible job. Just let your imagination go wild with my descriptions. You can also check out the menu they have posted on the Restaurant Week website, just know that those menus aren’t completely accurate.

Yuki started off with the Maine Diver Scallop. A big juicy scallop with a perfectly cooked crust served with some sort of bean puree (tasted like it could have either been edamame or fava, don’t remember exactly what the server said) and forbidden black rice. The flavors matched perfectly and the scallop was easily one of the best scallops we’ve eaten in Chicago.

I started with the Beet Salad. Sweet, juicy golden beets with candied walnuts and frisee served on a blood orange sauce. It’s hard to get too creative with beet salads anymore since every restaurant in America serves one and this was not the most creative one I’ve ever eaten. It was, however, one of the best. Chef Tentori kept it simple and let the sweetness of the beets take center stage. The crunch of the candied walnuts was the perfect match while the slight bitterness of the blood orange sauce countered nicely.

Yuki’s entrée was the Seared Angus Tenderloin. While Angus lost it’s luster as a brand the moment fast food chains started using head and hoof scrapings to make up the required 40% beef in their patties, this was the real deal. Tender, juicy, full of beefy goodness. It was served with braised red cabbage, croquettes of wild mushrooms and some kind of cheese (the cheese gave a real nice barnyardy aroma and flavor the remind you that cows come from farms and not manufacturing plants), and a parsnip puree. Absolutely delicious.

I got the Braised Pork Belly. I’m very predictable, I usually get the beet salad and pork belly when I see them on menus. I’m glad I did at BOKA. While most places will sear the pork belly before serving to give that crunch on the skin Chef Tentori didn’t. Instead he kept the whole thing soft and fork-tender. The texture was almost like a slow-braised brisket. I loved it! He served it with two huge deep-fried oysters, spicy bok choy, little green tea soba noodle cakes, and some sort of white vegetable puree (I think it was cauliflower). The flavors and textures worked really well together making this one of my favorite pork belly dishes (light years beyond that crap Naha served me last August).

They ony offered one dessert with the Restaurant Week pre fixe, and that’s fine because it was a damn good one. They called it Ginger Kulfi and served it with toasted marshmallow, ground espresso chips, chocolate fudge, and a tangerine segment. I think they got it backwards. The chocolate fudge was the star for me. Everything else on that plate supported its richness and added depth to its flavor. The kulfi was outstanding though…smooth, gingery, and creamy but not overpowering. It was one of the more well-balanced desserts I’ve had at an upscale Chicago restaurant.

Throughout the evening service was spot on as well. We were promptly seated in the covered courtyard (I think they use it for al fresco dining in warm weather). Our server was quick, knowledgable, and had a good sense of humor. The courses were well spaced and we didn’t have a lot of down time between them.

My only real gripe with BOKA is their IPod shuffle. It went from Dave Brubeck and some great jazz to the same horrible soundtrack that most restaurants play. You know, that light techno that makes you feel like you’re trying on blue jeans at Banana Republic. Fortunately, it went back to jazz after a few techno songs. They really just need to stick with the jazz. But, when that’s my only gripe with a place it’s probably a pretty good place.

All in all, I would definitely recommend BOKA. They were able to present us with an extremely professional and upscale environment with absolutely delicious food while keeping all pretensions out of the picture. A rare feat I must say.

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Valentine’s Day…you gotta love holidays that are created for the sole purpose of capitalist pleasure. While the origins of Saint Valentine had absolutely nothing to do with lovers, today Hallmark sells millions of cards and Jared sells tons of ugly jewelry. Restaurants are always packed with their special Valentine’s prix fixe dinners. Extremely disappointed by every meal we’ve gone out for at Valentine’s this year I took the truly romantic way through the day of lovers and put my own hard work into a beautiful meal for the love of my life. I made a Japanese flavored Osso Bucco. Let’s be honest, is there anything sexier than slow-braised oxtails?

While I have never braised oxtails (actually cow tail, not an ox) the principles of braising are the same across the board. Brown your meat, saute your mise en place, and simmer it all together for a couple of hours minimum while keeping the braising liquid about 3/4’s of the way covering your meat.

To make this one Japanese flavored I used dashi and soy instead of beef stock and wine. To start I made my dashi. I put 3 cups of water and 1/4 cup of dried anchovies in a pot, brought it to a boil, covered it, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about a half hour. Then I strained out the anchovies and set the dashi aside.

To flavor the dashi, my mise en place, I used 4 tablespoons of soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of sake, 2 tablespoons of mirin, 1/2 onion diced, 1 rib of celery diced, 1 carrot diced, 3 cloves of garlic smashed, and 3 bay leaves.

The ingredients I used to serve included 3 pounds of beef oxtail cut into 4 portions (have your butcher use his saw to get through the bone, I went to Olympic Meats for mine), about 1/4 cup of parsley chopped, 2 medium carrots chopped, 1 pound of daikon chopped, 12 cipollini onions skin peeled, 1 package of konnyaku, and 1 package of shiitake halved (large ones quartered).

To get started I heated up a few tablespoons of olive oil in my large stock pot. I dredged the oxtail pieces in flour (no need to season the flour since I used soy sauce, without soy sauce you’d probably want to season the flour with salt and pepper) and browned all sides for a couple of minutes. I did two at a time so as not to overcrowd the pot. I set the browned oxtails off the side.

Once the oxtails were all browned I added another couple of tablespoons of olive oil and added all of my mise en place. I sweated it all down for about 5 minutes. Then I put the oxtails in along with any accumulated juices on the plate and poured the reserved dashi in. Once the dashi came to a boil I let it rumble for a few minutes and skimmed the surface a few times for a clearer liquid. Once I finished skimming I added the soy, sake, and mirin. I covered the pot, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about an hour and 15 minutes.

During this time is when I prepped all of my serving veggies. For the konnyaku I cut it in a very traditional Japanese way. I sliced the block into 1/4 inch strips. I put a slit in the middle of each and then folded inside of itself to make this braided shape. Not only does this add visual appeal, but I gives more surface for the konnyaku to absorb the flavors of the broth.

After the initial hour and 15 minute braising time I removed the oxtails and strained out all of the mise en place. With the back of a wooden spoon I squeezed out every last drop of flavor from the soft onion, celery, and carrot. I wiped out my stock pot, poured the strained broth back in, put the oxtails back in, put the serving veggies in, brought it up to a boil, covered the pot, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for another 45 minutes. That was enough time for the daikon to absorb the broth flavors and become nice and tender.

To serve, I placed on piece of oxtail in a large bowl and surrounded it with broth and veggies. I sprinkled the parsley all over the top. On the side was white rice with ground sesame seeds and some seaweed salad (the same kind you get at your neighborhood sushi joint, I picked some up at the Mitsuwa Market).

As if I weren’t already in-love with myself, this dish made me fall heads-over-heals in-love with myself. I can only image what it did to my wife.

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Just saying Yuki’s Sukiyaki is almost as much fun as eating it. Sukiyaki is a traditional family style one-pot meal in Japan. Vegetables are simmered in a sweet soy-based broth.

Then the pot is brought to the table and, over a table-top burner, thin slices of beef are swished around (similar to shabu-shabu) and cooked in the pot. Each individual has their own dish to put the beef and veggies in. It usually is mixed with a raw egg, but raw eggs aren’t good for prego so we omitted that.

Ingredients for Yakiniku aren’t set in stone, what we used are pretty typical for the most part. I chopped up a carrot, quartered 1/2 onion, cleaned up 1 packet of enoki mushrooms, rinsed and cut up 1 packaged of konnyaku shirataki noodles, 2 large shiitake halved, 1/4 head of napa cabbage chopped, a little more than 1/2 pound of thinly sliced beef, almost 1 block of silken tofu large diced (I had previously used about 1/8th of it for miso soup, use as much as you like), about 5 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons mirin, 3 tablespoons sake, and 1-2 tablespoons of sugar.

In our large pan Yuki poured in the soy, mirin, and sake along with about 1/4 cup of water. She added the sugar and brought it up to a simmer. The onion and carrot had the longest cooking time so they went in for about 5 minutes, covered.

Then she added the rest of the ingredients minus the beef and let them cook for another 5 minutes or so. After that we moved the pan to our table-top burner and swished the beef in the boiling liquid. White rice on the side and cold beer in hand.

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Last night I made a classic Beef and Barley stew. I didn’t quite make it using the classic ingredients though. Instead of potatoes I used sweet potatoes. Instead of the popular pearl barley I used hulled barley. Instead of stew meat, usually beef from the round or chuck roast, I used brisket. Oh brisket, how I love thee! I did this for health reasons as sweet potatoes have more nutrients than regular ones and hulled barley is a whole grain that still has the germ, it has 8 essential amino acids. While brisket isn’t any healtheir than typical stew meat it’s all about flavor and texture.

My ingredient list included 3 medium sized sweet potatoes skinned and chopped, 1 tablespoon of dried oregano, 2 medium sized carrots chopped, 3 stalks of celery chopped, 1 tablespoon of worcestershire sauce, 1 onion chopped, 2 cups of beef stock, 2 medium sized parsnips chopped, 5 cloves of garlic diced, 1 14oz can of peeled whole tomatoes, 1/2 cup of rinsed hulled barley, 2/3 cup of edamame, and 1 pound of brisket cubed. Not in the picture are 1 tablespoon of flour, 2 bay leaves, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

I started by heating up my stock pot. Once hot I poured in the olive oil, added the brisket, and sprinkled the flour on top. I stirred it all around just until the surface of the beef turned brown and no longer pink. Then I added the onion, celery, and garlic and sweated them down for about 5 minutes. After that I poured in the stock, added the bay leaves, brought it up to a boil, covered, turned the heat down, and let it simmer for about an hour.

Once the hour passed by I tossed in the barley, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, worcestershire, and oregano. I let that come back to a boil and let it simmer for another 45 minutes.

Finally, I added the edamame and tomatoes with their juice. I took each tomato out one at a time and broke them up with my hands as they dropped into the stew. Once everything was mixed in I seasoned with salt and pepper and let it stew for about 15 more minutes to bring it all together.

A couple slices of toast, a bowl of hot beef and barley stew, and a nice cold beer and that’s all she wrote.

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Friday night Yuki and I took advantage of another Groupon we had purchased a while back. Gotta love Groupon, great opportunities to try new places at a discount. This one was for an Ethiopian restaurant we haven’t tried yet, Demera. We love Ethiopian food and had read good things about Demera, so it was one of those things that had to be done.

Apparently we weren’t alone in our love for Ethiopian food. We didn’t have a reservation and when we got there, about 6:30 or so, we were told there was a 15-20 minute wait. No worries, we had just driven all the way up to Lawrence and Broadway, no way were we going to turn back. A few minutes of waiting and the manager came by and said there would be a 35-45 minute wait. Eh? How’d it get longer? It ended up only being about 15 minutes, so I’m glad we stuck it out.

Typically a beer drinker with Ethiopian food I saw that they have house made honey wine. Had to give that a try. Not so sure I’m glad I did. It wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t say it was good either. Honey fermented with hops. It was like a honeyweiss without the bubbles. Not a big fan of honeyweiss. Oh well, it was tolerable. Next time I’m sticking with beer though.

We started off with the Sambussa Sampler. Basically it’s one each of their sambussas…beef, chicken, tuna, lentils, and spinach. Served with a spicy little chili sauce they were all very good. Simple, but delicious and homemade.

For the main course we had to go with the Messob, traditional communal dining. That way we could sample a bunch of different items instead of each of us ordering 1 dish. Plus, it’s the Ethiopian way to eat. Why eat American-style at an ethnic restaurant? Starting at the top and going clockwise we got the quosta (spinach), ye-shimbra assa (ground chickpeas), michetabish (ground beef), ye-salmon dulet (salmon with homemade cottage cheese), doro wat (chicken and hard-boiled egg in berbere, Ethiopia’s national dish), lega tibs (lamb with rosemary), and a salad in the center. Of course, everything was served on top of a piece of injera with plenty of injera on the side to grip and scoop our food. We couldn’t finish everything, but we expected that. Gotta love Ethiopian leftovers the next day, yet another similarity between Ethiopian food and Indian food (simmered food, communal dining, similar spices, same upset stomach, etc.).

In all honesty, we probably could have finished our dinner, but not only would we have missed out on leftovers, we would have missed out on dessert! We decided to split the hibist volcano. I’ve never had hibist bread before. It’s very much like a thick sweet roll. If it weren’t for the refreshingly cold ice cream on top I don’t know that we could have eaten it all. The spiced lemon sauce was really good as well.

Overall, everything we ate was delicious! Would I call Demera the best Ethiopian food in Chicago? I don’t know about that. Ras Dashen and Abyssinia are right up there as well, I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the three. I think it all depends on what you are looking for. If I were in the mood for doro wat I would go to either Ras Dashen or Abyssinia. If I wanted seafood I’d come to Demera (the salmon was fantastic with the jalapeno and cheese). It’s really a toss-up. I’m sure I’ll be back at all three at some point in my life, and my digestive system will be all the better for it.

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Last Friday night I made this soup for dinner. It is getting really cold here in Chicago, tis the season, and I thought a nice warm soup with tasty goodness and a little spice would hit the spot. This one is real easy and can accommodate almost any vegetables you have on hand. Since it was Friday night this recipe is only for 2 portions.

I used only about 1/3 pound of ground beef, 3 shiitake sliced, 1 clove of garlic diced, 1/2 inch of ginger slivered, 1/2  zucchini quartered and sliced, 1 carrot cut into chunks, 2 yukon gold potatoes skinned and chopped, 4 green onions cut in 1 inch lengths, 5 napa cabbage leaves chopped, 1 heaping tablespoon of Toban Djan, and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil.

In a small bowl I cut the garlic, Toban Djan, and sesame oil into the ground beef with a spoon. By doing this the beef will break apart nicely once you throw it into the soup.

I boiled 4 cups of water and tossed in the shiitake, carrot, potatoes, and green onions in. I let them simmer for about 10 minutes and then added the beef mixture. While beef was cooking I decided to pour in about 3 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of sake to add a little depth to the broth. I let that simmer for about 5 minutes before adding the ginger, zucchini, and cabbage. About 5 more minutes simmering and the soup was ready.

I served it with some white rice that I sprinkled some mazekomi wakame shirasu, which is dried seaweed and little sardines. It adds some saltiness, crunch, flavor, and nutrients to rice. It’s usually used for onigiri, but I like to add to it plain rice sometimes.

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