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Posts Tagged ‘cafe hoang’

I have to apologize to the environment as well as my physical well-being. There was no Meatless Monday last night. Cafe Hoang is sending all proceeds from yesterday’s take, including tips, to Haiti in order to help feed those who need. For my part I figured the least I could do was to eat some tasty food for charity. From what their website states, they’re doing it again next Monday, the 8th. I encourage you all to take part and keep my boy Jason Tran busy as hell cooking his ass off.

So, instead of a Meatless Monday post I’m going to tell you about a dinner we had at Yuki’s sister’s condo in Tokyo with her family last November. As you can see, it was family-style with some authentic Japanese flavors and some not-so-Japanese.

We had some shrimp tempura. Pretty simple, just fresh juicy shrimp deep fried in panko. Yuki’s mom scattered some cherry tomatoes, parsley, and little pieces of lemon around the plate. A squeeze of citrus, a dip in soy, some herb….makes me a happy man.

There was some Kuri Gohan, chestnut rice. This is a common dish throughout Japan. A favorite as chestnuts add a great flavor as well as nutrition to rice. Simply add the chestnuts to the rice while it’s cooking and then sprinkle some sesame seeds on top.

This is a Raw Tuna Salad that Yuki’s brother-in-law Jun made. Chunks of fresh tuna, avocado, and thinly sliced onion that’s been soaked in cold water to remove the rawness tossed in a vinaigrette. I forget exactly what he put in the vinaigrette, but it was something like sesame oil, soy oil, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and pepper. He lined the serving dish with some lettuce leaves and dumped it on top.

This one is a classic Japanese home cooked dish. Not sure what it’s called, maybe Yuki will leave a comment and let us all know. Yuki’s mom simmered some lotus root, bamboo shoots, green beans, shiitake, konnyaku, carrots, and chicken. Again, I’m not completely sure what the simmering liquid was, I think it was a mix of soy sauce, sake, and mirin. Maybe some dashi. Always delicious (at least when Tamiko makes it)!

We drank it all down with some Prosecco and some fantastic sake that we picked up on the way to the condo. After we ate we took turns kicking each others asses in Wii.

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Being an atheist Jew who doesn’t celebrate the birth of fictional characters I always end up at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas day. I know that Saturday Night Live had their famous skit about Jews going to Chinese joints on Christmas, but it’s only funny because it’s true. Buddhists share the lack of blind faith in Jesus that we do. Plus, with every other restaurant and grocery store closed someone has to make money on this capitalist holiday!

I did countless research to find something new and interesting as Chinatown (other than Cafe Hoang) is really nothing special. Every website had Lao Szechuan and Phoenix as the best places in Chinatown. Honestly, neither of them excite me at all. They’re ok, but nothing special. One thing New Yorkers truly can claim is far superior chinese food than Chicago (I don’t buy their claims of having better pizza or hot dogs, oh, they do also have better bagels though).

Then I came across Han 202. A little 36 seat restaurant in the Bridgeport neighborhood, 605 W 31st street. They do 5 course meals for only $20! When I read that Phil Vettel, he of the Tribune’s food critiques, enjoyed his visits there I thought it would be better than typical greasy chinese stir-fry. It was!

I started with the Spicy King Crab Miso Soup. A basic miso soup with real crab meat and some spicy bean paste added. It wasn’t en fuego spicy, but it had a nice little heat to jump-start my taste buds.

After that I got the Green Apple Salad. Julienned granny smiths tossed in a mix of olive oil and truffle oil with just a hint of fish sauce. There were also a few capers for saltiness and some red peppercorns for a little bite.

Yuki got the Lemongrass Beef salad which turned out to be the exact same as mine but with extremely tender slices of lemongrass beef on top. Had I known they were the same salad but with the beef I would have ordered this since beef is my favorite vegetable. Oh well, what can you do?

For the appetizer course I ordered the Salt and Pepper Calamari. Deep fried slices of squid with diced jalapeno and green onions. The squid was cooked to perfection, nice and tender without any rubberiness (is that a word?). My only complaint would be that it was a little too salty, but with salt in the dish’s name I guess that was to be expected.

For my entrée I ordered the Duck Breast in Sichuan Hot Bean Sauce. This was the only dish that truly had an authentic Chinese aroma to it, so good! The duck was a perfect medium rare. I would have liked for the skin to be a little crispier, but I can’t complain since it was otherwise cooked the way a good duck breast outta be cooked. The sauce had a nice little tinge of spice. There was sliced bell pepper, green onion, carrot, some sort of chinese green, and some diced pineapple for a little sweetness. It was a very well-balanced sauce that matched beautifully with the duck. A really nice modern take on a classic chinese dish.

Dessert was vanilla ice cream with some mango-tomato sorbet on top. The ice cream was nice and smooth while the sorbet added a nice flavor to the spoon.

Overall, I find Han 202 to be one of Chicago’s absolute best values. Besides my enjoyment of the food, Yuki also had only positive things to say about her Scallop and Lamb Chops. Our friend who joined us also enjoyed her Tuna and Strip Steak. Having sampled everything, I have to agree with their assessments as well. We walked out fully satisfied but not overly stuffed. They could have easily charged us $35 per person (I’m glad they didn’t) and I still would have been satisfied.

They’re also BYOB, which cuts the cost of dining. No corkage fee and they kept our beer in the cooler for us. They also have nice pint glasses.

Next time you’re in the mood for some good Chinese food head south of Chinatown for an updated take on not only classic Chinese flavors, but also extremely reasonably priced pre-fix.

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eleven-city-diner

 

 

Those of you who watched the episode of CheckPlease that I was on know that I ripped Eleven City Diner apart. Well, actually, I ripped everything apart except for my beloved Café Hoang. But hey, it makes for good TV. Anyway, about a week prior to the episode airing a couple of my dear friends threw a little wedding party for Yuki and me since we got hitched in Japan and none of our American friends find us important enough to have made the journey to the land of the rising sun (Just kidding, you know I love you all, well, at least some of you). So, they had a little party for us here in Chicago. Not knowing that I reviewed Eleven City Diner, one of my friends had gotten Yuki and me some gift certificates there as a gift. I asked him if it was a joke and his response was, “It’s Jew food, I thought you’d like it.” He’s of Persian decent (He claims Persia not Iran) so there’s an ongoing racial joke exchange between us. He didn’t know, it was a very nice gesture and much appreciated. Ashkan, love ya babe!

 

So, Yuki and I invited a couple of friends to join us there for lunch today in order to utilize the gift certificates. I was a little excited/nervous to see what kind of reaction I’d get from Brad, the owner, when he saw me walk through his doors. Much to my dismay, he’s out of town. I was looking forward to kibbutzing with him, oh well.

 

Funny thing is that we got the same waitress from when I went there for CheckPlease. She had a weird look on her face when she saw me. I think she recognized me from the episode. Needless to say, the service was impeccable! The food, well, the food was pretty much the same from my last visit.

 

Yuki and each ordered the Schwartzy sandwich, brisket piled high on a challah bun. The challah was great! They don’t make the bread though, so I can only compliment them for purchasing a good piece of leavened dough and not making it. The brisket on the other hand was absolutely butchered! They sliced it thin and served it with au jus. What Jew in their right mind would do that to a perfectly good brisket, slice it thin? Poor piece of brisket. That took away all of the characteristics of the piece of meat. Brisket should be sliced thick to showcase the wonderful texture it gets when slowly cooked allowing that nice layer of fat to melt into every little microscopic crevice of the meat. My mouth is watering just typing that sentence. The way it was served it could have been any old roast beef. I’m beginning to wonder if Brad really is Jewish or if it’s just a marketing scheme to push large sandwiches on people.

 

Our friends shared a large cobb salad and a pastrami sandwich. The salad was, well, it was a large cobb salad. Nice fresh ingredients, but nothing special. We found a hair in it, but that was only after we divided it onto different plates so that hair could have been one of ours (not Peter’s, mother-nature made sure of that). No real complaints there. The pastrami was about the same as it was on my CheckPlease review, really good quality meat, but lacking that brininess and thick coating of pepper that pastrami should have. Not bad, just not really good.

 

When the check came that’s when I remembered exactly why I don’t eat here. Three sandwiches, one salad, one side of fries, and two orange juices……$60! Brad, come on man, you’re not serving food in an airport terminal. The prices are way too high for what is served. I say that, but the place is always full, so I guess he doesn’t need to lower the prices. It’s just not good value in my humble opinion (yeah right, my opinion is anything but humble). I mean, he has a Chicago-style Vienna dog on his menu for $8.95! At that price all wieners should be satisfied. Potato Latkes for $7.95, I’m sorry, but no potato costs eight bucks.

 

It was funny, when we left one of the servers came up to me and asked, “Was anything good?” He had a big smile on his face when he asked. I can definitely appreciate the sense of humor.

 

This may be the last time I ever go back to Eleven City Diner. There isn’t too much wrong with the food aside from improper seasoning and weird utilization of various cuts (not to mention his rather large, flavorless balls….matza balls that is). For the money however, I just can’t fathom spending what it takes to eat there, especially when Manny’s is just down the street serving properly seasoned pastrami as well as latkes for a buck. Good thing I had the gift certificates.

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bahn-tet1

 

As some of you may know, I am the obnoxious dude from the Checkplease episode that featured ElevenCity Diner, Atwood Cafe and Cafe Hoang. I thought it appropriate to start off my blog on food with a shout out to my homeboy Jason Tran at Cafe Hoang on 232 W. Cermak. I’m not going to go into huge detail about the restaurant, you can watch Checkplease for that (royalties please David). I do want to tell you about my last experience there however, as it was the first time I got to meet Jason, the chef/owner of Chicago’s best value in dining.

It was Thursday night and my wife’s and my stomachs were pining for Hoang’s vittles. We stopped in there and were glad to see that even after the hoopla from the Checkplease episode died down they still had more business than before. I hope that continues so that Hoang stays put and doesn’t leave my restaurant rotation.

At any rate, we ordered a typical meal for us. Spring rolls, crab rangoon (I know, it’s not a Vietnamese dish, but they’re so friggin good there’s no way I can resist the sweet allure of smooth cream cheese and luscious crab meat with scallions deep fried to perfection), followed by #26 (vermicelli noodles with grilled beef, shrimp, an eggroll, lettuce, sprouts, basil, cucumber and carrots with nuac cham sauce) and ginger beef. We usually order two apps with two entrees and still have enough for us each to have leftovers for lunch the next day.

Well, we’re sitting there eating and out walks Jason. “Dan, it’s great to finally meet you”. “Yeah, you as well Jason”. We chitchat for a few minutes, he’s a super nice guy, real genuine. Turns out, we couldn’t have picked a better day to have stopped in for some grub. He had just made that morning some Bahn Tet, a traditional Vietnamese dish served on Tet, the Vietnamese new years holiday (as in the Tet Offensive in ’68). It’s sticky rice with pork and sprouts rolled up, wrapped in banana leaves and then slow cooked for hours on end. Sounds delicious to me! So he brings out this thing and puts it on our table. I couldn’t believe it’s size! He gave us a friggin Duraflame log of sticky rice! That thing must have weighed damn near 10 pounds. I no longer use weights, I work out by lifting Bahn Tet. I’m gettin buff! That stuff is so heavy, you can only eat a little at a time as it expands in your stomach. Too much in one sitting and it’s constipation time!

But I digress. We rap a little more. He tells me, “Next time you stop in call me first, I know you love to drink and I want to have a drink with you.” Eh? He knows I love to drink? Where did he get that idea? I mean, I do, but is it that obvious?

Anyway, it was another fantastic meal at Cafe Hoang. When all is said and done my wife and I each got dinner and enough for lunch the next day for $25 total, or about $6.25 per meal. You can’t beat that for fresh flavorful food. Col. Sanders eat your hormone and anti-bacterially pumped (and rather decomposed at this point) heart out! Not to mention all of the Bahn Tet. I still have some left if any of you want some. It’s damn good, but shit he gave me a lot of it!

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