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Posts Tagged ‘capers’

So, Yuki had some coupons from unused miles on United Airlines. Last night we used one at Ai Sushi.  I dvr’d the Bears-Giants game and we headed down to Ontario St for some grub.

Parking was a pain because all of the meters were “For Residents Only Until Oct 4”. We did find a spot about a block away so we didn’t have to spend on valet. Tonight we could have gotten a spot right in front. Oh well, can’t blame that on the restaurant.

The interior is really nice. It has the open loft feel with exposed brick and wood beams. The art on the walls was not flashy at all and instead complimented the brick. Colors were soft and very intimate. It has a real nice setting inside.

I did use my phone’s camera, so these pics are terrible.

First thing we got was the Sunomono Moriawase. Shrimp, real crab meat, and octopus lightly cooked along with fluke sashimi in a dashi vinaigrette with daikon sticks and seaweed. It was really good, fresh fish and not to vinegary at all.

Next was one of the specials of the night, Wagyu Tobanyaki. 5 slices of real Kobe beef imported from Japan, enoki mushrooms, and shimeji mushrooms that you cook yourself on a hot stone with butter. The beef was so soft and delicious. It was definitely the real thing, none of that cow from Nebraska.

After that we each had a bowl of Kabocha Corn Soup. Simply a puree of kabocha and corn, probably with onion. It tasted like something I would make, which is to say it was pretty tasty.

Then came the Chawanmushi. A Chinese style egg custard with shiitake, shimeji, and enoki mushrooms. The custard was the perfect consistency. Not a fancy dish, but a good one.

The first maki roll we got was their Habanero Lobster. It had tempura lobster, kampyo, ginger, mango, avocado, habanero, capers, cilantro, and sour cream mayo. We’re not usually fans of rolls with more than a few ingredients, but this one was pretty good. That habanero packed a punch, but not so much that you couldn’t taste the lobster’s sweetness. It was pretty good. They also put a few slices of smoked duck on the plate. They serve smoked duck sushi and must have needed to get rid of it, but it tasted pretty good to me, so I didn’t mind.

The last thing we got was one of the night’s special rolls, Orange Maki. It had tempura shrimp and orange zest inside and was topped with salmon and black tobiko. It was really good! Light, sweet, and refreshing. I would definitely order that roll again. Also, there was more smoked duck on this plate.

We didn’t have any room for dessert and didn’t even look at the dessert menu so I can’t comment on that.

The service was professional. We never had to wait long for anything, we weren’t rushed or bothered to hurry up, and our server was very knowledgable of the menu. The only gripe I have, and it’s nitpicking, is that the food should have come out in a different order. The beef should have been last and soup served before the chawanmushi. Other than that, I have no complaints at all.

I would have to say that Ai is one of the better sushi restaurants we’ve been to in Chicago. I wouldn’t call it the best, but it is definitely worth while with some creative offerings as well as some classics, all very fresh and properly prepared. I would go back without hesitation.

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I know it’s hard to see, but there is chicken below the tomatoes and on top of the polenta. For this dish you need the chicken to be pretty thin. I picked up some cutlets, basically breasts that have been butterflied. I pounded them out a little in order to make the thickness a little more uniform. To do that I just put a piece at a time in between plastic wrap and pounded it with a skillet until it was the desired thickness.

In a bowl I put in two diced shallots, two diced garlic cloves, half of a large fennel bulb thinly chopped, a tablespoon of drained capers, the leaves of 4 fresh thyme sprigs, three tomatoes that I skinned, seeded, and chopped. I poured in about a quarter cup of olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and mixed everything up.

In a large baking dish I drizzled a little olive oil on the bottom, just enough to lightly coat it. I seasoned the chicken (I had four cutlets) with salt and pepper on both sides and laid them down in the dish next to each careful not to overlap any of them. Then I spooned the mixture on top of each piece to cover the chicken completely. I drizzled a little more olive oil on top and threw it into a 450 degree oven for about 2o minutes. Once out of the oven I garnished with thinly sliced basil and chopped fennel fronds.

While that was going on I made the polenta and some bacon-wrapped asparagus. After I skinned the tomatoes for the chicken I used the same boiling water to blanch the asparagus. After a few minutes in the boiling water I took the asparagus out and put it into a bowl of ice water to shock it. Then I wrapped them in bacon and set aside until cooking time. To cook them I heated up a pan and poured in just a little olive oil and then fried all of the asparagus turning to cook all sides. When the bacon was fully cooked I poured in a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and shook the pan around to coat all of the bacon.

There are different ways to cook polenta. The rule of thumb that I live by is 4 cups of liquid for each cup of polenta. So, I took 2 cups of the asparagus boiling water, 1 cup of chicken stock, and one cup of soy milk. I brought it all to a boil with salt and pepper. Once it was boiling, in a slow steady stream, I poured the polenta in constantly whisking. Once all of the polenta was in I continued to whisk for a few minutes. Then I turned the heat down to med-low, covered the pot, and came back to whisk every few minutes. When I got to the consistency I desired, I turned off the heat and whisked in 4 tablespoons of butter in small chunks, one chunk at a time. Then I threw in a handful of parmesan cheese and stirred that all in. That’s it.

The only thing I will do differently if I make this dish again is that I’ll saute the shallots and garlic in olive oil for a few minutes before mixing them into the fennel and tomato mixture. They were a bit sharp, so by cooking them a little first the sweetness will come out a little more. Otherwise this is a very simple and delicious way to have chicken.

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Last night I joined a couple of buddies for a happy hour drink. With that in mind I put together a dinner that I could cook and assemble quickly once I got home. Broiled chicken and vegetables seemed perfect.

Before I headed out to the bar I got all my veggies cut. Asparagus, red pepper, yellow pepper, and a half onion. I set them aside and covered so that they wouldn’t dry out. I also trimmed up some skin-on bone-in chicken thighs and kept them covered in the fridge.

After getting the ingredients prepared I ground a tablespoon of fennel seeds with my pestle and mortar. I mixed them into a quarter cup of olive oil and let that sit. Then I made the mustard sauce. 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves, 1 tablespoon of rinsed capers, 2 tablespoons of mustard (I use Boetje’s, use whatever is on hand), the juice from a half lemon, 4 tablespoons of olive oil, and some black pepper. That all got stirred up and left in the fridge. Then I rinsed some rice, put it in the rice cooker, and set the timer so it’d be ready once I got home.

Off to go drink.

When I got home I put the rack in the upper third of the oven and turned on the broiler. I laid the chicken thighs and all of the veggies on a baking sheet and brushed the fennel seed olive oil over everything. I salted and peppered and then put everything under the broiler for about 15 minutes. At that point the veggies were carmelized and the chicken a little crispy and fully cooked and juicy.

I served the chicken on top of a bed of arugula and laid everything else out on the plate. Then I drizzled some mustard sauce over the chicken. That’s it, time to eat.

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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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