Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘caramel’

If memory serves me correct, there is a Chinese restaurant in Yokohama’s Chinatown that is not only the oldest Chinese restaurant in Japan, but also one of the most respected Chinese restaurants in the world. I first heard of HeiChinRou when watching Iron Chef years ago. The restaurant sent its top two deputy chef’s up against Iron Chef Chen Kenechi only to have him cut them down. Not satisfied, they finally sent their Grand Master Chef to set things straight, Xie Huaxian. Xie is considered by many to be the greatest Chinese chef of our time. He was victorious. Ever since then I told my self, “I have got to eat at that restaurant!” After 7 trips to Japan, including numerous time walking past HeiChinRou, that day had finally come. Yuki had plans with a bunch of her friends to show off Otis, so her parents took me to fulfill my belly’s destiny.

An elegant restaurant on numerous floors, there’s a peaceful bamboo garden when you walk in. They took us in an elevator up to the second floor and sat us in a very comfortable booth. Coming from Chicago I was pleasantly surprised by how absolutely clean the restaurant is. It had the look and feel of a high-end French restaurant, not the greasy Chinese stir-fry I am used to. The menu features many a la carte dishes as well as a handful of set course options. Being the first week of 2012 we opted for the “Happy New Year” course option.

Uichiro and I started off with some Shokoshu, a type of Chinese rice wine or Shaoxing. Served warm, it has a caramel color as well as taste more similar to a Brandy than a rice wine. Very smooth and very warm in the belly, its delicious on a chilly day.

The first course consisted of 5 tastes. Jellyfish, a baby squid stewed in soy sauce, a shrimp, a slice of smoked duck breast, a piece of Chinese BBQ pork, and a dollop of mustard. While they were all fantastic, I have to say that the pork may have been the best piece of swine that has ever graced my palette! If it were socially acceptable I would drape myself in it and nibble on it all day long.

The second course was Shark Fin Soup with Crab. I have eaten shark fin soup before, but always questioned the authenticity of the shark fins. I always thought I was being served cellophane noodles instead. I think I was right as this texture was nothing like the bowls I’ve previously eaten. Slightly chewy, they combined beautifully with the sweetness of the crab meat. This soup may not be humane, but it sure tasted good!

The third course was abalone with Simmered Shiitake and Bok Choy in Oyster Sauce. It’s really too bad that abalone is illegal in the States, it really is a wonderful mollusk. Dense in texture, it matched very well with the soft shiitake and bitter green.

The fourth course was Beef with Shimeji Mushrooms, Carrots, and Asparagus. Served in a soy based sauce it was simply wonderful. After eating this I don’t see how I can go back to eating Mongolian Beef in Chicago’s Chinatown.

The fifth course was Shrimp in Chili Sauce. A little bit of sweetness and just the right amount of heat to get your mouth tingling a little. The spice made you want to keep coming back for more. Fried wonton skins added some crisp texture and was Uichiro’s favorite part of the dish.

The sixth course was Sautéed Rice with Egg, Pork, Green Onion, and Lettuce. This dish is similar to fried rice except that it’s sautéed together over a lower heat. This keeps the rice a little softer and helps prevent the lettuce from wilting under the intense heat of a hot wok. I’ve seen his dish on Iron Chef and was glad to get the chance to eat such a high quality version of it.

The seventh course, dessert, was Almond Jelly with a sprig of mint. I think this was Uichiro’s favorite part of the whole meal. He’s eaten many different almond jelly’s in his life and couldn’t get over how good this one was. I’ve only eaten a few, but I agree that this one was the best I’ve ever had. Sweet with the texture of a fine silken tofu, a great way to end a great meal.

All in all, I will say that none of these dishes were out of the ordinary for Chinese food as far as creativity. However, that said, I don’t think you’ll find better preparation anywhere in the world. In each dish the ingredients were of the highest quality, they were all cooked to perfection, and the flavors were expertly balanced. Hands down the most fantastic Chinese food to ever pass through my tracts!

While Xie Huaxian is no longer cooking at HeiChinRou, his successor, Nishizaki-san, is no slouch.

Read Full Post »

For our 3rd anniversary last night Yuki and I decided to try out Sweets & Savories as we’ve heard great things about that restaurant. They offer a 3 course pre fix off the regular menu for only $29 every night. That deal seemed very appetizing to us. Being BYOB was also nice so we could save on a really nice bottle. We brought a bottle of Talbott Chardonnay 2007.

When we walked in the first thing we both noticed was a weird smell. It didn’t really smell like food. I’m not sure at all what it did smell like, but it was certainly a little weird. It didn’t bother us during dinner though, just when we first walked in. The interior was very drab and empty. The walls were a dark bronze-brown and there were only three pictures hanging on the back wall. Nothing else. I can’t call it minimalist because it isn’t. I think it’s more half-assed to be honest.

Service was a little off from the beginning as well. They had 3 servers and no one else. No bussers or host to help them out. The first server to greet us saw our reservation but said that we didn’t have a table assigned. I thought that was a little odd, especially since there were empty tables. He got a different server over who brought us to a table towards the back.

The first thing I noticed about the table was that there were salt and pepper shakers that looked like they came from a greasy diner. Not to sound like a snob or anything, but if you advertise your restaurant as serving upscale food there shouldn’t be salt and pepper on the table. The chef should season things for you while the servers should offer fresh cracked black pepper. I also noticed that their wine glasses are from IKEA. I know it’s BYOB, but that touch kind of cheapened the ambiance.

It took over 10 minutes for someone to bring us a wine opener and ice bucket. A few times I noticed a server standing around looking for something to do. How about letting us enjoy a glass of wine?  After we did place our order the service was much smoother, but still far from being good.

On to the food. I started off with the Vychissoise. As simple as soup gets, yet executed perfectly! I could taste every ingredient used from the potato to the leek to the garlic. Topped with some juicy lobster claw, a drizzle of truffle oil, and some chives this was a great starter.

Yuki ordered the Smoked Salmon Salade. It was also delicious. Just the right amount of vinegar to tie it all together.

For entrees I got the Grilled Pork Tenderloin. I couldn’t smell any of the rosemary that was supposedly used, but I could definitely smell the grill in my meat. Cooked rare with some pomegranate BBQ sauce it was really good. I know most people prefer their pork cooked through, but a nice tenderloin doesn’t need to be. It did send me to the porcelain god (for the record it was not to throw up)  three times this morning, but it was worth it for that soft meaty texture. The corn pudding was way under seasoned, but fortunately there was a salt shaker on the table.

Yuki got the Lobster Risotto. With peas, arugula, and grana cheese, this was a fantastic risotto. There was a ton of freshly poached lobster in this dish. As great as the lobster was, it was the arugula that held everything together. The bitterness was perfectly matched with the sweetness of the of lobster. Fantastic!

As great as the starters and entrees were the desserts fell a little short. I had the Fallen Chocolate Souffle Cake and Yuki got the Sweets & Savories Bread Pudding. The chocolate cake was light and fluffy, but extremely rich. With just the one little line of raspberry coulis it was difficult to eat, it needed more to help keep my palette fresh. For the bread pudding it was the caramel and creme anglaise that weren’t up to par. The caramel wasn’t quite sweet enough and the creme anglaise was a little too thin, it needed to be a little thicker for some textural difference in the dish.

Overall, it’s hard to argue with how good most of the food was for that price. The atmosphere and service leave little to be desired, but the food more than made up for the experience. The only though is that they’ve got the savouries part down, but they definitely need help with the sweets.

Read Full Post »

Back during Chef Week a few weeks ago Yuki and I went to Spring for dinner. We have both been there before, so we pretty much knew that a $30 pre fix there would be well worth the dollar. We were right, as usual.

I do apologize, the pics I took with my phone were absolutely terrible! You’re going to have to use your imagination if TV, cinema, and the internet haven’t already sapped you of it.

When we got there our table wasn’t quite ready. No worries, we went to the bar and ordered a bottle of wine. Within a few sips we were seated. The first thing I remembered about the tables is that, unlike a lot of restaurants (and I mean you Paul Kahan!), there is more than ample space. The only conversation I heard was ours, my elbows weren’t banging into anyone, and there was no chance of an accidental ass-to-the-face of the person next to me when one of us got up. It is definitely a more romantic atmosphere.

We started with one each of the two appetizers. A smooth lemongrass-cocunut soup with prawn dumplings, thai chili, shaved shiitake, and kaffir lime. As well as a tuna and hamachi maki roll. The soup was outstanding, and while the maki was good, it was very basic. It could have been from a good sushi restaurant instead of a place like Spring.

We both got the skatewing. It was lightly floured and pan-fried to perfection. The natural sweetness of the fish was perfectly matched with light gnocchi that was flavored with kimchi as well as some Brussel sprouts and almonds. Skatewing is not a fish that I get to eat very often, so it was a nice change from salmon, tuna, or halibut, the typical fish found on menus.

For dessert, we ordered one of each. There was lemon sorbet served in a black tea. The sorbet was slightly sour, but not to the point that made your lips pucker. I guess lemons aren’t quite in season yet, they’ll get sweeter in a month or two. The other dessert was a delicious moist brown butter pound cake with caramel ice cream.

Service was quick and attentive. I never felt rushed, but never ignored either.

Overall, Spring was just as good as I remembered. It’s one of Chicago’s best seafood restaurants and Chef McClain is one of Chicago’s finest chefs and restauranteurs.

Read Full Post »

As if Restaurant Week wasn’t enough, Chicago also has a Chef Week sponsored by OpenTable. It’s a much smaller promotion than Restaurant Week, but there are a couple of tasty deals at $30 pre fix dinners. One restaurant that’s participating is Sepia, easily one of my favorite joints in town. So, last night, Yuki and I ate a delicious pre fix.

My appetizer was the Scotch Duck Egg. It was a perfect croquet of ground duck meat, nice and medium rare after frying, coated in bread crumbs and filled with duck egg yolk that just oozed out when you cut it open. Chef Zimmerman served it with wild rice, arugula, and black olive honey.

Yuki ordered the Grilled Squid. Perfectly grilled, nice and tender. It was served with cara-cara and blood orange segments, watercress, thin slices of red onion that’s been soaked to remove the sharpness, and herb oil.

My entrée was Cider Braised Pork Belly with barbeque lentils and crispy cavalo nero (not sure what cavalo nero means, it was red cabbage in some kind of vinegar). Delicious fatty pork belly! MMMM! The cider and bbq flavors really tasted like backyard cooking, but it definitely had an upscale, modern twist. The only thing I would have done different is to give the pork belly a quick grill after taking it out of the braising liquid. That would have crisped up the skin a little and added some smoke. It’s hard to argue with what was served though.

Yuki’s entrée was the Vegetarian Lasagna with herbed ricotta and piquillo pepper. The herbed ricotta cheese was brilliant with that tomato sauce. The piquillo pepper almost tasted like an olive, lending an interesting briny contrast. The noodles may have been slightly overcooked, but it was up there with the best lasagna I’ve ever tasted.

For dessert I ordered the Maracaibo Mousse with mango ice cream and caramel-mango rum sauce.

Yuki got the Citrus Meringue-Tart with champagne-raspberry sorbet and lemon sauce.

While all of the individual components of both desserts were delicious, they didn’t all work out quite so well. The mango ice cream’s texture and overall feel were very similar to the mousse. There wasn’t much diversity in textures. On Yuki’s, the sorbet was more tart than the tart. Two tarts don’t make a match. We actually switched the ice cream and sorbet and the sorbet matched the mousse perfectly. While I wouldn’t say the mango matched the tart perfectly, it did offer a nice reprieve from the tart lemon. Maybe some sort of herb sorbet, like mint or basil, would have matched the tart better.

Overall, Sepia still resides towards the top of my list for best restaurants in Chicago. Last night’s meal wasn’t perfect, nor was the service as we had to ask for bread (should have been put down as soon as we ordered, but that’s nitpicking), but the ingredients were fresh, perfectly cooked, and for the most part thoughtfully prepared. I will definitely head back at some point.

Read Full Post »

I thought we were done with Restaurant Week, well, I thought wrong! A couple friends of ours had invited us to join them for dinner Saturday night at Salpicon. I’ve been there once before with  my sister and brother-in-law, maybe 5 years ago. I remember walking away fully satisfied both in my belly as well as my taste buds. So, the opportunity to dine there again, at the discounted restaurant week price, was too good to pass up as we’re not ones to miss out on top-notch Mexican food at a discount. Hanging out with Tony and Sandra was also a nice proposition which certainly didn’t hurt the matter.

I must warn you that I did use my cell phone camera again. The pics do not do the food the justice they deserve, but what can you do? Also, since there were four of us I have a lot of pics to show. They offered 5 different appetizers as well as 5 different entrees. What we did was order the 4 most interesting of each and shared them all. I’ll try to keep this post short, but no guarantees.

Ceviche of Blue Marlin. Very typical with onions, tomatoes, chiles, and cilantro. Served with tortillas it always makes a great starter.

Gorditas Divorciadas. Thick tortillas stuffed with black beans and shredded beef (I think brisket, which completely satisfies the Jew in me). They each had a different salsa. One was a guajillo and the other was serrano-tomatillo, both had Mexican crema drizzled on top.

This was the Trio de Tamalitos. Three little tamales, one with queso fresco and serrano chiles that had a spicy molcajete salsa and crema, another with black beans, rajas (a saute of chilis and onions), and chihuahua cheese with a black been puree, the last had zucchini and chipotles.

The last appetizer was Sopa de Lentejas, lentil soup. It was garnished with grilled pineapple, smoked bacon (YUM!!!), chile pasilla, and queso anejo.

For the entrees we got the Camarones al Mojo de Ajo. Big, plump, juicy grilled shrimp in a sweet garlic and olive oil sauce with avocado chunks, guajillo chiles, and white rice. Not too garlicky at all.

Chiles Rellenos. Two battered poblanos deep-fried and swimming in a roasted tomato sauce. One was stuffed with minced pork picadillo, the other with chihuahua cheese. There was a side dish of frijoles borrachos, but I forgot to get a pic of that. Deal with it!

Pollo en Mole Poblano. Two chicken breasted smothered in a rich, spicy mole and served with Mexican rice. It really was kind of spicy. My first bite gave me a couple of little hiccups.

Tinga Poblana. Pork tenderloin on top of a roasted tomato-chipotle sauce with chorizo and potatoes, surrounded by an avocado-tomatillo sauce. This was hands down the best in show! Nice soft tenderloin and chorizo….how could that go wrong?

Alright, time for dessert. We got a flan that was covered in a sugar dome.

Tres Leches.

A crepe filled with berries and a caramel sauce.

My personal favorite was the mango and pear cobbler. Not sure what it’s actually called, but it sure was delicious with the cajeta ice cream on top!

All in all it was a delicious dinner. It’s every bit on par with Rick Bayless as far as creativity and quality. While I just found out that they offer a $29 pre fix every Monday and Tuesday this restaurant week deal might not have been the best offer. However, on a weekend night it was. I would recommend to everyone that they check Salpicon out for the pre fix deals. If you don’t want a limited menu, it’s also definitely worth paying full price for.

Read Full Post »

So, I’m sittin here at mi mama’s casa in Merida, Mexico. For whatever reason, I can’t seem to get this Chiles Rellenos I ate in Cozumel the other day out of my taste buds. It was hands down the best damn Chiles Rellenos one could digest! Not wanting to spend a ton of pesos at extremely subpar, boring restaurants on the tourist strip of Cozumel I asked Donna of Aqua Safari (the hotel/dive shop that we stayed and dove with, and will again hopefully in the near future) where she goes to eat. I figured that she’s been there long enough to know all of the good spots where we can get the local flair. I figured correctly, as I usually do. She sent us to Sabores. It’s literally the home of a mother and her son and daughter that doubles as one of the best Mexican restaurants I’ve ever come across.

We walked into the house and straight back to their garden patio. As you can see, it was a little tropical paradise. Palm trees, a little canopy, and a few tables all graced by some beautiful birds there to pic up any crumbs. I guess humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy Sabores.

When we sat down they immediately brought us a pitcher of this red drink. I thought to myself, “this is the first time I’ve ever been served Kool-Aid at a restaurant…weird!” Turns out it was Jamaica, a common drink in the Yucatán made with hibiscus. It does taste similar to Kool-Aid, but it’s much better for you as it isn’t processed artificially sweetened dye. We also had a choice of two soups. I got the Sopa Pasta and Yuki got the Sopa Verduras. Same great broth, chicken consomme, but mine had noodles while hers had vegetables. If I were a bettin man, and I am, I’d bet that’s how they got their names.

Once we finished our soup they brought us their dry-erase menu board. Note, the dollar signs are pesos and not dollars. At about 12-13 pesos to the dollar you can do the math, or let a calculator do the math for you. All you really need to know is that there is no possible way to get home cooked food of this quality for anywhere near this price in Chicago, or on Cozumel’s tourist strip for that matter.

Here’s the Chiles Rellenos. Man, just looking at this picture makes me crave it again! I got con carne option. Perfectly seasoned ground beef stuffed into the roasted poblano and drizzled with Mexican crema. Delicious chunky refried frijoles negros, rice, slice of lime, and a small salad on the side to help push the food through my tracts. Yuki got the pollo milanesa, thin chicken breasts breaded and deep fried, to perfection I might add. Not oily at all, but nice and crisp while the meat stayed juicy. Along with the usual condiments of salsa verde, salsa rojo, and tortillas we were set! Until dessert at least.

What true Mexican meal is complete without flan? Not this one! The best flan ever! Creamy, but light and not heavy. Just a touch of lime to balance the caramel. It was outstanding.

Everything was top-notch. You could really taste that this food was cooked in someone’s home, and cooked with care. Next time I’m in Cozumel I am definitely heading back to Sabores. If you know what’s good for you, especially what’s good for your taste buds and stomach, you will too if you ever go to Cozumel.

Read Full Post »