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Posts Tagged ‘chicken’

The other night Yuki and I met up with a bunch of her ex-coworkers who have moved back to Tokyo. They got a table at a modern, hip Yakitori joint in the Hibiya neighborhood. If you want to buy a brand new Hermes bag, Hibiya is the place for you. It’s a very swanky area filled with great food. The place they met us at is called Yakitori Akira. It’s in the basement of a large office/shopping building along with a handful of other slightly upscale food joints.

When you walk in you take your shoes off and walk past the open counter where the chefs prepare the chow. The tables are sunken. I was a little nervous at first because the tables were floor level and my knees are terrible. But, the floor was recessed making them regular table height, something that is becoming more common in newer restaurants, sort of fusion if you will.

The first dish, after a cold draft beer of course,  was a salad of raw Nappa cabbage swimming in a mayonnaise-based dressing and topped with sliced kombu.

After that came some natto topped with sliced green onions and nori seaweed. Natto is a love-hate food. You either love it or you hate it. It’s a type of fermented soy bean and has a really pungent odor, like ripe armpits. It also has a very sticky texture. It’s commonly eaten with Chinese-style mustard to mask some of the smell. Yuki loves it, I don’t prefer it. Very few Westerners can tolerate it and, these days, not so many of the younger Japanese do either. But, I had to try it since they put it in my face. Needless to say, I took one bite and the quickly proceeded to chug some beer!

Then we had some chicken karage, Japanese-style chicken nuggets. Unlike your McDonald’s variety of processed crap, this is big juicy chunks of thigh meat. I have no idea what kind of sauce this one came with, but it sure was tasty!

This here is the dish I was most looking forward to…rare chicken meat! The meat from the neck was quickly seared, almost completely raw (the pink you see in the picture is indeed raw chicken), on a hot skillet and served with some yuzu kosho. Rare chicken is extremely controversial, for obvious reasons, but given the upscale atmosphere I was certain they were using fresh, high quality birds. Since I have yet to get diarrhea or vomit profusely, I’m pretty sure the meat was clean. Flavor-wise it tasted like chicken, oddly enough. The texture was a little chewy, chicken al dente. Honestly, it’s nothing really special, it’s just chicken meat.

Avocado sautéed in some sort of shoyu sauce came next. Coming from Chicago I’m used to Mexican preparations of avocado. This was a nice change to what my taste buds are used to. The sauce carmelized a little while the avocado stayed nice and soft.

After the Avocado we spiced things up a bit with some kimchi. It was served with some chopped green onion, julienned daikon, and a shiso leaf.

Next came what is probably my favorite snack of the night, deep-fried chicken skin. Japan’s answer to chicharones. Crispy, buttery, all-around chickeny goodness! I may have to make this a staple of my future diet.

What tour around the bird would complete without some chicken wings? These were deep-fried with either basil or shiso in the batter, I couldn’t really tell. With a squirt of lemon they were delicious.

The main course of the night was the table-top charcoal grill. Instead of eating yakitori style (chicken on skewers) we ate yakiniku style (grill yourself). The first pieces we grilled were breast meat wrapped in shiso leaf.

The other pieces of chicken we got were neck meat, 2 parts of the heart (heart skin and heart meat), meat that was dangling off a piece of cartilage (I think the breastplate), and skin. We also had a few pieces of okra to grill.

Once the meat was grilled we dipped the pieces into an onsen egg. Basically it’s just an egg that’s been barely soft-boiled to the point where the whites were just set and the yolk is still runny. To me, this is natures most perfect sauce.

After all of that chicken we decided to get a few cuts of pork for shits and giggles. We got shoulder, cheek, and side meat and grilled them all the same as the chicken.

As Yuki and I were leaving due to having Otis back at grandma and grandpa’s, everyone else ordered up some soup. I really have no idea what was in the soup, but I imagine it was miso. From the pic I took here as I left I can definitely tell you it was topped with nori and had a shtickle of wasabi.

All in all, I thought Akira was a great izakaya. They call themselves Yakitori Akira because the chef’s specialty is chicken, but to me it’s not a yakitori restaurant at all, even though they do serve yakitori. The menu is much too diverse to be called yakitori. Since they serve up numerous small plates and whatnot with a nice beer and sake list, its pure izakaya to me. That said, what’s in a name? An izakaya by any other name’s chicken would taste is sweet.

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Sorry to all of my loyal readers (all 3 of you) for not posting anything in a while. Been pretty busy with life and life itself. Yesterday was by birthday however, so Yuki and Otis took me out for dinner. Tired of overpaying for mediocre celebrity-chef meals I wanted to go somewhere more casual and Otis-friendly. Also, now that we’re in the South Loop I wanted somewhere close. So, Tapas Valencia it was.

We’ve actually been there once before a long time ago. We joined a couple of friends for their happy hour tapas specials before heading down to Hyde Park to watch the movie, “Food, Inc.”. I remember it being very good and had a taste for bacon-wrapped dates. It all made perfect sense to head there last night.

Without further ado, here’s what was on our dinner table.

First up was the Calamares A La Plancha. The squid was perfectly cooked…soft and tender, yet crispy at the same time. A little too much salt, but not so much that it killed the dish.

Next we had the Jamon con Melon. You really can’t beat quality Serrano Ham on top of ripe, sweet, juicy cantaloupe. With cantaloupe at it’s finest about now we couldn’t pass on this one. Served with a simple cucumber and tomato relish this was tapas at it’s finest.

Then we had the Pado Confitado, duck confit with apples and mushrooms. Fall-apart duck leg, apples, and mushrooms…need I say more?

I can’t remember the name of this dish in Spanish, it was a special on the menu. Short rib braised in Rioja and then served with garlic and rosemary Israeli Couscous and spinach. While this dish was missing one note, something slightly acidic like tomato or even a small squirt of orange or lemon, this could’ve been an entrée unto itself.

Finally, our last tapas (or is it tapa?), the Datiles Con Tocino. Crisp bacon around sweet dates smothered in a roasted red pepper sauce, that’s where it’s at! A true crowd-pleaser if there ever was one.

While I did say that was our last tapas, it wasn’t our last dish. We also split an order of the Paella Valenciana. Paella with mussels, clams, shrimp, and chicken. This was huge! I’m glad we only got one order. I will say that my paella is a little better, but this was a very delicious paella, it just didn’t have that crisp burnt rice on the bottom that I love. I wasn’t dissatisfied at all though.

For dessert we split the flan of the day, coconut. Not too rich or sweet, this one was just right. I don’t think coconut is typical in Spain, but coconut almost always makes a great flan. This is one of the better flan in Chicago.

To drink it all down we forgoed the Sangria and went for a couple of glasses of Clara, which apparently is Spain’s most popular drink right now. It’s Alhambra Beer (a Spanish Lager) with a little lemonade. I was a little skeptical at first, but I will say that it wasn’t bad at all. I mean, you put lime in Corona, why not a little lemonade in Spanish Lager?

The service was great too. Very friendly and attentive. They gave us more of a private table where Otis’s stroller wouldn’t get in the way, and where it’d be a little quieter for him. Food was served and cleared in a timely fashion as well. It was a little slow being a Wednesday night, but this seems to be a very well run restaurant.

All in all, there are probably better Spanish and Tapas joints somewhere, but I haven’t found them yet here in Chicago. The dishes are well prepared, the portions are big, and the quality of ingredients are high. If anything, and I hate to say this, the prices might be a little too low for what you get. But don’t tell Tapas Valencia that.

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Saturday night I got a free pass from diaper duty to go out for a few hours. Ever since doing the Playboy Pilot and meeting my new friend Melody there I’ve had a hankering to give DMK Burger Bar a whirl. You see, she works there and talked that place up to no end. I figured that Saturday would be a great time to go since that’s one of her work nights. I had a buddy all set to join me up until the last minute when he bailed. That wouldn’t deter me though. When I have a burger in my sights nothing is going to stop me! So, I headed up to Lincoln Park all set to sit at the bar and fill my belly with beef…and beer. Happily, Melody was able to join me at the bar. When I eat a burger alone, I prefer to be by myself. But, I prefer to not eat a burger alone. It all worked out.

French fries with parmesan and truffle cream started the meal off. Good starchy potatoes home-cut, fried to a nice crisp with pillowy innards, and topped with some parmesan cheese. A thing of truffle cream on the side. Funny, that’s exactly what the menu said it would be. The truffle cream was pretty good. Just enough earthy truffle oil mixed in to let you know that it’s there. Honestly though, I love that expensive swine found fungus and would not have minded a little more truffle oil. But, you do get what you pay for (except for in Lincoln Park usually) and the price was right for the amount. Good french fries.

We also got deep-fried okra with herb ranch. Again, exactly what we were supposed to get. The okra was fresh and there wasn’t too much coating allowing the okra flavor to stay in the forefront. Simple, but tasty.

We split two different burgers so that I could enjoy two different flavors and see just what DMK had to offer. The first was number 1 on the menu. A grass-fed piece of ground up cow topped with aged cheddar, smoked bacon, charred balsamic red onions, and Rufus Teague’s BBQ. First, the good. The quality of the ingredients were fantastic. I’m a big fan of the real beef flavor of grass-fed bovine. Nature did not create any of the multiple stomachs to digest corn. With grass-fed you get a more natural flavor from a usually healthier animal (one that does less damage to Mother Earth as well). The toppings were high quality as well. I have a Rufus Teague sidenote for you at the bottom of this post. The bad, the patty was a little bit too thin. I’m a believer that you don’t need a 1 pound patty, that’s just way too American and unhealthy. But, a little more beef wouldn’t hurt me at all. I mean, I did have some beer to thin my blood and counteract the cholesterol intake. Honestly though, that’s my only gripe as the burger was damn tasty.

The other burger was the number 11, grass-fed lamb with sheep’s milk feta, olive tapenade, greek salad, and tzatziki. Again, really high quality ingredients full of natural flavor. However, this one tasted a bit too much like a gyro for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good gyro as much as the next guy (sometimes even a bad one will do). But I wanted something a little more creative than a gyro with olive tapenade smeared all over it. That’s not a huge complaint though as I’d eat this burger any day of the week. I’m just pickin knits here.

Overall I will say that DMK Burger Bar does serve up some tasty grub, as well as a really nice beer list. If it were closer to my humble abode I’d probably make it over there on at least a semi-regular basis. As it is, with my friend Melody working there, I will probably make it back over there anyway. They are pretty much true to what they try to be and I applaud the use of grass-fed animals. It’s also not overpriced like much of its surrounding neighborhood. Even though the burgers aren’t ginormous, at $8 a pop you’ll be satisfied. That is unless you’re one of the 63% of Americans who are obese (only 30% of you were in 2002!).

Now, on to my Rufus Teague story. Way back before Binny’s corporate take-over of Sam’s Wine and Spirits I used to get little birthday gifts from Sam’s. They’d send me a card before my birthday telling me to stop by their meat counter. One of those gifts was a little jar of Rufus Teague Blazin Hot BBQ Sauce. Binny’s doesn’t do that, one of the many reasons I miss Sam’s. The hot sauce was fantastic though! I slathered that all over chicken and shrimp before grilling ’em up. I never thought about using Rufus on beef though. It did work pretty well, probably because of the smoky bacon. Whatever the reason, there’s a soft spot in my heart for my boy Rufus. Plus, Rufus is just a fun name to say.

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Uichiro, Yuki’s dad, makes a mean oyster gratin. Once a year one of Tamiko’s (Yuki’s mom) friends from her hometown of Miyagi in Japan (unfortunately not far from the recent earthquake, but fortunately everyone is alright, will be quite some time before the oyster population recovers though) sends her the famous oysters that she grew up on. A big container filled with the juiciest, most flavorful oysters you could imagine sinking your teeth into. Just so happens that I have timed a couple of my trips to Japan around oyster season. So, I’ve enjoyed Uichiro’s oyster gratin twice.

On to last night. While trying to decide what to have for dinner I remembered the oysters that I got at Whole Foods a while back that were freshly packaged. Nice big and juicy with great flavor. I asked Uichiro if he’d make his oyster gratin. He was happy to oblige but didn’t want to make the bechamel sauce. No worries, I happen to make a tasty bechamel.

At Whole Foods I noticed that they didn’t have the oysters I remembered in stock. All they had were oysters in the shell. It would’ve been a bit costly to buy the necessary amount to make gratin for 4. Improvisation is the key to cooking (life too), so we decided to get some of the beautiful shrimp behind the counter instead. Along with some chicken thigh we had the necessary fixens to make a classic gratin.

For the bechamel sauce I melted 5 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and then added 4 tablespoons of butter. I whisked it constantly for about  minutes until it became a dark golden color. Then I poured in 4 cups of hot milk and whisked that for 10 minutes giving it a nice thick consistency. Then I seasoned it with 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg. I set that aside.

Once I was done with the range Uichiro went to town on the rest of the ingredients. In some butter he lightly sautéed together about 1/2 pound of shrimp that he shelled and halved, 3 chopped skinless chicken thighs, 1/2 half large onion diced, 6-8 (not exactly sure how many) button mushrooms quartered, and some al dente macaroni (again, not exactly sure how much, but I think about 1/2 a package). He seasoned it all with salt and pepper and then mixed it in the bechamel sauce.

That all got poured into my ceramic baking dish. He topped it with some mozzarella and matzo meal. We didn’t have any panko, so again, we improvised. 35 minutes in a 400 degree oven, some parsley garnish, and it was ready to go.

Two things with this gratin. First, my bechamel, while extremely tasty, could’ve used another 3-5 minutes on the burner before letting it rest. A little bit thicker consistency would’ve been nice. Second, with oysters not used scallops would’ve been a little better than shrimp. Scallops are a lot more expensive though, so shrimp do a pretty good job, but scallops would be outstanding!

To balance out the heavy, creamy gratin Uichiro made this smoked salmon and onion dish. He thinly sliced a Vidalia onion and soaked it in cold water. He changed out the water 3 times squeezing the onions dry with each change. They were scattered all over a plate and then topped with thinly sliced smoked salmon. On to of the salmon went some thinly sliced lemon, including the rind with lends a nice bitterness to the overall flavor, not to mention a lot of nutrients the people usually waste by not eating the whole fruit. Then he scattered some chopped parsley all over the whole thing. I made a simple dressing to drizzle over the top. I whisked together 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 4 tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and some black pepper until it emulsified.

Some sliced baguette and a cold beer completed the dinner. But, I still crave his oyster gratin!

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Yuki was talking with her parents the other night about quinoa and her dad said that he’s never had it before. Since they’ve been doing most of the cooking the past week I took that as a cue to get my ass back in the kitchen, something I’ve been jonezin to do. I referred back to the Charlie Trotter recipe that I’ve used before for inspiration. Again, this dish is not his exact recipe, but it is inspired from it. These recipes should feed 6 adults provided their not all fat Americans.

Before getting to the chicken and quinoa I made a cauliflower puree soup that we could eat while the chicken roasted. My mom was with us also, and she is not a fan of cauliflower. I took that as a challenge to show her that cauliflower, when not referring to a boxer’s ears, is a beautiful thing.

I took one head of cauliflower broken down, 1 yukon gold potato chopped, 2 garlic cloves chopped, 1 inch of ginger chopped, 1/2 onion chopped, 1 cup of chicken stock, and 3 cups of water.

I simply threw everything into a stock pot, brought it all up to a boil, covered the pot, turned the heat down to med-low, and let it all simmer for about 30 minutes.

After that I just turned off the heat and let it cool down a bit. Then I poured it all into my blender and pureed it up. I poured it back into the pot and seasoned with salt and pepper. Before eating it I just heated it back up. My brother sprinkled a little shichimi togarashi in his which lead me to do the same. A wise decision!

Before we got to the soup I got everything else going. For the apricot curry sauce I put 3/4 cup dried apricots, 3/4 tablespoon curry powder, 1/4 cup rice vinegar, and 1/2 cup of water into my small blender and let ‘er rip for about 5 minutes or so.

Then I strained the sauce. I reserved the solids for use with the bird. I set the sauce aside and let it rest until serving time.

I had a 3.5 pound chicken to roast. I seasoned it inside and out with salt and pepper, squeezed some lemon juice all over the skin, then stuffed the cavity with the solids from the curry sauce and the lemon that I used to squeeze all over it. I put it in my roasting pan and threw it into a 450 degree oven. After 15 minutes I turned the heat down to 400 degrees and let it go for another 40 minutes. Then, I turned off the heat, slightly cracked the oven door open, and let the bird rest for about 15 minutes.

While the bird was roasting I got the quinoa ready. I used 1/2 each of an orange, yellow, and red bell pepper diced, 2 small Persian cucumbers diced, 5 tablespoons of orange juice, 1.5 cups of quinoa rinsed, and some chopped chives.

In a hot pot I poured in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then sweat down the peppers for about 5 minutes. Then I added the quinoa and let it sort of toast in the hot oil for about 3 minutes. After that, I poured in 3 cups of boiling water. With everything boiling I covered the pot, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for 15 minutes. When that time passed I turned the heat off, kept it covered, and let it sit for another 15 minutes. Just before serving I added the cucumber and orange juice, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and then fluffed it up with a fork.

I also roasted some asparagus while the quinoa and chicken were cooking. I just took some asparagus spears and drizzled them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and ground sesame seeds. I threw them into my toaster oven set at bake for about 10 minutes at 375 degrees.

While all of that was going we sat down and ate the cauliflower soup.

When we finished the soup I took the bird out and cut it up. Honestly, that’s one area I’m not real good at. I butchered that thing pretty good. I got most of the meat off, but there was some left on the carcass that I didn’t get. Oh well, I’ll just have to keep roasting birds until I get better at carving them. No matter though, the meat was juicy and delicious.

To serve it, I drizzled the sauce all over the plate and then sprinkled over the chives.

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Sorry I haven’t put a post up in a while, been kind of busy the past week with my beautiful baby boy, Otis. Yeah, I know, badass name. He is a handsome little badass though, so it fits.

At any rate, Yuki’s parents came in from Japan a week ago to help us out. They’ve done all of the cooking and I absolutely love it! I do want to cook, and will in a day or two, but I am definitely enjoying their Japanese homestyle food. The other night they made this classic dish for us, Chikuzen Ni. Chikuzen is the old name for Kyushu, one of Japans main islands. Ni means simmered. It’s basically a simmered dish that comes from Kyushu. Tough to figure that one out, eh?

I don’t know exact measurements because I was busy changing diapers while they cooked. What they did was make a bonito dashi and added soy sauce, sake, mirin, and a touch of sugar. In that they simmered some chopped up skinless chicken thighs, carrots, gobo (burdock root, a root vegetable native to Japan and other countries in that region), lotus root, bamboo shoot, haricots vert, and konnyaku. It is absolutely heartwarming deliciousness!

To go with the Chikuzen Ni they made some pan-fried tofu. After pressing the water out of some silken tofu they chopped it up and fried it in my big skillet with some vegetable oil. After they took it out they poured in a mixture of bonito dashi, soy sauce, sake, mirin, sugar, and potato starch. Basically, it’s the same as the broth for the Chikuzen Ni. The added starch gives it a nice gelatinous texture. On top they put a little fresh grated ginger.

White rice was on the side and a cold beer was in hand.

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So, yesterday one of Yuki’s supervisors decided to take her crew out to dinner at Gyu-Kaku, a yakiniku joint downtown. That left me by myself to eat, drink, whatever. My plan was to meet up with a buddy of mine from the Playboy Pilot at Five Star for a couple of drinks, then pick Yuki up around 7 or so and grab a jumbo char dog from Portillo’s on the way home to absorb the alcohol in my stomach. Things didn’t work out as planned. About 7 I got a text that they JUST got to Gyu-Kaku! What? How long would I have to wait for a friggin char dog! Hungry, I took a couple of Chinese Steam Buns out of the freezer to tide me over for a couple of hours. Shortly thereafter I got a text asking me if I wanted to join them. Absolutely! So I cruised on down and got there as they were about to order dessert. Oh well, that didn’t stop me from eating some beef.

Since they were already drunk and I was a little drunk I didn’t really care what I ate. Doug, one of two white guys in Yuki’s group, ordered one of the Kalbi’s for me along with a beer. They’re having a Sakura Festival (Cherry Blossoms) special with $3 beer and 50% off harami skirt steak so I’m sure that’s what I got. All I know is that a dish with some beautifully marbled beef covered in sesame seeds showed up alongside a nice cold draft beer.

Then, the waitress showed up with some white rice, red leaf lettuce, and red miso so that I could eat the beef properly.

Since I was too busy helping Doug make fun of Eric, the other white guy in the group, Yuki grilled my meat for me. That’s how you know you got a good one…when she grills your beef so you can drink and have a laugh.

I took the lettuce, smeared some miso on it, topped it with the beef, and chowed down! Oiishii!!! No offense to Koreans, but the quality of the meat is so much better than anything I’ve had at a Korean BBQ. Tender and juicy, the way a good cow should be. I do have a groupon for Gyu-Kaku that I can’t wait to use so that I can eat other cuts of beef along with different animals, both with legs and with gills. Oh, some veggies too. Yuki told me that their ramen was pretty good too.

At any rate, the dessert they ordered were a bunch of different doriyaki ice creams. Bowls of ice cream with red bean paste served with pancakes and mochi that you grill. Good ice cream, but they burnt the mochi. (No Eric, it didn’t taste like shwag, it just tasted burnt)

As we were getting ready to leave another co-worker of theirs who wasn’t part of this group sent over two little bottles of sake for us. Between Doug, Eric, and myself it didn’t take long to polish those babies off. Mmmmm, sake!

The best part about Gyu-Kaku is that they use really strong down-draft ventilation systems for each grill. Those things suck that smoke right down. Unlike Korean BBQ’s what have over-table hoods, you don’t have to hop in the shower and wash your clothes immediately when you get home to rid yourself of the smoke. If you have a Jewfro sponge on your head like me, your hair will definitely appreciate that!

I do have a back story regarding Gyu-Kaku. It’s a chain that started in Japan and there’s one off of the train stop near Yuki’s parent’s house. A few of years ago Yuki and I had dinner there with her sister and brother-in-law. I remember the basil marinated chicken to be fabulous. I thought that this would do really well here in Chicago because all we had were Korean BBQ joints up on the northwest side of town. There wasn’t anything downtown. So, I went to their website and saw that they’ve already hit the west coast, that really got my hopes up that I could bring them here to Chitown. I sent them a nice long e-mail letting them know about the niche they could fill here, yada yada yada. I hear nothing back from them at all. A couple of years go by and Yuki texts me, “Gyu-Kaku is coming to Chicago”. Eh? Those bastards cut me out of the deal! That’s my idea! I felt like Kramer with his ocean cologne. The least they could do is feed me for free for life since coming here was my idea from the start. Oh well, what can you do. The food is good so I will definitely go back, especially since I’ve already paid for a groupon.

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