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Posts Tagged ‘foie gras’

Alright, back to the Land of the Rising Sun. Better known as Japan. Yuki was at a gathering with a bunch of her friends one of the Saturday nights we were there last November. Instead of hanging out with her parents, whom I love to spend time with, I met up with an ex-coworker of hers that I am also friends with, Reiko-chan, who moved back to Tokyo. We decided to meet up at the Ebisu train station and then head to one of the many Izakaya in that neighborhood. Izakaya are Japanese-style bars. Much different from what we’re used to they usually have a great chef that focuses on creative small bites that match with different types of alcohol. I had done some research and found this great little Izakaya called Ippo that focused on seafood and sake, my drink of choice.

Ippo is an extremely hard place to find. We walked all over the neighborhood for about 30 minutes trying to find it. Since Reiko is Japanese, and being Japanese speaks Japanese, I left it to her to ask various retail stores for directions. No one seemed to know exactly where it was even though we had an address. About to give up and go to a different Izakaya, I turned around and noticed the big Fugu hanging in front of the door. Finally! I needed some sake!

When we sat down the bartender handed us each a couple of little starters. One was a cold pork and green bean salad, the other was a macaroni salad in a mayonnaise dressing. Nice little starters, good with either a beer or sake.

Speaking of sake, their list was over fifty long, all written in Japanese. I had no idea where to start. Luckily, one of the bartenders lived in Las Angeles for a while and spoke fluent English. He also knew that sake list off the back of his hand. There were all varieties of sake from brewers both large and small as well as from every region of Japan that produces it. I honestly can’t remember what all I drank, but throughout the night I ended up putting back 4 cups of different sake, all delicious in their own way. Some more floral, some herbal, some sweeter, all fantastic selections. When I say 4 cups I don’t mean those little sake cups we’re used to getting at sushi joints, I mean 4 12oz cups filled to the rim! Love it!

We started off with a plate of sashimi. I don’t know all of the different types, some of the communication was lost in translation, but there were two kinds of tuna and three different kinds of hamachi. I do remember that they were all fresh as can be (they get their fish every morning from the Tsukiji Market) and cut by a chef who knows how to cut a piece of fish. You can’t get sashimi that good here in Chicago.

After the sashimi we got a plate of the house specialty, Namero. It’s basically a tartare of mackerel in miso, ginger, and scallions. Mackerel is a strong-tasting fish with a lot of natural oil, but this was incredible! The miso and ginger masked the strong fishy smell and fit the flavors perfectly. I can see why this is a house specialty as it was probably the best match with sake I’ve ever had.

Then we got the Daigaku Imo, candied sweet potatoes. These were prepared different than normal though. They’re usually deep fried and then coated in a sweetened soy sauce with black sesame seeds. Here, they lightly coated them in batter that had black seseame seeds mixed in before frying, basically tempura style. The were sweet enough that they didn’t need any added sugar. Served only with some grated daikon they were a great snack to eat at a bar.

Kaki was next up. Some of the biggest, juiciest oysters I’ve ever seen on a plate! Removed from the shells and grilled all the chef did was add some herbs to them. With a squeeze of lemon they’re ready to go. If you’re a fan of oysters, you’d love these. If you hate oysters, you’d still probably love these.

After the Kaki we ordered up some Ankimo. Steamed monkfish liver served with grated daikon, ponzu, and green onions this is one of the great delicacies of Japanese cuisine. It’s called the foie gras of the sea, but in all honesty, I think foie gras should be called the ankimo of the land. It’s so soft and creamy. If not for the next dish I’d call it Japan’s greatest contribution to the world of food.

Here it is, one of the greatest things in the world. An item that will make most Americans sick to their stomach but makes my mouth water…Shirako. The king of seafood. Meaning “white children” in Japanese, shirako is the soft roe of male fish, usually monkfish, cod, or fugu (pufferfish). Basically, it’s the male fish’s genitalia. You read that right, it’s a fish sperm sack! You may be wincing at the thought of eating that, but think about it, you eat caviar don’t you? Well, this is the male counterpart to caviar. It’s extremely soft and delicate with a slightly sweet briny taste that literally melts in your mouth (and it’s not sticky!). Ippo serves it raw with ponzu, scallions, and sesame seeds. It can also be steamed. Any way you look at it, I luz me some fish balls!

My experience at Ippo really makes me sad that we have nothing like this in Chicago, or really anywhere in America for that matter. Sure, there are a handful of Izakaya-style bars throughout the country (mostly on the west coast), but nothing quite like Ippo. Just a long bar in a hidden space that serves up some of the best quality seafood and sake one could ever ask for. Why are we stuck with bars that serve nothing but big greasy burgers (not that there’s anything wrong with that), frozen wings, and chicken fingers? Let’s get some creativity into the American bar scene! Great chefs don’t need to be in a white cloth atmosphere to shine. We’d all be better off for it there were Izakayas scattered throughout the country.

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Our third Restaurant Week jaunt was for lunch yesterday at Blackbird. We had actually eaten there about 5 or 6 years ago for Yuki’s birthday dinner. I can’t remember what we ate, but I do remember being extremely impressed. We haven’t been back since but decided that a $22 pre fix lunch there was too good to pass up, especially after seeing the menu they offered on the Restaurant Week Chicago website. Wrong I was, wrong indeed.

Yuki started with the Parsnip Bisque. It was served with shallot jam, beautyheart radish, sturgeon, and sunflower seeds. Actually, this was one of the best soups either of us have ever tasted. It was creamy, yet light and smooth. The flavors were spot on. No complaints about this dish.

I ordered the Duck Country Pate and Mortadella with grapefruit molasses, black radish, and pumpkin seed brittle. This dish was ok. The pate was a little salty, but it wasn’t too bad. There was a lot going on in this dish and I think Chef Kahan could have easily simplified it, but it was decent.

Yuki’s entrée was the Wood-grilled Brook Trout with broccoli, parsley root, violet mustard spaetzle, and dried black bean. The fish was way oversalted and I didn’t notice anything that resembles broccoli or spaetzle anywhere on the plate. I can only guess that the powdered substance on the plate was the dried black bean. I think this was a case of trying to be too creative with a failed idea and false advertisement. Not a very good dish at all.

I ended up ordering the Roasted Chicken with charred avocado and house-made giardiniera. The chicken was very greasy, the giardiniera consisted of a few small pieces of pickled cauliflower, and the charred avocado was actually one tiny little dollop of some sort of avocado mousse. The giardiniera and avocado, while they both match chicken nicely, didn’t go well together at all. Two very conflicting tastes. 

We split the two desserts. One was Manjari Chocolate Pave with tonka bean ice cream and candied cocoa nibs. It was pretty good. The pave was nice and fluffy for being so rich. This dessert was a success.

This other dessert was written on the menu as Satuma Chiboust with campari, pineapple, semolina and zingerman cheese ice cream. What? I know that Chiboust is a type of cream used in pastries, but what on Earth is Satuma? I can only hope they meant Satsuma which is a citrus…or a city in Japan. I’ll go with citrus. This dessert wasn’t bad though, even though they can’t spell.

Alright, here’s why we were disappointed besides the quality of the entrees. The service was flat-out bad! Not once did our server refill my iced tea, he flat-out forgot the coffee that Yuki ordered with dessert (fortunately it wasn’t on the bill so I didn’t have to bitch about it, but she clearly ordered it and he clearly heard her), he never stopped by to see how any of the dishes were (always, always, always stop by to at least make sure things like chicken are properly cooked), and he just seemed to be an ass. In fact, most of the servers there had an attitude about them. They all wore slacks, button downs, and a tie (I’m sure a requirement), but all seemed to have an arrogance about them. I didn’t notice any tables getting very friendly service at all. The host gave us a little attitude also when she sat us. The staff matched the food, pretentious and lacking.

Another thing that I didn’t like was the table set up. I understand that it’s a business and Chef Kahan wants to make as much money as possible, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of customer comfort. The tables were practically lined up on top of each other. There was literally no more than 2 inches between tables, and that’s not an exaggeration (as much as I love to exaggerate). I had one table in my right ear and another in my left, I could barely converse with Yuki. The little conversation we were able to have was no doubt overheard by the tables next to us as we clearly heard their conversations. That’s a big pet peeve of mine. Give your customers a little space!

Also, Chef Kahan pulled the old bait-n-switch on his customers. If you look at the menu he advertised on the Restaurant Week website you’ll see a warm baby octopus confit with black chickpeas, asian pear, hazelnuts, and eucalyptus as well as a torchon of foie gras with black grape, spicy vegetables, and lavender as appetizer options. You’ll also see roasted squab and smoked sausage with sweet potatoes and junipers or braised short ribs with flageolets, fig broth, and golden turnips for entrée options. Sounds pretty damn good, eh? What happened? No octopus, no foie, no squab, no short ribs. Instead it was parsnip bisque and duck pate along with chicken and trout. Come on, chicken and trout? No way are those two entrees worth the price of admission. I get that sometimes ingredients aren’t available, or changes sometimes need to be made, but not one of the advertised items was on the menu. Not one! If you check the restaurant’s website, it lists a restaurant week dinner menu that is also completely different. They aren’t offering a restaurant week dinner pre fix, just lunch. What is going on? Had we seen the real menu there’s no way we would have made a reservation. Chef Kahan clearly wanted to entice people with a very cool menu and then cheapen it up to save some money. What an ass! You know Chef, bait-n-switch is illegal.

The worst part was what happened a few hours after we ate. Both of us came down with an upset stomach. No doubt the entrees were at fault, salty fish and greasy chicken. My situation ended with an incendiary display not fit for children. It was bad!

The whole point of restaurant week is to attract people to your restaurant. This trip to Blackbird did the exact opposite. It’s like Yuki told me last night, “You know, having been there before a few years ago I would have definitely gone back, but after lunch yesterday I’ll never go back!” I share those sentiments, especially with Sepia just around the corner.

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Alright, last night I was able to knock out one more Iron Chef from my list as Yuki’s parents took us along with her sister to Iron Chef Italian Masahiko Kobe’s restaurant, Ristorante Massa. It’s located in a very cool neighborhood of Tokyo called Ebisu tucked away off a main street. It’s a simple little restaurant that seats only about 25-30 people. It was full when we were there, and probably is most nights due to his celebrity status and fantastic food.

There were two pre fix menu options. The one we opted for was the less expensive of the two (approx $65 compared to $85) as it offered one less dish than the other. Since none of us are fat Americans it seemed like the right choice. We could chose one from each category of Antipasto Freddo (3 choices), Antipasto Caldo (three choices), Primo Piatto (5 choices), Secondo Piatto (4 choices), and either a Dolce (5 choices) or Formaggio Plate (pick two out of 4 cheeses) followed by either tea or espresso. We washed down the meal with some Chianti Classico. I have pics of everything, but I’m only going to mention what I ordered otherwise this post will be way way way too long. This is already one of the longest introductions I’ve written. So, on to the food!

We each started off with the Oyster starter that was not part of the Pre Fix. It is probably the largest oyster I’ve ever eaten in my life! So fresh and clean it was simply served in its own juices with a little squeeze of lime and some rock salt. What more does a good oyster need?

Then they brought out an amuse bouche. Baked pasta filled with ricotta cheese, a little slice of pear, and an Italian parsley leaf. It almost reminded me of matzoh with cream cheese, a treat dear to my stomach for one week out of the year.

The Antipasto Freddo I ordered was a foie gras terrine with chamomile. It was served with smoked Ishikawa potatoes, a yuzu consomme jelly, Italian Arugula, and sprinkled with flaked red pepper.

My Antipasto Caldo of choice was a bit of a mis-translation. I thought I was getting duck confit, when it showed up we thought is was duck balls, but it turned out to be chicken gizzards. I actually preferred it to be balls since I’ve never eaten bird balls, but it was still outstanding! The gizzards were served on top of a kabocha puree with thinly sliced red onions that were soaked in cold water, a shishito pepper, and a pea pod.

The Primo Piatto, pasta course, I ordered was chitarra with cremini sauce. The sauce was as simple and delicious as could be…olive oil, garlic, and minced cremini mushrooms. There were big slices of sautéed cremini in it as well. With Kobe being the “Prince of Pasta” it was easily the best pasta in my life. Cooked to perfection, nice and al dente.

For the Secondo Piatto I got the beef, of course. A perfectly grilled strip loin to medium rare covered in a light mustard sauce and served with asparagus, a shiitake, a pea pod, and a slice of red pepper. Uichiro, Yuki’s dad, ordered his with black truffles on top. I wish I knew I could do that. He gave me a few of the truffles and they made an outstanding steak even better…as truffles always do.

I opted for the Formaggio instead of a Dolce. I chose the parmigiano and taleggio. He served it very typically with some dried fruits and sliced nut bread. I washed it down with lemon tea instead of espresso as I wanted to sleep later on.

Maki, Yuki’s sister, couldn’t finish her Tirimisu so I took it upon myself to not waste any food. It was served with kiwi sorbet and fresh fruit. Of course, it was the best tirimisu that I’ve ever digested.

Overall, this was by far the best Italian food I’ve ever eaten, hands down. And I’ve been to Italy. I’m sure there are places as good in Italy, but when Yuki and I went there we couldn’t afford any of the top restaurants. We ate some pretty damn good food there, but nothing as refined as this.

I have also said before that I didn’t think modern Italian food existed. I said that due to the lack of creativity and refinement of Italian food in Chicago (although, I have yet to eat at Spiaggia). At home it’s mostly humongous bowls of pasta with thick rich sauces that weigh you down. Nothing like Ristorante Massa where the portions were clean, fresh, perfectly sized, and creative modern takes on classics. I have a newfound respect for Italian food.

While I have eaten at Sakai’s, Michiba’s, and Chen’s restaurants, this is the first time that an Iron Chef has actually cooked for me. It was very exciting to see Kobe back in the kitchen when we walked in. I think there are two reasons Kobe was cooking for us. First, he only has one restaurant while the others all have numerous. So you know where Kobe will be when he cooks as opposed to it being a crapshoot for the others (I missed Sakai by 4 hours back when Yuki and I went to La Rochelle). Second, he’s still young at only 40 and still wants to create. Michiba is an old man and doesn’t cook anymore and I don’t think Sakai cooks too much anymore either.

No more Iron Chefs this trip as we head back to cold Chicago tomorrow. Next trip I’ll visit Iron Chef Japanese Nakamura Komei and maybe Honorary Iron Chef French Ishinabe Yutaka. Morimoto will have to wait as his Teppanyaki restaurant here in Tokyo starts at approx $300 a head!

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So, yesterday was my wife’s birthday. I won’t tell you how old she is now, you should never ask a woman her age. Needless to say, she’s still younger and better looking than me. For this year’s birthday dinner I took her to L2O. I know, I know. I’m unemployed and shouldn’t spend that kind of money right now. But hey, what can you do? I have to say, we were both extremely impressed and satisfied by what transpired at the dinner table last night.

First of all, we were fortunate enough to have found a parking spot right in front of the restaurant. No easy task in Lincoln Park. We knew all would be well when that happened. Saved me $12 on valet!

l20

The interior was perfect for the concept of Laurent Gras’s food. French sophistication with Japanese minimalism. It was really nice inside. The one weird thing we’re not used to is how they sat us. We got a 4 top to ourselves, but they sat us next to each other instead of across from each other. Our necks hurt a little bit since we had to turn our head to converse, but that’s being nitpicky.

We opted for the 4 course pre-fix. Our choice of one item from the Raw section, one from the Warm section, one from the Main, and one dessert. To be quite honest, deciding what to order might possibly have been the hardest decisions we’ve had to make in years! Everything sounded great. You can see the menu on their website, so you’ll understand what I mean.

Before we ordered we got not one, but two amuse buches. The first was a small little layered octopus and potato thing with a spicy soy paste underneath. It was the perfect little starter. Clean, fresh, and just enough spice to get our taste buds rolling. The second was a little…. you know what? I don’t remember what it was. I do remember it being delicious. You’d think I’d remember something from last night, but then again, my short-term memory is a little off.

tuna foie

From the Raw section Yuki ordered the Tuna and I ordered the Peekytoe Crab. The Tuna was served with little squares of tomato on top, hibiscus stems along the surface, little dollops of some sort of creamy sauce, and foie gras snow. I can only imagine that it’s frozen foie that’s been grated. It was a truly magnificent dish. Very elegant and buttery but not oily or greasy.

crab and avocado

My Crab was a little lighter but not quite as elegant. It was served in a mound with a sliced avocado dome around it. Around the avocado mound was kaffir lime jelly and lemon oil. The crab was probably the best crab meat I’ve ever eaten. The sweetness shined through all of the tart citrus with the avocado’s creaminess adding depth.

lobster bisque

For the Warm course Yuki ordered the Lobster Bisque. It was a boiled lobster claw with chestnuts and lobster/scallop dumplings. Table service lobster bisque broth was poured over it. I didn’t try the lobster claw, but Yuki claims that she’s never ever had lobster with such a soft texture. I did try a little of the dumpling and judging from that I’d have to say that Yuki’s right about the lobster. Easily the best bisque of all time.

lamb tartar

I got the Lamb Tartare. In a circle mold they layered the bottom with the freshest raw lamb I’ve ever seen. On top of that was a layer of raw diced shiro ebi (sweet shrimp). Then, on top of that was a few sliced of pickled peach and some tarragon. I think it was gold fleck on top of that, but I can’t be sure. The sliminess of the shrimp and the sourness of the pickled peach combined with the herbal notes of the tarragon so well that you hardly even knew you had lamb underneath. It was such a clean taste that nothing seemed raw. As such, I think it belongs in the raw section, but I’m not complaining because then I’d have to have chosen between that and the crab.

On to the main course. Yuki’s Tai Snapper with Deconstructed Green Curry (I couldn’t find a pic online) was a masterpiece. The Snapper seems to have been steamed with lemon zest on top. It was so moist and delicious. There was some coconut sauce, dollops of some sort of spicy chili sauce. A brown sugar tuille. The coolest part were the parsley merengues. They were brought out getting frozen in liquid nitrogen and served tableside. They were so light and airy that they melted in your mouth making you wonder if you had even eaten anything at all. But the flavor was pure parsley. Genius! When you put everything together it really tasted like green curry. Wonderful deconstruction job. Her only complaint was that she wanted white rice with it. But, she’s Japanese. She wants white rice with everything.

pork belly

I got the Pork Belly. Three thick slices of pork belly that had been seared in duck fat. Served with thin slices of potato, scalloped potato, and pureed potato in the scalloped potato. On top of everything they poured some truffle sauce. It was decadence on a plate! I can’t begin to describe to you just exactly what that crisp pig skin fried in duck fat did to my digestive tracts, but I will say this…it was a beautiful thing! My only complaint is that I couldn’t quite finish everything on the plate. I hate to waste food. (please note that the pic I found on Google only shows one slice, I was served three with three potatoes.)

Before dessert they sent out another amuse buche. This was a little ramekin filled with Meyer Lemon Marshmallow. It was super tart the second it hit our tongues, but almost immediately subsided into just a really palette cleansing citrus. It was the perfect thing to prepare us for dessert.

Dessert was two different souffles. One was a Grand Marnier, the other was a Bailey’s and Frangelico. Of course, he got the souffles just right. Super fluffy with a mild egg taste. They spooned a hole in at the table to pour in the alcohol. Absolutely scrumptious!

We weren’t quite done yet. After dessert they sent out these interesting pastry concoctions that the pastry chef came up with. In a small bundt shaped mold they poured some beeswax, let it burn a little to carmelize, then filled it with custard. I’ve never had anything quite like it.

But, there was still more. What meal is complete without chocolate? Our server brought out a loaf of some of the richest, creamiest chocolate mouse of all time! So good, so so good!

When we were done, Tony, the general manager, gave us a quick tour of the kitchen. Laurent Gras was back there with his army of chefs cooking away. It’s great to see a restaurant where the head chef is actually doing the cooking. Too often the big name chefs are never in the kitchen, having their sous chefs handle everything. Not here. Laurent is such a perfectionist that he tends the kitchen almost every single night. The man is tireless. I’m damn glad he is!

It wasn’t cheap, but when you feel like splurging for a special dinner you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place than L2O. It truly is a gem among Chicago restaurants.

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Sepia

Yesterday was my 33rd birthday. My wife and I use birthdays as excuses to enjoy finer dining than a typical eve. Last night she took me to Sepia, a place that we’ve wanted to go to for quite a while now. While I would have liked to try Kendal Duque’s cooking, new Executive Chef Andrew Zimmerman is definately his equal in the kitchen.

Sepia Interior

The interior definately has that old-world feel with lots of dark brick, leather tables, buffed mirrors, and large chandeliers. But it isn’t stuffy at all. The place was quite comfortable and not too loud like most exposed brick restaurants. But it was the food that stole the show, not the interior.

We started off with some Gruet Blanc de Noir. I personally think that New Mexico turns out some of our countries best bubbly. For apps, Yuki ordered the scallops. Two big, meaty scallops cooked to absolute perfection! A nice sear on top and bottom while nicely opaque in the middle. We both feel that they’re the best scallops we’ve ever eaten in this city. They were served with a sunchoke puree, marcona almonds, and some serrano ham on top with frisee.

I ordered the sweetbreads. I’ve never really been a fan of sweetbreads, but I’ve only eaten them once before. However, if I’m going to consider myself a foodie then I need to order the proper food. Damn glad I did! Damn glad! Those glands had a texture that was like a cross between scallops and foie gras. It almost had a scallop-like sweetness as well, but also the butteriness of foie gras. Chef served them with this orange-fennel sauce. It was thick, creamy, and you could really taste the bitterness of the orange. Perfect match with the sweet sweetbreads. (I get the sweet part, but it really is more like foie than a bread). Some frisee on top as well.

Sepia_pork_t_bone_2

For entrees, Yuki ordered the Pork Porterhouse served on some grits with a bourbon sauce and cherries. Again, perfectly cooked, nice and medium rare on the tenderloin side and medium on the strip side. The accompaniments also complimented nicely. Fortunately for me it was too big for her stomach, so I get to eat the rest of it today for lunch! We paired it with a glass of Dolcetto D’Alba.

I ordered the Duck. A perfectly cooked breast; the skin nice and crispy, the meat nice medium rare and juicy. It was served atop a medly of chantrelle mushrooms, green onions, marcona almonds (Zimmerman must love these almonds, but for good reason), and these little spongy black things that we couldn’t quite figure out what they were. Yuki thought they were little pieces of liver or something, I thought they were some sort of mushroom stem. It was killing us not knowing what they were so I asked the manager….duck gizzards. (Yuki was closer, she wins) That was the first time I’ve ever eaten duck gizzards and I gotta tell you, I love them! They added a deeper flavor to the dish that the mushrooms alone probably couldn’t provide. Delicious! I drank a glass of Portugese wine, and interesting red blend from the Douro Valley. Nice recommendation from our server.

The desserts were awesome too! We had the Ricotta Pound Cake with carmelized peaches, buttermilk ice cream, and pecans as well as the Blueberry Cobbler with sweet corn ice cream, lemon-thyme cookies. Of course, on my plate was the obligatory “Happy Birthday Dan” written in chocolate with some artistic design. Always a nice touch. The food runner also said he’d sing to me for an extra fee. I’m cheap (even though dinner was Yuki’s treat), so we declined.

All in all, I have to say that Sepia is one of the better dinner’s I’ve had a quite a while. It is easily in the upper-echelon of Chicago restaurants. Because of it I can’t wait for my next opportunity to munch on some sweetbreads!

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