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Posts Tagged ‘kimchi’

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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This dinner I made the other night technically isn’t Sukiyaki. Nor is it really Bulgogi. However, it’s close enough to both of the dishes that I really couldn’t think of any other way to describe it. So to all of you purists out there…deal with it!

I made this dinner after taking Yuki’s parents to the Joong Boo Korean Market. None of us were sure what we were going to do, but Uichiro had asked that I cook something. When we got to the meat counter and he saw the thin sliced ribeye he got a sparkle in his eye, looked at me, and said, “can you make Bulgogi?” I can and I did!

A true Bulgogi has grated asian pear in the marinade. I didn’t have any asian pears so I improvised a little, but did keep relatively close to a classic Bulgogi. We had picked up almost a pound of the thin-sliced ribeye. I also used 4 green onions thinly sliced, about 1 tablespoon of minced ginger, 1 large garlic clove minced, 4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, 4 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of sesame oil, and some black pepper.

Before adding the meat to the marinade I gave it a real good mix and then tasted it. I decided to add about 1 tablespoon of sake and a good pinch of sugar. Then I added the meat and let it sit covered in the fridge for about an hour or so. For a marinade like this you should allow the meat to sit for at least 30 minutes, but not longer than 2 hours. If you let it sit too long the meat will absorb too much soy and become extremely salty.

While at the market we also picked up a few ready-made pickles. We got some classic cabbage kimchi, wilted water spinach, and mung bean sprouts.

If you look at the top pick of this post you’ll also see a little stir-fry on each plate. To add another dish to the meal Uichiro quickly whipped up this little number. It contained bacon, red bell pepper, haricots vert, bean sprouts, and eryngii mushrooms. Of course, we also had white rice.

To eat it I brought out our table-top propane burner and put a large skillet on top with a little bit of vegetable oil. Once heated up we just put pieces of the ribeye in to cook. Then, we took red leaf lettuce and wrapped everything up.

While Yuki and Tamiko had some beer with dinner, Uichiro and I enjoyed some sake.

Not only is table-top cooking a lot of fun, but meals like this are extremely healthy and flavorful. That nutrition is only enhanced by the mental healing properties of good cold sake!

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Belly Shack has been open for, I don’t know, a little more than a year now. I remember freezing my nads off with my buddy Nick early last winter walking 2 blocks from his place for our first taste. I’ve been there at least a half-dozen times since. But this weekend Yuki and I met up with one of our friends there and they both wondered why I haven’t blogged about it yet. So ladies, here it is, my blog about Belly Shack.

Located right under the Western “L” stop this is Chef Bill Kim’s second joint. Like its counterpart, Urban Belly, Chef Kim fuses Asian and Latin seamlessly. It’s also similar to Urban Belly in that it is counter service, communal dining, and recycled fixtures. They differ in that Urban Belly is based on ramen noodles while Belly Shack is sandwiches.

During this trip I ordered the special that they had running, a pulled pork sandwich with pickles. I’m not a big pickle guy, so Yuki polished those off for me. The sandwich was fantastic though. Pulled pork served with sautéed mushrooms, bean sprouts, melted cheese, cilantro, salsa verde, and Korean chili paste. My only problem with it was that they cut the pita bread and served it like a Western-style sandwich. With all of the juice it was a sloppy sandwich. It would have been better served Middle Eastern-style stuffed into the pita. Oh well, still a delicious sandwich well worth gorging on.

Yuki ordered our favorite sandwich on their menu and one of the best sandwiches in all of Chicago, the Asian Meatball. Juicy, tender meatballs of pork and beef served inside a pita with somen noodles, bean sprouts, mint, and Korean chili paste. Just thinking about this sandwich makes my mouth water.

Our friend ordered the Korean BBQ Beef. Extremely tender beef that just falls apart. The beef has sliced scallions and fried garlic chips on top along with some ssam paste. Next to it is kimchi and some flat bread. For this dish you make your own little sandwiches, much more Asian in presentation. I have no beef with this dish, it was outstanding.

She also ordered the Togarashi Fries. French fries topped with togarashi and lime zest served with a curry mayonnaise.

Belly Shack isn’t the cheapest sandwich in town at $9 a pop, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more flavorful, well prepared one. This place is definitely worth the visit.

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I made some daikon kimchi and really wanted to build a Meatless Monday around it. I thought I was going to make a tofu bulgolgi to stick with the Korean theme, but the marinade turned out nothing like a bulgolgi. It was very asian though so I used some ganmodoki we had bought at Mitsuwa and made a clear broth Japanese-style soup to bring more vegetables into the meal.

The daikon kimchi takes 24 hours so I had to start the Sunday. The ingredient list includes a lot of kosher salt (sea salt can be used also), 1.5 tablespoons of toban djan (I didn’t have any Korean chili paste, toban djan is Sichuan, but it is similar enough to work), 1/4 onion small diced, 1 garlic clove minced, 1 lb daikon cut into 3/4 inch cubes, 1 teaspoon fish sauce, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 2 green onions thinly sliced.

I threw the daikon into a bowl and completely coated it with salt. I left it for 2 hours and then drained off all of the liquid that accumulated at the bottom of the bowl and then rinsed and drained very well.

Then I mixed together the rest of the ingredients, tossed the daikon to coat evenly, and put into an airtight jar. I left it out for 24 hours and then put it in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours. You absolutely have to let it sit to get the flavors to penetrate and pickle, so this does take more than 24 hours to prepare. I will say, the daikon turned out way too salty when we ate it. Not sure if I added too much during the pickling process or if I just didn’t rinse it well enough, but next time I make this I will make sure it’s completely rinsed of salt and I may just add 1/2 tablespoon instead during the pickling to make sure it doesn’t get too salty. To salvage the rest of the daikon I’ll boil it in some water to make broth for noodle soup later in the week or something.

For the tofu “bulgolgi” I used 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1/4 granny smith apple, 1/4 onion, 1 tablespoon sugar, juice from 1/2 lemon, 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds, 1/2 inch ginger, 2 garlic cloves, 2 green onions, and 1 packet of silken tofu.

I pressed the water out of the tofu for about an hour and then sliced it into 1/4 inch pieces. I put the rest of the ingredients into my little processor and made a marinade.

I took out my glass baking dish, poured a little marinade on the bottom, lined the tofu side-by-side on top, and then covered it with the rest of the marinade. I let it sit while I prepared the soup. When the soup was almost done I drizzled a little sesame oil on top of the tofu and threw it under the broiler for about 10 minutes.

For the soup I cut up 1/4 of a napa cabbage, used some bean sprouts, 1/4 cup of dashi seasoned soy sauce, 1 carrot cut into half moons, 1/2 package of enoki mushrooms, 5 ganmodoki, the rest of our green onions (about 3), and my last three shiitake sliced.

In my soup pan I poured in about 4 cups of water and added everything except for the cabbage, bean sprouts, and enoki. I brought it up to a boil and then covered it, lowered the heat to medium-low, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Then I added the rest of the ingredients and let it simmer for another 5 minutes. That’s all she wrote for the soup.

I served everything with white rice and leaves of butter lettuce. That way we could make lettuce wraps bulgolgi-style.

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A couple of our friends are growing their own shiso. apparently their plant is going haywire and they have too much shiso for their own usage, so they gave us a bunch. I do mean a bunch! I only used half of it for the pesto. Does anyone want some? I have a feeling you’ll see at least one more shiso recipe on this blog sometime this week.

I made the pesto much like I would a regular pesto, but with a few changes. I used about 1/2 ounce of shiso leaves, one clove of garlic, 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon of parmesan cheese, and about 1/4 cup of olive oil. I put it all in my little food processor and whipped it all up.

For the tofukatsu I used mustard, 1 block of silken tofu, and some panko. I pressed the water out of the tofu in the fridge for about an hour. Then, I cut it in half. I sliced the halves into 4 equal pieces to look like cutlets.

I poured some panko on a plate and then spread a thin layer of mustard on top of each tofu cutlet. I pressed the tofu, mustard side down, on the panko and spread another thin layer of mustard on the other side then flipped and pressed again. I wanted both sides of the tofu crusted in panko. In a large skilled heated to high I poured in a few tablespoons of peanut oil. I like to shallow fry in peanut oil because it has a high smoking point and doesn’t really have that strong of a flavor. I fried the tofu in two batches so as to not overcrowd the skillet. After both sides were nice and golden I laid them on a wire rack to let any excess oil drip off.

I made a couple of sides to go with the tofukatsu. One was a simple steamed head of broccoli. I cut the broccoli down into bite-sized pieces, florets and stem and them steamed it for about 4 minutes. I had a packet of mixed sesame seeds with dried carrot so I decided to sprinkle that on instead of salt and pepper.

I had about 1/2 pound of oyster mushrooms in my fridge, so I decided to saute them with 1 teaspoon of sherry, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of flour, 1/2 tablespoon of butter, and I was going to use 1/2 onion.

For whatever reason I wasn’t feeling the onion. No rhyme or reason, I just decided not to use the onion and instead use the enoki mushrooms that were in my fridge. I also grated a clove of garlic at the last minute too.

In a hot pan I poured in about 2 tablespoons of sesame oil and put the grated garlic in for about 30 seconds. Then, I threw in all of the mushrooms, both oyster and enoki. I let them saute for about 4 minutes and then poured in the sherry and soy sauce. Once the liquid was almost completely boiled off, about 2 minutes, I poured in the flour and butter and stirred that all in. The flour thickened up the last bit of liquid while the butter made it all silky and smooth, as butter always does.

Finally, I took a daikon radish and skinned about half of it. I grated the part that I skinned and served it just as it is.

To serve everything, I had some white rice and then put some broccoli next to it and then two pieces of tofukatsu next to that. I poured a little of the pesto on top of the tofukatsu. The grated daikon went on the plate as well. It was a little sharp, so we poured a few drops of soy sauce on it. In a separate plate I laid some mushrooms down. Next to them I put some kimchi cucumbers that we picked up at the Assi Plaza. I’m not a big fan of cucumbers, but these kimchi ones are so damn good they just might make me a believer. Bon apetit!

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Last weekend I did a little searching to try to find the best ramen noodles in Chicago. It’s damn near impossible to find a good, authentic bowl of Japanese ramen in this town as all Japanese restaurants seem to be the same neighborhood sushi joint serving up Americanized sushi (ie- California Roll, Dragon Roll, Philly Roll, etc.). While that’s all well and good, what I wanted was ramen!

While searching online I came across very positive reviews of newly opened (only about 3 weeks old) Arami on Chicago just west of Wood. Billed as an authentic Japanese restaurant in my neighborhood I got a little excited, tingly you might say. Not really in the mood to cook last night I decided to take Yuki out and give Arami a go. Very wise decision indeed.

The decor is true to Japanese philosophy, very simple and natural. The entrance is a big torii (traditional Japanese gate) and sets the atmosphere off right. The walls are very light, somewhere between eggshell and wasabi green, but more on the eggshell side. The tables are bamboo and the fixtures look to be made of reclaimed wood. I especially like the bar. It’s just a big slab of tree trunk.

Service was excellent. Usually, when a restaurant first opens up, the service is the worst part of the experience. The place ran like a veteran. Our server, Tiffany, was very knowledgable of the menu and very attentive without being annoying. Food came out in timely order and nothing was rushed.

As I get to the food I want to apologize as I usually do when posting pics from my phone. They are terrible! I do my best to make the food visible, but my phone’s camera is a piece of  junk. Keep that in mind and don’t let my pics deter you.

We started off with the Togarashi Seared Tuna. A beautiful strip of tuna coated in togarashi and seared perfectly, about a millimeter cooked all around the edges with the center completely raw. There were 6 pieces served on top of a seaweed and kelp salad with a meyer lemon dressing. The seaweed and kelp salad was excellent. A lot of times seaweed salads are just dripping with vinegar. Not this one. Perfectly dressed and a nice compliment to the natural fat of the tuna and mild spice of the togarashi.

Next, we got the Akami Ankimo. Akami is the red part of blue fin tuna and ankimo is monkfish liver (one of my all-time favorite ingredients). The slices of akimi sashimi (you could tell that they were cut by professionals who understand the subtlety of cutting fish) topped with small slices of ankimo and some sort of sliced green. Yuki thought it was a kind of pepper, but I think it’s just the green part of scallions. Doesn’t matter whose right, it was outstanding! Too bad Arami doesn’t yet have a liquor license as sake would have matched this perfectly.

For an entrée Yuki got the Kimchi Ramen. Hands down the best ramen I’ve ever tasted in this city! The broth was maybe a little too light to be considered authentic (in Japan the best part about ramen is all of the gelatin from using bones to make the broth, your lips should feel a little greasy), but the flavor was fantastic. Thick chunks of pork belly, cubes of tofu, sliced kimchi (not an authentic Japanese flavoring for ramen, but a delicious one), a par-boiled egg with a nice runny yolk, and sliced scallions for garnish. The only real problem is that it’s too hot in Chicago right now to eat ramen. Yuki was sweating a little from eating it. That didn’t stop her though as it was friggin fantastic.

When ever I see short rib on a menu there’s a very high likelihood that’s what I’m getting. Combine that with my love for all things donburi and I had to get the Short Rib Donburi. I really nice short rib braised in a soy-based broth served on top of rice. To counter the fattiness of the meat they serve it with sliced pickled asian pear and scallions. The rib was very tender and the broth flavors almost penetrated completely through. I’m glad it didn’t to preserve the natural flavors of the meat itself. Another winner in my book.

Dessert is the one area they fell short on. The only two options were the typical mochi ice cream balls or three different gelatos. I asked if the gelato was made in-house and Tiffany said it wasn’t. We still opted for the gelato though. They had three flavors (green tea, ginger-lemon, and muscato) and you get two scoops per order. We were told that we could only pick one flavor, but Tiffany talked the chef into letting us have two, so we got the green tea and ginger-lemon. The green tea was terrible! Overly sweet and very chunky. It was not a good product and they need to get rid of it immediately! The ginger-lemon, however, was great. Not too sweet, nice and creamy. They could do more with desserts though. I’m tired of every Japanese restaurant serving mochi ice cream and ice cream. There are so many things that can be done with Japanese ingredients to make great, simple desserts. Green Tea Pot De Creme with Adzuki Ganache was an idea I gave Tiffany. She seemed to like that idea, so hopefully she can get the chef to open his mind and make some real desserts. You don’t have to be a pastry chef to make good desserts.

At any rate, Arami is our new favorite Japanese restaurant in Chicago. While we didn’t try a lot of the sushi, we could see that they know what they’re doing. We will definitely be back over and over again, especially once they get a liquor license as I was told they’ll have a killer sake list! Sushi and sake, sounds good to me.

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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.

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