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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.

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Alright, so a month ago Yuki, Otis, and I moved in with my little brother for a couple of weeks in the Lincoln Square neighborhood. A friend of ours, who happens to be a major burger whore, helped us move. Since he’s a burger whore, what better payment then a burger? While moving he had mentioned how he tried to get a table at The Bad Apple once, but the wait was too long. I made a mental note, did some research, and concluded that this was definitely a place I wanted to check out as well. So, I strolled Otis over before Yuki and Eric (the burger whore) got out of work and grabbed an outside table. My little brother came with to have a beer with me while we waited for everyone else.

The beer list is one of the best in town. Both the draft and bottle list are enormous with great variety. Wanting to try something I’ve never had I explained the flavors I was in the mood for to our server and she brought me out an IPA that I’ve never heard of, but thoroughly enjoyed. It ticked everything I had asked for in a beer at that very moment. What I’m trying to say is that their servers, at least ours, are very knowledgable about the libations the offer up.

But, I did not come to The Bad Apple for beer, as much as I love beer. I came for the burgers. So, without further ado, here’s the burger breakdown from that night.

Eric’s wife went for The Bad Apple Burger, deciding to keep it simple. I can respect that. In all honesty, someone had to get their house burger just to see what they do before screwing around with various flavors. With lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, and provolone this burger had no frills about it. It was a straight-talkin burger if ever there was one. While I didn’t try it myself, the fact that it was devoured tells me she enjoyed having those classic flavors grace her taste buds.

Yuki got the Red Dragon. A juicy burger topped with brisket hash, an over easy egg, pepper jack, and roasted red pepper sauce. You put roasted red pepper sauce on just about anything and Yuki will go for it. That’s how I was able to snatch her, but that’s a totally different story for a completely different blog. I did try this one, and I gotta say, wow! I mean, this would’ve been great without the burger. Add that patty of bovine deliciousness to a classic hang-over breakfast and you have yourself a winner.

Eric got the Belly Burger. Honestly, I almost got this one, it was a tough decision. When he said he was going to get this one it made my life easier. This burger is topped with braised pork belly and a herbed horseradish sauce. Instead of a regular bun this one has a pretzel bun. We expected just a little pork belly on top to add a little sumptuousness to this thing, but oh no, they put as much pork belly as there was beef! Let’s be honest here, you put burger with pork belly, what else do you really need? That is, besides a cold refreshing beer from their list.

As good as Eric’s Belly Burger was, and it was damn good, I’m very glad he chose to get that one because it allowed me to get the Elvis’s Last Supper. This burger broke all of the rules for me. It’s really a simple burger. You take ground beef, grill it to juicy perfection and place it on a bun with 2 toppings. It’s the 2 toppings that make this such a revelation…peanut butter and bacon! You read that right, peanut butter and bacon. The bacon part is nothing new to a burger. It’s been done to death, yet is always welcome. Kind of like when the radio plays “Stairway to Heaven”. You’ve heard it hundreds of times, but you don’t change the station, you rock out and enjoy every minute of it. But peanut butter? On a burger? In all of my years I never would have thought of that. Mind you, this was no Jiff creamy, not even close. This was house made, throw some roasted peanuts into a blender, and let ‘er rip! Chunky and oily, this was peanut butter! I’m still besides myself on that one. It is hands down the best burger I have ever ordered off a menu and right up there with the best burgers I’ve eaten period (my famous ghetto burger not-withstanding). I’m salivating as I type this. My stomach is rumbling for more. I imagine a balding gray-haired man with a long white coat in the kitchen concocting burger theories, picture Doc Brown. Truly genius!

As you can tell, I am a big fan of The Bad Apple. Besides a great beer list, knowledgable service, and flippin fantastic burgers with creative toppings and high quality ingredients, the prices are extremely reasonable. Other than their special Wagyu burger (upwards of $45 per depending on toppings du jour) all burgers are $8-10!

If you’re a fan of burgers and beer, get yo tuchas out to The Bad Apple!

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When walking around just about any market in Israel you’ll come across all sorts of really good food. Falafel, schawarma, and various kabobs. Another staple of the Israeli street food scene is grilled chicken. With Tamiko headed back to Japan last Thursday I wanted to make her one last delicious dinner that she couldn’t get at home. Since she really enjoyed the Middle Eastern food that she had, and loves cucumbers (even though I’m not the biggest fan), I decided to make this dinner for her.

I thought, what better soup to accompany Israeli Grilled Chicken than Israeli Couscous Tomato Soup? I used about 1/2 cup of chopped parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1/2 small onion diced, 3 garlic cloves minced, 1 carrot cut into half-moons, 14oz can of diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup of Israeli Couscous, and 1 cup of chicken stock. Oh, once I cut everything up I noticed that I had 1/2 red bell pepper in my fridge, so I diced that up as well.

I heated my soup pan up and poured in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I added the garlic and let it go for about 30 seconds and then tossed the onion in. The onion sweat down for about 6 minutes and then I added the carrot and red bell pepper. I let them sweat down for another 6 minutes and then added the can of tomatoes. Once the tomatoes started to boil I poured in the chicken stock and added the spices, along with some salt and pepper. I let it come to a boil and then added the couscous. Once it started to boil again I covered the pan, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. When the soup was done I realised that I needed a bit more liquid as the couscous absorbed a good amount, so I poured in about 1/4 cup of water and added the parsley.

While the soup was simmering I threw together an Israeli cucumber salad. I used 1/4 cup of chopped parsley, the juice of 1 lemon, 2 tomatoes diced, 1 cucumber seeded and diced, a  few leaves of lettuce chopped, and some olive oil.

I threw all of the vegetables into a glass bowl. Then I made a lemon vinaigrette. I squeezed the lemon juice into a cup and then poured twice as much olive oil in as there was lemon juice (rule of thumb, for vinaigrettes use 2 parts oil for every 1 part acid). I seasoned it with salt and pepper and then emulsified it with my whisk. I poured the vinaigrette all over the vegetables and tossed it all together.

For this chicken there was no need for a long marinade. I simply took some skin-on, bone-in thighs and squeezed some lemon juice all over them after scoring the skin. Then I sprinkled a little turmeric, cumin, and paprika all over them, along with some salt and pepper. Then it was off to the grill.

On the grill I started them off skin-side down on the lower rack with the flames at med-high. I left it there for a few minutes in order for the skin to get nice and crisp. Then I moved the chicken to the upper rack, turning it over skin-side up. I lowered the heat to medium, closed the lid, and let it cook for about 6 or 7 minutes until it was cooked through. Each grill is different, but for skin-on chicken thighs it’s best to use a direct heat first on the skin and then an indirect on the bottom. That gets the skin crisp and keeps the meat moist.

I garnished the plates with some chopped parsley. We had some white rice on the side and cold beer to wash it all down.

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The other night Tamiko wanted to make Uichiro’s famous curry rice dish. I think for a couple of reasons. First, to make him a little jealous again that we’re eating so well while he’s eating take home bento boxes (although, take home bento in Japan isn’t a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination). Second, it’s just a tasty tasty dish! He sent me the recipe a long time ago and I did make it once (before I started this blog). Mine was pretty good, mainly because I’m damn good in the kitchen, but it clearly wasn’t the same as Uichiro’s. Japan uses the metric system, so I had to eyeball my measurements with the spices and whatnot as the conversion is never as smooth as it should be, for me at least. Also, since I’ve never eaten his I made it more to my tastes, which are different believe it or not.

What I’ll do for this post is first cut-and-paste the recipe he sent me. Then, I’ll go through it a little and let you know where Tamiko made the appropriate changes. Sorry, Uichiro, but I’m going to make a little fun of you as well, all in good humor. So, without further ado, here’s his recipe as he sent it to me:

Foodstuff:

ground meat with half beef and half pig meat: 300 g

chopped onion: big size one unit

chopped ginger: one piece

chopped garlic clove: one piece

chopped parsley: quantitatively

chopped raisin: 3 x 15cc spoons

chopped walnut: 4 kernels

pickled cucumber: one

curry powder: 3 x 15cc spoons

soy sauce and Worcester sauce: quantitatively

grated cheese: 3 x 15cc spoons

cinnamon, nutmeg, clove: quantitatively

boiled egg: two

Cooking:

On a cutting board mince all foodstuffs. Sautee onion to the
brown state. Sautee ginger, garlic clove and ground meat in turn with
it. After meat color is changed, then, add raisin, walnut, pickled
cucumber, parsley, soy sauce, Worcester sauce, grated cheese, cinnamon, nutmeg,
clove.  Finally, add one cup water and boil to the sapless state. Ad mix
the half with rice. Get up the half and sliced boiled egg on it.

Alright, where to start. First, Tamiko made twice as much as the recipe calls for so that the three of us had lunch the next day as well. I love that he calls the ingredients “Foodstuff”. Not exactly sure how much 300 grams is, we got 2/3’s pound of ground beef and ground pork. Going down the list is pretty self explanatory, for the most part. We forgot to get parsley at the store, so Tamiko used the 1 tablespoon of cilantro we had left in the fridge. I’ve never heard of a walnut kernal, but only a moron doesn’t know what he means. Tamiko omitted the pickles because she knows I’m not a huge fan of them, what a sweetheart! Worcester is supposed to be Worcestershire. Grate cheese refers to parmesan. As for the boiled eggs, you can hard-boil as many as you like. Just slice them up and top each plate with one.

On to the how-to portion of today’s post. Again, most of it is pretty easy to understand. Tamiko minced up everything real well, walnuts and raisins as well. She then sautéed everything according to instructions. My favorite part is boiling the water down to a sapless state. Honestly, I have never heard that phrase before in my life and probably won’t ever hear it again. He means just boil it down till it’s almost all evaporated. It is a “Dried Curry Rice” and not a wet one. Alright, that’s all I’m going to make fun of Uichiro.

Another way Tamiko’s was different is that she did not mix any of the curry into the rice. I did when I made it, but she instead just topped the rice with the curry. Either way works really well, whatever you prefer. Then, she topped the curry with the sliced egg and sprinkled the cilantro on top. It’s really a simple dish to make. But, as Tamiko likes to say, simple is best. It is also very delicious. The play between the curry and sweet raisins is beautiful. The walnuts add a nice crunch to the whole thing.

On the side we had a simple salad of lettuce, shredded celery, daikon cut into thin matchsticks, and cherry tomatoes. I whipped up a balsamic vinaigrette. One part balsamic vinegar, two parts olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper, and whisk it up until its emulsified.

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Yuki and I were cruisin’ around this weekend and ended up passing through the Puerto Rican strip of Division Street. Right about that time both of our stomach’s started to growl. Her’s may have been the baby kicking, but mine was definitely something else. While neither of us were all too impressed with the food we ate in Puerto Rico, with the exception of a few spots, we never really explored the Puerto Rican food in Chicago. Funny thing is we used to live 2 blocks east of it and frequently rode our bikes past it on our way to Humboldt Park, yet never made it down there for eats. When we saw Papa’s we had to stop in and give it a whirl. Honestly though, we thought it was Papa’s as in potato, but it was all about the bald guy in the pic below. Oh well, it was very busy, mostly with Puerto Rican/Chicagoans, so that was a good sign. They do have papas fritas on the menu though.

Papa’s is a small little place run by Papa and Mama. I love the palapa over the counter, gives it a nice tropical feel. The menu is mostly based on rotisserie chicken, as you can see the numerous birds rotating behind Papa. Not having had a Jibarito in a long time, and with them claiming to have the best in town, that seemed like the way for us to go. So, we grabbed a seat as soon as one opened up, and Mama came by to serve us.

Yuki got the rotisserie chicken breast and I got the steak. The plantain was the perfect thickness and fried just right. Fresh lettuce and tomatoes, garlic mayo, and some sort of white cheese rounded out the garnish. Hers came with Spanish rice and pigeon peas while mine came with white rice and beans. I have to say, they may be right, it could very well be the best damn Jibarito in town! Granted, I’ve only had three in my life, but these were by far the best I’ve had. As good as the steak was the chicken was outstanding! They may also have the best rotisserie chicken in town! Juicy and flavorful!

When Mama brought the bill there was this bumper sticker with it. I won’t put it on the green machine anytime soon, but they certainly do have every reason to be proud of the chicken. We will definitely go back for more sometime, only next time we’ll probably get a whole bird and rip that thing to pieces in a matter of seconds!

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If you go back to December 24, 2010, you’ll see that I posted about the burgers at the Paramount Room. After we ate those burgers Yuki was talking about them with some of her co-workers the next day. One of them was raving to her about the burgers at Jury’s. Jury’s burgers this…Jury’s burgers that…etc. Well, the very next day Jury’s appeard on Groupon. Jury’s burgers have been rated in the top 5 best of Chicago by numerous publications many times over the years it’s been in business. We were smart enough to connect the dots which lead us to last night, trying Jury’s burgers for ourselves.

It’s atmosphere is that of a classic old Chicago Italian joint. Very comfortable with old tin ceilings and a nice long bar. There aren’t a lot of tables, maybe seating for 60, so it’s more intimate. They were playing good jazz softly in the background, just loud enough that you heard it, but not too loud that you couldn’t hear anything else. Service was fast and professional.

When we sat down they brought us a bread basket with breadsticks (plain and rye) and two types of bread (plain and multi-grain). Lots of butter as well as olive oil and parmesan to dip the bread into. Good bread. They also have a nice beer list with Bells Amber ale on tap for $3 a pint! Very nice deal.

Yuki got a cup of the soup de jour, sausage and pasta. I didn’t taste it, but she said it was good. A little salty, but overall pretty good.

We both got the classic burger. A nice big 1/2 pound patty of juicy beef. It came with lettuce, tomato, onion and a pickle on the side. We each had our onion grilled and both got cheddar cheese on our burgers. I got a big pile of fresh cut french fries while Yuki got the sauteed vegetables (zucchini, broccoli, carrots, and green beans).

I have to say, I was slightly dissapointed. Not that the burger wasn’t good. It was a very good burger. It just wasn’t a mind-altering religious experience putting that thing into my mouth and chewing. The meat was extremely fresh and juicy, but lacked a little seasoning. With all of the hype I was ready for a piece of cow that would have me up at night craving a bump of it’s bovine lovin’. I didn’t get that at all. It is clearly not a top 5 burger by any stretch of the imagination.

That said, I do wish Jury’s was in my neighborhood because that burger was lightyears beyond your regular bar burger. I would have no problem eating that thing again, no problem at all. I just wouldn’t go way out of my way to get it.

The overall Jury’s experience was a good one, and it is a great place to have in your backyard. It is also very family-friendly. But that’s all it is, a great place to have in your backyard that you can take your family to for a really good burger.

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The other night Yuki was craving a big burger. To be honest, I should have knocked her up a long time ago. Pregnancy has her craving red meat. I’ve often said that red meat is my favorite vegetable. She wanted a burger, who was I to say no? We had a Groupon for the Paramount Room so it all worked out a little too perfectly.

The Paramount Room is known for their $9 Kobe Burger. They also have a nice beer list. Yuki couldn’t enjoy the beer list, but I was more than happy to enjoy it for both of us, I mean the three of us.

It’s your basic neighborhood bar with exposed brick walls, loud rock’n’roll, and a TV over the bar playing the Bulls game (it’s still weird to see Hinrich in a Wizzards uniform). The menu is nice and short with basic bar food fare. We really didn’t have to look at the menu though because we both knew we’d be full of Kobe Burger way before we ever walked through their front door. And boy were we ever full of Kobe Burger!

I know the picture is terrible, but just imagine two plates with 1/2 pound burgers, lettuce, tomato, and red onion. On one we got the french fries, on the other we got the tempura green beans. The fries came with ketchup and a garlic aioli while the green beans came with a red chili dipping sauce. I got my burger with the applewood smoked bacon, sautéed mushrooms, and blue cheese. Yuki got the same only with cheddar instead of blue.

I will say, the beef was not Japanese Kobe, it was Kobe-style wagu beef probably from Nebraska (most beef that’s called Kobe in America is not from Japan). If it were real Kobe from Japan there is no way they could serve 1/2 pound for $9, it’d be more like $35. That said, Kobe-style beef from Nebraska is not a bad thing, it’s still a very tasty high quality meat. That came through in this burger as it was a very delicious burger. Very juicy and full of beefy goodness. They are also using high quality bacon and cheeses (no velveeta on this plate!). What really made the burgers stand out though was the sautéed mushrooms. I was fully expecting regular old button mushrooms, maybe cremini. No no no. They went full-out and threw some oyster mushrooms under the bun for these bad boys! While the flavor of oyster mushrooms was nice with the beef it was the texture that put it over the top. Very nice touch, very nice indeed.

As for the fries and tempura green beans, they were just your average fries and tempura green beans. They were cooked properly though and the sauces were nice. With garlic aioli on top of my blue cheese I was extremely kissable!

All in all I would definitely put the Paramount Room’s Kobe Burgers up with the best of them. Are they the best? Probably not, there are some damn good burgers around, not to mention the ones I grill up myself (ask any of my high school buddies, I am famous for my ghetto burgers). They are in the discussion though, thanks to the oyster mushrooms. With the Paramount Room being very close to our apartment I can definitely see more trips there in our future, as long as Yuki is pregnant and craving red meat.

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