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Posts Tagged ‘mango’

This past Friday night Yuki and I had dinner with our friends Nick and Andrea. I was charged with finding a place that none of us had been to before. Yuki had mentioned a taste for tamales so I thought I’d find a Mexican joint. Since Nick and Andrea have travelled extensively through Mexico I knew it wouldn’t be hard to convince them to try Don Diablo with us. I believe Nick’s response was, “you had me at tamales”. So, we headed over the former Fonda Del Mar current Don Diablo, and we’re all damn glad we did.

It’s a little out of any gentrified neighborhood so there aren’t many people who know about it yet, but I think that will all change soon. Especially since it’s BYOB, keeping costs down.

The interior is very quaint. It has an exposed kitchen and the tables aren’t to close together that you’re bumping up against strangers. Music wasn’t too loud so you don’t have to shout in order to converse. The service was also pretty good. There was only one waitress, but with only 4 tables we never got antsy waiting for service.

Of course, we started with the tamales. Chicken filled and topped with a green sauce and some melted cheese. They put a lot of whole kernels in their masa which gave a little bit more sweetness to the dish. It took a couple of bites to get used to it, but after those couple of bites I found that I really enjoyed them. With two tamales per order we got two orders so that we each got our own.

The other appetizer we tried was the Quesadillas De Huitlacoche. You almost have to order huitlacoche whenever you see it because it’s such a delicacy with a great earthy flavor. That said, I don’t think they really showcased the huitlacoche all that much in these. With chihuahua cheese, epazote, and guacamole on the side the huitlacoche almost got lost. Don’t get me wrong, they were very good, but I wanted more huitlacoche flavor.

Nick and Andrea each ordered the Enchaladas De Pollo. They did so for the mole. It had a very deep chocolate flavor, but was smooth and delicious. Not an outstanding plate, but a very very good one.

I ordered Puerco en Mole. Really soft and perfectly cooked pork loin served in a green mole with pumpkin seeds. The mole was very light which was nice because it didn’t overpower the pork flavor. It also came with garlic mashed potatoes with melted cheese. Another very very good dish.

Ah, the piece de resistance! Yuki ordered the Cochinita Pibil. Slow cooked pork shoulder cooked in a banana leaf and served with black beans, pickled onions, and a spicy habanero salsa. This was one of the best pork dishes I have ever eaten in Chicago. If it were socially acceptable I would dress myself in cochinita pibil and prance about town. The pork was fall-apart tender full of flavor. The pickled onion just explodes in your mouth. The beans add substance. The habanero salsa was the perfect level of spice, a slow burn that coats your mouth but isn’t overpowering and makes you want to come back for more. This dish was truly impressive.

We kind of shared three desserts. Coconut Flan was one of them. It was a little thick, but had a great flavor.

Mango sorbet, nice and light with a great natural sweetness.

And a Pecan Pie with vanilla ice cream, not really what I think of when I think of Mexican dessert, but a delicious one nonetheless. I’m not sure if the desserts were homemade or brought it, but they were pretty good.

Overall, I find Don Diablo to be one of the best kept secrets in Chicago Mexican dining. Every dish was cooked perfectly with nice balance and quality ingredients. Service was efficient and friendly. The price point was excellent, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better value for a Mexican meal like this. Cochinita Pibil is a true masterpiece. I would crawl on my hands and knees in the middle of January to get a taste of that again.

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So, Yuki had some coupons from unused miles on United Airlines. Last night we used one at Ai Sushi.  I dvr’d the Bears-Giants game and we headed down to Ontario St for some grub.

Parking was a pain because all of the meters were “For Residents Only Until Oct 4”. We did find a spot about a block away so we didn’t have to spend on valet. Tonight we could have gotten a spot right in front. Oh well, can’t blame that on the restaurant.

The interior is really nice. It has the open loft feel with exposed brick and wood beams. The art on the walls was not flashy at all and instead complimented the brick. Colors were soft and very intimate. It has a real nice setting inside.

I did use my phone’s camera, so these pics are terrible.

First thing we got was the Sunomono Moriawase. Shrimp, real crab meat, and octopus lightly cooked along with fluke sashimi in a dashi vinaigrette with daikon sticks and seaweed. It was really good, fresh fish and not to vinegary at all.

Next was one of the specials of the night, Wagyu Tobanyaki. 5 slices of real Kobe beef imported from Japan, enoki mushrooms, and shimeji mushrooms that you cook yourself on a hot stone with butter. The beef was so soft and delicious. It was definitely the real thing, none of that cow from Nebraska.

After that we each had a bowl of Kabocha Corn Soup. Simply a puree of kabocha and corn, probably with onion. It tasted like something I would make, which is to say it was pretty tasty.

Then came the Chawanmushi. A Chinese style egg custard with shiitake, shimeji, and enoki mushrooms. The custard was the perfect consistency. Not a fancy dish, but a good one.

The first maki roll we got was their Habanero Lobster. It had tempura lobster, kampyo, ginger, mango, avocado, habanero, capers, cilantro, and sour cream mayo. We’re not usually fans of rolls with more than a few ingredients, but this one was pretty good. That habanero packed a punch, but not so much that you couldn’t taste the lobster’s sweetness. It was pretty good. They also put a few slices of smoked duck on the plate. They serve smoked duck sushi and must have needed to get rid of it, but it tasted pretty good to me, so I didn’t mind.

The last thing we got was one of the night’s special rolls, Orange Maki. It had tempura shrimp and orange zest inside and was topped with salmon and black tobiko. It was really good! Light, sweet, and refreshing. I would definitely order that roll again. Also, there was more smoked duck on this plate.

We didn’t have any room for dessert and didn’t even look at the dessert menu so I can’t comment on that.

The service was professional. We never had to wait long for anything, we weren’t rushed or bothered to hurry up, and our server was very knowledgable of the menu. The only gripe I have, and it’s nitpicking, is that the food should have come out in a different order. The beef should have been last and soup served before the chawanmushi. Other than that, I have no complaints at all.

I would have to say that Ai is one of the better sushi restaurants we’ve been to in Chicago. I wouldn’t call it the best, but it is definitely worth while with some creative offerings as well as some classics, all very fresh and properly prepared. I would go back without hesitation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tres Leches.

A crepe filled with berries and a caramel sauce.

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

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

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Restaurant Week just started here in Chicago. Probably the best week in Chicago for foodies, especially broke foodies like me. Restaurants that participate offer 3 course pre fix meals at $22 for lunch and $32 for dinner. Of course drinks, tips, and tax are not included. However, it’s a great deal at some of the joints that do offer up these meals. It allows people to try out different places that they normally wouldn’t without breaking the bank. We’re taking advantage this year and hitting up a few places. The first one was last night at Japonais. Before I get into my review I want to apologize for the quality of pics on this post. I used my phone’s camera instead of my Canon. Since Japonais is kind of loungy, the lights are low. Because of this, the pics didn’t turn out so well. So please, bear with me on this one.

The pre fix they offer consists of an appetizer, an entrée, and choice of either dessert or cocktail. We decided to split one dessert so Yuki got their signature cocktail, the Floating Orchid. It’s a martini made with Absolute Vodka mixed with fresh pear and lemon juices with an edible orchid garnish. It wasn’t that strong, but it wasn’t a bad drink. It is definitely a chick drink though.

At Japonais all dishes are intended to be shared, so they aren’t concerned with bringing things out at the same time. That fit our agenda so it worked out nicely. The first dish they brought out was Bin Cho, baby tuna sashimi marinated in a citrus vinaigrette and served with a daikon salad and arugula. The tuna was fresh, soft, and delicious! Very high quality fish.

Next came the lobster spring rolls. They were served on top of a mango relish with a cilantro sauce and blood orange vinaigrette. The sauces matched the natural sweetness of the lobster quite well. There were also some pea shoots on top as garnish that added a touch of pepperiness.

The first entrée brought out was the soy braised short rib. Food should be brought out lightest to heaviest. Seeing as this is the heaviest, it should have been done last. Oh well, that’s getting a little nitpicky. The rib was perfect, extremely tender and very flavorful. Served with poached pear, a few brussel sprout leaves, and sweet potato puree this was a very satisfying dish. Another pic disclaimer, the sauce is smeared in this pic because I almost started eating it before taking the pic. My bad.

The next entrée was the chestnut crusted chicken. There were some initial problems with this dish. It took quite a while for it to show up after we finished the short rib. Our server stopped by a couple of times to apologize for the wait and to tell us that it’s on the way. Fine, just bring it already! When it finally did arrive I cut into it only to find that it was pink and raw. I know they were running late with the dish, but there’s no excuse for serving raw chicken. Take the 2 extra minutes and make sure it’s cooked! So we had to wait a little longer. The manager did make up for it, I’ll show you how once I get through the chicken review. When they brought the second chicken out I cut into it only to find that it was also a little undercooked. Not nearly as bad as the first one, this one was mostly edible, so we dug in and ate what we could. I do have to say that it was delicious. The ginger-lemon sauce was outstanding and went really well with the crunchy chestnuts. The shiitake rice was fantastic and the brocolini was pretty good too. While a professional chef should know how to cook a piece of chicken, they did get the rest of the dish right. Also, my last pic disclaimer, this pic came from yelp as mine turned out horrible.

While we were waiting for the second chicken the manager brought us this tuna sushi plate on the house. Again, extremely high quality fish with some sort of ginger cream sauce. He definitely made up for the chef’s lack of chicken cookery. This was a great plate of sushi.

Dessert was a chocolate marscapone mousse topped with berries and a small scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. The name is misleading though. It’s really a marscapone mousse with two chocolate wafers inside and coated with cocoa powder. It was ok, but nothing to write home about. It was by far the weakest dish we ate, but at least it wasn’t undercooked.

I also didn’t mention that our table was 20 minutes late. There’s a cocktail lounge in the basement, so we waited at the bar and had a drink. 20 minutes is about as long as I wait before I start to bitch to the host. So they just made it. Overall though, I have to say, I was impressed. I expected it to be more pretentious than it is. Don’t get me wrong, it is definitely a place to see and be seen, but it is also a little more laid back than other loungy places. The food was high quality, and for the most part extremely well executed. While there were a few mishaps in service, all was made up with the comped sushi as well as comped drinks on our bill. It is definitely a place worth checking out.

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Being an atheist Jew who doesn’t celebrate the birth of fictional characters I always end up at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas day. I know that Saturday Night Live had their famous skit about Jews going to Chinese joints on Christmas, but it’s only funny because it’s true. Buddhists share the lack of blind faith in Jesus that we do. Plus, with every other restaurant and grocery store closed someone has to make money on this capitalist holiday!

I did countless research to find something new and interesting as Chinatown (other than Cafe Hoang) is really nothing special. Every website had Lao Szechuan and Phoenix as the best places in Chinatown. Honestly, neither of them excite me at all. They’re ok, but nothing special. One thing New Yorkers truly can claim is far superior chinese food than Chicago (I don’t buy their claims of having better pizza or hot dogs, oh, they do also have better bagels though).

Then I came across Han 202. A little 36 seat restaurant in the Bridgeport neighborhood, 605 W 31st street. They do 5 course meals for only $20! When I read that Phil Vettel, he of the Tribune’s food critiques, enjoyed his visits there I thought it would be better than typical greasy chinese stir-fry. It was!

I started with the Spicy King Crab Miso Soup. A basic miso soup with real crab meat and some spicy bean paste added. It wasn’t en fuego spicy, but it had a nice little heat to jump-start my taste buds.

After that I got the Green Apple Salad. Julienned granny smiths tossed in a mix of olive oil and truffle oil with just a hint of fish sauce. There were also a few capers for saltiness and some red peppercorns for a little bite.

Yuki got the Lemongrass Beef salad which turned out to be the exact same as mine but with extremely tender slices of lemongrass beef on top. Had I known they were the same salad but with the beef I would have ordered this since beef is my favorite vegetable. Oh well, what can you do?

For the appetizer course I ordered the Salt and Pepper Calamari. Deep fried slices of squid with diced jalapeno and green onions. The squid was cooked to perfection, nice and tender without any rubberiness (is that a word?). My only complaint would be that it was a little too salty, but with salt in the dish’s name I guess that was to be expected.

For my entrée I ordered the Duck Breast in Sichuan Hot Bean Sauce. This was the only dish that truly had an authentic Chinese aroma to it, so good! The duck was a perfect medium rare. I would have liked for the skin to be a little crispier, but I can’t complain since it was otherwise cooked the way a good duck breast outta be cooked. The sauce had a nice little tinge of spice. There was sliced bell pepper, green onion, carrot, some sort of chinese green, and some diced pineapple for a little sweetness. It was a very well-balanced sauce that matched beautifully with the duck. A really nice modern take on a classic chinese dish.

Dessert was vanilla ice cream with some mango-tomato sorbet on top. The ice cream was nice and smooth while the sorbet added a nice flavor to the spoon.

Overall, I find Han 202 to be one of Chicago’s absolute best values. Besides my enjoyment of the food, Yuki also had only positive things to say about her Scallop and Lamb Chops. Our friend who joined us also enjoyed her Tuna and Strip Steak. Having sampled everything, I have to agree with their assessments as well. We walked out fully satisfied but not overly stuffed. They could have easily charged us $35 per person (I’m glad they didn’t) and I still would have been satisfied.

They’re also BYOB, which cuts the cost of dining. No corkage fee and they kept our beer in the cooler for us. They also have nice pint glasses.

Next time you’re in the mood for some good Chinese food head south of Chinatown for an updated take on not only classic Chinese flavors, but also extremely reasonably priced pre-fix.

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