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Posts Tagged ‘nara prefecture’

Last night Yuki and I went to see RUSH at Northerly Island. What a great band! Because of that I didn’t cook Meatless Monday, though I did eat a falafel sandwich with some babaganoush before the show to keep with the theme. I tell ya, being at the concert really drove home the point that all Americans need to adopt a healthier diet as at least 75% of the concert goers were way overweight. That might be an understatement too. Concert seats are only so big and literally everyone around us was well over 200 pounds. I felt claustrophobic at time. America, start eating healthy well-balanced diets!!! But that didn’t stop us from enjoying the show. At any rate, I’m going to blog about the dinner we had Saturday night.

We were out in Schaumburg so that we could stop at the Tensuke Market, which is actually in Elk Grove, but just south of Mitsuwa. It’s smaller than Mitsuwa but sometimes has better deals and has the absolute best retail seafood in the Chicago area. If you want to make sashimi at home, I highly suggest making the trek to Tensuke for your fish. There’s a restaurant called Daruma that Yuki had wanted to try for a while so we decided to give it a try. Honestly, walking through the doors was almost like walking into Japan. I mean that in every good way possible.

The decor is very traditional of casual dining in Japan. The Japanese don’t put a whole lot of stock into gaudy decor, instead they prefer to focus on high quality food. The walls were poorly painted, the tables and seats a little worn down, cheap napkins (in Japan you usually don’t find any napkins). It really felt like a restaurant in Japan. Made me feel homesick even though I’m not Japanese.

Service was pretty good. All Japanese servers, but bi-lingual so don’t worry. It was the food that starred though.

We started off with some Miso Soup. Nothing fancy, just a well made miso soup with wakame and tofu. I also had some sake. I was torn between two kinds so they gave me a couple of samples. The samples were very generous and I honestly didn’t need to order any sake due to the large pours. But, I did get a sake from the Nara Prefecture.

We got a Daikon Salad. Thin sticks of daikon served with carrot stick tempura and a shiso dressing. Carrots often accompany daikon, but this is the first time I’ve seen carrot tempura with the daikon. Nice touch. Little pea shoots for a bit of peppery bit and color.

We ordered two maki rolls. Ebi Ten, shrimp tempura with avocado, cucumber, and smelt roe. Unakyu, fresh water eel with cucumber. The sushi was good. Not the best I’ve ever had, but overall solid.

Tatsuta Age, deep-fried chicken thigh. Usually served in smaller pieces and called karage, these were pretty big chunks of chicken. Served with shredded cabbage, potato salad, pea shoots, and a slice of lemon this is a classic. It’s also one of mine and Yuki’s favorites.

Niku Tofu, a play on the popular Japanese home cooked dish called niku jaga (meat and potato). Instead of potato Daruma used tofu. It’s thin sliced beef with tofu simmered in a sweet soy broth. Also simmered in the dish were chopped napa cabbage and green onions. This was delicious!

Hamachi Kama, the absolute star of the show! Yellowtail jaw broiled to perfection. You got all of that flavorful cheek meat, easily the best part of any large fish. I don’t know why this part isn’t served more in American cuisine because it has so much more meat and flavor than our prefered filets. This chunk of fish was so tasty it almost brought a tear to my eye. My stomach thanked me for eating this.

Overall, the food and ambiance at Daruma were fantastic. So far it’s the most authentic Japanese restaurant we’ve been to in the Chicagoland area. The food is delicious, portions are priced accordingly (we had leftovers), and the sake was flowing. The only downfall of this place is that I have to fight Hwy 90 traffic to get there. Next time Yuki’s parents are in town we’re definitely taking them there to show them that there is real Japanese cooking here.

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We spent an afternoon at Himeji Castle before exploring some of the Nara Prefecture. If you only see one castle in Japan, you’d better make it Himeji. It is absolutely pristine. Easily the best preserved structure built in the 1300’s that I’ve ever been to. It is the quintessential Japanese Castle.

At any rate, it’s located about a 10 minute walk down the main street from the Shinkansen. We arrived about lunch time figuring that there’d be plenty fo food options along that 10 minute walk. Right we were. We decided to veer off onto a side street where a retail arcade was as there’s always cheap delicious food options a plenty in retail arcades. Instead of eating at one of those establishments we wandered into a typical hole-in-the-wall Japanese staple, their alter-ego of Chicago’s taquerias. We filled ourselves with Ramen Noodles.

This was a very typical ma and pa ramen shop that you find everywhere in Japan. You walk in and are greeted by ma and pa themselves, “Irrashaemase!” There’s a vending-like machine near the door with the menu on it. It basically consists of a few different Ramen broths with a handful of different additions to choose if you so desire. Put your money in, press the buttons for what you want, and out comes your little order ticket.

Then, you walk in to see that there’s only 8-10 chairs along the bar. Grab a seat. Every few seats are trays of condiments, things like soy sauce, togarashi, toothpicks, boxes of tissue for the runny nose the hot ramen will give you. There’s also little spickets of hot water with tea cups and green tea for you to make as you like along with a cold water dispenser. Hand the ticket across the bar and ma and pa make your food.

I ordered the Bakabuta Ramen and Yuki got the Miso Ramen with mushrooms. Both were miso broth with loads of bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, green onions, and black woodear mushrooms. Both came with a slice of roasted pork. “Buta” in Japanese means pig, so mine had extra pork. Two big pieces of fall off the bone sweet fatty pork. Each bite coated your lips with fatty goodness. Yuki’s had extra woodear mushrooms as well as what I think were eryngii mushrooms. If I’m wrong Yuki will correct me after she reads this and I’ll correct the blog.

Since we both love pork and mushrooms we arranged a deal. I gave her some pork, she gave me a few more mushrooms. A fair trade I think.

It’s too bad that 25 cent packages of dried ramen noodles killed the idea here in America. A nice big bowl of fresh ramen like this is fast, cheap, filling but not overly heavy, and healthy. In fact, just thinking about it makes me crave some ramen. I think I’ll make some for dinner tonight.

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