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Posts Tagged ‘noodles’

Even since it was featured on CheckPlease a while back I have wanted to check out Blue 13. I don’t know why, but it really appealed to me for some reason. When I saw that Chef Curren was doing a Restaurant Week menu I took that as an opportunity to finally get off my ass and take my wife out for some rockin viddles. Turned out to be a damn good idea.

Located in the River North area, Blue 13 is on a very residential strip just off the hwy. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because it allows for a neighborhood feel without any pretension. It’s bad because there’s nowhere to park! I hate paying for valet. I am Jewish (culturally, not religiously) after all. After finding a place to park a couple of blocks away Yuki and I were ready to get out of the cold and fill ourselves full of tastiness.

When we got there a couple of tables lingered a little longer than expected and our reservation was about 15 minutes late. No worries, 15 minutes is acceptable. So, we headed to the bar and I had a beer while we bitched to each other about how frustrating both of our jobs are. Basically, a nightly routine. When we got to our table we already knew what we wanted so we ordered up dinner, ate some good bread with great olive oil, and awaited the feast.

Yuki started off with the Duck Confit Tortellini. Served in a caper and cilantro butter sauce it was absolutely delicious. The only thing wrong with it is that the pasta was just a little too al dente, and not by much. Maybe another 45 seconds or so in salted water and it would have been perfect. On the other hand, this was the first time I’ve ever had capers with cilantro. I hope it’s not the last because it was a really weird pairing that actually works quite well.

I got the Beet Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette. I did tell you the other day that if there’s a beet salad on a menu I’ll probably get it. It didn’t hurt that their restaurant week menu only had two options (they did have a $44 pre fixe option with more choices, but that’s a little pricy for my blood). I will say this, Chef Curran’s beet salad is one of the most creative ones I’ve ever eaten. Nice sweet golden beets, frisee, endive, candied hazelnuts (quite possibly my favorite of all nuts, excluding my own of course), and, get this, marshmallows made with beets and balsamic vinegar. It was the marshmallows that set this salad over the top.

Yuki got the Arctic Char entrée. A beautiful piece of fish with a nice crispy skin and juicy flesh (is there anything better than juicy flesh?). It was served on a grain salad that consisted mainly of quinoa and pearl barley as well as a big smear of pureed butternut squash. All of the flavors worked in harmony and completed a very satisfying dish.

I got the Guinness Braised Veal Cheeks. These were some of the most tender cheeks I’ve tossed into my organs, like a really soft brisket. Served on buttered noodles with sautéed brussel sprouts and a smear of creme fraiche. It was garnished with a baby carrot and some baby cilantro. I’m beginning to realize that Chef Curran likes to use cilantro. Honestly, I got no beef with that! In fact, I got veal. The only problem with this dish is that I found that it could have used one more pinch of salt to really bring out the beery goodness of the guinness. Otherwise this was a success.

With two dessert options we decided to get one of each, and that really wasn’t a hard decision to make. Yuki had the Apple Cobbler with Vanilla Gelato. A classic that he didn’t really fiddle much with. It was very straightforward but executed nicely.

I got the Chocolate Peanut Butter Waffle. Waffle with candied peanuts, peanut butter sauce, chocolate sauce, and a scoop of vanilla gelato. As I started eating it I was greeted with a very nice surprise, very nice indeed. In the chocolate sauce were little pieces of BACON!!! It’s desserts like this that make me glad I don’t keep Kosher. Bacon truly does make everything better.

Service throughout the night was spot on. The servers were casual, yet professional. Food was brought out in good time and plates were cleared promptly. The atmosphere was also very casual. Exposed brick walls with heavy rock’n’roll on the speakers, but not too loud that it hindered conversation.

Way back when I worked at a restaurant called The Outpost I always thought that it should have been something more like this. Honestly, if I ever did open up a restaurant it would be along the lines of Blue 13, except I’d play more classic rock and throw some Fela in the mix. Otherwise I wouldn’t change a thing.

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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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Meatless Monday last night ended up being Yakisoba. Yakisoba is a traditional noodle dish (even though it’s origins are from China, it has become a staple of Japanese cuisine much like Ramen) that is typically served with various vegetables and pork. I omitted the pork to accommodate Meatless Monday.

First thing I did was get the protein ready. I made a thin omelet of two eggs and a little cream. In my heated large skillet I poured a tablespoon each of soy oil and sesame oil. I swirled that around to coat the entire pan and then poured in the scrambled eggs. I swirled the eggs around to make a thin omelet, much like a crepe in appearance. I turned the heat down so it wouldn’t burn. Once the bottom was cooked and the top set I carefully flipped it over to get a little crust on both sides. Then I slid it out of the pan and onto a cutting board, cut it in half, then made thin “noodles” out of it. I set this aside because this was my garnish.

For my vegetables I used 6 green onions, 1 carrot, some haricots vert, 6 ounces of bean sprouts, 1 red bell pepper, 6 cremini mushrooms (I wanted to use shiitake, but I had cremini in my fridge already), some ginger and a few cloves of garlic. I sliced everything thinly so that they would mix in well with the noodles.

The noodles I used are called Chuka Soba, which translates to Chinese Noodles. They’re wheat noodles, but honestly, you could use a chow mein or ramen noodle if you wanted and get the same results. I cooked the noodles according to package instructions.

Using the same skillet I used for the egg I heated another tablespoon each of soy and sesame oils. I threw the garlic and ginger in for about a minute and then added the haricots vert, carrot, bell pepper, and green onions. I let those cook for about 6 minutes before adding the mushrooms. I let the mushrooms cook for about 4 minutes and then seasoned with a little salt and pepper. Then I poured in about 2 tablespoons of sake and let that boil off. After that I added the sprouts and then about 1/3 cup of Bull-Dog Sauce. I don’t know if you can get Bull-Dog Sauce at many places. We get ours at Mitsuwa, but you may be able to find it in ChinaTown or some other Asian Grocers.  

Once the sauce was mixed in well with the vegetables I tossed the noodles in and let them fry a little while mixing everything together. It’s important to keep the heat on to dry the sauce up a little while the noodles absorb it. This gives a nice texture to the noodles.

To serve I simply used my tongs and put a big pile of everything on a plate. Then I topped it with some of the sliced eggs and drank a cold beer. For the leftovers today I sliced some Black Forest Ham and added it to the mix. Since it’s not Meatless Tuesday I’m cool with that.

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So, I’m sittin here at mi mama’s casa in Merida, Mexico. For whatever reason, I can’t seem to get this Chiles Rellenos I ate in Cozumel the other day out of my taste buds. It was hands down the best damn Chiles Rellenos one could digest! Not wanting to spend a ton of pesos at extremely subpar, boring restaurants on the tourist strip of Cozumel I asked Donna of Aqua Safari (the hotel/dive shop that we stayed and dove with, and will again hopefully in the near future) where she goes to eat. I figured that she’s been there long enough to know all of the good spots where we can get the local flair. I figured correctly, as I usually do. She sent us to Sabores. It’s literally the home of a mother and her son and daughter that doubles as one of the best Mexican restaurants I’ve ever come across.

We walked into the house and straight back to their garden patio. As you can see, it was a little tropical paradise. Palm trees, a little canopy, and a few tables all graced by some beautiful birds there to pic up any crumbs. I guess humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy Sabores.

When we sat down they immediately brought us a pitcher of this red drink. I thought to myself, “this is the first time I’ve ever been served Kool-Aid at a restaurant…weird!” Turns out it was Jamaica, a common drink in the Yucatán made with hibiscus. It does taste similar to Kool-Aid, but it’s much better for you as it isn’t processed artificially sweetened dye. We also had a choice of two soups. I got the Sopa Pasta and Yuki got the Sopa Verduras. Same great broth, chicken consomme, but mine had noodles while hers had vegetables. If I were a bettin man, and I am, I’d bet that’s how they got their names.

Once we finished our soup they brought us their dry-erase menu board. Note, the dollar signs are pesos and not dollars. At about 12-13 pesos to the dollar you can do the math, or let a calculator do the math for you. All you really need to know is that there is no possible way to get home cooked food of this quality for anywhere near this price in Chicago, or on Cozumel’s tourist strip for that matter.

Here’s the Chiles Rellenos. Man, just looking at this picture makes me crave it again! I got con carne option. Perfectly seasoned ground beef stuffed into the roasted poblano and drizzled with Mexican crema. Delicious chunky refried frijoles negros, rice, slice of lime, and a small salad on the side to help push the food through my tracts. Yuki got the pollo milanesa, thin chicken breasts breaded and deep fried, to perfection I might add. Not oily at all, but nice and crisp while the meat stayed juicy. Along with the usual condiments of salsa verde, salsa rojo, and tortillas we were set! Until dessert at least.

What true Mexican meal is complete without flan? Not this one! The best flan ever! Creamy, but light and not heavy. Just a touch of lime to balance the caramel. It was outstanding.

Everything was top-notch. You could really taste that this food was cooked in someone’s home, and cooked with care. Next time I’m in Cozumel I am definitely heading back to Sabores. If you know what’s good for you, especially what’s good for your taste buds and stomach, you will too if you ever go to Cozumel.

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Alright, here’s Uichiro’s famous Kawabata-style Okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is Japan’s version of a pancake of sorts. It’s base ingredients are eggs, flour, and shredded cabbage. Not entirely sure if Uichiro uses water or dashi, or what else he puts in his mix (highly guarded secret but I’m sure there are green onions in it) but it sure is tasty.

You start off by getting out the old table-top griddle. Once its hot add a little oil and pour some of the batter to form a pancake. Next to it lay out some sliced pork and start cooking it a little.

Once the batter starts to cook lay the pork slices on top.

While the okonomiyaki cooks grill various veggies. We had eggplant, green peppers, onion rings with quail eggs, kabocha, matsutake mushrooms, and various mochi cakes. Once the bottom is done you carefully flip the okonomiyaki to cook the other side.

Once it’s fully cooked spoon on top some bull dog sauce (a semi-sweet vegetable and fruit sauce), mayonnaise, shredded ao nori, bonito flakes, and pickled ginger on the side. Since it’s family-style you just cook and grab as you go. It’s a ton of fun and extremely tasty.

And if you aren’t full yet, don’t worry as yakisoba is up next. Once the batter is finished cook up the rest of the pork and veggies, add some bean sprouts and noodles, then eat it up.

Please, no dessert.

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