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Posts Tagged ‘octopus’

The other day we were at the Tensuke Market in Elk Grove Village, arguably the best fish market in the Chicagoland area. We were out of rice and they usually have the best deals on high quality Japanese (even though it’s all from California) rice. Sure enough, they had a great deal on some new crop. While we were there we found a package of nabe-ready seafood. Nabe is simply one-pot stew or soup cooking. Usually prepared on the stove top then brought to a table-top burner to keep warm while eating it. So, we had seafood nabe.

Yuki started by making the broth. She simply boiled about 1/4 cup of dried anchovies in about 5 or 6 cups of water for 30 minutes or so. That allows enough time for the water to take on all of that nice seafood flavor without any added oils or salts.

While the broth was boiling away I prepared the veggies. Besides the seafood package (slices of fluke, octopus, scallops, shrimp, sea bass, and salmon) I chopped up 1/4 pound of napa cabbage, 6 green onions, 1 carrot, 1 package of enoki mushrooms, 3/4 pound daikon, and 6 shiitake. There are also fish cakes in the picture, but we decided not to use them. Instead, we used 1 package of shirataki noodles which aren’t in the picture.

When the broth was ready I strained it into our earthenware clay pot and discarded the anchovies. I brought it up to a low boil and Yuki added the daikon and carrot. She let that boil for about 5 minutes or so and then added the shiitake, green onions, and cabbage. About 5 minutes later she added the rest of the ingredients.

When the stew was ready, about 5 more minutes after adding the fish, we brought it over to our table and put it on our table-top burner over low heat. We poured about 2 tablespoons of ponzu into our bowls, then ladled some broth in and started eating. We had white rice on the side.

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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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Our third Restaurant Week jaunt was for lunch yesterday at Blackbird. We had actually eaten there about 5 or 6 years ago for Yuki’s birthday dinner. I can’t remember what we ate, but I do remember being extremely impressed. We haven’t been back since but decided that a $22 pre fix lunch there was too good to pass up, especially after seeing the menu they offered on the Restaurant Week Chicago website. Wrong I was, wrong indeed.

Yuki started with the Parsnip Bisque. It was served with shallot jam, beautyheart radish, sturgeon, and sunflower seeds. Actually, this was one of the best soups either of us have ever tasted. It was creamy, yet light and smooth. The flavors were spot on. No complaints about this dish.

I ordered the Duck Country Pate and Mortadella with grapefruit molasses, black radish, and pumpkin seed brittle. This dish was ok. The pate was a little salty, but it wasn’t too bad. There was a lot going on in this dish and I think Chef Kahan could have easily simplified it, but it was decent.

Yuki’s entrée was the Wood-grilled Brook Trout with broccoli, parsley root, violet mustard spaetzle, and dried black bean. The fish was way oversalted and I didn’t notice anything that resembles broccoli or spaetzle anywhere on the plate. I can only guess that the powdered substance on the plate was the dried black bean. I think this was a case of trying to be too creative with a failed idea and false advertisement. Not a very good dish at all.

I ended up ordering the Roasted Chicken with charred avocado and house-made giardiniera. The chicken was very greasy, the giardiniera consisted of a few small pieces of pickled cauliflower, and the charred avocado was actually one tiny little dollop of some sort of avocado mousse. The giardiniera and avocado, while they both match chicken nicely, didn’t go well together at all. Two very conflicting tastes. 

We split the two desserts. One was Manjari Chocolate Pave with tonka bean ice cream and candied cocoa nibs. It was pretty good. The pave was nice and fluffy for being so rich. This dessert was a success.

This other dessert was written on the menu as Satuma Chiboust with campari, pineapple, semolina and zingerman cheese ice cream. What? I know that Chiboust is a type of cream used in pastries, but what on Earth is Satuma? I can only hope they meant Satsuma which is a citrus…or a city in Japan. I’ll go with citrus. This dessert wasn’t bad though, even though they can’t spell.

Alright, here’s why we were disappointed besides the quality of the entrees. The service was flat-out bad! Not once did our server refill my iced tea, he flat-out forgot the coffee that Yuki ordered with dessert (fortunately it wasn’t on the bill so I didn’t have to bitch about it, but she clearly ordered it and he clearly heard her), he never stopped by to see how any of the dishes were (always, always, always stop by to at least make sure things like chicken are properly cooked), and he just seemed to be an ass. In fact, most of the servers there had an attitude about them. They all wore slacks, button downs, and a tie (I’m sure a requirement), but all seemed to have an arrogance about them. I didn’t notice any tables getting very friendly service at all. The host gave us a little attitude also when she sat us. The staff matched the food, pretentious and lacking.

Another thing that I didn’t like was the table set up. I understand that it’s a business and Chef Kahan wants to make as much money as possible, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of customer comfort. The tables were practically lined up on top of each other. There was literally no more than 2 inches between tables, and that’s not an exaggeration (as much as I love to exaggerate). I had one table in my right ear and another in my left, I could barely converse with Yuki. The little conversation we were able to have was no doubt overheard by the tables next to us as we clearly heard their conversations. That’s a big pet peeve of mine. Give your customers a little space!

Also, Chef Kahan pulled the old bait-n-switch on his customers. If you look at the menu he advertised on the Restaurant Week website you’ll see a warm baby octopus confit with black chickpeas, asian pear, hazelnuts, and eucalyptus as well as a torchon of foie gras with black grape, spicy vegetables, and lavender as appetizer options. You’ll also see roasted squab and smoked sausage with sweet potatoes and junipers or braised short ribs with flageolets, fig broth, and golden turnips for entrée options. Sounds pretty damn good, eh? What happened? No octopus, no foie, no squab, no short ribs. Instead it was parsnip bisque and duck pate along with chicken and trout. Come on, chicken and trout? No way are those two entrees worth the price of admission. I get that sometimes ingredients aren’t available, or changes sometimes need to be made, but not one of the advertised items was on the menu. Not one! If you check the restaurant’s website, it lists a restaurant week dinner menu that is also completely different. They aren’t offering a restaurant week dinner pre fix, just lunch. What is going on? Had we seen the real menu there’s no way we would have made a reservation. Chef Kahan clearly wanted to entice people with a very cool menu and then cheapen it up to save some money. What an ass! You know Chef, bait-n-switch is illegal.

The worst part was what happened a few hours after we ate. Both of us came down with an upset stomach. No doubt the entrees were at fault, salty fish and greasy chicken. My situation ended with an incendiary display not fit for children. It was bad!

The whole point of restaurant week is to attract people to your restaurant. This trip to Blackbird did the exact opposite. It’s like Yuki told me last night, “You know, having been there before a few years ago I would have definitely gone back, but after lunch yesterday I’ll never go back!” I share those sentiments, especially with Sepia just around the corner.

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So, yesterday was my wife’s birthday. I won’t tell you how old she is now, you should never ask a woman her age. Needless to say, she’s still younger and better looking than me. For this year’s birthday dinner I took her to L2O. I know, I know. I’m unemployed and shouldn’t spend that kind of money right now. But hey, what can you do? I have to say, we were both extremely impressed and satisfied by what transpired at the dinner table last night.

First of all, we were fortunate enough to have found a parking spot right in front of the restaurant. No easy task in Lincoln Park. We knew all would be well when that happened. Saved me $12 on valet!

l20

The interior was perfect for the concept of Laurent Gras’s food. French sophistication with Japanese minimalism. It was really nice inside. The one weird thing we’re not used to is how they sat us. We got a 4 top to ourselves, but they sat us next to each other instead of across from each other. Our necks hurt a little bit since we had to turn our head to converse, but that’s being nitpicky.

We opted for the 4 course pre-fix. Our choice of one item from the Raw section, one from the Warm section, one from the Main, and one dessert. To be quite honest, deciding what to order might possibly have been the hardest decisions we’ve had to make in years! Everything sounded great. You can see the menu on their website, so you’ll understand what I mean.

Before we ordered we got not one, but two amuse buches. The first was a small little layered octopus and potato thing with a spicy soy paste underneath. It was the perfect little starter. Clean, fresh, and just enough spice to get our taste buds rolling. The second was a little…. you know what? I don’t remember what it was. I do remember it being delicious. You’d think I’d remember something from last night, but then again, my short-term memory is a little off.

tuna foie

From the Raw section Yuki ordered the Tuna and I ordered the Peekytoe Crab. The Tuna was served with little squares of tomato on top, hibiscus stems along the surface, little dollops of some sort of creamy sauce, and foie gras snow. I can only imagine that it’s frozen foie that’s been grated. It was a truly magnificent dish. Very elegant and buttery but not oily or greasy.

crab and avocado

My Crab was a little lighter but not quite as elegant. It was served in a mound with a sliced avocado dome around it. Around the avocado mound was kaffir lime jelly and lemon oil. The crab was probably the best crab meat I’ve ever eaten. The sweetness shined through all of the tart citrus with the avocado’s creaminess adding depth.

lobster bisque

For the Warm course Yuki ordered the Lobster Bisque. It was a boiled lobster claw with chestnuts and lobster/scallop dumplings. Table service lobster bisque broth was poured over it. I didn’t try the lobster claw, but Yuki claims that she’s never ever had lobster with such a soft texture. I did try a little of the dumpling and judging from that I’d have to say that Yuki’s right about the lobster. Easily the best bisque of all time.

lamb tartar

I got the Lamb Tartare. In a circle mold they layered the bottom with the freshest raw lamb I’ve ever seen. On top of that was a layer of raw diced shiro ebi (sweet shrimp). Then, on top of that was a few sliced of pickled peach and some tarragon. I think it was gold fleck on top of that, but I can’t be sure. The sliminess of the shrimp and the sourness of the pickled peach combined with the herbal notes of the tarragon so well that you hardly even knew you had lamb underneath. It was such a clean taste that nothing seemed raw. As such, I think it belongs in the raw section, but I’m not complaining because then I’d have to have chosen between that and the crab.

On to the main course. Yuki’s Tai Snapper with Deconstructed Green Curry (I couldn’t find a pic online) was a masterpiece. The Snapper seems to have been steamed with lemon zest on top. It was so moist and delicious. There was some coconut sauce, dollops of some sort of spicy chili sauce. A brown sugar tuille. The coolest part were the parsley merengues. They were brought out getting frozen in liquid nitrogen and served tableside. They were so light and airy that they melted in your mouth making you wonder if you had even eaten anything at all. But the flavor was pure parsley. Genius! When you put everything together it really tasted like green curry. Wonderful deconstruction job. Her only complaint was that she wanted white rice with it. But, she’s Japanese. She wants white rice with everything.

pork belly

I got the Pork Belly. Three thick slices of pork belly that had been seared in duck fat. Served with thin slices of potato, scalloped potato, and pureed potato in the scalloped potato. On top of everything they poured some truffle sauce. It was decadence on a plate! I can’t begin to describe to you just exactly what that crisp pig skin fried in duck fat did to my digestive tracts, but I will say this…it was a beautiful thing! My only complaint is that I couldn’t quite finish everything on the plate. I hate to waste food. (please note that the pic I found on Google only shows one slice, I was served three with three potatoes.)

Before dessert they sent out another amuse buche. This was a little ramekin filled with Meyer Lemon Marshmallow. It was super tart the second it hit our tongues, but almost immediately subsided into just a really palette cleansing citrus. It was the perfect thing to prepare us for dessert.

Dessert was two different souffles. One was a Grand Marnier, the other was a Bailey’s and Frangelico. Of course, he got the souffles just right. Super fluffy with a mild egg taste. They spooned a hole in at the table to pour in the alcohol. Absolutely scrumptious!

We weren’t quite done yet. After dessert they sent out these interesting pastry concoctions that the pastry chef came up with. In a small bundt shaped mold they poured some beeswax, let it burn a little to carmelize, then filled it with custard. I’ve never had anything quite like it.

But, there was still more. What meal is complete without chocolate? Our server brought out a loaf of some of the richest, creamiest chocolate mouse of all time! So good, so so good!

When we were done, Tony, the general manager, gave us a quick tour of the kitchen. Laurent Gras was back there with his army of chefs cooking away. It’s great to see a restaurant where the head chef is actually doing the cooking. Too often the big name chefs are never in the kitchen, having their sous chefs handle everything. Not here. Laurent is such a perfectionist that he tends the kitchen almost every single night. The man is tireless. I’m damn glad he is!

It wasn’t cheap, but when you feel like splurging for a special dinner you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place than L2O. It truly is a gem among Chicago restaurants.

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