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Posts Tagged ‘raspberry’

The other night Yuki and I used up another Groupon that was about to expire. We were intrigued by the $30 savings from an all-you-can-eat Brazillian steakhouse, yet one that’s different from the Brazzaz’s and Fogo’s of the world. This Groupon was for Al Primo Canto. At the time they had two locations, one at 749 N Clark and one at 5414 W Devon. The Clark location would have been a quick busride for us, but for whatever reason they closed that one down before we used the Groupon. Oh well, what can you do? So, we drove up to Edgebrook.

The location looks very generic on the outside. It’s a small little strip of storefronts right on the intersection of Devon and Central. The Metra rolls by about 1/2 block to the west. When we saw the facade we weren’t real excited about going inside. Once inside though, it was a different story. I wish I had a good pic of the interior, but it was the complete opposite of the exterior. It was very warm with lots of wood and really was a comfortable atmosphere. They do need a little better exhause system though as we both smelled like smoke when we left. The grills are in the back, but somehow the smoke fills the entire place. It’s not too bad, but will absorb into your clothes and hair, especially if you have a thick Jew-fro like me (and I’m just talking about my tuchas!).

The main difference between Al Primo Canto and other Brazzilian steakhouses is that there are no gouchos walking around with huge skewers of meat and there is no mile long salad bar. You can either order a la carte, or all-you-can-eat. We opted for the all-you-can-eat option in order to try out the various cuts of meat.

The meal started off with cheese pop-overs, flat bread, and eggplant caponatto. The eggplant was great, it tasted very similar to baba ghanoush.

Then they brought out three pasta dishes, all with fetucini. One had a mushroom sauce, one tomato sauce, and one garlic and herb. The pasta was all very simple, but tasted pretty good. The noodles were nicely al dente.

Next came the meats and starches. Fried potatoes with a blue cheese sauce, fried polenta with parmesan cheese, a plate with lamb and beef both grilled on large skewers typical of Brazillian steakhouses on top of sauteed green beans and pearl onions, and a couple pieces of grilled chicken.

They also brought out a mixed green salad.

The beef and lamb were a little dry due to overcooking on the grill, but not so much that it ruined the dinner. The flavors and quality of the meat were pretty damn good. I will say that the chicken was outstanding! Crisp skin and juicy meat they covered it in fresh sage. I liked that a lot.

I washed everything down with a couple of caparinhas. Not too sweet, but could have used a little more cachaca.

We split a flan for dessert. It was served with a raspberry couli, powdered sugar, and a blackberry garnish. It was ok, a little dense for our tastes. Don’t quote me on this but it didn’t taste homemade. It wasn’t terrible though.

As for the service I will say that the server and bussers were extremely attentive and on the ball…for the most part. We had actually commented a few times to each other at how good the service was until we asked for a box to take our leftovers home. That’s where the wrench was thrown. Appearantly they do not allow you to take home leftovers from the all-you-can-eat menu. I told them how ridiculous it was that they were going to throw away all of that perfectly good food that we were paying for. The server brought the manager over who, again, wouldn’t allow a box to be brought over. He said he’d have to speak with the owner and I told him to let me speak to the owner. So, the owner came over and explained the reasoning behind this. I guess people used to take advantage and would order more dishes just to take home. While I can understand that we were never even aware that we could order more meats or pasta. We were under the assumption that what was brought out was the meal, plain and simple. A little back and forth and finally he agreed to let us take our food home since the server never explained how they operate. I would have won even if the server did just because I’m an argumentative bastard who doesn’t give up. Plus, how can you throw away all of that food? This world is on the brink of a major food crisis. People in Japan right now would love a full meal to eat, not to mention all of the 3rd world countries or even a lot of people in America (Yuki even brought up Japan’s crisis).

In the end though, the owner did do right by us. We didn’t order any refills of any food so he didn’t feel cheated. Because of that we got our lunch the next day.

Overall, I would say that Al Primo Canto is a very average restaurant. The food is good, the service for the most part is good, but nothing is special. If we lived in Edgebrook we’d probably go there every once in a while. It is not worth a drive though. There are way too many places much closer to us that serve better food at similar or even lower prices. So, while we’ll probably never be back, I can’t say that the place isn’t worth a stop, it’s just not worth going out of your way for.

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So, today is Yuki’s birthday. Since she has a conference call with Japan tonight I took her for a nice dinner last night. We found out a while ago that Top Chef Master Marcus Samuelson quietly opened up a place here in Chicago, without much fair. Being fans of what we saw him cook as well as knowing his reputation we went there, C-House, located in the Affinia Hotel.

A real casual place with natural colors, the interior is just what we wanted. It was very comfortable, tables were well spaced, and music was not too loud (they even played some Afrobeat throughout the night, a huge plus in my book). Service was also casual for a fine dining restaurant. It was friendly and professional, but not the slightest bit of pretension. Food was brought at a nice pace as well.

Of course, bread service started off the meal once we ordered. Home-baked cheese bread with butter topped with sea salt. Hard to beat fresh-baked cheese bread.

Yuki started with the Scallops. Two near-perfectly cooked scallops with crab-apple butter, golden raisins, smoked almonds, shaved celery, and pear matchsticks. A nice blend of sweetness and bitterness to start the taste buds off right.

I ordered the Sweetbreads, one of my new favorite cuts of carcass. It was breaded and fried then served with a brown butter, pear matchsticks, and sautéed sweet potatoes and apples. Again, the sweetness on the plate got me ready for more grub.

Yuki’s entrée was the Fish Stew. Arctic char, prawns, leeks, and root vegetables stewed in a Goose Island Matilda and sassy cow cream broth. The beer gave a nice bitterness to the sweet seafood while the parsley garnish brightened it up.

I got the Hanger Steak. I nice bloody rare piece of meat with sautéed kale, carmelized pearl onions, lobster mushrooms and raclette cheese. I have to tell you, that cheese is some funky stuff! My plate smelled like a barnyard, but once I got that first bite in my mouth it turned out to be one delicious barnyard indeed. Bitter kale, sweet onions, earthy mushrooms, and funky cheese…a very well-balanced plate.

We split the Sage Flan for dessert. This was a winner! I’ve never had a savory flan before. The flan itself was perfectly rich, yet light. It was served with baked apples, a smear of cranberry sauce, and a maple-pear sorbet that tasted like cider. The flavors matched perfectly. This was one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten.

Since it was Yuki’s birthday they brought out a little vanilla cupcake with a raspberry and candle for her. We liked that better than the typical “Happy Birthday” written in chocolate on the dessert plate that most restaurants do. This was a nice little touch.

Overall, the food was great. This was our kind of fine dining. Nothing complex and pretentious at all. Just a casual atmosphere with top quality ingredients cooked to perfection and flavors in harmony. Everything was also very seasonal taking advantage of produce at its peak. Prices are also very respectable considering the location, the celebrity chef, and the quality. I would highly recommend C-House.

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I’ve been doing more baking lately and find that I quite enjoy it. There’s nothing like biting into a warm, fresh, moist baked good. With just the two of us one batch lasts about a week giving us healthy afternoon snacks. My latest were these Raspberry Yogurt Buns. They’re made like a muffin, but with the yogurt they don’t rise very much. They are absolutely delicious though and could be made with just about any kind of fruit, fresh or dried.

The ingredient list includes 3/4 cup pure cane sugar, 1 package of fresh raspberries, 1 3/4 cup cake flour, 2 eggs at room temperature, 1/2 cup butter at room temperature, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, 1 cup plain yogurt, and two teaspoons baking powder.

In a large bowl I mixed together the butter and sugar until it was nice and fluffy. An electric mixer would make this easy. I don’t have one, but I kind of enjoy the challenge of doing this by hand. I used a fork to cream the butter and sugar. Once it was nicely creamed I switched to a whisk and added the eggs one at a time followed by the vanilla, the yogurt, and then the raspberries. I whisked it really well until the raspberries mostly came apart and mixed in evenly.

In a seperate bowl I sifted the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mixed that all together with a clean fork. In batches of three to make sure it’s evenly incorporated I mixed this flour mixture into the yogurt mixture. I whisked it all together until I had a nice smooth batter.

I have a 12 cup muffin pan that I lightly buttered each cup. I poured the batter in each cup and then put it into a 350 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes. The tops should be a little springy when touched. Once cooled I had some fantastic little buns.

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For our 3rd anniversary last night Yuki and I decided to try out Sweets & Savories as we’ve heard great things about that restaurant. They offer a 3 course pre fix off the regular menu for only $29 every night. That deal seemed very appetizing to us. Being BYOB was also nice so we could save on a really nice bottle. We brought a bottle of Talbott Chardonnay 2007.

When we walked in the first thing we both noticed was a weird smell. It didn’t really smell like food. I’m not sure at all what it did smell like, but it was certainly a little weird. It didn’t bother us during dinner though, just when we first walked in. The interior was very drab and empty. The walls were a dark bronze-brown and there were only three pictures hanging on the back wall. Nothing else. I can’t call it minimalist because it isn’t. I think it’s more half-assed to be honest.

Service was a little off from the beginning as well. They had 3 servers and no one else. No bussers or host to help them out. The first server to greet us saw our reservation but said that we didn’t have a table assigned. I thought that was a little odd, especially since there were empty tables. He got a different server over who brought us to a table towards the back.

The first thing I noticed about the table was that there were salt and pepper shakers that looked like they came from a greasy diner. Not to sound like a snob or anything, but if you advertise your restaurant as serving upscale food there shouldn’t be salt and pepper on the table. The chef should season things for you while the servers should offer fresh cracked black pepper. I also noticed that their wine glasses are from IKEA. I know it’s BYOB, but that touch kind of cheapened the ambiance.

It took over 10 minutes for someone to bring us a wine opener and ice bucket. A few times I noticed a server standing around looking for something to do. How about letting us enjoy a glass of wine?  After we did place our order the service was much smoother, but still far from being good.

On to the food. I started off with the Vychissoise. As simple as soup gets, yet executed perfectly! I could taste every ingredient used from the potato to the leek to the garlic. Topped with some juicy lobster claw, a drizzle of truffle oil, and some chives this was a great starter.

Yuki ordered the Smoked Salmon Salade. It was also delicious. Just the right amount of vinegar to tie it all together.

For entrees I got the Grilled Pork Tenderloin. I couldn’t smell any of the rosemary that was supposedly used, but I could definitely smell the grill in my meat. Cooked rare with some pomegranate BBQ sauce it was really good. I know most people prefer their pork cooked through, but a nice tenderloin doesn’t need to be. It did send me to the porcelain god (for the record it was not to throw up)  three times this morning, but it was worth it for that soft meaty texture. The corn pudding was way under seasoned, but fortunately there was a salt shaker on the table.

Yuki got the Lobster Risotto. With peas, arugula, and grana cheese, this was a fantastic risotto. There was a ton of freshly poached lobster in this dish. As great as the lobster was, it was the arugula that held everything together. The bitterness was perfectly matched with the sweetness of the of lobster. Fantastic!

As great as the starters and entrees were the desserts fell a little short. I had the Fallen Chocolate Souffle Cake and Yuki got the Sweets & Savories Bread Pudding. The chocolate cake was light and fluffy, but extremely rich. With just the one little line of raspberry coulis it was difficult to eat, it needed more to help keep my palette fresh. For the bread pudding it was the caramel and creme anglaise that weren’t up to par. The caramel wasn’t quite sweet enough and the creme anglaise was a little too thin, it needed to be a little thicker for some textural difference in the dish.

Overall, it’s hard to argue with how good most of the food was for that price. The atmosphere and service leave little to be desired, but the food more than made up for the experience. The only though is that they’ve got the savouries part down, but they definitely need help with the sweets.

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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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