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Posts Tagged ‘seaweed’

The other night Yuki and I met up with a bunch of her ex-coworkers who have moved back to Tokyo. They got a table at a modern, hip Yakitori joint in the Hibiya neighborhood. If you want to buy a brand new Hermes bag, Hibiya is the place for you. It’s a very swanky area filled with great food. The place they met us at is called Yakitori Akira. It’s in the basement of a large office/shopping building along with a handful of other slightly upscale food joints.

When you walk in you take your shoes off and walk past the open counter where the chefs prepare the chow. The tables are sunken. I was a little nervous at first because the tables were floor level and my knees are terrible. But, the floor was recessed making them regular table height, something that is becoming more common in newer restaurants, sort of fusion if you will.

The first dish, after a cold draft beer of course,  was a salad of raw Nappa cabbage swimming in a mayonnaise-based dressing and topped with sliced kombu.

After that came some natto topped with sliced green onions and nori seaweed. Natto is a love-hate food. You either love it or you hate it. It’s a type of fermented soy bean and has a really pungent odor, like ripe armpits. It also has a very sticky texture. It’s commonly eaten with Chinese-style mustard to mask some of the smell. Yuki loves it, I don’t prefer it. Very few Westerners can tolerate it and, these days, not so many of the younger Japanese do either. But, I had to try it since they put it in my face. Needless to say, I took one bite and the quickly proceeded to chug some beer!

Then we had some chicken karage, Japanese-style chicken nuggets. Unlike your McDonald’s variety of processed crap, this is big juicy chunks of thigh meat. I have no idea what kind of sauce this one came with, but it sure was tasty!

This here is the dish I was most looking forward to…rare chicken meat! The meat from the neck was quickly seared, almost completely raw (the pink you see in the picture is indeed raw chicken), on a hot skillet and served with some yuzu kosho. Rare chicken is extremely controversial, for obvious reasons, but given the upscale atmosphere I was certain they were using fresh, high quality birds. Since I have yet to get diarrhea or vomit profusely, I’m pretty sure the meat was clean. Flavor-wise it tasted like chicken, oddly enough. The texture was a little chewy, chicken al dente. Honestly, it’s nothing really special, it’s just chicken meat.

Avocado sautéed in some sort of shoyu sauce came next. Coming from Chicago I’m used to Mexican preparations of avocado. This was a nice change to what my taste buds are used to. The sauce carmelized a little while the avocado stayed nice and soft.

After the Avocado we spiced things up a bit with some kimchi. It was served with some chopped green onion, julienned daikon, and a shiso leaf.

Next came what is probably my favorite snack of the night, deep-fried chicken skin. Japan’s answer to chicharones. Crispy, buttery, all-around chickeny goodness! I may have to make this a staple of my future diet.

What tour around the bird would complete without some chicken wings? These were deep-fried with either basil or shiso in the batter, I couldn’t really tell. With a squirt of lemon they were delicious.

The main course of the night was the table-top charcoal grill. Instead of eating yakitori style (chicken on skewers) we ate yakiniku style (grill yourself). The first pieces we grilled were breast meat wrapped in shiso leaf.

The other pieces of chicken we got were neck meat, 2 parts of the heart (heart skin and heart meat), meat that was dangling off a piece of cartilage (I think the breastplate), and skin. We also had a few pieces of okra to grill.

Once the meat was grilled we dipped the pieces into an onsen egg. Basically it’s just an egg that’s been barely soft-boiled to the point where the whites were just set and the yolk is still runny. To me, this is natures most perfect sauce.

After all of that chicken we decided to get a few cuts of pork for shits and giggles. We got shoulder, cheek, and side meat and grilled them all the same as the chicken.

As Yuki and I were leaving due to having Otis back at grandma and grandpa’s, everyone else ordered up some soup. I really have no idea what was in the soup, but I imagine it was miso. From the pic I took here as I left I can definitely tell you it was topped with nori and had a shtickle of wasabi.

All in all, I thought Akira was a great izakaya. They call themselves Yakitori Akira because the chef’s specialty is chicken, but to me it’s not a yakitori restaurant at all, even though they do serve yakitori. The menu is much too diverse to be called yakitori. Since they serve up numerous small plates and whatnot with a nice beer and sake list, its pure izakaya to me. That said, what’s in a name? An izakaya by any other name’s chicken would taste is sweet.

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This dish is actually from this past Sunday night. Since Yuki’s parents love seafood, like most Japanese, I wanted to grill some red snapper for Tamiko on Mother’s Day. Our friends that gave us the Rick Bayless cookbook were up at Tensuke Market so I had asked them to bring me some snapper. Unfortunately, they did not have whole snapper, just filets. They did, however, have Sanma. I remember Tamiko made Sanma for me once in Japan so I thought it’d be fun to grill some up and return the favor.

Sanma is a Pacific Saury, commonly called Mackerel Pike in English. About a foot long and slender it’s simply salted and grilled, complete with the guts. You can certainly eat the guts, as Yuki’s brother-in-law Jun does, but they’re very bitter. I don’t eat them, too bitter for me. After grilling you simply pull the skin and meat off the bones and chow down. The skin gets very crisp and tasty while the meat stay moist.

To prepare the Sanma I simply washed them down with cold water and patted them dry. Then I heavily salted both sides of the fish and let it rest for about 20 minutes. This allows the salt to stick to the fish and add the depth of flavor while keeping it a little less oily.

I had some fingerling potatoes that needed to be used up so I halved them, drizzled them with olive oil, and sprinkled some salt and shichimi togarashi on them.

I heated up the grill to med-high. The potatoes went on the top rack while the fish were on direct heat. I cooked one side of the fish for about 8 minutes then flipped it over and cooked the other side for about 6 minutes. Not sure why, but Tamiko said you should cook the first side a little longer. Since this was my first go at grilling Sanma I happily took her experienced advice. Glad I did because they cooked to perfection!

Sanma is typically eaten with grated daikon radish that has a little soy sauce poured on top of it. So, I grated some daikon and we poured a little soy.

Tamiko made Bara Sushi to accompany the Sanma. Bara loosely translates to spread out, so it’s basically just spread out sushi. She made two cups of rice and mixed some rice vinegar, sake, and mirin (maybe a little sugar too, not exactly sure what her blend of sushi rice consists of, but you can find multiple recipes for sushi rice online if you feel like trying your hand at it) into the rice. I fanned the rice down while she mixed the vinegar mix in to help rid some of the moisture. Then, she mixed in some smoked salmon, thinly sliced pea pods, thinly sliced lotus root, thinly sliced soy simmered shiitake, and carrot matchsticks. She then made some scrambled egg crepes, thinly sliced them and placed them on top. Finally, it gets garnished with thin strips of nori seaweed. It is absolutely delicious!

The soup was a simple clear dashi broth with wakame seaweed and eryngii mushrooms.

I wish more Americans would cook whole fish instead of the typical flavorless tilapia filets you see at every grocery store. Sanma is such a flavorful little fish that really would be a waste to add more than just salt. By keeping the guts inside you really get a full fish flavor, and you certainly don’t have to eat the guts. Full of omega-3’s and lower in mercury, it’s a great fish to grill up and enjoy with a cold beer or some cold sake.

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Stanley’s had these cute little Boston Lettuce heads for sale. The leaves looked perfect to make a wrap with. Then I remembered talking to Yuki about how we haven’t had ginger pork in a while, actually her craving for it. Sometimes I get it. Not often, but this time I did. What better way to put some ginger and pork together than in the buttery leaves of some fresh Boston Lettuce?

Laap is simply a Laotian ground meat dish. I can either be raw or cooked. This one is more of a Southeast Asian flavor instead of a typical laap. I used a handful of parsley chopped (cilantro would have been prefered, but I had to use up my parsley), 7 shiitake caps diced, 1 yellow bell pepper diced, 2 stalks of lemongrass tender innards thinly sliced, juice of 1 lemon (prefer lime but thought lemon would match parsley better), 1/2 inch ginger minced, 3 garlic cloves minced, 6 green onions sliced, 1 head of Boston Lettuce large outer leaves used for wraps while the small inner leaves were chopped up, 1 tablespoon fish sauce, 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, 1 tablespoon of sriracha, and 1.25 pounds of ground pork. I also used 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, but that wasn’t in the picture.

I heated up some vegetable oil and added the lemongrass, ginger, and garlic. I let them sizzle for about a minute and then added the pork. I broke the pork up as it cooked through, that took about 5 minutes. Then I added the shiitake, pepper, and green onion. I let those cooked down for about 3 minutes and then added the fish sauce, soy sauce, and sriracha. After the sauces cooked down for a few minutes I turned off the heat and stirred in the parsley, lemon juice, and sesame oil.  

For side vegetables planned on sauteing some baby eggplant and broccoli with garlic, but for some reason I ended up quartering the eggplant and roasting it at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes in sesame oil while steaming the broccoli with ground sesame seeds. I didn’t use the garlic.

The rice I made was Japanese style. Not really the best match, but not bad. In the rice cooker, once I rinsed 2 cups of rice and filled the bowl with the right amount of water I added 1 diced carrot and a few pinches of dried hijiki seaweed. I let it sit for about a half hour before turning the machine on. I made sure to mix the carrots and hijiki in well before serving.

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Last Friday night I made this soup for dinner. It is getting really cold here in Chicago, tis the season, and I thought a nice warm soup with tasty goodness and a little spice would hit the spot. This one is real easy and can accommodate almost any vegetables you have on hand. Since it was Friday night this recipe is only for 2 portions.

I used only about 1/3 pound of ground beef, 3 shiitake sliced, 1 clove of garlic diced, 1/2 inch of ginger slivered, 1/2  zucchini quartered and sliced, 1 carrot cut into chunks, 2 yukon gold potatoes skinned and chopped, 4 green onions cut in 1 inch lengths, 5 napa cabbage leaves chopped, 1 heaping tablespoon of Toban Djan, and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil.

In a small bowl I cut the garlic, Toban Djan, and sesame oil into the ground beef with a spoon. By doing this the beef will break apart nicely once you throw it into the soup.

I boiled 4 cups of water and tossed in the shiitake, carrot, potatoes, and green onions in. I let them simmer for about 10 minutes and then added the beef mixture. While beef was cooking I decided to pour in about 3 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of sake to add a little depth to the broth. I let that simmer for about 5 minutes before adding the ginger, zucchini, and cabbage. About 5 more minutes simmering and the soup was ready.

I served it with some white rice that I sprinkled some mazekomi wakame shirasu, which is dried seaweed and little sardines. It adds some saltiness, crunch, flavor, and nutrients to rice. It’s usually used for onigiri, but I like to add to it plain rice sometimes.

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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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Yesterday I saw some really nice coho salmon on sale that just came in that morning. Since I haven’t cooked salmon in a while I took that as a sign that it’s time to do it up again. I decided to keep it very simple and use some Japanese flavors to appease my wife.

After lunch I got the rice ready. I rinsed 1 cup of rice and threw it in the rice cooker like normal, then added a couple of large pinches of dried hijiki seaweed and a diced carrot. I let it sit for about a half hour to let the hijiki re-hydrate and flavor some of the water. Then I turned on the machine and let the rice cook. When it was finished I turned it off, mixed everything together, and let it cool to room temperature.

Closer to dinner time I made my teriyaki sauce. In a small saucepan I gently heated 3 tablespoons each of soy sauce, sake, and mirin along with 1 tablespoon of sugar. I let it heat just until the sugar was completely dissolved and turned off the heat before it came to a boil. I let that cool to room temperature.

Here’s my 20 ounce filet of coho salmon. I cut it into 4 equal portions and marinated it in the teriyaki sauce for about 45 minutes at room temperature.

While the salmon was marinating I got the abura-age ready. I had a pack of three here. I cut them in half and rinsed them off with some boiling water. They very oily and the boiling water rinsed a majority of that oil off. Then the packages open up nicely for easy stuffing.

I stuffed them equally with the rice mixture and then sealed them. I didn’t have any toothpicks, so I cut down some bamboo skewers to do the job. In a saute pan I brought 1/4 cup of water to boil with 1/4 cup of seasoned soy. The soy is seasoned with a little dashi and mirin. Once lightly boiling I put the packets in, covered it, and turned the heat to low. This lets the broth flavor penetrate while heating up the rice. I let it go for about 10 minutes then turned off the heat and let it sit until everything was ready.

I also placed the salmon under the broiler, starting with the skin-side up. About 5 minutes later I turned it over, basted the top with the marinade left in the dish, and let it broil for another 5 minutes.

Before cooking the salmon and abura-age I got my vegetables ready. I had two large heads of baby bok choy that I separated the leaves from the stems and chopped them all down, 1/2 onion sliced, 3 garlic cloves minced, 1 package of shiitake sliced, and 1/2 a large red bell pepper sliced.

While the salmon was broiling and the abura-age packets absorbing tasty fluids I heated up a pan and poured in 2 tablespoons of sesame oil and tossed in the onions to let them saute for about 4 minutes. Then I added the peppers and garlic. After another few minutes I added the shiitake and bok choy stems for about 4 more minutes. I seasoned with pepper and poured in about 3 tablespoons of soy sauce. Once the soy boiled off I added the bok choy leaves, stirred them in, covered the pan, and turned off the heat. I just wanted the leaves to wilt a little.

I timed it all so everything would be finished at the same time. I plated it up and scarfed it down.

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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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