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Posts Tagged ‘soba’

Restaurant Week started here in Chicago this past Friday. Unlike last year where Yuki and I ended up going to 6 or 7 different places we’ve decided to only do 2 this year. We started off Saturday night at a place that’s been high on our list of places to try for a while but never got around to hitting up…BOKA. Located in a very sheik area of Lincoln Park we were a little concerned it’d be a little too pretentious for our tastes. What happened though, is that our tastes were pleasantly surprised.

I know that Restaurant Week menus don’t fully show off all of a chef’s skills, but it does do a good job of giving an idea of what a particular chef is all about. I really dig what Chef Tentori is all about. You gotta love an Italian who effortlessly blends Asian flavors with French techniques. I used my phone’s camera again, and of course, in dark lighting it does a terrible job. Just let your imagination go wild with my descriptions. You can also check out the menu they have posted on the Restaurant Week website, just know that those menus aren’t completely accurate.

Yuki started off with the Maine Diver Scallop. A big juicy scallop with a perfectly cooked crust served with some sort of bean puree (tasted like it could have either been edamame or fava, don’t remember exactly what the server said) and forbidden black rice. The flavors matched perfectly and the scallop was easily one of the best scallops we’ve eaten in Chicago.

I started with the Beet Salad. Sweet, juicy golden beets with candied walnuts and frisee served on a blood orange sauce. It’s hard to get too creative with beet salads anymore since every restaurant in America serves one and this was not the most creative one I’ve ever eaten. It was, however, one of the best. Chef Tentori kept it simple and let the sweetness of the beets take center stage. The crunch of the candied walnuts was the perfect match while the slight bitterness of the blood orange sauce countered nicely.

Yuki’s entrée was the Seared Angus Tenderloin. While Angus lost it’s luster as a brand the moment fast food chains started using head and hoof scrapings to make up the required 40% beef in their patties, this was the real deal. Tender, juicy, full of beefy goodness. It was served with braised red cabbage, croquettes of wild mushrooms and some kind of cheese (the cheese gave a real nice barnyardy aroma and flavor the remind you that cows come from farms and not manufacturing plants), and a parsnip puree. Absolutely delicious.

I got the Braised Pork Belly. I’m very predictable, I usually get the beet salad and pork belly when I see them on menus. I’m glad I did at BOKA. While most places will sear the pork belly before serving to give that crunch on the skin Chef Tentori didn’t. Instead he kept the whole thing soft and fork-tender. The texture was almost like a slow-braised brisket. I loved it! He served it with two huge deep-fried oysters, spicy bok choy, little green tea soba noodle cakes, and some sort of white vegetable puree (I think it was cauliflower). The flavors and textures worked really well together making this one of my favorite pork belly dishes (light years beyond that crap Naha served me last August).

They ony offered one dessert with the Restaurant Week pre fixe, and that’s fine because it was a damn good one. They called it Ginger Kulfi and served it with toasted marshmallow, ground espresso chips, chocolate fudge, and a tangerine segment. I think they got it backwards. The chocolate fudge was the star for me. Everything else on that plate supported its richness and added depth to its flavor. The kulfi was outstanding though…smooth, gingery, and creamy but not overpowering. It was one of the more well-balanced desserts I’ve had at an upscale Chicago restaurant.

Throughout the evening service was spot on as well. We were promptly seated in the covered courtyard (I think they use it for al fresco dining in warm weather). Our server was quick, knowledgable, and had a good sense of humor. The courses were well spaced and we didn’t have a lot of down time between them.

My only real gripe with BOKA is their IPod shuffle. It went from Dave Brubeck and some great jazz to the same horrible soundtrack that most restaurants play. You know, that light techno that makes you feel like you’re trying on blue jeans at Banana Republic. Fortunately, it went back to jazz after a few techno songs. They really just need to stick with the jazz. But, when that’s my only gripe with a place it’s probably a pretty good place.

All in all, I would definitely recommend BOKA. They were able to present us with an extremely professional and upscale environment with absolutely delicious food while keeping all pretensions out of the picture. A rare feat I must say.

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Somen noodles are typically eaten in a cold broth in Japan. It’s the perfect lunch or light dinner on a hot, humid Tokyo day. Seeing as the days here in Chicago have been hot and humid Yuki decided to make a somen dish for lunch on Saturday.

Somen noodles are packaged just like soba, wrapped in individual servings. So, she first boiled two servings of the noodles and then cooled them down in some ice water.

While the noodles were cooling she hard-boiled a couple of eggs and steamed (maybe boiled, I wasn’t paying close enough attention) some okra. When the okra was cool to touch she thinly sliced them.

In a bowl, she mixed equal parts water and yamaki mentsuyu (soy sauce that’s been seasoned with dashi). She also added a few dashes of ponzu to give it a little bit of citrus tang. Then she divided up the noodles and topped them with the okra and hard-boiled eggs. We also had some cherry tomatoes so she cut some of those in half and put them in as well.

That’s all there is too it. Delicious, refreshing, and fully satisfying.

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After eating an entire feedlots’ worth of animal Sunday night we really needed Meatless Monday. We tried to make this one as healthy and simple as possible in order to ease the recent strain put on our tummies. Soba noodles, being about as healthy as you can get in the way of carbs, seemed like a good route to go.

For this one we cut up some green onions, carrots, and mushrooms and added them to some boiling konbu dashi. Once they were cooked a little we added some aburage and dried wakame. It takes the wakame a few minutes to soften. Then we dropped in a block of tofu that was cut into smaller pieces.

To put it together we simply put cooked soba noodles in the bottom of our bowls then ladled the broth and veggies on top. A dash of togarashi, a beer, and you’ve got a light, healthy, satisfying dinner.

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There’s this really cool outdoor “museum” of sorts in Kawasaki City, the town where Yuki was born. I say town, it actually has about 1.4 million residents making it Japan’s 9th most populated city. For this museum they took old houses from various areas in Japan and rebuilt them the way an old Japanese village would be oriented. By old I mean houses from the 1600’s to 1800’s. So you’re walking around an old village in essence. If you’re into old architecture, you’d be fascinated. If not, you could still find excitement in the Soba restaurant they put into one of the restored buildings.

This wasn’t the same Soba you buy dried in a grocery stores Asian isle. This was top quality, fresh, hand-made Soba. The buckwheat was ground on site, the water is brought in from nearby Mt. Fuji, and everything is made right there. Some of the healthiest noodles you can get.

I ordered the hot Soba soup since it was a little chilly out. The broth was a soy-based dashi. Besides Soba noodles there were ferns, onions, bamboo shoots, shiitake, and shimeji mushrooms. It was unbelievable! Extremely delicious. Too bad you can’t find hand-made Soba like that here in Chicago, maybe we wouldn’t be so damn fat and unhealthy!

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In light of my great respect for the fine art of Kaiseki, Yuki’s mom decided that she wanted to take me out for another style. That woman loves me! Frankly, I can’t blame her. At any rate, a friend of hers had recommended Ushiyama in the Meguro neighborhood of Tokyo, so we gave it a shot last night. And what a shot it was! Slam dunk!

It started off with a plate of carrots, shiitake, and mibuna with grated apple. Who would have thought of putting grated apple on mushrooms? Ushiyama, that’s who. I’m damn he did, it was amazing!

After that came a dish of four. I ate them clockwise from bottom left. Ama ebi (sweet shrimp), raw sardines with thinly sliced onion that’s been soaked in cold water to remove the sharpness, warm salted ginko nuts skewered on pine needles on top of seitan (wheat gluten) cakes on top of grilled sweet potato that was shaped like a ginko leaf, and uni in a lily blossom. No, I did not eat the maple leaf in the center of the plate nor the pine needles.

Next was the soup course. I heavily bonito flaked dashi broth that was nice and smokey with a rinkon (lotus root) and mochi dumpling and a bok choy leaf with some yuzu zest. It ranks right up there with the best soups I’ve ever eaten, next to the one I ate a few years ago at Iron Chef Michiba’s restaurant.

After the soup course was the sashimi course. It consisted of suzuki (sea bass), melt-in-your-mouth tuna, and ika (squid). It must be ika season because the ika I’ve eaten on this trip is by far the softest and sweetest I’ve ever had.

Then they served us home-made soba noodles in a light soy-dashi with some thinly sliced negi (green onions) on top. I’m telling you, there is absolutely nothing like top quality freshly made soba noodles. I don’t know if I can go back to store-bought dried soba when I get home. I mean, of course I can, but it just won’t be the same. So chewy and clean tasting.

Next up was the grilled course. Sawara (a cousin of the spanish mackerel) grilled with yuzu-miso and served with yuzu-miso konnyaku and daikon that was cut into a flower with a small slice of red pepper. I’ve never had yuzu-miso before, I’m a huge fan!

After that was the simmered course which was kinmedai (splendid alfonsino) in a ginger sauce. It was served with spinach and daikon radish with chawanmushi in the middle.

For the fried course we got a dish with some tempura. Shishito pepper and ebi imo (a kind of yam) served in a light dashi with momiji oroshi and chopped chives.

Then came the rice and miso course. The rice was a glutinous rice with chirimenjako (baby sardines simmered in saltwater, dried in the sun, and covered in a sweet soy marinade), sliced shiso, and served on top of a cherry leaf. The miso had mizuna greens in it. There was also some lightly pickled cucumber and daikon on the side (yes Nick, I even ate the pickles!).

Finally, for dessert we got sweet potato mousse. It was so soft and lightly sweet, it was really more like a light sweet potato cheesecake. Served with a sweet potato chip on top.

This Kaiseki was Kyoto-style which is considered to be the most sophisticated and delicate of all styles. Hard to argue as the food was simply magnificent! Plus, all of that food for only $50 per person! I challenge anyone to find a deal half that good for a meal of that quality prepared with that caliber anywhere in the states. Thanks so much for bringing me here Tamiko!!!

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My wife and I went camping at Starved Rock a couple of weeks ago. Unsure of the grill situation at the campsite we decided to bring our little propane burner. While they had a grill, I’m glad we brought the burner so we could use the grill as a campfire and keep the flames high as it got pretty cold at night. I’m also glad we brought the fixins to make some Soba Noodle Soup to keep us warm and replenish ourselves after a full day of hiking.

Before we left I had cut up some onions, carrots, mushrooms, and cabbage. We also brought some fried tofu, a delicious addition to almost any soup. So, when we got back to the campsite to make dinner, I got the fire going while Yuki started the soup.

She boiled the water with the veggies so that we didn’t need to add any oil. Once the veggies were tender she put the noodles in and then the tofu. That ‘s all there was to it. The only thing we would have done different at home would be to boil the noodles seperately to keep the soup from being starchy. It was a little starchy, but tasted great and was extremely healthy. It also wasn’t too heavy so we were able to sleep comfortably afterwords (although not as comfortable as our tempurpedic at home).

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Go camping, and eat healthy!

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salmon

The other night I made another finance-efficient dinner that tasted outstanding; Cedar Plank Grilled Salmon with Soba Noodles, Roasted Orange Pepper, Pea Pods, and Shitake-Green Onion Salsa. Simple, well-balanced, healthy, organic, and delish!

I got the salmon at Isaacson & Stein Fish Company. It was wild caught at $9.95 per pound. Between my wife and I we only needed 3/4 of a pound, so the fish cost $6 even for both of us. I’ll take fresh wild caught over farmed any day of the week! Grilling it on a Cedar Plank, cost of $1.00, really adds a nice smoky wood flavor to salmon. The beauty of cedar plank grilling is that because the wood needs to be soaked in water for a couple of hours prior to grilling, the fish gets steamed while it’s grilled keeping it nice and moist.

The pepper cost me 37 cents at Stanley’s. Roasting peppers let’s the sugars come out resulting in a sweeter, softer pepper flavor. Since I roasted it on my grill I also got a bit of smokiness to it as well. While at Stanley’s I also got 4 bunches of green onions for $1.00. I only used a half bunch for this dish. The pea pods were also from Stanley’s and cost me 57 cents. You can buy soba noodles from almost any grocery store and shouldn’t cost more than a couple of bucks for 3 servings.

Shitakes can be expensive when purchased fresh, up to $5-6 a container. I do sometimes use fresh shitakes, but for this dish I used some dried ones we had in our pantry that cost $1.o0 for dozen. I only used 4, soaking them in hot water for a couple of hours. Save the water afterwords. It absorbs some of the shitake flavor and makes a great stock for later use.

When you add it all up the entire dish for 2 people only cost $10.34, or $5.17 per person. OK, I also added some Thai Basil to the Salmon when grilling, but I got that from my back porch garden. I also probably used a few pennies worth of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, salt, and pepper. Still, it’s less than five and a half bucks per person. What restaurant can give you a dish of this quality for that price? NONE! Cook at home, cook fresh, cook organic!

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