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Posts Tagged ‘sorbet’

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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This past Friday night Yuki and I had dinner with our friends Nick and Andrea. I was charged with finding a place that none of us had been to before. Yuki had mentioned a taste for tamales so I thought I’d find a Mexican joint. Since Nick and Andrea have travelled extensively through Mexico I knew it wouldn’t be hard to convince them to try Don Diablo with us. I believe Nick’s response was, “you had me at tamales”. So, we headed over the former Fonda Del Mar current Don Diablo, and we’re all damn glad we did.

It’s a little out of any gentrified neighborhood so there aren’t many people who know about it yet, but I think that will all change soon. Especially since it’s BYOB, keeping costs down.

The interior is very quaint. It has an exposed kitchen and the tables aren’t to close together that you’re bumping up against strangers. Music wasn’t too loud so you don’t have to shout in order to converse. The service was also pretty good. There was only one waitress, but with only 4 tables we never got antsy waiting for service.

Of course, we started with the tamales. Chicken filled and topped with a green sauce and some melted cheese. They put a lot of whole kernels in their masa which gave a little bit more sweetness to the dish. It took a couple of bites to get used to it, but after those couple of bites I found that I really enjoyed them. With two tamales per order we got two orders so that we each got our own.

The other appetizer we tried was the Quesadillas De Huitlacoche. You almost have to order huitlacoche whenever you see it because it’s such a delicacy with a great earthy flavor. That said, I don’t think they really showcased the huitlacoche all that much in these. With chihuahua cheese, epazote, and guacamole on the side the huitlacoche almost got lost. Don’t get me wrong, they were very good, but I wanted more huitlacoche flavor.

Nick and Andrea each ordered the Enchaladas De Pollo. They did so for the mole. It had a very deep chocolate flavor, but was smooth and delicious. Not an outstanding plate, but a very very good one.

I ordered Puerco en Mole. Really soft and perfectly cooked pork loin served in a green mole with pumpkin seeds. The mole was very light which was nice because it didn’t overpower the pork flavor. It also came with garlic mashed potatoes with melted cheese. Another very very good dish.

Ah, the piece de resistance! Yuki ordered the Cochinita Pibil. Slow cooked pork shoulder cooked in a banana leaf and served with black beans, pickled onions, and a spicy habanero salsa. This was one of the best pork dishes I have ever eaten in Chicago. If it were socially acceptable I would dress myself in cochinita pibil and prance about town. The pork was fall-apart tender full of flavor. The pickled onion just explodes in your mouth. The beans add substance. The habanero salsa was the perfect level of spice, a slow burn that coats your mouth but isn’t overpowering and makes you want to come back for more. This dish was truly impressive.

We kind of shared three desserts. Coconut Flan was one of them. It was a little thick, but had a great flavor.

Mango sorbet, nice and light with a great natural sweetness.

And a Pecan Pie with vanilla ice cream, not really what I think of when I think of Mexican dessert, but a delicious one nonetheless. I’m not sure if the desserts were homemade or brought it, but they were pretty good.

Overall, I find Don Diablo to be one of the best kept secrets in Chicago Mexican dining. Every dish was cooked perfectly with nice balance and quality ingredients. Service was efficient and friendly. The price point was excellent, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better value for a Mexican meal like this. Cochinita Pibil is a true masterpiece. I would crawl on my hands and knees in the middle of January to get a taste of that again.

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Back during Chef Week a few weeks ago Yuki and I went to Spring for dinner. We have both been there before, so we pretty much knew that a $30 pre fix there would be well worth the dollar. We were right, as usual.

I do apologize, the pics I took with my phone were absolutely terrible! You’re going to have to use your imagination if TV, cinema, and the internet haven’t already sapped you of it.

When we got there our table wasn’t quite ready. No worries, we went to the bar and ordered a bottle of wine. Within a few sips we were seated. The first thing I remembered about the tables is that, unlike a lot of restaurants (and I mean you Paul Kahan!), there is more than ample space. The only conversation I heard was ours, my elbows weren’t banging into anyone, and there was no chance of an accidental ass-to-the-face of the person next to me when one of us got up. It is definitely a more romantic atmosphere.

We started with one each of the two appetizers. A smooth lemongrass-cocunut soup with prawn dumplings, thai chili, shaved shiitake, and kaffir lime. As well as a tuna and hamachi maki roll. The soup was outstanding, and while the maki was good, it was very basic. It could have been from a good sushi restaurant instead of a place like Spring.

We both got the skatewing. It was lightly floured and pan-fried to perfection. The natural sweetness of the fish was perfectly matched with light gnocchi that was flavored with kimchi as well as some Brussel sprouts and almonds. Skatewing is not a fish that I get to eat very often, so it was a nice change from salmon, tuna, or halibut, the typical fish found on menus.

For dessert, we ordered one of each. There was lemon sorbet served in a black tea. The sorbet was slightly sour, but not to the point that made your lips pucker. I guess lemons aren’t quite in season yet, they’ll get sweeter in a month or two. The other dessert was a delicious moist brown butter pound cake with caramel ice cream.

Service was quick and attentive. I never felt rushed, but never ignored either.

Overall, Spring was just as good as I remembered. It’s one of Chicago’s best seafood restaurants and Chef McClain is one of Chicago’s finest chefs and restauranteurs.

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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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Being an atheist Jew who doesn’t celebrate the birth of fictional characters I always end up at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas day. I know that Saturday Night Live had their famous skit about Jews going to Chinese joints on Christmas, but it’s only funny because it’s true. Buddhists share the lack of blind faith in Jesus that we do. Plus, with every other restaurant and grocery store closed someone has to make money on this capitalist holiday!

I did countless research to find something new and interesting as Chinatown (other than Cafe Hoang) is really nothing special. Every website had Lao Szechuan and Phoenix as the best places in Chinatown. Honestly, neither of them excite me at all. They’re ok, but nothing special. One thing New Yorkers truly can claim is far superior chinese food than Chicago (I don’t buy their claims of having better pizza or hot dogs, oh, they do also have better bagels though).

Then I came across Han 202. A little 36 seat restaurant in the Bridgeport neighborhood, 605 W 31st street. They do 5 course meals for only $20! When I read that Phil Vettel, he of the Tribune’s food critiques, enjoyed his visits there I thought it would be better than typical greasy chinese stir-fry. It was!

I started with the Spicy King Crab Miso Soup. A basic miso soup with real crab meat and some spicy bean paste added. It wasn’t en fuego spicy, but it had a nice little heat to jump-start my taste buds.

After that I got the Green Apple Salad. Julienned granny smiths tossed in a mix of olive oil and truffle oil with just a hint of fish sauce. There were also a few capers for saltiness and some red peppercorns for a little bite.

Yuki got the Lemongrass Beef salad which turned out to be the exact same as mine but with extremely tender slices of lemongrass beef on top. Had I known they were the same salad but with the beef I would have ordered this since beef is my favorite vegetable. Oh well, what can you do?

For the appetizer course I ordered the Salt and Pepper Calamari. Deep fried slices of squid with diced jalapeno and green onions. The squid was cooked to perfection, nice and tender without any rubberiness (is that a word?). My only complaint would be that it was a little too salty, but with salt in the dish’s name I guess that was to be expected.

For my entrée I ordered the Duck Breast in Sichuan Hot Bean Sauce. This was the only dish that truly had an authentic Chinese aroma to it, so good! The duck was a perfect medium rare. I would have liked for the skin to be a little crispier, but I can’t complain since it was otherwise cooked the way a good duck breast outta be cooked. The sauce had a nice little tinge of spice. There was sliced bell pepper, green onion, carrot, some sort of chinese green, and some diced pineapple for a little sweetness. It was a very well-balanced sauce that matched beautifully with the duck. A really nice modern take on a classic chinese dish.

Dessert was vanilla ice cream with some mango-tomato sorbet on top. The ice cream was nice and smooth while the sorbet added a nice flavor to the spoon.

Overall, I find Han 202 to be one of Chicago’s absolute best values. Besides my enjoyment of the food, Yuki also had only positive things to say about her Scallop and Lamb Chops. Our friend who joined us also enjoyed her Tuna and Strip Steak. Having sampled everything, I have to agree with their assessments as well. We walked out fully satisfied but not overly stuffed. They could have easily charged us $35 per person (I’m glad they didn’t) and I still would have been satisfied.

They’re also BYOB, which cuts the cost of dining. No corkage fee and they kept our beer in the cooler for us. They also have nice pint glasses.

Next time you’re in the mood for some good Chinese food head south of Chinatown for an updated take on not only classic Chinese flavors, but also extremely reasonably priced pre-fix.

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Alright, last night I was able to knock out one more Iron Chef from my list as Yuki’s parents took us along with her sister to Iron Chef Italian Masahiko Kobe’s restaurant, Ristorante Massa. It’s located in a very cool neighborhood of Tokyo called Ebisu tucked away off a main street. It’s a simple little restaurant that seats only about 25-30 people. It was full when we were there, and probably is most nights due to his celebrity status and fantastic food.

There were two pre fix menu options. The one we opted for was the less expensive of the two (approx $65 compared to $85) as it offered one less dish than the other. Since none of us are fat Americans it seemed like the right choice. We could chose one from each category of Antipasto Freddo (3 choices), Antipasto Caldo (three choices), Primo Piatto (5 choices), Secondo Piatto (4 choices), and either a Dolce (5 choices) or Formaggio Plate (pick two out of 4 cheeses) followed by either tea or espresso. We washed down the meal with some Chianti Classico. I have pics of everything, but I’m only going to mention what I ordered otherwise this post will be way way way too long. This is already one of the longest introductions I’ve written. So, on to the food!

We each started off with the Oyster starter that was not part of the Pre Fix. It is probably the largest oyster I’ve ever eaten in my life! So fresh and clean it was simply served in its own juices with a little squeeze of lime and some rock salt. What more does a good oyster need?

Then they brought out an amuse bouche. Baked pasta filled with ricotta cheese, a little slice of pear, and an Italian parsley leaf. It almost reminded me of matzoh with cream cheese, a treat dear to my stomach for one week out of the year.

The Antipasto Freddo I ordered was a foie gras terrine with chamomile. It was served with smoked Ishikawa potatoes, a yuzu consomme jelly, Italian Arugula, and sprinkled with flaked red pepper.

My Antipasto Caldo of choice was a bit of a mis-translation. I thought I was getting duck confit, when it showed up we thought is was duck balls, but it turned out to be chicken gizzards. I actually preferred it to be balls since I’ve never eaten bird balls, but it was still outstanding! The gizzards were served on top of a kabocha puree with thinly sliced red onions that were soaked in cold water, a shishito pepper, and a pea pod.

The Primo Piatto, pasta course, I ordered was chitarra with cremini sauce. The sauce was as simple and delicious as could be…olive oil, garlic, and minced cremini mushrooms. There were big slices of sautéed cremini in it as well. With Kobe being the “Prince of Pasta” it was easily the best pasta in my life. Cooked to perfection, nice and al dente.

For the Secondo Piatto I got the beef, of course. A perfectly grilled strip loin to medium rare covered in a light mustard sauce and served with asparagus, a shiitake, a pea pod, and a slice of red pepper. Uichiro, Yuki’s dad, ordered his with black truffles on top. I wish I knew I could do that. He gave me a few of the truffles and they made an outstanding steak even better…as truffles always do.

I opted for the Formaggio instead of a Dolce. I chose the parmigiano and taleggio. He served it very typically with some dried fruits and sliced nut bread. I washed it down with lemon tea instead of espresso as I wanted to sleep later on.

Maki, Yuki’s sister, couldn’t finish her Tirimisu so I took it upon myself to not waste any food. It was served with kiwi sorbet and fresh fruit. Of course, it was the best tirimisu that I’ve ever digested.

Overall, this was by far the best Italian food I’ve ever eaten, hands down. And I’ve been to Italy. I’m sure there are places as good in Italy, but when Yuki and I went there we couldn’t afford any of the top restaurants. We ate some pretty damn good food there, but nothing as refined as this.

I have also said before that I didn’t think modern Italian food existed. I said that due to the lack of creativity and refinement of Italian food in Chicago (although, I have yet to eat at Spiaggia). At home it’s mostly humongous bowls of pasta with thick rich sauces that weigh you down. Nothing like Ristorante Massa where the portions were clean, fresh, perfectly sized, and creative modern takes on classics. I have a newfound respect for Italian food.

While I have eaten at Sakai’s, Michiba’s, and Chen’s restaurants, this is the first time that an Iron Chef has actually cooked for me. It was very exciting to see Kobe back in the kitchen when we walked in. I think there are two reasons Kobe was cooking for us. First, he only has one restaurant while the others all have numerous. So you know where Kobe will be when he cooks as opposed to it being a crapshoot for the others (I missed Sakai by 4 hours back when Yuki and I went to La Rochelle). Second, he’s still young at only 40 and still wants to create. Michiba is an old man and doesn’t cook anymore and I don’t think Sakai cooks too much anymore either.

No more Iron Chefs this trip as we head back to cold Chicago tomorrow. Next trip I’ll visit Iron Chef Japanese Nakamura Komei and maybe Honorary Iron Chef French Ishinabe Yutaka. Morimoto will have to wait as his Teppanyaki restaurant here in Tokyo starts at approx $300 a head!

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