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Posts Tagged ‘soy’

We journeyed up to Arlington Heights this weekend to stock up on Japanese ingredients, something we do at least once a month. At the Tensuke Market we saw this absolutely gorgeous salmon. They have the best seafood in town, hands down. This salmon was marbled like a real Kobe Ribeye, just made our mouths water. So, that was dinner last night.

We picked up a package of 3 quarter pound slices of filet (Yuki got lunch today, I didn’t get to enjoy that beautiful fish again). I made a quick marinade consisting of 1/2 tablespoon mirin, 1 tablespoon sake, and 1.5 tablespoons soy sauce. In a glass baking dish I let the salmon sit in the marinade while I got everything else ready.

For my veggies I used 1/2 onion sliced, 3 garlic cloves minced, 7 cherry tomatoes halved, 2/3 carton of shiitake sliced, 2 small yellow bell peppers sliced, and about 1/8 of a medium napa cabbage cut into chunks.

In a heated pan I melted about 1/2 tablespoon of butter and poured in 1 tablespoon of sesame oil. Once the butter was melted I added the onion and let it saute for about 5 minutes. Then, I added the garlic, shiitake, and bell pepper. About 5 more minutes and I poured in about 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and let that coat all of the veggies. Just before the soy was completely boiled off, about a minute or so, I added the napa cabbage. I let that wilt down a little for about 5 minutes, seasoned with a little black pepper, turned the heat to low just to keep everything warm, covered it, and let it sit while I cooked the salmon.

Oh, and during this time I had the tomatoes in the oven roasting at about 375 degrees, I did that for about 25 minutes. I also decided, at the last minute, to make a simple miso soup with some wakame and tofu. I just boiled some water with a little dashi seasoned soy, stirred in some miso, and added the tofu and wakame. That only takes a few minutes.

For the salmon I heated up my large skillet and melted a little dab of butter, just enough to lightly coat the surface of the pan. The salmon had enough fat that I didn’t want to add to much more, but I also didn’t want it to stick. So, a tiny amount of butter. I seasoned the salmon with some crushed white pepper and then seared one side for about 3 minutes. Then I flipped it all over and poured the marinade all over it. I let it cook for about 3 more minutes and then pur the salmon on a plate and served everything up, with white rice of course. I garnished with a piece of parsley (only because I have some in my fridge).

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I’m just not as young as I used to be. I can tell that I was at an izakaya last night because all of that sake floating around my liver is taking its toll. However, slow-moving Saturdays usually mean fun Friday nights.

A group of Yuki’s co-workers got together last night for food and drinks at Chizakaya, a newly opened izakaya here in Chicago. Actually, it’s probably the only real izakaya in town. While there are a few places claiming to be izakayas, they’re really just sushi places. Chizakaya doesn’t serve any sushi at all. I first heard of Chizakaya a few months ago when my mom sent me an article in the Huffington Post about the very fact that there aren’t any real izakaya’s in Chicago, until now. It also mentioned that the group that opened Chizakaya came from L2O, arguably Chicago’s finest seafood restaurant. Naturally, it made the list of places I wanted to go. With Yuki’s group meeting there last night I took the opportunity and ran with it.

I got there before the rest of the group, except for the two white guys in her work team (everyone else is Japanese). We sat at the bar and had a glass of sake while waiting for everyone else. I will say that the bartender knows his sake! It’s not a huge sake list, but a very well put together one with a good variety at all price points. He also gave us each a sample of sweet potato shochu, something none of us have ever had. It’s actually quite good.

Once everyone showed up they took us to the back room at one of the two big tables. I like it much better back there because the kitchen is open and the atmosphere is a little more izakaya-like.

Our waitress was also well-trained in the art of sake flavors as well as their menu. True to being an izakaya, the menu is based on small plates and nibbles to go along with drinking. We ordered a bunch of things and just grabbed and ate as we went, along with numerous bottles of sake. Since I’m drinking for 3, I’m struggling to keep my eyes focused as I write this.

As we sat they brought out little bowls of miso soup. Really good miso, they got the ratio of miso-to-dashi right. Instead of wakame which is typically put in miso soup they used hijiki.

Japanese sweet potato fries with spiced mayo.

Puffed pig ears with togarashi soy dipping sauce. Move over potato chips, these little cracklins are fantastic!

Crispy pork with a slow poached egg.

Pork shoulder gyoza. The gyoza could have been a little bit crispier, but the braised pork shoulder filling more than made up for that shortcoming.

Oysters with bacon and shishito. I don’t know if the bacon was over smoked or if they added a little liquid smoke, but there was a bit too much smokiness to this one. The natural sweetness of the beautiful little oysters was lost. Cut back on the smoke and this one is a winner.

Grilled ika togarashi with a yuzu vinaigrette. This was some of the most tender squid I’ve had in Chicago.

This was one of the night’s specials, duck liver karaage with scallions. Little deep-fried nuggets of ducky deliciousness!

Home-made basket tofu with bonito flakes, scallions, ginger, and soy sauce. You haven’t had tofu until you’ve had a really good home-made tofu. This was a really good home-made tofu. Totally different beast than the store-bought packaged tofu. Very clean, very light, very tasty.

Crispy-braised lamb belly with chopped edamame. This one was another of the night’s specials and quite honestly, one of the most special dishes I’ve ever eaten! I’ve never had lamb belly before and after eating it am wondering why. You see pork belly everywhere as it’s one of the more trendy cuts of meat these days. As much as I love pork belly, and I do love pork belly, I’d drop it in a heartbeat to sink my teeth into some lamb belly. That layer of belly fat may be the most lamby of all lamb flavors that animal has. I absolutely luz it! The only thing that would have made this dish better would be to puree the edamame into a thick sauce instead of leaving it chunky. Otherwise it was perfect.

Now, I’ll show you all of the kushi-yaki (grilled skewers of meat) that we had.

Chicken skin, mother of schmaltz how I love thee!

Chicken meatballs.

Chicken gizzards, next to liver and sweetbreads my favorite offal.

Beef heart, surprisingly tender and juicy for such a hard-working and lean muscle.

Beets with shiso, both red and golden.

We also ordered a the ramen and oden. Both of which were, quite honestly, very disappointing.

The ramen came with braised pork, fish balls, a slow poached egg, radish, bamboo shoot, shredded scallions, and some nori. The ingredients were all top-notch, but the noodles were overcooked and soft while the broth wasn’t quite were it needed to be. With everything else so high quality I wonder why they’re using regular old store-bought quality noodles. This bowl of ramen just wasn’t up to standards. If it’s ramen you want, head over to Arami instead.

The oden wasn’t even close to what oden is. Oden should be a dashi broth filled with various fish cakes, potato, hard-boiled eggs, konyakku, etc. It’s something that we make at home a couple of times every winter. This was nowhere near oden. This was a soy-based dashi with overcooked soba noodles, a few spinach leaves, a couple of pieces of potato, some slices of radish, and a few adzuki beans. It wasn’t a terrible noodle soup, but they shouldn’t call it oden and they should be more careful with the noodles.

Now, on to desserts, which were all very creative and well-prepared.

Yuzu cake with green tea ice cream.

Tofu cheese cake with kuro mitsu (black honey) and adzuki bean sorbet. Usually you see adzuki bean ice cream, making it a sorbet was a nice touch.

Chocolate ganache with puffed barley and black sesame ice cream.

I will say, that all three desserts are among the best desserts I’ve ever had at a Japanese restaurant.

Overall, Chizakaya is a fun atmosphere with great food. There were a couple of lows, oversmoked bacon and poor noodle soups, but the rest of the food was outstanding. Don’t come here expecting a substantial sit-down meal. Come here expecting a great list of sake, beer, and cocktails with delicious small plates and skewers to match. In that sense, this is a true izakaya. They also use top quality ingredients from local sustainable farms, and you can taste the difference. I will definitely go back, I just have to be more mindful of the amount of sake that I guzzle.

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Last night Yuki and I went to see RUSH at Northerly Island. What a great band! Because of that I didn’t cook Meatless Monday, though I did eat a falafel sandwich with some babaganoush before the show to keep with the theme. I tell ya, being at the concert really drove home the point that all Americans need to adopt a healthier diet as at least 75% of the concert goers were way overweight. That might be an understatement too. Concert seats are only so big and literally everyone around us was well over 200 pounds. I felt claustrophobic at time. America, start eating healthy well-balanced diets!!! But that didn’t stop us from enjoying the show. At any rate, I’m going to blog about the dinner we had Saturday night.

We were out in Schaumburg so that we could stop at the Tensuke Market, which is actually in Elk Grove, but just south of Mitsuwa. It’s smaller than Mitsuwa but sometimes has better deals and has the absolute best retail seafood in the Chicago area. If you want to make sashimi at home, I highly suggest making the trek to Tensuke for your fish. There’s a restaurant called Daruma that Yuki had wanted to try for a while so we decided to give it a try. Honestly, walking through the doors was almost like walking into Japan. I mean that in every good way possible.

The decor is very traditional of casual dining in Japan. The Japanese don’t put a whole lot of stock into gaudy decor, instead they prefer to focus on high quality food. The walls were poorly painted, the tables and seats a little worn down, cheap napkins (in Japan you usually don’t find any napkins). It really felt like a restaurant in Japan. Made me feel homesick even though I’m not Japanese.

Service was pretty good. All Japanese servers, but bi-lingual so don’t worry. It was the food that starred though.

We started off with some Miso Soup. Nothing fancy, just a well made miso soup with wakame and tofu. I also had some sake. I was torn between two kinds so they gave me a couple of samples. The samples were very generous and I honestly didn’t need to order any sake due to the large pours. But, I did get a sake from the Nara Prefecture.

We got a Daikon Salad. Thin sticks of daikon served with carrot stick tempura and a shiso dressing. Carrots often accompany daikon, but this is the first time I’ve seen carrot tempura with the daikon. Nice touch. Little pea shoots for a bit of peppery bit and color.

We ordered two maki rolls. Ebi Ten, shrimp tempura with avocado, cucumber, and smelt roe. Unakyu, fresh water eel with cucumber. The sushi was good. Not the best I’ve ever had, but overall solid.

Tatsuta Age, deep-fried chicken thigh. Usually served in smaller pieces and called karage, these were pretty big chunks of chicken. Served with shredded cabbage, potato salad, pea shoots, and a slice of lemon this is a classic. It’s also one of mine and Yuki’s favorites.

Niku Tofu, a play on the popular Japanese home cooked dish called niku jaga (meat and potato). Instead of potato Daruma used tofu. It’s thin sliced beef with tofu simmered in a sweet soy broth. Also simmered in the dish were chopped napa cabbage and green onions. This was delicious!

Hamachi Kama, the absolute star of the show! Yellowtail jaw broiled to perfection. You got all of that flavorful cheek meat, easily the best part of any large fish. I don’t know why this part isn’t served more in American cuisine because it has so much more meat and flavor than our prefered filets. This chunk of fish was so tasty it almost brought a tear to my eye. My stomach thanked me for eating this.

Overall, the food and ambiance at Daruma were fantastic. So far it’s the most authentic Japanese restaurant we’ve been to in the Chicagoland area. The food is delicious, portions are priced accordingly (we had leftovers), and the sake was flowing. The only downfall of this place is that I have to fight Hwy 90 traffic to get there. Next time Yuki’s parents are in town we’re definitely taking them there to show them that there is real Japanese cooking here.

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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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Friday night we went out to Sun Wah B.B.Q. with a bunch of Yuki’s co-workers. We had a big group of 12 adults (I still have trouble thinking of myself as an adult) including spouses and then there were 3 babies. For Chinese food, I think it’s best to go with a big crowd so you can order a variety of food.

The first thing I noticed about Sun Wah was that they had duck hanging in the window. You don’t see that often in Chicago which is a shame. Any restaurant that serves Peking Duck (Sun Wah is considered the best Peking Duck in Chicago, from what I’ve eaten here, I would have to agree) needs to display it in the window to dry the skin and show the customers what’s in store.

They have a huge dining room. I guess that’s a good thing because as the night went on they got packed! I think the wait was about 30-45 minutes when we left. Good thing we got there relatively early, although, we did have a reservation. Service was pretty typical of a Chinese restaurant. Not refined, but not sloppy. As for the food…

…the first thing that rolled out was the Peking Duck. Since we had two big round tables we ordered two of each dish so that we didn’t have to pass things from one table to the other.

Classic tableside duck carving. Slice off that crispy skin first and then chop up the meat. Really good duck. If you’re a fan of Peking Duck, and the only people I know who aren’t are veggies, you have to try Sun Wah’s. I wouldn’t say it’s really anything special, but it is the best in town, very good duck.

Lobster with ginger and scallions, what more do you need? My only gripe with this dish, and it’s not unique to Sun Wah, is that the lobster was all hacked up and very hard to get the meat from the shell. Why do Chinese restaurants hack up lobster like this? Surely there has to be a better way to stir-fry all of that flavor into the meat and keep it easy to eat.

Peking Pork Ribs. Thin slices of rib meat cooked in a thickened sweet sauce. There were slices of carrot, green pepper, and yellow pepper in it as well. If you like sweet Chinese ribs, this is the dish for you!

Stir-fried water spinach. We wanted green beans, but they didn’t have any. No worries, water spinach has a nice subtle bitterness to it. It’s also extremely healthy. A good vegetable to help cut through all of the animal fat we were mauling down.

Fried rice with BBQ pork, shrimp, scallions, carrots, and scrambled eggs. Another classic, but one you must have with a Chinese feast.

Shanton soup with chunks of pork. It’s the pork bone that gives this soup its flavor. This is to the Chinese kitchen what chicken soup is to the Jewish kitchen.

Fried noodles. For this dish they used the duck breast from the Peking duck (for Peking you only eat the skin and some of the dark meat), pea pods, baby corn, carrots, mushrooms, and onions. Personally, I would have used shiitake instead of white button mushrooms, but hey, it’s not my restaurant. Still a tasty dish.

Our last dish was silken tofu steamed with shrimp. It was topped with cilantro and swimming in a soy and broth soup. It was really good.

Overall, I have to say, Sun Wah B.B.Q. is quite possibly the best Chinese food in Chicago. While I am a true believer that Chicago does not have the best Chinese food in the world, this place is definitely worth passing through your entrails. Every dish was fresh and well prepared. Nothing was over the top, but everything was extremely solid. The best part was that all of that food, along with Tsing Dao and tip, only came to $25 per person. Well worth the weakened US Dollar.

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I was perusing my Charlie Trotter cookbook the other day and came across a recipe that uses a very similar marinade to one I often use. Since he’s the great Charlie Trotter I thought I’d give his a try. Oh, and yakigyu is simply Japanese for grilled beef.

His marinade consisted of 1/2 cup of tamari which is probably the most ancient style of Japanese soy sauce as it contains no wheat and is a little richer than regular soy (it is the byproduct of making miso), 1/4 cup of mirin, 1.5 tablespoons of sesame oil, and 2 tablespoons of grated ginger. Once I mixed up the marinade I set 3 tablespoons aside and then thinly sliced 3/4 pound of sirloin and threw that into the marinade. I covered it with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for 2 hours.

Then, using some bamboo skewers that I soaked in water for an hour, I threaded the meat and got it ready for the grill. Since the meat was thin it only needed about 2-3 minutes on each side over a medium-hot grill.

To accompany the meat I made a quick vegetable saute of 5 shiitake sliced, half an onion large diced, and 5 radishes. I separated the greens from the radish and thinly sliced the radishes with my mandolin slicer. I could have used my knife, but the wife was wondering why I got a mandolin slicer if I never use it. So, there you go sweetheart, I used the mandolin.

In my hot pan I poured 1 tablespoon of soy oil and sautéed the onion first for about 5 minutes. Then I added the shiitake and let that go for about 4 minutes. After that I tossed in the sliced radishes. Those cooked for about 4 minutes until I poured in the reserved 3 tablespoons of marinade. I let that boil down for a few minutes and then added the radish greens. Once the radish greens wilted down, about 1-2 minutes, I turned of the heat as this was ready to go.

Instead of regular white rice I made hijiki and carrot rice, a recipe that Yuki taught me a long time ago and has become one of my favorite rice preparations. First, I took a heaping tablespoon of dried hijiki and soaked it in some cold water for about a half hour. I also diced up a small carrot. Once the rice was washed and in the rice cooker bowl (I only made one cup of rice) instead of regular water I poured in 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon each of sake and mirin. Then, the get the right amount of liquid I used the hijiki soaking water to fill it up. Once the liquid was at the right level I threw in the hijiki and carrot. Hit the on button and a half hour later my rice was ready.

I have to say I was very disappointed in Trotter’s marinade. Tamari is a little bit stronger in flavor than soy sauce and it really made the beef salty. Too salty for Yuki’s taste and almost too much for mine (I tend to like food a little saltier than she does). Old Chucky Boy should know better than to have used so much tamari. I would have been much better served to have used the classic marinade I usually do, 3 parts soy, 2 parts sake, and 1 part mirin (1.5 tablespoons of sesame oil is ok). Besides the soy being a little lighter in flavor, cutting back on the amount and replacing it with sake (or vodka if you like) adds a little more depth the marinade. A little grated garlic wouldn’t have hurt either. While I have had good luck with some of his recipes in the past, this is one I will not be using again.

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Last night Yuki and I walked to Rootstock Wine & Beer Bar for dinner. She was in the mood for some nice wine, I wasn’t in the mood to cook, and neither of us have been there before. With the weather not too humid last night a nice 30 minute walk to and from dinner sounded about right.

We got there about 8 and the place was packed! They have a couple of community tables outside that were full as well as a handful of tables inside that were full. Fortunately there were a couple of open seats at the bar so our walk was not in vain.

The place has a nice vibe to it. It’s dark, intimate, lively, and has a mature feel to it. It was loud, but the walls were brick with a thin layer of drywall, nothing to dampen the sound. They did play good tunes throughout the night though (Earth Wind & Fire is always welcome on my ear cilia).

Service was friendly and attentive. When we walked in we were immediately greeted by a server even though there isn’t a host stand. She directed us towards the bar where the bar tender did a good job of handling his patrons while getting drinks ready for service. My only gripe with the service is that they didn’t give us a glass of water. That should be the first thing given when a customer sits down. Other than that no complaints at all.

They have a nice wine and beer list as well as other alcoholic beverages. We ended up getting a bottle of Spanish Garnacha from the Navarro region. Great bottle, great value.

I apologize for the quality of the pictures, my phone doesn’t do too well in dimly lit restaurants. We started with the regular mixed green salad. Nothing fancy it had mixed greens with ribbons of zucchini and carrot in a light vinaigrette. They put a little too much vinaigrette on, but it was well-balanced.

Yuki got the Pork Belly Bahn Mi. The pork belly was a little dry, but overall it tasted pretty good. It was a little small though and could have used one or two more elements. All it had was some toasted bread, a few slices of pork belly, a bunch of frisee, and a thickened soy glaze.

This may be the worst picture I’ve ever taken, but I got the Greek Linguista Sausage. This was very disappointing. They basically took a sausage that could have come from Whole Foods, grilled it, and put it on top of some wilted escarole with mustard and red grapes. I was expecting a Greek style sausage that resembles more of a hand-made oblong meatball made of lamb instead of an Italian-style cased sausage that just had Greek seasonings. Plus, it was spicy. I’ve never had a Greek sausage that was spicy before. On top of that there was no starch on my plate. I almost ordered some french fries just to fill the gap in my belly. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good quality sausage, but it was definitely something you buy at the grocery and throw on the grill yourself, not something you get at a wine bar. I didn’t think the grapes really belonged on the plate either.

That was all we ordered as we have had enough of the food. It seems like they have a lot of potential to whip up some really tasty and creative dishes to match their impressive wine and beer list, but for whatever reason they didn’t quite do it. For my money, this is a great place to sit down and have a drink, but not a place you want to go to for dinner.

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