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Posts Tagged ‘sweet potato’

Osechi-ryori is the Japanese style of traditional foods eaten on New Years Day. It typically consists of many different small dishes that are served in stacked jubako (fine lacquer boxes similar to bento). To purchase a ready-made Osechi can set you back well into the hundreds of dollars. Or, you can spend all of that money on an airplane ticket to Japan and let your mother-in-law cook all of the food and arrange the jubako for you, Kawabata family style. Now, I’m not completely sure of all of the ingredients that were used, but I’ll sure do my best to fill you in on what filled my belly.

First and foremost was a delicious bottle of sake. My father-in-law always gets a really nice bottle when I come to visit. This is a bottle of Junmai Daiginjo from Aomori (Aomori is the farthest north area of Honshu and I once hitchhiked from central Tokyo all the way up there, but that’s a story for another time) called Denshu. It’s one of the best bottles in Japan and you won’t find it anywhere in the States. Junmai Daiginjo is sake that is made from pure rice without any added alcohol or sugar, rice that is polished at least 50%, and cold brewed at less than 5 degrees celsius. While you can find some Junmai Daiginjo in the States, you won’t find any as nice as this. It’s smooth as a baby’s ass! Even if you don’t love a baby’s ass, you’ll certainly love this bottle of sake.

In this box there was some simple steamed pea pods, shiitake simmered in shoyu (Japanese soy sauce), boiled satoimo potatoes, simmered lotus root, simmered carrots, and koya tofu (freeze-dried tofu, something I’ve never eaten before but really like the texture).

Here we have braised beef wrapped gobo (burdock root), salmon wrapped in kombu, sweet-pickled daikon and carrot, and sweet shoyu glazed yellow tail.

This level of jubako contained dried herring roe, white and pink fish cakes, ikura (salmon roe), mashed sweet potato, soy-glazed dried anchovies, Cool Breeze Amongst Pine Trees (Uichiro’s name for his famous meatloaf, don’t ask me how he came up with that name, some things are probably better unknown), and ham.

Next to the jubako was a plate with some grilled red snapper. I’m always disappointed when I order red snapper in Chicago. I’m never disappointed with I eat it here in Japan. Tamiko got the skin nice and crisp while keeping the flesh moist and juicy. Extremely fresh fish.

Then, she brought out bowls of soup. A clear broth made from kombu and katsuo-bushi (bonito flakes) filled with mitsuba greens, fish cakes with good fortune written in the middle, mochi (an absolute necesity at the Japanese new years table), shiitake, and slices of yuzu peel.

Last, but surely not least, she served up some red snapper sashimi that was cured in kombu. A touch of wasabi was all it needed.

Dessert was simply fresh strawberries and green tea. Strawberries are extremely expensive here in Japan so they’re always a treat.

To wipe our mouths we used “Year of the Dragon” napkins since 2012 is the year of the dragon. I was born in a year of the dragon as well.

Happy new years everyone!

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I know I haven’t blogged in a while, but for all of my faithful reader (I know there’s just one of you), here’s what I made for Thanksgiving last night. We decided to stay home and just have a quiet dinner and I didn’t want to just roast a turkey breast, so I did something a little different. I made Turkey Paillard. Now, I did have to include a couple of the traditional (I say traditional, yet turkey wasn’t even served at the first Thanksgiving meal) ingredients on the plate being sweet potatoes and cranberries. Otherwise, I kept it pretty simple.

The first thing I did was make the stuffing for the paillard. I used about 3oz of baby spinach, 3.5oz of shimeji mushrooms, 3oz of oyster mushrooms, about 1/4 onion diced, 3oz of goat cheese, and three cloves of garlic minced (didn’t make it in the photo).

In my hot pan I poured in a couple of tablespoons of peanut oil and sweat down the onion and garlic for about 7 minutes. Then, I tossed in the mushrooms. Once the mushrooms were in I decided to add a sprig each of rosemary and thyme to add some depth to the flavor. As the shrooms were softening, I decided that some butter would be a good idea, which it was. I added a tablespoon and then seasoned with salt and pepper. When the shrooms were soft, about 5 minutes or so of cooking with the butter, I added the spinach and cooked that down just until it wilted, about 2 minutes. I removed the rosemary and thyme and then let the mixture cool down.

For the turkey I used 1 cup of chicken stock, some rosemary, thyme, and a 1lb turkey tenderloin that I butterflied open.

I opened up the turkey and spread the mushroom and spinach mixture all over the inside, leaving about a half-inch border around the edges. Then I put chunks of the goat cheese all over that.

I rolled it all up and tied it with some kitchen twine, then seasoned it all over with salt and pepper. I will say this, it may be the ugliest rolled piece of fowl in the history of Thanksgiving. However, it was so ugly that it had to taste good! I simply put too much stuffing in, but hey, it’s Thanksgiving, you’re supposed to be glutinous.

I heated up my pan, poured in a few tablespoons of olive oil, and gently placed the turkey in. Had I done a better job tying the turkey I would have turned it so that the outside seared all over. I didn’t want it to fall apart though, so I just poured in the chicken stock and tossed the herbs on top. Once the stock was boiling I turned the heat down to low, covered the pan, and let it simmer for about 30 minutes.

While the turkey was cooking I whipped up my two sides. One was a simple pureed sweet potato. I simply steamed two sweet potatoes cut up in cubes for about 15 minutes and then blended them in my little hand blender with a few spoonfuls of the turkey’s cooking liquid.

The other side was pan roasted haricots vert with onion and dried cranberries.  I used a handful of haricots vert, about 1/4 onion thinly sliced, and a handful of dried cranberries.

I heated up my saute pan over med-high heat and poured in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and then added the haricot vert and onion. I let them cook for about 10 minutes until the onion became slightly carmelized and then added the cranberries along with some salt and pepper. A few more minutes and this dish was ready.

When the turkey was done I set it aside and tented it with foil. I took 2 tablespoons of butter cut into smaller pats and added them one at a time to the chicken stock that the turkey cooked in with the heat turned up high. Well, first I removed the rosemary and thyme sprigs. As the sauce reduced a little more I added more butter until I had a nice, silky gravy to spoon over the turkey.

That was all. A very simple Thanksgiving dinner for two. It didn’t take a ton of time to cook, I didn’t have a ton of clean-up afterwords, and it was much better than a regular old roasted bird. In fact, Yuki even commented that this was the best tasting turkey she’s ever eaten. I noticed that she didn’t say the best looking.

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Let’s be honest here…is there anything more fun that getting up at the crack of dawn, driving down to Mt Vernon with your younger bro, picking up a 16 foot truck, driving it to Carbondale, spending the weekend going through boxes and boxes of storage while trying to convince your step-father that he doesn’t really need all of those Oriental Rugs, driving the truck back to Chicago loaded up with furniture and dishes, and unloading everything into an empty garage? Obviously, this is a facetious question. There is one saving grace to the whole journey though…17th Street Bar & Grill in Murphysboro! If you are a fan of slow smoked, meaty swine lollipops like myself then this is your Mecca! Ode to Mike Mills and his grandma’s BBQ recipes!

Mike Mills has won numerous Memphis-in-May BBQ contests and is now a judge since no one seems able to beat his ribs. I blogged a while back about one of the outposts he opened up in Vegas, but this is the real deal. This is the place that happy dreams are made of. I’d walk on my hands and knees in 5 feet of snow all the way to 17th Street just to get a taste of these ribs!

Since I’m not a huge man (except where it counts!) my mom and I split a full rack but got extra sides. She loves their sweet potatoes baked with butter and cinnamon. Really, who wouldn’t? I love his BBQ baked beans. Again, who wouldn’t?

We also got some slaw to help push the meal through our entrails as well as some french fries to give me my carbs. Dr Atkins is an idiot! A meal without carbs is no meal at all.

It’s hard to tell from my phone pic, but just look at how juicy, pink, and tender that meat-stick is! It’s things like this that makes me proud to be an atheist with no nonsensical dietary laws written 3,000 years ago to live my life by. We are but animals, why deprive us of life’s simple pleasures like being atop the food-chain with the ability to season, sauce, and smoke? Ah, the philosophy of ribs, truly a religion worthwhile!

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Over the weekend a couple of our friends stopped by to meet Otis. They came bearing gifts. Flowers for mommy and a Rick Bayless cookbook for daddy, an autographed one nonetheless! The in-laws haven’t really experienced Mexican flavors since there really aren’t many Mexican ingredients available in Japan. While there are a few “Mexican Restaurants”, they’re really just simple mid-scale taquerias. Combine the cookbook, their lack of Mexican food experience, and the fact that Chicago hit 90 degrees yesterday and I really had no choice but to grill up some tasty tacos with all of the fixens.

Some of the dinner was right out of the Bayless cookbook (cilantro-lime dressing, jicama salad, and roasted tomatillo salsa), some was inspired by the Bayless cookbook (grilled pork and sweet potatoes where he used ancho instead of chipotle), and some is right out of my repertoire (chilled corn soup and simmered black beans).

First thing I made was the cilantro-lime dressing. I used 1/2 cup of cilantro, the zest from 1 lime and the juice from three, 1/2 jalapeno seeded and stemmed, 1/2 cup canola oil, and 1/4 cup olive oil.

I threw it all into my little blender and whipped it up! I seasoned it with a little salt and pepper, poured it into a glass jar, and let it sit in the fridge while I prepared the rest of the dinner.

Next, I made the corn soup. I cut the kernels off of 5 ears of corn, chopped up 2 garlic cloves, and diced 1/2 onion. I put it all into a pan with 1/2 cup of milk and 1/2 cup of water and brought it up to a low boil. I covered the pot and let it simmer over med-low heat for about 20 minutes. Then I let it cool down and poured it into my blender for a good puree. I seasoned it with salt and pepper and let it sit. Since I was serving it cool I didn’t need to reheat it or anything. I did pour it back into the pot so I could clean the blender for the next item.

For the roasted tomatillo salsa I husked, rinsed, and halved 4 tomatillos, pealed 2 garlic cloves, chopped the other half of the jalapeno, small diced 1/2 a small onion, and roughly chopped 1/3 cup of cilantro. I soaked the diced onion in cold water for 30 minutes to remove some of the sharpness.

In a hot, dry skillet I put the tomatillos (cut side down) and garlic in to roast, about 5-6 minutes per side.

Then I put everything except for the onions into the blender along with 1/4 cup of cold water and pureed it up. I poured it into a glass bowl and mixed in the rinsed onion. That went into the fridge until dinner time.

I opened up a 30 ounce can of black beans, rinsed them off, and placed them in a pot with 3 diced green onions, 1 minced garlic clove, and about 1/4 cup of water. I let it simmer for about 20 minutes and then seasoned with salt and pepper.

For the spice rub I used 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, 1/4 cup of chipotle (the chipotle I have has a little sugar mixed into the blend, otherwise I would have added a little), 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons of canola oil, and 2 garlic cloves finely minced. I mixed it all together until it became a smooth paste.

I rubbed the chipotle paste all over a 1.5 pound pork loin and a large sweet potato that I had cut into 8 wedges.

I heated up the left side of my grill to med-high and the right side to med-low. I first put the pork loin over direct heat, fat-side down, for about 5 minutes to give it a nice crust. Then I moved it to the top rack, turned it over, and turned the heat down to med-low. At the same time I put the sweet potato wedges on the top rack over the right side. I closed the grill and let it go for about 15 minutes. Then I turned over the sweet potato wedges, covered the grill again, and let it go for another 10 minutes. When I took the meat off the grill I tented it with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing it up.

Look at that piece of swine! Doesn’t that just make your mouth water? I have to say, it might be the juiciest, most flavorful piece of pork I have ever grilled.

While the grill was going I put together a jicama salad. I peeled a medium jicama and then cut it into 1/4 inch width sticks. I tossed it in a large bowl with some watercress, chopped red leaf lettuce, and some of the cilantro-lime dressing.

When everything was ready I heated up some corn tortillas and laid everything out on the table. The corn soup got a drizzle of cilantro-lime dressing for garnish. We made tacos and drank beer and filled our bellies! Yuki’s parents were quite impressed with dinner. Honestly, so was I. Everything turned out fantastically! Thank you Mr. Bayless! And thank you Mr. Eirinberg!

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Punjabi Bolognese…sounds kind of weird, right? Well, it isn’t, its delicious! Basically, all I did was take a classic Punjabi dish called Masaledar Chholay (spicy tomato sauce with chickpeas) and add a few things, take away some of the heat, and smother some pasta with it. It really worked out well and is a nice change from regular bolognese.

I had already started my prep when I realized that I need to take a photo. So, here are the ingredients all chopped up and ready to go. I had a handful of cilantro that I ripped up at the last minute of cooking, a bunch of rapini chopped up (not an Indian ingredient, but I thought the mustardiness would match real well, I was right of course), 1 medium sweet potato diced, 2 medium carrots diced, 1/2 onion diced, 1 inch of ginger minced, 3 garlic cloves minced, 3/4 pound of ground lamb, 1.5 tablespoons of cumin, 1 tablespoon of garam masala, 1/2 tablespoon of turmeric, 1 14oz can of diced tomatoes, and 1 14oz can of chickpeas.

In a hot pan our poured in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and added the ginger and garlic. I let them go for a minute until the oil was very fragrant. Then, I added the onion and carrots. I let them sweat down for about 5 minutes before adding the lamb. It took the lamb another 5 minutes or so to cook through as I broke it up. Once cooked through I added the spices and mixed them in.

With the meat spiced I poured in the tomatoes along with the juice in the can and let it come up to a slight boil. Then I added the rapini and sweet potato, stirred it all in, covered the pot, turned the heat down to med-low, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes.

After that I added the chickpeas, seasoned with salt and pepper, and let it simmer for another 5 minutes or so. Since I used canned chickpeas I only needed them to heat through.

While the chickpeas were heating up I boiled a mix of regular and wheat spaghetti in salt water according to package instructions. To serve I simply put the noodles in the bottom of a big bowl and ladled some of the Punjabi Bolognese on top. I garnished with the cilantro.

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Last night I made a classic Beef and Barley stew. I didn’t quite make it using the classic ingredients though. Instead of potatoes I used sweet potatoes. Instead of the popular pearl barley I used hulled barley. Instead of stew meat, usually beef from the round or chuck roast, I used brisket. Oh brisket, how I love thee! I did this for health reasons as sweet potatoes have more nutrients than regular ones and hulled barley is a whole grain that still has the germ, it has 8 essential amino acids. While brisket isn’t any healtheir than typical stew meat it’s all about flavor and texture.

My ingredient list included 3 medium sized sweet potatoes skinned and chopped, 1 tablespoon of dried oregano, 2 medium sized carrots chopped, 3 stalks of celery chopped, 1 tablespoon of worcestershire sauce, 1 onion chopped, 2 cups of beef stock, 2 medium sized parsnips chopped, 5 cloves of garlic diced, 1 14oz can of peeled whole tomatoes, 1/2 cup of rinsed hulled barley, 2/3 cup of edamame, and 1 pound of brisket cubed. Not in the picture are 1 tablespoon of flour, 2 bay leaves, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

I started by heating up my stock pot. Once hot I poured in the olive oil, added the brisket, and sprinkled the flour on top. I stirred it all around just until the surface of the beef turned brown and no longer pink. Then I added the onion, celery, and garlic and sweated them down for about 5 minutes. After that I poured in the stock, added the bay leaves, brought it up to a boil, covered, turned the heat down, and let it simmer for about an hour.

Once the hour passed by I tossed in the barley, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, worcestershire, and oregano. I let that come back to a boil and let it simmer for another 45 minutes.

Finally, I added the edamame and tomatoes with their juice. I took each tomato out one at a time and broke them up with my hands as they dropped into the stew. Once everything was mixed in I seasoned with salt and pepper and let it stew for about 15 more minutes to bring it all together.

A couple slices of toast, a bowl of hot beef and barley stew, and a nice cold beer and that’s all she wrote.

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This year for Thanksgiving we didn’t really have much of a plan. There weren’t a lot of options on the table for us. We could have gone to my mom’s in Merida, Mexico, but flights were very expensive this year. We could have gone to my Grandma’s in the Quad Cities, but no one there cooks anymore, they go to a restaurant in Andalusia. Not exactly a mouth-watering proposition. Almost all of our friends were with their families. It wasn’t until 3:00 Thursday afternoon that we figured out what to do. With so little time we decided to keep it very simple. So, we headed to Stanley’s and Whole Foods to get the fixin’s we needed to make a small dinner of four portions.

First thing I made was a sweet potato puree soup. I skinned and chopped up two medium-sized sweet potatoes and tossed them into a pot with 3 garlic cloves and 2 cups of chicken stock. I brought it to a boil, covered it, and let it simmer for 20 minutes until the potato chunks were nice and soft. Once it cooled down a little I threw it all into my blender with a cup of soy milk and pureed it nice and smooth. I seasoned it with some salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of cinnamon and then poured it back into the pot ready to re-heat once everything else was done.

For the rice I simply rinsed 2 cups of rice and put it in our rice cooker. Once I poured in the water I added one diced carrot and 1.5 tablespoons of dried hijiki. I let it sit for about 30 minutes and then hit the start button. Simple as that.

For the Turkey I just got a 1.75 pound breast. I laid it in a large rimmed baking sheet and covered it with a mix of 2 tablespoons of miso, the juice from one lemon, the zest from half of the lemon, and some black pepper. After evenly coating the top of the turkey with the miso I put it on the lower 3rd rack of the oven at 400 degrees. I let it roast for about an hour. Once the hour was up I took it out and put a bunch of haricots vert all around the pan and poured 3/4 cup of chicken stock around the bird. I put that back into the oven for another 15 minutes. When I took it out I let the bird rest on a board and set the haricots vert aside. I mixed together 1 tablespoon of miso and 1/4 cup of chicken stock and poured that into the pan to mix with the rest of the juices. That was my sauce for the turkey after slicing it.

While the turkey was cooking I melted 1/4 cup of butter and slowly carmelized 1 sliced onion for about 20 minutes.

To serve, I sliced the turkey and laid it on top of the haricots vert. I spooned some sauce on top and then laid down some of the onions. I garnished it all with the other half of lemon zest. The soup and rice were on the side.

I cheated on dessert, we just picked up a pumpkin pie and some vanilla ice cream. It’s a shame we didn’t plan ahead because both Yuki and I make a mean pumpkin pie. I also make a pretty good ice cream. Oh well, we weren’t trying to impress anyone this year, so this worked out just fine. Maybe next year we’ll be more creative and extravagant. In the meantime, everything turned out really tasty and we have no complaints. It sure beats a restaurant in Andalusia.

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Lares is a crusty little mountain town in Puerto Rico. It’s famous for two things. First, in 1868 it was the birthplace of the uprising against Spanish rule, El Grito de Lares. Second, and even more historically important, in 1968 Salvador Barreto opened Heladeria Lares.

This is no ordinary ice cream parlor, no sir. This ice cream parlor not only makes regular old chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, etc. ice cream. This ice cream parlor will make ice cream out of anything!

When you walk in there are literally at least 50 different flavors to choose from. The do limit you to 3 samples though. Kind of a shame because there are so many I wanted to try, but they need to be able to sell some ice cream so I understand they don’t want customers to fill up on free samples.

I sampled the Arroz con Gandules. Rice and pigeon peas, it was actually really good.

Ajo, or garlic. They did a great job of accentuating the sweetness while suppressing the sharpness of the beloved garlic clove.

Bacalao, salt codfish. This one was absolutely disgusting! Salted fish should never ever be turned into a sweet treat. It was one of the worst flavors I’ve ever had in my mouth.

I ended up getting a scoop of two flavors I didn’t try but was confident would work together, ginger and pumpkin. I was right, as usual. They gave me a little bit bigger scoop of ginger while I would have preferred more pumpkin, but hey, you can’t have your ice cream and eat it too.

Yuki got a scoop of the Arroz con Gandules and one of the sweet potato. Both excellent scoops of ice cream.

If you ever get to Lares, you have to hit Heladeria Lares up for a sweet adventure. Some of the flavors are just as terrifying to even think about as they are to eat, but mostly what they do works out just fine. With people like Bill Clinton haven eaten their ice cream, I wonder if they’ll come up with a special cigar flavor.

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There are few things more satisfying in life than sinking your teeth into something truly special. Living in a fast food nation this is something that is harder and harder to come by. Yuki and I were just in Puerto Rico for 10 days, and due to American influence it’s also hard to come by there. If you look though, you can still find moment of culture, that moment of awe, that moment of pure bliss. For us, that moment was found in Guavate, better known as “The Pork Highway”.

Nestled in the mountains about 45 minutes south of San Juan, Guavate has become a destination unlike any other. I was first alerted to it by Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods Episode in Puerto Rico. As a fellow Jew who appreciates the fine art of lechon, suckling pig slowly and expertly roasted on an open fire, I knew I had to get me some.

After turning off Hwy 52 on Rt 184, we kept winding around the mountains looking for this juicy animal. We’d go by a lechonaria here, a lechonaria there, but nothing that resembled what could be called “The Pork Highway”. And then, about 15 minutes later…Xanadu! We had found the object of our desire. A strip with 7 or 8 lechonarias in full bloom. We had told ourselves that we weren’t going to just end up at the one Andrew featured, we would head to the one with the most action, the one that locals were eating at. Of course, that ended up being the one Andrew was at, El Rancho Original. More aptly put, hog heaven!

We got in line as our taste buds were salivating. The line was pretty long, but it moved quickly. El Rancho Original is cafeteria-style, so you just order what you want then pick it up at the register. All the while they have live music and a dance floor that is always packed with people, especially old people gettin down.

When we got up to order I just had to marvel at that pig on a spit with the master hacking it up with a machete. We speak very little Spanish, so they had to get a lady over who spoke more English to take our order. It all worked out as we got what we wanted. We grabbed our food, walked past the dancing into the back cafeteria, and proceeded accordingly.

We ordered a plate full of lechon (of course), some rice and beans, this tamale-like thing of mashed pineapple and pork, a salad of lettuce and tomato to help our bowels process this overload of nutrient information, some morcilla (blood sausage, basically pigs blood with rice and spices stuffed into its intestines and grilled), sweet potato, and a big slice of avocado. It may not look like much in the photo, but believe me, it was a lot of food for two people. All for only $21! I dare you to find a deal like that in Chicago.

Mmmmmmm, crispy skin. Or, as Yuki likes to call it “meat candy”.

This spread was so good! It really was the best pig I’ve ever eaten. My older brother is going to be mad at me for saying this, but Jews are CRAZY!!! Along with every other culture and being who deprives themselves of such pleasure. Call me a hedonist, but that pig sure is tasty! If I could eat El Rancho Original’s lechon every day three times a day I would, as long as there was some beef and scallops peppered in there.

Pork coma. You know, a good nap is a necessary part of life.

Once the pork coma wears off you really have no choice but to start shaking your hips and moving various body parts to the rhythms of old world latin music. Or, maybe all of our bodies were just convulsing from pork overdoses. All I know is that Guavate is one of the last true Puerto Rican experiences left in this world. Something not to be missed if you’re ever in our 51st state, or commonwealth, or whatever it is.

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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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