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Posts Tagged ‘sweetbreads’

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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Sepia

Yesterday was my 33rd birthday. My wife and I use birthdays as excuses to enjoy finer dining than a typical eve. Last night she took me to Sepia, a place that we’ve wanted to go to for quite a while now. While I would have liked to try Kendal Duque’s cooking, new Executive Chef Andrew Zimmerman is definately his equal in the kitchen.

Sepia Interior

The interior definately has that old-world feel with lots of dark brick, leather tables, buffed mirrors, and large chandeliers. But it isn’t stuffy at all. The place was quite comfortable and not too loud like most exposed brick restaurants. But it was the food that stole the show, not the interior.

We started off with some Gruet Blanc de Noir. I personally think that New Mexico turns out some of our countries best bubbly. For apps, Yuki ordered the scallops. Two big, meaty scallops cooked to absolute perfection! A nice sear on top and bottom while nicely opaque in the middle. We both feel that they’re the best scallops we’ve ever eaten in this city. They were served with a sunchoke puree, marcona almonds, and some serrano ham on top with frisee.

I ordered the sweetbreads. I’ve never really been a fan of sweetbreads, but I’ve only eaten them once before. However, if I’m going to consider myself a foodie then I need to order the proper food. Damn glad I did! Damn glad! Those glands had a texture that was like a cross between scallops and foie gras. It almost had a scallop-like sweetness as well, but also the butteriness of foie gras. Chef served them with this orange-fennel sauce. It was thick, creamy, and you could really taste the bitterness of the orange. Perfect match with the sweet sweetbreads. (I get the sweet part, but it really is more like foie than a bread). Some frisee on top as well.

Sepia_pork_t_bone_2

For entrees, Yuki ordered the Pork Porterhouse served on some grits with a bourbon sauce and cherries. Again, perfectly cooked, nice and medium rare on the tenderloin side and medium on the strip side. The accompaniments also complimented nicely. Fortunately for me it was too big for her stomach, so I get to eat the rest of it today for lunch! We paired it with a glass of Dolcetto D’Alba.

I ordered the Duck. A perfectly cooked breast; the skin nice and crispy, the meat nice medium rare and juicy. It was served atop a medly of chantrelle mushrooms, green onions, marcona almonds (Zimmerman must love these almonds, but for good reason), and these little spongy black things that we couldn’t quite figure out what they were. Yuki thought they were little pieces of liver or something, I thought they were some sort of mushroom stem. It was killing us not knowing what they were so I asked the manager….duck gizzards. (Yuki was closer, she wins) That was the first time I’ve ever eaten duck gizzards and I gotta tell you, I love them! They added a deeper flavor to the dish that the mushrooms alone probably couldn’t provide. Delicious! I drank a glass of Portugese wine, and interesting red blend from the Douro Valley. Nice recommendation from our server.

The desserts were awesome too! We had the Ricotta Pound Cake with carmelized peaches, buttermilk ice cream, and pecans as well as the Blueberry Cobbler with sweet corn ice cream, lemon-thyme cookies. Of course, on my plate was the obligatory “Happy Birthday Dan” written in chocolate with some artistic design. Always a nice touch. The food runner also said he’d sing to me for an extra fee. I’m cheap (even though dinner was Yuki’s treat), so we declined.

All in all, I have to say that Sepia is one of the better dinner’s I’ve had a quite a while. It is easily in the upper-echelon of Chicago restaurants. Because of it I can’t wait for my next opportunity to munch on some sweetbreads!

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