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Posts Tagged ‘vanilla ice cream’

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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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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The first thing you’ll notice about this post is the lack of pictures. Yuki took me out last night for my 34th birthday (damn I’m gettin old!) and my recent experience, I’m sure you’ll agree, has not been good using my cell phone’s camera in dim restaurant lighting. While I have no problem using my regular camera when traveling, I feel weird pulling it out here at home, like a tourist in my own city. That said, here is how our night at the highly acclaimed Naha Restaurant went last night.

We had a 7:30 reservation and showed up right on the dot. The hostess informed us that they were running a little behind and it’d be about 15 minutes before our table would be ready. No worries, we understand that sometimes this happens. So, we sat at these extremely uncomfortable built-in benches along the wall and waited…and waited…and waited. 15 minutes goes by and nothing. Once 8:00 rolled by I went up to inquire how much longer it’d be. I was told that 3 tables had already paid and they were just waiting for them to leave. Ok, however, the assistant hostess rolled her eyes at me for asking. Sorry, but that’s about as rude as it gets when it’s way past our reservation time and we still have not gotten our table. Fortunately for her our table was ready about 2 minutes later; I didn’t have to get the manager.

We get to our table and the interior was quite nice. Very simple and elegant with windows covering all of the exterior walls. Yuki sat on the cushioned bench, so I don’t know how comfortable that was, but the wooden chair I sat in was extremely uncomfortable. There was an ill-placed wooden bar that dug into my spine causing me to hunch over the entire time. On top of that it was way too cold in that restaurant. They could have turned the air conditioner down a good 10 degrees. I noticed most of the women around us were all kind of clenching due to the temperature. I’m pretty hairy, and even I was cold, my natural fur coat wasn’t enough insulation.

Here we are sitting at our cold, uncomfortable table waiting…waiting…waiting. It took more than 10 minutes for the busser to come over and offer us our choice of water. It took another 10 minutes for our server, Albert, to come over and greet us. 20 minutes before an appearance from our server! He even made a dumb comment, “Sorry, I know you’ve been sitting here for 2 or 3 minutes.” Try 20, buddy! I put in the order for some Cava and that came out alright.

After sipping on the Cava for a few minutes Albert came back over once he had taken the order from the table on my left as they were seated shortly before us. He asked if we had ever been there before. When I said no he proceeded to explain just about every dish on the menu. Go to Naha’s website and read the menu, every single dish is well articulated, we don’t need a recap. Not to mention, it was already an hour past our reservation time and we were damn hungry, just take our order! Before we could get our order in he disappeared again. Dude, we’ve been sitting for over a half and hour looking at the menu, our minds were made up over 20 minutes ago!

Finally, we got our orders placed. Then, we waited…and waited…and waited. We’re sitting there waiting; meanwhile, the table to my left who had ordered just 5 minutes before we did was chomping away at their appetizers. I commented to Yuki that they’ll get their entrées before we get our apps. I was right. During the wait Albert avoided us so I couldn’t even inquire. I was getting pissed!

When our appetizers finally came our stomachs were rumbling. Yuki got the Risotto with Blue Crab, Oyster Mushrooms, and Lobster Bisque. The crab was pretty good, nice and moist, but the risotto and bisque were way too salty. She cleared her plate out of sheer hunger more than anything. I got the Gnocchi with Braised Oxtails, Spanish Chorizo, Rapini, Montelerriana Cheese, and Basil. I do have to say that this was a great dish. The gnocchi were nice and soft, the chorizo added a nice compliment to the mild oxtail, the rapini a nice bitterness, the cheese the right amount of salt, and basil a refreshing note.

While we were in the middle of our apps a new table was sat to my right. They ordered right away and got their apps before we finished ours. Did the hostess have a vendetta against us for asking how much longer it’d be to get our table? Then, even though we did finish our apps before them they got their entrées before us, way before us. Shoot, they almost finished their entrees before we got ours.

During our wait between apps and entrées I was finally able to flag down Albert after the wait hit a half hour. He just kept apologizing and saying that kitchen is backed up. Sorry Albert, but that’s no excuse. My little quail should take no longer than 5-8 minutes to roast while Yuki’s brisket was either braised the day before or that morning. It should never take that long between coarses. I told him how I noticed that the tables on either side of us were getting their dishes in a timely fashion and his response was childish and defensive, “Sir, it’s not a competition.” Albert, man up and admit your service sucked. I was merely using the other tables as a reference point, not for some competition you may have going on in your feeble little head.

We just about lost our appetite because so much time had passed. Right when I was about to tell Albert to forget it, we’re leaving, the entrées showed up, more than 45 minutes from the time they cleared our apps.  

Yuki had the Braised Brisket with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and, honestly, I forget what else was on that dish. We couldn’t get past how salty the braising liquid and mushrooms were as well as how tough the brisket was. They should have called it brisket jerky. I kept watching Yuki try to saw away at that thing just to get a bite. I think it was sitting under the heat lamps for about 20 minutes back in the kitchen. At least that’s how it tasted. I got the Roasted Quail with Kurobuta Pork Belly, Duck Egg baked in La Quercia Prosciutto, and Purple Potatoes. The quail was alright, a little dry, but not terrible. The pork belly was way too sweet, and I do mean sweet. The egg and prosciutto was so damn salty! Doesn’t Chef Nahabedian know that when you cook prosciutto you’re concentrating the salt by removing the moisture? She did nothing to control the salt level. The fact that the yolk of my duck egg was solid and not runny tells me that my dish probably sat under the heat lamps for too long as well. On top of that the three main components had absolutely nothing to tie them together. I was intrigued by the combination on paper and quite honestly, it just didn’t work on all fronts. I kept imagining what Chef Tom Colicchio would say on Top Chef about editing a dish and pulling back on ingredients. Also, there was nothing on either of our plates that justified the price. Brisket is a cheap cut of beef and quail, pork belly (literally three bites worth), and duck egg don’t cost that much either. We clearly didn’t pay for execution as nothing was balanced or cooked properly.

When we finished the entrées it was already 10:00 and we were ready to go home. Albert came by and asked if we were up for dessert and I told him, “We don’t want to be here for another hour, we’re ready to go.” He tried to joke around and said the dessert was on him. We really didn’t care for his nonchalant attitude. We’re two very pissed off diners, not friends.

Another comment on Albert’s service, not once did he come over to see how our food was. He ignored us during our apps and he ignored us during our entrées.

He left to get us the bill and the manager, Terry, came by to apologize. I told him my exact thoughts. If the service had run at regular restaurant speed we wouldn’t have waited the initial half hour to get our table not to mention the snails pace of everything else. It should never take more than a half hour to get apps, and it should never take more than 45 minutes to get an entrée from the time apps are cleared. He also blamed it on the kitchen which is a terrible cop-out. Whether deliberate or shear incompetence, our entrées clearly seemed to have been sitting in the kitchen under heat lamps for a long period of time.

When Albert brought the check he also brought a dessert, Vanilla Ice Cream Parfait with Drunken Fruit and Brioche Pain Perdu, with the obligatory “Happy Birthday” written in chocolate. It was comped, but we clearly told him we did not want dessert and just wanted to leave. The correct move would have been to just take care of some of our wine and not force us to stay there any longer. A free dessert was not enough to get the usual 20% tip we tend to leave.

I do have to say that Yuki had her doubts about Naha months ago when I mentioned that this is where I wanted to go for my birthday dinner. She thought the menu looked pretentious and unappetizing. Once again, she was right. I should have known better. Most chefs worth their grain of salt, especially those who claim to be farm-to-table chefs, are trending towards simplicity, fewer ingredients to showcase the quality of the food. Chef Nahabedian is stuck in the trends of a decade ago. Besides that, the service was clearly lacking. If you want to go out for a nice dinner with fantastic food, trust me, there are hundreds of better options than Naha where you’ll be paying their rent instead of buying a good dinner experience.

Thanks for a horrible birthday Naha!

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Restaurant Week just started here in Chicago. Probably the best week in Chicago for foodies, especially broke foodies like me. Restaurants that participate offer 3 course pre fix meals at $22 for lunch and $32 for dinner. Of course drinks, tips, and tax are not included. However, it’s a great deal at some of the joints that do offer up these meals. It allows people to try out different places that they normally wouldn’t without breaking the bank. We’re taking advantage this year and hitting up a few places. The first one was last night at Japonais. Before I get into my review I want to apologize for the quality of pics on this post. I used my phone’s camera instead of my Canon. Since Japonais is kind of loungy, the lights are low. Because of this, the pics didn’t turn out so well. So please, bear with me on this one.

The pre fix they offer consists of an appetizer, an entrée, and choice of either dessert or cocktail. We decided to split one dessert so Yuki got their signature cocktail, the Floating Orchid. It’s a martini made with Absolute Vodka mixed with fresh pear and lemon juices with an edible orchid garnish. It wasn’t that strong, but it wasn’t a bad drink. It is definitely a chick drink though.

At Japonais all dishes are intended to be shared, so they aren’t concerned with bringing things out at the same time. That fit our agenda so it worked out nicely. The first dish they brought out was Bin Cho, baby tuna sashimi marinated in a citrus vinaigrette and served with a daikon salad and arugula. The tuna was fresh, soft, and delicious! Very high quality fish.

Next came the lobster spring rolls. They were served on top of a mango relish with a cilantro sauce and blood orange vinaigrette. The sauces matched the natural sweetness of the lobster quite well. There were also some pea shoots on top as garnish that added a touch of pepperiness.

The first entrée brought out was the soy braised short rib. Food should be brought out lightest to heaviest. Seeing as this is the heaviest, it should have been done last. Oh well, that’s getting a little nitpicky. The rib was perfect, extremely tender and very flavorful. Served with poached pear, a few brussel sprout leaves, and sweet potato puree this was a very satisfying dish. Another pic disclaimer, the sauce is smeared in this pic because I almost started eating it before taking the pic. My bad.

The next entrée was the chestnut crusted chicken. There were some initial problems with this dish. It took quite a while for it to show up after we finished the short rib. Our server stopped by a couple of times to apologize for the wait and to tell us that it’s on the way. Fine, just bring it already! When it finally did arrive I cut into it only to find that it was pink and raw. I know they were running late with the dish, but there’s no excuse for serving raw chicken. Take the 2 extra minutes and make sure it’s cooked! So we had to wait a little longer. The manager did make up for it, I’ll show you how once I get through the chicken review. When they brought the second chicken out I cut into it only to find that it was also a little undercooked. Not nearly as bad as the first one, this one was mostly edible, so we dug in and ate what we could. I do have to say that it was delicious. The ginger-lemon sauce was outstanding and went really well with the crunchy chestnuts. The shiitake rice was fantastic and the brocolini was pretty good too. While a professional chef should know how to cook a piece of chicken, they did get the rest of the dish right. Also, my last pic disclaimer, this pic came from yelp as mine turned out horrible.

While we were waiting for the second chicken the manager brought us this tuna sushi plate on the house. Again, extremely high quality fish with some sort of ginger cream sauce. He definitely made up for the chef’s lack of chicken cookery. This was a great plate of sushi.

Dessert was a chocolate marscapone mousse topped with berries and a small scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. The name is misleading though. It’s really a marscapone mousse with two chocolate wafers inside and coated with cocoa powder. It was ok, but nothing to write home about. It was by far the weakest dish we ate, but at least it wasn’t undercooked.

I also didn’t mention that our table was 20 minutes late. There’s a cocktail lounge in the basement, so we waited at the bar and had a drink. 20 minutes is about as long as I wait before I start to bitch to the host. So they just made it. Overall though, I have to say, I was impressed. I expected it to be more pretentious than it is. Don’t get me wrong, it is definitely a place to see and be seen, but it is also a little more laid back than other loungy places. The food was high quality, and for the most part extremely well executed. While there were a few mishaps in service, all was made up with the comped sushi as well as comped drinks on our bill. It is definitely a place worth checking out.

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