Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mercat a la Planxa

In a Q & A with Chef Jose Garces (A James Beard–nominee) by Chicagomag.com on July 19th, 2007, Chef Garces described Mercat as, "A 162-seat tapas restaurant. Tapas and a big plancha section. Grilled proteins. Grilled meats and fish, à la carte. The menu will be very unique to Chicago. Inspired by Barcelona and the Catalan region of Spain."

What a bright place to enjoy fresh, unique pasta dishes with friends, especially a summer day at 6pm when the sun is still creating a naturally gorgeous light through the big windows.

Higos Con Almendras bacon-wrapped figs stuffed with almonds
bacon wrapped dates (drizzled with cheese sauce tableside)

Arroz Negro Con Mariscos prawns, clams & mussels, with squid rice, calamari-linguini salad

Fideuà Negra baby squid in it's own ink, angel hair pasta & saffron aioli
Yum Yum Yum!! Although the aioli was slightly overwhelming after several bites (aioli (alhòli) comes from Provençal alh 'garlic' (<>òli 'oil' ), the intensely buttery-tasting flavor was divine. The squid ink created a humorous mess in our mouths, but added a sweet ocean-ish flavor to the pasta.

Mar I Muntanya I slow cooked shortribs & diver scallops, shaved parmesan artichokes

Mercat a la Planxa
638 S Michigan Ave, Chicago 60605
Btwn E Balbo Dr & E Harrison St
Phone: 312-765-0524

Breakfast Daily: 6:30am-11am
Lunch: Daily 11am-3pm
Dinner -
Sun-Thu: 5pm-11pm
Fri-Sat: : 5pm-12am


I am a super-duper eggs-lover!! So when I saw the name "Yolk" pop up near my hood, I had to give it a try.

On Yolk's web site:
Come in and experience our newest concept, Yolk. , which pushes the envelope with new and creative breakfasts, specialty juices, and our own private labeled premium coffee. As soon as you walk in this new south loop hot spot, you will not only see but also feel and later taste the difference! With a unique menu and exceptional service in a professionally designed interior,
Yolk. clearly stands above the rest.

I ordered:

Fresh Squeezed Strawberry-Orange Juice

Two poached eggs atop an english muffin with fresh sautéed spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes. Topped with our homemade hollandaise sauce. Served with red diced potatoes and fruit.

egg-white omelette (forgot what kind)

The juice was indeed fresh and delicious, side of fruits were plentiful and fresh. The dishes itself were well-portioned, solidly made, but nothing over-the-top impressive. I'd return just to try something else on their extensive menu, especially if I'm in the mood for breakfast food close-by. But it's not something I'd strongly recommend someone to make a trip for.

1120 S Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 789-9655


May Street Cafe

I was never a huge fan of wttw's 'Check Please', but my husband and I were intrigued when we came upon the "May Street Cafe" episode. It took several years before I finally had the opportunity to try this place last weekend.

MSC describes itself as, "Gourmet seasonal cooking featuring Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban and traditional American foods with an eclectic twist."

On "Check Please":

What our reviewers said:
Matt recommends it for its phenomenal food and unbelievable atmosphere.
Jenny says it's solid inventive Nuevo Latino cuisine.
And Nick calls it a real jewel, and suggests you make your reservations now.


I wanted to like MSC. It's close to our condo in the city, there's accessible parking, and it's byob. Generally, it wasn't terrible, but it was "okay" at best. Not a place I'd waste another meal on.

First came the corn tortilla chips with homemade salsa. This wasn't bad -- crispy chips, flavorful salsa with a kick of spice. But it wasn't a 'wow' factor either.

We started with the 'french double cream brie with pear quesadilla, $8.95 (according to menupages)
This was actually quite good.. nice flaky crust with a sweet / very slightly tart blend of pear and brie. The sour cream and salsa went with it quite nicely too.

Then came the main dishes. We shared the pork chop with mango salsa(which, the waitress said was a fantastic choice) and a braised pork. Both came with the same sides of grilled vegetables, plantain, rice and beans.

The pork chop was slightly overdone... very, very tough. Braised pork was very tender, but in a tub of grease, seasoned slightly with salt/pepper. The sides of rice was undercooked/tough, beans were average, and most of the vegetables were overly grilled.

The more I'm recalling the experience, the more I'm certain I would not want to give this place another try. It wasn't terrible, but definitely waste of a meal.

May Street Café
1146 W. Cermak, Chicago
(312) 421-4442
Hours- Open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday.

Nippon Kan Sushi Bar/Chicago Kosaido Sushi Bar at Hilldale Golf Club

Surprisingly not much is found online for this Japanese restaurant at Hilldale Golf Club. Although their sushi's not that great (as with most Japanese restaurant in the midwest), their extensive Japanese menu include delicious home-style and izakaya-style dishes.

Chawan-mushi: silky custard, nice yuzu flavor, fresh ingredients...

ika (squid) grilled with ginger sauce, nameko agedashi tofu, and gyu-tongue were all flavored nicely. their beef tongue is extra thick and chewy, which is interestingly different from the typical thinly sliced. they also have a salt field-chicken yakitori that is pricier, but quality of chicken is better, and it's supposed to be thicker. the waitress told us, "the one on the regular menu is just chicken you find at any supermarket".

I should've blogged about this earlier, because now I vaguely remember the details, but this is somewhere I'd definitely return to, especially after a golf outing!

Nippon Kan Sushi Bar/Chicago Kosaido Sushi Bar at Hilldale Golf Club
1625 Ardwick Drive
Hoffman Estates, IL

Monday, July 14, 2008

Aigre Doux

from Vicarious.com: "Husband and wife culinary team, Mohammad Islam and Malika Ameen, who met while cooking at Chicago’s superlative Ritz-Carlton Hotel and have become rising star culinary wizards ever since. Aigre Doux is their first Chicago venue in River North. Aigre-doux is the French term for the combined flavors of sour (aigre) and sweet (doux); Islam will serve as owner/executive chef and head of the food and wine program, while Ameen, as owner/executive pastry chef, will design the restaurant’s dessert menu and head the adjacent bakery. The couple brings a passion for food and a stellar Chicago, New York and Los Angeles culinary background to the new venture. Aigre Doux is a contemporary, comfortably calm upscale restaurant, yet the couple’s commitment to quality is anything but calm. “We feel so strongly about the importance of serving excellent food,” said Ameen. “We don’t believe people should have to go to a fine dining restaurant to eat well."

aigre doux was exceptional.. we enjoyed everything. nice, clean ambience; exceptional service (everything came at perfect timing, from clearing plates, to water, orders, etc...so precise that I swear there are cameras at our table or something watching our every move).

food: bread wasn't warm, but it was SUPER delicious.. very soft & airy, with salted crust.. reminded me of an asian bread that I can't put my finger on, but interestingly enough, my husband felt the same way... except his is a japanese bread and mine a chinese one. i guess it just tastes very asian. my husband and i stepped into the restaurant, not hungry at all (unfortunately), but we got bread service twice.. each ate 4 pieces of their bread.

Black Truffle Pizza fontina cheese, frisée $16

thin yet chewy dough perfectly cooked in their oven, with slight char at the bottom... truffles, cheese were flavored & paired to make this an exceptional piece.

Crispy Calamari lemongrass, asian influences
we originally wanted to try their rabbit, but the waitress wasn't very encouraging when I asked about it. instead, she recommended their crispy calamari, which was perfectly crisp even though there was a lime/lemongrass based sauce stirred into it. we loved this.

Colorado Lamb Tasting grilled chop, braised shank, crispy sweetbreads truffled grits, fennel, apple, fava bean salad $40

lambchops were the BEST we've ever had, the knife cut into the super tender meat effortlessly, and melted in our mouths. their braised meat was incredibly tender. the grits and vegetables didn't interest us at all... I don't think we even finished it. the sweetbread tasted very intestinal, and had a chewy texture that wasn't very tasty. i muchly enjoyed the sweetbread at Craft, not here.

Sticky Toffee Pudding organic khadrawy dates, devonshire cream sorbet, cara cara orange $11

i had read that their sticky toffee pudding was awesome, and since the wife completes the 'sweet' of the restaurant, i wanted to experience the 'other half'. unfortunately it wasn't on the menu. when we asked about it, the waitress said, "oh you can have it if you want it." so they especially made it for us, just cuz we asked... i thought that was pretty nice. also, when we got out, the valet attendant grabbed our keys the second we stepped out the door (we didn't even have to show him the valet ticket).

With 2 grey goose martinis and 2 grey goose tonics, our bill turned out to be a bit over $160 (including tip). not too bad for the creatively delicious meal and excellent service. We will be back.

Aigre Doux
230 W. Kinzie Avenue
Chicago , Illinois

Tel: 312 329 9400

Note: we had our camera on the wrong setting so the photos turned out like crap. sucks!!

Three Happiness Original Restaurant 三喜

I'm very particular about food (arguably snobbish), especially when it comes to Chinese. I typically refrain from trying Chinese restaurants recommended by the online community (since you never know who has an authentic tongue), but I like LTHforum, and respected their recommendations, so when I saw that Little Three Happiness was highly raved about, I decided to check it out.

The place was very small, decently packed at noon on Saturday, but didn't require a wait (3 ppl). Menu was extensive, but many of which were 'americanized' dishes. We ordered the following:

Dim Sums -
Beef Short Ribs
Shrimp in Rice Crepe
Beef in Rice Crepe
Curry Crisps
Shu Mai
Shrimp Dumplings

Duck, Sausage, Cured Pork Rice Casserole $7.95 (Bao Zai Fan)

Generally, the dim sums were decent, but not nearly as fresh as Shui Wah. Portions were all super-sized in comparison to typical dim sum.

The beef stew soup with thin noodles wasn't that great... came with beef brisket and tendon, again, large chunks. However, the flavor was just average, and tendons overcooked. Since there were three of us, they gave us each a small bowl with soup spoon. My husband's bowl had yellow water inside of it... probably the same 'yellow' water they used to wash everything us. quite disgusting, even for Chinatown.

The casserole was the star of the meal, came in a stoneware pot, filled with a LOT of rice, sauce, and cured meats. We had a bowl each and took the rest home.

The entire meal turned out to be $35.20, so it was definitely an economical lunch. Whether or not this is worth returning to...I'm not sure. I may be willing to give it one more try, but I'm not crazy about returning.

209 W Cermak Rd
(between Cottage Grove Ave & Indiana Ave)
Chicago, IL 60616 (312) 842-1964

Thursday, June 12, 2008

must.. try list:


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

2008: 1ST Chen Family BBQ

We baste nearly everything with my mom's soy-based sauce (mixed with sesame oil, garlic, green onions, etc)

oden... one of the bbq musts for Chinese ppl.. at least when we grew up..

our bbq tradition: 'grilled man-tou'. Years ago, we had some leftover homemade man-tou on the table so my dad threw it onto the grill... turned out to be one of the tastiest treats EVER. These man-tou are basted with my mom's sauce, so the caramelization/crispy charred exterior is so awesome with the soft and chewy fresh interior...
and of course, corn.. awesome with mama's soy-based sauce...

marinated in salt/pepper, these ck wings came out crisp and moist..

tender, flavorful kalbi...

Grilling vegetables bring out such an amazing flavor, also great on salads the next day..
shrimp skewers are also a Chinese-must when we were little, I remember skewering live shrimp in 5th grade...

'Happy Birthday' taro cake from "Da Ban" Bakery in Chinatown

Frontera Grill

Appetizer: Quesadillas Capitalinas Mexico City Style Quesadillas (corn masa turnovers )stuffed with samuel's locally handcrafted jack cheese and fresh epazote guacamole

- perfectly crisp turnovers, very flavorful melted jack cheese that poured out...very delicious. nice combination of silky cheesiness and crisp (slightly chewy) skin...

Appetizer: Ceviche Fronterizo lime marinated hawaiian sunfish with tomatoes olives cilantro and green chile served on crispy tostaditas
I'm never too impressed with ceviches because I feel like I can marinate it at home myself, but this was one of the best. Perfectly marinated, fresh fish, fresh greens, nice & crispy chip.

Pato En Mole Negro Dry Rubbed Wood Grilled Gunthorp Duck Breast in classic oaxacan black mole (made from chihuacle chiles and 28 other ingredients) black beans almond crusted chayote
I barely ever order non-asian prepared duck, but this was raved about online. Turned out to be bedded in a flavorful dark sauce, perfectly tender -- great eaten by itself but even better with the tortillas.

Tacos al Carbon wood grilled meat poultry fish or mushrooms sliced and served with roasted pepper rajas two salsas frijoles charros guacamole and homemade tortillas
Farm Raised Catfish marinated with achiote and garlic
Their tacos were highly rated as well, and this catfish one was a great example -- very nicely seasoned & grilled. Catfish is such a meaty fish that it held up to the taco well, didn't flake off too easily yet it was still silky. Often times catfish can be a little too non-fish like and uninteresting to eat, but this was done very, very well.

Frontera Grill
445 N Clark St, Chicago 60610
Btwn W Illinois & W Hubbard St
Phone: 312-661-1434

- I thought I probably wouldn't return, but I'm actually curious about Rick Bayless's other dishes on this menu! Price wasn't too bad either :)

Ken Kee (强记)Restaurant

Yet another Chinatown exploration find, but this one turned out to be pretty good.

200 Beef Briskets With Steam Rice Noodle Roll

I Love Love rice noodle rolls, especially when I unroll these noodles and soak it in the sauce it comes with. These beef briskets are tender, flavorful, does the job well at $3.25/dish.

704 Pickled Veg. & Shredded Pork Soup

Soothing broth, tender pork, slightly crisp vegetables. It's a nice comfort after a night of drinking... if I order it again, I'll probably ask for some rice noodles.

1019 Burning Seafood In a Flamed Mini Wok
This is a very tasty wok (comes with rice, even tho there are thin noodles inside). The husband and I can polish the three listed dishes easily in one sitting.

Neighborhood: Chinatown
2129 S China Pl # A
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 326-2088

Monday, June 9, 2008

端午节 Dragon Boat Festival

We went back to our parents' last night to have our first bbq of the year, as well as celebrate 'Duan Wu Jie' (aka Dragon Boat Festival). This holiday is celebrated on the 5th of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar.

The most popular theory of the origin of this day is that it was derived from the activities of commemorating a great patriot poet, Qu Yuan.

"Qu Yuan served in the court of Emperor Huai during the Warring States (475 - 221 BC). He was a wise and erudite man. His ability and fight against corruption antagonized other court officials. They exerted their evil influence on the Emperor, so the Emperor gradually dismissed Qu Yuan and eventually exiled him. During his exile, Qu Yuan did not give up. He traveled extensively, taught and wrote about his ideas. His works, the Lament (Li Sao), the Nine Chapters (Jiu Zhang), and Wen tian, are masterpieces and invaluable for studying ancient Chinese culture. He saw the gradual decline of his mother country, the Chu State. And when he heard that the Chu State was defeated by the strong Qin State, he was so despaired that he ended his life by flinging himself into the Miluo River.

Legend says after people heard he drowned, they were greatly dismayed. Fishermen raced to the spot in their boats to search for his body. Unable to find his body, people threw zongzi (aka Chinese tamales), lotus-leaf wrapped parcels of cooked rice into the river, hoping to tempt
fish away from eating his body, as well as to bargain for his life with a dragon that lived in the river. Villages also trawled the waters looking for Qu Yuan’s body, making a massive din in a bid to scare away fish. Today, teak rowboats holding up to 20 peddlers, a drummer, and a tiller are rigged with flamboyant dragon regalia and race in competitions to commemorate the villagers’ original search for the patriot’s body. Since then, people started to commemorate Qu Yuan through dragon boat races, eating zongzi and other activities, on the anniversary of his death, the 5th of the fifth month.

Zongzi is the most popular food for the festival. It is usually made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. Fresh bamboo leaves are the best for the wrapping since the taste and smell of the fresh bamboo leaves is part of zongzi.

Today you may see zongzi in different shapes and with a variety of fillings, dependent on individual family traditions, preferences, city of origin, etc.. The most popular shapes are triangular and pyramidal. The fillings include shitake mushroom, taro, chestnut, meat, yolk of egg, etc. The festival is closely associated with zongzi and dragon boat races. More importantly this is also a national patriot festival through commemorating the great patriot poet, Qu Yuan. People are reminded that the importance of loyalty and commitment to the community in the festival."

note: above content is mostly quoted via various online web sites

Happy Chowing!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


I want to make sure I have this in my foodiefile... this'll be difficult for me to consume, but I'm up for it if given the chance:

I always said that I'd give anything edible a try, but wow, this would take some effort (not only chewing itself, but I'd have to try hard to overcome some psychological barriers):

The eating of the ortolan has ethical eating groups baying for blood. First, it is caught with a net in the forest. Taken alive, its eyes are poked out and the bird is put in a small cage. It's then force-fed oats, millet and figs until it has swollen to four times its normal size. Then the bird is drowned alive in fine cognac. Then, it's roasted whole, in an oven at high heat, for six to eight minutes. Once it reaches the table, a napkin is placed over the eater's head. The technique of eating the ortolan is to put the whole bird into the mouth, with only the beak protruding. Here sadism mingles with masochism. The first taste as you crunch on the bird is the brandied flesh and fat. Then, the bitterness of the guts follow and finally, as the tiny, delicate bones are being chewed on, they will lacerate the diner's gums, with the salty taste of the bleeding gums mingling with the richness of the fat and the bitterness of the organs. Chewing the ortolan takes approximately 15 minutes.

The Connoisseur's Series, The Global Gourmet

Friday, May 16, 2008

Bien Trucha

I've been meaning to do some serious exploring in Geneva, IL, since it's so close to my work, but haven't had much opportunity to since the boss lady's happier when I'm here during lunches (obviously). A couple weeks ago, my brother asked me if I wanted to do lunch out of nowhere, so I figured it'd be a good opportunity to check out Bien Trucha (found 'ravings' online). Located next to a shabby clothing store, this little restaurant is easily miss-able. We arrived for lunch around 12:20, and there was already a line of 2 parties ahead of us. We put our name down and waited approximately 15 minutes before we were seated. The space is one of the smallest I've ever seen, with simple / cute decor and plating, including water served in deep blue bottles instead of pitchers.

Fried chips were given to us immediately with warm bean dip instead of traditional salsa. It's smooth and tasty, but I personally prefer traditional fresh tomatoes salsa.

My brother and I shared their ceviche, chicken-based soup, and Bien Trucha taco. Their ceviche was overly citrusy, but still fresh, served in a martini glass with arugula tossed in olive oil & chips. Chicken-based soup was intensely flavorful, soothing, and delicious. Bien Trucha taco features grilled skirt steak topped with homemade chorizo, Manchego cheese, and Serrano chili salsa. All the flavors were intense and blended with perfection, and steak was perfectly tender. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me, but I did find a picture online, I think on Chicagomag?

Excited that they hand-mash fresh fruit margaritas, I asked the hubby and gal pal to join us the following week for a Thursday night dinner.

Between the 4 of us, we shared the following:

guacamole of the day - sprinkled with small watermelon chunks, adding a perfect sweetness to the usual guacamole blend. I'm definitely trying this at home over the summer.

chorizo cazualita - a crock of melted cheese with homemade chorizo, served with 4 small fresh tortillas so we can make our own wraps. The flavor was SO GOOD, wrap tasted homemade and fresh... this dish gave my taste buds an explosive surprise, so intense that I wondered, "is this really that good or am I drunk?" My friend took photos with her iphone:

Speaking of drinks, I ordered their hibiscus flower margarita, brother went with strawberry (later, a traditional), husband went with a lime variety (later, cucumber). All of the margaritas were on the rocks, very fresh, and perfectly stiff.

next came the shrimp tacos in a sweet & tangy chili sauce with avocado. fresh, crisp, tasty, but not as delicious as other dishes. I forgot to bring my camera on both occasions but I did find a photo online:

"pescado" tacos (fried tilapia with cabbage slaw). Tasty, and breading was nice and crispy, but I felt the batter was a bit too much, overpowering the tender fish. I appreciate the crunchy texture next to the soft fish and tortilla, but I still prefer grilled fish tacos. (4 small tacos / order)
Next, we tried the steak tortas, which was my favorite (tied with cazualita) of the evening! Again, perfectly seasoned & grilled skirt steak with melted cheese & roasted jalepeno pepper!

Lastly, the portobello mushrooms tortas - small chunks with onions & peppers (i believe?) The mushrooms made the bread a bit too moist, and it's a mess to eat. They use soft italian bread for both tortas which is much more elegant than the usual hamburger-like buns. I loved the crispy texture and how soft the breading was inside.

I can't wait to go back! As hubby described in an email this morning, "i still can't get over how good last nite dinner was. everything was soo good. im burping up some good stuff. lol."

(note: including tip, it was around $30/person)

Bien Trucha
410 W State St
Geneva, IL 60134
(630) 232-2665

Monday, May 12, 2008

Panes Bread Cafe

When hubby first moved back to Chicagoland area from Peoria, he wanted to move straight into the city life. He also wanted to have a basement space to start a band, so him, his h.s. friend, and another friend started renting at 1237 Wellington.

Panes bread cafe was about 2 blocks from their house, so we always picked up sandwiches during the wknd practices. It's such a cozy, comfortable atmosphere with delicious (and cheap!) homemade food -- we missed it so much! I recently saw an article of Panes raising their prices at the cause of increased costs (damn the rise in fuel!), but it's still pretty cheap.

This past Friday, I finally had the opportunity to visit one of my old fave cafes, and this is what we ordered:

The Popular always a winner chicken breast caramelized onions, spinach roasted peppers, provolone cheese on tomato bread $5.50

They bake their own bread. Usually it's on a tomato foccacia, but they ran out (we got there around 9pm). This crisp and soft bread with fresh ingredients made a winning combo.

Panes Linguini linguini pasta tossed with grilled chicken mushrooms, spinach and spicy tomato cream sauce

The sauce base was tasty, as well as the ingredients, but it was a bit on the overly creamier side for my taste.

BBQ Chicken shredded chicken breast, asiago, mozzarella cheese and bbq sauce

Loved this thin crust pizza with tangy homemade bbq sauce -- definitely one of the most memorable of the three.

Even though this is a casual order-at-the-counter place, the lady at the counter was very nice, and they even made the effort of dividing our dishes into 3 portions for us to share.

I can't wait to go back!

Note: Photos taken by Dave Won -- Since he had his professional camera took out and started to take photos with various angles, I did not want to embarrass myself by pulling out my little digital.

Bread Cafe
Sandwiches, Italian, Desserts & Bakeries

3002 N Sheffield Ave, Chicago 60657
At W Wellington Ave

Phone: 773-665-0972

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Lao Shanghai

Since we live so close to Chicago Chinatown, love Chinese food, and love the cheap prices, we often end up roaming around new Chinatown square, just trying different places.

In my opinion, dim sum in Chicago is best at Shui Wah, and I heard their dinners are great too, so we almost stepped into the restaurant when we saw 老上海 (Lao Shanghai) across the walkway. I believe this location used to be a Taiwanese place called 海霸王 (Hai Ba Wang), which was exciting and delicious at first, but slowly deteriorated in food quality / flavor. very disappointing.

I saw a supposed 'article' on their soupy dumplings, and thought... why not, lets check it out.

Between the three of us, we shared the following:
1. Shanghai Lao Mien - a bit on the greasier side, but deliciously chewy noodles won me over.
2. Braised Pork Belly - there was this orange/red sauce on it that reminded me of the americanized version of sweet & sour sauce. I love fatty parts of pork belly, but this one had the ratio of 80% fat, 20% meat... pretty disgusting.
3. Seafood Casserole - this was like mapo tofu with shrimp. pretty good w/ rice, big shrimps.
4. Soupy Dumplings - omg, this is the worst EVER! It seriously tasted like the freezer-instant versions I get at supermarkets, the skin wasn't thin at all! SUCKS!
I later remembered that my mom told me about the opening of Lao Shanghai (it's owned by Tony Hu -- same owner of Lao Sze Chuan, and will open Lao Beijing too). I hope they make some improvements or else it won't be able to compare to the success of Lao Sze Chuan.

Lao Shanghai
2163 S China Pl
Ste 1F
(between Princeton Ave & Wells St)