Monday, December 21, 2009


We met up with our dear friends Jon & Susana for dinner on Saturday night, and they chose Shawn McClain's first restaurant (opened 2001), Spring. I didn't have time to do research prior to Saturday night, nor did I remember my experience when we went in 2001... so I didn't expect anything (except a larger-than-typical bill, and Top Chef-like cuisine).

Shawn McClain is the chef/partner behind Spring (homage to seafood, opened 2001), Green Zebra (homage to vegetables, opened 2004), and Custom House (modern interpretation of the classic steakhouse, opened 2005). All three restaurants are very popular, and highly raved by magazines, the public, etc. He is insistent on the quality of ingredients, and having an innovative, unique take on food.

The restaurant was dim, and all I had was my iphone, so I couldn't take any photos. Here are the choices we made, and thoughts:

Amuse Busche - small tasting of warm soup (I forgot what it was, but the flavors were delicious & intensive. On a cold night, this welcoming shot was nice & inviting to future courses).

"Bread" service - big breakable crackers with mashed beans in sesame oil - I appreciate bread over crackers, but this was tasty (I think the 4 of us ate a bit too much of this)

Kusshi Oyster 'bloody mary'/grated fresh wasabi 3/ea

We each had 2 of these $3/pc oysters, but weren't satisfied/pleased at all. It lacked that fresh ocean, remarkable oyster flavor. I've had much, much better (especially memorable are the oysters at NYC's Craft).

Scallion & Peekytoe Crab Pancakes toasted sesame/grilled scallion salad 12.

meh. I wanted to like this, but it was just mediocre. I especially didn't appreciate the sauce on top that reminded me of those americanized bottles of 'hot & sour' sauces.

Crispy Pork Belly Chinese steamed buns/ pickled cucumber/ Thai basil & cilantro 13.

I thought the buns were fresh, chewy, and delicious. The pork belly was slow-cooked to tender perfection. But they also used that 'hot & sour' sauce, which, again, I didn't appreciate.

Seared Maine Sea Scallops braised oxtail/wild mushrooms/sweet soy/baby bok choy 32.

I think there were 6 pcs of jumbo scallops on this dish, so the portion size is pretty good. Everything was cooked well, but the sauce was too sweet, and closely similar with actual Chinese dish (but it's not). Oxtail is tender, but again, I didn't see the innovation, so I wasn't impressed.

Pacific Sea Bass peekytoe crab & pumpkin seed ‘succotash’/Anson Mills grits/apple 31.
note: "succotash" - (from Narragansett msíckquatash, "boiled corn kernels"[1]) is a food dish consisting primarily of corn and lima beans or other shell beans.

The fish was cooked perfectly, and the husband loved the succotash & grits.

Tea: Pu-er $5/pot. I appreciate the use of fresh tea leaves instead of tea bags. Aside from the slightly difficult-to-pour pot, it was good.

Complimentary: hot chocolate with Chai (thick, heavy, delicious ending)

Services: accomodating, friendly, comfortable

Ambience: peaceful, simple, nice

Prices: After all of the above plus 12 drinks, a dessert, duck entree, and salad, our bill came out to be $100/person (including tax & gratuity)

Overall, everything was prepared perfectly. However, I just felt like it was too Asian. It wasn't just asian-influences or interpretations, it was too closely similar to actual dishes, yet it wasn't authentic.. so it kind of just wasn't impressive to me.

Although I probably won't go back to Spring, I do appreciate his insistence on fresh ingredients (it shows), and would love to see how he prepares vegetables at Green Zebra, and perhaps his modern steakhouse, Customs House.

Spring A Restaurant

2039 West North Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647-6380
(773) 395-7100

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

An Apple a day keeps the doctors AWAY!

My parents are such meat lovers & indulgent folks, that I was never mindful of making healthy food choices until I got married. The hubby squirms at the sight of increased flabs on his (non-existent) "belly". Especially as we leave our 'invincible' 20's, and are increasingly educated / warned by this organic, healthy world, we try to fit as much 'superfoods' in our diet as possible.

Apples are rich in antioxidants, polyphenols, flavonoids, v C, fiber, and potassium. Health benefits include prevention of RR lung cancer & type II diabetes, improved pulmonary (lung) function, and heart health. recommends eating a variety of apples for the best benefits (because the nutrient varies). Since the apple season started this year, I kept hearing raves about "honeycrisp" apples. It's the favorite variety of a LOT of people. I purchased them at Costco, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Fresh Market...but was never impressed. I wanted to stick to the sweetness of Fuji, and balance that flavor with the tartness of Granny Smiths.

Last weekend, the hubby & I stopped by our friend's place for SNF, and our friend proudly cut up 2 apples for us. He said, "have you had these? it's honeycrisp." Since we just had dinner, I wasn't very interested in trying these apples, especially since I've had them and weren't a huge fan. Out of courtesy for his efforts, I took a slice, and was pleasantly surprised by the crisp, juicy explosion of the perfect balance of sweet & tart. I could not stop taking slice after was the most addictive apples I've ever had. I don't think I've ever looked forward to having apples until that day.

He then explained that these were special orders from, which, I know is going to be one of my favorite go-to web sites. YUM. I will definitely place some orders for Christmas (for our own home, and for holiday celebrations... and as gifts!!!)

Can't wait to indulge in these again!!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Honey Cafe

I love brunch, creativity, fresh organic I was ecstatic to find Honey Cafe in Glen Ellyn (15 minutes away from our house). Brunch places in the city are always crowded over the weekends, so I'm also hoping suburbian places won't be as bad.

The husband and I had Monday off, so we decided to try Honey Cafe. It was around 1:30pm by the time we got there, so it wasn't crowded at all (didn't expect it to be). The decor was cute, colorful, casual, and all of the staff seemed nice and efficient.

I had their fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice (delicious), and my husband tried their coffee. It turned out to be fair-trade coffee at $2.45/cup, just a tad expensive for coffee. But it's not a big deal.

Since it was our first time, I wanted to go off the "specials". I decided to try their Market Platter. You can choose 3 market sides for $10.95, or 2 sides and a grilled tilapia or free-range chicken breast for $15.95. The two sides I chose were ratatouille and a mushroom strudel, with grilled chicken. This was the first time I tried ratatouille, and it looked like it was just sauteed vegetables, but I actually found it to be addicting. Although seemingly soggy, the flavors were intense, and slightly crisp. As with all ratatouille, it's a tomatoes based dish with garlic, onions, zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, and herbs. Everything is sauteed and baked (which explains the "sogginess"). I really enjoyed it!

Grilled chicken was nicely seasoned and cooked decently well.

The mushroom strudel was filled with flavorful, meaty cremini mushrooms and what tasted like goat cheese. The filo pastry was crispy with creamy cheese and deliciously flavored mushrooms.. at an instant, I knew the hubby would fall in love with this dish.

Speaking of which, he ordered a summer vegetable soup that came with a whole grain twist. The soup was clean, very hot (that's a good thing), and the twist was room temperture, but still delicious. It's good, but I probably wouldn't order it again.

For the main course, my hub ordered their Caprese Benedict ($10.95) (Two poached eggs served on top tomato-basil foccacia bread with fresh mozzarella cheese, topped with creamy basil infused hollandaise sauce, served with house potatoes.

It's definitely not your typical benedict dish, especially with the foccacia bread, which was 5 times thicker than the typical english muffin. However, the whole thing worked so well, he proclaimed it as one of his favorite dishes, and said he wanted to go back to order the dish over and over.

Overall, we had a very positive & enjoyable experience, and would love to return... soon. We're excited to know this isn't just a brunch place.. they're also open for dinner. Yay!

Honey Café

499 N. Main Street, Glen Ellyn


9am to 9pm



9am to 3pm

The Works

For the past couple years, I've heard about The Works, a delicious grease joint in Glenview. It was raved as the absolute best gyros in Chicagoland area.

With much excitement and anticipation, we decided to check it out after a round of golf.

Gyros - I appreciated the flavor of the meat, that it was slightly crispy yet tender. The bread was fresh and soft too, but perhaps slightly too thick. Overall, the gyros was good.

Cheese Fries - I don't see what's so amazing about these fries. It's typical fries found in a high school lunch room, with melted cheese on top. By far, Portillo's cheese fries are far superior.

Pizza Puff - This was so greasy I had an instant heartburn, my face feels itchy just thinking about it. Flavor was delicious, with slightly chewy interior, but I will never get this again.

In fact, I probably won't be stopping by this joint...ever.

The Works
2676 Golf Rd
Glenview, IL 60025-4744
(847) 724-0616


A family friend told us a few weeks ago about Chateaubriand steak. He wasn't sure exactly what it was, but he claimed it was fork-tender, and more delicious than filet mignon. According to Wiki:

The Chateaubriand steak is a recipe of a particular thick cut from the tenderloin, which, according to Larousse Gastronomique, was created by personal chef, Montmireil, for Vicomte François-René de Chateaubriand, (1768–1848), the author and diplomat who served Napoleon as an ambassador and Louis XVIII as Secretary of State for two years. This dish is usually only offered as a serving for two, as there is only enough meat in the center of the average fillet for two portions. At the time of the Vicomte, the steak was cut from the more flavorful but less tendersirloin and served with a reduced sauce made from white wine and shallots moistened with demi-glace and mixed with butter, tarragon, and lemon juice. An alternative spelling of the statesman-author's name is 'Châteaubriant', and some maintain that the term refers to the quality of the cattle bred around the town ofChâteaubriant in the Loire-Atlantique, France

As a steak lover, I immediately looked up a restaurant that serves this dish, and found the unanimous vote is for Sabatino's (in fact, I don't think there were any other place I found that served it in Chicago). Since my brother was moving out of the country, the hub and I decided to take him out for dinner.

Sabatino's is an old-Italian style restaurant with piano bar, so don't expect anything fancy schmancy. The place settings aren't even nice. However, they do give you a lot of food (great value), and they're generally fresh & tasty too.

We started off with pre-dinner dry grey goose martinis. To my absolute delight, they offered blue cheese-stuffed OR anchovy-stuffed olives.. YUM! I love salads, on bread, pasta, the possibilities are endless. That super salty fishy taste is so addictive. Needless to say, I requested anchovy-stuffed, and didn't even offer any to my husband (he asked for blue-cheese), because it was so good. That super salty (olives AND anchovy) taste mixed with chill alcohol is divine.

No matter what you order, Sabatino's bring over a loaf of bread, AND pizza bread. So easy - but so delicious. I don't see a point in trying to order any appetizers.. you'd only be left with no room for the main course.

Each dish also comes with soup AND salad. (and yes, the Chateaubriand for two would give you two sets)

The hubby went from Minestrone, which was fresh and good with intense tomato base.

I tried the Stracciatella with Spinach. It was decent, reminding me of Chinese egg drop soup with spinach.

The house dressing for salad is Italian (of course), nothing special about it. The only mistake our waitress made was not putting dressing on the was a little salty for me.

My brother decided to order a pasta dish we can all share (we planned on sharing the Chateaubriand too).

"Chef's Favorite" Vermicelli Alla Angelo ($17.95) - Shrimp sauteed in butter, garlic, and wine sauce, and served over Vermicelli Aglio Olio

This dish was okay - a bit too buttery for my taste. It's nothing to write home about.

Chateau Briand for two ($58.00) was prepared table side, which I was barely able to watch because he was behind me (and I was a little buzzed). I told the waitress that I typically like my steak to be between "rare" and "medium rare", so she said she'd request 'rare', and if it's undercooked, they're able to cook it more. It seemed like that's how it was being prepared, but after we cut into our plates, we found that my husband's portion was perfectly cooked, and mine was overdone. Next time I go, I'm definitely asking for 'rare'. My husband's portion was SO MUCH more delicious and tender. The mushrooms/shallots/wine sauce was also very tasty.

The three of us licked every plate clean, and was too full for dessert.

This is definitely a place I recommend for easy, no frills, delicious Italian. As a side note, the waitress also recommended Filet Mignon Meuniere ($24.95) - (Sliced center cut filet in white wine with lemon), and said she loves it more than Chateaubriand. We will definitely return to try that.

4441 W Irving Park Road
Chicago, Ill 60641
(773) 283-8331

Monday, June 29, 2009

Katy's Dumpling

Katy's Dumpling House
665 N Cass Ave
Westmont, IL 60559-1338
(630) 323-9393

This small shack of a place has ravings all over yelp, lth, chowhound, etc. It's no wonder they added decor, new menus, and an additional formal restaurant in Naperville. I still prefer the Westmont location, simply because the food is made better. Naperville location dishes have been overly greasy, spicy, and's borderline scary.

Westmont location, on the other hand, weren't bad at all. Aside from delicious noodles & dumplings, we found the very BEST green onion pancakes in Chicagoland area... perfectly fluffy, layered, crisp, and supremely delicious. It's a MUST try!!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Both the hubby & I love noodles... Italian pasta, Chinese beef noodle soup, Taiwanese chi-a noodles, Vietnamese Pho... you name it. Due to the fact that my husband's birthplace is Fukuoka, Japan, we are also big fans of Japanese Ramen, especially Tonkotsu.

Therefore, on the second day of our 2009 trip to Japan, our family took us to Aoba Ramen (Okachimachi 御徒町店). It's a chain of 15 shops (plus 1 specialty shop), specializing in Chuka Soba & Tsukemen. It's located with two other ramen shops in the Ramen Yokocho (横丁). Upon walking in, you purchase what you want through a vending machine, obtain a ticket, walk into your Ramen-ya of choice, and wait in line (if there is one) until someone finishes eating. It's not a restaurant-type of place where people sit to socialize. Everyone goes there to eat their ramen at a seat around the counter and leave.

I loved that these noodles were extra chewy, and the soup base was good, but it's not as strongly flavored as Komen. It definitely was an enjoyable experience, but our hearts are still with Komen.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Yoshiike - Ueno, Japan

Superbly delicious sushiya san... everything was very fresh. It's a small little place but comfortable, with attentive services. The chawanmushi was THE BEST EVER.
A few weekends ago, my brother, hubby, and family friend randomly went bowling in glendale heights, and was looking for somewhere to eat. At my brother's recommendation, we decided to try this restaurant. Hub & I have always wanted to explore other cuisines, so we didn't mind.

The restaurant was big, with a lot of German memoribella, and the menu was extensive. Hub & I ordered two items and shared. Since their dishes came with soup or salad, we did one each.

Soup of the day (forgot what it was)...but I remember the broth being nice & flavorful.

German Salad Plate - a variety of marinated vegetables, either creamy or slightly sour. Pleasantly refreshing & interesting.Although flavored nicely, pork loin was a bit dry. Dumpling was different than what I's like a big ball of stuffing.
Wiener Schnitzel Breaded veal schnitzel with lemon. $19.95
This was crisp, tender, and delicious. But there wasn't anything uniquely different or ethnic, it's simply breaded/fried veal.

Overall, the portions was ample, and we happened to go during their happy hour, so we received a discount. The waiter was helpful and very nice. However, there's nothing that stood out so strongly that makes me want to go back, nor try German food anytime soon. If there are anything people do rave about, and strongly recommend, then I'll go back.

Schnitzel Platz Restaurant
729 North Ave
Glendale Heights, IL 60139
Tel: (630) 942-9900

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tang Pho House - Naperville

Shin & I cannot get enough of pho.  Having it once a week in Argyle / Chinatown isn't enough.  We were ecstatic when we found a place that opened in our 'burbia!

My mom's friend's vietnamese daughter-in-law said the place is decent, and very clean. Online posts rated it overpriced, mediocre, average at best.  We didn't go in with much expectation, just looking for somewhere "workable", in case we're in a pho-mergency.  With our 80% off coupon in hand ($25 off purchases over $50), we went with our parents & bro.

These are the dishes we ordered:

Bun Bo Hue (mildly spicy, lemon grass/beef bones-based broth with thicker (slightly udon-ish) noodles).  Shrimp paste is an important ingredient.

I suggested this dish to the bro because it seemed interesting when I read about it in a blog.  Wiki says it originated in the old imperial capital of Central Vietnam (Hue).  It includes thin slices of marinated beef shank, oxtail, pig's knuckles or pork.  Also, cubes of congealed pig blood.

Richly aromatic, slightly tangy, overall a decent dish.  It wasn't spectacular, but everyone at the table enjoyed it.

Seafood in Crispy Noodles

Because of my careless calculation, I thought we needed one more dish to exceed $50, so I asked our waitress for a recommendation.  She chose a house specialty that's very popular... turned out to be this seafood dish (fake crabmeat?!?!) in a basket -- much like dishes you can find at Americanized Chinese restaurants (and yes, they too charged you much more than it deserves).  The only credit I will give them is they fried this noodles basket fresh (or so it seems), but it was a waste of money, consumption, effort, everything.  This is why I hesitate asking servers for recommendations, they often care only about adding more $$ to increase their gratuity %.

Vietnamese Omelette

I forgot what this dish is called, but it's an omelette with sprouts that you wrap in lettuce (with cilantro), and dip in nuoc mam (fish sauce).  They made this quite well, and it turned out to be our favorite dish of this dinner.

Pho Ga (Chicken Pho)
Ever since my complexion decided to go bunkers on me, I've been trying to cut off as much beef/pork as possible... thus enters my newfound alternative - Pho Ga.  Clean broth, slightly tough meat, fresh vegetables -- not the greatest, not bad either.

Pho Tai (beef)
The broth was decent, lighter, meat is closer to well-done, not bad.

spring rolls
These were decent, not the greatest.

Verdict is... good enough for our suburbia pho emergencies, but I probably wouldn't go back without a coupon (knowing I can get $25 off of $50 if I spend $4 on the coupon).  I wouldn't rave & recommend this place either, and wouldn't be too upset if it closed.

Tang Pho House

2603 W Aurora Ave, Ste 123
Naperville, IL 60540
(630) 548-9011

Meli's Cafe

Monday, February 9, 2009

Hai Yen (Lincoln Park location)

Like idiots, we officially over-paid for mediocre Vietnamese food, thanks to Hai Yen. This is what happens when you don’t stick to Argyle for Vietnamese food.

Our Vietnamese friend highly recommended Hai Yen for their “7 courses of beef”. Instead of going to their Argyle location (as recommended), we decided to try their Lincoln Park location because it's closer in proximity. O..M..G. First of all, the menu was so much shorter than the Argyle location (referenced: menupages). There was no “7 courses of beef”. They didn’t even have the usual variety of pho to choose from… just a couple “soups”, including ‘pho tai’ (beef pho).

We were starving, and overheard people shouting from the kitchen in Vietnamese, so I figured it was worth a try. This is what we ordered:

Goi Cuon (2 rolls) – Fresh Spring Rolls with Shrimp ($4.50 each)
Idiot action#2 – I asked for 2 orders of spring rolls, because I assumed each order came with 1 roll. Idiot action#3 – I accidentally pointed to the “shrimp” option instead of “shrimp & pork”, or even “beef”. Shrimp-only spring rolls lack that salty punch. As usual, I asked for ‘nuoc mam’ (fish sauce mix), and it was one of the worst fish sauce dip ever… it lacked flavor. Although the shrimp was fresh, and beautifully rolled tight the way I like them… the entire dish was borderline bland.

Chao Tom – Ground shrimp wrapped around a sugar cane and grilled. Served with Salt, Pepper, and Lime. ($8)
I should’ve known this would be a dish catered towards people unfamiliar with Vietnamese food…it reminded me of a Chinese appetizer that serves the same purpose. (think: shrimp toast with no toast) It doesn’t taste bad, but it’s not authentic. I am so mad at myself.

I decided to test out two of their chicken-broth based soups. Sup Mang Cua was soothing, but reminded me of egg drop soup with crabmeat. Canh Chua Tom was a bit too sour, but at least tastier – a hint of Tom Yum. The only positive point is their use of large/fresh seafood.

Sup Mang Cua – Tender crabmeat, white asparagus & egg whites in light chicken broth. ($4)

Canh Chua Tom – Shrimp & exotic vegetables in a tamarind flavored chicken broth. ($4)

I am really irritated that I accepted the waiter’s recommendation of this dish. I fell into the trap because I LOVE wide rice noodles, I was starving, and he said “Crispy part of the noodle is not TOO crispy, just lightly crisp, still soft on the inside”. As easy as this seems, restaurants often screw this up… so for him to recommend the dish, and explain how perfectly the chef crisps the noodles ever so slightly… I had to just try it.

Omg… the friggin noodles were pretty much triangles of DEEP-FRIED CHUNKS! There was no soft chewy insides!! And it was SO fried up and CRUNCHY, that I can taste a full tablespoon of vegetable oil in every bite. Again, only positive point is the fresh seafood… nothing else. The sauce (again) reminded me of Westernized-Chinese! Yuck!

Hu Tieu Xao Do Bien – Crispy wide rice noodles with seafood ($11)

I still regret not being honest with the waiter when I tried this dish. I should’ve just asked for a side of soft wide rice noodles because the CRUNCHY grease chunks were not ‘slightly crisp’, like he promised. But the guy seemed so harmless and nice that I felt bad. I am a weakling. Now this dish leaves me hungry, craving some pillowy soft, slightly chewy wide rice noodles. THANKS.

Cai Kho To – slowly braised Sea Bass in a clay pot with sugar & garlic ($16)

Hub & I are suckers for ‘clay pot’, and we both love fish, so I ordered this pricier dish. The flavor was good, slightly over-seasoned, but good with rice. Fish was very tender, melt-in-mouth.

But yeah… not enough of a reason to return… ever. I want to check out Hai Yen in Argyle… but no more of this Lincoln Park location bull-crap. I feel so dumb after checking this out, especially since this meal (including tip) costed us nearly $70. For Vietnamese food! No drinks! For LUNCH!

Hai Yen
2723 North Clark Street
Phone: 773-868-4888