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

Monday, February 2, 2009

I've been such a slacker on updating this web site.  I really want to be good about it this year, since we recently noticed it's so helpful when we want to recall what/when/where we ate.  Also, instead of going to the same ole places we're comfortable with, we made a list of places to check out in the city & burbs, so reviews will be great references for us.  This year, I really hope to explore cuisine we're not as familiar with...ethiopian, egyptian, soul food, indian, mediterranean..

First to review is Shikara Indian Restaurant.  Bobcat LOVES curry of all kinds.  He claims he can eat curry consecutively (all three meals) for several weeks.  I asked him, "what if it's eating curry for dinners-only?  how long would you be able to last?"  his response, "oh I can do that forever."  He wants to go on a curry tour.

We selected Shikara Indian Restaurant because I found a "buy 1 meal, get 1 free" coupon in the mail (which, by the way, Bobcat was embarrassed to use).  A part of me was hesitant, since reviews online weren't great (mostly listed it as overpriced).  This restaurant wasn't mentioned by Bobcat's Indian co-workers nor our acquaintance that we met several weeks ago either.  But who can resist getting a free meal via coupon??

Overall, it's a nicer, more spacious, probably fancier Indian restaurant than usual.  The menu's extensive, but everything we chose was quite good... definitely strong on spices (as Indian food should be).  We had plenty of leftovers that we consumed for lunch the next day...I think I am addicted. I miss the blend of Indian spices and cannot wait to explore further.

Here's what we ordered:

Mattar Paneer
Green peas and homemade Indian cheese cubes prepared with spiced onion, tomato, and roasted cumin sauce to perfection.

This was good, but a little too salty to eat by itself.  I wish the bread or rice we ordered came out with this dish.

These are 4 sauces that came with the dish.  They also brought over typical flat crackers.

Chicken Curry
Boneless cubes of spring chicken cooked in a savory onion, tomato, and garlic sauce.
This was my favorite...perfectly creamy and flavorful sauce, very tender chicken...just a little stronger than the Japanese roux.  I guess that's to be expected since it probably originated in India.

Tandoori Chicken
Again, the chicken was perfectly tender and moist.  I loved wrapping some onions and chicken in the bread, and eating it like a tiny sandwich.

Onion Kulcha
Leavened bread stuffed with chopped onions, cilantro, and mild seasonings,
baked in the clay oven.

Aloo Parantha
A multi-layered whole wheat bread stuffed with seasoned potatoes, finely chopped cilantro and mild spices, baked in cly oven

Both of the breads were good (I preferred Onion over potatoes), but I think I'm going with plainer versions next time.  Unless I'm eating bread by itself, all the additions distracts the main dish so much that it no longer complement it.

Peas Pulao
Basmati rice cooked with green peas and cumin.

Nothing special - just a few veggies in the rice, adding a bit of texture and lightly flavored peas -- probably would be fine paying a few dollars less for the plain rice, since we're eating it with the curry.

Indian Beer - Flying Horse
Belvediere Martini

As for service, the manager and host were both welcoming and professional.  We waited a while to place orders (even though it wasn't that busy).  It was the manager that noticed we've been waiting and told the waiter that we're ready.  The waiter was one of the worst...I can barely understand him, he wasn't that friendly, and he kept pressuring us to order pricier dishes (as well as more dishes than we need).  The host wrapped up our food, and took our coupon.  Instead of deducting the lower priced tandoori chicken (I think $8), he deducted our appetizer ($11).  (curry was around $15)

After all of the food & drinks we had, we paid around $66... not bad.  According to reviews online, this restaurant is considered overpriced, so without the coupon...we can probably find cheaper restaurants with equally delicious food.  we shall see!

Shikara Restaurant
1620 75th Street, Downers Grove, IL
Phone: 630.964.1720