Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My Dan-Dan san's Lao Puo

Lately, a lot of people have been asking me what I make for dinner. They're especially curious because Bobcat's Japanese, I'm from Taiwan, and we live in states. Generally, I research & purchase ingredients that are good for our health and/or are on sale (in-season). For breakfast, it's typically fruit/veggie smoothie with grounded flaxseed and wheat germ, yogurt with honey & grinded nuts, and something a little fulfilling (ie. 1 toast). Sometimes I'll do oatmeal if I have leftover soup from the night before. Lunch for the Bobcat used to be cereal, but he finally got sick of it one day. Now, it's sandwiches/wraps with chips, nuts, dried fruit. For some reason, I never bring my own sandwich. I either bring leftovers, go out and buy something, or just munch on chips. Dinners range from soba, pasta, stir-frys with rice, curry rice, etc. All simple things tossed together, depending on what ingredients we have at home. My goal is to clean out our fridge/pantry as much as possible, I absolutely hate throwing out food that has gone bad or expired. I think this is because my mother is a grocery shopaholic that stores way too much food (which often expires/goes bad).

Tossing things together is simple, but uninspiring, because I tend to use seasonings/flavor combinations I'm familiar with. This does nothing for my cooking skills, and it's pretty boring overall. Cooking is a gesture of love. I want to see excitement and joy as "new" dishes tantalize his tastebuds. Perhaps it's time to actually use my collection of cookbooks, instead of just admiring them.

I recently purchased Gwyneth Paltrow's "My Father's Daughter" cookbook. I completely adore and admire everything she does. Not only is she multi-talented, she seems so down-to-earth, kind, goofy, with such humility during interviews. I pre-ordered her cookbook as soon as I could, not knowing what to expect. I really, really love it. All of her recipes are simple & brief. I love knowing what she makes for her family & friends. And most of all, you can really feel her love for her family, especially her father, through the stories & photos. I am 'my daddy's girl', and I completely love and admire my dad. But I am often annoyed, irritated by him. Through this cookbook, she inspired me to appreciate his presence, and really strive to be more loving instead of frustrated. You really never know when the last day will be, and I'd hate to live in regret.

With all of those random thoughts in mind, I decided to try to go through "My Father's Daughter" recipes. I'm excited to do some browsing tonight, put together a shopping list, and begin this adventure ASAP!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Panes Bread Cafe

Oh Panes, how I love you. Since the day our friends told us about your delicious, creative sandwiches, using fresh ingredients and house-made bread... we've been a loyal fan. We no longer live down the street, so it has been years since we've been back. Last night, we admittedly intended on checking out the new hotspot, Fish Bar, so we can compare it with our new-found love, "GT Fish & Oysters". On a Wednesday night, we assumed it wouldn't be crowded. Not only was there a line of people around the walls, we were told it'd be a 75 - 80 minutes wait. wow...I think that breaks the record for me. 75 - 80 minutes???

I've been meaning to go back to Panes, so I wasn't too disappointed. But for some reason, the Bobcat was very hesitant. I insisted, so we ordered 2 sandwich "specials" -- Prosciutto, olive, pesto, red peppers, cheese.. and Chicken, tomatoes, basil, feta. We also ordered a side of tomato basil pasta, appetizer of stuffed mushrooms, and lentil soup.

First came the soup & bread. At first, I thought the soup was okay. Then I started to crave it... and I couldn't stop consuming spoonful after was addictingly good. The bread wasn't warm, but it was good. It reminded us of something we had, it felt like when we were kids, possibly in asia...the bread was sweet with a nice chew. I couldn've eaten baskets more, but that probably wouldn't have been a great idea, considering how much food we ordered. At this point, the Bobcat asked, "You know how sometimes, when you go back to somewhere you used to like, you realize it's no longer that good..." Ah-Ha. He wanted to preserve the great memory of 1237, Lakeview area, Panes... he was afraid it's end up sucking..but it didn't. We were pleased.

The side of pasta & stuffed mushrooms both came with a tomato basil sauce. The sauce was fresh, flavorful, divine. I can drink that sauce. The pasta wasn't al dente enough for me, but that can be overlooked. Mushrooms were fresh & juicy.

The prosciutto sandwich sounded like it would be very salty, and it was certainly salty, but not overbearingly. It was an interesting combination of flavors, nestled between crusty, warmly baked fresh bread. Their bread is really something. If white bread isn't so bad for you, I wouldn't brought home a couple.

The only thing I wasn't as big of a fan of was the chicken sandwich. Maybe I was overly stuffed, I'm not sure. But the feta made the chicken feel mushy when it wasn't.. at least I don't think.

All of this costed us a whopping $27 (including $2 dollars & change that I put into their tip jar). Ridiculously cheap. I can't believe those sandwiches are $5.99.

Panes Bread Cafe
3002 N Sheffield Ave (b/w Nelson & Wellington)
Mon-Sat 10am-10pm
Sun 9am-9pm
Cash Only

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mizu Yakitori

The Bobcat randomly decided to search through Yelp for Japanese restaurants several weeks ago, and Mizu Yakitori was one of the few he found & wanted to check out. I actually preferred trying Wasabi first (the other place he found), but this was closer to the bar we were supposed to stop by afterwards.

The space was pretty big -- the entrance leads to a room with sushi bar on one side, and tables on the left (completely empty on a Saturday night). The hostess/waitress lead us to another room where 5-6 out of 12 or so tables were filled. When she lead us to the 2-top tables by the windows, I asked if we can be seated in the half-booths (away from the windows) instead. She said they needed to save those tables for groups of 4. It was 8:30pm, I really doubt all of these empty tables would suddently get filled. Plus, I saw groups of 2 guests seated at those tables (which is why I even asked in the first place). But I didn't want to throw a fit.

Our waiter came around (nice guy) to take our orders. Their main dishes are a list of grilled skewers & sushi rolls, but they also had apps & a "specials" menu. In opposite order:

chicken soft bones skewers -- chewy, crunchy, delicious
grilled whole squid - probably a little too much for us by this time, but it was good.

from "specials" - toro (fatty tuna belly) and fatty salmon belly. $6/piece and $10/piece. Kinda pricy, but we really wanted to try the fatty salmon, since I don't think we've ever had it. Both were soft, fatty, creamy, delicious. It was a big slice of fish on top of a small ball of rice (just the way we liked it).
We always get gyutongue (beef tongue) if we see it on the menu. This was a bit more tender, less chewy. Reminds me more of a lean slice of steak than tongue. A little on the saltier side but good.
We ordered duck & japanese negi (green onions/leeks), dark chicken, chicken skin, chicken gizzard. They serve the skewers with 3 dipping sauces (if you want to use it) -- ponzu, tare, mustard. They also offer homemade soy sauce.

As much as I wanted to use the sauce, I was quite satisfied with eating these skewers as is. They've already been seasoned with salt & we like the squeeze of lemon.
"specials" - giant sea scallops in a buttery lemon sauce. We actually liked the little chewier muscles of the clam on the side, rather than the actual scallop, but it was good.
Thought we'd try the alcohol-free Kirin beer (I believe this is the first time I saw it offered at a restaurant in states). It actually tasted pretty good. I like having beer (or in this case, "pretend-beer") with yakitori. For some weird reason, I started to feel like I'm slightly buzzed after I finished this beer, even though I obviously shouldn't...
hirame (flounder) carpaccio was pretty good. Thick slices of sashimi.

Ankimo (monkfish liver) was like a leaner version of foie gras. We liked it served with ponzu soy & radish. I had this several times at different restaurants. I feel like they're either excellent or very meh. This turned out to be on the 'excellent' side of the spectrum.Our waiter was really nice, attentive, informative, diligent. The only thing I was annoyed with was not being able to be seated where we wanted to be... I was FREEZING my ass off. And of course, BARELY any more additional guests walked through those doors after us, so there were plenty of half-booth seats available. I'm not sure why she had to be stingy about it.

We're excited that the Bobcat found this place, and will definitely be back!

Mizu Yakitori Sushi Bar & Sake Lounge
315 West North Avenue, Chicago, IL 60614

GT Fish & Oysters

GT Fish & Oysters is the new project by Boka Restaurant Group (Rob Katz, Kevin Boehm, Giuseppe Tentori (CHEF). They also opened Boka, Landmark, Perennial Virant, and last year's hottest restaurant -- Girl & the Goat). Like most of Chicago, we enjoyed G&G, and was excited to find out their newest venture is seafood (esp. raw oysters)! As much as I hate to fight the crowd, I was too ecstatic to wait. As soon as the phone lines opened, I wanted to book a reservation.

The decor is described as a Cape Cod fish house, but fancier. Large boomerang shaped table created by Boka Group's design team, 555 International and a surfboard company; chalk paintings with interesting lines; Japanese buoy-like glass ball hanging, held by a thick black rope, stuffed tarpon, etc. The exterior is supposed to give the restaurant a New England cottage feel. (note: descriptions found on various web sites)

In opposite order...

Cheesecake with huckle berries & graham cracker-like crumbs: We loved the fluffy texture -- something in between tofu & whipped cream. It was the most interesting, delicious cheesecake we've ever had -- closer to european/japanese pastries than american's dense desserts. We liked that the crumbs weren't attached, so you had the option of eating the cheesecake with or without them (difference is sweetness). This is the perfect type of dessert for us. We enjoyed it with tea (decent, pretty in a see-thru pot) & coffee (ok).

Grilled Mahi Taco - achiote, torreados, smoked crema: The fish was tender & perfectly cooked, with a nice flavor, but standing against so much tortilla -- we felt like the flavor was lost. Either the fish & condiments need to be more pungent, or the tortilla needs to be smaller? Either way, this is not an exciting dish that I'd order again.
Sunfish ceviche - chimichurri, jicama, avocado, radish: It was good ceviche, but I'm not sure what all of the rave is about. It's not something I'd be excited to re-order.
Clam Chowder - Nueske's bacon, house-made oyster crackers: now this was amazing -- a lighter, more brothy version of typical clam chowder, filled with clams, and along with crackers, added various textures to the intense seafood flavor. I've never been a huge fan of clam chowder, but the Bobcat apparently is. He said this is the best clam chowder he has ever had, and he'd be excited to order this again.
Lobster Roll - lobster salad, toasted roll, fried onions: I don't think I've ever had lobster roll, but I've always been excited about the idea of it. I'm afraid this might've set my bar too high, because it was incredible. I'm not sure what I loved more -- fresh lobsters slightly enhanced with a light dressing & veggies...or the toasted, buttery, incredible bread... or the combination of the two. The side of fried onions is also delicious, but I thought adding it to the roll took too much away from the lobster. If there's a lobster roll eating contest, I'd love to put down 5 of these in one sitting.
Fresh Oysters offered the day we were there...
We started with 6, but ended with 12. These were incredibly fresh & delicious oysters -- arguably best we've ever had. Better than what we had at Dominican Republic (STRAIGHT from the ocean), in Baltimore (right next to the port), in Maui, etc. INCREDIBLE.

As described on many sites, the service was extremely attentive, informative, friendly. Waiters are teamed with food servers, water pourers, etc. But everyone was informative. The only time we had to wait was the additional order of oysters, and getting our coffee/tea. We should've clarified that we wanted coffee/tea with our dessert. Instead, dessert came first, so it was just sitting there while we waited (possibly losing a lil bit of deliciousness). It ended up being because they had to brew a fresh pot of coffee for us, so it wasn't their fault at all.

Even though this was obviously a hot restaurant that people were waiting for, I didn't feel like they were rushing us at all. They wanted us to enjoy a great dining experience, which we really did.

I'm so glad I snagged another reservation in a few months, because this place deserves regular visits. LOVE!

GT Fish & Oyster
531 N. Wells, Chicago, IL

Cocoro's Tonkotsu Ramen & Gyoza combo

Japanese ramen & curry are among the Bobcat's top favorite things. Even though Chicago's winters are bitter & long, we surprisingly do not have any ramen-specialty shops (except Mitsuwa). However, we did notice an increase in ramen option at Japanese restaurants. So far, nothing has been spectacular, but anything is better than nothing.

Since the Bobcat's originally from Fukuoka (Kyushu), our favorite is naturally the least healthy/most flavorful of them all -- tonkotsu (pork-bone based). When done well, the milky, sticky, intense flavor coats each chewy strand of noodle, delivering an unforgettable umami flavor.

We were ecstatic when the owner of Cocoro told us about their tonkotsu ramen. The master chef prepares a huge pot of bones & cooks it down on a weekly basis for several days. Each batch produces only 30 bowls, so they're often out of ramen by Saturday night (we've already been rejected once..)
For the Bobcat's birthday, we took last Friday off, and called Cocoro to make sure they had ramen available. They start serving it every Friday, so we had one of the first batch:

This is definitely a lighter version of tonkotsu ramen, flavor isn't nearly as intense. The longer they cook down the broth, the I wonder if a later batch would be different (although we risk not getting served ANY at all). Anyway, it's still a good bowl of soup we'd go back for. The chashu (pork) was very good.. perfect balance of fatty & lean, nice & tender.

Ramen goes with gyoza like sushi with miso soup, or grilled cheese sandwich & tomato soup (even though I've never actually had that). These gyoza felt freshly made, perfectly crisp & juicy:
No matter what, we feel blessed to be able to get tonkotsu ramen in Chicago. Hopefully these izakaya & ramen trends will pick up more & really spread through the Chicagoland area...

Cocoro Restaurant
668 N Wells St., Chicago, IL

Yokohama Japanese Restaurant

Yokohama is seriously our go-to place in the burbs. They have a pretty extensive menu too...we still manage to try new dishes, even though we've been going for so many years...

saba, my hubby's favorite fish:

Chirashi -- something we never order, but I saw another table order it, and thought it looked delicious (which, it really was):
love the bento container:
I think we like the idea of chirashi, because you can eat as much or as little sushi rice as you want with each piece of sashimi. The only thing is, there's rumors that certain restaurants would serve the "scraps" for chirashi. I don't think Yokohama did, just look at how fresh and beautiful each thick slice is.

Yakitori (shio) -- We strongly prefer "salt" over tare (teriyaki)

One of my most beloved sushi...or even just food in general... uni!!
I've always appreciated the crunchiness & chewiness of octopus. I believe this is lightly tossed witih sesame oil & salt, sprinkled with dried seaweed

the hubby really loved this buttery squid dish:

Yokohama Japanese Restaurant
13 E Burlington Ave.
Westmont, IL 60559

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lemon Tree Grocer

We found this local grocer via Groupon, less than 10 minutes away from our home. Friendly staff, clean & modern space, and delicious food with beautifully fresh ingredients.

Their omelette was made perfectly, side of potatoes delicious, and the chicken salad sandwich was surprisingly good. I'm usually not a fan of overly creamy chicken / tuna salads made at stores, especially when they have grapes in them. But this one was right on the money -- perfect balance of creaminess & mustard's tart. The whole wheat bread was soft & fluffy.

I can't wait to go back & try everything else!

Lemon Tree Grocer
5101 Mochel Dr
Downers Grove, IL 60515
(630) 969-9869

Labriola Bakery & Cafe

We had an early appointment in Oak Brook one day, so I used "tastespotting" afterwards, and found Labriola Bakery & Cafe.

It's like Corner Bakery, but bigger and much better. Order, put the number given to you at your table, and the food is brought over to you. They have a pizza oven, gelato selection, dessert cafe, various breads, coffee, lunch/dinner. The place screamed, "GET EXCITED!"

We ordered homemade ricotta gnocchi in creamy tomato sauce (a bit too creamy for me, but pretty good) and eggs benedict. I am not a dessert fan, but I ended up picking up a couple selections to try at home. Everything turned out to be pretty good, and I can't wait to go back!

Labriola Bakery & Cafe
OakBrook Promenade
3021 Butterfield Rd

Oak Brook, IL 60521
(630) 574-2008

Volare West

Through iphone's 'tastespotting' app (recent fave), I found Volare, an Italian restaurant in Oak Brook, that seemed promising. Some of the spotted items included "seafood linguine", "raw oysters" -- both of which I wanted, wanted wanted!! They ended up having neither avail. that night, and that wasn't even the worst part of the night.

Our awful experience...

first, the lot was incredibly full. there was even a line for $3 valet (in the suburbs)! We were instructed to park on the side, which made us a little uncomfortable (crossed fingers in hope nobody scraps our car).

We walk in with a 8pm reservation made, but had to wait. While waiting, a couple that came in after us, which one of the managers apparently knew, was greeted and almost brought to a table. The hostess said, "they were here first". 5 minutes later, they were still seated at that table (for 4 ppl), and another young manager came around with 2 chairs in hand, told us "follow me to your table." We were seated in a tight nook, it seemed like they "created" this table for us. He asked whether or not this seat was ok, but I really didn't want to wait any longer for another table.

The busboys/runners came with water & bread immediately, which we appreciated, and hoped that good spirit would continue through the rest of the evening... but no. We waited, and nobody came to take our drink orders nor food orders. To be fair, they were having a busy night. But still... we waited for nearly 20 minutes. I was finally able to make eye contact and wave someone over. He said, "I was just about to check with this waitress whether you are her table or mine, because we had some confusion earlier." okay... He ends up taking our order, which was also awkward. He couldn't list the beers when we asked what was available, they didn't have the oysters, and I had to repeat myself multiple times. When one of our dishes came out, it ended up being wrong (which, he said he pressed the wrong button).

The food was decent. But the experience was so poor, I seriously wanted the food to come out as quickly as possible, so we can just leave. It was the most unpleasant experience I've ever had at a restaurant. We will never ever return.

Volare West
1919 S Meyers Rd
Oak Brook Terrace, IL 60181
(630) 495-0200

Friday, March 4, 2011


I love tofu, and all asian-vegetarian creations, but I was never a fan of western-made soy products. I still remember the disgust when a friend offered me a taste of her block of soy. ew.

But there has been more products lately, probably because of increased environmental and animal rights awareness. I was inspired when I saw a recent Oprah episode on eating veg.

So I purchased a few items recently. One of my surprising fave was this chorizo. Keep in mind, I'm not a huge fan of chorizo, so I don't know how close this is to the real deal. But I just have to say that the texture & seasoning is pretty delicious. Definitely worth a try!

On a different note, Chinese people are very into eating the right food (& combination of food) to improve your health. This usually involves Chinese herbs, dried items that are good for your body. Since this winter has been so cold, my mom prepared three things that's supposed to bring "heat" to your body, warming it up to battle the winter. I didn't take photos of the other two -- Ma Yo Ji (Seasame Oil Chicken) and Yang Rou Lu (Lamb stew) -- actually, I didn't even get to eat the latter (it's hot pot - style). But I did get to enjoy a very delicious Jiang Mu Ya (ginger duck stew). I don't remember having this... it's a cooked duck stew, but you eat it like a hot pot -- the contents of the existing stew AND you add other things in it. The cabbage soaked up the slightly greasy, intensely flavorful broth. It's one of the best things I had all winter.

Hing Kee

The BOB and I made it our mission to try out as many restaurants in Chinatown as possible. We chose Hing Kee because of the noodles-pulling guy that can be seen through the big glass window. Smart advertisement.

It wasn't until I browsed online (afterwards) that I realized it's one of those all asian-chinese restaurants (food includes chinese, thai, korean, japanese, etc etc.) I always feel like the lack of focus equates to zero authenticity.

Regardless, I'm happy to see a fresh-noodles making place. My husband got the ramen noodles, I got the knife-shaved chunky noodles. Both the noodles & soup based turned out to be ok. It's worth trying again (and this time, I'll probably tell them to cook it a little less, since I LOVE chewy noodles).

Our waiter also recommended their salt/pepper egg tofu. A bit too heavy for the two of us, but it's decent.

Hing Kee Phohung Restaurant
2140 S Archer Ave
(between Wentworth Ave & 21st St)
Chicago, IL 60616
Neighborhood: Chinatown
(312) 808-9538

Tao Ran Ju

There are so many Chinese restaurants in U.S. that without "connection" and/or an eye for finding trustworthy blogs/reviews, one highly risk wasting money and calories on a bad meal.

Tao Ran Ju was first recommended by our friend G, who heard about the place from his dad. Supposedly (it should be true, since it's written in newspapers), the owner hired a chef from
Ding Tai Fung, the restaurant that made "xiao long bao" (soupy dumpling) extremely desirable / popular, and continues to make one of the best "xiao long bao" EVER. During our trip to Taiwan winter of 2010, I had the pleasure of eating there again. It was so good, it's stupid that they don't have a location here. so stupid.

Back to Tao Ran Ju... we were excited to find a few options of various dumplings avail. Results: tasty filling (tho a bit dry at times), soupy, but the skin is not thin nor chewy. It does not compare to the "real" xiao long bao. BUT it will have to do, since Chicago completely lacks in this (and many, many other Chinese & Taiwanese foods).

We also felt like having some soup, so we ordered their seafood vegetable soup. It wasn't bad. I liked their choice of vegetables, good ingredients, and milky broth. But it's not so amazing that I'd go back to order the same dish.

The waitress claims that their grilled meat / hot pot dish is really good. I also heard that their beef rolls are good. This place is definitely worth visiting again.

As a side note, shockingly, their service was really good. Very attentive, nice... unlike typical Chinatown spots. Space is also clean & bright.
Tao Ran Ju
2002 S Wentworth
(between Cullerton St & Archer Ave)
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 808-1111

Friday, February 25, 2011

Chizakaya Japanese Pub (Harold's Restaurant)

Restaurant Week @ Chizakaya

1st Course
Chicken meatball with warm egg yolk
Puffed pigs ears

2nd Course
Trio of Skewers
Sweet Sausage, Duck Confit, Shishito Peppers

3rd Course
Kakuni pork belly with egg
Grilled Squid

4th Course
Taro Rice Pudding with coconut

VERDICT: interesting enough for us to return.

3056 N. Lincoln Ave
(between Southport Ave & Wellington Ave)
Chicago, IL 60657
Neighborhood: Lakeview
(773) 697-4725