Seadog Sushi Bar

Seadog Sushi BarHaving watched several photos of sushi on Instagram, it goes without saying that I was in a mood to work some chopsticks. While passing through Wicker Park, there were restaurants quickly filling up with customers who had departed work for the day. Many were probably trying to get into a warm building since Chicago went from tropical to near autumn in a matter of days. Well, not wanting to deal with crowds, I pulled out my cellphone, flipped through some more Instagram photos, and saw a few postings from a restaurant walking distance from where I was pondering what to eat. I quickly made my way to Seadog Sushi Bar at 1500 W. Division Street.

Sea Soup

Sea Soup

Having indeed arrive early enough, I had a window seat and enough room to navigate the table for some shots at different angles. Well, I cannot claim true foodie credibility without photographs of my dining experience. And I was glad to have wiggle room without being in anyone’s way or them in my compositions. Thanks to the sudden drop in temperature, I started with a pot of green tea and a bowl of sea soup. There was no shortage of shrimp, whitefish, and crab in the soup. The flavour of the broth reminded me of sweet soy sauce. The green tea balanced out the sweetness.

The Island

The Island

Spooky Maki

Spooky Maki

An appetizer that grabbed my eye was The Island. It was sushi, but prepared unlike any sushi that I have had before. This was a dish of crispy sushi rice atop ebi tempura. There was a honey mayonnaise in the recipe that gave the sushi a pop that I enjoyed without use of soy sauce. The interesting maki roll was the Spooky Maki. This sushi roll was made of unagi, jalapeno, and cilantro served with a spicy mayonnaise and unagi sauce. The unagi sauce was rather sweet. After patting much of the unagi sauce on the plate, the sushi pieces were delicious.

Green Tea

Green Tea

Seadog Sushi Bar seems like a quaint restaurant, not one that is boisterous and loud. Granted I went as soon as the doors opened for even dinner, there is a bit of a laid back feel in the atmosphere regardless. There is a BYOB policy, so for those who wish to imbibe a cocktail or a beer while feasting on sushi, they may bring their spirits and Seadog will provide glasses. Overall, it was a splendid experience. I will have to keep in mind that it may be wise to order dishes one at a time. I am discovering that a lot of restaurants deliver orders to the table rather quickly and you may not be done with one dish before another one arrives at the table. Seadog Sushi Bar abides by that Americanized way of service. Good sushi is not to be rushed.

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Saigon Bistro, The Blog Post from Heaven

One of the great things about social media is that you interact with a lot of people whom you would probably never cross paths with. Since I have been posting photos to Instagram, I have gained quite a few followers and many who I follow in return. Recently I started seeing photos of crawfish piled high with corn on the cob. One of the main Instagram posters is Saigon Bistro and when I say that the photos had this hypnotic effect that kept begging me to go to the restaurant, I caved in. Off to 6242 N. California Avenue in West Ridge I went.

Saigon Bistro

My belly was empty, so I had a ravenous appetite. And because I met with a friend, there were no qualms about ordering plenty of food. We started with an appetizer combo platter. The coconut butterfly shrimp were huge, plump, juicy, and burst with each bite. The coco chicken was the same. There were miniature bacon wrapped scallops and miniature egg rolls. What was the absolute best on the platter were the crab rangoons. There was real crab in the rangoons. It was evident in the flavour. These rangoons were not merely oozing with cream cheese but attacking the taste buds with the outstanding taste of actual crab. This was a first that I’ve had at any restaurant in America.

Appetizer Combo

Appetizer Combo

The first big plate of food was king crab. We called this an item from their underground menu because it was not on the main menu. But because we asked kindly if they had any, the chef accommodated our request. And we showed our appreciation by working the cracker on the shells, plucking out tender morsels of crab, and devouring it. Topped with peppers and seasoned with only salt and pepper, I may be going out on a limb when I say this, but of all the seafood restaurants I’ve been to in Chicago, these were the best crab legs I have had.

King Crab

King Crab

Now, having seen so many photos of crawfish and lobster on Instagram, I showed the server a photo of a dish of crawfish and told her, “That’s what we want.” There was no looking at the menu, trying to decide what else, or indecisiveness. We ordered two pounds of crawfish spicy that came with corn on the cob and andouille sausage. Last time I had crawfish this appetizing was when I was in New Orleans. The chefs and cooks in New Orleans have competition from the Vietnamese chef at Saigon Bistro. Those who love shellfish will immediately become addicts for the crawfish with corn.

Crawfish Boil

Crawfish Boil

Given we had worked ourselves into a snail’s pace, we sat for a while to let our stomachs settle and to fight sleep. After some time had passed, we ordered a platter of tamarind shrimp. The shrimp was incredibly fresh and fleshy like prawns. They popped as we sank our teeth in them. The tamarind sauce was a perfect complement to the shrimp without being overpowering or sweet. After two filling pieces of shrimp apiece, we got the rest for takeaway.

Tamarind Shrimp

Tamarind Shrimp

Saigon Bistro is tucked away on California Avenue between Peterson Avenue and Devon Street. Although it is not in an area with lots of foot traffic, its presence is known by many. Service is superb. One thing that was obvious was that the server was patient with explaining options and offering suggestions. For all of the food that we had, I was surprised that the price was not exorbitant. The freshness of the ingredients and especially the crawfish boil transporting me to New Orleans mentally, I am a fan, for true.

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Riques Cocina Mexicana

Riques Cocina Mexicana

While passing through Chicago’s Uptown neighbourhood, there was a moment of wanting some Vietnamese food from one of the many restaurants along the Argyle-Broadway stretch. With it being hot and humid outside, I decided against a pho and knowing how much I love spicy food, I opted against any peppery dishes. During my indecision, I had wandered over towards Sheridan Road and walked up on a Mexican restaurant named Riques Cocina Mexicana at 5004 N. Sheridan Road. I settled on returning to the area for Vietnamese food another day. For this day, Mexican would suffice.

Horchata

Horchata

To somewhat take the edge off of the balmy feeling from outside, I had a horchata. It was clear from the first sip that this was not horchata from a bottle. I kid you not when I say that I could have ordered a jug of it for taking home.

Chilaquiles Roja con Pollo

Chilaquiles Roja con Pollo

To keep from stuffing myself, I passed on ordering an appetizer and ordered a main dish of chiliquiles rojo con pollo instead. Shredded chicken, scrambled eggs, and toasted frijoles in a red sauce topped with queso fresco were all I needed to satisfy my craving. Having had chiliquiles at numerous Mexican restaurants in Chicago since I moved to the city in 1995, I can honestly say that this was the best that I have had. And the side of frijoles and sweet plantanos made for an excellent lunch option.

Plantanos y Frijoles

Plantanos y Frijoles

As filling as the chiliquiles were, the dish was not so heavy that I did not have any room for a postre. I ordered a “la dona” noir, which was hot chocolate, cacao barry, and espresso. Just to be different, I asked for it to be prepared spicy with ancho and chipotle chilis. Needless to say, I got something spicy when that was what I was initially trying to avoid doing. The drink was outstanding. But what made me dance in my seat was the flan de elote. I am now addicted to flan with corn in it. The texture is not smooth the way regular flan is and it is not as sweet either, but it is still a fiesta on the tongue.

"La Dona" Noir

“La Dona” Noir

Flan de Elote

Flan de Elote

Riques Cocina Mexicana is a cozy restaurant with plenty of seating. Having gone during the middle of the day, there were several parties of individuals. With food and service being as great as what I experienced, I am sure there is a crowd during the evening seating. Although the plating looks more appealing than what you get at traditional Mexican restaurants, the flavour is absolutely true to Mexican cooking. When I eat enough to the point of stumbling out the door like a drunkard and needing to have a nap, it is definitely good. Believe me when I say that I stumbled to the el station, dozed on the el, napped on the bus, and slept well when I arrived home. I had an uninterrupted dream about Riques Cocina Mexicana.

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Demera Ethiopian Restaurant

Demera Ethiopian Restaurant

When friends come to visit Chicago, I often wonder where to take them for a proper Taste of Chicago. Many come with expectations of going to the usual tourist traps: Cheesecake Factory, any of the Chicago style pizzeria restaurants, some sports bar in Wrigleyville, Garrett’s Popcorn shop, and a few other dated restaurants like Hard Rock Café and Planet Rock. But you can get that fare from anywhere. Then again, I pick restaurants from a self-serving standpoint. If I’m treating, I’m getting what I want. With my recent guest, they did not want to go to any tourist magnets. They wanted international fare was.

Tej Addis Abeba Martini

After an afternoon of taking advantage of Shedd Aquarium, I offered up the suggestion for some Ethiopian food. So, we were off to Demera Ethiopian Restaurant at 4801 N Broadway Street. Nice and spacious on the inside, welcoming and homey per the service, this was a great option. We started with a glass of tej, which is honey wine, or rather the nectar of God. And there was the refreshing Addis Ababa martini.

Ethiopian Platter

Because this was my first dining experience at Demera Ethiopian Restaurant, I wanted to sample a few items from the menu. We had the doro wot. This came as two chicken legs in a rich barbecue gravy accented with ginger root, garlic, and onions and ayib cheese. There was ye-siga wot, which was the beef version of the doro wot. For vegetables, we ordered the split red lentils ye-misir wot and there was also the ye-dinich ena carrot alicha, consisting of potatoes and carrots stewed with onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric and special house seasoning. The ye-shimbra assa, ground chickpeas in a wot sauce, rounded out our vegetarian selections. And the ye-asa wot was the final offering that we opted for as a seafood selection. All served atop injera and with extra injera, there was only a smear of gravy on the platter when we were done.

Ethiopian Tiramisu

Not being in a rush, we sat and let our stomachs settle before requesting menus for perusal of desserts.  I ordered an Ethiopian style tiramisu. Instead of ladyfingers having been soaked in espresso, they had been soaked in Ethiopian buna, or Ethiopian coffee. The robust flavor of Ethiopian coffee actually makes the dessert have a stronger taste while not leaving an aftertaste. Drizzled with chocolate sauce, this was heaven. And if heaven wasn’t good enough, the sambussa definitely was perfection. The pastry was filled with with almonds, walnuts, cardamom, rose water, and saffron, and served over a homemade raspberry sauce that was not from a can, box, or jar.

Sambussa

Chicago’s Uptown neighbourhood is a location filled with many African restaurants and there is a lot of representation in Ethiopian dining. Demera is indeed one restaurant with an inviting atmosphere. Starting with a welcoming air, it is most delightful once the food arrives. For those who are not familiar with Ethiopian dining, the injera, which is the bread, is used for picking up the food. While the servers may accommodate those who prefer to use eating utensils,  the tradition way of eating Ethiopian food actually makes the experience fantastic. And if you go with a large group, it is a most beautiful way of sharing — food that is.


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Nando’s Peri-Peri, More Delicious Comes to Lakeview

Nando's Peri-Peri

After having a good bit of my weekend usurped with my day job and juggling several photography assignments, I needed a moment to replenish myself. I sent a text message to a great friend mentioning a certain restaurant we had passed by a few weeks ago and when the response came back saying, “Let’s do it,” I grabbed my camera and headed to Nando’s Peri-Peri at 670 W. Diversey Parkway.

Sangria

Sangria

With the temperatures still being humid, I opted for something to cool me off. I can’t say that the red wine sangria I ordered was the best option for taking the sting out of the heat that we were experiencing, but I was quite okay, nevertheless, by the second glass. And it was certainly enough to make me forget about work for a moment.

Corn, Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Corn, Garlic Mashed Potatoes

When temperatures are in the 90’s and muggy, I usually try not to eat too much food. Well, I must be honest and admit that I don’t try that hard. I ordered a half chicken spicy, a side of Portuguese rice, mashed potatoes, and garlic bread. Just when the cashier was about to ring up my order, I interrupted with an order for grilled corn on the cob. Every bit of it was delicious. Succulent chicken, mashed potatoes that didn’t taste like they had been prepared from powdered mix, rice that wasn’t sticky, sweet corn on the cob, and garlic bread that was not toast, I was one satisfied customer. And I earned my extra stripes for being an active member of the Clean Plate Society.

Half Chicken, Portuguese Rice, Garlic Bread

Half Chicken, Portuguese Rice, Garlic Bread

Nando’s Peri-Peri has somewhat of a big box feel to it, as far as size of the interior. But there is something more homey about the experience. Much like the Nando’s Peri-Peri that I first experienced in Washington, DC, the food is consistently great. I shall definitely return several more times over the next few months to sample some other items from the menu. For those who are in the Lakeview neighbourhood or passing through, stop in, put your feet under a table, and let your taste buds know that Nando’s Peri-Peri can bring about a smile to your face, or at least a smear of gravy to the corner of your mouth.

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Jerky Jerk, No Jerking Around

Gino at Jerky Jerk

With the temperatures in Chicago now feeling consistently tropical, I had started getting more into a Caribbean frame of mind. Recognizing that there are a few Caribbean restaurants in the Chicago metropolitan area, most of them I have gone to already, I was on the hunt for a different spot. A great friend had mentioned Jerky Jerk in Chicago’s Rogers Park at 1217 W. Devon Avenue.

Beef Patty

Beef Patty

There are traditional dishes that I always get whenever I go to Jamaican restaurants. Beef patties are one of them. Unlike some beef patties that I’ve gotten at a few other Jamaican restaurants, the ones at Jerky Jerk were stuffed with meat. There were no air pockets in these, and with them being spicy, I ordered five more for take-away.

Curry Chicken, Rice and Bean, Cabbage

Curry Chicken, Rice and Bean, Cabbage

I hadn’t had curry chicken in months and I had an appetite for some in a major way. Spicy and loaded with Caribbean taste, the plate of tender chicken with rice and peas and cabbage really made my day. And because I had been in the gym, I was not full even after the plate of curry chicken. So, I had some Mrs. Brown chicken stew with more rice and peas and more cabbage. I can’t say exactly what spices were in the recipe other than what seemed like a marriage of curry and jerk seasoning. What I can say is that I was more than happy to order more of the curry chicken and Mrs. Brown stew chicken for taking home with me.

Mrs. Brown Stew Chicken, Rice and Beans, Cabbage

Brown Stew Chicken, Rice and Beans, Cabbage

Jerky Jerk is more like a walk-up. There are only a few tables in the dining area and chances are there are several other Jamaicans in the dining room having a go of it in Patois. The atmosphere is very much like what you experience when you are in Jamaica. And the food is definitely prepared full of flavour the way it is on that wonderful Caribbean island. I think my paternal grandparents would have been pleased.

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N.O.K., Noon O Kabab Sister Restaurant

N.O.K. Fine Persian Food

Now that summer is in full swing, I have been rather busy and that has cut into a lot of the free time that I had been devoting to food discovery in Chicago. And with the constant threat of thunderstorms on top of the heat and humidity, I had not been outside except for going to work. However, I gave in to my appetite and resumed my hunt for culinary satisfaction. In keeping with my jaunts, I ventured to the far northwest neighbourhood of Norwood Park to N.O.K. Fine Persian Food at 6075 N. Milwaukee Avenue.

Persian Chicken, Rice, Salad

Persian Chicken, Rice, Salad

Bamieh and Persian Tea

Bamieh and Persian Tea

Unlike Noon O Kabob, which is the sister restaurant to N.O.K., there is no table service. You order at the counter and then take a pick of seats. Playing it safe, I ordered the joujeh plate for a main dish and bamieh with Persian tea for the finale. The joujeh were tender cubes of chicken breast served over Persian rice with salad. Each bite was an explosion thanks to the chicken being juicy, but without being undercooked. The bamieh were little doughnuts that had been accented with honey, very rich, and extremely delectable. Accompanied with a glass of Persian tea, they were perfect as a wrap-up for a Saturday afternoon lunch.

Joujeh Plate

Joujeh Plate

One thing I noted upon entry at N.O.K. was that there were other Iranians in the restaurant. If you want to know exactly how authentic the food is, pay attention to the patrons. If there are others representative of the ethnicity in the restaurant, chances are they are regular customers who enjoy flavours from home. Although there is no table service, the service from behind the counter is very relaxed and accommodating. During my first visit to Noon O Kabab, I was blown away by the welcoming atmosphere and outstanding flavours. Well, the sister restaurant N.O.K. is proof that there is consistency in the Persian/Iranian eateries in Chicago.

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Lula Cafe, Been So Long

Lula Cafe

When family visits, I avoid downtown tourist traps. Coming from cultural hubs like New York City, Toronto, Montreal, and London, nothing can kill an enjoyable stay in Chicago like going to some establishment and faking a smile throughout the experience. And when Caribbeans start sucking their teeth, you have to redeem yourself quickly. Well, during my sister’s visit, I took her to several ethnic restaurants where I have gone already and to a few restaurants where I have not been. Lula Cafe at 2537 N. Kedzie Boulevard in Logan Square is one cafe that I bypassed for years because of arriving late and having to wait for almost an hour for a seat.

La Piña Coronado

La Piña Coronado

Penicillin

Penicillin

With fantastic temperatures finally gracing Chicago, we had waited for an outdoor seat so that we could soak up some sun, feel the breeze, and enjoy some brunch. Since no brunch is complete without a cocktail, we had one apiece for starters. My sister had a la piña coronado, which definitely screamed Caribbean. The recipe of agricole, amaretto, pineapple, coconut made for quite a refreshing cocktail. I am a fan of scotch, so I had the penicillin. The combination of scotch and ginger was a winner, for true.

Scrambled Eggs with Cream Cheese

Scrambled Eggs with Cream Cheese

Having eaten something only a few hours before arriving at Lula Cafe, my sister ordered pancakes and scrambled eggs. To hear her describe them, they were tasty pillows accented with confectioners sugar. One highlight that certainly cannot be missed was the apple chicken sausage. Either the sausage was grilled or there was some liquid smoke used in the recipe, for it tasted like it had been smoked at a backyard barbecue. For me, I had scrambled eggs with cream cheese. And for the main brunch item, I ordered brioche French toast that was crusted with pistachios and topped with raspberries. The French toast was so good that it didn’t require any syrup. This French toast may be one of the main reasons why there is a constant crowd at the cafe.

French Toast with Berries

French Toast with Berries

Lula Cafe is a small cafe with limited seating inside and some patio seating outside. It seems as though there is a constant tide of customers and I imagine the ebb is during closing only. Even then, the service is fantastic. The output from the kitchen reminds me of home cooking, not restaurant cooking, and this may also be something what customers find so inviting. I had been tempted to take my sister into downtown to one of the numerous breakfast spots, but I am glad that I decided to go to a place closer to my apartment. I only have to remember to arrive as soon as the doors open when I go again.

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Glenn’s Diner And I Don’t Mean Burgers, Fries, and Malts

When I think of diners, what comes to mind are burgers, fries, and milk shakes. And then you go to a neighbourhood like Ravenswood and find that the local diner is a seafood restaurant. You smile. Well, I smiled.

Glenn's Diner, Collage

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Let me start by saying that I had an aggressive appetite. CrossFit and kickboxing early in the morning had already worn me out, but in a good way. However, such intense workouts crank my appetite and I obey. Glenn’s Diner at 1820 W. Montrose Avenue certainly fits the bill for satisfying one’s craving.

Starting with brunch, I loved the chocolate chip waffle drizzled with chocolate syrup. Loved the scramble eggs with cheddar cheese. When brunch was done, I waited about 20 minutes, got my second wind, and then had the tuna tartar with chips. Raw tuna compacted together with avocado and onions. Delicious. And then I had halibut with potatoes and asparagus. Talk about flaky fish and everything being seasoned without being overdone. The jambalaya with cornbread was out of this world, although it didn’t come with rice. It was closer to the jambalaya that I’ve had in New Orleans than the attempts I’ve had at other New Orleans style restaurants in Chicago.

Jambalaya and Cornbread

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There is a constant flow of patrons coming and going at Glenn’s Diner. During midday the crowd was light. Given the breakfast was good, I imagine the morning crowd fills the restaurant. The food is certain worthy, so I can understand if the restaurant stays crowded. I’ll be a part of the constant crowd from now on, for true. So glad they were not about burgers, fries, and milk shakes.

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One, Two, Three, Pho 55

Pho 55

In previous posts, I have mentioned how Hyde Park has been undergoing changes. And these are welcomed changes. I have gone to a few of the new establishments on 53rd Street. However, there are a few pockets in Hyde Park that bear surprises. Pho 55 at 1611 E. 55th Street is one of those surprises. What was once a Middle Eastern restaurant for years is now a Vietnamese restaurant with some delicious menu items for those who are open to sampling dishes from Vietnam.

Lemongrass and Lime

Lemongrass and Lime

Coming in from humid temperatures, I was in the mood for something refreshing. I asked for a recommendation from the server and she told me that the lemongrass and lime drink would be a good option. I accepted the recommendation. I was glad that I accepted the recommendation. It was akin to a marriage of lemonade, limeade, and a hint of club soda.

Deep Fried Wonton Sheet

Deep Fried Wonton Sheet

For a starter, I had deep-fried wonton sheets. The thin, minced shrimp inside of the fried wontons were not substantial, but the flavour overcompensated. Served with a sweet and sour sauce and atop a green salad, I could have devoured an entrée sized platter of these fried wontons.

Grilled Chicken in Green Curry

Grilled Chicken in Green Curry

Having left a graduation ceremony, I had a white shirt on with my suit. Because of that, I did not have a soup for fear that the broth would splash about my shirt. Instead, I ordered grilled chicken in green curry with rice and a salad. I love spicy food and the green curry was spicy enough for a bite yet mild enough that I could enjoy the taste of the dish. Rice at Vietnamese restaurants alway has a perfect texture and the same was the case at Pho 55. As to the salad, I could have cut up the chicken, put it all in a bowl and had a wonderful time working my chopsticks on the dish. I was glad I ordered the curry dish than a pho. I did get one speck of curry on my shirt, though.

Fried Banana with Vanilla Cream

Fried Banana with Vanilla Cream

Being conscious again of my sugar intake, I had fried banana with vanilla cream sauce. The natural sweetness of the bananas in the fried wontons was better than any sugary dessert that I could have ordered. The vanilla cream sauce was only an accent, more like melted vanilla ice cream of the homemade variety.

Pho 55 does not have that hustling and bustling feeling that one experiences at Vietnamese restaurants in Chicago’s Little Vietnam along Argyle Avenue. There is a slight upscale atmosphere per the interior decor, but without upscale attitude. The service is fantastic. When you let a server make recommendations and he or she doesn’t act put upon, you have a winner in customer service. With outstanding food from the kitchen, it’s all about one pho the money, two pho the show, three to get ready, and pho to go. Yes, I know that sounds corny, but I couldn’t help it.

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