Brown Bag Seafood Co — See Food Disappear

Brown Bag Seafood Company

When coming off of the long winters that we experience, it is nice to get outside to see what’s new. When I say that, there is a very strong possibility that some new building has gone up on the landscape in a part of downtown that you may not frequent, some old establishment you may have gone to in the past has closed, and there may be  new businesses opened. While wandering through the new Maggie Daley Park and exiting to East Randolph Street, I noticed a set of new skyscrapers and a certain restaurant marker for a restaurant named Brown Bag Seafood Company. At 340 E. Randolph Street, I had to see what offerings this new restaurant had on the menu.

Spritzers: Ginger with Lemon and Cucumber Mint

Spritzers: Ginger with Lemon and Cucumber Mint

There was the popular Chipotle way of ordering — pick a sandwich, taco, salad, or some other options, and then pick the kind of seafood you want, yada-yada-yada, dabba, dabba, dabba. What caught my eye most was the lobster roll, so I pulled myself out of Chipotle mode and placed my order. After finishing, I sat on the patio and had a refreshing ginger lemon spritzer while I waited for my first order, which was a cup of grilled brussel sprouts and pickled onions. I like brussel sprouts. I love grilled brussel sprouts, especially if they are as appetizing as those at Brown Bag Seafood Company.

Grilled Brussel Sprouts, Pickled Onions

Grilled Brussel Sprouts, Pickled Onions

Going to a seafood company and not ordering a cup or bowl of clam chowder or bisque is a crime. There was clam chowdah — note the misspelling — on the menu and I had to have it. After the first spoonful, it had become apparent that I should have ordered a bowl of it rather than a cup. Or I should have ordered two cups instead. There was no fancy modification to the recipe, rendering the soup unrecognizable to the palate the way I have had it at some restaurant. Loaded with potatoes and clams, this made my Best Clam Chowder in Chicago list.

Clam Chowder

Clam Chowder

Now, clutch your pearls, your pocketbook, your smartphone, your martini. I can’t speak for anyone else, however, I can say definitively that I have now had the best lobster roll ever. The lobster was a chunks, which was a winner from the looks of things. Seasoned well and in a slightly spicy mayonnaise, not just regular mayonnaise with a hint of some herb along with salt and pepper, I declared loudly on the patio, “Oh my God!!!” I had not an iota of shame. Hello, Best Lobster Roll in Chicago. To make matters even more worthy of loud declarations, the tater tots that came with it were accented with truffle parmesan. By now I had a jar of cucumber mint with gin. And there was a remarkable sunset behind the skyscrapers to the West.

Lobster Roll with Tater Tots

Lobster Roll with Tater Tots

The one disappointing thing about Brown Bag Seafood Company is that there is no location in Logan Square. Yes, I know that sounds self-serving, but there needs to be a location along Milwaukee Avenue between the roundabout and Diversey Avenue. The new spot can have booths and tables inside, as well as outdoor seating like the E. Randolph Street restaurant. The menu looks like there are several options for those with a love of seafood and I shall have to return to try some of the other menu items. In the meantime, I think I shall have to see if there are any other new eateries that have popped up in some part of the city where I have not been in the past year. Brown Bag Seafood Company has won me over, for true.

Brown Bag Seafood Co. on Urbanspoon

Lavash Mediterranean Grill — Delicious, Luscious, Lavish

Lavash Mediterranean Grill

When the temperatures in Chicago start to warm up and stay warm consistently, restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating open their patios and put tables outside for patrons. With the temperatures starting to fluctuate between the 70’s and the 80’s, Chicago is now in the throes of outside seating season — and allergies. Wanting to try something different and not of the medium to large restaurant variety, I looked for something more hole-in-the-wall. Lavash Mediterranean Grill at 651 W. Washington Blvd in West Loop was what I ended up sampling.

Beef Doner

Beef Doner

Having endured my morning CrossFit workout, I had an appetite slightly more intense than usual. (Okay, that was a lie, being that I eat constantly.) For muscle mass, the recommendation is that you increase protein intake. So, I ordered a beef doner, that came with rice and salad. This was the first time I had a Turkish dish with the meat prepared from a rotisserie. I can say without pause that halal beef, seasoned well, and not of the beef jerky texture is addictive. Well, Lavash Mediterranean Grill certainly prepares it divinely.

Chicken Doner

Chicken Doner

With a bit of room left, I ordered another dish, this time with chicken. The chicken doner was succulent. Thin slices of chicken had been sliced from the rotisserie and seasoned well. Served with rice and a salad, I was surprised that I completed the whole platter given the beef doner, which was not a small plate. For a dish that looked dry, the strips of chicken were juicy.

Rice Pudding

Rice Pudding

There were a few items on the dessert menu that I contemplated. There was baklava that I took a pass on since I am not a fan of nuts. There was also kazandibi, a traditional Turkish pudding that has the consistency of a creamy flan. And there was rice pudding, which I had never had of the Turkish variety. I was well past pleased to have opted for the rice pudding. As a finale, I had a glass of loose leaf tea that had been brewed perfectly enough to take without sugar.

Tea

Tea

For those who rank interior design and ambiance in restaurants with higher significance, there is absolutely nothing to that aspect of the cafe that you will find appealing. The cafe is mostly a walk-up with counter seating, a few tables, and one table outside. It is the food that you will be focused on more. Note that there will be a constant flow of Turkish customers coming in and out. That is perhaps the one indication that everything served from the kitchen behind the cash register is authentic. It was definitely lavish on the tongue.

Lavash Mediterranean Grill on Urbanspoon

Make Maki, Not War — Miku Sushi Lounge

Miku Sushi Restaurant

A few weeks ago I received an email with a recommendation for a sushi lounge in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighbourhood. I must admit that I was rather pleased to have received such a recommendation, given that every time someone suggests a sushi restaurant to me they have been addictive to the point of me constantly returning. With the weather finally being nice in Chicago, I was off to Miku Sushi Restaurant at 4514 N. Lincoln Avenue.

Sunrise Martini

Sunrise Martini

Arriving during noon, I was not subjected to the congestion of the dinner crowd. I had a seat at the sushi bar and briefly scanned the menu. With it being a Saturday and me having the weekend to do as I pleased, I had a sunrise martini during midday. It was rather reminiscent of a Bahama Mama, mostly because there was rum in the mix. One word comes to mind: refreshing.

Kobacha Squash and Crab Soup

Kobacha Squash and Crab Soup

For a starter, I had kobacha squash and crab soup. There is one other sushi lounge, Sen Sushi in Oak Park, that serves kobacha squash and crab soup that I love. And the fact that there is real crab in the recipe, not imitation crab, I was all the more pleased. Now that I know Miku Sushi Lounge has it on their menu, I don’t have to go all the way to Oak Park for this delicious bowl of bliss.

Spicy Shrimp Maki

Spicy Shrimp Maki

My appetite was cranked high enough for me to consider indulging three sushi rolls, and three sushi rolls I indeed indulged. The first was a spicy shrimp maki. There was nothing about this roll that was forgettable, from the fresh ingredients to the burst of flavour with each bite. And, yes, it was spicy, which became more evident when the soy sauce I had infused with wasabi was not required.

Unagi Maki

Unagi Maki

The second maki roll was an unagi roll. Not being one to shy away from eel in my sushi, this was definitely a tasty inclusion in this maki roll. One thing I noticed with the eel was that it had a silky texture. This was in no way a bad thing, but I have never had unagi that was that heavenly on the tongue. Not overdone with sauce, most of this roll was enjoyed without soy sauce for dipping.

Ebi Tempuri Maki

Ebi Tempuri Maki

The ebi tempura maki was simply outstanding. Again, the shrimp was fresh, as were all of the ingredients. I was expecting the ebi tempura maki roll to be slightly pedestrian compared to the spicy shrimp and unagi maki rolls. I was well beyond pleased with the crunch from the tempura and the inviting kick from dipping each piece in the soy sauce with wasabi.

Chocolate Cream Martini

Chocolate Cream Martini

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Egg Rolls

Dessert Egg Rolls

Still having some room for dessert, I had a chocolate cream martini and chocolate chip cookie dough egg rolls. As to the cocktail, it simply is not possible to go wrong with adding chocolate to the mix. The martini was prepared in such a way that the alcohol was not heavy, which was perfect for allowing the chocolate liqueur to taste like chocolate rather than medicinally. The egg rolls were cute and I liked them, although I would have fallen in love with the dessert had the cookie dough been baked before encased in the wonton and fried. I must admit that the accompanying strawberry sauce added a nice touch.

Miku Sushi Lounge is a spacious restaurant with the usual decor found in sushi lounges. Although the restaurant can accommodate a large capacity of diners, the service, price and food no doubt draw a crowd after 7:00 PM. For a neighbourhood that is teeming with Irish pubs, the flavours from the other side of the Pacific Ocean are also welcomed. To the individual who recommended Miku Sushi Lounge, arigatou gozaimasu.

Miku Sushi on Urbanspoon

Back to Africa Through Bolat

Bolat African Cuisine

The beautiful thing about Skype is that you can talk to friends and family, near and very far, free. Take for instance, I was having a video chat with an old graduate school friend. And what should he be doing while we were in conversation? He was eating. If you have only looked at some authentic Nigerian dishes, you may wince a little. Nothing is actually cute on the plate. But if you have had some Nigerian cuisine dancing around on your tongue, your mouth waters at the mention of it. Well, as much as I wanted to lick the monitor, I settled on going to Bolat African Cuisine at 3346 N. Clark Street later to sort out my craving.

Hibiscus Mojito

Hibiscus Mojito

Plantains and Peanut Sauce

Plantains and Peanut Sauce

During this visit, I was in my usual mood of not wanting to make any decisions about what to eat. I told the server, who I found out was also the owner, that I wanted two appetizers, two entrées, one dessert, and cocktails for pairing. See what my Skype experience had done to my appetite? For my first cocktail, I had a hibiscus mojito. I made a mental note to return in the future and request a flight of mojitos because the hibiscus mojito transported me mentally to a climate considerably warmer than the 40 degrees we had in Chicago. To add to the mojito, there were plantains with peanut sauce. What a combination. What a perfect start.

Meat Pie

Meat Pie

The next appetizer was a meat pie. This reminded me so much of Jamaican beef patties. The pastry casing was not as flaky, but it definitely was tempting enough that I ordered several for take-away. Served with a homemade hot sauce, I’m going to have to admit that I have a love affair with Nigerian meat patties. If you order ten to take home with you, there really is no other indication of an addiction that you need.

Peanut Soup with Fish

Peanut Soup with Fish

The first entrée was truly cultural on two fronts — Nigerian and Ghanaian. I had peanut soup and it was served with snapper. Because I wanted to enjoy the dish in a proper way, I had fufu with it. No fork. No spoon. There were fufu and my fingers. I have said on multiple occasions that I do not like peanuts, Sam I Am, but I can eat peanut soup until it hurts. My palate welcomes spicy food, so I had the peanut soup prepared mildly peppery. The fish was seasoned well with various herbs and prepared such that the outer texture was slightly crunchy while the meat was succulent. Truly my African half showed itself because I completed the dish with the fufu, not once using a utensil.

L'amuse

L’amuse

Queen Nefertiti

Queen Nefertiti

Surprisingly, I had room for another full entrée. In preparation for the next dish, I had a l’amuse of skirt steak, tomato, and grilled onion, served with peanuts crushed to a powder. Not dainty like the amuse-bouche that you may get a fancy restaurants, but definitely tastier, I could have had this as a full plate. And to make moving into the next entrée that more inviting, I had a cocktail of hibiscus, ginger liqueur, and champagne. I understand why the name of the drink is Queen Nefertiti.

Egusi with Fish

Egusi with Fish

The second main course was another authentic Nigerian dish called egusi. This was also served with snapper. My friend who I was on Skype with, who happens to be Yoruba, had prepared some egusi when he was visiting the latter part of 2014. The egusi at Bolat was reminiscent of the variety that my Igbo friends prepared during our “cultural” dinners. Not one to complain about too much seafood in my diet, the snapper was tender and light enough that the egusi was still the star. And rather than indulging myself with more fufu, I had a scoop of jollof rice that I needed the recipe for.

Salt and Pepper Highball

Salt and Pepper Highball

Ice Cream Covered in Coconut

Ice Cream Covered in Coconut

The final course was in keeping with not letting a customer leave without giving a rating of 15 out of 10 on the scale. I had a cocktail called the Salt and Pepper Highball. I initially thought the salt and pepper garnish around the rim of the glass was different, but the gin, grapefruit juice, fresh lemon juice, simply syrup in the glass made it worthwhile. Accompanying this dessert cocktail was a scoop of vanilla ice cream covered in coconut,, topped with an apricot slice, and drops of honey raspberry reduction. The marriage of the cocktail and the ice cream was a match made in heaven.

Bolat African Cuisine is more like a lounge. The atmosphere is so laid back that the dining experience is considerably more relaxed than what you would get at a regular restaurant. For those who have been to Iyanzé in Chicago’s Uptown, which I blogged in 2011, you will not be disappointed by the offerings from the kitchen. Part of this is because the owner of Bolat African Cuisine also owns Iyanzé. Good food should never be rushed, and nothing comes from the kitchen in a snap, as it is prepared to order. Go. Sit. Relax. Enjoy. As for me, I need to Skype with my friend again and not to have my food alarm go off but so I can get some ideas of what else I should try — perhaps something cultural that is not on the menu.

Bolat African Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Something Different, Somethin’ Sweet Donuts

Somethin' Sweet Donuts Collage

Click to see larger photos in Flickr album

Only a few years ago, cupcakes were all the rage in Chicago. It seemed as though new cupcake shops were opening doors monthly. They peddled cupcakes baked with Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker, or Pillsburry cake mix, and heaped high with two to three inches of frosting. Now it seems as though doughnuts are going through a renaissance. In the same fashion as cupcakes, you can get your doughnut piled high enough with frosting and toppings to make the tooth fairy brim with delight.

Several months ago, while heading home from Oak Park, I had a taste for some doughnuts. I was not in the mood for Dunkin Donuts and I definitely was not craving any of the “artisanal” variety. I did a quick search on my phone and saw a listing for a doughnut bakery named Somethin’ Sweet Donuts at 5112 W. Fullerton Avenue. On the first visit, it would be cliche to say that “the rest was history” after the purchase. Having kicked myself for buying only four doughnuts would be more fitting. What doughnut bakery is open at 8:30 PM and sells doughnuts that are as fresh as any you would buy at the break of dawn when they open for business? I was addicted. And given that my teeth didn’t ache from having to work them through an inch of some excessive decorative sugar, I was in love.

Click to see larger photos in Flickr album
Old Fashioned, Cherry, Apple Crisp Cherry, Old Fashioned, Apple Crisp

Fast forward to the present and I have just finished washing my hands after devouring a cherry doughnut while taking a cup of tea. I have been returning to Somethin’ Sweet Doughnuts every Friday after work — a ritual now — to purchase an assortment of 4-6 doughnuts. I was shocked at the cost the first time I had bought a dozen because the cash register showed a total considerably less than what I’ve paid when I’ve bought the same quantity from any of the popular doughnuteries. (There’s a new word for you.) I get the fascination with the brand name bake shops and during my youth when sugar was supreme in my diet, I could consume a doughnut heaped high with 3-4 ingredients. I can’t do that now. I prefer to taste the actual doughnut, not just the toppings.

I was in my twenties the last time I had a doughnut that didn’t make my gums throb. We’ll leave it at that was a rather long time ago. Somethin’ Sweet Donuts has won my heart (Best Customer Service) and my stomach (Best Doughnuts).

Somethin’ Sweet Donuts on Urbanspoon

Antique Taco, New Style Tacos

Antique Taco

Wondering what to have for lunch, I was in Wicker Park on the hunt for a Pakistani restaurant that turned out not to be open for business yet. During the middle of the afternoon, restaurants in Wicker Park have lines out the door. My appetite does not play nicely when it comes to waiting. It is almost like a little brat, constantly making my stomach growl, which makes me grumpy. Well, across the street at 1360 N. Milwaukee Avenue was Antique Taco and it looked like there was plenty of seating. Not that any seat had my name on it, there was some food that needed to be shown that I loved it.

Strawberry Ginger Margarita

Strawberry Ginger Margarita

Guacamole and Chips

Guacamole and Chips

Strawberry ginger margaritas. Guacamole and chips. Garlic shrimp tacos. Keema empanada. Let me first say that the price for the entire meal came out higher than I expected. I should have paid more attention to the prices while I was being excessively hungry. But that was not a problem. When I look back on the experience, the delectable component of the food justified the cost.

Garlic Shrimp

Garlic Shrimp

I had recently been spoiled by having some awesome chunky guacamole at a Mexican restaurant, so the creamy guacamole at Antique Taco was good only to me in comparison. The shrimp tacos were worth writing home about, and ordering again during future visits. When I say that the addition of cauliflower elote and the creamy avocado basil salsa worked divinely in the recipe, I’m actually shouting it. What would have otherwise been two bland tacos were food fantastic. The keema empanada reminded me of keema samosas that you get at Indian restaurants. The meat was in a sauce rather than simply flavoured. Beware that these are not small, cute empanadas, but rather small one-course meals. And the strawberry ginger margaritas were perfect for washing everything down. Not heavy on the alcohol, I didn’t realize how much was in it until I got home and felt a need for a nap.

Keema Empanada

Keema Empanada

Antique Taco seems to be a hot spot, much like most restaurants in Wicker Park. Although I arrived shortly after the doors opened for business, about 30 minutes into my dining experience, the restaurant filled to capacity and there was a long line at the door. I get the allure. If you want to enjoy your meal inside, I suggest and highly recommend that you arrive at the opening of business. Now, one thing to note is that Antique Taco may be couched in Mexican cuisine. However, they add a twist to the menu items that make you want to try something new every time I go there. I have no idea where the name for the restaurant came from. What I will say is I love the “new” take on a Mexican staple.

Antique Taco on Urbanspoon

Tandoor Char House — Indian Goes Barbecue

Tandoor Char House

During one of my days off for my birthday earlier this month, I did a fair share of casual strolling through one of the neighbourhoods to the east of my neighbourhood. Lincoln Park is known for quite a bit of activity and offers a lot of restaurants, cafes, boutiques, and novelty shops for pedestrians. Much like a lot of areas in Chicago, there are some establishments that you may never notice or you may pass and simply never give a second glance. Tandoor Char House at 2652 N. Halsted Street is one of those places that rang true for me, given I spent most of my strolling on Halsted Street in Greektown.

Salad

Salad

For my first visit, I craved Indian-specific dishes. The craving was more of a need for pandering to a food addiction rather than merely wanting some spicy Indian food on my palate. I didn’t waste any time looking at the menu. I rattled off two dishes that are common on all Indian menus — chana masala and chicken tikka masala.

Chana Masala

Chana Masala

Having had Indian food without it being spicy a few times as of late, I requested that my dishes come blooming with pepper. The temperatures outside were moderately chilly, so I could stand the heat. The chana masala left me happy. And I was quite cultural with my use of the poori to devour the tasty chickpeas. I think this may be my all-time favourite Indian dish and seeing that Tandoor Char House had served up perfection, I ordered some for take-away.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala

The chicken tikka masala was a splendid accompaniment to the chana masala. Usually chicken tikka masala has a thin yet flavourful gravy. This dish at Tandoor Char House reminded me of chicken makhani, rich in gravy and accented with butter. The tamarind rice that came with it worked wonders on the tongue. There was a mild zest to the rice since it was not regular basmati rice and it also worked well with the chana masala.

Mango Cheesecake

Mango Cheesecake

Truly my appetite was out of control for I had eaten everything. I even used the poori to get the last bit of gravy from the serving dishes. I requested twenty minutes of downtime in preparation for dessert. Kulfi? Gulab jamun? Gajar ka halwa? Kheer? No, I had a slice of mango cheesecake. The thing about the restaurant being empty when I went was that I let my facial expression have a complete go of it without me feeling embarrassed about my version of appreciation. Topped with crushed pistachios and drizzled with mango sauce, this slice of heaven could have Cheesecake Factory scrambling for a tastier cheesecake.


Having eaten too much during my first visit to Tandoor Char House, I decided that it would be wise to return another day for a sampling of something different. First for tempting the palate were tamarind chicken wings. I didn’t see a need to be prim, evident from me using my fingers to pick up the wings and delight myself properly. I even licked my fingers when I was done, and I didn’t blush with shame for being so comfortable.

Tamarind Chicken

Tamarind Chicken

Tandoori dishes are usually something that I skip at Indian restaurants, mostly because I love the curry dishes. Today I opted for tandoori shrimp. Brought to the table on a skillet, you could see the steam rising from the plump shrimp, bell peppers, and onions. This dish came with tamarind rice and a makhani sauce. By the time I had finished devouring this addictive dish, I wondered why I had never succumbed to any tandoori dishes other than the usual complimentary tandoori chicken that most Indian restaurants serve during lunch buffets.

Tandoori Shrimp

Tandoori Shrimp

While I let my tummy settle from the tamarind chicken and tandoori shrimp dish, I had a pakola. This Pakistani drink is a cream soda and the one that I had seemed to have a hint of rose-water in it. So, my three favourite carbonated drinks that also happen to be the only carbonated drinks I will have are piña Jarritos, mandarin Jarritos, and pakola.

Pakola

Pakola

For my finale, I ordered a fusion dish — penne tikka masala with shrimp. I had tried to convince myself not to indulge a curry or a dish with a gravy, but I was rather curious as to how the penne with tikka masala would taste. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it left me with a smear of gravy at the corner of my lips. Imagine Italian meets Indian. This was a luscious marriage. And served with garlic naan, if I had a microphone, I would have dropped it on the floor as I slowly got up from the table and dragged myself out into the streets.

Penne Tikka Masala with Shrimp

Penne Tikka Masala with Shrimp

Tandoor Char House has a small seating area in a loft section of the restaurant. For my two visits, this is where I sat. However, there looks to be a downstairs section that may be an extension of the restaurant that fills up during busy hours. The table service has been great during my visits and I am surprised when the tab comes and it’s not as hefty as I think it would be. Far be it from me to complain. It only means that I can be certain to keep going back to Tandoor Char House and stuffing myself senselessly without worrying about a pricey bill. Hmm. I’ll let you know after my next visit.

Tandoor Char House on Urbanspoon

That Little Mexican Cafe, a Bryn Mawr Favourite

The Little Mexican Cafe

For my birthday weekend, I took a few days off following the weekend to have some proper time for myself. That meant staying up late, sleeping later in the morning, and eating, the latter being a given. I had been going to the Bryn Mawr corridor for quite a bit of dining options. I had gone to Little India Restaurant on Friday and to Little Vietnam Restaurant on Saturday. Isn’t it cute how the restaurants have “Little” in the names? Well, only a block away from both is a restaurant named That Little Mexican Cafe at 1055 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue. Having acknowledged that I have become a fan of the other two “Little” restaurants, I had to see if That Little Mexican Cafe would become a big part of my life.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and Salsa

This is not a hole-in-the-wall. I guess it falls more in line with being a medium-sized restaurant with hole-in-the-wall authenticity. The atmosphere detracts from it falling into the big box category. You do feel like you have gone to a friend’s home, mostly from the setting, and that is a very good thing if you rank customer service over ambience. There were complimentary chips and salsa that I later raved about to friends endlessly later in the afternoon.

Guacamole

Guacamole

With me doing something like an extended birthday celebration from the weekend, I still had a Frankenstein monster appetite. Considering this was a new restaurant to me and my intentions were to try something I haven’t had from any other Mexican restaurants, I was still curious as to the guacamole. I’ve had so much guacamole that I should be tired of it. But the tableside guacamole that I got at That Little Mexican Restaurant is the BEST that I have had outside of Distrito Federal. This was chunky guacamole, not puréed. They recognized that avocado already has a creamy texture, and chose not to mess that up by turning it into a coarse pudding.

Taquitos Pollos

Taquitos Pollos

The next menu items I wanted to try were taquitos pollos. Imagine small corn tortilla chicken tacos fried to a perfect crisp. Served over a bed of lettuce, tomato, and crumbled cheese, these are fantastic snacks. I was expecting only a few, no more than four. There were eight. And by the time I finished gnashing away on those little treats, there were only a few shreds of lettuce on the plate. I have had taquitos at several Mexican corner stores that were tops and some from a few Americanized restaurants that failed. The taquitos at That Little Mexican Cafe rank up there with “worthy of ordering.”

Cazuela Camarones

Cazuela Camarones

Not wanting to order a chicken or beef dish that would have left me stuffed, I ordered a cazuela camarones. Plump shrimp in a spicy red sauce served over Spanish rice never tasted better. The sauce had a smoky flavour that made the dish reminiscent of a barbecue.  I was not expecting such a pop to the dish and it may have been because I had been so accustomed to ordering tacos, enchiladas, tostados, carne asada, and Tex-Mex that I missed trying other fare like the seafood dish that I was completely enthralled with. For full disclosure, I ordered some more for take-away, along with another side of rice and the delicious black beans.

Arroz con Frijoles

Arroz con Frijoles

 

By the time I did my slow walk out of That Little Mexican Cafe, there were two main things that stuck with me. They do the best guacamole in Chicago. I will go even say that it is better than any guacamole I have had in America, so far. Second is that menu items outside of the usual Mexican fare are outstanding, really, really, very outstanding. Another thing I noticed is that the flavours are not watered down. My server did warn me that the cazuela camarones was spicy and I was very happy that the order went through accommodating my request for the dish to be spicy the way it is served in homes in Mexico. With reasonable prices for the meal, especially given how much I had eaten and ordered for take-away, there is nothing little about That Little Mexican Cafe.

That Little Mexican Cafe on Urbanspoon

Little Vietnam Restaurant, Big Taste

Little Vietnam Restaurant

Anyone who has been to the Bryn Mawr corridor between Broadway Avenue and Sheridan Road in Chicago will notice that the area is clearly vying for being the city’s cultural hub. Anyone who is a xenophile would fall in love with the multi ethnicities and the new cultural restaurants that are taking up occupancy. One of my favourite Indian eateries is just at the Red Line stop at Bryn Mawr and there is an outstanding Thai restaurant all about thirty paces away from the Indian restaurant. Recently I found that what was once a closed business has now opened its doors as a Vietnamese restaurant. It may be that the Argyle corridor is saturated and competition could be strong for Little Vietnam Restaurant, which is at 1132 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue, but it’s location on Bryn Mawr poises it to be one of the select go-to spots.

Iced Coffee

Iced Coffee

Egg Rolls

Egg Rolls

Spacious, light, and airy, Little Vietnam Restaurant looks like it could be small when looking at it from the outside. Once you get inside, you find a rather large room and some very accommodating service. There are a lot of traditional Vietnamese dishes on the menu. Those who are fans of phos, will not be disappointed. However, there is enough variety that you will not feel as if you have arrived at one of the Argyle dining establishments that seemingly have a formula well suited for the American palate, so as not to provoke a tarnishing write-up on social media.

I started with an iced coffee and crunchy egg rolls served with a sweet and tangy dipping sauce. For those who act bananas before their third cup of morning coffee, they should try the iced coffee at Little Vietnam Restaurant. And the baby egg rolls were outstanding. Deep fried pastries stuffed with pork, shrimp, carrots, taro, cabbage, and glass noodle had very little success staying on the plate. Although there were only three, they were filling.

Lemongrass Chicken

Lemongrass Chicken

Having had several bowls of pho over the past few weeks, I opted for something different. There was a menu listing for lemongrass chicken. I wanted a dish that was spicy, considering the temperatures in Chicago had been waffling between warm and chilly to the point of messing with my sinuses. Well, spicy food does a great job of correcting my sinus trouble and having a dish as tasty as lemongrass chicken was not a bad option. After the first few bites, I wondered where the spice was. And then a minute later, there was the feeling of heat rising from my scalp and the ring of fire around my lips. I can’t tell you how satisfied I was. Only a few restaurants can add burn to their recipes and still have flavour in the dishes. Little Vietnam Restaurant did it correctly with the lemongrass chicken.

After a few minutes of chatting with the server about the cameras I was using, she being engaging since she has been taking photography seriously, I let some time pass before indulging a dessert. There were two options. The was a yogurt that was served with watermelon and there was Vietnamese pudding. Still recognizing that it was chilly outside, I had the pudding instead. Now, Vietnamese pudding does not have the consistency of Jell-O pudding. It’s thin, full of miniature tapioca pearls and sweet potatoes. As to flavour, think lychee. My server was telling me about how her grandmother prepared the pudding, practically making a medley of things to taste. The pudding was well suited to my taste, for sure.

Vietnamese Pudding

Vietnamese Pudding

Little Vietnam Restaurant seems like a fantastic spot for mid afternoon. The Bryn Mawr corridor tends to be action packed and congested with lots of pedestrian traffic in the late afternoons, so the restaurant may have a constant ebb and tide of patrons. Those who have frequented the Vietnamese restaurants on Argyle, which is only two stops south on the Red Line, will find Little Vietnam Restaurant to be a pleasant surprise. The service was superb, something that is rare coming from those of the younger generation, but absolute top here. As to the prices, they are extremely reasonable, which could explain a lot of dine-in and carry-out orders I noticed during my dining experience. Little Vietnam is a welcome addition to Bryn Mawr. Those with appetites can attest to that.

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Starting the Morning at Bite Cafe

Bite Cafe

Going for breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings in Chicago can be rather discouraging. Many breakfast spots have long lines outside and crowded waiting areas inside. If you are like me and you are not a fan of waiting a long time for something to eat, you end up preparing your own breakfast at home. And then you stumble upon Bite Cafe.

Coffee with Cream

Coffee with Cream

It could be that I arrived as soon as they opened for business because the restaurant did start to fill up later, but not such that patrons had to wait outside for a seat. This was a huge plus. Quite cozy on the inside, Bite Cafe does not fit the big box or even medium size restaurants. Not of the hole-in-the-wall variety, but definitely inviting, my appetite and I were rather happy.

Scrambled Eggs and Mashedbrown

Scrambled Eggs and Mashedbrown

I ordered mashedbrown, eggs scrambled well with Gruyère cheese, and the challah bread French toast. The mashedbrown was a potato cake that I’d buy in bulk and eat in the mornings for a breakfast snack. And since I was able to get Gruyère cheese in my eggs rather than American, jack, or cheddar cheese, I was in love. The French toast was so blooming good that it didn’t require any more syrup than the maple syrup drizzle that came on it. The hazelnut butter and banana creme anglaise gave flavour without making the toast excessively sweet.

Challah Bread French Toast

Challah Bread French Toast

So, it seems that Bite Cafe also has lunch and dinner menus. I shall have to return after work one of the days to check out those offerings. The breakfast set was definitely good enough for me to consider several more mornings visits.

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