Tsukiji Fish Market Freshness

Being in a constant state of hankering for seafood and mostly anything Japanese, I followed up on a recommendation for a sushi restaurant named Tsukiji Fish Market at 1156 W. Grand Avenue. In a rather unassuming location, is a treasure chest of Japanese dishes and fantastic service. Very much in a mood for sampling several menu items, I went with a friend who is equally in tune with appetizing dishes from other continents.

Tsukiji Fish Market

For our first round, we started with a tamago miso soup. Far from plain miso soup, the addition of egg added a creamy texture to the broth, thickening it only slightly, and adding a nice nip of a very faint custard. No more regular miso soup for me if I can have it with tamago.

Tamago Miso Soup

Tamago Miso Soup

For those on a clean eating regiment, the tuna and avocado salad will leave you with a constant smile. Meaty tuna and avocado over non-bitter lettuce and a few shredded, pickled vegetables rendered a dish that resulted in nothing left on the plate. This salad gets the Clean Plate Society Award.

Tuna and Avocado Salad

Tuna and Avocado Salad

We switched up a bit from the usual. Having never been a fan of udon and rather worn out with ramen, we ordered udon. By the third slurp, the beef udon quickly rose to the top spot of “Best Udon in Chicago.” You heard that from me first. The non-salty broth in the soup makes the recipe that more enjoyable. Add to that tender beef, plump mushrooms, cabbage, and noodles that were neither al dente nor mush, I could quickly assume the role of a cat and knock any other dishes onto the floor if it’s not this beef udon.

Beef Udon

Beef Udon

And as if the beef udon was not already a sure winner to have during every visit, the yakiudon was another addictive dish. This was a plate of pan fried, thick rice noodles with mushrooms, pickled carrots and beets, and shrimp. Again, a dish well worthy of ordering constantly during repeat visits.

Yakiudon with Shrimp

Yakiudon with Shrimp

With my friend avoiding desserts for Lent and me avoiding desserts until my birthday in April, we save enough room for a flight of nigiri. The salmon volcano aburi, being nigiri, was of a sampler size of what I imagine a larger role filled with salmon and topped with a spicy mayonnaise would taste like: heaven. The taboro kani was an absolute favorite, a vice for the two of use who love crab — and this was not imitation crab. Finishing with ebi, the shrimp was divine on the palate.

Salmon Volcano Aburi, Taboro Kani, Ebi

Salmon Volcano Aburi, Taboro Kani, Ebi

As I mentioned earlier, Tsukiji Fish Market is not a flashy restaurant and it is on a block that is speckled with a few new restaurants. I assume that it has not been on the West Town landscape that long since there was no wait for a table, albeit there was a steady flow of diners coming and going. I give it a few months and some major press, and then it will be one of the hottest spots in the city for Japanese happiness.

Tsukiji Fish Market Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lowcountry, High Quality Goodness

Lowcountry

Two years ago when I opted to have my birthday dinner at a seafood boil restaurant on the North Side of Chicago, little did I know then that I would develop an immediate hankering for the seafood goodness of days long gone when I was echoing distance from Louisiana. Since that birthday dinner, there have been several other seafood boil restaurants suggested to me that I’ve tried and given in to my addiction for shrimp, crab legs, and crawfish drowning in some spicy sauce in a plastic bag. And I found myself giving in to my craving while passing by Lowcountry at 3343 N. Clark Street.

Soft Shell Crab with Jalapenos

Soft Shell Crab with Jalapenos

Calamari with Jalapenos

Calamari with Jalapenos

Having eaten a lengthy brunch, I had enough room to indulge a few menu items from the Restaurant Week offerings. With a friend in tow, we grabbed a seat at one of the many benches in a dining area that was quite reminiscent of the holes in the wall throughout Louisiana. Given the name, Lowcountry, I imagine this is also the same dining layout one could expect in Lowcountry, South Carolina. But what we got screamed Louisiana, for sure.

Lowcountry Limeade

Lowcountry Limeade

We had something from the cocktail menu to whet the palate, neither remembering what exactly because the Super Bowl Game was playing and after pointing at whatever on the menu, we were cheering the Philadelphia Eagles to play like they wanted to win. While imbibing our drinks that we did later find out were made with gin as a base — how we managed to order something without really paying attention to the menu is a puzzle — we had a small order of soft shell crab and another small order of calamari. Topped with jalapenos, these were divine. The soft shell crab had been cooked thoroughly and was extremely meaty. The calamari was tender enough to cut with a plastic fork. Thankful that much of the seeds had been removed from the peppers, there was enough kick to the starters that there was flavor but no need to chase each bite with several gulps of water.

Seafood Boil in a Bag

Seafood Boil in a Bag

The coup de grace were the bags of shrimp, crab legs, sausage, corn, and potatoes in Lowcounty’s spicy garlic, lemon pepper, Cajun sauce. Lowcountry ranks on my list of seafood boil restaurants that clearly knows how to lure people back for more. I usually never get crab legs because I hadn’t mastered the art of plucking the meat, but I did a superb job this time and I am happy to report that the crab meat was fresh, flavorful, and had me hooked. To make it that more appetizing, the jalapeno cornbread that came with it was exactly what we needed for sopping up the sauce.

Jameson and Ginger Beer

Jameson and Ginger Beer

Rather than gobble the seafood up as if in a rush to leave the restaurant, we paced ourselves and enjoyed watching Philadelphia draining the New England Patriot’s morale. I ordered a Jameson with ginger beer while my friend had coffee. This was in preparation for the beignets that we ordered. They got it right. The beignets had a yeast texture to them, not a cake texture. And they actually tasted way better than some doughnuts at some of the boutique doughnut shops in Chicago.

Beignets

Beignets

This visit was the first time even hearing about Lowcountry. There is another location in Chicago’s South Loop at 1132 S. Wabash Avenue. Same “back home” look and feel with wood layout on the inside and the picnic table setup, these locations probably get a lot of patrons. Granted it was Super Bowl Sunday when my friend and I went, there were still lots of individuals coming in to get gravy on their fingers and across their jaws. I can’t say that seafood boils are a fad, considering it’s a normal thing in coastal South Carolina and along the Gulf of Mexico. But it’s certainly a part of my constant slide show.

Lowcountry Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

de Quay, Where Indonesia and Netherlands Come Together

de Quay

In late 2015, when I was looking for an Indonesian restaurant in the city, my restaurant advisor suggested that I should try de Quay 2470 N. Lincoln Avenue. Having forgotten my camera and not having a cellphone with the snazzy professional setting for the camera, the photos did not come out to my liking and there was no way that I was going to review such incredibly delicious food and associate the food with dark, orange, and blurry photos. Realizing that I still had not written a proper review, I returned recently and was very glad that I did.

Curry Chicken

Curry Chicken

For my first return visit, it was a brief passing and I sat at the bar. Vibrant and filled to capacity in the general seating area, the bar was a great option. I ordered the curried chicken and paired it with a glass of Pinot Noir. The breast of chicken had been marinated in buttermilk and Indonesian spices, and served with basmati rice that had toasted almonds, dried apricot seroendeng, and pea tendrils. For those who love a bloom to their dishes, the aromatic flavour of the dish will certainly scream winner. And the Pinot Noir was a splendid balance while letting the dish take main stage.

Spekkoek

Spekkoek

The dessert was an almond spekkoek, a very appetizing Dutch layer cake that came with a dollop of pandan ice cream. Extremely moist and not very sweet, this is a dessert that should be enjoyed slowly and all the better with a cup of coffee. Now, consider the ice cream accordingly when being slow about eating the dessert, but the nutty flavour of the pandan is a nice accompaniment to the spekkoek. It is a wonder that de Quay does not tout this as the most spectacular dessert you will find in Chicago.

Deerstalker

Deerstalker

The second visit involved more food, as my restaurant advisor accompanied me this time. We started with a deerstalker and an FP-45 for cocktails. Having recently gone to a gin bar, the deerstalker was a fitting starter of gin, vermouth, orange bitters, maple syrup, and fresh thyme. The Old Tom gin, Gran Classico bitters, vermouth, brown sugar, and Angostura bitters in the FP-45 were simply first-rate for an initial libation.

FP-45

FP-45

Indulging the first landing of pea soup, which was a part of the restaurant week offerings, set the mood for what we realized would be a fantastic evening of dining. Hearty more like a stew, the bowl of mirepoix, smoked rookworst, turnips, and crispy shallots with the peas made this a winter soup that works well for the nippy Chicago temperatures. The lovash crackers were a nice touch and the soft baguette that came with the dish was fine for sopping up the remaining remnants of the soup, along with the curry butter.

Pea Soup with Bread and Wafers

Pea Soup with Bread and Wafers

The second landing, also a menu item for restaurant week, was a goat Gouda Bavarian. Served with a spiced pecan seroendeng, raisins, butternut squash, and with a chestnut vinaigrette, it was nice that the goat cheese was not so overpowering so it did not usurp the taste of the other ingredients in the dish.

Goat Gouda Bavarian

Goat Gouda Bavarian

Curious as to the shrimp and mussels menu item and how such a dish could have been prepared to take advantage of an Indonesian influence, we had for our third landing of a bowl of plump shrimp, shelled mussels, roasted hot peppers, and snow peas in a coconut curry sauce with baguette slices for sopping. An absolute winner, the beauty of this dish was not having to fight with plucking the morsels from the shells. You only had to start delighting yourself on the best mussels dish in Chicago.

Shrimp and Mussels

Shrimp and Mussels

The fourth landing was a plate of sate glazed, grilled salmon. The Indonesia fried rice nasi goreng played well with the salmon and a medley of green beans and cauliflower along with wafers and shrimp crisps made for a dish that is well worth repeat visits for samplings. Not the usual searing done to the salmon, it was flaky and succulent, which made the dish that more delightful.

Sate Glazed Grilled Sea Salmon

Sate Glazed Grilled Sea Salmon

The fifth landing came as baked chicken breast in coconut milk and aromatic spices with pea tendrils over a mango and Thai basil emulsion. An added touch was a coconut Gouda croquette. The chicken had been prepared such that it was easy to cut through it with a fork. And it was quite noticeable that the seasoning had worked its way throughout the chicken during cooking.

Baked Chicken with Gouda Croquette

Baked Chicken with Gouda Croquette

The finale was an apple tart that came with an accompaniment of dried currants in a crème fraîche. I had not been eating sweets for several weeks and felt like I had a bit of heaven with each bite. Very much like the spekkoek during my first visit, this was not as sweet as most tarts are, given the apples were not in a compote, and that probably explains why the apples tasted like they had been just plucked from a tree.

Apple Tart

Apple Tart

The one word I use to describe restaurants that have top service and inviting food is outstanding. That certainly applies to de Quay. The restaurant is not large and seating may be close. Reservations are highly recommended, as a lot of diners coming through who clearly appreciate the rich savoury dishes. There may be some poetic licensing with the dishes, but that’s okay. If you were to close your eyes, you would undoubtedly agree that the smells and aromas of Indonesia were not compromised.

De Quay Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Scofflaw, Gin Bar

When I moved to Logan Square in late 2017, Armitage Avenue was very must desolated. For several miles, there were buildings plastered with boards, vacant lots, and blight. Over the past few years, Logan Square has maintained a slow rejuvenation that has resulted in what is becoming a very attractive neighbourhood. One restaurant that now has residence on the landscape as a replacement for what was once a local bar is Scofflaw at 3201 W. Armitage Avenue.

Devil Egg, Cathead Biscuit, Simple Breakfast, Hong Kong Style French Toast

Devil Egg, Cathead Biscuit, Simple Breakfast, Hong Kong Style French Toast

Touted as a gin bar, it’s definitely a great gin bar also with brunch, dinner, and other cocktail offerings. Having tried to go one Friday evening only to walk into a room with not much navigation space, I opted for an early Sunday brunch for my return visit. Enjoying the cozy atmosphere, instead of enjoying a seat at one of the booths or small tables, the bar was where I parked myself.

The brunch menu had a few items that caught my eye and after a brief acknowledgement that I was going to turn brunch in “drunch,” I spied a few items that I figured I would enjoy slowly while indulging a flight of gin cocktails. The first landing was a devilled egg topped with crispy chicken skin, smoked buttermilk, and fermented celery. Another menu item was a plate of cathead biscuits, topped with cream cheese, trout roe, and chives. The third landing was Hong Kong style French toast that came with cashew butter and honey chamomile whipped cream. This is the best French toast ever! And the last landing was a simple breakfast of toast, sausage, and eggs scrambled with eggs. Not a smear or crumb was left afterwards.

Gimlet and Jasmine

Gimlet and Jasmine

Now, the question now may be, “What exactly did you have to drink?” Wanting to partake of a few gin cocktails, I requested a flight of four different selections, not necessarily exact to the cocktail recipe. The first two were a gimlet and a jasmine, both made with Scofflaw Old Tom Gin. The gimlet was prepared with gin, lime juice and a little bit of sugar. The jasmine was prepared with lemon juice, orange Combier, Compari, and a touch of simple sugar.

Martini and Negroni

Martini and Negroni

The second part of the flight consisted of a classic martini and a negroni. These were made with St. George Terroir, based out of California. The Douglas fir in both helped to bring out a woody note in the sips. The martini had gin, dry vermouth, and a hint of orange bitters, topped with lemon zest.  The negroni had gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth in it. Being one who prefers darker alcohol, these four gin cocktails are now on my immediate go-to list.

The final cocktails were hot to warm things up before going outside into frigid temperatures. The was a wassail, that was made with gin instead of with bourbon. There was also a rum toddy just to introduce a darker spirit into the imbibing equation. Quite possibly not a part of the regular menu, these certainly are good for hastening warmth after coming inside from frosty temperatures and enough to make you not ever want to go back outside afterwards.

Wassail and Rum Toddy

Wassail and Rum Toddy

The brunch crowd filled in quickly, an indication that service is great and quality of food and beverage are top. Having sat at the bar and engaged the bartenders in conversation, it was apparent that they are dynamic in their craft. The weekend evenings indeed see a packed restaurant, for sure. I have not gone during the middle of the week, but it’s a safe bet that this is a neighbourhood favourite for good reason. Chicago has plenty bars, but none specific to be a gin bar. Scofflaw is certainly one I would recommend if you are wondering which one to try.

Scofflaw Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Breakfast Anyone? Kingsbury Street Cafe

Kingsbury Street CafeHello, 2018, you’ve made it. And it’s a very good thing that I did not leave my appetite in 2017. I brought it with me. I must admit that spending a few weeks in Morocco towards the latter part of 2017 left me with a bit of depression. Imagine going to country with so much beauty, culinary delights, and warm weather, only to return to Chicago experiencing an early freeze and a refrigerator that I had emptied before my vacation. Thankful, I had a memo for Kingsbury Street Cafe at 1523 N. Kingsbury Street.

Millionaire Coffee

Millionaire Coffee

My first visit to Kingsbury Street Cafe was a few days after my return to Chicago. Temperatures were not all that bad, so I didn’t complain. When I arrived at the restaurant, there wasn’t the usual long line outside or any kind of wait inside like what you experience at lot of breakfast spots in the city. Spacious and full of light, I was in for what I expected would be a pleasant experience.

I started with a millionaire coffee, which was a nice winter recipe of house coffee, rumchata, kahlua, and frangelico topped with whipped cream. I call this my festive beverage. First to the table was a cup of egg and carrot soup. This reminded me a bit of Chinese egg drop soup in texture, but of a rather light autumn soup thanks to the presence of carrots. If it is still on the menu, I highly recommend having it, especially during the chilly months.

Egg and Carrot Soup

Egg and Carrot Soup

The finale was a plate of shrimp and spinach frittata with stewed tomatoes. The shrimp were plump and nothing close to popcorn size. It was also evident that they were fresh from the absence of a fishy aftertaste. Tomatoes are a vice for me, so I was well past satisfied while devouring the ones in the dish. Everything in the dish worked well and I must say that this was a nice deviation from the usual pancake, waffle, and omelette offerings.

Shrimp and Spinach Frittata with Tomatoes

Shrimp and Spinach Frittata with Tomatoes

During my second visit, which was at the beginning of the New Year, I went a little later in the morning and it was full of quite a few patrons. Granted it was the weekend instead of in the middle of the week like I had gone the first time, there still was no wait. I was fortunate to have the server who was my server during the first visit. After a few pleasantries about the Christmas holiday, I had a mimosa and a parfait of yogurt, granola, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries. Simply divine as a healthy starter.

Mimosa

Mimosa

Parfait

Parfait

The finish was a plate of angel food cake French toast with orange slices and lemon zest topped with whipped cream. Sitting atop a crème anglaise, this weekend French toast was a winner. The concept in French toast preparation was different that what I’ve had before, that being light and fluffy like angel food cake, so that made it the more appetizing. Without any syrup, this can be enjoyed to completion without recognizing that no additional sweetener was needed.

Angel Food French Toast

Angel Food French Toast

Kingsbury Street Cafe scores high points with the great service. It’s clear that the output from the kitchen is consistently good. The amount of navigation space and elbow room is also a high mark, especially when so many restaurants in Chicago entertain crowding diners into the dining area. It may be that Kingsbury Street Cafe is not on a “Best Brunch Spot in Chicago” list, which explains why seating is fast. Nevertheless, if you are seeking a breakfast or brunch — or dinner on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday — spot where you don’t find yourself wondering if you’ll ever get a seat, add Kingsbury Street Cafe to your destination.

Kingsbury Street Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Top 10 Jaunts for 2017

We have come to the end of 2017. This year turned out to be a very busy one and I didn’t get to indulge an overload of restaurants like I had in prior years. I did, however, find some new spots and got a chance to visit a few noteworthy eateries that I had missed.

And so, ladies, gentlemen, and hackers, I give you the Top 10 Jaunts for 2017. It’s a short clip that I had to confine to a minute since I also posted it on Instagram.

See ya next year.

Twisted Tapas, Chicago, Spain

If you are celebrating a birthday two months late, is it still considered a birthday celebration? That was a question that I asked my former roommate jokingly because two months had passed since we were able to have schedules line up for food, laughter, celebration, wine, and more laughter. With another mutual friend who also joins us when we meet every other month, we opted for tapas and narrowed down our restaurant selection to Twisted Tapas at 1146 W. Pratt Blvd. in Rogers Park since it was a central spot for all of us.

Bacon Wrapped Dates

Bacon Wrapped Dates

This is clearly a local haunt that many regular customers favor. It was quite evident in how many of them hugged the server, who we found out was the manager. And after the service we got, it was even more apparent why so many regulars return. We arrived before happy hour was over, so we got to enjoy happy hour prices for wine, cocktails, and a few tapas.

Skewered Chicken with Bell Peppers and Red Pepper Dip

Skewered Chicken with Bell Peppers and Red Pepper Dip

One item that you find on many Spanish tapas menus is a plate of bacon wrapped dates. The roasted pepper sauce on them cut down on the sweetness of the dates and also took a bit of the salty kick out of the bacon. What was left was flavor. Another small plate was the grilled chicken skewer. Served with red and yellow bell peppers and a dollop of a cumin paprika aioli, this dish also captured the essence of tapas that I remember in Spain proper.

Cucumber Salad

Cucumber Salad

Just for a healthy addition to our noshing, we had a plate of cucumber salad for our one cold tapas. This came with tomatoes, red onion, and feta cheese drizzled with a red wine vinaigrette. Popping with flavor, it was actually a good accompaniment with the subsequent dishes that we ordered.

Baked Goat Cheese with Marinara and Toast

Baked Goat Cheese with Marinara and Toast

Another popular Spanish tapas dish is baked goat cheese in marinara. Served with garlic herb toast, it was surprising that all of the various flavors did not clash. And even when we had run out of toast, the complimentary bread that we had still worked perfectly for going around the inside of the bowl to enjoy the remaining goat cheese and marinara.

Escargot and Cheese on Crostini

Escargot and Cheese on Crostini

The escargot on crostini with sherry vinegar cream sauce was simply divine. Not served the the same fashion as what you get at French restaurants, the preparation on toast was noteworthy enough to try at home if ever I buy any escargot. Otherwise, this is one of my reasons for returning to Twisted Tapas.

Seared Spicy Shrimp

Seared Spicy Shrimp

A big hit for me was the seared spicy shrimp with red pepper flakes in olive oil. The remaining complimentary bread and the extra bread that we requested were ideal for sopping. Not peppery to the point of the dish not being enjoyable, the plump shrimp on the bread and the oil made for a menu item I would have on repeat visits.

Lobster Ravioli

Lobster Ravioli

The one dish that was indeed a favorite among the three of us at the table was the lobster ravioli. Topped with a white wine seafood sauce and a sun dried tomatoes, this could easily become a seafood lovers vice. This is the second item that I would have every time I return.

Beef Shirt Rib

Beef Short Rib

The beef short rib was what I call the “showing out” dish. Sitting atop a sweet potato gratin and falling apart every time we tried to get a forkful of it, I could see middle American families wanting a giant plate of their own instead of a small plate for sharing. This is the first time I have had beef short rib at a tapas restaurant in America that did not come out raw or crispy. The chef got it correct.

Twisted Tapas falls into the category of a hidden gem. It’s not readily visible from a main street that runs north and south through the eastern edge of Rogers Park. However, what they don’t have in visual fanfare for pedestrian traffic, they certainly make up for it in good food and in outstanding service. I got a recommendation to sample a few years ago. It took a late birthday celebration for me to actually make a date. And now for me to see when I have a break in my schedule to return.

Twisted Tapas Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bia’s Café Marinao, Cuban Style

Bia's Cafe Marinao

Every once in a while I like to deviate from the usual proper sit-down restaurant and delve into something that requires me to pick up food with my hands. Having had a craving for a really good sandwich, I knew that I could not go wrong with a Cuban sandwich. And rather than going to the usual Cuban sandwich shops that I have logged in my smart phone, I looked for a place where I had not been. Bia’s Café Marinao at the new location of 4323 W. Addison Street in Chicago’s Old Irving neighborhood seemed like it was a good spot on reading the menu. It was an outstanding café on going for the first visit.

Chicken Empanadas

Chicken Empanadas

Not large and rather popular, given the constant flow of patrons coming for pick-up and dining in, I had a seat at the counter against the wall and indulged a chicken empanada that came with a guava barbecue sauce and a cubano. The empanada was fresh, quite evident from the flaky crust. And I liked that the chicken was seasoned nicely, which really lent itself to going well with the guava barbecue sauce. Ropa viejas have always been my go-to Cuban sandwich and switching it up a bit this time was an excellent idea. Thinly sliced ham, roasted pork, topped with a mustard jam and pickles, I quickly decided that I will retire my love affair with ropa viejas.

Cubano

Cubano

During my second visit, I wanted to sample another sandwich. This time I ordered a medianoche. This sandwich is very much like a cubano, except the bread has a bit of a sweetness to it and without the mustard jam. Hearty, flavorful, and with a bloom of flavor from each bite, I was conflicted because I had sworn the cubano to be my now-favorite Cuban sandwich during my first visit. While finishing the medianoche and downing a cup of café con leche, I knew that this meant I had to return at a later date to see if I could conflict my interest more.

Medianoche

Medianoche

During the third time, I had one beef and one chicken empanada, this time with a spicy sauce for dipping. Again, trying a different sandwich, I ordered a steak and cheese that came with thinly sliced tomatoes and Swiss cheese, drizzled with a mild citrus oil. While not overloaded, there was enough flavor packed into the sandwich to make me punt a Philly cheesesteak if it were put in front of me. Not only that, I simply had to accept the fact that there isn’t one sandwich at Bia’s Café Marinao that I can’t honestly call my favorite because all of them are.

Steak and Cheese

Steak and Cheese

As mentioned earlier, there is a steady stream of customers that come in to order for take-away and for dining in. Noticing the service the three different times that I have gone, they are consistently friendly and attentive. The café is not in an area with lots of foot traffic, so the fact that they get a lot of constant business speaks to how fantastic the sandwiches are and how welcoming the service is. I have never been one to say that I am a fan of sandwiches, but Bia’s Café Marinao changed that for me. This is my favorite sandwich shop in Chicago.

Cafeteria Marianao Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Volo Restaurant and Wine Bar

During planning for restaurant outings to sample wines and cheeses, I received a recommendation for a wine bar along a hidden stretch in Chicago’s Roscoe Village neighborhood. A bit rustic in the look and feel with plenty seating, I had a midweek reservation for an early meal. Volo Restaurant and Wine Bar at 2008 W. Roscoe Street was the landing spot.

Fall Flight

Fall Flight

My restaurant adviser and I had designs on trying a few cheese flights along with wine flights for pairings. While the flights were not extensive, there were enough for us to have a few samplings. The first wine flight was a bubbly flight. The 2014 Spagnol, extra dry Prosecco from Veneto, Italy, wasn’t dry to the point of inducing puckering and the notes of apple, pear, and bread crust, surprisingly, made for a smooth and balanced bubbly. The NV Jaillance, Cuvée de l’Abbaye Rosé from Cremant de Bordeaux, France, was subtle on the tongue with a faint accent of strawberries and cream. The NV La Vida al Camp, Brut Cava from Cava, Spain, gave a nose of grapefruit and floral notes.

Flights of Cheese

Flights of Cheese

With autumn soon arriving, we indulged the fall flight. The 2015 Maison Yves Chaley et Fille, Haute Côtes du Nuits Blanc from Burgundy, France, played well on the palate with fresh Grannny apple, pear, lemon zest, and floral tones. The 2012 Cantina Bove, ‘Marso,’ Montelpulciano d’Abruzzo, from Abruzzo, Italy, was earthy with a mix of black fruits and herbal tones. The 2014 Arsonist, Red Blend carried us to California with a silky blend of Petit Verdot, Malbec, and  Cabernet Sauvignon, bearing notes of blue and black fruits, vanilla, and clove for a spicy finish.

Pinot Noir Flight

Pinot Noir Flight

Sparkling Flight

Sparkling Flight

We had a nice selection of cheeses to start off the evening along with our first flights. For sheep’s milk cheese, we could not go wrong with the three month aged Manchego from La Mancha, Spain, a fantastic semi-firm cheese with a creamy finish. For cow’s milk cheese, we had a Camembert from France, soft and creamy with a flowery rind and a umami flavor. Another favorite, which was a brie, was certainly an offering that we could not miss. And with a vintage gouda from Netherlands on the menu, there was no way we were going to pass on enjoying that along with embedded, crunchy caramel. Wanting to try something made from goat’s milk, we had a Montchevre garlic and herb from Wisconsin. The mix of roasted garlic, rosemary, and thyme in the cheese worked with the the goat cheese almost playing background. One other cheese that we requested to come to the table as a surprise was one akin to a crumbly gorgonzola, very mild, and quite inviting as with the accompanying candied walnuts, crushed figs, and honey.

Salmon Salad

Salmon Salad

Moving into the small plates, we tried a salmon salad that had a light citrus vinaigrette along with julienne cucumbers and crisps. Slightly reminiscent of a deconstructed ceviche, the salad was a rather nice touch to the finishing sips of our initial wine flights. After enjoying this and an allowance for a few minutes, we then ordered a bowl of mussels in a white wine sauce with shallots, parsley and French butter. Very partial towards mussels that come in a saffron sauce, the white wine sauce was ideal not only for the moment but rather fitting given the theme of the wine bar.

Mussels

Mussels

Having enjoyed the cheeses, salmon salad, and mussels with toast, we had an interest in more flights of wine. Having overlooked it earlier, there was the cheese and charcuterie flight. The 2015 PortoVino, Cardedu, Vermentino de Sardegna Nuo from Saardina, Italy, was herbaceous with a slight edge of minerality. The 2016 Domaine Haut de Mourier, Voignier “Cuvee Stephanie Bouix,” from Languedoc, France, came from a mountainous region with a nose of apricots and peaches followed by pear, apple, lavender, and honey. The 2013 Juris, St. Laurent from Burgenland, Austria, had tones of cranberry, raspberry, and florals, slightly tart, yet a wonderful selection for those who love Pinot Noir.

Spicy Chicken Over Coconut Rice

Spicy Chicken Over Coconut Rice

The fourth and final wine flight on the menu was the Pinot Noir flight. The 2012 Ara, “Pathway” Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand, was sweet without crossing into dessert wine territory and perfectly spicy, which paired extremely well with a spicy Asian fried chicken dish that came over coconut rice. The 2014 Bouchard Père et Fils, Pinot Noir, from Burgundy, France, had a bloom of cherry, raspberry, currant, and early notes, and unlike a lot of wine with tannins, the tannins in this selection did not overpower the sips. Finishing with a 2014 Rascal, Pinot Noir, from Williamette Valley Vineyards in Oregon, the cranberry, black cherry, and strawberries in this wine could easily make one fall in love with Oregon wines.

The Wrap-up

The Wrap-up

Finishing with coffee from one of the local roasters, we agreed that the selections were very nice for something light. It was certainly great having a server who was knowledgeable of the wines and could speak to why they paired well with certain cheeses and dishes, as well as speak to personal preference. The wine bar was not teeming with patrons, which may have been due to many in the area crowded into some other bars watching a Cubs game. But if you are looking for a nice date spot without the noise and clamoring, Volo Wine Restaurant and Wine Bar is a sweet spot for libations, small plates, cheeses, and satisfaction.

Volo Restaurant Wine Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cafe Des Architectes, Un Peu de Français

Recently, I have been in a bit of a French mood. For the longest I had been searching for restaurants that had a basque feel, and without the churn of a crowd. Like in France, one can enjoy a meal alone or in small company in some bistros and cafes without an excess of ambient noise and people crowding your space. My restaurant adviser and I had culled together a list of restaurants that we thought would be good samplers.

Bread Service, Trout Croquette, Lump Crab, Heart of Palm, Summer Squash Soup

Bread Service, Trout Croquette, Lump Crab, Heart of Palm, Summer Squash Soup

First on our list was Cafe Des Architectes in the Gold Coast Sofitel Hotel at 20 E. Chestnut Street. Just west of the Magnificent Mile is this fantastic restaurant that’s surrounded by swanky clothing boutiques and other very appealing restaurants. Located off to the side of the lobby is this very spacious, airy, and well-lit restaurant that also has a large outdoor seating area. With weather being extremely nice for October, we sat outside during our first visit to enjoy the moderate temperatures and to watch people in their comings and goings.

Chardonnay, Champagne, Pinot Noir

Chardonnay, Champagne, Pinot Noir

Opting for small plates, we ordered from the appetizer section with a pescatarian focus. Starting off was a l’amuse of trout croquette atop an aioli and the first of three pairings, a champagne that neither nipped at the back of the jaw nor left a pucker on the front-end of the sip. Seasoned well and void of an excessive amount of breading, the bite size trout was still meaty and the aioli was not the least bit overpowering. The Maryland style crab cakes were a reminder of why those are a favorite. Served with a chipotle aioli, citrus segments, and an avocado purée, there was not a crumb of breading on the crab cakes, which meant we got to enjoy seasoned, fresh crab to the fullest. Following with the hearts of palm, which came with a cauliflower custard, radicchio, and caviar, it was evident that the restaurant was going for full flavor even with small plates. And then we had the chilled summer squash soup with a nice smear of mint yogurt, curry oil, and granola. While most may be accustomed to a hot soup, this is the epitome of a summer soup, best served when it’s very hot outside, enjoyed regardless of when the temperatures are warm enough for patio dining.

Escargot Pappardelle, Butternut Squash Ravioli with Shrimp

Escargot Pappardelle, Butternut Squash Ravioli with Shrimp

Getting more into pasta, we had escargot pappardelle. Accented with a garlic cream, parsley, and parmesan, the plump escargot popped with each bite in this light pasta dish. Unlike when escargot is served in a bubbling pesto, there still was enough of the garlic cream in the dish to remind you of how delicious the delicacy is. Wrapping up the many landings with black truffle and corn ravioli with rock shrimp, pancetta, and parmesan, we acknowledged that we had no room for a cheese board as a dessert. The ravioli was also light, but still it was filling without leaving us overly stuffed. Paired with a pinot noir, this was perfection on the palate.

Espresso, Macaron, Chocolate

Espresso, Macaron, Chocolate

The finale was espresso that was clearly made from a fine bean. While my restaurant adviser was sharing a few chocolates from Veruca Chocolates, we received complimentary sweets of mango macarons and key lime wrapped in chocolate. Enjoying this with the coffee was superb, as the macaron was fresh and the chocolate was nothing like the blocks of chocolate you get from anchor stores at the mall. The key lime was creamy, the white chocolate, which had been decorated to look almost like a precious stone, was outstanding, and it all went well with the espresso. The first visit was noteworthy given the appreciation for the quality of the food and the attentiveness of the service. So, we indeed had a return visit.

Cheese Flight, Sparkling Flight, Espresso, Chardonnay

Cheese Flight, Sparkling Flight, Espresso, Chardonnay

Having enjoyed a nice selection of small plates during the première visite, we settled specifically for wine and cheese, champagne and cheese for my adviser. Yet another day with perfect weather, we had an outdoor seat and settled on a selection of soft mild, semi-firm, and one firm cheese. The creamy and buttery fromages of Edel de Claron, Tallegio, and Brie St. Rocco worked well on sourdough. The Fourme d’Ambert, Morbier, and Tomme were semi-firm enough to enjoy on the olive bread that came with the cheeses. The Cantalet was just right for enjoying with the multigrain bread. And for even more enjoyment, the summer berries and miniature madeleines were exactly what we needed to mentally go back to France. Of course, there was no way of departing without taking an espresso.

Cafe Des Architectes has a very laid back feel. There was no rush, which is a rather appealing touch to a restaurant because good food should be savored. Cafe Des Architectes does a fabulous job making your visit the first of many. The closest I will get to France this year will be via a rendezvous in Paris en route to Morocco. In the meantime, I am enjoying this bit of France in Chicago.

Cafe Des Architectes Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato