Azucar, 9 Years of Tapas

Azucar

When I moved to Logan Square, there were several restaurants on the landscape that looked inviting. I made plans to go to the restaurants and then I realized one day that eight years had passed … and I had not gone to several of the restaurants. Azucar Tapas & Cocktail Bar at 2647 N. Kedzie Avenue was one of the many eateries that I passed and never stopped in for a sampling. I corrected that recently.

Olivos Machacadas en Casa

Olivos Machacadas en Casa

Having had a spell of hot and humid weather recently, Chicago experienced a reprieve from feeling tropical. During my visit to Azucar, I sat outside to enjoy the nice breeze and a degustation of a few tapas items. For a refresher, I started with a white peach sangria that was quite refreshing. While the alcohol was not heavy-handed, it was indeed there. To go with the sangria was olivos machacadas en casa, which was a selection of olives and baby pickles.

Empanadas Pollos

Empanadas Pollos

The next course to arrive was a plate of empanadas pollos. These were tapas size empanadas, but they packed a huge flavour profile. They were not merely stuffed with shredded chicken, but they were stuffed with well-seasoned shredded chicken. Served atop a tomato sauce and accented with basil, these were ideal with the finishing of the sangria.

White Peach Sangria

White Peach Sangria

Red Raspberry Sangria

Red Raspberry Sangria

I then moved into a seafood option that was extremely tasty. The gambas a pil-pil came as shrimp sautéed in spices and served in a dish that had a creamy garlic butter sauce. The perfect accompaniment with this dish was a mini loaf of bread that was ideal for sopping up the garlic butter sauce. Also, with this dish, I had opted for a red raspberry sangria that was as refreshing as the white peach sangria and also mixed nicely to hide the alcohol.

Gambas a Pil-Pil

Gambas a Pil-Pil

The final tapas I ordered was piquillos al fuego. Even as a vegetarian option, this was absolutely divine. These piquillos peppers were stuffed with a blend of cheeses and chopped portobello mushrooms, lemon, and chickpeas. As an accent, they were topped with fennel and a roasted garlic cream sauce. I had thought the bread with gambas a pil-pil was filling. The piquillos al fuego helped induce a desire for sleep and I was okay with that.

Piquillos al Fuego

Piquillos al Fuego

Per my server’s recommendation, I ordered pastel de chocolate for a postre. Being a few notches close to sated, this decadent cake put me over the top. Served with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, I didn’t think that something so small could be so incredibly rich. And when I say that it took me over 30 minutes to finish it, it was because I didn’t want to have any regrets about leaving any before departing the restaurant.

Pastel de Chocolate con Helado

Pastel de Chocolate

Azucar recently celebrated nine years in spring, 2016. Just across the street from the Logan Square Blue Line and between El Cid immediately next door and a very short walking distance from Longman & Eagle, it’s in a prime location where there is plenty foot traffic. The menu is not extensive, which is very good for narrowing down selections, and the food is full of flavour. It took me eight years to walk the few short blocks from my condo to Azucar. It won’t take eight more years. That’s a guarantee.

Azucar! Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

H. Forman & Son, Smoked Salmon From Heaven

H. Forman & Son, the oldest smoked salmon factory in the world and based out of London, UK, with a location in Northbook, IL, hosted an event recently at 3 Greens Market in River North at 354 W. Hubbard Street, where bloggers and tastemakers met for a sampling of several salmon. All were treated to offerings of London Cure smoked Scottish salmon — cream cheese maki, Sashimi Grade salmon prime loin, and salmon crostini. For the gravadlax offerings, there were Dill cured salmon, Thai cured salmon, and gin and tonic cured salmon.

Smoked Salmon Seafood Selection

Although H. Forman & Son has some of the freshest and most flavourful salmon, they also have a fish collection ranging from smoked Dutch eel to smoked yellowfin tuna to keta trout caviar. Those at the event also got the chance to sample two items from the H. Forman & Son restaurant collection — a paupiette of hot smoked wild salmon mousse as well as a paupiette of blue crab and lobster.

Seafood Flight

Not only were the food bloggers and tastemakers treated to a delightful selection of smoked salmon and seafood, but they were also enlightened to the processing involved in preparation of the seafood. Noting that neither sugar, nor nitrates, nor colouring, nor brining is introduced into processing, what comes out is delectable salmon with a hint of oak wood smoke that enhances the natural flavour.

Preparation Salmon and Roe Salmon Brunch

Those who love fresh seafood and especially smoked salmon, purchasing options are available via the Formans USA website. Additional menu options for purchases may be accessed via Shop All Collections from the main page. If you are purchasing online, use promo code alphabet20 for a 20% discount during checkout.

Smoked Salmon, Choice Selection

Bodhi, Berwyn and It’s Surprises

Bodhi

My restaurant advisor had been prompting me about a Thai restaurant in Berwyn, Illinois. Recognizing how much I love curry and a proper thick curry, she gave the name of Bodhi Thai Bistro at 6211 W. Roosevelt Road. In true fashion, this restaurant falls into the category of Most Modest because for what we had eaten to have been so blooming mouth-watering, they do not employ any grandstanding. The deserve it, though.

Thai Iced Tea, Thai Iced Coffee

Thai Iced Tea, Thai Iced Coffee

We went in the early evening one Saturday per our usual routine of trying to get ahead of the dinner crowd. We arrived at the very start of dinner rush, so we got to see a rather energetic restaurant. Starting off with a Thai iced tea and Thai Iced coffee while scanning the menu, we settled on a few known dishes we order at Thai restaurants, one known dish we’ve avoided, and a few we’ve never had before.

One dish we never ordered was the sweet potato and corn fritters. This was a plate of shredded sweet potatoes fried with corn and served with a savoury sauce topped with crushed peanuts. Light on the palate but packed with flavour, this was a perfect introduction into dinner, since we had opted for several dishes.

Sweet Potato and Corn Fritters

Sweet Potato and Corn Fritters

Another dish that we had not ordered at any Thai restaurants before was the marinated squid. Served as a nice portion, the squid had been marinated such that there was a mild smoky flavour that played well with the salad and dipping sauce. The beauty of this dish was that the squid had been cooked so that the morsels were tender with no rubbery texture.

Grilled Calamari

Marinated Squid

Moving into a dish that we’ve had at other Thai restaurants, we ordered tom yum goong. This Thai favourite came with a broth that was not sweet the way we have had it at some Thai restaurants. Because of this, we actually were able to taste distinct ingredients like lemongrass and ginger while also being able to taste the pop in the carrots and mushrooms. Highlighted with sprinkles of cilantro, there was only so much spooning we could do before we picked up our bowls and slurped properly.

Tom Yum Goong

Tom Yum Goong

A dish that is popular in Thai cuisine, but we’ve avoided because it is so commonplace, is pad thai. This dish tasted very much like what I’ve had on mainland Thailand. Instead of unseasoned boiled chicken in the dish, the chicken had been marinated. The sauce used in the recipe was a fish sauce, not just soy sauce thrown in for effect. The noodles were perfect, neither al dente nor mushy. It may have been serendipity that we had held out on ever ordering pad thai until we came to Bodhi Thai Bistro because they prepare the best.

Pad Thai

Pad Thai

Another dish that we had never tried before was garlic prawns. These tasty morsels came atop green bell peppers and carrots with a dipping sauce that we used as a drizzle and a side of a rice. While the prawns had been prepared with a heavy dose of garlic, it was not overpowering such that we could not recognize that the prawns were fresh. Fresh shellfish has a pop in flavour and when the recipe allows the prawns to still have centre stage, this becomes a dish that we will order repeatedly upon return visits.

Garlic Prawns and Vegetables

Garlic Prawns

The final dish was a return to another Thai favourite, but also to one that is a favourite to us. We ordered panang curry with chicken and this was at my restaurant advisor’s suggestion. Being sticklers for hearty panang gravies, this was  certainly a lip smacking course. The dish came with sliced carrots, fresh green beans, and bell peppers. Fresh ingredients in a splendid panang gravy is something that you cannot pass up on.

We finished dinner with a plate of mango sticky rice and green tea — photo not pictured. The mango was naturally sweet. The sticky rice was warm and the coconut milk that had been poured on top made the dessert a must-have.

Chicken Panang Curry

Chicken Panang Curry

Bodhi Thai Bistro has a pleasant air about it, as far as decor is concerned. What they do incredibly well is wow the appetite without pretense and without fanfare. Truly the dishes are authentic and those who love Thai food will agree. Top service, outstanding cuisine, and Berwyn has been modest. They have bragging rights with such inviting food.

Bodhi Thai Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Animale, Casual Atmosphere with Fine Dining

When I initially went to Osteria Langhe in Logan Square, which is my favourite Italian restaurant, I wondered if the owner would ever open another restaurant. When he said that he and his managing partner were considering opening an Italian restaurant that serves casual Italian, I thought to myself, “No, please don’t join the ranks of stock Italian restaurants.” And when Animale opened at 1904 N. Western Avenue, I went and was rather confused. The ambience and decor are casual. The food screams “fine dining.”

Animale

A good friend and I met one early evening shortly after Animale had its opening. Noting that you order at the counter and then have a seat, after which a server brings your food, we opted for a 6-course degustation for sharing. We started with a pappardelle — roasted carrots, green onions, beef cheeks, and buttery flat noodles that were topped with bread crumbs. The first bite was the indicator that led us to believe that the owners are modest. Such flavour and authenticity aren’t present in most casual dining, honestly. The pappardelle was, in a word, outstanding.

Pappardelle

Pappardelle

One of the exotic dishes we tried was animelle. This was bacon wrapped in sweet breads, topped with a spicy endive salad, and drizzled with mustard honey. This dish fell outside of the usual fare found on Italian menus. Starting with sweet breads, American Italian restaurants don’t entertain such options. Dishes like animelle come with such pop that not only do you forget that it’s Italian but you make ticklers to yourself to plan return visits.

Animelle

Animelle

Another exotic dish was sanguinaccio. This dish was remiscent of pollo e funghi that I had enjoyed at Osteria Langhe. Instead of chicken and mushrooms wrapped in a tasty pastry, there was blood sausage encased in a puff pastry. Served on top of lentils in a La Tur citrus cream and a few leafs of endive, it becomes increasingly easy to dismiss spaghetti and meatballs as an Italian delicacy.

Sanguinaccio

Sanguinaccio

When I was younger, there was a commercial that used to come on with a little boy wanting to spend the night at his friend’s house to avoid going home to a meal of liver. At the end of the commercial, the kid was nonplussed because, per him, “Larry’s mother is cooking liver, too.” He probably wouldn’t have been so displeased if his mother or Larry’s mother were cooking fegato. These rabbit livers were accented with thyme and served with mushrooms, shallots, and madeira atop toast. And they had been cooked so that the consistency was slightly spreadable on the toast. Delicious.

Fegato

Fegato

Now, Osteria Langhe has a signature ravioli called plin that is addictive. There it’s simply mini raviolis filled with La Tur and parmesan cheese. At Animale, they’re hand-pinched pillows filled with La Tur cheese and served with house pancetta and arugula. It is difficult for me to say which recipe I like most and I know that I shall return to Osteria Langhe and Animale countless times to sample their plin so I can eventually be decisive about which I prefer more.

Plin

Plin

For the finale, we had panna cotta. There was no way we were going to skip such a delight, and we had the dessert topped with a chocolate sauce and sprinkled with hazelnuts, and raspberries. The portion was perfect, given all the food we had eaten, and it was the same recipe from Osteria Langhe that makes it a difficult dessert to turn away from.

Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta

The last time a restaurant owner mentioned opening a casual dining restaurant as a replacement for a fine dining French restaurant, it was a disappointment. Seeing how Osteria Langhe has raised the bar for Italian dining, from my personal experience, it was clear that quality would be top priority at Animale. Service falls in the Absolutely Best category, if I may add. The atmosphere may be laid back and completely devoid of pretense, but be prepared for the next best Italian restaurant in Chicago. With such bloom in flavour, I foresee long lines at Animale. I’ll be in those lines quite a few times.

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

The Little Gem Bar and Restaurant

Little Gem Cafe

After years of living in Chicago, I have been recalling a statement that an individual made when we had met in 1989. She had stated that you can spend your entire life in Chicago and never cover all of it. I have discovered that the same applies to some of the edge cities like Evanston, Rosemont, Schaumburg, Skokie, and Oak Park. Case in point was during a casual stroll a block north of downtown Oak Park where I stumbled upon The Little Gem Bar and Restaurant at 189 N Marion Street.

Duck with Salad

Duck with Salad

Spacious on the inside with a bistro feel to it and also with some outside seating, there is an atmosphere of ease that doesn’t feed into ambient noises and acoustics all over the place requiring you to shout with your dining companions. Taking advantage of the outdoor seating, I settled on a four-course meal that had a French influence. Since the restaurant had been touted as a French bistro on Yelp and Google, I chose to stick with that theme, although I did see a paprikash dish on the menu, which is Hungarian.

For my first course, I had a duck carpaccio with a salad in a light vinaigrette with mandarin slices. The server paired this dish with a Sauvignon blanc that had some fruity notes that balanced out the tartness of the duck carpaccio, which had strips of raw duck. Those who like tartar and the texture would certainly enjoy this dish.

Toast

Toast

Because I had opted for a pairing of wines with each course, the server thought that it would be a good idea to have some bread for a palate cleanser, as well as an aid for reducing buzzing. I’m not really sure if the grilled toast was complementary, but I must admit that it was of the variety that I could go off the rails with while enjoying some gouda cheese.

Deviled Eggs

Deviled Eggs

The next course was a plate of deviled eggs. Accented with parsley oil and a balsamic reduction and topped with crispy, fried onions and pickled jalapeños, all four that came were absolutely scrumptuous. Paired nicely with a Chardonnay that had a buttery and oak flavour that was light on the palate while not usurping the centre stage from the deviled eggs, I actually developed a better appreciation for deviled eggs, as I have not had any that weren’t abused by a use of too many herbs and spices.

As of late, I have been introducing pork back into my diet, albeit in moderation. The server had specified the special for the evening, which was a 10-ounce bone-in pork chop in a jalapeño and apple purée with roasted potatoes sautéed in a Spanish chorizo. For the pairing, the server brought at Pinot noir that had a “right” amount of acidity to match well with the dish. For an individual who has not been a fan of pork for many years, this one was one I would rush back to the restaurant to indulge without pause.

Pork Chop with Fingerlings

Pork Chops with Fingerlings

In keeping with the French effect in dining, I had cheese for dessert rather than a sweet. The cheese board came with an assortment of cheeses, housemade strawberry jam, smoked almonds, candied walnuts, and apples. There were aged Wisconsin cheddar, a brie, a housemade cheese, and a casabola. The housemade cheese was an interesting marriage of provolone, cheddar, and cream cheese. The caso bolo was a mixture of goat, sheep, and cow cheeses. Along with a cup of coffee, this was a delectable and ideal finale to what was a spectacular meal.

Cheese Board with Nuts and Jam

Cheese Board

I was somewhat expecting “regular” fare, but was thoroughly surprised and satisfied with the offerings. The Little Gem Bar and Restaurant is not French-specific. If I could apply a word to the restaurant, it would be Pan-European because of some Eastern European offerings and Mediterranean fare. One thing I have not done on the blog in years is name the servers that went well past outstanding. But Liz and Zach were two of the top servers any diners could have at their table. I understand why most at the restaurant were locals. Oak Park is not a local destination for me, but I have a feeling I will be a regular at The Little Gem Bar and Restaurant.

Little Gem Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Artango, Food That Makes You Dance

Artango Bar & Steakhouse

I have a friend who is an actress. Years ago, she used to have stage plays in the Lincoln Square neighbourhood and we would catch up after plays at an Italian restaurant in the stretch of Lincoln Avenue between Leland Avenue and Lawrence Avenue. That restaurant has since closed and in its place is Artango at 4767 N. Lincoln Avenue. Recognizing the name from some emails I have received per recommendations for the restaurant, it was time for me to visit the replacement to the old Italian eatery while following through on the recommendations.

Raspberry Mojito

Raspberry Mojito

With the weather being nice enough for sitting outside, I perused the menu and opted for my version of a degustation without going strict “steakhouse” with the meal. I decided to let my server make the decisions for me, which is becoming routine for me and surprisingly enjoyable for my servers. For libations, I told my server I wanted a flight of mojitos and for him to have the bartender surprise me. The first mojito was a raspberry mojito and oh was it a delight on the palate. This was what I will call a true summer drink.

Trio de Ceviche

Trio de Ceviche

The first course was a trio de ceviche. Instead of cuts of seafood in cups of juice with cilantro, onions, and other seasoning, these came as clumps of fresh seafood. There was corvina fish that looked fatty, but was rather meaty. There was a tuna with black mint and topped with a small seaweed salad. The third ceviche was shrimp in a passionfruit sauce. The flavour of the seafood was rather light and the accents in the recipe were also not heavy. All served with plantain chips, this is a good starter without filling up.

Mango Mojito

Mango Mojito

The second mojito was a manjo mojito. Very much like the raspberry mojito, the method used in mixing in the alcohol was done in a way that the alcohol did not jump out immediately. It became obvious after finishing most of the cocktail. If I never had another regular mojito, I would not complain. If I return to Artango and having the mango mojito is not possible, I will indeed complain. This was what I will call a beach drink.

Gazpacho

Gazpacho

The second course was a gazpacho. Served with a medley of chopped red and green bell peppers, grilled toast, and a lump of crab, this gazpacho was enough to invoke a desire for dancing. This was a pleasant surprise because cold soup can taste only like chilled tomato juice if it is not prepared the correct way. And since I have never prepared a gazpacho, I shall concede that Artango has the recipe and preparation under control.

 

Pineapple Mojito

Pineapple Mojito

Easing into the third course, I had a pineapple mojito. All while I sipped it, I kept thinking that if there had been some ginger in it, it would have tasted exactly like june plum juice that you get in Jamaica. The pineapple flavouring was not heavy-handed, but the alcohol was also not heavy on the tongue. Yet, I did have a “Gino in the Sky with Mojitos” moment later. And I was okay with that. This was what I call a tropical getaway drink.

Ravioli

Ravioli

The third course was a ravioli. I know that there may be some who are screaming, “How can you go to a steakhouse and not have steak or any meat?” I am saving the meat indulgence for when I return with friends in a few weeks. Now, the ravioli was still good enough for devouring and may very well be a great accompaniment to a plate of meat. The stuffing contained ricotto cheese and cherry tomatoes. The sauce was not hearty, but it still packed a punch in terms of flavour. Topped with homemade mozzarella and basil, yes, this will go great with some sirloin.

Churros

Churros

The finale consisted of churros that came with a chocolate sauce and also with a raspberry coulis. For all the raving over doughnuts, give me homemade churros from Artango. I will eat them on the bus. I will eat them on the subway. I will eat them in my office. I will eat them on my couch. I will eat them, Sam-I-Am, and I know none of this rhymes. As you can tell, they were worthy. With the churros, I had a cafe con leche. Cubans still dominate the market in making the best cafe con leches, but Artango does a mean one that does not require any sweeteners. I recommend getting churros to go with the cafe con leche, though.

Cafe con Leche

Cafe con Leche

Artango not only dishes out some lip-smacking Argentinean love from the kitchen, but they also have tango classes for those who want to learn how to tango or for those who will have eaten too much and want to work off some of the food. The service was top. When I trust my server to put in the order to the kitchen without me giving exact directions and the entire meal leaves me sated, there is no argument that the service is fantastic. As to the bar service, the bartender deserves an encore. I’m sure I’ll make the same observations about service and food when I return. Sam-I-Am dared me to go back and I love dares.

Artango Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Cubanito, For the Love of the “Sammich”

El Cubanito

Logan Square had a small walk-up on the far west end of the neighbourhood for years. El Cubanito at 2555 N. Pulaski Road was a favourite that served Cuban sandwiches and was a magnet for locals as well as those from other neighbourhoods. And as many times as I had walked by it, I never got in any of the long lines to try out their sandwiches. And then there was a change to the walk-up. It closed and expanded into a nice sized restaurant. I then made it a point to go for a visit.

Cafe con Leche

Cafe con Leche

I had gone several months ago and had a ropa vieja since I wanted something fast. I was completely blown away with how much I loved the way they piled the sandwich with shredded beef in a rather savoury tomato-based gravy. Added to that the plantains on the sandwich and I understood the long lines when the restaurant was a walk-up. Recently, I returned and had a steak sandwich. Chopped steak, swiss cheese, lettuce, shoestring potatoes, and house sauce fell from between the bread. There was nothing neat about the sandwich and that was fine, especially once each bite captivates you. Besides, you get a fork so that you can finish anything that falls back into the carton that the sandwich comes in. And the cafe con leche I ordered resulted in me returning a day later for another one. Like other Cuban restaurants I’ve gone to, the cafe con leche is addictive.

Cubano Steak

Cubano Steak

There are a few other sandwiches on the menu, a house soup, arroz con leche, flan, and beverages ranging from coffee to sodas. There isn’t an extensive menu and this may serve El Cubanito well because they’re excelling in a few sandwiches rather than being all over the place with a booklet of items to prepare. If there is one thing I have learned about these small cafes and walk-ups is that the lines are not long because those places are novelties. The lines are long because the food makes you forget whatever promises you’ve made to someone else and show up so that you can get fed.

El Cubanito Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Campbell’s Caribbean Cuisine, South Side Jamaica

Campbell's Caribbean Cuisine

When I first moved to Chicago, I was missing Jamaican food. I was accustomed to the countless Jamaican restaurants, cafes, and walk-ups in Brooklyn’s Flatbush, Carnasie, and Prospect Park neighbourhoods. My sister took me to a restaurant on the South Side named Maxine’s and oh was I in heaven. Well, Maxine’s has since moved to a location on Chicago’s West Side and Campbell’s Caribbean Cuisine has taken up residence in its place at 1225 E. 87th Street.

Beef Pattie

Beef Pattie

Fast forward to the near present. My sister and I were hanging out and after I had spent so much time wondering if Campbell’s was worth a trip, my sister grabbed her purse and keys and directed me to the car. Off we went. And on arrival, we noticed that the interior of the restaurant had changed. There was no spectacular decor about the place. The lounge look and feel was gone. But the smell of the food screamed, “Sit down and get ready for what’s going to happen.”

Jerk Chicken

Jerk Chicken

We had a real go of the menu and still decided not to order a ridiculous amount of food because we wanted to see if Campbell’s made the cut worthy enough for return visits. While catching up on happenings since we had last been together, we indulged beef patties and imbibed some ginger beer. The patties hit the spot, for true. And there is no such thing as a bad ginger beer, same being true here.

Brown Stew Chicken

Brown Stew Chicken

We ordered two traditional dishes. One was jerk chicken that was rather reminiscent of jerk chicken you get from the jerk mall in Port Antonio. The chicken fell off the bone with little effort, which was all the indication we needed to know that it was tender and moist. The same was the case with the brown stew chicken that hinted to me to get ingredients so I can make some in my slow cooker. Along with the chicken, we had rice and beans, cabbage, and plantains. Believe me when I say that a recalcitrant child who hates vegetables will love the cabbage here. And if you have the rice and beans and plantains served with it, the kid won’t miss meat.

Rice and Beans, Cabbage, Plantain

Rice and Beans, Cabbage, Plantain

After well over an hour of indulgence, my sister started telling me about some areas on the South Side that I had never gone to when I was living in South Shore and in Hyde Park. She took me to Brown Sugar Bakery at 328 E. 75th Street in a neighbourhood called Greater Grand Crossing. Everyone boasts about baking the best cakes and cupcakes ever. Brown Sugar Bakery has every right to boast the loudest. I had a caramel cupcake with caramel frosting clearly made homemade from brown sugar, butter, and milk. And to all bakeries still into red velvet cakes and cupcakes, just STOP NOW. The cake was not baked using cake mix, the same being true for the caramel cupcake. But it was the flavour and the texture that smacked of an original recipe being used to bake the red velvet cupcake. I have no problem going to the South Side for this kind of goodness. Brown Sugar Bakery has a regular customer and my sister has an appreciative little brother.

Brown Sugar Bakery

Red Velvet Cupcake, Caramel Cupcake

Because Chicago’s South Side does not have a large multicultural presence reflective of countries abroad, I had not captured many restaurants outside of Hyde Park for Chicago Alphabet Soup. There seems to be a number of Jamaican restaurants and a few other Caribbean restaurants scattered throughout the South Side. I think that this summer will mean me having a chance to try out several other various restaurants in the South Side vicinity. Maxine’s may have gone away and Campbell’s has moved in. And Brown Sugar Bakery may be the undoing of my flat tummy. Then again, all things in moderation. I’ll go every other week instead, not every week.

Campbell's Caribbean Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Momotaro, West Loop Japanese Style

MomotaroWith warmer temperatures in Chicago, dining invitations are coming in steadily. In a single day, I had an invitation to lunch for a sampling of Mediterranean food and an invitation to a dining event involving several Italian eateries later in the afternoon. To add to my plate, my restaurant advisor had booked me for dinner at Momotaro in Chicago’s West Loop at 820 W. Lake Street. Arriving for early dinner on a Wednesday evening, the restaurant generated a feeling of Friday after work. The dining area was filled and the energy was high. With the understanding that Momotaro prepares dishes for those who like small plates, we agreed to order several items that were good enough for getting a range of tastes.

One item we started with that we had not indulged at any Japanese restaurants was ikejime. Think of an orange gazpacho served with harami sashimi that comes atop ice. You put the sashami in the gazpacho and then enjoy. The pro was the dish was so blooming good. The con was the dish was so blooming good that we wanted it in a larger portion.

Ikejime

Ikejime

The unagi don was a highlight. This came in a small bowl as a mix of barbecued eel with shiitake and kanpyo mixed in rice. The unagi don was rather reminiscent of bibimbap prepared tableside at Korean restaurants. A plus to this menu item was that there was a liberal amount of barbecued eel for the feast.

Unagi Don

Unagi Don

Next for our palates was kani jomaki. This was a maki roll filled with cucumbers, crab, eel, and tomago. After a brief dip in the accompanying soy sauce, the rest was devoured without use of the sauce. If you order this dish, do not use soy sauce. This maki roll should be enjoyed without any palate disruptions from extra sauces.

Kani Jomaki

Kani Jomaki

Sticking with eel as a main ingredient, we had una kyu. Again, this was a maki roll that did not require soy sauce for dipping. Since there were some flavourful dabs on the plate, we used those instead. Outstanding and nothing but fresh taste of eel, this roll was more fantastic than most specialty rolls. Simple is often better, as was the case here.

Una Kyu

Una Kyu

Now that our rockets had been primed, the kani miso was the final countdown to liftoff and we were well on our way to the stars. I love seafood. However, my restaurant advisor feens for crab and the kani miso was a crab lover’s vice. There was creamy crab miso inside of a crab. Served with sourdough, there was no conversation while devouring this dish. There were the occasional acknowledgements of “This is delicious,” “Wow,” and “I don’t want this to end,” though.

Kani Miso

Kani Miso

And as all good things must come to an end, we had an ebi sashimi as a l’amuse between dinner and dessert. Rather than the ebi being served inside of a shell, butterflied, or simply outside of the shell, the chef had prepared the shrimp to a tartar texture.  This was a new way of having shrimp and one that satisfied the palate.

Ebi Sashimi

Ebi Sashimi

One dessert consisted of green peaches with a meringue crumble and a dollop of vanilla ice cream. This was another surprise, as one always think of peaches that bakers put into peach pies and peach cobblers. Green peaches are different, with the same burst in flavour, and rather sweet. For anyone saying, I will not eat green peaches, Sam I Am, you will after you have them at Momotaro.

Green Peaches and Cream

Green Peaches and Cream

The final dish was a citrus angel food cake with fruit and ice cream. If one could describe a flavour, think of a dreamsicle. The combination of orange from the cake and vanilla from the ice cream took me back to my youth of having a go of those frozen treats no sooner than my parents brought them into the house. After so much food, this dessert, as was the plate of peaches and cream, was light.

Angel Food Cake with Fruit and Cream

Angel Food Cake with Fruit and Cream

Momotaro always makes the list of top sushi restaurants to sample from in the city. The menu isn’t extensive, so the potential for being overwhelmed with too many options is small. I highly recommend getting a taste of as many small plates as possible and indulging the hot plate items. Yes, you can have sushi, nigiri, and sashimi from any Japanese restaurant. Momotaro seems to do an outstanding job letting diners enjoy a different variety of other Japanese delicacies while maintaining authenticity in the output. West Loop cheated with drawing a crowd with wide palates with the opening of Momotaro.

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

Little Unicoco, Big Taste in Authenticity

Little Unicoco

A few weeks ago during lunch, I was reminiscing with a good friend about my days when I lived in Rogers Park. The neighbourhood has since changed. Old businesses have closed. New businesses have opened. The changing demographics of the old neighbourhood are bringing a new vibe. And with all of these changes is a wave of restaurants with international flare. My friend had mentioned that a new Nigerian restaurant opened next to my favourite coffeehouse. So, this week I was off to Little Unicoco at 1631 W. Howard Street.

Plantain Chips

Plantain Chips

Arriving during the mid afternoon, I had a seat in what is called the market area of the restaurant. The larger lounge area was on the other side of the walled partition. After placing my order, I had fried, sweet plantain chips. Forget about potato chips and fancy chips touting less fat and healthy options. The all-natural sweetness and pop in the fried plantains were a winning combination. I was glad to find that the market portion of the restaurant has these lovelies bagged for take-away.

Goslings Ginger Beer

Goslings Ginger Beer

Much like the most recent Doctor Who, I’m not always a good man. Having inquired about whether there was ginger beer for imbibing, the server informed me that there was. She even poured the beverage with care, as if pouring beer. But this was the good kind of beer. Nothing like the fizzy pop that you buy off the shelves at your local grocer, this reminded me of homemade ginger beer, the variety that people take time to boil with real ginger that they leave in and you get to enjoy somewhat as candy when you’re done downing the ginger beer. Being bad, I sent a photo to my food advisor, knowing how much she loves “real” ginger beer. I imagined her shaking her fist at her cellphone before she sent a text back to me with three words: Don’t tease me!

Meat Pie and House Sauce

Meat Pie and House Sauce

One of my favourite Nigerian snack foods is a meat pie. Bread is a vice and the crust in Nigerian meat pies is well past addictive. Filled with a nice amount of minced, ground beef, this is a food addict’s dream along with a tomato based hot sauce. By the third bite, I had decided that I would order several for take-away so that I could have them for breakfast over the next few days. The caveat is I will devour them all in one day.

Suya

Suya

Next to the table was suya. This is another snack food that screams “have at it and know that I am the best barbecue ever.” Sliced beef with Yaji spices on onions and tomatoes, the ginger from the ginger beer combined with the spices on the suya transported me mentally back to Lagos with my university classmates who knew where to find all the good street food.

Egusi and Pounded Yam

Egusi and Pounded Yam

The final dish was one that I have loved with rice. But on this visit, I had to lose my Westernisms and devour this dish with pounded yam rather than with the assistance of table utensils. Egusi soup. This bowl of spicy, pounded egusi seeds filled with fish and beef is my favourite Nigerian dish, with non-vegetarian pepper soup and isi ewu coming in next. I have enjoyed the spicy kick of egusi soup with rice whenever I had a chance to have a bowl placed in front of me, however, there was something about eating it with the pounded yam that made it taste like I was eating something from home.

Chin Chin with Nutmeg

Chin Chin with Nutmeg

As a wrap-up, the server asked if I would like to sample a dessert. You have not had a tastier snack until you have had a fried pastry called chin chin. I sampled some that had been flavoured with nutmeg. I remembered being gifted some from a classmate’s mother who prepared some for a care pack when I was leaving Nigeria to return to New York for an intern when I was in university. It was as if I had gone back to Ibadan in 1989 to relive that flight again.

Chin Chin

Chin Chin

Little Unicoco packs a huge punch with authenticity. Granted I went earlier in the day well before the dinner crowd arrived, the service was still top. The atmosphere was welcoming and even the owner walked to every table and inquired as to whether this was everyone’s first time having Nigerian food and if there were any answers he could provide. Now I have another go-to Nigerian restaurant in Chicago. Big ups, Little Unicoco.

Little Unicoco Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato