Mata Ne New Asian

Mata Ne

Now that Chicago seems to be done with daily thunderstorms and downpours, outside dining is appealing. This past weekend I decided to stretch a little and venture out to the West Suburbs. I had cravings for sushi, so I searched for a restaurant accordingly. Mata Ne at 130 N. York Street in Elmhurst became my landing spot.

Crispy Cauliflower

I started with a bowl of crispy cauliflower. Cauliflower has become something of a super, all-purpose vegetable that doesn’t always taste the best. At Mata Ne, the crispy cauliflower tastes absolutely divine. Not overloaded with seasoning, you can taste the cauliflower along with a hint of the sesame miso glaze. Those looking for vegetarian and vegan options would enjoy this starter.

For my second landing, I ordered the smoked tataki trio. Hamachi, salmon, and tuna topped with ikura, chimichurri, smoked sweet soy, and crispy shallots came to the table served under a smoked dome. The sommelier paired this delectable sashimi trio with a cabernet sauvignon that made this landing heaven on the palate.

Dragon Fire

I ordered two signature rolls for the third landing. The Dragon Fire of shrimp tempura, crab, spicy tuna, tobiko, chili aioli, and tempura crispies quickly became what I would flag as a favorite. The Seafood Dynamite was a flavor explosion of lobster, crab, shrimp, tempura, serrano, avocado, and ponzu sauce served atop tempura soy paper. Both were quality rolls, for sure. Whenever I return, I will have to alternate between having one or the other while trying other rolls on the menu, even if I have to order one or both for takeaway.

Seafood Dynamite

My final landing was a plate of beignets stuffed with a hazelnut sauce. Not necessarily an Asian dessert, that being it mostly French, I’m glad I ordered it anyway. The beignets were finger-sized, so they were not overwhelming, especially given I had eaten so much food prior to dessert. They are ideal for sharing.

Hazelnut Beignets

Mata Net opened in mid 2021 and looks to have ironed out any kinks that they may have encountered since. Service was outstanding. The quality in the flavors were top. And the atmosphere was perfect for outside dining on the front sidewalk-turned-patio. I didn’t spend great time digesting the menu, but there appears to be a bit of a pan-Asian feel to it (e.g., Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese), with Japanese being most dominant. Given the first impression I got on the first visit, I shall definitely return to try some other menu offerings.

Cleo’s Southern Cuisine

Gotta give a shout out to the outstanding service. But the food is the winner, for sure. My friend who popped in while I was there also fell in love with the food. The price may be a bit off-putting for some, but it’s the same price you pay at a lot of big box restaurants. At Cleo’s the food just tastes better. Continue reading

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The Mukase — Ghanaian Style

Collage of Ghanaian Dishes

Getting my introduction to The Mukase during the pandemic and they not having resumed in-house dining, I can’t only speak to table service. What I will say is that food is clearly prepared to order. That means that nothing will get handed to you within 10-15 minutes of you stating what you want. I have yet to get an order in quick fashion and I have been satisfied each time. Food being cooked on the spot and tasting way past delicious are why I continue to return. Continue reading

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Haidilao Hot Pot, Soup for the Soul

Having had some time to sit still, I read through several posts from the past few years. Of course, as of the pandemic starting in early 2020, I had not been going to restaurants so that I could blog the experiences. Even when restaurants did open, I ordered food for delivery and takeaway. It didn’t feel the same as going in for proper sit-downs, so my reviews have been scarce. And after getting in travel to compensate for being inside for two years straight, I have slowly added in-house dining to my routine.

Haidilao Hot Pot in Chicago’s South Loop district at 107 E. Cermak Rd. was my first hot pot jaunt in Chicago. A friend chose it as a spot for the second part of our April month-long birthday celebration. I will start off by saying that it was a recommendation that I’m glad she made and one that I will say in advance to others that they should follow through on.

Mango Bubble TeaBrown Sugar Bubble Tea

My friend had been frequenting several tea shops in Chinatown and was curious as to the bubble teas. She ordered a mango bubble tea that was bursting with mango. I ordered the brown sugar bubble tea that was nothing short of truth serum. If I didn’t get the fascination with bubble tea, those two set me straight.

For a starter we ordered fried shrimp balls. They could have taken all other appetizers off the menu and left those shrimp balls. The stuffed plump popcorn shrimp in cheese and fried it. If delicious were a word, those balls would be the photo to use for display.

We opted for two soups. One with a tom yum base and one with a mushroom base. We ordered additional ingredients to go into the soups, though. With my friend and me leaning more towards seafood and vegetables, we had a variety of mushrooms, tofu, noodles, shrimp, and scallops to go into the soups. One thing to note is that you cook the soups at the table, which is a fantastic touch for true fellowship among others. Nevertheless, we also got complimentary, various condiments ranging from sauces (e.g., shrimp, ponzu, garlic, etc.) to herbs to nuts that we added to our individual bowls when we ladled in the soups. The tom yum and mushroom bases were already full of flavor, but adding some of the extra ingredients kicked the soups up that much more.

Tofu, Noodles, MushroomsMushrooms

I recommend that you go with a party of at least four or five because there is a lot of eating. This is also not the kind of restaurant where you rush through the feasting. It takes time to savor each sip, slurp, and ahhh. There are several traditional hot pot restaurants throughout Chinatown, but Haidilao Hot Pot seems to stand out. The crowd was rather large when we arrived, but later thinned out. Once word gets out about this hot pot spot, there will be long lines. Get in now.

Volcano Sushi, Flavor Explosion


Chicago recently went from temperatures in the 80’s to temperatures in the 50’s overnight. That coupled with high winds put a halt to walking outside. But Mother Nature was kind enough to give the city some warmth for a day. So I took advantage of it and stopped by a sushi restaurant in the neighborhood. I had a sit-down at Volcano Sushi Restaurant at 2521 N. California Avenue.

This used to be Inoko Sushi, which had replaced Hachi, and I think may have closed during the pandemic and since opened under new management. Nevertheless, Volcano Sushi is a spacious spot with plenty of seats inside and outside.

Salmon Maki

Having an appetite, I opted for the all-you-can-eat sushi. This is not buffet style, but mote like a prix fixe ala carte option. For my first landing, I ordered a spicy salmon roll, unagi roll, sweet potato tempura, and crunchy tempura roll. After a bite of each, I finished the rest without using any soy sauce. The sauce that had been drizzled over the rolls was enough and allowed for the flavor of the rolls to come through without competition on the palate.

Flight of Maki Rolls

For the second landing, I ordered a red snapper maki and ebi sushi. The red snapper maki was a California roll topped with red snapper and drizzled with eel sauce. Loved it. The ebi sushi was a butterfly shrimp over rice that I equally enjoyed. Finished with green tea, that was more than enough for the $23.95 price.

Red Snapper Maki, Ebi Sushi

Given the price for the all-you-can-eat, I was expecting to be disappointed with at least one choice. That was not the case. The flavor was not questionable and the ingredients were certainly fresh. In my usual fashion of arriving at restaurants before crowds, service was not scrambled, so I got to enjoy everything and the restaurant staff was proper attentive. Next time I walk or drive through the vicinity of Logan Square where Volcano Sushi is and I have a craving, I shall stop in for another flavor explosion.

Kona Grill, Gnashing Teeth Award

For such an outstanding lunch, I would have expected the price point to be something to interfere with the appetite. The price is not ridiculous and there are no compromises in flavor for not charging a ridiculous amount for dishes. My biggest disappointment is that for three years I have passed by Kona Grill and had never bothered to stop in for a dining experience. This first time was just by chance and it is a gamble that turned out to be a winner. They are worth an encore and deserving of a Gnashing Teeth Award. Continue reading

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Aye, Aye, Tacos Tequilas

Tacos Tequilas

For my first landing, I had ordered uchepos gratinados. These fresh corn masa tamales drizzle with roasted chilaca, cream, and cheese were a change from the usual tamales with shredded chicken. I must admit that I would gladly order these tamales without hesitation over tamales with chicken in them. The chilacas in the uchepos gratinados were mild. Those who are not fans of heat in their food would love these tamales. Continue reading

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Chef Sara’s Café, Pre-Pandemic Flavor Euphoria

Given the flow of people who came through after which there were greetings by first name, it became evident that Chef Sara’s Café has a steady stream of regular customers. Once you get to enjoy anything from the menu, engage everyone in conversation, or find yourself dancing to the music played in the background, you will no doubt find yourself being a regular patron. It is rare in today’s environment that you can go into any establishment as a stranger and leave as a part of the family. Chef Sara’s Café will be the first café or restaurant I go to for a proper sit-down after the pandemic eases. I always enjoy going back home. Continue reading

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Pandemic Foodtography

I am coming up on the end of the ninth week of being in shelter. Lucky for me, my day job in IT affords me the option of working from home. Actually, I don’t have a choice. And because Chicago is rather rigorous with adhering to the pandemic alert, barring knuckleheads that have been having parties with participation volume that no doubt makes there pre-pandemic parties look like failed attempts, I have cooked at home mostly, only ordering takeaway on a few occasions.

Normally, I would have photos that I had captured at some restaurant. However, below is a slideshow of the captures from my own kitchen. I must keep my photography fu current for when I do get back out to various eateries for blogging.

White Chocolate Macadamia Nuts Cookies
Pandemic Cooking and Baking

The running joke I have with friends and family is that I will have Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous sessions on the same night. My three meals a day are now six with intermittent snacks in between. When people were in a frenzy for toilet paper, I stocked up on wine. Granted I don’t drink wine daily, but I have several glasses on the weekends. It also doesn’t help that my neighbor one floor below me is a sommelier who always has some wine to spare.

It is my hopes that everyone is safe. I know many are anxious to return to work. All of us are ready to return to a life of normalcy. It will be quite some time before we get to a level of true comfort, though, but all in good time. In the meantime, be safe and eat well.

Latinicity, a Taste of Latin America

One thing I like about Latinicity is the variety, albeit found in only a few vendors. I must admit that I thought there were more restaurants before. Of course, that was over five years ago. I recall there being restaurants to the right of the entrance as well as the current restaurants to the left of the entrance. Nevertheless, next time I am downtown, I will make plans to stop I again to try some other offerings. Continue reading

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