See Gino, See Gino Eat, C Chicago

C Chicago

Earlier this year a great friend and I went to a popular seafood restaurant in Chicago’s River North neighbourhood. The name showed up in countless reviews as being one of the best in the city. My friend and I enjoyed the presentation and the atmosphere. The food was comme ci, comme ça. When my friend mentioned a seafood restaurant that opened recently in River North I thought of our experience at the “hyped up” restaurant. Well, C Chicago at 20 W. Kinzie Street did not fail us.

Lobsterscargot

Lobsterscargot

We started with a dish that you can share — lobstercargot. This was C Chicago’s take on escargot, but with lobster instead. It had been prepared lumache style. Brought to the table and polated atop crostinis, you could smell the garlic. There were six morsels that set the tone for the rest of the evening.

King Crab Bisque

King Crab Bisque

My friend and I are fans of bisques at seafood restaurants. Much like me, she loves it more when there is no bacon in the recipe. C Chicago again excels by not going below the Mason-Dixon Line with the king crab bisque. The servers bring a bowl to the table with charred corn, peppers, and croutons in the shape of cut calamari. And there at the table, they pour the bisque. The presentation pales in comparison to the delicious flavour.

King Crab Claw

King Crab Claw

My friend loves king crab. With it being in season, she ordered a claw. Much of the claw had been cracked while there was still a little work to be done at the table. From what I could see, there was quite a bit of meat inside. My friend’s expressions of food bliss were all I needed to know that this was a splendid culinary option.

Dover Sole

As to the main dishes, C Chicago tilts the scale well beyond a 10 out of 10. The dover sole is filleted at the table, leaving you with some extremely meaty fish that is then accented with a brown butter drizzle. The saucepan of brown butter is left in case you wish to add more. Honestly, the fish was delectable without the brown butter.

Salmon

The salmon, which is usually prepared rare, but medium well during our visit, was indescribably mouth-watering. Accompanied with salmon roe and a verjus vinaigrette, the only thing missing was a slice of bread to go around the plate afterwards. From the seafood options that we had, it was evident that C Chicago is vying to have its name on the list of top seafood restaurants in Chicago.

Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie

Chocolate Ganache Cake

Chocolate Ganache Cake

With there being no rush, we waited before having dessert. There was key lime pie, which came as a dome atop a graham cracker crust. There was no “surprise bite” at the back of the jaw and the pie was not sweet in the excessive sense. There was a proper balance that actually made it possible to taste lime, not lime flavouring. The decadent dessert for the evening was a chocolate ganache cake. This looked like the dainty chocolate cakes I’ve had at several bakeries, cakes with cornbread texture. The chocolate ganache cake at C Chicago was “moyse” — yes, I spelled that incorrectly. Served with strawberries, a raspberry sauce, and a white chocolate sauce, we enjoyed this thoroughly with coffee.

Those who have been in Chicago for many years may remember Keefer’s Steakhouse that was at the corner of Kinzie Street and Dearborn Street. Well, Keefer’s had closed in 2014 and C Chicago since replaced the restaurant. I cannot speak for the menu offerings that the predecessor had, but I can attest that the successor was a thoroughly satisfying experience. I have a witness, my great friend, who can also tell you how the food at that certain restaurant I mentioned earlier had made us start questioning seafood restaurants in the River North area that received way too much press on atmosphere and not necessarily on the food.

C Chicago Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lobster Roll Craze, Starting in Chicago

At times I go through craving spurts. As of late, seafood has been my constant addiction and I am the last person to say that I tire of it, especially with so many options to please the palate. However, my thoughts have been more focused on lobster rolls. I blame part of that on having read a prior post I had written about Devon Seafood Restaurant and remembering the lobster roll I had there. So, I wondered if there were any small restaurants that had lobster rolls on their menus. Yes, there are and I made entries on my calendars to check out three that were not far from where I live.

Note: If you sample from any of the restaurants I mention in this post or from any seafood restaurants in your area, and you get a lobster roll in your grasp, indeed show the restaurant some love. For those on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, hashtag lobsterrollcraze (#lobsterrollcraze) and give the restaurant’s name.

New England Seafood Company

My first seafood excursion was at New England Seafood Company at 3341 N. Lincoln Avenue. It was late afternoon and before the after-five crowd, and it was even more surprising to see a constant flow of individuals coming in and out. I ordered a bowl of lobster bisque and a bowl of clam chowder for starters. I had fasted for 20 hours for a doctor’s appointment and so I was very close to having a Suarez moment. (Anyone who has been following World Cup will get the reference.) The bisque was a lobster bisque addict’s bowl of heaven. It wasn’t smooth like the usual bisque because it was full of shredded lobster. The clam chowder had chased away my final Suarez craving and left me wanting more, but I had to save room for my main reason for coming to the restaurant.

New England Seafood Company Collage

The lobster roll was so wrong, so very, very wrong because nothing as good as the lobster roll I had should be released to customers. Stuffed to the point where lobster was falling out of the bread, I tell you no lie when I say that I dragged out working on that lobster roll and homemade chips to an epic 45 minutes. I didn’t want it to end. When I was done, I sat looking pensively until the server offered a chocolate chip cannoli and coffee, of which I accepted. After a good report from my doctor, I deserved it.

Da Lobsta

At 12 E. Cedar Street in Chicago’s Gold Coast is Da Lobsta. Several times I have gone to the location in the French Market, which is in the adjacent depot station to Ogilvie Centre. At the French Market location, I had been going so much that the staff working there knows me by face and that means I get rated-10 lobster rolls while everyone else gets rated-8. Okay, that’s not proper and I should be ashamed of myself. (Laugh track) For a blog write-up, I decided to go to the Gold Coast location and I was quite happy I did.

Da Lobsta Collage

The lobster bisque at Da Lobsta is smooth and creamy when initially set in front of you. Don’t be fooled, for after you stir it, you see chunks of lobster swimming around in it. If you are like me, you’ll smile before scooping it up and trying not to dribble it across the front of your shirt. It’s New England lobster bisque, for sure. And the clam chowder, albeit not thick in a creamy way, is definitely worthy ordering a cup. But their lobster roll is where you’ll develop a constant yearning. There is a combination of shredded lobster and chunks. You’ll understand why you get a fork with the sandwich and if you think you’re in a dream while indulging one of the lobster rolls, you will not want to wake up. If you get there when the staff is handing out samples of lobster mac and cheese, do not decline. Take the sample. You’ll probably order some for take-away.

Fish Bar

My third excursion was at Fish Bar. At 2956 N. Sheffield Avenue, this boutique seafood restaurant has the look of a bar, but it’s all about seafood and a good selection of wet bar offerings. The beauty of this restaurant is that the staff is upfront and personal — not as in being in your personal space, but as in being like great friends. They don’t just tell you their names as a courtesy, but they ask for your name and address you accordingly while you’re there. One would have to be anti on a personal level to not fall in love with that kind of service. But you’ll be blown away with the food regardless.

Fish Bar Collage

I had a cup of clam chowder that if I had some bread with it, I would have sopped the remaining chowder without pause or complaint. The gumbo had a roux base that I favour because there was no skimping on the okra. The person responsible for the recipe had to have gone to some restaurant shacks in the eastern parts of New Orleans because they got it correct. Where I had to pause and smile my usual stupid smile when food is good was with the lobster roll. There were chunks of lobster in the lobster roll, although they will cut the lobster up more if requested. But you really know you’re indulging a delicacy when the lobster bursts when your teeth pierce the chunks. And with them adding cumin to the homemade mayonnaise, I sat and pondered ordering another one for take-away. I waited for an hour and had a crabby patty — crab cake slider with a dusting of bread crumbs covering a serious clump of meaty crab — instead. However, I am still thinking about the lobster roll and how I felt some kind of way after it was all gone.

Some may inquire about a ranking and it would be unfair. Each restaurant prepares the lobster rolls differently, which gives each their individual charm. Now that I have put them out there, perhaps you can post back letting it be known how you’d rank them. I gave three boutique seafood restaurants. There are some big box restaurants that prepare some lobster rolls worthy of telling your Facebook and Twitter friends. I bet there are also some walk-ups and small seafood cafes doing the same. Get your lobster rolls craze on.

New England Seafood Company Fish Market on Urbanspoon Da Lobsta on Urbanspoon Fish Bar on Urbanspoon

Watashi no namaedesu Williams-san

Sen Sushi

Happiness is sitting outside enjoying a cool breeze blowing through your hair. For me, I have to settle for the breeze blowing across my head since I’m bald. Happiness is watching friends and couples going about their way, smiles on their faces, laughter in the air about them. Happiness is having a career that you love and a supervisor who isn’t a mad man making you hate your job. Happiness is having options for whatever dining delight your stomach may desire. Bliss is walking into a sushi bar and slowly dragging yourself out after you have been right proper stuffed. Rapture is having that cigarette afterwards, even though you really don’t smoke, but you have the imaginary smoke to celebrate great taste.

Sauce and Chopsticks

There is one Japanese sushi bar in Oak Park, Illinois, that I enjoy a lot. I have lost track of the number of times that I have been to Sushi House in the Lake Street and Marion Street block. So I figured I would seek out another sushi bar option, not necessarily in the pedestrian-crowded section of Oak Park. And what should I find as a suggested sushi bar nearby but Sen Sushi at 814 S. Oak Park Avenue. Walking distance from my favourite Brazilian cafe, Taste of Brazil, I am surprised that I had passed the sushi bar and never glanced at it long enough to register its presence. Then again, it does not have any glaring “grab you” indicators. Situated between a market and some other establishment, it tends to blend with what is on either side. However, food enthusiasts like myself have a tendency to find hidden gems. With décor of hard wood and everything having clean, straight lines, I grabbed a seat at the bar, pulled out my camera to get ready to photography my experience, and looked up to find that several people had sat at the bar with me rather than at the seats along the long wall. Subarashii — that would be “fantastic.”

Squash Bisque with Crab

Since it was during the day, I was okay with water for my beverage. Scanning the menu, I saw a soup that I wanted to try. There were also two maki rolls that I figured I would indulge. With the weather being moderately chilly, but not frosty yet, and the trees in vibrant autumn colours, I said to myself that the squash bisque with crab would be my soup of choice. Whose idea was it to put that soup on the menu? Not only was it tasty enough for me to want another bowl, but I was transported briefly to Hudson River stretch of New York around Poughkeepsie. Don’t ask me why but I could only think of trees with bursts of reds, yellows, oranges, and browns with their reflections in the clear Hudson River, and a cornucopia of squash, pumpkin, spices, and gingerbread men begging to be picked up. The soup was neither a victim of heavy-handed spices, nor was it an attempt at an autumn soup. Each spoonful reminded me of why autumn is perhaps my favourite season of the year. And to say that the addition of crab to the soup was only an added bonus would be an insult. A bit reminiscent of lobster bisque, the chunks of real crab in the squash bisque made everything absolutely beautiful in the Land of Food.

Spider Roll, Tiger Maki

I had two sushi rolls. One was a spider roll. This futomaki was battered deep-fried soft shell crab with chipped cucumber, avocado, daikon sprouts, and spicy mayonnaise, rolled inside nori and sushi rice. First, I had the crab in the squash bisque, and then I had it soft shell style in the sushi roll. Kon’nichiwa — that would be “hello.” One thing I always try to note or detect — with my mock sushi snobbery — is the freshness of the sushi. Is there a muddy hint? Is there a fishy tone? Does all of the seafood taste like cod? Is the texture rubbery? I am happy to report that the spider roll brought about a smile that I didn’t bother to hide. The other roll was a tiger maki. I must admit that the recipe of shrimp tempura, kampyo, spicy mayonnaise, salmon, kabayaki sauce, red tobiko, and black tobiko resulted in a creation that was worthy. Such love on a serving block deserves an encore and trust me when I say that I shall return to show my appreciation just the same. Both rolls were a bit more substantial than I thought they were when the server first placed them before me. Ah, but I had forgotten about the soup that I had slurped in the true Japanese fashion — loudly and without shame, for to be prim about such a tasty delight would have been offensive.

Spider Roll, Tiger Maki

The prices are what you would expect to pay at any really great sushi bar. Perhaps on a Friday or a Saturday night I shall have to see if their drink menu warrants a rave review. I can say with authority that the soup and the sushi were big on my list of things that bring about happiness. Even with the sushi bar filling up shortly after I had arrived — and got ready to start photographing my food — the seating and the ambient lighting on the inside, along with a respectful tone from the dining patrons, makes Sen Sushi a fantastic place for relaxation while eating, as well as great dating venue. Being a narcissist, I can attest to the latter, although I appreciate the former. The service from the wait staff may be a bit off-putting, but once you engage them in conversation, you find that the airs are just a façade because the floor staff is actually quite conversational, especially after you ask for recommendations. I was happy not to be rushed, although there were others coming in to have a seat for some in-house dining. They understand that they have small real estate, but they also apparently appreciate patrons’ business. So after an arigatō here and a sayōnara there, I was on my way down the street, missing my steps on the curb and speaking Japanese to several of the Oak Park ilk who probably thought I was making fun of any Asian language. They probably didn’t understand that happiness is enjoying an ethnic meal so much that you become a part of the ethnicity.

SEN Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon