Chinese Friendship Restaurant

Friendship Chinese Restaurant

After a recent follow from a Chinese restaurant that is walking distance from my home, I decided to play nice and give it a fair try. I had feasted on Chinese food in mainland China, which resulted in me swearing off anything outside of China and Chinatowns. But let me just say that having discovered that Friendship Chinese Restaurant at 2830 N. Milwaukee Avenue has been in the Avondale area for several years, I am kicking rocks for just now find out about this bliss suite. I had missed out on some really, really, outstandingly delicious food because of my palate bias towards tasteless and nasty Americanized Chinese food. But no more.

Appetizer Sampler

Appetizer Sampler

During my first visit, I was in curiosity seeker mode only. One thing I noted was the menu was one page, one-sided, with a nice listing of options. It was the fact that the menu was not a booklet, as found at countless Chinese restaurants. Playing safe, I ordered the appetizer sampler for a variety of small starters. What arrived at the table were a large platter of a selection of appetizers, two apiece. The Friendship egg rolls had seasoned, roasted chicken in them. The creamy crab rangoons burst with each bite. There were pot stickers, fish tofu kababs, and Peking duck rolls. And to make the appetizer sampler even more of a winner, the China wings in a faintly sweet and spicy sauce were well worth licking fingers afterwards. These wings must be a signature menu item.

China Wings

China Wings

Because the appetizer sampler was filling and I was dining solo, I opted for only one other dish. The clay pot offerings looked interesting, so I ordered the Szechwan seafood mix. Arriving at the table in a small clay pot along with a side of rice, this was a deal maker for me. Filled with shrimp, squid, and abalone, also with a medley of mushrooms, broccoli, and snap beans, I wondered why this restaurant had not been touted as one of Chicago’s best Chinese restaurants. Perfect seasoning, right amount of spiciness, and no MSG, it was easy for each bite to pop on the palate with the same satisfaction I remembered experiencing per my visits to Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.

Szechwan Seafood Mix

Szechwan Seafood Mix

Not having ordered a lot on the first visit, I made a calendar entry for a return so that I could sample a few more items. There was the same welcoming service that I received on the first jaunt, so I was certain of the consistency with their staff. And since I had planned to try two main dishes, I started with the crispy Peking duck. I didn’t really pay close attention to this appetizer when I had it as a part of the sampler. Indulging it by itself really had me in love well before I had swallowed my first bite on the second visit. Tender duck that was not oily in a sauce that tasted like a marriage between soy sauce and barbecue sauce made for a plus as a starter.

Crispy Peking Duck

Crispy Peking Duck

The first entrée I had afterwards was a plate of spicy peanut chicken. Just to give a little context, I hate peanuts. I have never been a fan of the texture, but I love peanut sauce and ordered the dish thinking I would get chicken in the sauce only. Well, I did get the chicken in the sauce, but also got peanuts in the dish. What popped into my head while I was going around the plate with the rice sopping up the last bit of the gravy was that I had devoured the peanuts without complaint. Maybe it was the enjoyment of the dish full of succulent chicken with fresh vegetable and a savoury sauce that made me forget about the peanuts. I intend to do it all over again.

Spicy Peanut Chicken

Spicy Peanut Chicken

The second entrée was not on the menu. It was a new item that had not been added to the menu yet, a clay pot of short ribs with vegetables, a cauldron of absolute happiness. The short ribs were tender and seasoned like the kind of meat cooked for hours in a slow cooker. And the garden fresh taste of the broccoli, snap beans, mushrooms, and water chestnuts added that much more flavour to an already top dish. This will no doubt become a favourite to those who order it in the future.

Clay Pot Short Ribs

Clay Pot Short Ribs

Friendship Chinese Restaurant is in a section of Milwaukee Avenue just north of the burst of growth that Logan Square is experiencing. There is a fair amount of foot traffic in the area so as revitalization moves along Milwaukee Avenue, there very well may be mention of Friendship Chinese Restaurant as a recommended spot. I must say that being someone who has had an aversion to bad Americanized Chinese food, I got a renewal of faith that there are some fantastic Chinese restaurants off mainland China. If I don’t find any others, I can vouch for Friendship’s authenticity being the draw that keeps me returning. Oh, I typed this review after blocking a few hours on an upcoming Saturday for a threepeat.

Friendship Chinese Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ming Hin Cuisine, Lakeshore East Style

MingHin Cuisine

Rum Runner

Rum Runner

Those who know me are aware that I do not like Chinese food from restaurants. It is disgusting compared to authentic Chinese food prepared by Chinese in their homes. There have been a few moments when I have gone to Chinese restaurants with friends who are immigrants from China. They have been the ones placing orders and the food came with the rich flavours that I recalled from years ago during a visit to China. And I am also reminded of my first roommate’s parents showing us how Chinese food should taste. All it took was having “real” Chinese food for me to become a snob for what’s good in that space.

After a few hours of being in tourist mode downtown, a friend and I passed by Ming Hin Cuisine at 333 E. Benton Place. A quick glance inside and it had become evident that this was not a tourist trap. And hearing all the Chinese spoken inside, my friend and I took a chance. Having devoured a heavy breakfast only a few hours earlier, we were mostly wanting something light, yet mildly filling.

Whole Salt and Pepper Shrimp

Salt and Pepper Shrimp

We started with cocktails and turnip cake. For me, I had a rum runner, which was doctored nicely, hiding much of the rum. My friend had a tropical cocktail that the bartender told her not to drink as if quenching a thirst. The turnip cake was not dessert cake. This dim sum item was prepared with turnip, shredded radish, and bits of  pork. We dipped pieces of the turnip alternately in a thick sauce with a soy sauce base and red chili sauce.

Shrimp in Lobster Sauce

Shrimp in Lobster Sauce

For the main dishes, we ordered salt and pepper shrimp and shrimp in lobster sauce. Fans of shrimp will enjoy the kick from the balanced seasoning of plain salt and pepper and the extra bite of jalapeño peppers along with red and green bell peppers. These shellfish came whole. The shrimp in lobster sauce was also highlight, yet another dish that shrimp fans will find tasty. The sauce is heartier than what I’ve had at Chinese restaurants in the past. It was actually better.

Jasmine Green Tea

Green Tea

There were no off-putting flavours, just great taste. The restaurant has a big box feel. We sat in the bar area, so we got to enjoy the dining experience without unruly children running around. This is the Lake Shore East location. There is a Chinatown location that I believe is crowded constantly, per photos that I have seen on Instagram. The dim sum menu looks extensive, so I am going to chat with one of my friends from Beijing to see if he’s open for trying the location in Chinatown. I think part of why Chinese food does not appeal to me is that you must go with someone who is familiar with the recipes such that they can make recommendations for something other than general chicken, orange chicken, beef with broccoli, and other buffet staples. I am confident that Ming Hin in Chinatown will exceed my expectations, but I will only take that chance with my Chinese friends doing the ordering.

MingHin Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Kim Long Chinese Restaurant, Longing for More

Kim Long Chinese Restaurant

I have a ritual of going to Somethin’ Sweet Donuts every weekend for a doughnut fix. On my recent visit, I asked the cashier about Kim Long Restaurant, which is the restaurant next door at 5114 W. Fullerton Avenue. I was wondering if she had gone there. She gave me a modest, “It’s okay” response. I have not been a fan of restaurant Chinese food since I had some truly authentic Chinese food in 1991, so I am always leery of getting China Buffet quality food when I go to any Chinese eateries. Well, let’s just say that it was considerably better than okay. I mentally went back to 1991.

Hong Kong Milk Tea

Hong Kong Milk Tea

Hong Kong milk tea. Hot and sour soup. Salt and pepper shrimp. Shrimp in lobster sauce. I figured that I would at least sample something familiar and two dishes that I had not had before. The goal was the avoid general chicken, kung pao, egg foo young, orange chicken, and the usual Americanized fare.

Hot and Sour Soup

Hot and Sour Soup

First, I am hooked on the Hong Kong milk tea. It reminds me of a cross between bubble tea without the tapioca pearls and Thai iced tea without the smokiness. For the muggy temperatures we had been having in Chicago, it was ideal for cooling off from the humidity. The hot and sour soup had a lot more flavour to it than what I’ve had at Americanized Chinese restaurants. The bowl of soup seemed full of ingredients, not just a few items swimming in a pool of broth. And it was hearty, quite impossible to be flavourless.

Salt and Pepper Shrimp

Salt and Pepper Shrimp

The salt and pepper shrimp was a winner. I wasn’t expecting the head to be attached to the shrimp. I am accustomed to having to pull the shell from the tail, but having it on the head was a surprise. Once I got the shell off, it was all good. And there was a fair amount of meat in the head, packing a succulent wallop. I’m addicted to the shrimp in lobster sauce. This entrée came with snow peas, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms. The shrimp was not of the miniature variety, quite plump and fresh on the palate. Served with rice and spicy as requested, I can say without hesitation that my craving had been satisfied thoroughly.

Shrimp in Lobster Sauce

Shrimp in Lobster Sauce

When I was leaving, I saw an older woman who used to be at Somethin’ Sweet Donuts when I first started going there. She yelled at me jokingly to not leave the restaurant without speaking, just before commenting about me having trimmed my beard since the last time she had seen me. I had a long conversation before leaving. She mentioned that Somethin’ Sweet Donuts and Kim Long Restaurant are family owned. I guess my ritual now will be to go to Kim Long Chinese Restaurant for dinner and then to Somethin’ Sweet Donuts for my usual doughnut dessert fix.

Click to add a blog post for Kim Long Restaurant on Zomato

Buzzing About Wicker Park, Bee & Tea

Bee & Tea

When Chicago has beautiful autumn days, the city comes alive in a Wonderland fashion. There is enough nip in the air that only a light jacket is required. The skies are usually the most vibrant blue, thanks to no humidity or clouds. The leaves on the trees look aflame against the backdrop of the sun. The streets are filled with people taking it all in because usually in about a week or so, the temperatures drop, the skies become a constant grey, and it rains enough to give Seattle competition for wet forecasts. As for me, I no doubt take advantage of the outdoors for going to any number of restaurants for food happiness. Then again, I do that all year long.

Bobo Tea: Jasmine Tea with Pineapples

Bobo Tea: Jasmine Tea with Pineapples

I received an email note with a recommendation for a shop in Chicago’s Wicker Park that sells bobo tea and bao sandwiches. Although the leg work I get during my CrossFit training leaves me with stiff legs and a want for soaking endlessly in a tub filled with Epsom salts, I can bend my legs long enough to put them under a table at some restaurant or cafe. So, I noted the recommendation and went to Bee & Tea at 1843 W. North Avenue. Located on a busy stretch of North Avenue, just off the North-Milwaukee-Damen intersection, Bee & Tea is a nice sized restaurant with enough seating for those who wish to dine in. I was thinking that Bee & Tea would be something like Wow Bao, but with specialty teas on the menus. After first glance at the menu, I was surprised pleasantly.

Having gobbled a large breakfast after my morning workout session, I had enough room for a light to moderate sized breakfast. I ordered a jasmine bobo tea with pineapple. There were other flavours that I could have chosen, but I swear the jasmine bobo tea with pineapple had an extra ingredient that fueled my thirst. With no sugar added because I wanted only the natural flavouring of the jasmine tea, milk, and pineapple, this was the most refreshing beverage I have had in a long time.

Chinese Bao with Indian Butter Chicken and Edamame Soup

Chinese Bao with Indian Butter Chicken and Edamame Soup

For lunch, I ordered a cup of edamame soup and a bao sandwich stuffed with Indian butter chicken. Three words to describe those two items: completely blown away. The edamame soup was creamed edamame with corn and peppers. I recalled having edamame soup at a Japanese restaurant that had a wow factor to it. The edamame soup at Bee & Tea went up a few notches with an addictive factor. The bao with butter chicken was a new experience. Baos are usually served as stuffed steamed buns. However, the bao at Bee & Tea is sliced open with the consistency of a bao, but served half open faced like Venezuelan arepa sandwiches. But it was the Pan-Asian blend of the Chinese bao and the Indian butter chicken that left me walking out of the restaurant declaring this my favourite sandwich ever.

Bee & Tea is relatively new on the Wicker Park landscape. What I think will shine the most are the teas. Those who like natural flavouring to their drinks without additives and extra sugar will become a fan of the bobo teas and their smoothies. The baos will be a sure winner and seeing that they also have rice bowls, mixed greens, and quinoa bowls, Bee & Tea serves healthy options that many in Chicago will love. If you find yourself buzzing about near any of their locations, it is worth quenching your thirst with one of their teas or smoothies and indulging any of their food items.

For a selection of locations, click link to Bee & Tea’s main website to see if one is near you — Bee & Tea locations.

Bee & Tea on Urbanspoon

Friendship to Be, Lao You Ju

Lao You Ju

A few years ago, I left a company that was couched in political maneuvering and led by a chief executive officer who let it be known that the employees’ “measly” 2% pay increases were a small sacrifice — so that the Board of Directors could get their 25% pay increases. It was on to another company that was couched even deeper in political madness with a revolving door of contractors and permanent employees who came and went, and a management staff that consisted of supervisors and managers in title only. About two years ago, there began flight from the latter company and recently the company had a reduction in workforce. Several of us who had become good friends while working together had fled and we all remained in touch. We decided that it was time for a gathering. You can never have a proper reunion without food. And with one of us knowing the owner of one of Chicago’s most popular Chinese restaurants, a date was set and there were a Chinese, an African-American, an Indian, a West Indian, and a Filipino walking into Lao You Ju at 2002 S. Wentworth Avenue in Chicago’s Chinatown. Sounds like the introduction to a joke, right? No, it was just five former colleagues gathering for laughter and some authentic Chinese food.

Satay Chicken

Satay Chicken

Preserved Egg Pork Congee

Preserved Egg Pork Congee

Lao You Ju boasts a swell menu of dim sum, Hong Kong style. There are indeed some exotic menu items that the modest palate may find visually intriguing, but not necessarily tasteful. For the five of us who had gathered, our palates are varied, so we played it safely while indulging one or two items that are more commonplace in the Chinese culinary space. Because we had opted mostly for dim sum, we started with satay chicken and preserved egg pork congee. Satay chicken is nothing more than well-seasoned chicken skewered onto wooden sticks. Many of you will have had satay chicken with peanut sauce at Thai restaurants. There was no sauce with the dish at Lao You Ju, as it was rather flavourful sans it. The congee came in a communal size bowl, rice porridge for an insatiable appetite. We filled our cups and went to work.

Cheese Rolls with Shrimp

Cheese Rolls with Shrimp

Shumai

Shumai

While talking about another former colleague who used to take random vacations “off the books” and then return 3 to 4 weeks later as though it was “only a thing,” there arrived cheese rolls with shrimp and shumai. The cheese rolls were like crispy egg rolls that encased cream cheese and plump shrimp. At a lot of Americanized Chinese restaurants, some syrupy dipping sauce would have accompanied the rolls. For those of us at the table, we were quite glad to not have some side order usurping the flavour of the rolls with a punch of unnecessary sweetness. Along with the cheese rolls with shrimp came some shumai. Having forgotten that pork was a heavy staple in the Chinese diet, we tackled them anyway. Rather than requesting that the recipe be modified and erasing authenticity, we gobbled the shumai without complaint — and then realized after we had completed them that we didn’t dunk them in any sauce before devouring them.

Jin-Sha Shrimp

Jin-Sha Shrimp

Crispy Papaya Pastry

Crispy Papaya Pastry

We laughed about how the business analysts, Business Intelligence analysts, and quality assurance team could never seem to work as good as they could have together thanks to interference from management and the fact that information technology is becoming more about service than it is about solutions. Right about this time was when we got to indulge ourselves in some jin-sha shrimp. General chicken what? Kung pao chicken what? Beef with broccoli what? I am in love with this whole concept of fried corn with peppers and breaded shrimp. Put some orange chicken in front of me and I will be inclined to throw it against the wall. To make matters ever more tastefully exciting, there were crispy papaya pastry served. They looked way too twee to have experienced the grinding of our teeth on them. The natural sweetness of the papaya made them that more pleasing to the palates because we got to taste the fruit in all of its bloom.

Beef Tripe

Beef Tripe

Lamb Hot Sizzling Plate

Lamb Hot Sizzling Plate

Two weeks after I had left the company, I got a text message from one of my friends who was at dim sum lunch with us. He had left to go abroad to get married and to have his honeymoon with his wife. When the text message had come across and he discovered the address of where I was working, it turned out that he had accepted a position with a company across the street. Not only is the world flat, but it is indeed very small. We all laughed about that story and chuckled when the small dish of beef tripe was placed in front of us. Tripe, to me, is one of those menu items that shows that cooks will spare no parts. The texture is akin to that of a rubber band, which may not be endearing to many diners. The recipe for the beef trip at Lao You Ju was surprisingly worthy, although I will never get accustomed to having to chew, chew, chew, and chew some more before swallowing it. As to the lamb hot sizzling plate, this spicy dish was a winner. Served with white rice, we worked our chopsticks in true fashion. Move over, Greeks, because you’re not longer the standard bearers of cooking outstanding lamb dishes.

Singapore Fried Rice Noodles with Chicken

Singapore Fried Rice Noodles

Three Cup Chicken

Three Cup Chicken

The Singapore fried rice noodles with chicken was another one of those dishes that will make you want to take up a picket sign and advocate for the closure of all the China Buffet restaurants in the world. And from there, you will probably march in front of every Chop Suey hole in the wall that is open for business. Let’s just say that we didn’t leave any noodles or gravy on the plate — and we all used chopsticks. I have had Singapore fried rice noodles prepared correctly, so I shall not risk having to inquire, “What on earth is this?” at any other Chinese restaurants. And the three cup chicken, Taiwanese style, was a food lover’s dream. Tender, moist, falling off the bone chicken, swimming in a rich gravy and bursting with each bite, was enough to illicit a smoke immediately afterwards.

Fried, Dried Shrimp Crepes

Fried, Dried Shrimp Crepes

Spare Ribs

Spare Ribs

During the reduction in workforce at the company where we all had left, it seemed that one of the main managers who was a model control freak discovered why the axe loves those in management ranks. We had a moment of silence for him, but only because the server was putting a plate of fried, dried shrimp crepes, and a bowl of spare ribs in front of us. The crepes were a pleasant surprise, although having been served in a sauce, they were not of the texture that you get at French creperies. They were, however, like dumplings, but packed with a smile in each bite. It took a while to realize what the spare ribs were. For me, I have always seen them coming off of a grill with a red colouring or drowned in barbecue sauce. Nevertheless, these spare ribs were tastier than any that I have had before — ever.

Green Chive Dumplings

Green Chive Dumplings

Crispy Durian Pastry

Crispy Durian Pastry

We wrapped up with green chive dumplings that were packed with mustard greens. By now I was surprised that I was able to put any more in my mouth to swallow, let along raise my chopsticks to reach for another bit. But these dumplings were way too inviting to let sit. And believe me when I say that they sat for a short time before going down the hatch. For dessert, we had crispy durian pastry. Who would have thought that biscuits with papaya baked in them could leave five individuals speechless after four hours of non-stop eating and laughter? I am considering calling in for a batch of those biscuits to have for a pre-bed snack at night.

Lao You Ju packs out during lunch and I understand why. It is not typical Chinese for Americans. It’s authentic. When you enter the restaurant, you will see a sea of Chinese faces and hear the language accordingly, which is the best indication of authenticity of a restaurant. Aside from travels to Hong Kong and Beijing in mainland China, Vancouver, Toronto, and San Francisco, I haven’t had authentic Chinese food in America except for when my first roommate after college had his parents come to visit and in 2005 when a former colleague had invited one of his Chinese co-workers to meet us at Dragon Court in Chicago’s Chinatown. Now I get to say that I have recently had some more Chinese food prepared correctly thanks for Lao You Ju all because of former colleagues gathering for a small reunion and friendship.

Lao You Ju on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Information


* Restaurant Name
Lao You Ju
* Overall
★★★☆☆
* Neighborhood / Cuisine
Near South Side
* Street Address
2002 South Wentworth Avenue, Chicago, IL 60616
* Phone
(312) 225-7818

Oh, You’re So Coy

Koi Japanese Sushi Bar

Recently, a few visits to some high quality restaurants in Berwyn, Illinois, proved that the neighbouring suburbs are becoming a food force with which to reckon. It was always a given that Oak Park had a lot of talent, one of the main reasons why I spend so much time there with my feet under some table. But I had forgotten about Chicago’s suburban neighbour to the north: Evanston. And during a visit with a schoolmate from high school and college, we sauntered over to a Pan-Asian restaurant Koi at 624 Davis Street, in downtown Evanston.

Chopsticks and Warm Sake

As we got to the door, it had occurred to me that I think I had seen Koi listed as a sister restaurant to Sushi House in Oak Park, Illinois. Well, I think I have. After the fifteenth visit, I had stopped counting how many time I had gone to Sushi House, so I was certain that I would have an experience at Koi that would be memorable enough to have me come back. There was the formula lounge feel with dim lights, straight edges to the décor, painfully attractive hostesses, and faint Brazilian jazz playing in the background.

Edamame

Lucky for us, we had arrived before the theatre crowd. Forgetting that downtown Evanston is not like Mayberry, there is life after the sun goes down. There were several patrons who had come in a half hour after we had arrived and they were in a rush to have their meals before dashing off to see some show or cinema event. We had placed our orders and were snacking on the complementary edamame while imbibing wine and warm sake. Chilly outside, we were certain to be warm and toasty on the inside.

Volcano Maki

Now, with this restaurant catering to the palate that loves sushi and maki rolls, we had a balance of exciting, pedestrian, and commonplace. For the exciting maki roll, we had a volcano. The presentation alone was a work of art. What would have come out as a maki roll with imitation crab was one where we instead requested real crab. Sure there was a $2.00 additional charge, but there was no valid reason for us to deprive ourselves of the real thing. The spicy mayonnaise added a proper kick such that there was no need to put wasabi in the soy sauce. The misleading thing about the maki was that the leading meat in the recipe per the menu was crab. Instead, tuna was the stand-out meat. That was fine, but people who are sushi fanatics can flag such advertisement as false. However, we worked our chopsticks on the maki.

California Roll

For the pedestrian, we had a California roll. Another university schoolmate had joined us and was adventurous yet with more reserve than my grade school friend and I were. And unlike most California rolls, again we requested real crab meat. We had no desire to gnash on meat extracted from imitation crabs. Where do you find them? Are they some McDonald’s product, like McNuggets and McRib? Is there such a thing? If there is, we could not speak to its flavour on this particular evening. The basic ingredients of crab, avocado, and cucumber were no different than what you have in any California roll. The thing is the flavour in real crab stands out more than the smack of the fabricated crab. My grade school friend had a Riesling that she said was a perfect match for the maki rolls. Our mutual friend and I had warm sake that took our minds completely off the fact that it was frosty and raining outside in London fashion.

The commonplace maki roll was shrimp tempura maki. Tempura shrimp, lettuce, avocado, cucumber, and three individuals applying chopsticks a notch or two less than relentless would be the best way to describe things. Again, we had another maki roll that looked more aesthetically pleasing than one would think as far as flavour goes. We had our moments of brief silence while directing our attentions on the previous two maki rolls, but the tempura shrimp maki resulted in impregnated silences. To the average person, it would have been uncomfortable. To the three of us, it was our way of acknowledging the goodness of what sat before us without us being verbal about it.

Shrimp Tempura Maki

Then we entertained the Pan-Asian aspect of the restaurant. This was when I accepted the fact that Koi is not on a par with Sushi House, as the latter remains true to Japanese authenticity in its cuisine only. There was a plate of shrimp fried rice ordered. Filled with fresh, plump shrimp and bursting with flavour without any overcompensation, anyone could have seen that there were three very happy people at the table. I also have to admit when you can taste the egg in a dish, the real thing was used versus the out-of-the-carton what-not. This may be one of the very notable things that Koi should work without pause.

Shrimp Fried Rice

Where it really became evident that we were delighting ourselves a bit too much was when my schoolmate and I started speaking in Japanese while having shrimp lo mein. Neither one of us look anything relatively close to Asian, although my infectious smile results in a slant to my already-exotic eyes. Instead of lo mein sauce on the noodles, we had a Schezuan sauce. Again, plump shrimp sat under tasty noodles in sauce before we bit, chewed, and smiled.

Lo Mein Noodles with Shrimp

Koi is a fantastic Pan-Asian restaurant. But it is advisable to go before the crowd starts because the tide of hungry patrons seemed to introduce a bit of scrambling to the wait staff. Some people could misinterpret the vacant attention to uncaring customer service when it is simply a case of being overwhelmed with a sudden influx of people coming in with various requests for this, that, and the other. Expect to pay a pretty penny. And while the service could become taxed due to a quick rush of customers, they are still gracious. The next time I go I shall not be so coy with my appetite. I shall request my very own little degustation so that I can try more from the menu. Yes, that coming after I have already listed the serious dishes we had during this visit.

Koi Sushi & Chinese on Urbanspoon

What You Won’t Do for Food

Yilin Japanese & Chinese Cuisine

A Saturday afternoon and my belly was having its usual constitution, grumbling and complaining about not having been fed after a mere two hours had passed. I was in Oak Park, Illinois, at a spice shop looking for some flavoured cooking and baking oils. Having combed through several restaurants in the Oak Park neighbourhood, I had found myself traipsing down Madison Avenue in Forest Park. Plenty of pubs in the area to leave the Irish with options for quenching their thirsts. At the far west end of the Madison Avenue stretch of eateries at 7600 W. Madison Street, there is Yilin Japanese and Chinese restaurant.

Oh how I love Pan-Asian.

Edamame

The inside of the restaurant is reminiscent of a ski cottage with the wood and dark facing to everything. All you need is a fireplace, a mug of hot cocoa, and someone sitting by the fire with his or her leg in a cast. (Pause) Okay, that may be a bit too exaggerated. The customer service is top, and you can tell when smiles and statements of welcome are painful to hosts and hostesses, not the case here. There was a hint that English was indeed a second language and recently learned. While my Japanese is a bit more conversational than I may let on, I knew the slant to the eyes was Chinese, not Japanese. But the most common acknowledgement of a smile was more than enough to let me know that my business was important and that I was going to receive the best. I was off to a good start.

Hot and Sour Soup, Edamame

First to the table was complimentary edamame. As much as people enjoy a cup of those beans, it may have been shelling peas with my grandmother as a child that makes me grimace whenever a cup of edamame is placed before me. Thankful that these were not powdered with salt, I partook of the edamame to completion. Then there was a warm cup of hot and sour soup. Loved it. It has been years since I had hot and sour soup, having sworn off any restaurant Chinese food after having had some of the best authentic Chinese food prepared at the hands of my first post-college roommate’s parents.

Spicy Shrimp and Vegetables

Where it all got to be pedestrian was with the sweet and spicy shrimp. This was certainly a dish that I would have enjoyed more had I never been served “real” Chinese food. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Cheung, for preparing so much delicious Chinese food with real flavour that blew my mind, because the food that I have at any Chinese restaurant has as much zest as a boiled egg without salt. I devoured the plump sweet and spicy shrimp with a bowl of rice. I will not let food go to waste. And the complimentary slice of watermelon at the end of the meal was too cute for its own good. Usually there is a sweet for the palate. Who would have thought of a natural sweet instead?

Watermelon

The customer service is really fantastic, an indication being the manager asking me if everything was okay. I don’t recall the same attention given to other patrons. Then again, I was enraptured with the meal before me. It may have been because I had my high-end camera out photographing the meal. High-end camera at any restaurant no doubt could mean the photographer is a visual agent for a magazine or editorial. I appreciate the customer service because that is one magnet that draws a person back to an establishment. However, food is the other draw and I fear that I may have been belly-washed from having had Chinese food prepared the way that it is served in China, not for the soft American palate. Perhaps next time I shall have to gather some of my Chinese friends and have them join me. Yes, I shall do that, and then see how different the flavours are in the dishes. What you won’t do for love, you do for food. Sorry, Bobby Caldwell.

Yilin Japanese & Chinese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Curry With Chopsticks

Bombay Chopsticks

One of the things about being a part of the global community is that friends from other countries are constantly giving me suggestions for restaurants. At dinner a few weeks ago, I had discussion with a friend about a high-end restaurant in Chicago proper that does an outstanding job blending Indian and Latin flavours. She had then told me about a restaurant that had recently opened in Hoffman Estate, Illinois, named Bombay Chopsticks at 721 W. Golf Road. The name had given me an idea of what one could expect if going to the restaurant for some food happiness. I immediately associated Bombay with India and chopsticks with Japan. No sooner had she mentioned the restaurant than I entered a date into my calendar so that I could see what Bombay Chopsticks has on its menu.

Spices

It was out to the Northwest Suburbs on a beautiful yet brisk Saturday morning so that I could be certain of beating the crowd. Upon entering Bombay Chopsticks, I felt as though I was at a lounge. There is a full bar at the entrance. When you go past the bar and around the corner, there is a large area for seating and the decor is definitely inviting. There are comfy booths, which are perfect for dates. There are enough table seats for parties of four or more. The lighting inside was ideal in that going as a single person does not make you feel as though you are in an intimate setting; there was no mood lighting giving that effect. Led to a table by an accommodating hostess who was okay with me having my pick of seats because I was going to photograph my food — par for the course — I had a feeling that everything was going to be just fine this afternoon.

As usual in Pan-Asian cuisine, this time there being Indian and East Asian, the menu is extensive. The pescatarian in me scanned the menu for vegetarian and seafood options, so I had narrowed down my choices. Now, not that I was difficult, but I was rather eccentric with my order. There were three entrées that I wanted. That being the case, appetizers were not an option. There were two vegetarian dishes and one seafood dish that turned my food alarm on. When placing my order, I told the waitress that I wanted three entrées, each to be served as small tastes, with the rest packed for me to take home. She had recommended salt and pepper okra, shrimp in chilli garlic tomato sauce, and baby potatoes Thai style. I complied and while I waited for the experience to begin, I sipped some rather refreshing mango juice.

Salt and Pepper Okra

The waitress had placed the order linearly. Instead of having everything come to the table at once only to get cold, the first entrée arrive at the table was the salt and pepper okra. As a lover of gumbo, which is full of okra of the slimy nature, I was anxious to see how fried okra would taste in a salt and pepper batter. Much like some salt and pepper chicken I have had at a Vietnamese restaurant and salt and pepper soft shell crab I have had at a Pan-Asian restaurant recently, this fried okra dish reminded me of both in a “precious memories” kind of way. Spicy the way I like peppery food and served with crispy noodles and steamed rice, I was grateful that the first recommendation had won me over.

Shrimp in Chili Garlic Tomato Sauce

There was a bit of timing between the first entrée and the second one. This was to allow a moment of rest before the second course. Next to the table was a bowl of shrimp in a chilli garlic tomato sauce. This dish was closer to Indian and what I recalled during a visit to Bombay several years ago — although the dish I had eaten in Bombay was filled with fish rather than shrimp. At any rate, the shrimp in this bowl of satisfaction were plump to the point where they really did burst in my mouth when I bit into them. The sauce was spicy in a divine way. I cannot say that most people would be okay with the pepper dancing around their tongue and jaws, but it was outstanding to me. Eaten with rice to minimize some of the pepper, this was yet another suggestion that was a winner.

Baby Potatoes Thai Style

We allowed for more time between the second entrée and the third entrée. Granted the portions were small, as I was taking the remaining portion of the entrées home, they were still filling. Once I gave the signal, the order was placed and the third dish came to the table in the form of baby potatoes prepared Thai style. This was another spicy dish that was prepared in a gravy that had peanuts and a bit of a kick to it. Not really being a fan of any kind of nuts — except for almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, and pine nuts — I made no fuss about the peanuts in the dish and I ate it with the steam rice that came with it. There was a moment of complete satisfaction to be acknowledged as I worked my fork and spoon on the rice and the baby potatoes in the Thai gravy. By the time I had completed this dish, I was incredibly grateful that the waitress had given three fantastic recommendations because, as I had mentioned, the menu was filled with a large selection of choices.

Vanilla Ice Cream, Crispy Noodles with Honey and Sesame Seeds

Customary but not necessary was dessert. There was a bit of time that I let pass before I had decided to indulge something sweet to the palate. I ordered crispy noodles drizzled with honey and accented with sesame seeds and two scoops of vanilla ice cream. I put honey in my tea, in my yogurt, and in my honey chocolate cake, but having it served over crispy noodles and ice cream was new. And let me just say that this was a new experience that I enjoyed to the point of rapture. And now that I think of it, the only other time I have had a dessert with similar ingredients was an Ethiopian restaurant where they drizzled chocolate instead of honey over the ice cream and crispy noodles. However, having it today really made me that more appreciative of having an experimental palate.

Ready for Action

Usually I have a tendency to avoid restaurants that receive too many negative reviews. The experience actually comes in three parts: what you put into it by being open to trying something different, your positive interaction with your server, and what you want to get out of it different from what you have already had before. On entrance into Bombay Chopsticks, I was greeted with a welcome. My server was the epitome of outstanding customer service and attentiveness, as well as knowledgeable enough to recommend three dishes to a stranger, which is what I was when I sat at the table. Be forewarned that the prices range from $12 to $15 for the entrées. Also be aware that the flavours can be overpowering if your palate is accustomed to milder dishes. Yes, you can order the food milder, but there is more pop when the spices are added as they are in the dishes natively. As I had initially thought of India and Japan, I found that there is a bit of East Asia with hints of Indian preparations added. There are no duelling spices, so whichever ethnicity is represented in the recipe is allowed to shine. Before I departed Bombay Chopsticks with the remainder of my entrées, I sent a text message to my friend to thank her for prompting me about the restaurant and I made a mental note to myself that I shall find my way back out to Hoffman Estates in the near future for another restaurant jaunt at Bombay Chopsticks. This was a positive experience.

Sukriyā.

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