Thai Language and Food Course

Coconut Shrimp

Coconut Shrimp

Today was one of those days when all I wanted was to be outside and away from the condo. The previous week was blocked with the beginning stages of the renovation on my hallway bathroom. After five years of living in the condo, it is time for me to grow up. Although the complete renovation of my condo unit will be over the period of a few years, it is necessary. And as my neighbourhood is starting to feel the introduction of gentrification, property value will increase and it will be a good idea for me to upgrade my condo accordingly. But back to my original thought, I needed to escape so that cabin fever did not have me inside having a panic attack.

I had covered a lot of ground in terms of restaurants that I had wanted to post and there are still some that I am holding off for later dates — special dates that have meaning and significance. A lot of time had passed since I was last in Hyde Park — or rather New Hyde Park now after seeing so much change — so I made that my destination. Thankful for good parking karma, I secured a spot not far from my favourite Thai restaurant in Hyde Park. Thai 55 at 1607 55th Street was my stopping ground for putting my feet under the table for some aroy Thai. Now, I know that I have Thai restaurants galore on Chicago Alphabet Soup, but that is one cuisine I doubt I will ever tire of eating. Besides, it was Thai food that became my main staple when I was bringing my high cholesterol down — successfully — without medication. But for today, I was also going to see my great pheụ̄̀xn — friend — Wongchana for our usual discussion about politics, faulty religion, community awareness, and social consciousness. At the same time, I got to rehearse my Thai.

Basil Chicken

Basil Chicken

First, to get the tummy ready, I ordered ginger tea. This was not tea in the bag, no. This was a pot of chopped ginger root that I let steep in boiling water for at least five minutes. The kick of the ginger was all I needed to know that I was preparing my stomach for a good lunch. For an appetizer, I had coconut shrimp with a spicy plum sauce. Any time I have had shrimp that looked as plump as what I had, it turned out to be a morsel of shrimp hidden inside of a ridiculously thick façade of crust. That was not the case here. Then came the basil chicken. My common Thai entrée preference has always been a curry dish, be it gang dang gai, panang goong, or gang gari gai. Clearly I was in a different mode today, although sticking with a spicy dish. Thai chillies, red and green peppers, shredded cabbage, and ground chicken simmering in a slightly sweet — not saccharine — brown gravy made my lunch moment worthy of this blog posting. Served with jasmine rice, I was quite satisfied for settling for this option.

While my friend and I sat and talked, and oh can we talk, out came a dessert of fried banana with a light caramel glaze. They had read my mind. You know that you have established more than just a customer-client relationship with a restaurant, but you have formed a family bond instead when the wait staff knows a certain dish or dessert to bring to you. Mind you, my two favourite Thai desserts are sticky rice with mango and Thai custard. Nevertheless, I polished off the fried banana and ginger tea while giving my conspiracy theory about the Benghazi disaster and how I think that private contract firms have no business involved in managing national security interests.

Fried Banana

Fried Banana

Thai 55 may be one of my all-time favourite Thai restaurants in Chicago for sentimental reasons. As I had mentioned, this was where I started learning to speak Thai. I thank my great friend Wongchana for that. Imagine an African-Caribbean man such as me speaking something more exotic and fascinating than my own mother tongues. Because of the close relationship I have with all who work at Thai 55, it is unfair for me mention how great the service is. To me, it is simply outstanding by default. The quality of food is the next big item I seek in restaurants and I have never had a dish at Thai 55 that I found displeasing to my palate. It sounds rather fantastic saying that especially after close to, if not more than, ten years of being a regular patron of thier cuisine. But don’t just take my word for it. Go and discover for yourself that all is good and aroy at Thai 55.

Pee Chaai

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Gino in the Sky With Food

Lulu's

Lulu’s

The Beatles may have made the song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” famous. The first phase of my birthday celebration had a case of “Gino in the Sky With Good Food.” I cannot even get around to saying that I would put that to any music, let alone script a full set of lyrics to sing to it. What I can say is that celebrating my birthday this year has been an absolute blast and as I can become drunk on food, there were a few moments of food bliss that had me in my mood for wanting to perform. It may be the stiff Brit in me that said, “Just revel in all the good food you’re eating this week. Don’t embarrass yourself, as you know you flush rather easily.

I had to go to Evanston to get a camera from a friend. I had let him borrow it so that he could photograph a pretty-pretty for a portfolio. While in the neighbourhood, a few other friends had told me that I should meet them at Lulu’s. At 804 Davis Street in the middle of downtown Evanston, we got a table and was ready for action.

Ginger Ale Lemonade

Ginger Ale Lemonade

Lulu’s is one of those restaurants that presents itself as an Asian-fusion eatery. You peruse the menu and start to think that perhaps it falls more in line with Pan-Asian. There is also the mention of dim sum, so one could think that maybe there is all Chinese fare. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s food. I am all for cultural blending, but please let the culinary part of that marriage not suffer. Lulu’s obliged by not being an agent of “horror” dining.

I started with a ginger ale lemonade. From the menu, it looked like a drink I would be okay with. The server said that it was intense and she accentuated the word “intense” with a pithy growl. There was no way I was going to turn down something that brings about that much expression. After the first sip, I understood why. Wow! You could taste the ginger. I’m not talking the fizzy, bubbly stuff that makes you belch when you turn up a can of Schwepp’s ginger ale. A blend of ginger ale and lemonade sounds almost “too experimental,” but it works incredibly well as a mixed drink here. There is no alcohol in it and that was fine. However, this drink should be mandatory serving when the temperatures in Chicago reach the point of equatorial.

Curried Squash Soup

Curried Squash Soup

In the like manner that I exhibit when I go to restaurants now, I was in the mood for a degustation. The premise of the restaurant was dim sum, so there would be a little of something, not the American style dining where you practically beg for a pillow after dinner so that you can lie down. For my first course, I had the curried squash soup.

Mama’s little baby loves curry, curry
Mama’s little baby loves curry squash soup

Let me start by saying that anyone who has a complaint about Lulu’s, for any reason, should have a bowl of that soup and take a breath. Each sip, or slurp as it concerned me, brought about the dumb smile I wear when I’m experiencing food rapture. You could taste a hint of the curry without feeling as though the chef had poured a tablespoon of it on your tongue. It may have been cinnamon, allspice, or nutmeg that made the whole bowl burst with flavour. One thing I will say is that none of it was disappointing. None of it, I say.

Potato Croquettes

Potato Croquettes

When my second course came, which were four potato croquettes, I was feeling a bit excited by the third bite. I remembered having potatoes smothered in melted cheddar cheese at a Spanish tapas restaurant several years ago. That was actually the first time I really did have a cigarette after dinner. If it weren’t so frosty this evening and if I were indeed a smoker, I would have paused for a moment to go outside and puff away on a Marlboro. Not drowned in cheddar cheese, but rather topped with a spicy mayonnaise, I simply could not force myself to take itsy-bitsy bites and be okay with it. Partaking of those potato croquettes was nothing more than an experiment in trying to maintain your composure. I moaned out loud and then covered it up by coughing. Yes, I need therapy; I know that. But you don’t understand. Potatoes are supposed to be bland, salted at most. Those croquettes were wicked delicious.

Coconut Shrimp and Cole Slaw

Coconut Shrimp and Cole Slaw

A few months ago, I was visiting a friend who let me bake a cake in her kitchen. Well, the cake was for her anyway. Anyway, she ordered delivery from Lulu’s. One of the dishes that I had requested was coconut shrimp because I wanted to be in a tropical mood to take my mind off the fact that snow and sleet were falling fast outside. I was nonplussed, disappointed, horrified, petrified, and morbidly bitter. Okay, so that is a bit exaggerated, but I was almost in tears because the delivery was a mess. Fast forward to my latest in-house dining experience and there sitting before me is a plate of coconut shrimp and a dollop of cole slaw. Note to readers: Do not get the coconut shrimp as delivery. Get a table and order it for in-house dining. You will shoot straight to the moon. The coconut shrimp were plump, exploding with flavour. The batter was nothing like the saccharine B-chef gotcha that I had as a delivery item. It was all about joy on a plate. I was so in love.

Wonton Wonton Sundae

Wonton Wonton Sundae

This was a pre-celebratory birthday dinner for me, which meant that there would be dessert. I am well past the age of being okay with someone singing “Happy Birthday” to me at a restaurant because it always smacks of a free dessert after the meal. Again, I get embarrassed very easily and part of that is because my parents were not advocates of free meals, soup kitchen mentality as Ma Williams called it. I must admit that I can be selective if I think the free meal is worthy and I have indulged some without my conscience beating me up over it. As to the pre-birthday dessert at Lulu’s, an Instagram photo I posted to my Facebook wall sent one of my friends into a tailspin. Three fist-sized scoops of ice cream — vanilla, coconut, and banana chocolate chip — sat atop a fried wonton that had been coated with sugar and cinnamon. Another large fried wonton doctored up like the one under the ice cream towered on the plate. All of it was drizzled with chocolate, caramel, and confectioner’s sugar, and my friend was out in orbit. The people at the table across from where we were sitting told me to stop heaving such heavy sighs. When I told them to get their own, it was our turn to tell them to keep it quiet. Oh my God!!!

Lulu’s is a quaint little restaurant and seems to fill up rapidly, especially immediately after work. The service can be slightly off-putting, as you could find yourself waiting a while before any of the servers get untangled from running rampant through the restaurant. When a server does approach your table, you get an attentive member of the wait staff. If it is a rather busy evening, it may be a good idea to be concise with your order. The scene in “When Harry Met Sally” may be hilarious when watching that movie, but applying that technique of complexity to your ordering at Lulu’s could result in a botched order and you’re then penning an unsavoury review on Yelp. But if you are like me, you will get your Pan-Asian/fusion/dim sum/élan and everything will be quite okay in the land. Hmm. I think I need to return for the third phase of my month-long birthday celebration. Lulu’s now!!!

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