Saigon Bistro, The Blog Post from Heaven

One of the great things about social media is that you interact with a lot of people whom you would probably never cross paths with. Since I have been posting photos to Instagram, I have gained quite a few followers and many who I follow in return. Recently I started seeing photos of crawfish piled high with corn on the cob. One of the main Instagram posters is Saigon Bistro and when I say that the photos had this hypnotic effect that kept begging me to go to the restaurant, I caved in. Off to 6242 N. California Avenue in West Ridge I went.

Saigon Bistro

My belly was empty, so I had a ravenous appetite. And because I met with a friend, there were no qualms about ordering plenty of food. We started with an appetizer combo platter. The coconut butterfly shrimp were huge, plump, juicy, and burst with each bite. The coco chicken was the same. There were miniature bacon wrapped scallops and miniature egg rolls. What was the absolute best on the platter were the crab rangoons. There was real crab in the rangoons. It was evident in the flavour. These rangoons were not merely oozing with cream cheese but attacking the taste buds with the outstanding taste of actual crab. This was a first that I’ve had at any restaurant in America.

Appetizer Combo

Appetizer Combo

The first big plate of food was king crab. We called this an item from their underground menu because it was not on the main menu. But because we asked kindly if they had any, the chef accommodated our request. And we showed our appreciation by working the cracker on the shells, plucking out tender morsels of crab, and devouring it. Topped with peppers and seasoned with only salt and pepper, I may be going out on a limb when I say this, but of all the seafood restaurants I’ve been to in Chicago, these were the best crab legs I have had.

King Crab

King Crab

Now, having seen so many photos of crawfish and lobster on Instagram, I showed the server a photo of a dish of crawfish and told her, “That’s what we want.” There was no looking at the menu, trying to decide what else, or indecisiveness. We ordered two pounds of crawfish spicy that came with corn on the cob and andouille sausage. Last time I had crawfish this appetizing was when I was in New Orleans. The chefs and cooks in New Orleans have competition from the Vietnamese chef at Saigon Bistro. Those who love shellfish will immediately become addicts for the crawfish with corn.

Crawfish Boil

Crawfish Boil

Given we had worked ourselves into a snail’s pace, we sat for a while to let our stomachs settle and to fight sleep. After some time had passed, we ordered a platter of tamarind shrimp. The shrimp was incredibly fresh and fleshy like prawns. They popped as we sank our teeth in them. The tamarind sauce was a perfect complement to the shrimp without being overpowering or sweet. After two filling pieces of shrimp apiece, we got the rest for takeaway.

Tamarind Shrimp

Tamarind Shrimp

Saigon Bistro is tucked away on California Avenue between Peterson Avenue and Devon Street. Although it is not in an area with lots of foot traffic, its presence is known by many. Service is superb. One thing that was obvious was that the server was patient with explaining options and offering suggestions. For all of the food that we had, I was surprised that the price was not exorbitant. The freshness of the ingredients and especially the crawfish boil transporting me to New Orleans mentally, I am a fan, for true.

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Seafood Bonanza, Shaw’s Crab House

Cranberry Juice

Cranberry Juice

For those of you reading this, I hope that you are at home or at some location where the temperatures are not as hateful as the temperatures in Chicago. As much as 2014 promised to be a good year, the Arctic temperatures have been prohibitive for going outside. By now, I would have gone to at least four restaurants and blogged them, but by the time I pack up to leave work during the week, my focus is on going home to get into my sweats and fuzzy bear claws. Yes, I have a pair of those. And the weekends seem to be candidates for sub-zero temperatures and mini blizzards. However, I simply cannot sit inside all the time. During one of my “escape from the cabin” moments, I went to a nearby coffeehouse to edit some photos. After a few hours of productivity, I received a text from a great friend who asked if I was interested in partaking of Chicago’s Restaurant Week at one of my favourite seafood restaurants. Well, with food being a factor, my text response was YES — I typed it in all caps. Knowing that there would be a crowd the closer it got to 7:00 PM, we made reservations for 5:15 at Shaw’s Crab House at 21 E. Hubbard Street in the River North section of downtown.

Bread and Wafers

Bread and Wafers

While perusing the menu for any ala carte options, we gnashed away on cheddar rolls and wafers. Um, um, good. Sure, this comes complimentary with the meal, but is still worth mentioning because the bread must be baked on the premises. You cannot find cheddar rolls like these in the market in the bakery section, on the aisles with aging loaves of bread, or in the frozen food section. Our server gave use a grand explanation of the restaurant week menu. Let’s just say that Shaw’s Crab House knows how to lure its customers back for repeat visits. There was clam chowder for the soup. For the entrées, the choices were king crab legs and Maine lobster. Dessert options were key lime pie, which you can never go wrong with, and a raspberry walnut cobbler. Far be it from us to be dining prudes, we ordered a dungeness crab claw for an appetizer. We also added potatoes au gratin and creamed spinach to our entrée orders.

Crab Claw

Crab Claw

Clam Chowder

Clam Chowder

The crab claw came to the table pre-cracked. It would have been a chore, quite possibly with things flying about the table. The claw was full of meat, bursting with flavour. Now, granted it wasn’t a substantial appetizer, it was certainly worth the order. For when the clam chowder arrived at the table, it was evident that the remainder of the evening would be based on complete culinary satisfaction. Thank God for restaurants that don’t feel the need to accentuate clam chowder with pork. There must have been complaints from some pork eaters about a few seafood restaurants that left the oink factor out of their clam chowder recipe because, sure enough, it shows up in the bowl at some eateries. Shaw’s Crab House has not fallen victim to that recipe blackmail.

Crab Legs

Crab Legs

Potatoes Au Gratin

Potatoes Au Gratin

Maine Lobster

Maine Lobster

Creamed Spinach

Creamed Spinach

The entrées were divine. The crab legs were full of meat. With melted butter for dipping, that was all we needed to forget that the temperatures in Chicago were in the single digits. It was all about concentrating on cracking the legs, digging out the succulent meat, and devouring it like seafood lovers. The Maine lobster came to the table steamed. Each bite exploded. No tough texture, no unsavoury aftertaste, only bliss. And not being one to let lobster go to waste, when I got to the head, there was a voice in my head that screamed, FINISH HIM!!! I complied. The mushy texture from the head is not something that appeals to a lot of people. It’s a bit reminiscent of marrow, for those of you who have chewed chicken bones to splinters and partaken of the tasty insides of the bones. It may be better used to season some soups or other recipes. For me, if I paid for it, it’s good as gone — unless I become so bitter that I feel the need to throw the plate against the wall. The potatoes au gratin were delicious beyond words. They did not come from a Betty Crocker box. And the creamed spinach reminded me of the spinach artichoke dip that a restaurant named Houston’s used to prepare — before that restaurant closed permanently for business.

Coffee

Coffee

As part of the Restaurant Week menu option for desserts, there were key lime pie and raspberry walnut cobbler. My main New Year’s Absolution was to remove desserts from my diet except for my birthday. So far I have been faithful, with the exception of having a panna cotta at one restaurant. My nutritionist and doctor said that I could indulge sorbet, fruit, and light cream desserts. To keep from possibly getting out of hand, I passed on the dessert and let my great friend take mine home with her. So, she had the pie and the cobbler. I settled on coffee laced with Bailey’s Irish creme. My friend had a regular coffee with cream. Talk about a great wrap-up to a fantastic meal.

Coffee with Bailey's Irish Creme

Coffee with Bailey’s Irish Creme

For years I had gone to Shaw’s during lunch when I worked about two blocks way from the restaurant. Even when I changed jobs, I was always confident that my palate would find satisfaction in all that the menu had to offer. Because Shaw’s is not ethnic, per se, I never blogged it. This time I felt that it was worthy of inclusion on Chicago Alphabet Soup. Now that I am being more serious about sticking to a strict seafood and vegetarian diet, there may be more seafood restaurants showing up on the blog. The service at Shaw’s Crab House was way past outstanding. Any time a server takes time to explain things in a great detail and offer recommendations without a scowl or a need to rush away from the table, the experience is usually a hit thereafter. Not once have I had a meal that I was not pleased with and the most recent dining experience was such a highlight that I was talking to my food and singing. And looking back on all of this, going out in the cold wasn’t such a bad idea. I got my usual food bonanza in the process.

Shaw's Crab House on Urbanspoon Shaw's Crab House on Foodio54