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

Little Vietnam Restaurant, Big Taste

Little Vietnam Restaurant

Anyone who has been to the Bryn Mawr corridor between Broadway Avenue and Sheridan Road in Chicago will notice that the area is clearly vying for being the city’s cultural hub. Anyone who is a xenophile would fall in love with the multi ethnicities and the new cultural restaurants that are taking up occupancy. One of my favourite Indian eateries is just at the Red Line stop at Bryn Mawr and there is an outstanding Thai restaurant all about thirty paces away from the Indian restaurant. Recently I found that what was once a closed business has now opened its doors as a Vietnamese restaurant. It may be that the Argyle corridor is saturated and competition could be strong for Little Vietnam Restaurant, which is at 1132 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue, but it’s location on Bryn Mawr poises it to be one of the select go-to spots.

Iced Coffee

Iced Coffee

Egg Rolls

Egg Rolls

Spacious, light, and airy, Little Vietnam Restaurant looks like it could be small when looking at it from the outside. Once you get inside, you find a rather large room and some very accommodating service. There are a lot of traditional Vietnamese dishes on the menu. Those who are fans of phos, will not be disappointed. However, there is enough variety that you will not feel as if you have arrived at one of the Argyle dining establishments that seemingly have a formula well suited for the American palate, so as not to provoke a tarnishing write-up on social media.

I started with an iced coffee and crunchy egg rolls served with a sweet and tangy dipping sauce. For those who act bananas before their third cup of morning coffee, they should try the iced coffee at Little Vietnam Restaurant. And the baby egg rolls were outstanding. Deep fried pastries stuffed with pork, shrimp, carrots, taro, cabbage, and glass noodle had very little success staying on the plate. Although there were only three, they were filling.

Lemongrass Chicken

Lemongrass Chicken

Having had several bowls of pho over the past few weeks, I opted for something different. There was a menu listing for lemongrass chicken. I wanted a dish that was spicy, considering the temperatures in Chicago had been waffling between warm and chilly to the point of messing with my sinuses. Well, spicy food does a great job of correcting my sinus trouble and having a dish as tasty as lemongrass chicken was not a bad option. After the first few bites, I wondered where the spice was. And then a minute later, there was the feeling of heat rising from my scalp and the ring of fire around my lips. I can’t tell you how satisfied I was. Only a few restaurants can add burn to their recipes and still have flavour in the dishes. Little Vietnam Restaurant did it correctly with the lemongrass chicken.

After a few minutes of chatting with the server about the cameras I was using, she being engaging since she has been taking photography seriously, I let some time pass before indulging a dessert. There were two options. The was a yogurt that was served with watermelon and there was Vietnamese pudding. Still recognizing that it was chilly outside, I had the pudding instead. Now, Vietnamese pudding does not have the consistency of Jell-O pudding. It’s thin, full of miniature tapioca pearls and sweet potatoes. As to flavour, think lychee. My server was telling me about how her grandmother prepared the pudding, practically making a medley of things to taste. The pudding was well suited to my taste, for sure.

Vietnamese Pudding

Vietnamese Pudding

Little Vietnam Restaurant seems like a fantastic spot for mid afternoon. The Bryn Mawr corridor tends to be action packed and congested with lots of pedestrian traffic in the late afternoons, so the restaurant may have a constant ebb and tide of patrons. Those who have frequented the Vietnamese restaurants on Argyle, which is only two stops south on the Red Line, will find Little Vietnam Restaurant to be a pleasant surprise. The service was superb, something that is rare coming from those of the younger generation, but absolute top here. As to the prices, they are extremely reasonable, which could explain a lot of dine-in and carry-out orders I noticed during my dining experience. Little Vietnam is a welcome addition to Bryn Mawr. Those with appetites can attest to that.

Little Vietnam on Urbanspoon

Pasteurized Foodist

More and more I am discovering a lot of restaurants in Chicago that have a bit of an experimental edge to them. It seems that these restaurants are popping up as a result of chefs who are of a certain ethnicity studying culinary arts in countries far away from their native lands. One such restaurant that comes to mind is Sushi Samba Rio. There is a blend of Brazilian and Japanese in the food, but I have a feeling a chef who grew up in São Paulo or who had been there is responsible for that creation. There is a very large Japanese population in São Paulo. Another restaurant with a blend of two very different cultures is Vermilion, which marries Latin and Indian flavours. A third restaurant to add to the list is Pasteur, at 5525 N. Broadway Street in Chicago’s Edgewater neighbourhood.

Pasteur

Pasteur is a Vietnamese restaurant that has a French influence in the recipes. While wandering around in Edgewater, my stomach was doing the usual growling. As it turns out, I was passing by a building that had a façade blending chi-chi and European. In the window – lo and behold – was a menu. That meant that there was food and I was standing in front of a restaurant. Imagine that. After a brief perusal of the bill of fare, I entered an amazing room that definitely had a rustic European feel to it. Having arrived shortly after the doors had opened for business, I had the pick of seats in the empty great room. I told the server that I was pescatarian, didn’t have any food allergies but HATE NUTS, requested two appetizers, a soup, and an entrée, and told him to surprise me. I pulled my camera from my camera bag, took my white balance, and exhaled as I waited. This is my routine. In addition to my little personal preamble, a group of four came in and sat at the table IMMEDIATELY NEXT TO ME. This whole “sit next to Gino when the restaurant is EMPTY” thing is starting to get tiring. Nevertheless, I injected myself into their conversation. (Sigh) They didn’t mind, but rather enjoyed it.

Spring Roll

Spring Roll

I started with a spring roll. This was not just your ordinary spring roll, but one with sugar cane for the main ingredient. When I was a kid, sugar cane was a delicacy that I enjoyed throughout the summer much the way kids nowadays gobble dangerous snacks of chips, cookies, and pop to excess. The spring roll was made with a ground shrimp paste wrapped around the sugar cane and then grilled. It was served with a plum sauce that I was glad did not come across as competitive with the spring roll. You would be surprised at how some chefs can make the accompaniments more appealing to the palate than the main dish. Where I frowned was with the sprinkles of peanuts on the dish. The good thing is that they made the dish photograph well. However, I shook them off without complaint and commenced to gnashing away on the spring rolls.

Egg Rolls

Egg Rolls

My second course was a plate of egg rolls that I had to eat in the traditional manner. The egg rolls were mixed salmon and dill within the rolled, crispy pastry. They came with lettuce, cilantro, cucumber, pickled carrots, and pickled radish. To eat the egg rolls, I had to roll them in the lettuce with the other vegetables and dip them in a fish sauce before having them suffer the chomp of my beautiful white teeth. I have dined at countless Vietnamese restaurants in Chicago’s Little Vietnam and this is certainly the way you eat some of the appetizers. As high-end as Pasteur projects itself, there is perhaps a clause in their mantra that says they WILL retain authenticity.

Coconut Soup

Coconut Soup

The third course was a curry shrimp soup. I know that this was not a traditional pho. And when I had asked the server if it was Thai, he assured me that it was Vietnamese. I guess there are similarities, but I won’t overgeneralise and say that the flavours of Thailand and Vietnam are synonymous. The soup reminded me of tom ka gai. I had shrimp in this curry soup rather than chicken and I was quite okay with that. When the server had inquired as to whether I was okay with my dishes being spicy, I had replied in the affirmative, so the soup had a bite to it that made the autumn nip outside bearable. By now, the party of four that had sat next to me had begun to eye me with suspicion. Not only was I snapping photos from every possible angle of everything that had arrived at my table, but I was eating all of it without a struggle.

Calamari in Pineapple

Calamari in Pineapple

The fourth course was calamari and vegetables in a carved pineapple. The calamari had been dipped in flour and cooked in a wok with a calamari soy vinaigrette along with mixed vegetables of red and green bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, and fresh lemon juice. The insides of the carved pineapple had been cut into chunks. There was a natural sweetness to the whole dish. When it had come to the table, I could hear my neighbours making remarks as quietly as they could. That looks so delicious. I couldn’t eat it because it looks like art that should be behind a red velvet rope. He didn’t eat all of that other food. I can’t stop looking. That’s a man who enjoys food. I assured them that I did indeed devour the previous courses, albeit slowly, thanks to the aid of hot ginger tea. Plus, this was nearing the two hour mark, so I had everything spaced out to allow my stomach to settle in between. That is what degustations are all about. And the pineapple with calamari and vegetables met a slow end along with the cup of rice that had accompanied the dish.

Fried Banana, Green Tea Ice Cream

Fried Banana, Green Tea Ice Cream

The fifth course was a plate of fried bananas drizzled with chocolate syrup and strawberry syrup and served with a scoop of green tea ice cream. I have had this particular dessert at numerous Thai restaurants and while I cannot say that it is specific to Thai cuisine, I will acknowledge that it may be influenced by the palates of Asia. The bananas were sweet without the addition of sugar. The texture from having been fried was not such that you’d think the chef was thinking about frying chicken. It was crispy without being crusty. I loved the green tea ice cream, so rich, so creamy, so screaming “This was made with loose leaf green tea.” It may have been bought from a local Asian grocer and I don’t care. It was good. DO YOU HEAR ME?

Ginger Tea

Ginger Tea

Because I was in a mood for food roulette, I may not have gotten anything with a true French influence. Then again, it may be that the chef is French and he or she has a great love for the flavours of Vietnam. Instead of applying a fusion, the French aspect may be faint so that there are no competing ingredients in the recipes. My appetite didn’t complain. For the ambience, those who go ga-ga for aesthetics would love Pasteur. The price was so much less than what I had anticipated. The service was outstanding and I say this after my server had hit the right mark with every dish that came to my table. Remember, I simply gave my interests and let him come up with the courses. By the time I was ready to stumble out into the chilly temperatures of the autumn weather, the restaurant had filled with several patrons who were making their growling bellies shut up. And before the party that sat next to me left, I took a picture of them. I used their camera, of course.

Pasteur on Urbanspoon Pasteur on Foodio54

Follow Your Dreams

Siam Thai Restaurant

Several years ago I worked at a certain telecommunications company, that I shall not name, and during lunch my colleagues and I would often frequent a Thai restaurant in the suburb that abutted Chicago to the north. Unlike now where I will visit a restaurant with friends and we all order something different so that we can dine family style, my colleagues and I were addicted to a particular Thai soup that could relegate most bowls of soup to the equivalent of cat food. We had to have our own bowls of soup, and nothing else. Actually, it was every Friday that we would load up in cars and head into Park Ridge for our desired potions of kow soy koong (shrimp) or kow soy gai (chicken). I had waken from a dream where I was feverishly hunting for the restaurant and with me having a grumbling belly, there was no way that I was going to let that dream haunt me for the rest of the day. I had to do something about my thoughts being so vividly driven by bowls of scrumptuous kow soy koong, the panang gravy splashing about and landing on the table, my jeans, my sweater, and the waitress who was refilling my glass of water.

Baby Egg RollsMuch to my happiness, Siam Thai Restaurant was still at its location in Park Ridge, Illinois, at 104 Euclid Avenue. It is amazing how an appetite can guide you better than the North Star. The last time I was in Park Ridge, period, was in 1999. The new president at the unnamed telecommunications company had come in with grand ideas and shrinking the information technology department down was a part of his grand scheme. I fled before the ship hit the iceberg and rearranging the deck on a sinking ship became a moot choice. Today, it was early enough that the restaurant was rather empty and the welcoming airs from days long gone were still there — the suspicious look whenever an exotic of the darker persuasion enters and then the utter shock when said exotic lets a few words of Thai slip. Gasp.

Kow Soy KoongWith the heat in the restaurant was not functioning and Chicago temperatures are not forgiving because your heat is out-of-order, the waitress brought me so tea. It may have been chilly on the outside, but she was cognizant of a way to warm me up in the inside. Having spent most of my adult life in Chicago, I always dress accordingly per cold temperatures before I leave home. I had on a sweater, but my fingertips were icy, which is also the case during warmer temperatures. Clasping my hands around the warm cup of jasmine tea, I scanned the menu to see if they had the kow soy still. Yes! Yes! Yes! My trip to Park Ridge was not for nothing. My belly had been growling for the duration of me switching gears in my car and speeding around Sunday drivers, so I was going all out in celebratory fashion. I ordered baby egg rolls, which usually come as a count of four to six. At Siam Thai Restaurant, you get ten with a plum sauce and their version of a complimentary salad. They were so cute on the plate. They were so tasty on my tongue. My belly eventually got down to a whimper.

Thai CustardAnd then it was time for my reminiscing to be indulged. I ordered kow soy with shrimp and requested it to be hot-hot. The waitress asked me several times if I really did want it extra spicy and there came a few words in Thai from me, to which she realized that I was not unschooled in the ways of handling Thai cuisine the way it is served in Thailand. First sip and it was moderately spicy. Then again, my palate has become so accustomed to hot food — Indian vindaloo, for example — that it would probably take a spoonful of ancho chilli seeds to make me reach for a glass of water. The kow soy koong was so worthy of my return that I took my time handling the soup. To be real with eating it, I used chopsticks after I soaked the crunchy noodles in the gravy. The shrimp, with their tails still in shell, were substantial. And we are not talking just a few pieces of shrimp in the soup, but several swimming around the curry gravy before I gnashed on them and worked my chopsticks on the noodles, onions, cilantro, and red bell peppers. The Thai restaurants in Chicago all have one dish that they do better than anywhere else. Siam Thai Restaurant is perhaps the one Thai restaurant in America that prepares the best kow soy. If you walk away from a restaurant and say, “It was good,” that’s one thing. When you walk away and find you have succumbed to a kow soy addiction, you then understand the meaning of bliss dining. I wrapped up with a dessert of Thai custard. Not quite as creamy as I have had at other Thai restaurants, but the flavour was still there. The good thing about the Thai custard was that it was light enough that I did not have trouble finishing it or walking away from the restaurant after I was done.

I guess there are things that you will never forget — your first kiss, your favourite grade school teacher, a trip to a beautiful and exotic place, or telling a former supervisor to got to hell. Many of my dreams have a tendency to escape me. But when my dreams involve food that once brought about great spells of happiness, I awake with purpose and that I must live out those dreams. Despite the telecommunications company falling prey to a misguided president, my former colleagues and I would still put our worries aside and make lunch plans for whatever day we had in mind for going to Siam Thai Restaurant. And when upper management began its spiral out of control, and I had departed for a better opportunity, I had bottled up the memories before departing and kept them tucked away so that at some time in the future they would manifest themselves in my dreams. All I would have to do is remember and with directions in hand, getting to Siam Thai Restaurant would only be a small task. Precious memories don’t always have to be about happy days of your past.

Siam Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

If I Were Lost

Saigon Pho  CafeOne of the things about being a part of the international community is that I am indeed open to trying new and exciting things, especially when it comes to food. As of late, I have been going to restaurants and switching into a mode of what it would be like to be abroad, lost, and hungry. Although I have several languages in my multilingual box, there could be the chance that I wind up somewhere among people who can only acknowledge my presence, but who cannot communicate with me other than with a nod, a quizzical frown, a smile, and a response of “Sorry, but I don’t speak English.” In the meantime, I would have to eat and it would help to not be a haughty American who sneers at everything that does not get come in the form of French fries, hamburger, hot dog, steak, potatoes, or macaroni and cheese. American comfort food has taught me one thing: it will bloat your waistline more than it will get you help abroad if you are hungry.

Egg Rolls

Egg Rolls

I went to Forest Park, Illinois, to a stretch of eateries along Madison Street. On this particular day when I went, there were several different languages that I picked up and that is not something you find too common in the suburbs unless you are in the middle of a tourist setting where global visitors congregate. But in the midst of all the languages bandied about, outdoor cafes with patrons taking coffee, and quaint little side streets, there was a Vietnamese cafe that beckoned to me more. I obeyed and entered Saigon Pho & Cafe at 7237 Madison Street.

Mango Smoothie

Mango Smoothie

The inside is reminiscent of a polished hole in the wall. Far from the usual garish display that you may find at some Asian restaurants, it was quite homey. Being the only exotic in the restaurant, I was greeted with authenticity, not with distance. That was absolutely cool because the welcome made it a little easier to switch into the mode of imagining what it would be like to be in Hanoi somewhere off the beaten path and wanting something to eat rather than being guarded. I have been to several Vietnamese restaurants. However, I have never been to Vietnam and noting that the wait staff and a few who poked their heads out from the kitchen were all Vietnamese, I figured this would also give me the chance to try a few words in the language to give myself comfort. All of that went out the window when the waiter saw my camera and we launched into lengthy conversation about cameras, camera equipment, photography, and locations for getting great shots.

After the pleasantries had been exchanged and I had gotten out a few butchered words in Vietnamese, I placed my order. I ordered a mango smoothie without tapioca pearls. I love those pearls but even with the straw being wide, they tend to block the flow of the smoothie. Asian restaurants and cafes have a monopoly on smoothies and getting them correct. The mango smoothie at Saigon Pho & Cafe came in a fancy glass with a decorative stirrer, not in a plastic cup. And let me just say that the flavour exploded and had a little bit of pulp in it, which was all the hint I needed to know that some actual mangoes had been in a blender for the drink. And to go along with the smootie, I had egg rolls with a spicy plum sauce. Much like mini egg rolls that you have at Chinese and Thai restaurants, they were crunchy on the outside and filled with carrots, bean sprouts, and chopped shrimp.

Seafood Pho

Seafood Pho

With the weather having waffled a bit as of late, my sinuses had been having their merry way with me. Knowing that Vietnamese food can have a kick to it, I scanned the menu for one of the soups. If you do not remember anything about Vietnamese cuisine, they tend to shame anyone who attempts to make a good soup. The seafood pho that I had was a prime example. Loaded with vermicelli, shrimp, mussels, and fish balls, not only did the spices tell my nasal passages to behave but the taste was dazzling. But let me not forget one ingredient that I would otherwise assume the haughty American stance and thumb my nose in disdain. There were a few pieces of tripe in the soup. Ah, don’t bother looking it up on Google. Tripe is the inner lining of the stomach. We all know that chitterlings are a delicacy, and one that I would gladly endure being set on fire for rather than eating. However, tripe is one ingredient that I have partaken of in Nigerian pepper soup and in other Vietnamese soup without as much as a grimace. It may be that the texture is more akin to that of calamari rather than that of an uncooked dumpling. It may be that I have beheld the malodorous horror of chitterlings before they were boiled to their edible state and not experienced the same of tripe. It may also be that tripe, if cooked the right way, has more of a seasoned taste to it. Either way, I devoured all of the soup.

Vietnamese Crepe

Vietnamese Crepe

Wanting at least one other thing to journal for my experience at Saigon Pho & Cafe, I ordered a Vietnamese crepe with shrimp. Brought to the table on a large plate was a crepe stuffed with shrimp, bean sprouts, and spices. There was also a plate of lettuce, mint, carrots, cucumber, and a vinaigrette sauce. In the traditional manner of eating the dish, you take a little bit of the crepe, wrap it in lettuce with carrots and cucumber, dip it in the vinaigrette sauce, and then eat. There was only a little bit of the crepe that I could tackle before surrendering and requesting a box for the remainder of it. While I waited and cashed out, the waiter and I talked more about cameras, the wise choice of buying a camera body and investing in lenses, and recommendations of some Vietnamese restaurants in the city north of where I live.

For the few phrases of Vietnamese that I did get off my tongue, with a few corrections, English is quite a common language there. That’s fine, but when going to restaurants where there is someone in the kitchen or taking the order who knows as much English as I know Vietnamese, it would help to have a comfort requesting something for the palate. At Saigon Pho & Cafe, the price was much less that what one would expect. And with the wait staff being cool with my attempt at the language, I have a feeling that much like the way I learned Thai, I will polish my language talents in Vietnamese while indulging some pho on a regular basis. Hmm. No chance for me getting lost in Forest Park getting to the restaurant, for sure.

Saigon Pho & Cafe on Urbanspoon

A Trip to Little Vietnam — Tien Giang

Tien Giang

Here is the scenario. It was raining. And my stomach was growling. It’s autumn and with the wind blowing off of Lake Michigan, chilly temperatures were a given. I am a man of easy appetite, so I guess that’s a given also. I’m also adventurous and that meant trying another restaurant that had many of my friends staring at me in complete bewilderment. My friend, another friend of ours who is a fan of good eating and drink, and I went out for some Vietnamese food in Chicago’s Uptown. Tucked sniffing distance from the Argyle Red Line stop on 1104-06 W. Argyle Street, we got out of the chilly, rainy air and decided to do something about our constant growling bellies.

Spring Rolls Vietnamese Egg Rolls

We didn’t waste any time figuring out what we wanted. We’re not fashion models concerned about meeting some agent’s demands for size control. [Well, I was once a fashion model, but now I’m a man of easy appetite. Oh, I said the latter already.] Anyway, we started with goi cuon. These spring rolls were filled with pork, shrimp, vegetables and vermicelli rolled in thin rice paper. Served up with a sweet sauce, it was tasty enough to make you want to start doing the happy dance. We also had cha gio, which were Vietnamese egg rolls. I will never eat another Chinese egg roll ever, not after savouring the goodies. Oh, wait, I had sworn off restaurant Chinese food after my first room-mate post-college had his parents over and they cooked dinner. You haven’t had good Chinese food until you’ve had some Chinese ma and pop in your kitchen doing it right. But I digress.

Seafood Pancake Pho

There was room on the table and we couldn’t have that. We ordered a banh xeo, a Vietnamese pancake with bean sprouts, pork, shrimp, and apparently a lot of love. That thing was on the table all of a good five minutes. All we left on the plate was the knife we used to divide it among ourselves. With the weather being dreary and wet outside, we also figured that a big bowl of soup would really go over well. Chicken noodle soup? No. Campbell’s tomato soup? No. Progresso? Hell no! Vegetable soup from a can? No, no, no! We had authentic Vietnamese danger soup, not for the faint of heart. This was a mild yet spicy soup that had a thin broth, thin rice noodles, meat balls, chicken, and — clutch your pearls — tripe. You can’t go to a Vietnamese restaurant and not partake of a delicacy true to the land. No way! The waitress had warned us that Americans are not a fan of the soup. Now that I think of it, that may be the reason why we ordered it, because we didn’t want something tempered for the American palate. I still won’t eat anyone’s chitterlings, but I will go back to this restaurant and have some more of the soup.

Having finished off the appetizers and soup, it was then time for the entrées. Because the portions are so huge, we ordered two large dishes of ca hong chien nuoc mam and ga xao sa ot. The ca hong chien nuoc mam was a fried red snapper that was so meaty that I wanted to catch a flight back to Jamaica for some red snapper, rice and peas, plantain, and ginger beer. Um, um, good! The ga xao sa ot was sliced chicken with garlic, lemon grass, and chilli, served over steamed white rice. Rarely have I had any lemon chicken prepared to such perfection as to have the meat fall apart when you stick a fork in it. Tien Giang did an outstanding job in its preparation of the chicken dish.

Whole Fried Red Snapper Lemon Chicken

The Argyle/Broadway location on Chicago’s North Side is well-known for the many Vietnamese and Thai restaurants. You can find just about any one of the two on any corner and in between and you can also find them filled with other Vietnamese and Thai patrons, a true indication of the authenticity of the restaurants. We had no particular restaurant in mind for this dinner outing and because we picked Tien Giang on a whim, it made the dining experience that more enjoyable. The price of the entire meal was not one to have us chopping the tables in half. The service was absolutely great. [I could name numerous restaurants that could take notes.] And the food was outstanding. This was a winner in ever since of the word, says the man with an easy appetite.

Tien Giang on Urbanspoon