New Camera, Chopsticks, Maki Rolls

Grand Katachi

At the end of this week, an order arrived for me from an Amazon purchase. Not that I really needed another one, but I had ordered a Nikon 1 J1 mirrorless camera. Because I had been using my high-end Nikon and Canon cameras, I had relegated all other cameras to point-and-shoot status. Honestly, the point-and-shoot cameras are more ideal for the foodtography that I do because they are less conspicuous and they bring very little attention to me clicking away capturing impressions of the food delights. But I am such a stickler for the quality of the photography that I post on Chicago Alphabet Soup, which may be why so many advertising agents who read the blog think I purchase the photos from the restaurants I review. Nevertheless, the Nikon 1 J1 arrived and that meant I needed to start testing it out to see if it was indeed worthy of the purchase.

Green Jasmine Tea

Green Jasmine Tea

I spent Saturday testing shots at  my favourite Indian restaurant in Edgewater. Then I sauntered over to my favourite North Side coffee and dessert shop for more clicks. Sunday morning before church I tried my hand at foodtography at a breakfast spot I had discovered. Up to that point, I was loving the output that I was seeing. Then later in the day, my belly was growling and that meant it was time for me to head out in search of something full of flavour to quiet the rumbling. With a bit of the North Side disrupted with a street festival — a reason for guzzling beer, as if one can’t do that in his or her own home or in a sports bar — I lingered around the Lincoln Park vicinity and wandered past a Japanese sushi bar named Grand Katachi at 4747 N. Damen Avenue, that had a magnetic appeal to it. And I, the culinary vampire, entered so that I could sink my pretty teeth into some worthy goodness.

Gyoza

Gyoza

I started with jasmine green tea and gyoza. These fried Japanese dumplings served with balsamic shoyu dip were great for whetting the appetite. There was a moment when I thought of the festival participants, many who were barely a few weeks over the age of 21 and so giddy with elan that they could finally drink without someone of legal age sneaking them a beer, stumbling around spilling their beer and giggling for no valid reason. They could have been getting fed something aside from fizzy pop and carnival vittles, served by vendors with dirty hands. That was a quick thought as I worked the metal chopsticks on the gyoza and washed the morsels down with the jasmine green tea.

Sweet Potato Maki

Sweet Potato Maki

Caterpillar Maki

Caterpillar Maki

Being a little more adventurous than I should have been, I had ordered three maki rolls all at once. It was when the flight of maki came to the table that my eyes widened and I thought to myself that I should have played it safely and ordered one at a time. Water under the bridge, as they say, since I simply decided that I would pace myself and enjoy the maki rolls. The North Side was practically in gridlock thanks to the street festival a few major blocks south of where I was and I had time to click away with my recent Nikon 1 J1 purchase.

Dragon Maki

Dragon Maki

Not trying to be a prude about my experience and tackling each maki linearly to completion before moving on to the next, I had one piece of each until I was done and reaching for the pillow at the table next to me. The sweet potato maki was the first to have me singing with a low soprano: Satisfying. Then there was the caterpillar maki that kicked in with a tenor: Gratifying. The dragon maki rounded everything out in bass: Electrifying. In my mental Disney, I was in the middle of the floor with a spotlight on me while I was singing, “What’s up, maki rolls? Whoa, whoa, whoa,” after which I launched into my Tom Jones dance. However, in reality, pedestrians who were walking by the restaurant were looking at me sitting at the window seat with a face fixed complete with a stupid smile. Don’t ask me how I finished all of the maki rolls. Just know that I did. And another nugget of information is I somehow had enough room for dessert. So, I had green tea ice cream.  Cue scene with me rocketing to the moon.

Cup of Tea

Cup of Tea

Green Tea Ice Cream

Green Tea Ice Cream

Grand Katachi seems like a potpourri of all things hip once you go in. Usually, Japanese sushi bars and lounges have the sterile, Stanley Kubrick effect where it is quite evident that the interior designer and decorator were men. Pay attention to the colour schemes, or the lack thereof. Now, I will admit that I went when perhaps it was light in patrons. However, the service was top and seeing that I all but licked the plate and found a way to sop the remnants of the ice cream from the glass, the quality was also top. If my mind serves me correct, you bring your own alcohol if you so desire to have libations other than soda, tea, or water. The prices don’t come in a discount fashion, so beware if you’re budget conscious. Not all of the action is to be had on Lincoln Avenue proper. And if you get a new camera or even if you don’t, I think you will find bliss at Grand Katachi. You may even do your Tom Jones dance while clicking the metal chopsticks to make the sounds of castanets. What’s up, maki rolls? Whoa, whoa, whoa.

Grand Katachi on Urbanspoon Grand Katachi 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