Make Maki, Not War — Miku Sushi Lounge

Miku Sushi Restaurant

A few weeks ago I received an email with a recommendation for a sushi lounge in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighbourhood. I must admit that I was rather pleased to have received such a recommendation, given that every time someone suggests a sushi restaurant to me they have been addictive to the point of me constantly returning. With the weather finally being nice in Chicago, I was off to Miku Sushi Restaurant at 4514 N. Lincoln Avenue.

Sunrise Martini

Sunrise Martini

Arriving during noon, I was not subjected to the congestion of the dinner crowd. I had a seat at the sushi bar and briefly scanned the menu. With it being a Saturday and me having the weekend to do as I pleased, I had a sunrise martini during midday. It was rather reminiscent of a Bahama Mama, mostly because there was rum in the mix. One word comes to mind: refreshing.

Kobacha Squash and Crab Soup

Kobacha Squash and Crab Soup

For a starter, I had kobacha squash and crab soup. There is one other sushi lounge, Sen Sushi in Oak Park, that serves kobacha squash and crab soup that I love. And the fact that there is real crab in the recipe, not imitation crab, I was all the more pleased. Now that I know Miku Sushi Lounge has it on their menu, I don’t have to go all the way to Oak Park for this delicious bowl of bliss.

Spicy Shrimp Maki

Spicy Shrimp Maki

My appetite was cranked high enough for me to consider indulging three sushi rolls, and three sushi rolls I indeed indulged. The first was a spicy shrimp maki. There was nothing about this roll that was forgettable, from the fresh ingredients to the burst of flavour with each bite. And, yes, it was spicy, which became more evident when the soy sauce I had infused with wasabi was not required.

Unagi Maki

Unagi Maki

The second maki roll was an unagi roll. Not being one to shy away from eel in my sushi, this was definitely a tasty inclusion in this maki roll. One thing I noticed with the eel was that it had a silky texture. This was in no way a bad thing, but I have never had unagi that was that heavenly on the tongue. Not overdone with sauce, most of this roll was enjoyed without soy sauce for dipping.

Ebi Tempuri Maki

Ebi Tempuri Maki

The ebi tempura maki was simply outstanding. Again, the shrimp was fresh, as were all of the ingredients. I was expecting the ebi tempura maki roll to be slightly pedestrian compared to the spicy shrimp and unagi maki rolls. I was well beyond pleased with the crunch from the tempura and the inviting kick from dipping each piece in the soy sauce with wasabi.

Chocolate Cream Martini

Chocolate Cream Martini

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Egg Rolls

Dessert Egg Rolls

Still having some room for dessert, I had a chocolate cream martini and chocolate chip cookie dough egg rolls. As to the cocktail, it simply is not possible to go wrong with adding chocolate to the mix. The martini was prepared in such a way that the alcohol was not heavy, which was perfect for allowing the chocolate liqueur to taste like chocolate rather than medicinally. The egg rolls were cute and I liked them, although I would have fallen in love with the dessert had the cookie dough been baked before encased in the wonton and fried. I must admit that the accompanying strawberry sauce added a nice touch.

Miku Sushi Lounge is a spacious restaurant with the usual decor found in sushi lounges. Although the restaurant can accommodate a large capacity of diners, the service, price and food no doubt draw a crowd after 7:00 PM. For a neighbourhood that is teeming with Irish pubs, the flavours from the other side of the Pacific Ocean are also welcomed. To the individual who recommended Miku Sushi Lounge, arigatou gozaimasu.

Miku Sushi on Urbanspoon

Sable Saves the Evening

A few weekends ago my adventurous sister and I decided that we wanted to try another seafood restaurant. One seafood restaurant just north of downtown had been spoken of highly in reviews, so we opted to see if it was worthy of the high praise. Upon entry, it was clear that the restaurant was a great place to go for having drinks. However, the sazerac that I had left me wondering if I was missing something. And after a forced meal of dishes that looked appetizing, but weren’t, my sister and I were on the hunt for a Plan B. She had mentioned a neighbouring restaurant not far from the seafood restaurant, so we were off to overcompensate for the hunger pains that were overtaking us.

Sable

Click to see larger photos in Flickr album

 

We went to Sable at 505 N. State Street in Hotel Palomar. Crowded at the bar with a large seating area for those who want to have a dining experience, Sable seemed like it would be an ideal Plan B. It was. We took a seat in the dining area without having to wait and the server was over to the table to explain the menu, make note of some specials, and offer suggestions. With it being cold outside, my sister started with an Easy Livin’ drink — her way of projecting herself onto a sunny beach. I had an alcoholic beverage that was more like a hot toddy with a nice amount of brandy, a hint of chocolate, some bitters, and bliss. I really don’t know exactly what was in the concoction, but I will say that it was a thousand miles better than the sazerac I’d had earlier that I swear was water with a splash of whiskey and absinthe.

Understanding that we had arrived late, we settled on two items that we knew would do well to ease the growling in our bellies and replace our scowls with smiles. There were creamed corn brulee and mussels. Creamed corn is an appetizing dish all on its own. Having a brulee crust atop of it did not detract from the dish. Actually, this was one item that I have been ranting and raving about since I went to Sable. The other was a huge bowl of mussels in a white wine sauce with garlic and garlic toast on the side. Hello, mussels. Good bye, Dracula. The last time we recalled having mussels as delicious as the ones we had at Sable was when we had gone to Autre Monde in Berwyn, Illinois. Those little morsels were greeted with insatiable appetites and gnashing teeth. Not to let any of the sauce go to waste, we soaked the toast in the sauce and devoured it to complete satisfaction.

 

For our finale, we ordered sorbet — blood orange and blackberry basil. These two scoops were what dreams of made of. Accompanied with berries and dainty cookie crisps, I read my sister’s mind when she was saying to herself, “This is where we should have come from the start.” Sable was an excellent contingency plan.

It may be the weekends or it may be every evening, but the bar section of Sable fills up quickly with a motley crew of lively patrons. Most restaurants in Chicago accept reservations and Sable may be a participating restaurant that does the same. Considering how good the food is for a hotel restaurant, I understand the crowd. What we had, albeit not a lot for our visit, was fine dining without fine dining prices. Those who are looking for a great restaurant with perfect drinks and outstanding food, make Sable your first choice if you are in the River North and Near North area of downtown. You will not be disappointed.

Sable Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon

Chilly, I Mean Chili in Chicago

Flight of ChiliThere is nothing like a long commute to spike the appetite. Such was the case when I was coming into downtown from work. Driving in third gear for most of the ride into the city was not only aggravating, but it was shaving off time that I had figured I would spend in the kitchen getting good use out of one of my many cookbooks. What was I to do? Where was I to go? What would I have? I pulled into the Near North area of downtown, parked, and walked along a familiar block that I had strolled past when I had worked downtown.

Rockit Bar and Grill at 22 W. Hubbard Street was one of the restaurants that I had passed many times but had never stopped to sample. It was at the moment of standing in front of the restaurant that I decided that I would go in and see what they had on the menu. From the relaxed, lounge style, I had begun to think that I had made the correct choice for my dinner destination.

There was a flyer that had listed dates that specific chilies would be prepared for the restaurant’s fourth annual chili festival. Being a little bold, I ordered something completely off the menu and out-of-place. I asked if I could have a flight of chili. Now, yes, I knew that this was not an ordinary request and I was even willing to abide by whatever price was set from the kitchen. With a quizzical smile, the server took my order for orange juice and the menu and she said she would inquire as to whether the chef would entertain such a request.

Pork Chili

After several minutes, out came the chef. I had this feeling in the pit of my stomach like that which you get when you are about to receive news. I had asked for something ridiculous, out in left field, not a part of the equation. She had mentioned that my order was the first request of the nature that had been posed. And then before me she placed three cups, each filled with what looked superbly appetizing and what tasted — I soon found out — delicious. The flight was a specially made preview for the restaurant’s media audience that night. I had a pork chili, a chicken chili, and a bison chili sitting before me, not quite yelling at me to put my napkin on my lap and get started, but just sitting there looking so tempting. Being a man of weak fortitude when it comes to good food, I picked up the first of three spoons and complied.

Allow me to bring you to the table and present to you what had me in such a state of bliss. The pork chili was green chili rubbed pork shoulder, white beans, queso fresco, and tomatillo salsa. The taste had a striking resemblance to eating enchiladas. My diet has not included pork in quite a few years, but the pork chili was incredible. Tender pork shoulder and the whole chili dish loaded with flavour, I knew from the first cup in the flight of chili that the evening was off to an outstanding start. I had a slice of bread to reset my palate and then I engaged the chicken chili. Happiness ensued. Jerk braised chicken, pinto beans, Habanero peppers, jack cheese, cilantro, and lime created a rather tasty bowl of satisfaction. Now, mostly when people hear of jerk chicken, the Jamaican delicacy comes to mind. Not overpowering, but well-balanced to let the chili come through, the chicken chili was a notch up and deserving, says my stomach. Another slice of bread for the palate and I was ready for the third cup of chili. The final cup, or highlight I shall say, was the bison chili. Ground buffalo, chorizo sausage, black beans, chipotle peppers, and cheddar cheese made for the most remarkable smoky flavoured entrée that I have had in a very, very, incredibly long time. For some reason, I kept thinking of Galveston, TX, and barbecue. This chili could be truth serum, although I would probably keep telling lies so that I could have more served to me. What I will say is that if there is ever a chili cook-off and I am competing, I will cheat by ordering a large pot of bison chili and entering it. This is, of course, our very own naughty secret.

Chicken Chili

Needless to say, I was quite happy and well-fed when I finally put the third spoon down. Remembering the flyer about the chili festival at Rockit Bar and Grill, I inquired as to a listing of dates at the Wrigleyville location since the dates for the Hubbard Street location were given on the flyer that I had. I keep a constant hankering for food and I figured that it would be ideal for me to have an idea as to when I may want to venture back for perhaps another flight.

If you find yourself in River North, head over to Rockit Bar and Grill at 22 Hubbard Street on any of the following days for some chili.

Date Chili Recipe
1/23/2012 Pork Chili green chili rubbed pork shoulder, white beans, queso fresco and tomatillo salsa
1/24/2012 Lamb Chili ground lamb, lamb sausage, chickpeas, bell peppers, tomatoes
1/25/2012 Lamb Chili ground buffalo, chorizo sausage, black beans, chipotle peppers, cheddar cheese
1/26/2012 Chicken Chili jerk braised chicken, pinto beans, Habanero peppers, jack cheese, cilantro and lime
1/27/2012 Beef Chili Texas-style no bean, chili rubbed beef brisket, corn tortillas, sour cream

Bison Chili

For a bit of food bliss while lingering around in Wrigleyville, the 3700 N. Clark Street location will be serving up bowls of chili on the following dates.

Date Chili Recipe
1/26/2012 Chicken Chili jerk braised chicken, pinto beans, Habanero peppers, jack cheese, cilantro and lime
1/27/2012 Beef Chili Texas-style no-bean, chili rubbed beef brisket, corn tortillas, sour cream
1/28/2012 Lamb Chili ground lamb, lamb sausage, chickpeas, bell peppers, tomatoes
1/29/2012 Bison Chili ground buffalo, chorizo sausage, black beans, chipotle peppers, cheddar cheese

One thing I have come to realize is that I have established a bit of a daring edge with asking for flights of food and flights of drinks. It has become quite a nice way to try several menu items in smaller portions in one setting. However, I am going to have to start being a little more cognizant of my experimentation. Then again, have to ask myself: Would I have had three outstanding recipes of chili placed before me had I not been so precocious? Chances are I would have missed out on sampling three delectable bowls of perfection. Then I find myself slappping my hand and coming back to reality. And I then search for a free date on my calendar for a return visit to Rockit Bar and Grill before the end of the month, this time to the Wrigleyville location on 29 January 2012. Wonder why?

Rockit Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Bienvenida a Logan Square

Satisfaction, Rapture, Delight When I first had decided to purchase a condominium in Chicago’s Logan Square, several friends moaned and hissed at my decision. They warned me that I would be shot while putting the key in the front door to enter the building. They foretold omens of me running from bullets and violent gang blowouts. There would be pandemonium, angry little kids putting sailors to shame, cats and dogs smoking hash in pet harmony, and politicians telling the truth. Well, the chaos is in full bloom in the neighbourhood where I fled, but the rest is still wishful thinking. It has been three joyous years of living in Logan Square.

Having recently gone to one of the restaurants for breakfast that is walking distance from where I live, I wanted to go back for dinner so that I could see if the dinner menu was as fantastic as the breakfast menu was. It was. Cafe Con Leche had already proven time and time again that it was a top Cuban restaurant in all of Chicago. And then it expanded to bring life to its partnering restaurant, Cafe De Noche.

Tacos de Camarones I had considered writing up Cafe De Noche in the like manner that I have done for the other ethnic restaurants. And then I decided that I wanted to give it front page coverage, so to speak. Because friends and others had viewed my move to Logan Square as though I was going to Dante’s 25th ring of hell — that being the ring not mentioned in Inferno — I wanted to showcase my community upfront.

Sharing the same space with Cafe Con Leche at 2714 N. Milwaukee Ave., Cafe De Noche is a perfect addition and a welcomed one to Logan Square. The space has a lounge feel to it. During the summer, the front doors may be opened so that a nice breeze may blow through the place. The service is absolutely top and the food is deliciously splendid. Well, splendid may be a bit too stiff. The food is damn good.

Dining Space

Chocolate Bread Pudding

I went to the restaurant and took a seat at the bar. It seemed that many hipsters had absolutely no qualms about pulling a bar stool up to the counter and placing their orders. And while I am not a hipster, I clowned with the ones sitting next to me while I ordered shrimp tacos and a margarita. The first margarita came — notice I say first margarita — while I waited for my food and I pulled out the camera. Thou shalt not be a foodie who journals his or her food bliss and not capture the moment with a camera. Now, whenever bars announce that their drinks are half priced or something to the effect of not being full price, the drinks taste like a little bit of water has been added. Not at Cafe De Noche. And I did not even go for some flavoured margarita like a strawberry, apple, chocolate, orange dream sickle, Rachel — okay, so I made up that flavour — or raspberry margarita. The plain one was so damn good.

Then the shrimp tacos came. What a masterpiece I had sitting before me, causing me to drool, causing me to smile, inviting me to gobble them. And I complied before I clicked a few shots to memorialize the feast in advance of devouring it. The shrimp were plump and tasty in a rich tomato sauce on flour tortillas. And I heaved a heavy sigh of exaggerated satisfaction with each bite. The rice was somewhat like New Orleans style dirty rice but without the ground beef. It was so good that it was wrong of me to make such faces of food ecstasy. Add to the dish me having another margarita and the mood was just right.

Cappuccino

While polishing off the meal there were several Spanish-speaking customers who came in and sat at the bar: a Puerto Rican, a Venezuelan, and a Cuban. And there was discussion about the influx of all things good in Logan Square, recommendations for other restaurants in the city, and a hope that the Bears would go to the Super Bowl. There was a moment of silence on that last point. I, of course, had another margarita done right and thankful that I had a good amount of food in the belly to soak up the alcohol.

Martini

But there apparently was not enough food to my pleasure, for I ordered a dessert, a chocolate bread pudding drizzled with a homemade burnt sugar glaze and a fist of vanilla ice cream on top. Click, click, click of the camera to freeze the scene. Now queue scene with me having utter enjoyment in slow motion. You can see activity and people talking the background, but the scene is silent while I smile with each bite of the bread pudding and scoop of the ice cream. I am also having a moment with a rather large cup of cappuccino and thinking about what my circumstance would have been if I had stayed on Chicago’s South Side where there were weekend shootings across the street from my apartment instead of having moved to Logan Square. I am also thinking of a number: 36, the size of my waistline from eating way too much rich food. And then the Venezuelan disrupts it all by nudging me and reminding me that I am humming “So Amazing” by Luther Vandross a bit loudly. I am now too full to be embarrassed because the bread pudding is for two people to share and I have eaten it all, every last bit of it except for the garnish.

Red Wine

I reflect on my life and while there are some decisions that I have beaten myself up over in the past, my move to Logan Square has turned out to be one that has not resulted in any disappointment. Community. Peace of mind. Restaurants in walking distance, which is most import to a food addict like myself. And Cafe De Noche. For a community that was viewed through such a dark filter, it is the third most heavily populated area in Chicago with outstanding restaurants. Everyday I repeat my mantra: There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. And if you find yourself in Logan Square, welcome.