With or Without Camera at Tamarind

Tamarind

It seems that every time there is a need for someone to use a city as a disclaimer for unsavoury crime, Chicago becomes the disclaimer du jour. How sad, I say, because those individuals apparently have not been to sections of Chicago like Hyde Park, Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Uptown, Gold Coast, Streeterville, Loop, West Loop, Wicker Park, Bucktown, Logan Square, and South Loop. After catching up briefly with some friends so that I could loan a camera to one of them, I dashed to a Pan-Asian restaurant in the South Loop neighbourhood named Tamarind at 614 S. Wabash Avenue. I had been before, once on an imposed-upon date, and then again just because I had a craving. The weather was so nice that the outdoor patio was calling me and Tamarind happens to be one of those restaurants with outdoor seating that is not situated near an alley.

Red Ginger Martini

Red Ginger Martini

Now, although the weather was moderate, there was sunlight beaming down on me. That meant a refreshing drink was required. Oh what should they have on their menu but a red ginger martini. My hat goes off to the mixologist who poured and mixed pomegranate juice, Chambord, and vodka, and accented it with ginger. The martini was not overpowering, which meant I was not stumbling down the sidewalk to the subway afterwards, and it was not weak like some martinis I have had, all which were worthy of being thrown against a wall. Let’s just say that I was refreshed afterwards.

Miso Soup

Miso Soup

Most would consider miso to be a pedestrian soup. Yes, miso soup is not spectacular. You can even purchase it from your local market in a packet. I think you only have to add water. I really can’t tell since I prefer to go to a Japanese restaurant and have it prepared from scratch. Sure, someone is saying, “You never know. They may prepare it from a packet and doctor it up so that you think it’s authentic.” If you have had anything from a packet, trust me when I say that you know better. And in true Japanese form, I picked up the cup and slurped with no shame.

Caterpillar Maki

Caterpillar Maki

Dragon Maki

Dragon Maki

As much as I would have loved to have shown my diligence as a Nebraska football player with insatiable appetite, I settled for two sushi rolls. For the previous visits, I had tried some rather exotic sushi rolls, but never any of the tempered rolls. So there was the caterpillar maki, which had unagi as the main seafood ingredient, and topped with avocado. I looked around to see if anyone was nearby before I moaned. And then there was the dragon maki. Filled with tempura shrimp, one half of the roll topped with avocado and the other half topped with unagi, I scanned the area again about letting an exaggerated moan escape.  But that was not the thing to send me to the moon. The dessert of banana wonton with red bean ice cream and apricots fired my rocket off on the first bite. I concede that they may have purchased the red bean ice cream from some local Asian market. It was still like what I remember in Osaka from a dessert shop. But the banana wonton was prepared on the premises. You can’t warm up a wonton with a banana stuffed in it and have it be so blooming good. You just can’t!

Banana Won Ton

Banana Won Ton

As many times as I have been in the South Loop area and knowing that I had been to Tamarind several times, I am surprised that I never blogged it before now. Then again, I may not have had my camera. Truth be told, I photographed the food this time with my cellphone camera. I can’t have that, me being an avid photographer with expensive digital cameras. Anyway, the service is always inviting and I have yet to have a meal from Tamarind that left me gasping in dismay. Chances are I will never have anything from their bill of fare that I will find disappointing. The prices are comparable to what you will find at any Japanese sushi bar. And to the aforementioned spin doctors and pundits who attack Chicago because wherever it is they are has no appeal, I highly recommend that they venture to the South Loop for a visit to Tamarind and then work their way up to the other neighbourhoods that I mentioned so that they can be wowed with loving from some of Chicago’s greatest restaurant kitchens. They can even go with or without a camera.

Tamarind on Urbanspoon Tamarind Sushi on Foodio54

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

Oh, You’re So Coy

Koi Japanese Sushi Bar

Recently, a few visits to some high quality restaurants in Berwyn, Illinois, proved that the neighbouring suburbs are becoming a food force with which to reckon. It was always a given that Oak Park had a lot of talent, one of the main reasons why I spend so much time there with my feet under some table. But I had forgotten about Chicago’s suburban neighbour to the north: Evanston. And during a visit with a schoolmate from high school and college, we sauntered over to a Pan-Asian restaurant Koi at 624 Davis Street, in downtown Evanston.

Chopsticks and Warm Sake

As we got to the door, it had occurred to me that I think I had seen Koi listed as a sister restaurant to Sushi House in Oak Park, Illinois. Well, I think I have. After the fifteenth visit, I had stopped counting how many time I had gone to Sushi House, so I was certain that I would have an experience at Koi that would be memorable enough to have me come back. There was the formula lounge feel with dim lights, straight edges to the décor, painfully attractive hostesses, and faint Brazilian jazz playing in the background.

Edamame

Lucky for us, we had arrived before the theatre crowd. Forgetting that downtown Evanston is not like Mayberry, there is life after the sun goes down. There were several patrons who had come in a half hour after we had arrived and they were in a rush to have their meals before dashing off to see some show or cinema event. We had placed our orders and were snacking on the complementary edamame while imbibing wine and warm sake. Chilly outside, we were certain to be warm and toasty on the inside.

Volcano Maki

Now, with this restaurant catering to the palate that loves sushi and maki rolls, we had a balance of exciting, pedestrian, and commonplace. For the exciting maki roll, we had a volcano. The presentation alone was a work of art. What would have come out as a maki roll with imitation crab was one where we instead requested real crab. Sure there was a $2.00 additional charge, but there was no valid reason for us to deprive ourselves of the real thing. The spicy mayonnaise added a proper kick such that there was no need to put wasabi in the soy sauce. The misleading thing about the maki was that the leading meat in the recipe per the menu was crab. Instead, tuna was the stand-out meat. That was fine, but people who are sushi fanatics can flag such advertisement as false. However, we worked our chopsticks on the maki.

California Roll

For the pedestrian, we had a California roll. Another university schoolmate had joined us and was adventurous yet with more reserve than my grade school friend and I were. And unlike most California rolls, again we requested real crab meat. We had no desire to gnash on meat extracted from imitation crabs. Where do you find them? Are they some McDonald’s product, like McNuggets and McRib? Is there such a thing? If there is, we could not speak to its flavour on this particular evening. The basic ingredients of crab, avocado, and cucumber were no different than what you have in any California roll. The thing is the flavour in real crab stands out more than the smack of the fabricated crab. My grade school friend had a Riesling that she said was a perfect match for the maki rolls. Our mutual friend and I had warm sake that took our minds completely off the fact that it was frosty and raining outside in London fashion.

The commonplace maki roll was shrimp tempura maki. Tempura shrimp, lettuce, avocado, cucumber, and three individuals applying chopsticks a notch or two less than relentless would be the best way to describe things. Again, we had another maki roll that looked more aesthetically pleasing than one would think as far as flavour goes. We had our moments of brief silence while directing our attentions on the previous two maki rolls, but the tempura shrimp maki resulted in impregnated silences. To the average person, it would have been uncomfortable. To the three of us, it was our way of acknowledging the goodness of what sat before us without us being verbal about it.

Shrimp Tempura Maki

Then we entertained the Pan-Asian aspect of the restaurant. This was when I accepted the fact that Koi is not on a par with Sushi House, as the latter remains true to Japanese authenticity in its cuisine only. There was a plate of shrimp fried rice ordered. Filled with fresh, plump shrimp and bursting with flavour without any overcompensation, anyone could have seen that there were three very happy people at the table. I also have to admit when you can taste the egg in a dish, the real thing was used versus the out-of-the-carton what-not. This may be one of the very notable things that Koi should work without pause.

Shrimp Fried Rice

Where it really became evident that we were delighting ourselves a bit too much was when my schoolmate and I started speaking in Japanese while having shrimp lo mein. Neither one of us look anything relatively close to Asian, although my infectious smile results in a slant to my already-exotic eyes. Instead of lo mein sauce on the noodles, we had a Schezuan sauce. Again, plump shrimp sat under tasty noodles in sauce before we bit, chewed, and smiled.

Lo Mein Noodles with Shrimp

Koi is a fantastic Pan-Asian restaurant. But it is advisable to go before the crowd starts because the tide of hungry patrons seemed to introduce a bit of scrambling to the wait staff. Some people could misinterpret the vacant attention to uncaring customer service when it is simply a case of being overwhelmed with a sudden influx of people coming in with various requests for this, that, and the other. Expect to pay a pretty penny. And while the service could become taxed due to a quick rush of customers, they are still gracious. The next time I go I shall not be so coy with my appetite. I shall request my very own little degustation so that I can try more from the menu. Yes, that coming after I have already listed the serious dishes we had during this visit.

Koi Sushi & Chinese on Urbanspoon