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

I Am 45

The Williams Smile

The Williams Smile

On 5 April 2013, at 1:15 PM, I officially turned 45. As a mathematician I tend to be more exact with things than necessary. When I turned 30, I was too busy planning the celebratory birthday party to realize that I had reached a third decade in my life. By the time I turned 40, family had a huge birthday party for me and it was just another day. Now that I am 45, it occurred to me that the next big birthday for me will be 46, not 50 as some would say. Truth be told, I look forward to each year with more excitement than the previous years.

As I get older I am aware of more things that are pertinent in my Disney.

  • There are things I am not supposed to have. And I’m okay with that.
  • There are places I am not supposed to go. And I’m okay with that.
  • There are people I am not supposed to have messing up my happiness. I am ecstatic over that.
  • Time goes by faster now than it did when I was a kid. Summer break used to last forever.
  • I am with the person who makes me happy. Note the strikethrough. That alone shaves 20 years off my face.
  • Smiling removes wrinkles naturally. To think that people pay for Botox injections and nip-tucks.
  • I am aware of the passage of time, as there isn’t enough time to eat all that I’d like to eat.
  • Food is my lover and anyone who thinks otherwise should be fitted for a straight jacket. (Being careful so my high school crush doesn’t read this statement.)

Instead of a huge party with dozens of people milling around and me not getting a chance to sit and talk with any of them at great length, I opted for more personal celebratory gatherings with friends, family, and my high school crush who kept teasing me with the promise of baking me an Italian cream cake. I started the morning meeting some friends for breakfast. With it being my birthday, they wanted me to be “in the moment,” which meant we were not doing anything with an ethnic leaning to have me switch into blogger mode. That didn’t mean I should leave my camera at home. So, into the bag went the camera and out the door I dashed to Marmalade at 1969 W. Montrose Avenue in the Ravenswood neighbourhood of Chicago. I was in blogger mode and that was inevitable. Super service, contrary to some disturbing reviews I’ve come across, and I will chalk that up to us getting to the restaurant at 7:00 in the morning when everything was new and patrons with bitterness, indecisiveness, and wants for vicious reviews had not poured in.

Cafe au lait. Eggs scrambled well with cream cheese. Cubano French toast.

Cafe Au Lait

Cafe Au Lait

The cafe au lait was not bitter, not in the least. I drank it without any sugar and said silently, “Intelligentia, you have competition.” By the second cup, I was saying, “Intelligentia what?” Nothing spectacular about cream cheese in my eggs, as that is a staple for my desired preparation of eggs. Where I wanted to stand up and sing “Gino Marmalade,” was with the Cubano French toast. I would gladly have enjoyed a petite mort after the first bite of the French toast in guava marmalade with a cream anglaise, topped with strawberries, guava, and granola. The lyrics would have been something like:

Gitchi, gitchi, ya ya da da da
Gitchi, gitchi, ya ya here
Mocha chocolata ya ya
Hungry Gino Marmalade

Scrambled Eggs

Scrambled Eggs

The prices for the menu items are reasonable. The service was outstanding. The food was so yum-inspiring that I could have sung an aria. Whatever gripes reviewers on Yelp have with Marmalade, I will return and I will have to make it a point to fight the urge to stand up and launch into the following lyrics:

Voulez-vous manger avec moi ce jour?
Voulez-vous manger avec moi?
Voulez-vouz manger avec moi cest jour?
Voulez-vous manger avec moi?

Cubano French Toast

Cubano French Toast

For lunch, I met with two friends I had worked with when I was driving off the map to the wonderful West Suburbs. We met at Wok’n Fire at 1576 W. Lake Street in Addison, Illinois. It’s the usual big-box atmosphere like what you get at Pei Wei Asian Diner and at PF Chang. But the aromas made the restaurant smell less of a buffet cafeteria and more like some good food was being prepared in the kitchen. After laughter about how the company had become a revolving door and joking about how some people manage to get promotions although they take vacation time in impromptu, unscheduled fashion, it was time for food. Per recommendation from one of my friends, I ordered Schezuan tilapia. Served with brown rice, spinach, and in a Schezuan sauce with red peppers, onions, broccoli, and mushrooms, lunch had a wow factor that left me weak in the knees. I had to drive back into the city and doing it behind the wheel of a manual shift after such a fantastic lunch, I was glad to get home and take a nap in advance of dinner. But before my siesta, I had a long chat with Ma Williams who boasted about how proud she was of me and how she’s glad I have been taking care of myself and some other mushy stuff that indicates I was never a disappointment. Not many mothers can say that and we Williams offsprings became high-end. And then she asked me if I had made use of the cake pans she sent to me for my birthday gift. Ma Williams always gets me the birthday gifts that make me smile.

Schezuan Tilapia

Schezuan Tilapia

Now, let me just say that I slept so good during the afternoon that I had thought I slept a bit too long. There was no way that I wanted to miss my birthday dinner. Sure, I can go to Marion Street Cheese Market at 100 S. Marion Street in Oak Park, Illinois, at any time. But for a proper celebration, and I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed, it was necessary for me to get up and be ready to head out for a worthwhile meal.

Flight of cheeses — Dante, l’amuse gouda, and sharp cheddar. Sunchoke arancini. Quiche. Salad. Flight of wine. Pot de creme.

Quiche and Salad

Quiche and Salad

Sunchoke Arancini

Sunchoke Arancini

The flight of cheeses came with candied walnuts, toasted almonds, a flavourful jam, wafers, and bread. So perfect and we worked our teeth on the items that begged for us to continue. Yep, we even paused conversation so we could concentrate. The sunchoke arancini was several stops past the last exit to wonderful. Ingredients of hazelnut chimichurri, sunchoke puree, sunflower sprouts, and lemon made for a vegetarian’s plate of happiness. We smiled through each bite. The quiche was of the kind that the meekest person would clobber a corn-fed Indiana football player senselessly if the football player were to mess with the mild person’s quiche. We’re talking about a quiche with Sarvecchio parmesan, caramelized onions, and parsnip puree served with braised spinach. You simply will not stop making comment about how delicious it is after each bite. Oh, and let me not forget to add that we each had flights of wine. Liquid bliss! For me, I told the server to bring a flight, any flight. It didn’t matter. I didn’t care. It was my birthday and he did not disappoint — three reds, two from France and one from Chile. The flight paired well with everything. The dessert was a pot de creme — chocolate hazelnut pudding topped with a baked meringue. There is a special corner in hell for me after working that pot de creme with exaggerated facial expressions, the homemade butter cookies, and a cup of coffee that was made from a fine bean. As we teetered out of the restaurant, it was rather apparent why we all return there so much. And people who don’t like that assessment are sitting back saying, “I know better places.” I can only shake my head and say, “Umpf, umpf, umpf. Tell me anything.”

Pot de Creme and Butter Cookies

Pot de Creme and Butter Cookies

As a kid, I used to think that people in their 40’s were old. I am quite amazed at how my perspective has changed since, rather considerable if I may add. When I look in the mirror and the only things that can possibly give my age away are my balding head and the grey in my beard, I realize that I can shave and those indicators go away as well. When I think about how I had furrows in my brow and pessimism in my eyes during my twenties, none to be seen in my physical appearance now, it feels nice announcing my age. Because then I can watch the show when people start to actively debate me and call me a liar who wants to be older than he really is. And I smile, yet again removing any potential wrinkles.

Hello, my name is Gino Williams and I am 45 years old. Oh, and I am a food addict.

Marmalade on Urbanspoon Wok'n Fire on Urbanspoon