Mata Ne New Asian

Mata Ne

Now that Chicago seems to be done with daily thunderstorms and downpours, outside dining is appealing. This past weekend I decided to stretch a little and venture out to the West Suburbs. I had cravings for sushi, so I searched for a restaurant accordingly. Mata Ne at 130 N. York Street in Elmhurst became my landing spot.

Crispy Cauliflower

I started with a bowl of crispy cauliflower. Cauliflower has become something of a super, all-purpose vegetable that doesn’t always taste the best. At Mata Ne, the crispy cauliflower tastes absolutely divine. Not overloaded with seasoning, you can taste the cauliflower along with a hint of the sesame miso glaze. Those looking for vegetarian and vegan options would enjoy this starter.

For my second landing, I ordered the smoked tataki trio. Hamachi, salmon, and tuna topped with ikura, chimichurri, smoked sweet soy, and crispy shallots came to the table served under a smoked dome. The sommelier paired this delectable sashimi trio with a cabernet sauvignon that made this landing heaven on the palate.

Dragon Fire

I ordered two signature rolls for the third landing. The Dragon Fire of shrimp tempura, crab, spicy tuna, tobiko, chili aioli, and tempura crispies quickly became what I would flag as a favorite. The Seafood Dynamite was a flavor explosion of lobster, crab, shrimp, tempura, serrano, avocado, and ponzu sauce served atop tempura soy paper. Both were quality rolls, for sure. Whenever I return, I will have to alternate between having one or the other while trying other rolls on the menu, even if I have to order one or both for takeaway.

Seafood Dynamite

My final landing was a plate of beignets stuffed with a hazelnut sauce. Not necessarily an Asian dessert, that being it mostly French, I’m glad I ordered it anyway. The beignets were finger-sized, so they were not overwhelming, especially given I had eaten so much food prior to dessert. They are ideal for sharing.

Hazelnut Beignets

Mata Net opened in mid 2021 and looks to have ironed out any kinks that they may have encountered since. Service was outstanding. The quality in the flavors were top. And the atmosphere was perfect for outside dining on the front sidewalk-turned-patio. I didn’t spend great time digesting the menu, but there appears to be a bit of a pan-Asian feel to it (e.g., Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese), with Japanese being most dominant. Given the first impression I got on the first visit, I shall definitely return to try some other menu offerings.

Cleo’s Southern Cuisine

Gotta give a shout out to the outstanding service. But the food is the winner, for sure. My friend who popped in while I was there also fell in love with the food. The price may be a bit off-putting for some, but it’s the same price you pay at a lot of big box restaurants. At Cleo’s the food just tastes better. Continue reading

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The Mukase — Ghanaian Style

Collage of Ghanaian Dishes

Getting my introduction to The Mukase during the pandemic and they not having resumed in-house dining, I can’t only speak to table service. What I will say is that food is clearly prepared to order. That means that nothing will get handed to you within 10-15 minutes of you stating what you want. I have yet to get an order in quick fashion and I have been satisfied each time. Food being cooked on the spot and tasting way past delicious are why I continue to return. Continue reading

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Haidilao Hot Pot, Soup for the Soul

Having had some time to sit still, I read through several posts from the past few years. Of course, as of the pandemic starting in early 2020, I had not been going to restaurants so that I could blog the experiences. Even when restaurants did open, I ordered food for delivery and takeaway. It didn’t feel the same as going in for proper sit-downs, so my reviews have been scarce. And after getting in travel to compensate for being inside for two years straight, I have slowly added in-house dining to my routine.

Haidilao Hot Pot in Chicago’s South Loop district at 107 E. Cermak Rd. was my first hot pot jaunt in Chicago. A friend chose it as a spot for the second part of our April month-long birthday celebration. I will start off by saying that it was a recommendation that I’m glad she made and one that I will say in advance to others that they should follow through on.

Mango Bubble TeaBrown Sugar Bubble Tea

My friend had been frequenting several tea shops in Chinatown and was curious as to the bubble teas. She ordered a mango bubble tea that was bursting with mango. I ordered the brown sugar bubble tea that was nothing short of truth serum. If I didn’t get the fascination with bubble tea, those two set me straight.

For a starter we ordered fried shrimp balls. They could have taken all other appetizers off the menu and left those shrimp balls. The stuffed plump popcorn shrimp in cheese and fried it. If delicious were a word, those balls would be the photo to use for display.

We opted for two soups. One with a tom yum base and one with a mushroom base. We ordered additional ingredients to go into the soups, though. With my friend and me leaning more towards seafood and vegetables, we had a variety of mushrooms, tofu, noodles, shrimp, and scallops to go into the soups. One thing to note is that you cook the soups at the table, which is a fantastic touch for true fellowship among others. Nevertheless, we also got complimentary, various condiments ranging from sauces (e.g., shrimp, ponzu, garlic, etc.) to herbs to nuts that we added to our individual bowls when we ladled in the soups. The tom yum and mushroom bases were already full of flavor, but adding some of the extra ingredients kicked the soups up that much more.

Tofu, Noodles, MushroomsMushrooms
ShrimpCantaloupe

I recommend that you go with a party of at least four or five because there is a lot of eating. This is also not the kind of restaurant where you rush through the feasting. It takes time to savor each sip, slurp, and ahhh. There are several traditional hot pot restaurants throughout Chinatown, but Haidilao Hot Pot seems to stand out. The crowd was rather large when we arrived, but later thinned out. Once word gets out about this hot pot spot, there will be long lines. Get in now.

Susupuato Restaurant and Taqueria

Susupuato Restaurant & Taqueria

After a year of being inside primarily, I have slowly reintroduced myself to the gym. And although I have been cooking at home so to maintain my discipline with being a pescatarian, there are times when I have started ordering for takeaway or delivery. However, while in Chicago’s Edgewater buying Ethiopian spices for recipes, I stopped by a Mexican restaurant on the way home. Susupuato Restaurant and Taqueria at 6161 N. Broadway Avenue was just what I needed.

Chips

I ordered guacamole with chips and a platter of fish tacos with Spanish rice and refried beans. First to the table were complementary chips with salsa. Unlike most salsa, this was not of the chunky variety. There still was flavor in each bite. Then there was a soup on the house, which was a tomato based soup that had noodles and cilantro in it. The guacamole was a plus. It wasn’t salty, like I’ve had at a few taquerias, and there was a fair enough amount of cilantro in it to give it a flavorful boost.

Soup on the House
Guacamole

Loved every bit of the fish tacos. The chef chopped up the tilapia, so they were not whole pieces. The butter, onions, tomatoes, and chipotle sauce in the recipe really kicked them up a notch. Topped with avocado slices, they will be my “go to” tacos for when I return. The Spanish rice and refried beans were seasoned just right, not bland, and not salty.

Because of COVID, there may be more takeaway and delivery than in-house dining. Nevertheless, whatever you buy is worth it, if you like a little authenticity in your Mexican dining rather than something bordering on fast food. Add to that good service, I will certainly stop in again next time I am in Edgewater and want something before heading to my next destination.

Fish Tacos, Spanish Rice, Refried Beans
Taqueria Susuputato II Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Kona Grill, Gnashing Teeth Award

For such an outstanding lunch, I would have expected the price point to be something to interfere with the appetite. The price is not ridiculous and there are no compromises in flavor for not charging a ridiculous amount for dishes. My biggest disappointment is that for three years I have passed by Kona Grill and had never bothered to stop in for a dining experience. This first time was just by chance and it is a gamble that turned out to be a winner. They are worth an encore and deserving of a Gnashing Teeth Award. Continue reading

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Aye, Aye, Tacos Tequilas

Tacos Tequilas

For my first landing, I had ordered uchepos gratinados. These fresh corn masa tamales drizzle with roasted chilaca, cream, and cheese were a change from the usual tamales with shredded chicken. I must admit that I would gladly order these tamales without hesitation over tamales with chicken in them. The chilacas in the uchepos gratinados were mild. Those who are not fans of heat in their food would love these tamales. Continue reading

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Testaccio, Rome in Chicago

For my third landing, I was going for a couscous tagine and was saving a flight of spiedini for my fourth landing. My server recommended that I have both together, which was a splendid suggestion. This third course was a marriage of Morocco, Algeria, and the Mediterranean. The couscous came with eggplant and pine nuts, the latter that I may need to take care to note in the future. It was satisfying the way I remembered in Casablanca, Fes, Marrakech, Rabat, and Algiers. Having it with the flight of lamb kefta, swordfish, and beef filet resulted in a flavor bonanza. If you want to know how tender meat should be prepared, you definitely need to have a dining experience at Testaccio. Continue reading

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Latinicity, a Taste of Latin America

One thing I like about Latinicity is the variety, albeit found in only a few vendors. I must admit that I thought there were more restaurants before. Of course, that was over five years ago. I recall there being restaurants to the right of the entrance as well as the current restaurants to the left of the entrance. Nevertheless, next time I am downtown, I will make plans to stop I again to try some other offerings. Continue reading

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Bettie Lou’s Restaurant, Soul Food Heaven

Happy New Year. Starting 2020 off with realistic resolutions, a new list of international cuisines and restaurants to try, and another list of American restaurants that have a focus on healthy recipes. Now that I am in my 50’s, I have to be mindful of everything since my metabolism doesn’t burn off fat the way that it did when I was in my 20’s and 30’s.

A friend had told me about a post on her high school class page on Facebook. There was mention of a restaurant named Bettie Lou’s Restaurant at 5633 N. Ashland Avenue in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood. After a brief review of the menu online, I agreed to meet my friend there so that we could try some of the dishes.

Bang the gavel. Sold!

We started with salmon croquettes, scrambled eggs, and brown rice. Those who are from Down South can speak to having a breakfast consisting of salmon croquettes, rice, and biscuits. You don’t get a Northern brunch. Bettie Lou’s brought a bit of the South to the North Side of Chicago, for sure. The croquettes were not a failed attempt but meaty salmon lightly encrusted with a light batter and fried with onions and bell peppers. The brown rice was the surprise. It occurred to us after we had finished that there was no gravy on the rice. The addition of butter and seasoning actually made me view brown rice in a favorable light.

For a second landing we had turkey chops with cabbage and cheese grits. The turkey chops had been lightly breaded and fried to look like pork chops. It was all turkey and with a well seasoned gravy, it was better than any pork chops I have had. The cabbage reminded me of the same that I have had at countless Jamaican restaurants in Jamaica and off the island. As to the cheese grits, they were a perfect compliment to the course with a proper amount of cheese and creamy consistency.

The third course was of perch served with collard greens and candied yams. The perch was not some thawed fish purchased from the frozen section. We were thankful that it was not encased in a quarter inch of crust. There was a flour batter, which made it very light. As to the greens, this was the first that I have had cooked in a vegan manner that had flavor. Whatever chopped weeds I have had at other vegetarian and vegan restaurants don’t compare to the collard greens at Bettie Lou’s. The yams were not sugary and were just the right balance to the greens. Add to the delight of this landing, the johnny cake that came with the greens made it all feel like New Orleans in Chicago.

My friend had ordered some peach cobbler for takeaway. Before we left, we had a spoonful for a sample. Had it not been for discipline, we would have finished it at the restaurant. The only thing missing was a scoop of ice cream. Once word gets out about how tasty the peach cobbler is, it will be the one thing that will have Bettie Lou’s Restaurant making the news.

For all of the food that we ate, we were sated but not to the point of misery or comatose. That speaks to the ingredients not being so heavy as to leave diners feeling like they’ve eaten past a proper dining threshold. Having gone during the middle of the day on a Saturday, we got the chance to engage the owner in conversation, which made it feel like we had gone to a friend’s or a family member’s house. One thing to note is that dishes are prepared to order. It will take time for food to arrive at the table because nothing is warmed up or microwaved. Although Chicago boasts a long list of soul food, soul food vegetarian, and soul food vegan restaurants, Bettie Lou’s Restaurant has made a flavorful impression on me such that it is now my go-to soul food haunt.

Salmon Croquettes, Brown Rice, Scrambled Eggs
Bettie Lou’s Restaurant (Slideshow)