Krung Thep, No American Menu

With temperatures waffling between not-so-bad and cold, doing whatever it takes to avoid catching the flu, and work being maddening, it has been a few weeks since I posted a review. A Thai friend who knows that I have an appreciation for authentic, traditional dining had me join her at Krung Thep at 3205 N Halsted Street for some Northern Thai cuisine. What a surprise I was in for.

Papaya Salad

Papaya Salad

Traditional Soup with Blood Cake

Traditional Soup with Blood Cake

While Krung Thep has a menu of staple Thai dishes, it became evident that they also have a menu for those who are homesick for Thailand. The menu is in Thai only, not that it mattered for me, since my friend spoke Thai with the owner. From my limited Thai, I caught clutches of “just send something to the table.” That’s exactly what happened.

Liver

Liver

Fried Pork Belly

Fried Pork Belly

We started with a papaya salad. For years, I viewed salads as rabbit food and some of the recent Thai restaurants I have gone to have had papaya salad on their menus. Krung Thep won me over with theirs that had an extra kick from dried shrimp on it. Next up to the table was a bowl of traditional noodle soup that had blood cake in it. I’m no fan of offal, but I guess an indication of it being  prepared really, really good is when the flavour is actually inviting. Not one wince from me while I slurped the soup.

Herbed Sausage

Herbed Sausage

Curry Fish Cakes

Curry Fish Cakes

By the time the third dish arrived at the table, I realized that this was indeed a traditional dining experience. We had a pork soup with meat that had been cooked to the point where the bones were soft enough to chew and swallow. Quite spicy and delicious, great for the hot weather, tasty enough for me to want more. Other exotic dishes that followed were liver that didn’t taste gamey, fried pork belly that we worked with rice, herbed sausages that put all other sausage to shame, and herbed fish cakes that I now love more than Maryland crab cakes. After all that, we were stuffed and begged for no more, yet a Thai custard arrived. Loved it.

Thai Iced Tea

Thai Iced Tea

I will be the first to sample something new and I admit that I have some rigid constraints. I had no problem relaxing some of my constraints for the dishes that we had. Nothing came to the table that I found off-putting, albeit not something I would indulge regularly, but the pop in flavour and the right amount of spices left me wanting an immediate return. I know it may not be the case at a lot of restaurants with international flare, but I have a love affair with eating from the non-American menu.

Krung Thep Thai Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Little Gem Bar and Restaurant

Little Gem Cafe

After years of living in Chicago, I have been recalling a statement that an individual made when we had met in 1989. She had stated that you can spend your entire life in Chicago and never cover all of it. I have discovered that the same applies to some of the edge cities like Evanston, Rosemont, Schaumburg, Skokie, and Oak Park. Case in point was during a casual stroll a block north of downtown Oak Park where I stumbled upon The Little Gem Bar and Restaurant at 189 N Marion Street.

Duck with Salad

Duck with Salad

Spacious on the inside with a bistro feel to it and also with some outside seating, there is an atmosphere of ease that doesn’t feed into ambient noises and acoustics all over the place requiring you to shout with your dining companions. Taking advantage of the outdoor seating, I settled on a four-course meal that had a French influence. Since the restaurant had been touted as a French bistro on Yelp and Google, I chose to stick with that theme, although I did see a paprikash dish on the menu, which is Hungarian.

For my first course, I had a duck carpaccio with a salad in a light vinaigrette with mandarin slices. The server paired this dish with a Sauvignon blanc that had some fruity notes that balanced out the tartness of the duck carpaccio, which had strips of raw duck. Those who like tartar and the texture would certainly enjoy this dish.

Toast

Toast

Because I had opted for a pairing of wines with each course, the server thought that it would be a good idea to have some bread for a palate cleanser, as well as an aid for reducing buzzing. I’m not really sure if the grilled toast was complementary, but I must admit that it was of the variety that I could go off the rails with while enjoying some gouda cheese.

Deviled Eggs

Deviled Eggs

The next course was a plate of deviled eggs. Accented with parsley oil and a balsamic reduction and topped with crispy, fried onions and pickled jalapeños, all four that came were absolutely scrumptuous. Paired nicely with a Chardonnay that had a buttery and oak flavour that was light on the palate while not usurping the centre stage from the deviled eggs, I actually developed a better appreciation for deviled eggs, as I have not had any that weren’t abused by a use of too many herbs and spices.

As of late, I have been introducing pork back into my diet, albeit in moderation. The server had specified the special for the evening, which was a 10-ounce bone-in pork chop in a jalapeño and apple purée with roasted potatoes sautéed in a Spanish chorizo. For the pairing, the server brought at Pinot noir that had a “right” amount of acidity to match well with the dish. For an individual who has not been a fan of pork for many years, this one was one I would rush back to the restaurant to indulge without pause.

Pork Chop with Fingerlings

Pork Chops with Fingerlings

In keeping with the French effect in dining, I had cheese for dessert rather than a sweet. The cheese board came with an assortment of cheeses, housemade strawberry jam, smoked almonds, candied walnuts, and apples. There were aged Wisconsin cheddar, a brie, a housemade cheese, and a casabola. The housemade cheese was an interesting marriage of provolone, cheddar, and cream cheese. The caso bolo was a mixture of goat, sheep, and cow cheeses. Along with a cup of coffee, this was a delectable and ideal finale to what was a spectacular meal.

Cheese Board with Nuts and Jam

Cheese Board

I was somewhat expecting “regular” fare, but was thoroughly surprised and satisfied with the offerings. The Little Gem Bar and Restaurant is not French-specific. If I could apply a word to the restaurant, it would be Pan-European because of some Eastern European offerings and Mediterranean fare. One thing I have not done on the blog in years is name the servers that went well past outstanding. But Liz and Zach were two of the top servers any diners could have at their table. I understand why most at the restaurant were locals. Oak Park is not a local destination for me, but I have a feeling I will be a regular at The Little Gem Bar and Restaurant.

Little Gem Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Herb, A Savoury Thai Spa

One of my favourite spots in Chicago is the Bryn Mawr area in Edgewater between Sheridan Road to the East and Broadway Street to the West. With ongoing growth in the area, it would seem that some new restaurant, coffeehouse, or boutique has sprung up and such was the case with a restaurant called Herb at 5424 N. Broadway Street. Since I was going abroad for personal holiday, I wanted to squeeze in a dining experience so that I would be reminded that I live in one of the most spectacular cities in the world, albeit ruined by overgeneralization and convenient stereotypes.

Herb

Having read a few reviews, I was curious as to how there would be any kind of twist done to Thai food. There is a restaurant in Chicago’s Albany Park neighbourhood called Arun that supposedly added a fine dining component to Thai food. Most of the time you find that making food chic is nothing more than a gimmick. As I discovered at Herb, it just means the chef is damn good at his or her craft. Minus the aesthetics of the interior, I had what I will call my first Thai spa ever.

Betal Leaf with Toasted Coconut and Apricot

Betal Leaf with Toasted Coconut and Apricot

I was in a mood for a full experience and opted for a six-course degustation. To whet my palate, there was betal leaf with toasted coconut, peanut, some diced fruit, and apricot purée. Served open-faced, you roll the betal leaf up and plop it into your mouth in one bite. The first thing I noticed was the tartness of some of the diced fruit along with the leaf, later followed by the sweetness of the coconut, and then finished off with a tangy hint from the apricot purée. There were no competing flavours all at once on the initial bite, each one taking turns, and I must admit that I have never had that kind of experience before in my culinary jaunts.

Moo Yang

Moo Yang

Neau Yang

Neau Yang

Leading into the appetizers, I started with moo yang. This was a dish of grilled pork that was served yakitori style on skewers. Visually, it looked like dishes you see in food magazines. Food magazines can never begin to capture how well coriander root, lettuce, roasted banana pepper, and spicy tomato sauce work on the meat. Each bite starts with a spicy kick and ends with a mild sweet finish from having been soaked in coconut milk. By the time I had the neau yang, I noticed a theme of alternating flavours playing on the palate. With this appetizer of grilled beef highlighted with shallot, cucumber, coriander leaf, carrot, mint, red chili, toasted rice with chili lime dressing, there is a rising action of tanginess followed by a climax of sweetness and then a denouement of spiciness with a finale of wow — if wow can be described as a flavour.

Yum Tour-Pu with Lemongrass Ginger Tea

Yum Tour-Pu with Lemongrass Ginger Tea

One may think that having flavour come and go while other flavors alternate in a single bite could become old hat quickly. I could become a vegan cold turkey eating the yum tour-pu salad. This salad came as sawtooth coriander, grape tomato, yard long bean, fried shallot, kaffir lime leaf. There was go-between of faint tartness and spiciness. Again, for the flavours to have been complex, the profile of the salad had been prepared such that you experience multiple sensations on your tongue without ever feeling like there was a bit too much to the dish. It was nothing short of Willy Wonka greets Asian dining.

Tom Hed Ka-min

Tom Hed Ka-min

On to the soup, the tom hed ka-min was akin to tom ka gai but prepared with mushrooms instead of with chicken. This bowl came as enoki, shimeji, king oyster mushroom, heart of palm, herbal coconut broth, and highlighted with a desire to get patrons addicted. As the server poured the broth, I thought the soup was stunning visually. It was after the first slurp that I realized even photography could do no justice to the richness of the dish. Not only did the broth taste like coconut, and I don’t mean coconut soup from a can, and the mushrooms were indeed fresh, but this was not a small portion. Coming from the restaurant’s summer menu, I could indulge this all year round.

Fruit Salad

Fruit Salad

L'Amuse

L’Amuse

Before moving to the main course, there was some time to allow the stomach to get accustomed to so much damn good food and to entertain a few palate cleansers. The first was a medley of fruit. Although it was called a fruit salad because it consisted of strawberries, red grapes, purple grapes, white grapes, passionfruit, tomatoes, and grapefruit, this was another dish that could have me become a vegan convert. The surprise came when I discovered three different profiles: sweetness, spiciness, and tartness. The fruit provided a natural sweetness, shredded chilis gave a spicy kick, and the vinaigrette had a mild salt base. Later there was another l’amuse of a jelly with peanuts and mint wrapped in a thin layer of cucumber. Yet again, there was sweetness followed by a passing tartness. Clearly the chef has perfected generating sensations and waking up your taste buds linearly.

Gang Gai Tai

Gang Gai Tai

Gai Sa-Mu-Pri

Gai Sa-Mu-Pri

The first main course was gang gai tai. I love my Thai curry to be thick. Herb did not disappoint. A recipe consisting of Southern-style coconut curry, fuzzy melon, butternut squash, Thai eggplant, red bell pepper, kaffir leaf, and sweet basil, and served with jasmine rice, I was amazed at how light it was. The dish that I thought looked bland was anything but bland. The herbal chicken over jasmine rice made very good use of coriander and lemongrass marinated with spicy-sweet chili garlic sauce. Being curious about why the ingredients were so profound in the dishes, I inquired of the chef who responded that they grow the herbs and spices in the garden behind the restaurant. I think it also explained why there was an absence of salt and MSG in the dishes. The discriminating palate knows.

Flight of Fruit

Flight of Fruit

For the finale, there was a flight of fruit. There was rambutan that reminded me of lychee. There was mango over sticky rice, which is a staple dessert in Thai dining. Because I only asked for a flight of light dessert, there were two that I did not get a name for and since I have not developed enough familiarity with my new cellphone, I did not get the voice recorder started so that I could have the chef give the names. However, one was like gelatin coated in coconut and the other was a gelatinous cake, both bite size and both a new, tasty experience. The final dessert was taro root that put me in mind of tamarind. All light, all natural, all a perfect ending to what was the best Thai dining experience I have had to date.

Herb is not a restaurant where you go simply for a sampling of Thai dishes prepared differently than what you expect at commonplace Thai restaurants. Here is where you go for a culinary spa. Well, that is what I would call it. There is no rush, no pressure, and no disappointment. You pamper your appetite, indulge yourself, and relax thereafter because any good meal here is guaranteed to induce food comatose. I can say with certainty that Herb will make my top 10 list for 2015 because of such fantastic service in addition to some fine dining that does not come as a hefty price. I treated myself well to a Thai spa. I highly recommend you try it also.

Herb Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Parthenon — Meeting New Friends and Opa!!!

A few weeks ago, I received a flurry of email notes bearing good news and invitations. I found out that Chicago Alphabet Soup had made the list of top 50 blogs in Chicago, which was an honour given this is a hobby and balance to my otherwise chaotic day job life. I received a few emails inquiring if I would be interested in guest writing for a few online publications. Getty Images picked up a few of my photos. And I got an invite to Greek restaurant Parthenon at 314 S. Halsted Street in Chicago’s Greek Town. I thought this would be nice, so that I could put faces with the names of several foodies and food bloggers in the city.

Spanakopitas

Spanakopitas

Octopus

Octopus

Skordalia

Skordalia

Saganaki

Saganaki

We had a variety of appetizers. There were spanakopitas, which were phyllo pastries stuffed with spinach and feta cheese. The octopus was not rubbery to the palate. It was as though the morsels had been cooked slowly for days. My first favourite appetizer was skordalia. Puréed potatoes accented with garlic, and I appreciated that the garlic was heavy-handed in the recipe. And, no, I have no fear of vampires.  My second favourite appetizer to arrive at the table was saganaki. If you think the ritual of setting the cheese aflame and the shout of “Opa!” is spectacular, let me be the first to say that you’ll want to cut through all that fanfare and have the cheese set in front of you so that you can show your appreciation or devout appetite accordingly. The most pedestrian course, as I jokingly call rabbit food, was actually good. The salad dressing, albeit light, was still good enough to let the flavour of the ingredients come through. Lettuce, pepper, olives, feta cheese, and an addiction I call tomatoes were a great segue to the main course.

Greek Salad

Greek Salad

With so much tasty preamble, a dish that I thought would sate me without leaving me needing assistance walking thereafter was shrimp flambé with rice. The shrimp, doused with brandy and set afire to a declaration of “Opa!” before being set in front of me, I felt slightly ashamed at devoting the remainder of my time to devouring the shrimp and enjoying the rice. The best way to get conversation out of me during dinner is before serving any delicious food or by serving something quite not all appetizing.

Shrimp and Rice

Shrimp and Rice

Having indulged so much food to this point, I cannot believe that I opted to renege on my intention for no desserts until Thanksgiving. Being aggressive with my workouts, I ordered galaktoboureko anyway. I am a fan of custard and this Greek delicacy prepared with custard and phyllo and then coated with honey was actually lighter on the stomach than I anticipated. The texture was fluffier than the creamy variety that I have gone overboard on in the past.

Galaktoboureko

Galaktoboureko

Parthenon is large like many banquet halls. There is plenty of space for large gatherings and if you love to dine with family or large parties of your friends, this is definitely the place. There are two Greek restaurants in Oak Park that I frequent because of the quality in the food and service. I can say without hesitation that the quality of food at Parthenon is top. With this being a planned event — that being a gathering of foodies, foodists, bloggers and food appreciators — the service was superb. I shall have to return as a Regular Joe for a proper “off the street” dining experience. I’ll be sure not to shout “Opa!” and smash my plate against the floor.

Parthenon Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tandoor Char House — Indian Goes Barbecue

Tandoor Char House

During one of my days off for my birthday earlier this month, I did a fair share of casual strolling through one of the neighbourhoods to the east of my neighbourhood. Lincoln Park is known for quite a bit of activity and offers a lot of restaurants, cafes, boutiques, and novelty shops for pedestrians. Much like a lot of areas in Chicago, there are some establishments that you may never notice or you may pass and simply never give a second glance. Tandoor Char House at 2652 N. Halsted Street is one of those places that rang true for me, given I spent most of my strolling on Halsted Street in Greektown.

Salad

Salad

For my first visit, I craved Indian-specific dishes. The craving was more of a need for pandering to a food addiction rather than merely wanting some spicy Indian food on my palate. I didn’t waste any time looking at the menu. I rattled off two dishes that are common on all Indian menus — chana masala and chicken tikka masala.

Chana Masala

Chana Masala

Having had Indian food without it being spicy a few times as of late, I requested that my dishes come blooming with pepper. The temperatures outside were moderately chilly, so I could stand the heat. The chana masala left me happy. And I was quite cultural with my use of the poori to devour the tasty chickpeas. I think this may be my all-time favourite Indian dish and seeing that Tandoor Char House had served up perfection, I ordered some for take-away.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala

The chicken tikka masala was a splendid accompaniment to the chana masala. Usually chicken tikka masala has a thin yet flavourful gravy. This dish at Tandoor Char House reminded me of chicken makhani, rich in gravy and accented with butter. The tamarind rice that came with it worked wonders on the tongue. There was a mild zest to the rice since it was not regular basmati rice and it also worked well with the chana masala.

Mango Cheesecake

Mango Cheesecake

Truly my appetite was out of control for I had eaten everything. I even used the poori to get the last bit of gravy from the serving dishes. I requested twenty minutes of downtime in preparation for dessert. Kulfi? Gulab jamun? Gajar ka halwa? Kheer? No, I had a slice of mango cheesecake. The thing about the restaurant being empty when I went was that I let my facial expression have a complete go of it without me feeling embarrassed about my version of appreciation. Topped with crushed pistachios and drizzled with mango sauce, this slice of heaven could have Cheesecake Factory scrambling for a tastier cheesecake.


Having eaten too much during my first visit to Tandoor Char House, I decided that it would be wise to return another day for a sampling of something different. First for tempting the palate were tamarind chicken wings. I didn’t see a need to be prim, evident from me using my fingers to pick up the wings and delight myself properly. I even licked my fingers when I was done, and I didn’t blush with shame for being so comfortable.

Tamarind Chicken

Tamarind Chicken

Tandoori dishes are usually something that I skip at Indian restaurants, mostly because I love the curry dishes. Today I opted for tandoori shrimp. Brought to the table on a skillet, you could see the steam rising from the plump shrimp, bell peppers, and onions. This dish came with tamarind rice and a makhani sauce. By the time I had finished devouring this addictive dish, I wondered why I had never succumbed to any tandoori dishes other than the usual complimentary tandoori chicken that most Indian restaurants serve during lunch buffets.

Tandoori Shrimp

Tandoori Shrimp

While I let my tummy settle from the tamarind chicken and tandoori shrimp dish, I had a pakola. This Pakistani drink is a cream soda and the one that I had seemed to have a hint of rose-water in it. So, my three favourite carbonated drinks that also happen to be the only carbonated drinks I will have are piña Jarritos, mandarin Jarritos, and pakola.

Pakola

Pakola

For my finale, I ordered a fusion dish — penne tikka masala with shrimp. I had tried to convince myself not to indulge a curry or a dish with a gravy, but I was rather curious as to how the penne with tikka masala would taste. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it left me with a smear of gravy at the corner of my lips. Imagine Italian meets Indian. This was a luscious marriage. And served with garlic naan, if I had a microphone, I would have dropped it on the floor as I slowly got up from the table and dragged myself out into the streets.

Penne Tikka Masala with Shrimp

Penne Tikka Masala with Shrimp

Tandoor Char House has a small seating area in a loft section of the restaurant. For my two visits, this is where I sat. However, there looks to be a downstairs section that may be an extension of the restaurant that fills up during busy hours. The table service has been great during my visits and I am surprised when the tab comes and it’s not as hefty as I think it would be. Far be it from me to complain. It only means that I can be certain to keep going back to Tandoor Char House and stuffing myself senselessly without worrying about a pricey bill. Hmm. I’ll let you know after my next visit.

Tandoor Char House on Urbanspoon

Norman’s Bistro — N’awlins with Samba

Norman's Bistro

When I moved from Hyde Park to Logan Square, my trips to the South Side diminished. There are so many restaurants, cafes, and boutiques in Logan Square and surrounding neighbourhoods such that there is no need to venture too far away to find anything. One thing I must admit that the South Side has are restaurants that have a southern influence. Wondering where I could find one such restaurant, Google popped up a restaurant named Norman’s Bistro, at 1001 E. 43rd Street.

Norman’s Bistro serves New Orleans cuisine with a Brazilian influence to it. Having lived in Central Mississippi and visited New Orleans quite often, I was already sold on the N’awlins aspect of the food. I was rather intrigued about the Brazilian influence, wondering if it I would detect any of the recipes that I recalled from my days in São Paulo. I imagined that the New Orleans flavouring would stand out more, not a case of trying to have a 50-50 fusion to the recipes.

Norman's Bistro, Collage

Click to see larger photos in Flickr album

There were complimentary yeast rolls. No sooner had I touched the first roll than I realized they were homemade. The texture was not anything like I have had from bakeries or grocery stores, but what I have had consistently from ovens in friends’ and family’s homes. I started with a garden salad with a raspberry vinaigrette. Nothing spectacular, but the salad was fresh, not the bowl of wilted vegetables that I often get at restaurants. For a starter, there was a cup of seafood chili. You can have your chili with chicken, beef, or pork. Although not as spicy as I prefer, the seafood chili quickly became my favourite.

One dish I was curious about was the gumbo. It was a melange of corn, chicken, shrimp, and lobster in a delectable red roux. Served in a large bowl with a scoop of rice, I was either “that” hungry or incredibly bottomless because there was no way I should have completed that whole bowl. Again, not spicy in a peppery sense but packed with a bloom in flavour, I didn’t bother trying to compare the gumbo to the gumbo that I devoured in New Orleans. The gumbo at Norman’s Bistro holds its own. And the mini cornbread muffins that came with it were a big hit. Actually, they were so blooming good that I felt that the two I had were not enough. I saved up enough of one of them so that I could sop up the rest of the gravy from the gumbo.

By the time I had finished the seafood chili and the gumbo, I had to let some time pass before indulging a dessert. And for a sweet, I had a slice of salted caramel cake. I can’t say whether the cake was baked in-house, or not, but I will admit that it was worth it. It reminded me of the dobo torte that I have had at an Austrian restaurant in Chicago called Julius Meinl. There were layers of cake, salted caramel, and vanilla cream. Given the layering wasn’t “mass-produced perfect,” it was clear that even if it was baked at a bakery, it was one of a kind and delicious to boot.

Norman’s Bistro is one restaurant that I consider to be a surprise find. Many restaurants in the Bronzeville neighbourhood are closer to Martin Luther King Drive and S. Cottage Grove Avenue. There are a few other nice sit-down restaurants scattered throughout Bronzeville, but the far east end of 43rd Street had been void of much activity for a long time. Norman’s Bistro has a spacious interior for dining and another room in the restaurant that I imagine doubles as a spillover room for crowded evenings, as well as a party room. Service is laid back and if you eat as much as I did, the last thing you want is a server hovering over you. I can’t say when next I will be visiting New Orleans, but I will be going back to Norman’s Bistro within the next few weeks.

Norman's Bistro on Urbanspoon

Little Bucharest Bistro

Little Bucharest Bistro

Several years ago, an individual who had done some photography and web development for some restaurants had given me two recommendations. One was for an Italian restaurant — Pasta D’Arte — and the other was for a Romanian restaurant. I went to Pasta D’Arte during the late summer of 2013 and decided that I should also follow up on the second recommendation. So, not far from Logan Square is Little Bucharest Bistro at 3661 N. Elston Avenue in Chicago’s Irving Park neighbourhood. It was a nice Saturday afternoon and my appetite was absolute wildly, now more than ever because I had been doing a few sessions of CrossFit training.

Little Bucharest Bistro has an airy, spacious interior and thanks to plenty of large windows, the setting isn’t dim. For those who wish to sit outside, there is outside seating, but having arrived early, indoor seating next to a window worked perfectly for me. Although Eastern European food is something that I prefer mostly when the temperatures are chilly, I asked my server for recommendations, while informing her that vegetarian is my first preference and seafood is my second. The offerings that I got had exceeded my expectations.

Little Bucharest Bistro Collage

Click to see larger photos in Flickr album

For a starter, I had borscht. At most Eastern European restaurants, the borscht tasted like it had been prepared with pickled beets from a jar. The taste was alway too sharp. At Little Bucharest Bistro, there was definitely a flavouring of cooked beets from a garden that didn’t leave an overpowering taste. It was also nice that the soup was full of beets and not just beet juice. Second to the table was the village salad, which consisted of red bell peppers, green bell peppers, red onions, cucumber, feta cheese, tomatoes, and olives. Drizzled with a nice balsamic vinaigrette, this was rabbit food I would welcome anytime. With the complementary, homemade bread, my taste for Eastern European food had a bit of a renaissance.

A light appetizer that I got next was a plate of eggplant, prepared much like baba ganoush, that was served with pita bread, a small salad, and a melange of pickles, crepes with cream cheese, and salmon. What an offering and this small platter still packed a flavourful punch that I would gladly indulge on future visits. And in keeping with vegetarian dishes, there was the vegetarian goulash. This was a hearty dish of grilled eggplant, cabbage, peppers, spinach, and garlic couscous in a tomato sauce. I was expecting something along the lines of a spaetzle, but the goulash was a classic example of different being outstanding.

There is the feel of family-owned and small restaurants that you get as soon as you enter Little Bucharest Bistro. From the owner greeting you at the door — you never get that kind of welcome at downtown eateries — to the wait staff that is attentive and engaging to the food that leaves you wanting more, this is certainly a restaurant that should be on your list of places you must sample in Chicago. Aside from my usual running around, travelling, and getting into other things, it should not have taken me years to follow up on the recommendation to go to Little Bucharest Bistro. This first experience is definitely all the more reason I shall have to return again very, very soon to see what other delights they have on their menus to convert me into a regular customer. And with autumn and winter coming, Eastern European food will do well for my appetite.

After Dinner Drink

After Dinner Drink

Little Bucharest Bistro on Urbanspoon

Ristorante, Trattoria, Osteria Langhe

Osteria Langhe

A friend told me that all I post on my Facebook page are photos of food. If he were following me on Instagram, he would keep a constant appetite after looking at all of the photos of food that I post there. And speaking of Instagram, someone who is on my friends list on that social media outlet had been posting photos of food at a new restaurant that opened in Logan Square. After seeing way too many photos of appetizing compositions, I made a prompt reservation for a visit. Osteria Langhe, at 2824 W. Armitage, was where all the magic happened. Yes, this is where I made four courses disappear.

Grilled Octopus

Grilled Octopus

Salad

Salad

Osteria Langhe serves Italian cuisine that is more customary in the Piedmont region. With me being in one of my experimental moods, I didn’t bother looking at the menu. I gave the server my boilerplate disclaimer — I love seafood and while I have no food allergies, I hate nuts, and as to something to drink, simply tell the bartender whatever you plan to send to the table and have him or her mix something along the lines of a cocktail accordingly.

Libations

Libations

Paloma

Paloma

Amaro

Amaro

For my first course, I had polipo. This dish of grilled octopus, heirloom tomatoes, basil, capers, saffron oil, and grilled bread was a fantastic starter. The octopus did not have a rubbery texture to it. The tenderness of it made cutting into it feel almost like slicing through very tender chicken. Although the salad of tomatoes and mini greens came without much of a vinaigrette, there was enough to accompany the salad while letting the octopus have the stage as the star.

The bartender had mixed some libation that I never captured because I was engaged in lively conversation with the owner. However, it was quite refreshing and had a vodka base. Thanks to me not getting the name of the drink, I now have a reason to return, for sure, and to order the drink again. I will show a photo of the libation since that will be the only cue I will have as to what it was.

The second course was a salad of spicy mixed greens, kohlrabi, green peas, parmesan, and croutons of fried veal brains. Not having pork in my diet, I had forgotten to say that I am a pescatarian so that the fried veal brains would have been omitted, but the “sweetbread” croutons were actually flavourful. They were like fried cotton candy — if you can imagine that. Nevertheless, after waving my magic wand, that being my fork, I made the salad vanish.

Shrimp and Scallop Risotto

Shrimp and Scallop Risotto

Soft Shell Crab, Insalata Russa

Soft Shell Crab, Insalata Russa

The third course of risotto with shrimp and scallop was where I thought that I had reached the apex of my dining experience. The risotto comes as a different variety per day and I was fortunate that I got the seafood version. A very, very creamy base to it, the risotto reminded me of French cooking. This dish, however, was Italian cooking at its finest. I savoured the risotto at great length because such a dish should not be devoured as if rushing thereafter is a necessity.

With the third course, and as a continuation into the fourth course, I had a Paloma. This was another summer drink made with grapefruit, lime sugar, tequila, and Filbert’s grapefruit soda. Those in Chicago may have, or may not have, ventured down into the 3400 block of South Ashland Avenue and quenched your thirst on a Filbert’s soda. Their grapefruit soda in the Paloma was definitely a divine ingredient.

The fourth course was the dish that solidified my decision to become a regular at Osteria Langhe. This plate of soft shell crab and insalata russa is one that everyone should try, especially those who think that they know where the best Italian food is served. The soft shell crab had an egg batter that made it very light and there was so much meat in the crab that each bite was an explosion. The insalata russa, which is a combination of potato salad and tuna salad, was a dream. Not a salad that one finds on Italian menus, it was an ideal choice for this dish and a great introduction to something authentically Italian that is not served in America-side Italian eateries.

Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta

The fifth course was the finale. Nothing spectacular like a tiramisu, tartufo, biscotti, or cannoli, but creamy and outstanding for a wrap-up, I had a panna cotta served with mixed berries. Along with that came a small glass of Amaro liqueur. Having a dessert like this prepared at the restaurant means it comes without artificial ingredients. All you get is greatness in taste.

One may say that there is a such thing as too many Italian restaurants. However, there is never a bad thing when it comes to discovering more to Italian dining than pasta and pizza. The introduction to Piedmont cuisine was absolutely luscious and a draw for what will be a constant return for me. The service is out of this world, from the owner who is fully engaging in conversation the way restaurant owners are in Italy to servers who can offer tempting recommendations to the bar service that mixes liquid satisfaction without any disappointment. Osteria Langhe has a “Make yourself at home” feel to it and regular customers — like I have decided to become — will attest that another Italian restaurant on the Logan Square landscape is a dream come true.

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Bandera, Southwest in the Midwest

One of the things about being a food blogger is that the food blogging community doesn’t appear to be as competitive as entertainment figures. Maybe it has something to do with not being paid a ridiculous salary well into the 7-figure range for the write-ups on restaurants. Perhaps it has a lot to do with genuine interests in what like-minded individuals love to eat and another little thing called information sharing. Such was the case with a blogger I started following mutually out of New York City. I had received an email note recently inquiring about good restaurants in Chicago and whether I was interested in getting together for some good food and some knowledge swapping. Food was involved, and I could leave it at that. After finding out what the blogger had a taste for, as well as what he was tired of eating, I suggested that we meet at Bandera at 535 N. Michigan Avenue in the Magnificent Mile.

Skillet Cornbread

Skillet Cornbread

Having been to Bandera for lunch several times, I was aware that the restaurant fills up quickly. The food is the draw and Bandera is NOT a tourist trap like Cheesecake Factory and Grand Lux Cafe, both which are in the Magnificent Mile. I had never been for dinner, so the three-piece jazz band playing was an added bonus. My fellow blogger and I started with a skillet of cornbread and a plate of focaccia with black olives. The cornbread at Bandera is an absolute must for every visit, unless you cannot stomach bread. We’re not talking perfect little muffins. No, we’re talking a small skillet full of love with a crunchy top that will make you love it more than cupcakes. For a lighter carb on the palate, the focaccia is simply a beauty in flavour.

Focaccia

Focaccia

The blogger had gone to a restaurant or two earlier in the day, which meant that he had been sampling from some menus already. I had captured some impressions for breakfast and a few for lunch at two restaurants, which meant that I was not going to attempt to overdo it at dinner. So, we both ordered entrées rather than starting with appetizers. The blogger ordered the ahi tuna with a salad in a vinaigrette. I had this particular dish during previous visits and loved it. Seeing that the blogger didn’t wince, grimace, or leave any left on his plate, I took that as a sign off his approval of my recommendation.

Ahi Tuna and Salad

Ahi Tuna and Salad

For me, I ordered the pecan crusted trout with potatoes. After the server had walked away from the table, I then had the thought flash that there were pecans in the recipe. I bit down hard and decided that I would enjoy the dish although I hate nuts. Well, it must all be in the preparation because the pecan crust on the trout was a dream. I would like to think that the delectable taste of the gravy contributed to highlight of the trout, but it was only a very good guest star. The pecans had been cooked, baked, prepared such that they weren’t crunchy and being in the gravy, I didn’t get the tree bark aftertaste that I get from pecans. I didn’t want to awake from this dream.

Pecan Crusted Trout with Potatoes

Pecan Crusted Trout with Potatoes

Always great service and awesome food, Bandera is one my top go-to restaurants for American fare. There is no menu with pages of options to leave you with your eyes crossed. One page, great selections, and what you get from the kitchen exceeds what you see on your final tab. Lunch is a perfect time to go for an introduction. If you want to enjoy some outstanding jazz music while delighting yourself with a beverage and entrée, I suggest making a reservation for a Saturday evening and arrive around 6:00 PM. You can thank me later.

For disclosure, the blogger who had come to Chicago blogs at Lord of the Forks. His trip to Chicago was not just to sample a few restaurant, but to meet with several Chicago-based foodists and to get more samplings of restaurants worthy to showcase on Tabelog. The one city in North America that has a tremendous representation of “old country” authenticity in its restaurants’ food is Toronto, much because Toronto is a metropolis of immigrants. Little do many know or even acknowledge is that Chicago — for all of its flaws and national gaffes — is a true sister city to Toronto. So, you find a plethora of cultural culinary havens. And what my newfound friend found in Chicago were not celebrity chef hangout spots, pretty-people-only lounges, big box eateries with bigger price tags on food, flash, and flare. He discovered the States’ proper melting pot. Raise the bandera to signal the people to come.

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La Petite Folie dans Hyde Park

White Wine

White Wine

When I was in my 20’s, I had the opportunity to travel and work abroad. While many of my classmates were starting families, getting divorces, stabbing voodoo dolls of those who were enjoying life, and wearing fake smiles, I was jetting across the skies to Tokyo, Singapore, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, London, Stuttgart, and Beijing. One splendid city I got to travel to was Chalon-sur-Saône in France. Nothing like the metropolis of Paris, it was quaint in its own right. And the food was more provincial than the rich, sleep-inducing cuisines of the Parisian flare. Remembering my days of youth, I recalled a certain French restaurant in Chicago’s Hyde Park. Having never gone to the restaurant when I lived in Hyde Park for several years, I made a reservation so that I no longer had an excuse for never putting my feet under a table there. I was off to 1504 E. 55th Street in Hyde Park to see what I had been missing.

Crutide Salad

Crutide Salad

Because I wanted to enjoy my meal like a degustation, I started with a crutide salad. Marinated beets, celery remoulade, and carrot threads with herbed mustard vinaigrette sat atop a bed of spinach. Usually, the French will have carrots and celery in a vinaigrette for a snack. But having the vegetables chopped into threads and served under a drizzle of vinaigrette was just as fine.

Puréed Asparagus Soup

Puréed Asparagus Soup

The soup was a winner without a lot of seasoning added. For this course, I had puréed asparagus with asparagus tips and scallions. The flavouring, albeit light, was rather mild due to the soup being vegan. So, there was no broth added. Since my diet is low in salt, I was rather happy to enjoy the bowl of soup without overpowering herbs, competing spices, or heavy on sodium.

Sturgeon, Spinach, Potatoes

Sturgeon, Spinach, Potatoes

When it came to the entrée, I had mixed feelings. The sturgeon was fantastic. One thing to note is that sturgeon has a silky texture to it, so that can become a deterrent to those who are accustomed to flaky fish. Again, there wasn’t an overpowering recipe to the fish. The spinach was also flavourful without excess. The potatoes, however, were rather tough — the texture you find when something has set for a while and then reheated immediately before served. Had it not been for the sturgeon and spinach, the dish would have been comme ci, comme ca.

Gelatos: White Peach, Chocolate, Hazelnut

Gelatos: White Peach, Chocolate, Hazelnut

Now that I reached my 46th birthday, which was when I said I would add desserts back to my diet, I opted for three scoops of ice cream. There were white peach, chocolate, and hazelnut. Those were perfect, as they were light and not heavy with sugar the way cakes, pies, and cookies are. Plus, the scoops were ideal with the cup of coffee that I took with only milk.

While La Petite Folie has all the trimmings of French ambience, one may struggle with the provincial menu. There are no creams and rich sauces, which are what you find in Parisian restaurants. Granted I did not indulge the dishes with beef or chicken in them, those may have been in a heavy sauce. Nevertheless, the salad, soup, and entrée were very much reminiscent of what I remembered from passing through Eastern France. For those who are conscious about their budget, La Petite Folie surprisingly is not taxing on the wallet. This could be an incentive for you to try several delights of their offerings. I shall certainly return to see what else they have for my appetite. In the meantime, Bon appetit!

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