Juno, Gino, You Know, It’s Good

Juno

While waffling between going to my favourite Italian restaurant or going for sushi, the latter won. Juno at 2638 N. Lincoln Avenue in Chicago’s Lincoln Park was one restaurant that looked interesting and after reading a few reviews, there was some hesitation. In retrospect, the evening was one well spent. It was good that I went.

My restaurant advisor and I arrived for a 6:30 PM reservation. The restaurant was empty until 7:30 when the dinner crowd came. Then it was all high energy. There is the minimalist Japanese style to the restaurant that actually gave me some ideas for remodeling my condo. However, the food was what we were there for. As you will discover, we loved it.

Cranberry Juice, United Shooters, Smoked Hamachi

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The server gave us a visual description of the items on the menu to whet our appetites. Given the menu was only one page, we had no problem narrowing down selections for a 10-course degustation.

For our first landing, we had uni shooters. Two vials on ice contained sea urchins, wasabi, tobiko, orange zest, and cucumber. With the sticks that were inserted, we stirred the ingredients and downed the contents in a swallow. Not a filling course, but that was fine. The flavour was simply delightful on the palate with a pleasant aftertaste that we chose not to cleanse with our cranberry juice or sake.

The second landing arrived under a dome with captured smoke. After removal of the dome, there were two spoons of hamachi with shiitake and sweet corn. Devoured in whole from the spoons, this was the size of what one would consider a l’amuse. Still, such a small item had an extreme pop in flavour, thanks in part of the cherry wood accented smoke.

Juno Queen, Sake, Juno King

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The third and fourth landings came as a pair. The Juno Queen was spicy scallop with taro and sweet potato on the top with rice in the centre and wrapped in salmon. Since the queen will always have a king, there was the Juno King, which was a signature nigiri of spicy king crab wrapped in tuna and topped with crunchy potatoes. Words cannot describe how delectable these nigiri items were. Only facial expressions would be telling. And because the two are better served together for comparison and contrast, if nigiri were a marriage, the Juno Queen and Juno King are perfect models.

Seared Scallop, Grilled Octopus, Ceviche Maki

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The fifth landing was the first of the hot menu items that we ordered. This was a plate of grilled octopus with pickled Granny Smith apples, ao nori, and zucchini ribbons atop an eggplant purée. As plain as it looked on the plate, it was anything but bland to the taste.

The sixth landing was the server’s personal favourite and quite understandable after the first bite. Tender seared scallop sat atop squid inked fettuccine with shrimp, black bean, and chopped red chili peppers. When scallops are done correctly, the flavour profile of the scallops come through with freshness and no muddy flavour. That was certainly the case with this course, and it helped that the fettuccine was an equally scrumptious complement.

For the seventh landing, we sampled one of the signature maki rolls, the ceviche. There were whitefish, tuna, and scallions in the middle. On top were shrimp, a hint of spicy aioli, and house made pineapple salsa. With fresh seafood, this was truly Peruvian and Japanese working together in a dish at its finest.

Steak Tataki, Lavender Cake with Lychee Sorbet, Mushroom Ramen

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Moving back to the hot plate items, the eighth landing was steak tataki. This was a plate of medium rare steak with Swiss chard, miso, corn, peaches, and sliced jalapeños. Again, this was a winner in flavour

The ninth landing we ordered was mushroom ramen. This landing had trumpet mushrooms, roasted corn, napa cabbage, pickles, soft boiled egg, and house made noodles in a savoury broth. Ramen has become quite popular in many Japanese restaurants. At Juno, the mushroom ramen had enough flavour appeal to make it a highly recommended ramen dish to order.

For the final landing, we had a dessert of lavender cake topped with sesame seeds, along with cantaloupe, lychee sorbet, and candied almonds. There was also a delectable citrus sauce poured in the bowl that took the dessert to a new level in bliss. Certainly not a heavy dish, but the flavours of all of the ingredients played well without any overpowering or competition on the palate. It was simply heaven.

Juno does exceptionally well with small plates, keeping in the tradition of serving dishes like in Japan. There is a bit of a high price per item, negligible for those who appreciate fine dining. Those who are accustomed to the “Chicago way,” that being restaurants giving so much food that you have to take some home, may find the cost problematic given the size of the dishes. For us, quality trumped quantity. And the service is simply outstanding. Overall, Juno was an enjoyable dining experience on three sticking points that we use to rate restaurants: quality of food, service, and price.

Kesshutsu shita.

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

Seadog Sushi Bar

Seadog Sushi BarHaving watched several photos of sushi on Instagram, it goes without saying that I was in a mood to work some chopsticks. While passing through Wicker Park, there were restaurants quickly filling up with customers who had departed work for the day. Many were probably trying to get into a warm building since Chicago went from tropical to near autumn in a matter of days. Well, not wanting to deal with crowds, I pulled out my cellphone, flipped through some more Instagram photos, and saw a few postings from a restaurant walking distance from where I was pondering what to eat. I quickly made my way to Seadog Sushi Bar at 1500 W. Division Street.

Sea Soup

Sea Soup

Having indeed arrived early enough, I had a window seat and enough room to navigate the table for some shots at different angles. Well, I cannot claim true foodie credibility without photographs of my dining experience. And I was glad to have wiggle room without being in anyone’s way or them in my compositions. Thanks to the sudden drop in temperature, I started with a pot of green tea and a bowl of sea soup. There was no shortage of shrimp, whitefish, and crab in the soup. The flavour of the broth reminded me of sweet soy sauce. The green tea balanced out the sweetness.

The Island

The Island

Spooky Maki

Spooky Maki

An appetizer that grabbed my eye was The Island. It was sushi, but prepared unlike any sushi that I have had before. This was a dish of crispy sushi rice atop ebi tempura. There was a honey mayonnaise in the recipe that gave the sushi a pop that I enjoyed without use of soy sauce. The interesting maki roll was the Spooky Maki. This sushi roll was made of unagi, jalapeno, and cilantro served with a spicy mayonnaise and unagi sauce. The unagi sauce was rather sweet. After patting much of the unagi sauce on the plate, the sushi pieces were delicious.

Green Tea

Green Tea

Seadog Sushi Bar seems like a quaint restaurant, not one that is boisterous and loud. Granted I went as soon as the doors opened for even dinner, there is a bit of a laid back feel in the atmosphere regardless. There is a BYOB policy, so for those who wish to imbibe a cocktail or a beer while feasting on sushi, they may bring their spirits and Seadog will provide glasses. Overall, it was a splendid experience. I will have to keep in mind that it may be wise to order dishes one at a time. I am discovering that a lot of restaurants deliver orders to the table rather quickly and you may not be done with one dish before another one arrives at the table. Seadog Sushi Bar abides by that Americanized way of service. Good sushi is not to be rushed.

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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

Gambling, No Win

The month of April has been a wonderful month for me. Having had a birthday on the fifth of April, I began a great deal of celebration. With many other friends having birthdays this month, that means I have been in feasting mode since the month began. Food. Desserts. Drinks. Reminiscing. All the good things. There has not been one day or evening that I have not been pleased from some type of food satisfaction. Even the night prior to me penning this journal entry I was at an Indian restaurant with a great friend having a fabulous time on some choley batura and four incredibly large shrimp. And to think that I woke with hunger again, ready for action, hankering to quiet the monster that growled endlessly. Being the puppet that I am, I figured that I would venture to the South Side down to Hyde Park to work my appetite on something at one of the many restaurants there. Through congestion and gauntlets of crazy drivers, I cursed and projected foul language the entire drive from my condo to Hyde Park. Shinju Sushi I arrived in Hyde Park and decided that I would start at 53rd Street and find something along that stretch. Thai. Italian. Barbecue. Japanese. Coffee. The selection was vast, but my hunger wanted me to be quick. So, I settled for Japanese at Shinju Sushi, located at 1535 E. 53rd Street. Upon entry, I had a bit of the welcoming feeling you receive when you go to saucy fast food joints but with a hostess who takes you to your seat. A rather cold welcome, a quick escort to my seat, and that was it. Not much of a problem, but while reviewing the short list of sushi options, one server came by and yanked the main menu. This was a red flag. Needless to say, I did not have a chance to see what was on that menu, just in case I may have had an interest ordering something from that bill of fare. Miso Soup Miso soup was one item I was going to order, but a server had brought out a bowl that I took for being complimentary. Enough to warm me up on the inside, considering it was brisk outside, I devoured the bowl of miso soup with a smile. By then, I had finished my order. I had a taste for gyosa, unagi maki, and shrimp tempura maki. No sooner had I handed the selection to the waitress than she returned with the gyosa. It was as though there was some telepathy involved. The chef knew that I wanted gyosa. Served with the accompanying sauce, this fried potsticker appetizer was tasty the way I have had other gyosa — albeit at room temperature. Gyosa After having the second of the five gyosas, the sushi came to the table. Again, the chef must have had some kind of telepathy because sushi does not come quickly unless it has been prepared in advance. And at the risk of sounding like a sushi snob, there was a hint of pre-packaging that I gathered based on the first bite. If you have bought any pre-made sushi or if you have ever had sushi or a maki and saved some for later, there is a certain texture that the sushi takes on. While not stale, each bite presents the feel of chewing gum that has been gnawed for half of an hour. This was the case with the unagi maki. In addition to the noticeable texture, the eel sauce on the maki was rather sweet. An indication of my gums experiencing a slight throb was hint enough that the unagi sauce on the maki was more saccharine than necessary. Little kids who thrive on sugary treats to perk their already-boosted energy would love the unagi maki. Unagi When it was time to consider having my way with the shrimp tempura, I had opted to leave a few pieces of the unagi maki alone. Yet again, there was the texture of pre-made sushi and at room temperature. Add to that the sugary sauce that had been used to douse the shrimp tempura maki. Oh were my teeth sensitive. Having a low sugar diet, and primarily avoiding anything with high fructose corn syrup and excessive quantities of sugar, my palate goes into overdrive, my gums come to life, and my teeth tingle like I have drowned them in ice water. I could only stomach a few pieces of the shrimp tempura maki. Honestly, the whole process was a case study in me forcing myself to eat and that is problematic considering I have an outrageous appetite that requires little coaxing for stuffing my jaws.Tempura Shrimp Shinju Sushi is one of those restaurants that I would have plugged shamelessly during my college days. The cheap prices — a buffet of $14.99 — and just the mention of sushi would have been enough for me to have stamped myself as sushi omnipotent, as though I had lived my whole life in Japanese going to the best sushi bars ever, and been a walking advertisement. After watching sushi chefs work their magic on fresh ingredients, it is easy to become a purist. Then you have sushi with questionable texture and excessively sweet taste. Well, you win some. And then you return to sushi bars where you have walked away teetering from having eaten so much fresh and tasty sushi and maki. Yes, you win some.

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