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
Being in a constant state of hankering for seafood and mostly anything Japanese, I followed up on a recommendation for a sushi restaurant named Tsukiji Fish Market at 1156 W. Grand Avenue. In a rather unassuming location, is a treasure chest of Japanese dishes and fantastic service. Very much in a mood for sampling several menu items, I went with a friend who is equally in tune with appetizing dishes from other continents.
For our first round, we started with a tamago miso soup. Far from plain miso soup, the addition of egg added a creamy texture to the broth, thickening it only slightly, and adding a nice nip of a very faint custard. No more regular miso soup for me if I can have it with tamago.
For those on a clean eating regiment, the tuna and avocado salad will leave you with a constant smile. Meaty tuna and avocado over non-bitter lettuce and a few shredded, pickled vegetables rendered a dish that resulted in nothing left on the plate. This salad gets the Clean Plate Society Award.
We switched up a bit from the usual. Having never been a fan of udon and rather worn out with ramen, we ordered udon. By the third slurp, the beef udon quickly rose to the top spot of “Best Udon in Chicago.” You heard that from me first. The non-salty broth in the soup makes the recipe that more enjoyable. Add to that tender beef, plump mushrooms, cabbage, and noodles that were neither al dente nor mush, I could quickly assume the role of a cat and knock any other dishes onto the floor if it’s not this beef udon.
And as if the beef udon was not already a sure winner to have during every visit, the yakiudon was another addictive dish. This was a plate of pan fried, thick rice noodles with mushrooms, pickled carrots and beets, and shrimp. Again, a dish well worthy of ordering constantly during repeat visits.
With my friend avoiding desserts for Lent and me avoiding desserts until my birthday in April, we save enough room for a flight of nigiri. The salmon volcano aburi, being nigiri, was of a sampler size of what I imagine a larger role filled with salmon and topped with a spicy mayonnaise would taste like: heaven. The taboro kani was an absolute favorite, a vice for the two of use who love crab — and this was not imitation crab. Finishing with ebi, the shrimp was divine on the palate.
As I mentioned earlier, Tsukiji Fish Market is not a flashy restaurant and it is on a block that is speckled with a few new restaurants. I assume that it has not been on the West Town landscape that long since there was no wait for a table, albeit there was a steady flow of diners coming and going. I give it a few months and some major press, and then it will be one of the hottest spots in the city for Japanese happiness.
While passing through Chicago’s Edgewater neighbourhood, I walked by a restaurant that I thought was a bar and grill. It turned out to be a Pan-Asian restaurant. I have slowly lost my interest in Pan-Asian cuisine. However, I will make a few exceptions. Indie Cafe at 5951 N. Broadway Street seemed like they were heavier on the Japanese menu. So, that was the option I went with.
Figuring that I would have a hearty lunch, I started with a miso soup, wishing that they had kabocha squash soup on the menu instead. After the soup, I had a flight of nigiri. Salmon, tuna, whitefish, octopus, shrimp, hamachi, and unagi, all fresh and all devoured slowly while enjoying jasmine tea.
Although I had several pieces of nigiri, the flight was still light. After a brief scan of the menu again, I ordered unagi don. This came as a bowl of barbecued eel over rice. This is a dish that I could probably eat daily and never complain about. The eel was not muddy, fishy, or questionable in taste. And unlike at a lot of Americanized Asian restaurants, the sauce was not heavy-handed with syrup.
India Cafe avoids cramming patrons close together. This minimizes the need to compete with others sitting immediately next to you, which means you can have conversation with others in your party without feeling like you are in a sports bar. I didn’t try any of the Thai cuisine since I am slowly working myself back to indulging Thai at restaurants that prepare Thai food specifically. As to the Japanese fare at Indie Cafe, I must say that I enjoyed it.
The Uptown and Edgewater neighbourhoods boast numerous Asian restaurants where you can get a vast selection of Asian delights to fancy your palate. If you are in Edgewater and have a hankering yet you’re going back and forth over what you may find more interesting, give Indie Cafe a try. I recommend going for the Japanese fare on one visit and trying Thai on another one.
After a nice break for a few weeks, it was time to get back into some restaurants and place my feet under a few tables. Coming off of my “time off,” I opened my email to discover countless solicitations for posting some person’s — or entity’s — press release and photos for events, locations, and functions that have absolutely nothing to do with cultural dining. And the invitations for attending some “out of my pocket” function for one or more guest celebrity chefs were a close count behind the “promote our brand” spam. Being a career food blogger would kill my passion and my appetite.
But I’m not a career food blogger and my passion for food was ramped up. Not wanting to go any distance more than two miles away from home, I recalled a Japanese restaurant near an Italian restaurant I had gone to several weeks ago. In a small stretch of quaint restaurants is Hachi’s Kitchen at 2521 N. California Avenue. A rather spacious and comfy restaurant inside, outdoor seating is also an option during warmer weather. I opted to indulge an omakase. And because omakases at the restaurant are prepared for parties of two or more, the chef’s willingness to prepare one for singular me was a winner.
The most pedestrian course was the complimentary cup of miso soup. The remaining nine landings comprised two and a half hours of culinary bliss. Landings two through eight were small plates: seared scallops, tuna poke (which has become gold on menus at Asian restaurants as of late), king crab atop miniature cucumber salad, grilled whitefish with red bayberry, uni shooter, salmon, and a trio of nigiri. And I had a bottle of warm sake for sipping while enjoying each course. The ninth landing consisted of two maki rolls, one with tempura asparagus topped with salmon, the other with tuna and avocado. The finale was a green tea crème brûlée with green tea. There wasn’t any course that lacked in enticing the palate.
Hachi’s Kitchen is the third Japanese restaurant I’ve gone to where I’ve chosen to have an omakase rather than order from the menu. All three restaurants had outstanding chefs and food happiness consultants (servers at the top of their game) that made my dining experiences absolutely winning. With this third time indeed being a charm, the trend moving forward for me with Japanese dining will be omakases or kaisekis. Arigatou gozaimasu, Hachi’s Kitchen.
A year ago, almost to the date, I went to a Thai restaurant in Edgewater for their one-year anniversary. With Chicago and the surrounding neighbourhoods being saturated with Thai restaurants, it was nice finding one that retained authenticity while also applying some jazzy techniques to the recipes. While at the anniversary gathering, one individual recommended several restaurants that she felt would suit my taste and would be a fit for the blog. Macku Sushi at 2239 N. Clybourn Avenue was one of the recommendations. So, one year later, almost to the date, I followed through on the suggestion.
There is the usual minimalist decor and non-cluttered seating that one finds in Japanese restaurants that focus primarily on food. With me having sat by the window, I got a good view into the preparation and cooking station, which was all I needed to know that I was about to get satisfaction with a variety of flavour. Now, having gone to countless Japanese restaurants, I was not interested in yet another bento box, teriyaki platter, or litany of maki rolls. Instead, I handed the menu back to my server and told him that I wanted an omakase and sake pairing. And then the fun began.
For those who have indulged one or more omakases, there is the awareness that each dish is the chef’s whim. Some items are on menu, some aren’t. I opted for a bit of experimentation. Over the course of the dining experience, I had ten landings. There were tuna, salmon, pumpkin soup, Japanese snails as a take on escargot, oysters, uni, whitefish, tuna tacos, and a selection of nigiri. In true outstanding dining spirit, each landing was progressively better than the previous landing, and the very first course was already a winner. It was nice having an explanation of each dish, and even a bit of history to some, rather than having plates delivered in obligatory fashion. That added touch shows that the servers are knowledgeable of what’s served, not just gophers running dishes to tables. As to the sake pairings, not being a sake expert, I was extremely happy that each pairing complemented the dishes.
Macku Sushi deviates from the usual maki roll and sushi fare that comprise a mainstay in Japanese dining. The plates are not substantial in size, so there really isn’t the potential for stuffing yourself. And while Macku Sushi is not high-end dining, the prices associated with the sizes of many of the dishes may be high-end for those who expect buffet offerings. The high points are the quality and freshness in the ingredients and the service. One would have to be offended for no other reason than being offended is an option to find anything wrong with Macku Sushi. Authenticity in the kitchen output, top service, and they haven’t fallen into the Pan-Asian trap, I pass along the recommendation that I received a year ago. GO!!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With warmer temperatures in Chicago, dining invitations are coming in steadily. In a single day, I had an invitation to lunch for a sampling of Mediterranean food and an invitation to a dining event involving several Italian eateries later in the afternoon. To add to my plate, my restaurant advisor had booked me for dinner at Momotaro in Chicago’s West Loop at 820 W. Lake Street. Arriving for early dinner on a Wednesday evening, the restaurant generated a feeling of Friday after work. The dining area was filled and the energy was high. With the understanding that Momotaro prepares dishes for those who like small plates, we agreed to order several items that were good enough for getting a range of tastes.
One item we started with that we had not indulged at any Japanese restaurants was ikejime. Think of an orange gazpacho served with harami sashimi that comes atop ice. You put the sashami in the gazpacho and then enjoy. The pro was the dish was so blooming good. The con was the dish was so blooming good that we wanted it in a larger portion.
The unagi don was a highlight. This came in a small bowl as a mix of barbecued eel with shiitake and kanpyo mixed in rice. The unagi don was rather reminiscent of bibimbap prepared tableside at Korean restaurants. A plus to this menu item was that there was a liberal amount of barbecued eel for the feast.
Next for our palates was kani jomaki. This was a maki roll filled with cucumbers, crab, eel, and tomago. After a brief dip in the accompanying soy sauce, the rest was devoured without use of the sauce. If you order this dish, do not use soy sauce. This maki roll should be enjoyed without any palate disruptions from extra sauces.
Sticking with eel as a main ingredient, we had una kyu. Again, this was a maki roll that did not require soy sauce for dipping. Since there were some flavourful dabs on the plate, we used those instead. Outstanding and nothing but fresh taste of eel, this roll was more fantastic than most specialty rolls. Simple is often better, as was the case here.
Now that our rockets had been primed, the kani miso was the final countdown to liftoff and we were well on our way to the stars. I love seafood. However, my restaurant advisor feens for crab and the kani miso was a crab lover’s vice. There was creamy crab miso inside of a crab. Served with sourdough, there was no conversation while devouring this dish. There were the occasional acknowledgements of “This is delicious,” “Wow,” and “I don’t want this to end,” though.
And as all good things must come to an end, we had an ebi sashimi as a l’amuse between dinner and dessert. Rather than the ebi being served inside of a shell, butterflied, or simply outside of the shell, the chef had prepared the shrimp to a tartar texture. This was a new way of having shrimp and one that satisfied the palate.
One dessert consisted of green peaches with a meringue crumble and a dollop of vanilla ice cream. This was another surprise, as one always think of peaches that bakers put into peach pies and peach cobblers. Green peaches are different, with the same burst in flavour, and rather sweet. For anyone saying, I will not eat green peaches, Sam I Am, you will after you have them at Momotaro.
The final dish was a citrus angel food cake with fruit and ice cream. If one could describe a flavour, think of a dreamsicle. The combination of orange from the cake and vanilla from the ice cream took me back to my youth of having a go of those frozen treats no sooner than my parents brought them into the house. After so much food, this dessert, as was the plate of peaches and cream, was light.
Momotaro always makes the list of top sushi restaurants to sample from in the city. The menu isn’t extensive, so the potential for being overwhelmed with too many options is small. I highly recommend getting a taste of as many small plates as possible and indulging the hot plate items. Yes, you can have sushi, nigiri, and sashimi from any Japanese restaurant. Momotaro seems to do an outstanding job letting diners enjoy a different variety of other Japanese delicacies while maintaining authenticity in the output. West Loop cheated with drawing a crowd with wide palates with the opening of Momotaro.
Several years ago, I went to Tanoshii in Andersonville on a whim. What I initially thought was going to be a brief moment at just any sushi restaurant turned out to be one of the more memorable sushi experiences in Chicago. While going to meet a friend for dinner in West Loop a few weeks ago, I saw a sign for Tanoshii at 720 W. Randolph Street. Wondering if the Andersonville location had relocated, I made a note to visit the West Loop location for a proper update. Upon arrival during my visit at the Randolph Street spot, there were the usual greetings and clarification that the Andersonville location was still intact. I imagine the Tanoshii at 5547 N. Clark Street got a lot of business, which may very well have been the impetus for opening a location in another popular area of Chicago.
With Chicago having suddenly gone from mild winter to frigid in a matter of days, I ordered a warm sake for a starter. I had devoured a good amount of food the prior evening with friends I had gone to graduate school with and had snacks all day long, so I was not really in a frame of mind for having to be decisive. When the server said that there was a chef’s choice option to ordering, I agreed to that. But to warm me up further, I requested a cup of kabocha soup with crab in it. The soup has a flavour akin to squash soup. You cannot go wrong with that during cold months and you’re well within heaven’s reach when there is fresh, real crab in it.
The chef’s choice came on a wooden board, full of presentation, and considerably more satisfying than I could describe with any kind of justice. The first item on the board was tuna tartar on a tortilla chip. As much as I like raw seafood, I have never been a fan of raw tuna. On the occasions that I have had it at the request of my servers, I’ve been rather impressed. This was one of those times. The chip balanced out the texture of the tuna, but it was the pop in the flavour that added the wow that made it an incredible preamble to chef’s choice.
The tuna sashimi was the second item that fell into the category “don’t order much” because of the texture. And again, Tanoshii West Loop somehow managed to change my mind. I didn’t get the list of ingredients used in the tuna sashimi, but it was a good thing that I got a photography for this blog post. I shall order this again when I return and I will have the photo for use during the delivery of the order. The tuna was neither fishy nor rubbery. I think that it were the freshness, the silky texture, and the accents atop of it that made it addictive.
There were yellowtail and smoked salmon sashimi. I have always enjoyed both in maki rolls. However, I have ventured into sashimi dining at Japanese restaurants as of late and find that I want those delectable pieces without them being shared with other ingredients in a roll. The yellowtail and salmon were meaty and so full of bloom that it was after I had finished both that I realized I had eaten them, as well as the tuna sashimi, without any soy sauce. That is the mark of an outstanding sushi chef.
I finished the chef’s choice board with a maki roll that reminded me of a rainbow roll. There were tuna and avocado on the roll and enough sauce that this was easily devoured sans any soy sauce, like the sashimi. As much as I wanted a repeat of the chef’s choice board in total, I did opt for another sushi roll. Now I am in love with their truffle honey roll with salmon over a peach balsamic sauce topped off with chili paste and a honey truffle glaze. This was the Mona Lisa of sushi rolls. And would you believe me if I told you that I waddled over to Bombo Bar at 832 W. Randolph Street and had cappuccino and bombolonis, one filled with vanilla custard and one fill with salted caramel?
Those who are familiar with Chicago’s West Loop District know that the restaurants fill up quickly. West Loop is a high volume area with plenty of foot traffic and establishments that do a fantastic job luring in customers. Tanoshii West Loop does the same. Unless you tend to sit in the bar area, make reservations, especially during the weekends. From my first visit, I’m certain the after 5:00 PM crowd throughout the week loves to go for sushi and I understand fully. I cannot say if there is a list of “Best Sushi in Chicago” floating around, but I’d be highly disappointed if either Tanoshii location is not on the list.
Having 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.
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.
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.
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.
A few weeks ago I received an email with a recommendation for a sushi lounge in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighbourhood. I must admit that I was rather pleased to have received such a recommendation, given that every time someone suggests a sushi restaurant to me they have been addictive to the point of me constantly returning. With the weather finally being nice in Chicago, I was off to Miku Sushi Restaurant at 4514 N. Lincoln Avenue.
Arriving during noon, I was not subjected to the congestion of the dinner crowd. I had a seat at the sushi bar and briefly scanned the menu. With it being a Saturday and me having the weekend to do as I pleased, I had a sunrise martini during midday. It was rather reminiscent of a Bahama Mama, mostly because there was rum in the mix. One word comes to mind: refreshing.
For a starter, I had kobacha squash and crab soup. There is one other sushi lounge, Sen Sushi in Oak Park, that serves kobacha squash and crab soup that I love. And the fact that there is real crab in the recipe, not imitation crab, I was all the more pleased. Now that I know Miku Sushi Lounge has it on their menu, I don’t have to go all the way to Oak Park for this delicious bowl of bliss.
My appetite was cranked high enough for me to consider indulging three sushi rolls, and three sushi rolls I indeed indulged. The first was a spicy shrimp maki. There was nothing about this roll that was forgettable, from the fresh ingredients to the burst of flavour with each bite. And, yes, it was spicy, which became more evident when the soy sauce I had infused with wasabi was not required.
The second maki roll was an unagi roll. Not being one to shy away from eel in my sushi, this was definitely a tasty inclusion in this maki roll. One thing I noticed with the eel was that it had a silky texture. This was in no way a bad thing, but I have never had unagi that was that heavenly on the tongue. Not overdone with sauce, most of this roll was enjoyed without soy sauce for dipping.
The ebi tempura maki was simply outstanding. Again, the shrimp was fresh, as were all of the ingredients. I was expecting the ebi tempura maki roll to be slightly pedestrian compared to the spicy shrimp and unagi maki rolls. I was well beyond pleased with the crunch from the tempura and the inviting kick from dipping each piece in the soy sauce with wasabi.
Still having some room for dessert, I had a chocolate cream martini and chocolate chip cookie dough egg rolls. As to the cocktail, it simply is not possible to go wrong with adding chocolate to the mix. The martini was prepared in such a way that the alcohol was not heavy, which was perfect for allowing the chocolate liqueur to taste like chocolate rather than medicinally. The egg rolls were cute and I liked them, although I would have fallen in love with the dessert had the cookie dough been baked before encased in the wonton and fried. I must admit that the accompanying strawberry sauce added a nice touch.
Miku Sushi Lounge is a spacious restaurant with the usual decor found in sushi lounges. Although the restaurant can accommodate a large capacity of diners, the service, price and food no doubt draw a crowd after 7:00 PM. For a neighbourhood that is teeming with Irish pubs, the flavours from the other side of the Pacific Ocean are also welcomed. To the individual who recommended Miku Sushi Lounge, arigatou gozaimasu.