Friday, May 30, 2014

Don Pedro Carnitas

Location: 1113 W. 18th St., Chicago, IL 60608
Carnitas Don Pedro on Urbanspoon

A Quick Word:
One of my buddies and I went on a search for cheap Mexican food (different from all the restaurants I had already tried).  The first stop was surprisingly closed and the second had bleach-tasting water.  We finally stepped into Don Pedro Carnitas on 18th Street in Pilsen.  I had somewhat of an idea of how this restaurant worked... so we sat down and ordered the carnitas.  The dish comes in two sizes and either pure meat or a mixture of meat/stomach/skin and other parts of the pig.  We decided on the "mixtas" platter so we had a little bit of everything.  All of that meat and innards is served with salsas and tortillas so just sit back and have few tacos.  The service is OK with the waitresses having a little difficulty with English.  It is cash only, making it a little inconvenient for some.  It is hard for me to like a place when I love Carnitas Uruapan (which is about 1-mile west of this restaurant and cheaper).  Because of the better carnitas restaurant just a few blocks away and the higher prices at this one, I decided to give Don Pedro Carnitas and average rating of 3.5-miles.

What We Ate:

(Mixtas w/ Chicharones - Large Order)

As you can see from the top and bottom pictures, we ordered essentially the only menu item and the meal the restaurant is known for--Carnitas.  We chose the "mixta" version and the larger size.  This meal comes with a large plate of mixed pork meat that includes white meat, dark meat, ribs, stomach, cheek, and roasted skin.  It also comes with a few pieces of the fried chicharones, a dozen or so tortillas, and of course their house made salsas.  They describe this order being large enough for 2-4... I don't see it being enough food for 4, but I will easily see 2-3 getting full.  Anyway, the food itself is very tasty.  The pork carnitas by itself is moist and has that classic roasted flavor.  I do wish they used a little more Mexican seasoning.  They only reason I knew it was Mexican was from the several salsas on the table.  The chicharones were just OK.  In my opinion, they were very dry and needed some kind of vinegar to help relieve that dry texture.  At $20 with two sodas, the price is a little high for carnitas.  There are better places which are more reasonably priced just down the road.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- When you walk in, go ahead and have a seat.  Look at the menu on the back of the napkin holder and order.  I suggest the carnitas mixtas (large platter)... good enough for 2-3 to eat (not the stated 4).
- If you want brain tacos, come here.  I believe they serve them on Tuesdays-Thursdays.

- Don't forget CASH.  This place is CASH ONLY and the ATM in the restaurant charges a $2.25 fee.

How far would I walk for this food?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Urban Belly

Location: 1400 W. Randolph St., Chicago, IL 60607
Urban Belly on Urbanspoon Urban Belly on Foodio54
A Quick Word:
I originally avoided this restaurant because of the distance from my apartment.  However, recently, Urban Belly moved next to its sister restaurant, BellyQ, on Randolph Street.  We decided to give it a try with a couple friends that frequent the restaurant.  Upon walking in, you realize they split the restaurant into two.  One side is the sit-down bellyQ restaurant, while the more relaxed atmosphere with communal tables belongs to Urban Belly.  After ordering a slightly pricey bowl of noodles, you grab your own seat and wait for your order.  The food portions are huge (I am talking about the noodle soups).  The ramen is delicious and definitely higher class than most ramens in the city.  But that does come at a price.  The other dishes were above average, but not spectacular; however, the noodle soups singlehandedly elevated the rating... they are that good.  And, for that reason, I decided on a 4-mile rating.

What We Ate:

Wagyu Beef Burger (Updated 5/24/14 - Special)

Following graduation, my family and I decided to eat at Urban Belly.  This time around, we knew to share multiple dishes.  One of their specials of the week was the wagyu burger.  This dish was made with a wagyu beef patty cooked to medium and topped with kimchee and their house sauce.  It is served on an asian-bao-like bread (the white bread made with rice flour) and comes with a side of togarashi-topped french fries.  First of all, the burger is a good-sized portion.  It is too much for a lunch, unless you want to take a nap.  My favorite part was the bun.  They toast it to make the outside a little crisp, yet the bun retains its typical bao softness.  The kimchee isn't too pungent and has just enough spice, which is mellowed out by the mayonnaise based sauce.  The fries are piping hot and seasoned well.  Hopefully this burger is still available when you visit Urban Belly!

Buffalo Chicken Dumplings

For an appetizer, one of my friends decided on the buffalo chicken dumplings for the table.  One thing I noticed was the strange combinations in each of Urban belly's dumplings.  I am glad he stuck with the buffalo chicken dumplings, which were made with their thai fried chicken, belly fire sauce, celery, and blue cheese.  I really enjoyed these dumplings.  There was a nice crisp to the wrapper and enough heat on the sauce to make you think twice.  It is tricky because your mind says asian dumplings, but your tastebuds scream buffalo sauce.  I highly suggest trying these.  I will be back soon enough to try another one of their creations.


Edamame may be the easiest appetizer to share.  Here, they lightly steam them before tossing in a pepper and crushed fennel spice mixture.  Nothing spectacular, but still tasty.  Like I said, great to share.

Shrimp Udon Soup

My girlfriend decided on the shrimp udon noodle because my fried rice dish (seen below) already had pork belly.  This soup was made with the thicker Japanese udon noodle, half a dozen large shrimp, sliced fish cake, bok choy, and mushrooms.  It was all swimming in a tasty shrimp broth.  First, the bowl is MASSIVE.  Without question, two people or more can share this one bowl.  The noodles are the thick, chewier udon noodle which are amazing.  They absorb just enough broth to allow the noodles to stand alone.  The shrimp are huge, easily in the teen range per pound.  I couldn't figure anything wrong with this soup, and that is why my rating is elevated despite some average items.

Urbanbelly Ramen

Their signature noodle soup is the Urbanbelly Ramen.  Our two friends both ordered this soup and gave me the opportunity to give it a try.  This one starts with a saltier pork broth and is filled with classic ramen noodles, braised pork belly, mushrooms, and a soft-boiled egg.  The first thing I noticed with this bowl was the amount of pork belly given.  It is easily 1/2 lb of pork belly if not more.  Each bowl came with at a minimum two six-inch slabs of pork belly.  Wow.  The noodles were cooked to the perfect consistency--not too mushy.  The broth itself was delicious, but a little on the salty side.  I highly recommend either noodle dishes and will definitely consider ordering this bowl next time!

Phat Rice

The dish I chose to share was the Phat rice.  And it was a mistake.  It was made up of their combination fried rice topped with ground chicken, fried pork belly, "Wagyu" short ribs, and pineapple.  First of all, the dish was more expensive than all the others and half the amount of food.  The so-called wagyu short ribs were as tough as leather.  And, the rice takes significantly longer to make than the other dishes.  Furthermore, the other components didn't really stand out as amazing to me.  Honestly, there are several restaurants I could easily say have better fried rice.  I don't recommend this dish at all.  Stick with the noodles.

Grape Sac Sac

This was my first time trying an Asian grape drink.  Called Sac Sac, this juice actually has several halved grapes floating inside.  It is super sweet and all of the grapes seem to settle at the bottom so be sure to shake well before drinking.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- What to do:  Order your meal at the cash register, walk around to the back of the register and grab a seat at the communal table.  Sometimes it is more difficult to grab seats so be prepared to wait or grab a seat prior to ordering and have one person in your party order the food.
- SHARE!!! The bowls of ramen are huge and easily enough for two people.  They even give plenty of meat so no worries about sharing the protein.
- Do try their dumplings!  Delicious combinations.
- BEST ICE CREAM IN CHICAGO... it is my favorite.  (see BellyQ post for details)

- Don't expect to make reservations unless you have 8 or more people.  The tables are communal so try to snag one while your friend or family member orders the food.  Seats are sometimes hard to come by.

How far would I walk for this food?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Little Quiapo Restaurant

Location: 6259 N. McCormick Blvd., Chicago, IL 60659
Little Quiapo Restaurant on Urbanspoon

A Quick Word:
Finding Filipino restaurants close to downtown Chicago is essentially impossible.  I already blogged about an amazing Filipino breakfast joint (Uncle Mike's), but for more classic dishes, be ready to drive at least 30 minutes to the northern part of the city.  If you do, check out Little Quiapo for their lunch buffet.  At $11.95, you are sure to get extremely full without busting the wallet.  The buffet has just about everything on the a la carte menu, including lechon, adobo, and dinuguan--3 classic Filipino dishes.  And, with over a dozen others including soups and desserts, there is something for everyone to enjoy.  Unfortunately, with such a cheap price, the quality suffers quite a bit.  A few dishes are on the bland side, while others are on the cold side.  None of the dishes were perfect, but all seemed at least above average.  And, with such a limited option for places, it is hard to knock a restaurant that features a very unique cuisine.  I have been several times and I always leave happy and full.  Be open minded and you will see why I could easily give them a 3.5-mile rating.

What We Ate:

Filipino Lunch Buffet

Everyone has the choice of indulging in the buffet or choosing a few dishes from the a la carte menu. We obviously came for the buffet that is priced at just $11.95.  You will first notice the entire buffet is served out of a jeepney... the classic "taxi" of the Philippines.  And wow, what a spread it can hold.  I started off with all of the fried treats that included lumpia shanghai aka the Filipino egg roll (filled with ground meat), crispy pata which is a deep fried pork knuckle, pusit or fried calamari, and chicharones which most know as pork rinds.  All of the fried food is better dipped in either sweet and sour sauce or a vinegar-garlic mixture.  Personally, I thought the crispy pata was dry, so I would probably avoid that dish.  After enjoying the fried dishes, I went with the more classic meat dishes of the Philippines.  The dark sauced dinuguan is a pork stew cooked in a blood sauce and is one of my all-time favorite dishes.  I also tasted some of the menudo (ground pork, potatoes, and other veggies in a tomato sauce), the embutido which is the Filipino meat loaf usually made with a vienna sausage or canned meat, adobo-style stewed chicken, and a few BBQ pork skewers.  I highly suggest the dinuguan, but make sure to eat it with some fried rice.  I topped off my meal with a bowl of arroz caldo (Filipino congee aka rice porridge) and sinigang (Filipino sour soup).  Sorry I forgot to take pictures of those soups.  The buffet literally has another half dozen or more dishes including two types of pancit, lechon (pictured below), caldareta (tomato-beef stew), pinakbet (eggplant/okra dish), lumpia (fresh style hand rolls), and of course, bangus (deep fried milk fish).  All are authentic, but all the dishes are not piping hot, making the meal a little disappointing.  Still very tasty, but I wish they had better control of their temperatures.

For dessert, it appeared they offered a huge variety of dishes, but one all of them are one-noted and taste the same.  Some of the dish names include sapin-sapin, bibinka, biko, and other ube-cocount creations.  They also have ginataan as the warm dessert dish and a mixed fruit platter.  My friends and I all agreed that the desserts tasted the same.  Nothing too sweet, and everything with a lot of coconut.  I wish they had some of my favorite desserts, including braze de mercedes, suman, gulaman, and halo-halo.  They do have halo-halo and other tropical ice creams on the a la carte menu, but we were too full to order more.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- Order Halo-Halo.  You must save room for this special dessert that has all the sweet gelatins, beans, fruits, and of course ube ice cream.  I still can't believe we ate too much to order one.
- Afterwards, head across the plaza to the Filipino bakery.  They have some of the better desserts including my favorite, brazo de mercedes.
- Huge parking lot.  It gets packed around noon so I suggest getting there earlier.  We got there at 11am and it was empty.
- Balut anyone?  These underdeveloped duck eggs are available for $2.25 a piece.  Some think Fear Factor, I think delicious.

- Don't expect the highest quality food and don't expect the food to be piping hot.  We got there right when it opened and the dishes were already just warm.  Disappointing, but I guess the buffet is cheap so it's hard to complain.
- Don't get the lechon.  It is awful here.  Very fatty and not much meat at all.  Also very flavorless.

How far would I walk for this food?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Frontera Grill

Location: 445 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60654
Frontera Grill on Urbanspoon
A Quick Word:
After living in Chicago for over 7 years and finally dining at Frontera Grill, I can say I have tried all of Rick Bayless's restaurants.  Some are great and others definitely subpar, but this review on Frontera Grill will explain why I think it is absolutely amazing.  The concept here focuses more on local Mexican treats, including takes on classic street food dishes.  At any given time, the menu can change and only remain for a week or two.  I was absolutely amazed with the sampler platters that they offered, including a seafood creation that is a "must have."  The atmosphere is very laid back with Mexican music playing in the background and Rick Bayless making short appearances (if you are lucky).  The reservation system is insane and can take up to 2-3 months to get a primetime slot on a day that fits your schedule.  Walk-ins are welcome, but I wouldn't suggest it.  And, finally, I couldn't give it a perfect rating because of the price...  It will easily cost you $100 for two if you have a drink or two.  The price is definitely steep, so I decided on a 4.5-mile rating was fair.  I will say, if I had to choose just one of his restaurants to visit, it would WITHOUT QUESTION, be Frontera Grill.

What We Ate:

Oyster & Ceviche Platter (Half Order)

The first of our appetizer samplers was a half order of the oyster and ceviche platter.  And, without question, this was the best cold seafood platter I have ever tasted.  The dish comes the following:
1. Half Dozen Oysters (Royal Miyagi (British Columbia), Wianno (Massachusetts), and Shigoku (Washington State)) - served with smoky chipotle-garlic salsa, habanero-tomatilla minoneta, and fresh limes.
2. Frontera Ceviche - made with Hawaiian albacore, lime, tomatoes, olives, green chilies, and cilantro
3. Tropical Tuna Cocktail - Hawaiian big eye tuna, tomatillo guacamole, and tropical fruit salsa
The pairing of all these seafood creations was unreal.  First, the oysters each had their own specific flavor, some brinier than others but all amazingly fresh.  That chipotle-garlic salsa was TO DIE FOR. It added a nice smoky undertone to each oyster without overwhelming their fresh sea flavor.  The two ceviches were served with house-made tortilla chips and were unique in their own way.  The Frontera ceviche used albacore, which gave it more of a  meaty, cooked texture.  This was completely different from the tropical tuna cocktail, which reminded me more of a tuna poke.  The tuna in that cocktail was sushi-grade and could be eaten alone.  Unbelievably delicious; I highly recommend this platter.

Street Food Trio

In order to try even more of their creations, we decided on a second sampler... the street food trio.  This was came with the following:
1. Enchiladas Potosinas, which were corn masa turnovers filled with homemade cheese, and presented on a bed of guacamole, hot sauce, crema, and arugula.
2. Chorizo Molotes, which were corn masa torpedos filled with chorizo, cheddar cheese, plantains, and served with a spicy guajila salsa and crema.
3. Sopes Rancheros, which were crispy corn masa boats topped with shredded beef, roasted tomatoes, avocado, and fresh cheese.
Each of these creations were handheld bites resembling their category of street food.  They come with two pieces each, making it perfect to share on a date.  Out of all three, my favorite bite of the entire night was the sopes rancheros.  The corn masa boat was light and fluffy, very uncharacteristic of most masa dishes.  The shredded beef was tender and well spiced.  And the avocado and cheese added the needed freshness and richness to the bite.  The other two street food items were also delicious, resembling more of that classic masa taste.  The plantains in the chorizo molotes gave a contrasting sweetness to the spicy chorizo.  I will say, the enchiladas potosinas were my least favorite, but it came with a good size serving of guacamole.  So basically, you can order the trio, but secretly get a side of guacamole with it.  Another highly recommended dish to share!

Sudadero (Friday's Special)

Each day, Frontera Grill has one special entree that they offer.  During this month's menu, Friday's special is called the sudadero.  The dish consists of a 20-hour smoked brisket smothered in a Oaxacan black mole and served along with mashed potatoes, broccolini, and their house-made tortillas.  When I first saw the size of the entree, I was shocked.  It was easily the largest dish on the menu and enough for two people to share.  The mole sauce was wonderful with a nice nutty flavor prevailing.  The potatoes were made with a queso anejo, so think mexican cheddar potatoes.  I suggest making brisket tacos with all the ingredients, including the potatoes.  I will say, the brisket had a nice chunk of fat in the middle of the cut, so be aware.

Drunken Goat Enchiladas

Since we only ordered one entree, we figured the smaller enchiladas plate would be a great "filler."  Wow, were we wrong.  We didn't need to order anymore with the size of the entree, but we were still glad to give this goat enchiladas a try.  Made with a red-chile braised goat, these enchiladas are then engulfed by a mescal-infused "borracha" sauce before being topped with aged Mexican cheese and grilled scallions.  Personally, right when the dish arrived, you could smell the aged cheese so just imagine how tasty it is.  It added a nice sharpness and saltiness to the drunken sauce.  The sauce reminded me of a mole, but was significantly better than the brisket sauce.  They make look the same, but they tasted different.  The goat was tender and plentiful, but without a gamey flavor, I wasn't sure if it was goat or beef... I assume they would trick us!  A good dish, but others were much better.

Springtime Tres Leches Cake

When it comes to tres leches cake, it is difficult to find somewhere better than Kristoffer's Cafe & Bakery (a Rick Bayless-approved tres leches bakery).  But I thought, if anyone could do it, it would be a Rick Bayless restaurant.  Unfortunately, they still fell short, but not by much.  The tres leches cake at Frontera Grill was served with white chocolate-xtabentun ice cream, toasted meringue, a shortbread crumble, and upon our request, a side of bittersweet hot fudge.  I thought it was great, but still wasn't as moist and flavorful as Kristoffer's.  I will say, their ice cream, which contains the Mexican liquor xtabentun, was delicious, especially with the hot fudge.  The shortbread crumbled underneath the ice cream provided a much needed textural component, especially since the entire dessert was creamy.  The meringue gave a s'more like feel, but still didn't elevate the tres leches enough to consider it my favorite.

Mezcal Margarita and Meyer Lemon Margarita

Personally, I am not very well versed in how Margaritas should taste or what should be in them.  I rarely drink Margaritas unless it has a Corona flipped upside-down in it.  I do know that the Mezcal margarita has a smoky flavor to it, while the meyer lemon was much sweeter.  Also, I do know that all mezcal is tequila, but not all tequila is mezcal.  It depends on which agave plant and how it is harvested/made.  Anyway, enjoy the drinks, they are tasty and I assume authentic.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- RESERVATIONS!  They take a few reservations online via CityEats and also by phone.  This restaurant is one of the busiest in the city so I would either arrive REALLY EARLY or make reservations.  Walk-ins wait for easily an hour or more.
- Valet Parking is $14.00.
- Honestly, I would expect to see Rick Bayless around.  He is always at his restaurants and every time I have eaten at one, I have seen him somewhere in the dining area.

Rick Bayless talking with some VIPs.
- Like I previously mentioned, I wouldn't walk-in and try to eat, especially on weekends.  The weekdays may be easier, but nothing is guaranteed.

How far would I walk for this food?

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Boundary Tavern and Grille

Location: 1932 W. Division St., Chicago, IL 60622
The Boundary Tavern and Grille on Urbanspoon
A Quick Word:
Trying to find a last minute table before the Blackhawks game, my friends and I stumbled across The Boundary Tavern and Grille.  I had seen it several times whenever drinking in Wicker Park area, but had never stepped inside until now.  We easily got a table half hour before the game started and decided to play a few games of shuffleboard.  Once the game started, it was packed like a typical Blackhawks bar.  Unfortunately, they had no drink specials despite being a weeknight game.  They do have an extensive beer menu, but be aware... their draft list is quite small.  The food was pretty good; and definitely fresh.  When comparing this bar to other Blackhawks bars, I can only consider this one average.  And for that reason, I decided on a 3.5-mile rating.

What We Ate:

Southwest Chicken Wrap

With such an extensive menu, it was difficult to figure out which wrap/sandwich/burger I would eat.  I finally chose the southwest chicken wrap.  This wrap is made with adobo chicken, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, and a black bean relish.  It is also filled with pepper jack cheese, tortilla chips, and a chipotle dressing.  All of that is wrapped inside a tomato wrap and served alongside tater tots.  It was delicious.  There was plenty of vegetables to make it fresh and plenty of chicken to give it a strong southwestern flavor.  I especially liked the first few bites because of that avocado slice.  I didn't like the dressing too much and I thought they were a little heavy handed.  Also, the wraps are a little deceiving... the ends are essentially empty so it appears much bigger than it truly is.  The tots are freshly fried and are a perfect side.

Buffalo Chicken Wrap

One of my buddies chose the buffalo chicken wrap.  I unfortunately didn't get to try it, but it looked pretty good and had very similar ingredients.  This one was the same tomato wrap, but instead was filled with grilled chicken, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, gorgonzola cheese, and both buffalo sauce and blue cheese dressing.  It also came with a side of tater tots and a pickle.  It is pretty difficult to mess up a buffalo chicken wrap, so I assume they didn't.  Give it a try and let me know.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- Come early before a game and get a few rounds of shuffleboard in.  They have a great shuffleboard in the back of the bar.
- Make reservations on OpenTable.  They have several 1,000 pt. tables so you end up getting a little reward for just making a reservation (even if it isn't packed).

- Don't expect plenty of draft beers; in fact, they have just a few... majority of their beers are in cans or bottles.

How far would I walk for this food?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Coalfire Pizza

Location: 1321 W. Grand Ave., Chicago, IL 60642
Coalfire on Urbanspoon
A Quick Word:
Craving a non-deep dish style pizza, we decided on finding a restaurant featuring Neapolitan style pies.  Coalfire does so, but with their own signature twist.  Rather than using wood, they fire their oven with coals.  They have about a dozen signature pizzas, but also the option of creating your own. They recommend two to maximum three toppings so that they crust is able to support the weight.  Each pizza arrives at your table looking different from the next, but each are charred to their view of perfection.  In my opinion, some of the crust is too dark and actually tastes bitter (a flavor I don't want when eating pizza).  That burnt crust was not the only disappointment.  Each pizza costs about $18.00 so after taxes/tip, one pizza runs in the $20+ range.  This would be ok for a huge pizza... but these are thin crust and barely enough for two people to share.  The toppings are great and the flavor combinations unique, but the cost and partially burnt crust couldn't be overlooked.  And for that reason, I gave them a 3.5-mile rating.

What We Ate:

Sausage and Onion Pizza

My girlfriend and I were craving thin crust pizza and wanted something new.  We figured the coal-fired crust was enough experimentation for the day, so we stuck with the sausage and onion pizza.  This thin crust pizza is topped with a crumbled italian fennel sausage, fresh mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, sliced red onion, and a garlic.  The combination of flavors was very bold, unfortunately, the charred crust had some bites that were too bitter to appreciate anything else.  The garlic was also very minimal, which I was disappointed by.  However, I did appreciate the crumbled sausage because every bite had tons of sausage flavor unlike other pizza joints.  I thought the pizza could use a little more spice and a lot more garlic.  But overall, I still considered it above par.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- I have heard the pizza is better eaten in the restaurant, but if you are running short on time, definitely order take out.  They are ready in just under 10 minutes so essentially enough time to drive to the restaurant for pick up.

- Don't expect the bill to be cheap or even close to cheap.  One pizza is good enough for two people with average appetites.  I would have to order two pizzas minimum if I came with both my brothers.

How far would I walk for this food?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Kai Zan

Location: 2557 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL 60622
Kai Zan on Urbanspoon
A Quick Word:
Having eaten sushi all over the city, I was intrigued by the rave reviews Kai Zan has been receiving and the selectiveness for reservations.  And, after trying to get a reservation at a decent hour for several weeks, we decided to take the 9:15pm opening on a random Thursday night.  I thought to myself, it must be great if everyone is flocking to give Kai Zan a try.  Located in West Town, the restaurant is much smaller than typical sushi restaurants.  A few private booths are available, otherwise, you are seated in a very crowded main room with a huge sushi bar as the centerpiece.  Their menu features both a chef omakese menu, an a la carte version, and is BYOB.  At $65+ per person for the chef tasting, we decided to order everything a la carte, which turned out to be the best version.  Their sushi is much different from the traditional maki roll menus.  Here, most are served as one bite creations and are individually or 2-piece priced.  Kai Zan is on the higher price range of all sushi restaurants I have tried, but it is also the highest quality and best tasting in my opinion.  No one else has such unique creations with scallops and uni.  It was a no-brainer for me... 5-mile rating without any hesitation.

What We Ate:

Calamari Fry

Having entered Kai Zan starving, we all wanted appetizers.  Without reading the description, we ordered the calamari fry dish to share.  This dish is much different from your traditional Americanized calamari appetizers.  Here, they use thin strips of calamari that resemble the flavor of previously dried and rehydrated squid.  They flash fry it and serve it with more of a vinegar based sweet and sour sauce.  So for warning, the calamari has more of a fishy flavor that most are probably used to.  It also has more of a chewy texture.  I thought it was a creative take on calamari and a good dish to share, but the fishiness might persuade you to think twice before ordering.

Orange Rush Sushi

The Orange Rush had been featured on several blogs as one of the best bites of sushi in Chicago.  I preferred a couple other dishes before this one, but it is still amazing.  Served in a scallop shell, the scallop is wrapped in salmon before being light seared.  It is topped with a citrus glaze and a little tobiko.  This bite is served warm which is a great contrast to typical sushi.  The salmon is the dominating flavor in the dish which is paired well with that citrus glaze.  Great textures and flavors making it another must try dish at Kai Zan.

Angry Crab Sushi

This was my favorite bite of the night.  The Angry Crab Sushi is one of the signature dishes.  Each order comes with two pieces of spicy crab mixture wrapped in fresh tuna and topped with crunchy tempura chunks and togarashi.  The dish is a little interesting because the topping is slightly warm while the fish is still chilled.  But the flavors are absolutely amazing... you get the nice spice from the crab mixture and a great fattiness from the tuna.  There are contrasting textures from the smooth fish to the crunchy tempura.  And, finally, they top it with enough soy sauce to allow the fish to shine.  Don't add anything extra, just eat what they serve and you will not be disappointed.

Escolar Pearls

The waitress told us that the escolar pearls were part of the Omakase menu so we also decided to give it a try.  These "pearls" are rice spheres topped with scallions, super white tuna, and mixture of soy sauce, truffle oil, spicy mayo, and chili oil.  The spheres are then lightly seared and served with a side of young ginger.  The dish comes with 4 pieces, and my only complaint was I wish it came with more.  The super white tuna is the perfect delicate fish for the sushi.  It allowed the sauce mixture to shine but also kept its fish flavor.  Make sure to eat a little ginger before eating the pearl because it clears your palate for the bold, yet delicate flavors of the sushi.

Uni Shooters

Most sushi restaurants offer oyster shooters (so does Kai Zan), but when we had an option of an uni shooter, my friend Jing Jing and I knew we couldn't pass it up.  The shooter was made with a little soy sauce, yuzu, tobiko, a raw quail egg, and of course a nice piece of uni.  Unfortunately, the shooter was overpowered by the citrus flavor of yuzu and the saltiness from the soy sauce.  I actually wouldn't recommend the shooter.  BUT, we also ordered a couple pieces of uni sashimi.  And that was absolutely incredible.  Both Jing Jing and I thought it was some of the best uni we ever had.  Each pieces was chilled to perfection and almost melted in your mouth as soon as it hit your tongue.  It was extremely rich and creamy.  I highly recommend the uni sashimi and pass on the uni shooter.

Green Monster Roll and Flaming Tuna Roll

After all of the signature items were tasted, we decided to try both of their signature maki rolls as well.  The first was the green monster roll (pictured above).  It is called the green monster because of the sliced avocado that envelopes the roll.  Being a seaweed-less roll, the other ingredients flavors are much more prominent, especially the shrimp tempura.  The main texture is creamy from all the avocado.  I really enjoyed the roll because no soy sauce was needed.  The second signature roll was called the flaming tuna roll (pictured below, behind the steak).  It was more traditional being wrapped in seaweed and filled with shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, and avocado.  It is then topped with seared tuna and a spicy mayo.  I thought there was a little too much similarity between this roll and their green monster with the green monsters setting a much higher bar.  The roll was very typical for any sushi place but of course was held to a higher standard with premium ingredients.  I suggest ordering the green monster over the flaming tuna, but if you prefer spice, then choose the latter.

Beef Steak

Since more of the sushi dishes are one-biters or small plates for sharing, we decided to order a few larger plates to also share.  My friend Eric and I chose the steak entree which was a NY strip seasoned with yuzushio and served alongside a citrus-dressed salad and a cup of white rice.  The steak itself was a huge portion cooked to a perfect medium temperature.  A strong citrus flavor once again prevailed from the yuzu.  It was tender and filling.  Great cut of meat, especially at a restaurant that features fresh fish.

Yaki Soba

Prior to receiving our sushi rolls and the steak, our hunger once again took over and we also ordered the larger yaki soba plate to share.  The yaki soba is made with sautéed egg noodles and chopped bok choy.  You have the option of adding pork, beef, or shrimp... which we added the pork.  This reminded me of a gourmet version of the instant noodles you can buy at the Asian grocery store.  It had tons of meat and a fresher feel with those vegetables.  The sauce was both savory, citrusy, and spicy.  Such a filling dish so be sure to share it with your table!

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- All about sharing here.  Most of the dishes come with multiple pieces for a reason.
- Do order all of their signature sushi.  These are completely different from your traditional sushi rolls but you will not leave disappointed!

- I don't suggest ordering the Omakase menu.  The cost starts at $65 per person and included similar menu items to what we ordered.  Honestly, 4 out of 5 were exactly the same and one was an off-the-menu item.  I think after eating here a few times, it would be an option to consider.  I also heard that you can customize your own Omakase menu if you speak with the chef earlier in the week.

How far would I walk for this food?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Perry's Deli

Location: 174 N. Franklin St., Chicago, IL 60606
Perry's Deli on Urbanspoon

A Quick Word:
I absolutely love sandwiches so when I remembered Perry's Deli had the infamous Triple Decker sandwiches, I knew I had to go back.  Unfortunately, the UIC location closed several years back, so I needed to visit their Loop location to get my fix.  Perry's isn't your typical neighborhood deli.  Instead, they feature even larger sandwiches than you see on TV and cater to the quick paced lifestyle of Chicago loop employees. When you see the sandwich, you realize that they are big enough to split and some are even big enough to split and have left overs.  They have everything from fresh carved turkey to traditional corned beef and brisket.  They pile on the sweet slaw and that addicting Russian dressing.  When it comes to sandwiches in the city, these are not the most premium of ingredients, but what they lack in premium items, they make up in portion.  I easily give Perry's Deli a 5-mile rating on quantity, but I decided on a 4-mile rating when you consider everything.

What I Ate:

#5. The Caveat Emptor

With a description including "Buyer Beware," I knew this was the sandwich for me.  They claim it is big enough to share... and trust me, it is!  The Caveat Emptor is a sandwich where you can get whatever you want, and eat it too.  This masterpiece is a triple decker sandwich filled layered with roast beef, thick carved turkey, and corned beef.  I chose rye bread and asked for extra Russian dressing.  Topping it all off is lettuce, tomatoes, and both muenster and swiss cheese.  I honestly couldn't believe how big the sandwich was.  They wrap each half individually to help hold it all together.  The meat is all thick cut and delicious.  The corned beef has a nice spice to it, while the turkey and roast beef reminded me of restaurant carving station meat.  The Russian dressing is hard to describe... I like to think thousand island dressing with a lot of smoked paprika.  Whatever it is, that orange sauce is out of this world.  I highly suggest getting it on rye bread because it actually supports the sandwich a little better than the other choices.  It comes with a side of either slaw or potato salad.  Highly recommended and at $11.50... it can easily feed you for 3 meals.

Chili Mac

One of my friends recommended the chili mac at Perry's.  I was a little skeptical because their sandwiches are so delicious, but she said it was amazing, so I gave it a try...  And, I am glad I did.  The chili mac is simple... their homemade mac and cheese topped with their homemade chili.  The kicker is the sweetness that shines from I believe the chili.  My friend and I ordered a large to split, which was plenty when also ordering a sandwich.  I really enjoyed the dish because the mac and cheese wasn't overly cheesy.  They do have a lunch special for half a sandwich and a small chili mac... it sounds like a  good deal, but I would just stick to whole sandwich, large chili mac, and then have left overs. Yum!

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- SHARE!  And, get the Caveat Emptor.  Without question twice the size of other sandwiches and at $1.00 more, it is a steal.
- Get the Russian dressing and ask for it on the side.  Amazing compliment to the deli meats.

- I probably wouldn't go at peak lunch times or if you are in a rush.  The place takes a little time to make each sandwich and we were fighting the loop employees to get in line.

How far would I walk for this food?