Tag Archives: Chicago food


February 14th 2010 was quite a memorable day, mainly because I had walked down Michigan Avenue with part of my dress tucked into my underwear on the way to the Symphony, but by the time we arrived at Takashi for dinner I had nearly forgotten my minor faux-pas.

We had been meaning to try Takashi for sometime, so when I finally realized we were dining at this intimate establishment, I was quite excited to finally sample some of Chef Takashi’s Japanese influenced French-American style dishes.

The Atmosphere:

Nestled on Damen in what appears to be a small house Takashi is a contemporary dining experience in a neighborhood setting.   As you enter the front door, you are immediately greeted by a steep staircase which leads to the second floor dining area. We were placed here for the evening amongst other lovebirds of sorts.  The space feels very inviting and has a good karma from the last restaurant that resided at this location. It just happens to be the same space as Scylla the restaurant Stephanie Izard closed prior to her Top Chef win.

The Menu:

Yellow Tail and Pork Belly

The menu has a large selection of small plates, both hot and cold, with several larger dishes at end to close the meal. We opted for the a la carte menu, though they offered a prixe fixe menu for Valentine’s Day.

We began our meal with a cold plate. We started with Japanese Yellowtail Hamachi with spicy Napa Cabbage slaw and daikon pickled califlower and an aromatic vineagarette. It was a unique raw preparation with blasts of heat from the slaw that was prepared kimchee style. The spiciness nearly overwhelmed me at first but fortunately I had a delicious glass of wine that put out the fires raging in my mouth.

For our next course, we had the Soy-Ginger Carmel Pork Belly with Pickled Daikon Salad, Steamed Buns. Now I have to say, I had my reservations when George ordered this dish. Despite what the majority of the culinary world seems to think, I have always found pork belly to be… well… a giant slab of fat that just never seems appetizing. So when our pork belly arrived, I must say I took my first bite with trepidation. The dish was fantastic! It was basically a deconstructed chinese steamed bun. I assembled my bite by first placing a sliced of steamed bun down, next a small spread of wasabi mustard, then comes the perfectly cooked, melt in your mouth pork belly, and finally topped with pickled daikon salad. The combination of flavors was outstanding. It was blend of classic Korean and Chinese flavors.

Soba Gnocchi – Takashi

We stayed with the hot small plates for our next course and had the Sauteed Main Scallops and Soba Gnocchi Trumpet Royale, Celery Root-Parmesan Foam. This dish was the perfect fusion of East and West. Now, I am very skeptical of the overplayed “fusion” concept that dominates the food scene, but if there ever was an example of true fusion of flavors, this would be it. The soba gnocchi was delicate and the scallops perfectly cooked. The sauce was so good that I caught George lapping up the last drops with a silly grin on his face.

For our final course we had the Roasted Indiana Duck Breast and Confit of Leg with a Compote of Quince, Ginger-Orange Glaze. The duck was well cooked and married well with ginger orange glaze. It was the right balance of sweet and savory. I was in love with the confit of leg, but a little unhappy with skin on duck breast. I was hoping it would be a little more crispy, but I know that would have sacrificed the perfect level of doneness when it arrived at our table.

Duck Breast and Leg Confit

The second main dish we had was the Mackarel with a napa cabbage roll and eggplant. This fish had a nice crispy skin but reminded me of the sea a little too much.

This may be because George could not stop saying how he has always found mackarel to be a little fishy in taste since the minute we ordered the dish. The eggplant was well prepared and complimented the fish well, but the delicious wrapped napa cabbage with the sauce was the real treat to me.

Our Thoughts:

Japanese Mackeral and Egg Plant

Japanese Mackeral and Eggplant

We were quite impressed with the elegance of each dish presented to us, and even more impressed with the seamless fusion of cultures. Takashi is the ultimate example of what true fusion cuisine is suppose to be and now joins the short list of gourmet restaurants that we dub worthy of taking our out of town guests.

Takashi | 1952 N Damen Street Chicago IL 60647 | (773) 772-6170 |

Takashi on Urbanspoon


A Note on Comfort Food

On a cold and snowy evening I find myself in the heart of Chicago’s China Town.  It’s not by chance, I know where I am going… I know what I am ordering and so does our waitress before I even say a word.  It’s been a long day and I’m pretty sure the world hates me.  I need some comfort food and I know I can find it here.

Now according to Merriam-Webster I should be seeking a traditional food preparation, one that evokes sentiment and nostalgia, but what is a “traditional food preparation” to an american mutt such as myself.  I suppose it could be the meals of my childhood, my mother’s beef stew perhaps.  Unfortunately, her recipe can not be found south of Milwaukee and I seek another family’s recipe to warm me up tonight.

Steamed potsticker

Pork and Napa Cabbage Dumpling

Our waitress at Lao Shanghai knows our faces and as we sit down she asks, “steamed pot sticker?”  I shake my head yes and add an order of xiao long bao(soup dumplings).  There is something inherently comforting about meat wrapped delicately in dough.  I prefer the pork and napa cabbage steamed dumplings, but Lao Shanghai has a variety to choose from including veggie and shrimp.

The xiao long bao is the epitome of comfort food to me.  As the bamboo steamer arrives I prepare my chopsticks so that I can delve into these tasty morsels.  I am careful not to break the dough as I lift the miniature dumpling onto my  soup spoon.  The dumplings have come with the xiao long bao dipping sauce, the pot sticker dipping sauce, and a chinese chili oil.  I prefer the pot sticker sauce(soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sugar) so I drizzle some into the soup spoon with my steaming dumpling.

Soup Dumplngs (lao xiao bao)

Lao Xiao Bao(aka Soup Dumplings)

As I lift the spoon to my mouth I slowly bite into the dumpling hoping I have let it cool just enough.  The soup spills from the dumpling into the spoon and my mouth mixing with the sauce and burning my tongue.  I usually underestimate the heat, but I prefer them scaldingly hot to luke warm.  I’m starting to feel warmer as our waitress returns for our next order.

We request the Shanghai Style Fish Filet.  It took us three trips before we mustered up the guts to order the Shanghai Fish Filet.  At each visit I would scan the regular customers’ tables.  It appeared every table had either the fish filet or the braised pork belly in bean curd sauce.  And although I still have not been brave enough to order the pork belly, the fish filet has gone into our permanent meal shuffle and is perfect for this cold and snowy evening. The white fish is cooked perfectly in a thickened salty sweet broth of Shao Xing(chinese cooking wine) and rehydrated WoodEar mushrooms.

Chinese Fish Filet

Shanghai Style Fish Filet

I glance outside at the snow as we settle our small bill.  The waitress says goodbye, but knows we will be back soon, on another cold and stormy evening.  I feel slightly warmer as I zip up my jacket and pull up my hood. Perhaps only part of the world hates me tonight.

Lao Shanghai | 2163 S China Pl Chicago, IL 60616 | (312) 808-0830 |

Lao Shanghai on Urbanspoon


What the Roux?

G has never been someone that does things the easy way.  Except perhaps when coaxing friends into assembling furniture or helping him pack for another move.  So when it took us 4 hours to make our seafood gumbo.  I wasn’t surprised.

Approaching a Peanut Butter Colored Roux

This was our second gumbo attempt year to date and we hoped that it would be a success.  Our last attempt left us with an awful taste in our mouth, quite literally, from a burnt roux.  For those of you who are unsure about what a roux is let me clear it up.  Its an oil and flour mixture(usually 1:1) used as a thickening agent and can add a depth of flavor.  Yes indeed, its oil and flour that is heated with a watchful eye and wooden spoon in hand until it reaches certain color checkpoints.  These checkpoints are based on the type of protein utilized in the gumbo, family recipes and are quite subjective if you ask me.  With time the roux progressively gets darker making its way through each checkpoint, blonde, peanut-butter, and chocolate brown.  The one roux rule: Do not burn!

Seafood Stock

We started making a homemade seafood stock from our cleaned shrimp shells, crab claws, crayfish shells and let that sit on low heat for about an hour.  While the stock simmered I was responsible for the roux.  Since our last attempts failed we decided to heat the oil over low-medium heat for the next hour and a half until it turned into what we deamed an appropriate peanut butter color.  Yes.  That’s right… I stood at the stove for an hour and a half watching oil and flour in a pan.  Sounds fun, I know.  I hadn’t watched something this intensely since Michael Jackson passed away.

As our roux cooled, G began frying the andouille, okra, and a New Orleans triad(onion, celery and bell pepper).  We drained the shells, onions, celery, etc. from our stock and added it to our triad, andouille, and okra. We added a cup and a half of the roux to our mixture and let it simmer for 45 minutes.  After about 40 minutes we plopped in our fresh bay scallops, crab meat, crayfish, and shrimp in.  We cooked them for about 10 minutes and then sat down to eat!

Crayfish Gumbo

Seafood Gumbo

We adapted our recipe from Emeril Lagasse.  You can find the original recipe here.  It calls for a lager beer, and after perusing the shelves at Whole Foods, we ended up with Tusker, a Kenyan beer.

The gumbo was tasty with a multitude of different and spicy  flavors.  The okra was my favorite addition as I feel that it is a vegetable often over looked in homes and restaurants in the midwest.  For more information regarding creole and cajun recipes check out the gumbo pages. (I wish we had checked this out before we started!)


Where is the Elusive Chicago Ramen?

This is a question I find myself contemplating on practically any given cold and dreary evening in Chicago.  We had tried a few noodle shops only to be let down by the lack of flavor in their ramen broth.  But we have been comparing our Chicago ramen with the likes of San Francisco’s Genki Ramen. Perhaps there is no comparison in the midwest?  When we saw Tampopo on “Check Please” we decided to venture north in hopes that we would find our Chicago ramen spot.

Without our camera, GPS or the address we recalled that it was definitely in Lincoln Square.  After driving in circles for five minutes we gave my ever-so-slightly drunken brother a call to identify the exact location.  He notified us that we were about 5 minutes too south and needed to get to the Roger’s Park area.  So with an address in mind we headed toward our destination quite hungry and concerned about a potential wait.

Parking was a breeze and we headed towards the intimate family-run operation.  As we entered a party of five was leaving and two other pods of people were waiting.  The waitress told us it would be about 10 minutes.  We didn’t mind as we expected a busy crowd post “check please”.

After about 15 minutes we were seated and served hot tea.  As I perused the menu I was delighted to see items such as Yakitori (skewered chicken in a mirin/sake/soy glaze) and Negima.  Naturally, I become a little disheartened if I don’t see something resembling either of these at japanese restaurants.

We ordered the Negima, Spicy Salmon Roll, Shoyu Ramen, and another favorite of mine Yakisoba. Our negima and sushi arrived at our table at the same time.  I must say that I was quite impressed with the lightening speed of the sushi chef.  The fish was fresh and ample, but the sushi rice seemed a bit dry.  The negima was different than others I have had before but tasty none the less.  The beef was sliced thinly around the fresh scallions and the sweet soy-based sauce was light.  This dish was simple in its execution but had the essence of a fresh and home made meal.

The ramen and yakisoba appeared next.  Perhaps we have too high of expectations, but I would say that both meals were average, and for our chicago ramen adventure thus far just didn’t match what they are serving in San Francisco.  The yakisoba was… well… okay I guess.  I appreciated the thinly sliced carrots, cabbage, and bamboo shoots, but I am unhappy to report that we weren’t incredibly impressed with the execution.

Unfortunately,  I can’t say that we will be giving up our search for the elusive Chicago ramen.  I do think that we will return to Tampopo one day, perhaps after the hype from the show has died down. We still want to try a few more of the many appetizers we didn’t have room to order, and give the staff a chance to cook on a less hectic evening.

Tampopo| 5665 W. Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60686 |  773-561-2277

Tampopo on Urbanspoon


Chanterelles, Spinach and Goat Cheese Stuffed Trout

What does trout taste like?  hmm… I didn’t know.  I had never tried trout before, and G for once couldn’t remember if he had ever even tasted it, but it looked so alluring in the Whole Food’s fish case we just stood there for a moment hoping we might be able to come up with an excuse to purchase it.

After an epiphany we chose our trout and gathered some spinach, goat cheese, and a meyer lemon.  As we were about to leave I thought we might need just a little something more.  For some reason I envisioned my trout in his prime eating grass hoppers and other insects that found themselves floating helplessly atop the water. It was this image that prompted my desire for something “earthy”.  As we ventured toward the mushrooms my eyes flickered toward a box of pretty chanterelles.  They looked interesting and according to the signs it supposedly had a subtle sweet flavor, so we decided to incorporate it.

After sauteing the spinach, chanterelles, and garlic in some olive oil and meyer lemon juice we placed the stuffing into our trout. We added fresh thyme sprigs, sprinkled on some goat cheese, folded the trout over and added a few Meyer lemon sliced on top. Why a Meyer lemon?

Stuff the Trout!

After a mere 15 minutes in the oven:


Trout Recipe

Spinach, Goat Cheese and Chanterelle Stuffed Trout

So… what does trout taste like?

The fish is light and slightly sweet. Delicate even.  I think G will remember what trout tastes like from now on.


An Ode to Sardines

Now I can’t say that I have ever really enjoyed a sardine.  I can’t even say that I’ve tried one.  But I think that goes back to my brief experience with a fish bone lodged in my throat.  However, today was the day we demolished my fear of the whole fish.


Sardines (aka Pilchard)

George had been coveting sardines since we saw them last week at Mitsuwa, and lucky for us while perusing our favorite Chicago Whole Foods we came across some very large ones left over from someone’s very special order. And guess what?  The Monterey Bay Aquarium supported our sustainable seafood choice.

Our recipe comes from George’s mom and is something he grew up eating.  Sardines or “Mathi” in Malayalam(the main language of Kerala, India) were first cleaned and gutted.  Not the cleanest job, but actually a lot easier then I had expected.

Next we dredged them in spices and set our work station up for some quick frying action.  About 2 minutes on each side and they were ready!

Some rice and other condiments seemed necessary to complement the sardines so I turned to what I deem my best purchase ever, the sanyo rice cooker. I feel as though everyone should own a rice cooker. In fact, I am seriously looking into giving my secret santa a rice cooker for Christmas.  Just throw in whatever you want with the rice and watch it turn into Uncle Ben.

Battered and Fried

We also decided to add pickled onions to compliment our dish and hoped ours would come close to the original recipe.  Even though we lacked all the preferred ingredients a true cook from Kerala would have, our onions still tasted great.

As we prepared to eat I thought to myself, “This is it!  It’s you or the fish. You can do it, those tiny bones are no match for your vicious incisors and bone-grinding molars.”

As I pondered the risk of choking, I decided to remove any bones that blatantly taunted me before preceding to peel the moist meat away from the rounded sides of the fish. I placed a piece with potential bones into my mouth carefully and as I continued to chomp precariously, I realized that the whole sardine was, in fact quite amazing.  High in omega-3 fatty acids, Calcium and Vitamin D, I determined my meal was worth the potential risk and my fear, completely unnecessary.