Thursday, October 28, 2010

Chicago: Joong Boo Market Food Court

Whenever we run out of kimchi, my roommate and I know that it's time for a Korean market run. The closest one to us is Joong Boo, but we still need to find a ride every time we need to make a trip. There's a small food court in the market, but we never had the chance to eat there. On Sunday, the planets finally aligned and we got our chance:

The menu is pretty straightforward. Those who can't speak Korean can order by number. Since my roommate is Korean, I let her do all the talking.

First we got the yook-gae-jang (a spicy beef and veggie soup):

The soup was so red it looked molten. I was quite proud of myself when I discovered that I could handle the heat.

My favorite was the ra-bok-kee or ramen with rice cakes and fish cake:

The spiciness was tempered by sweetness and rice cakes are always welcome.

We also ordered the sul-long-tang, which is beef and honey comb in a beef bone soup:

While the soup was really flavorful and reminded me of home, as with the yook-gae-jang, they were, frugal with the ingredients inside. I had to fish around for meat. The picture menu can be a bit misleading.

Overall, a very good deal. Entree, rice, and panchan...all for less than $10? Definitely can't complain.

Every time we go to Joong Boo, we stock up like crazy because we never know when our next Korean market run will be. This particular trip was no different. Our shopping cart almost overflowed with groceries. It might be a while before we need to make another run, but I'm looking forward to trying the other food court offerings.

Joong Boo
3333 N Kimball Ave
Chicago, IL 60625
(773) 478-5566

Monday, October 25, 2010

Chicago: Crisp

We left Del Seoul thoroughly unsatisfied, but our mood cheered considerably when we realized that Crisp was only a couple blocks up the street. Helloooooo, round two:

I've never been to Crisp when it hasn't been busy, but we've always managed to grab a spot at one of the communal tables. All the same, I wouldn't recommend going in a large group. Bring just enough people so that you can send a few to order at the counter (no tip!) and leave the others to scout for available seats:

Crisp is known for its Korean fried chicken. My favorite is the Seoul Sassy:

The batter is thick and crispy and coated in sticky sweet goodness. I love it so much that I gnaw on every part of the chicken wing.

The other flavors consist of Crisp BBQ, which is a bit too spicy for me, and Plain Jane, which I've never tried. You can also get the entire chicken (or half) if you wished. I think that chicken wings provide the best batter/sauce to chicken proportions.

Crisp is also the home of the Buddha Bowl (essentially bibimbap). While quite tasty, it's nowhere as special as the chicken. To save on stomach space, I usually pass on the bowls.

Three cheers for Crisp for saving the night!

2940 N Broadway Ave
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 697-7610

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Chicago: Del Seoul

Korean tacos have finally made it to the Midwest! We'd heard the buzz about Del Seoul before it was even open for business:

Given it was a Friday night, we really shouldn't have been surprised by the line:

You place your order and wait for your food at the table. Easier said than done. Tables are limited, so you really have to draw on your inner ninja to be able to snag one right when someone is leaving. Even if you're lucky enough to get a table, you'll have to endure the cramped space and line of people breathing down your neck.

My roommate and I started off with a kalbi taco and a spicy pork one ($2.50 each):

Looks good, right? Well, my roommate makes better. Nothing really stood out, not the meat, not the chili-garlic salsa, the cilantro-onion relish, nor the "secret slaw". My roommate's Asian tacos are way more exciting in comparison.

I was really excited about the kimchi and pork belly fries:

Pork belly, kimchi salsa, caramelized onions, scallions, sour cream, cheddar, and carne asada fries but Korean. theory. Yes, it was tasty, but nowhere as mind-blowing or as addictive as carne asada fries. The pork belly was thin and almost unnoticeable and for $6.95, there just wasn't much food there.

As a sort of filler, we also ordered the dumplings:

Yea...not incredibly memorable.

We left Del Seoul rather disappointed and very much unsatisfied. Next time I have a craving for Korean tacos, I'll be making them at home (or more accurately, I'll ask my roommate to make them for me).

Del Seoul
2568 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 248-4227

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Chicago: Pho 777

When my friend tempted me with the promise of Vietnamese pancake, I jumped at the offer. The place to go in Chicago to get decent Vietnamese food is uptown on Argyle St, where on the same block you can find Pho 777, Pho 888, and Pho 999. Pho 777 is my friend's favorite:

I'd never heard of a Vietnamese pancake before, so I was really curious to try one:

The pancake was a thin layer of fried glutinous goodness folded over bean sprouts and shrimp. The pancake itself didn't contain much flavor, so the fish sauce really made a difference. Have I mentioned before how much I love fish sauce?

I debated between getting pho and cold noodles. It was a difficult decision, but I finally settled on the pork over vermicelli noodles:

While a delicious meal overall, having Vietnamese food in Chicago really just makes me miss San Jose. The price and taste of Vietnamese food in San Jose just can't be beat. When my vermicelli arrived, I was disappointed by the size of the bowl. A peek over at other people's pho bowls wasn't any more promising. When you order a large pho in San get a LARGE ASS bowl. Competition is so fierce that restaurants have no choice but to dish out large quantities of good food at low prices. Having grown up in that kind of Vietnamese food paradise, I find anything less unacceptable.

Ahh...I can't wait for winter break.

Pho 777
1065 W Argyle St
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 561-9909

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Chicago: Medici Bakery

When we still had some time to kill before class after finishing our sandwiches at Z&H, my friends and I walked next door to the bakery portion of Medici. I hadn't been back to Medici since the early days when I still didn't have internet at my apartment:

I used to only buy orange juice to justify sitting inside for an hour, so it was nice to finally try some of Medici's array of baked goods. This is only a tiny snapshot out of everything that Medici has to offer:

I was eyeing the pain au chocolat the moment I walked in the door:

Rich chocolate, flaky dough....perfect.

We managed to snag the last peach pastry:

And we also split a carrot muffin:

My friend wanted to be a part of my blog and I figured it wouldn't hurt to feature his elegant, finely-shaped finger. So there it is.

Medici Bakery
1327 E 57th St
Chicago, IL 60637
(773) 667-7394

Chicago: Zaleski and Horvath MarketCafe

Tuesday morning, I met up with some of my law friends for breakfast. The law school really isn't that big, but for some reason, I rarely run into friends unless we share the same class. As a result, there's been people that I haven't seen since before summer started. Sometimes, it really just takes a conscious effort to meet and catch up.

I was all prepared to leave my apartment when my sister messaged me to ask me to book her winter break tickets for her. I still had some time, so I quickly did it...and then my browser crashed the second I clicked the submit button. What the hell? Anyway, I ended up running a bit late. I was in such a hurry that I forgot to grab my camera. Fortunately, my cell phone appears to take some rather nice quality photos.

I suggested meeting at Z&H because I'd heard a lot of good things about it. The original location is on 47th St, but over the summer they opened a storefront on 57th, which is a lot closer to where I live:

I almost walked past it. No identifying sign, no posters...nothing. I've heard that on warm days, the huge windowed wall is rolled up to leave the entire front open. I guess autumn really is setting in now, so unfortunately, the wall remained down.

A lot of sandwiches looked good to me, but I finally decided on A Little Pecorino:

I'm not usually a fan of flatbread, but this one was nicely toasted. The panini included roasted chicken, roasted tomato, roasted red peppers, pecorino, mayo, and pesto. Roasted, roasted, roasted. I enjoyed it a lot. The roasted red peppers added a sweetness that balanced out the saltiness of the pesto.

Two of my friends had a few issues with their sandwiches. One had wilted lettuce (due to the sandwich being toasted with the lettuce inside). The other was trying out a newly introduced sandwich that combined tuna with kimchi...and just didn't work out (mostly because the tuna wasn't really fresh).

That's sad...but hey, my sandwich was good. Maybe the 57th location just needs some more time to work out some kinks.

Zaleski and Horvath Marketcafe
1323 E 57th St
Chicago, IL 60637
(773) 538-7372

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chicago: Calumet Fisheries

I woke up Saturday morning expecting to spend the day reading for Monday's classes and basically finding ways to distract myself from doing what I'm supposed to do. That all changed when my roommate burst into my room to announce that she'd received a text from our friend, asking if we wanted to go to Calumet Fisheries. Uh, yes please? I managed to get some reading done, but it was difficult considering how I was almost bouncing in my chair from excitement.

Calumet Fisheries is located right at the river, next to the bridge. There's no parking lot, so people just park alongside the road (leading to the bridge) and walk up to the front door. Who would think that such a small, unexceptional building can produce the best smoked fish in the Midwest?:

I'd been dying to check out Calumet since I watched the Chicago episode of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations". Not gonna lie, I geeked out a bit when I saw the signed poster:

Even more notable is the fact that Calumet Fisheries was one of five winners of the 2010 James Beard Award for American Classics. Calumet has been run by the same family since 1948 and is still pumping out quality seafood. Even if James Beard and Anthony Bourdain mean nothing to you, go for the food.

At the counter, you tell them how much food you want. Prices are listed by the order for fried stuff and by the pound for the smoked goodies. If you're like me and have no idea how much shrimp is in a pound, you can tell them how many pieces you want:

There's no seating inside, so most people (like Bourdain in his episode) eat in their cars. Others, like us, bring a picnic blanket and eat out on the lawn. A nice gentleman came by and told us about a park just over the bridge. We didn't feel like packing up or, more importantly, waiting any longer to eat, so we stayed put.

First take-out box opened revealed the fried oysters:

I usually prefer my oysters raw, but these were freshly fried and amazing. Be careful of the hot oyster juice that squirts into your mouth. You wouldn't want to burn your taste buds before you even get to try anything else.

The second box contained the smoked shrimp:

So plump, so smoky, and so succulent. There are reviews on Yelp that complain about the "shrimp poo" but honestly, the matter of whether or not Calumet should devein their shrimp fades into utter insignificance after one bite. The shrimp were probably my favorite and I say probably because it's a really close call.

The smoked trout was pretty darn good too:

You can choose between two flavors: regular and pepper & garlic. We obviously went with the latter. Luckily for us, the Calumet coupon for the month of October was 10% off smoked trout. Always check the website for coupons!

Last, but not least, were the smoked chubs:

Very fine fish bones, but once you get around that, the flesh is awesomely tasty.

We asked for both mild and hot sauce and while I didn't touch the hot sauce, I really enjoyed the smokiness of the mild one. I would alternate between taking one bite without sauce and one bite with to get the best of both worlds.

After finishing all that food we still weren't satisfied, so we went back for another order of smoked trout and shrimp...and an order of french fries. Even the fries are amazing at Calumet!

Really, nothing beats picnicking on a sunny day, licking smoked fish off your fingers while watching the bridge go up and down, up and down:

The only blemish on our otherwise perfect outing was the fact that they RAN OUT OF SALMON. Guh. There is no way I'm leaving Chicago without trying the smoked salmon, so I'll definitely be back. Hopefully with a salmon coupon.

Calumet Fisheries
3259 E 95th St
Chicago, IL 60617
(773) 933-9855

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Chicago: Calypso Cafe

For my friend's birthday dinner, she selected Cafe Calypso in Hyde Park. I'd never been before, but I'd heard a lot of good things about it so I was quite excited:

Calypso Cafe had a very quirky interior designer. Any restaurant that hangs soup cans and kitchen utensils from the ceiling gets bonus points. There was so much to look at, from the walls to the shelves to the ceiling:

The one thing that everyone says about Calypso is how great the plantain nachos are:

And indeed, it was quite fabulous. I think I could just eat a plate of that stuff by myself. The plantain chips come with black bean sauce, pico de gallo, cheese, and, if you add $4, jerk chicken. So good!

Fried fish is always welcome, so I got the catfish po'boy:

Much more impressive than what I had at the Big Easy. The breading on this catfish was very light and the fillet itself was flaky and sweet. I chose sweet plantains as my side and those were pretty darn good too.

The birthday girl got the half jerk chicken:

I tried a bit of the chicken and it was surprisingly tasty. Not as dry as I feared it would be.

No birthday dinner would be complete without dessert. After a quick perusal of the dessert menu, we collectively decided on bread pudding with whiskey sauce:

When I told the server that we had a birthday girl at the table and asked if we could get a candle on the bread pudding, he did us one better by letting my friend choose another dessert...FREE. She picked the coconut banana creme pie. We were delighted when it came with a lit candle:

Birthdays are best spent over a filling meal with awesome friends. I hope my friend had as much fun as I did. I'm already thinking ahead to my next visit for more plantain nachos.

Calypso Cafe
5211 S Harper Ave
Chicago, IL 60615
(773) 955-0229

Chicago: Saigon Sisters

A week ago, my roommate and I planned our Friday shopping outing downtown. Mission: shoes. It wasn't until Friday morning that my roommate thought of stopping by Saigon Sisters for lunch. Once the idea took root, nothing could change our course.

Saigon Sisters recently opened their second location:

The interior was very chic and the abundance of natural lighting was a definite plus:

We went a little crazy with the ordering...perhaps because it'd been so long since we last saw any Vietnamese sandwiches. Keep in mind that all the following food was for two people.

First, we started with the banh bao. Of course one wasn't enough, so we ordered 3:

A single banh bao is $2.50. You get 3 for $7. We decided to get one of each kind: caramelized chicken, hoisin glazed pork belly, and Wagyu beef in coconut milk. The pork belly was my favorite.

For some reason, it never occurred to us to share one sandwich. Oh no. Why wouldn't we order two?

When I saw the fish banh mi on the menu, I got really excited because it reminded me of my dear Vietnamese co-worker back from my summer internship in Taiwan who'd made me one:

That's sardine in tomato sauce, with capers, mayo, pickled tomatoes, and vidalia onions. The pickled tomatoes added a really nice sweet touch. Definitely not a sandwich for the weak though. If you like fishiness, this is the sandwich for you. Bring some breath mints if it bothers you, otherwise embrace the fishiness like I do and share it with the world.

Our second banh mi was the Sun Tanned Cow:

A cute name for Wagyu beef braised in coconut milk with kaffir lime leaf. After smelling the sardine banh mi, this sandwich just seemed to lack the punch the other one had. Still delicious, but it paled in comparison (at least for me).

My roommate somehow wrangled a free cup of pho broth from the chef:

We weren't expecting too much and unfortunately, the broth was everything we imagined. It didn't taste very good, but it certainly looked fetching in a little coffee cup.

I'm not usually a fan of trendy Asian places. Jacked up prices for mediocre food just don't do it for me. Saigon Sisters has good banh mi, but for $7 apiece, that's a bit extravagant in my opinion. Especially since I come from San Jose, CA, where Vietnamese food is dirt cheap and on every corner.

Saigon Sisters is planning on starting full service dining soon, but I don't think I'll be checking it out.

Saigon Sisters
567 W Lake St
Chicago, IL 60661
(312) 496-0090

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Chicago: Istria Cafe

The weather over the weekend was exceptionally nice, basically unheard of for October in Chicago. So nice that I felt itchy staying indoors. I'm usually the type who studies in the comfort of my room, but because of the gorgeous weather, I was lured to Istria Cafe by my friends:

Halfway through studying, one of my friends mentioned getting some gelato. Who was I to say no? Istria has a pretty interesting variety of gelato:

My roommate and I split a pistachio and honey lemon lavender ($3.85):

The pistachio was nice and nutty, none of that fragrant potpourri taste you sometimes find. In contrast, the honey lemon lavender was bright and refreshing.

Istria is a good place to get your study on and grab some gelato/bakes goods/coffee when you're running low on fuel. I really hope this great weather lasts....

Istria Cafe
5030 S Cornell Ave
Chicago, IL 60615
(773) 324-9660

Chicago: Cafe 28

No special occasion required for brunch with the girls. After a long night that lasted into the wee hours of the morning, I dragged myself out of bed at 8:00am because I knew I couldn't miss Cafe 28:

Cafe 28 is made up of a mix of Mexican, Cuban, and American influences. I wouldn't quite count it as fusion, as each dish definitely has it's own distinct flavor.

My friend and I decided to split two entrees so that we could enjoy both sweet and savory. We're smart like that. First up, we ordered the stuffed french toast:

The french toast wasn't as thick and decadent as I imagined from reading the menu description. The menu described it as stuffed with a blend of bananas, cream cheese, and brown sugar. I don't know why I expected chunks of banana when the menu did indeed say "blend":

Overall, the french toast was subtly sweet and quite good, though not as amazing as I'd hoped it would be. What was amazing though, was the raspberry syrup. Oh yea.

For our savory taste buds, we ordered the honey jalapeño pork chops:

We'd intended to get a sweet dish and a savory one, but the pork chops ended up being sweeter than the french toast. The pork was succulent and juicy and delicious, but missing the spicy kick we thought the jalapeño would add. Still, can't complain too much. That was some damn good pork.

The pork chops also came with a choice of toast. We went with the raisin bread:

The bread was overly toasted...but nothing a little butter and raspberry syrup couldn't fix.

We had a great time at Cafe 28, but with so many promising brunch places in Chicago, it might be a while before I make it back again.

Cafe 28
1800 W Irving Park Rd
Chicago, IL 60613
(773) 528-2883
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