Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Back in Chicago

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams now has two stores in the Chicago area – and we were super pumped to try the new Wicker Park location (1505 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago) when Spring-like weather finally arrived. Jeni’s is a Columbus-based ice creamery helmed by ice cream guru Jeni Britton Bauer that has been expanding across the US in the past few years. However, Jeni’s stores all across America have been closed for the past month due to a recall. Now they are all back open – just in time to get a summer ice cream fix.  The key to Jeni’s success is high quality and unusual flavors (check out the menu below).


Jeni’s Wicker park is right in the heart of the main drag on Milwaukee, and I get the impression they are busy ALL the time. When we arrived there was a line, but it moved pretty quickly, and we even were able to find a place to sit. One cool touch is that they make their own waffle cones right in front of you! There is a selection of “signature” flavors to choose from, including wildberry lavender (tastes like Froot Loops), Salted Caramel and sun-popped corn, as well as some limited-edition specials like creme brulee and blue buttermilk frozen yogurt. There are even some local nods, with Intelligensia coffee-flavored ice cream or the option to get a scoop of any ice cream in a cup of Intelligensia coffee.


You can get anywhere between one and four scoops, and we settled on a Trio. We sampled buttermilk orange frozen yogurt, the “Buckeye State” which is peanut butter ice cream with chocolate chips, and dark chocolate. We were happy with our flavor choices, and the peanut butter and buttermilk orange were standouts. We definitely recommend Jeni’s for a summer treat and we are excited to see what creative flavor Jeni comes up with next.



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A Photo Tour of Mercado 20 de Noviembre in Oaxaca

Mexico FlagOne of our favorite things to do when we are new to a city is to visit the local market. When we were in Oaxaca we were extremely excited to visit the Mercado 20 de Noviembre (20th of November Market), which came highly recommended. What is special about this market is that it specifically dedicated to food. When you enter you are greeted right away with full-service food stalls that will make you mole, caldos, quesadillas and other dishes right to order. Navigating the swirl of tantalizing smells, we settled on a booth that had a crowd, where we sampled a delicious chicken in mole rojo and turkey in mole negro (one of the signature dishes of Oaxaca). Some of the stalls have printed menus, and others have handwritten menus tacked above the stalls. You can be assured that pretty much any restaurant with a small crowd is good, since the competition is so fierce. As you wander around the stalls you can also buy freshly-baked bread and cookies and fried plantains to snack on. In addition to the freshly-prepared foods, you can pick up mole paste, chocolate, dried peppers and other ingredients to try your hand at the same recipes at home. Around the perimeter of the market were artisans selling crafts like tin ornaments, mirrors and woven baskets. We had a great time visiting the different stalls and eating our way around the market, and it was a perfect way to dip a toe into Oaxaca’s culinary waters.


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The best Pasteis de Nata in London

united_kingdomportugalOne of our first stops in London was the venerable British Museum, where they had a delightful museum cafe run by the local cafe chain Benugo (various locations throughout London). Imagine our surprise when we saw the iconic Portuguese pastry, the Pastel de Nata, being advertised proudly front and center alongside muffins and scones, as a “Panata.” We certainly weren’t expecting to see one of our favorite Portuguese treats in this location! The panata from Benugo was actually pretty good, and once we saw our favorite treats there, we started seeing them in shops all around town. Who would have thought it would be so popular in London?


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Isla Pilipiana, new school Filipino in Lincoln Square

philippinesIsla Pilipiana (2501 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL) has one foot in the old world and one in the new. The menu features classic Filipino dishes, but the menu itself is designed in an edgy, loopy hand drawn style (even with a reference to Eminem lyrics, see if you can spot them) – which seems to be the perfect summary of what Isla Pilipiana is all about. Isla Pilipiana is a small place with modern decor, and is located in a strip mall just off the main Lincoln Square drag, so you might miss it.


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Eclectic small plates at Ada Street

After our delicious dinner at Odd Duck in Milwaukee, we were inspired to try some of the eclectic small plates in our neck of the woods. We had heard great things about Ada Street (1664 N. Ada Street, Chicago), and Chef Zoë Schor’s creative dishes, so we wanted to try it out with our foodie friends D & B. We went relatively early, and were able to snag a table, without much advance notice.

AdaStreet Like Odd Duck, the menu was divided into sections that helped describe the food by category: “Pick it Up,” “With Toast,” “Forks, spoons & knives” and dessert. The dishes range in size, and all are meant to share. There is something for those that are gluten free, too, which we always appreciate. The room was a large and cool and there were giant garage door windows that could open up to reveal a large patio area. There was even a record player tucked in the corner, which we definitely liked.

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Nando’s is coming to Chicago!

Nando's Peri Peri Sign

We are so excited – one of our favorite restaurant chains, the Peri-Peri chicken joint Nando’s is coming to Chicago! We have previously visited Nando’s locations in Washington D.C. and London and really enjoyed the food. The closer-to-home West Loop location opens May 20th. We will be first in line for some Pasteis de Nata!


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Juice and more at Under the Mango Tree in Miami Beach

The famous South Beach section of Miami Beach is a very confusing place that we don’t really fit into (except that we like the beach and Art Deco architecture). Full of glitzy clubs and cheesy tourist shops, it is definitely not our scene. However, there are some places that really do stand out in a positive way, including Under the Mango Tree. This tiny juice and snack bar (plus giftshop) is located In a nondescript row of shops just off South Beach. Under the Mango Tree (714 6th St. Miami Beach, FL) specializes in a wide range of natural juices and smoothies (mango, beet, carrot, kale and more) as well as açaí bowls and other healthy treats. Unique selections include a dragon fruit bowl, tumeric chai tea, an agave, almond milk and raw cacao smoothie as well as a kale melt for something savory. The inside of the store is cute and welcoming, with colorful walls, Tibetan prayer flags, plants everywhere and little wooden benches. At any given time all the seats may be full!

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Celebrating the arrival of warm weather at Bi-Rite Creamery

Yesterday I had my first paleta in Chicago – spring is officially here! San Francisco is lucky enough to have better weather year-round, and maybe that is the reason it has such a huge artisanal ice cream scene, which we can totally get behind. We wanted to try at least one ice cream shop when here, and Bi-Rite Creamery (3692 18TH ST.) came particularly highly recommended. Bi-Rite was an oasis of ice cream in a pretty residential neighborhood of the Mission, and we knew we were in the right place when we saw the red neon sign and the big line!

Bi-Rite Creamery

Bi-Rite Creamery is hoppin

The store itself was tiny, and had a line snaking out the door, even at about 7 pm on a Thursday. Bi-Rite is known for its unusual flavors, and has its list of both classic and seasonal flavors posted outside, so you can think about your choice when you wait. I went with the much-lauded salted caramel and the Blue Bottle coffee flavor with almonds and chocolate chips. The classic flavors of honey lavender and Ricanelas cinnamon cookies were popular, and other tasty seasonal flavors included Creme Brulee, Orange Cardamom and Balsamic Strawberry. You can get your flavors in either a cup or cone and even in sundaes with clever names like the “Dainty Gentleman” which consists or honey lavender, sea salt and blood orange.

Bi-Rite Creamery

The lonely Soft-Serv window

You can also buy a variety of baked goods like rhubarb pie and cupcakes, ice cream cakes, ice cream sandwiches, Bi-Rite gear and pints to take home. There was a separate counter for soft serve, which was, at the time, empty. Later, we come to find out that they were serving buffalo milk soft serve! Maybe next time… There is also a Bi-Rite gourmet/natural food market just a block away, if you can’t get enough artisanal cuteness. We wish we lived closer to Bi-Rite so we could sample all of the flavors, especially a signature sundae.

Bi-Rite Creamery

Bi-Rite Creamery: Salted Caramel and Coffee

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Around the world in Milwaukee at Odd Duck

We definitely appreciate the boom in casual but high-quality farm to table restaurants in the Midwest. We heard nothing but praise for one of these restaurants, Odd Duck (2352 S Kinnickinnic Ave, Milwaukee, WI), so we were incredibly excited to try it. Inside Odd Duck is a cool space, with exposed brick and pottery on the walls, buzzing, casual and friendly. The menu at Odd Duck is both locally sourced and globally inspired – a combination of two of our favorite restaurant concepts.


You can find dishes spanning every continent, divided into two halves of small plate dishes: vegetarian and meat. When we visited there were 12 dishes in each half, and our server assured us that the selection changed daily. We decided to go for our server’s suggestion of at least 2 dishes apiece, and we tacked on one to share (though all of the dishes are meant to share….and we did end up sharing all of them). We had a hard time deciding what we wanted, but tried to do a sampling of both the veg and meat options. Along with the list of small plates you can also order individual portions of cheese and charcuterie including both local (Smoking Goose Meatery, Hook’s Cheddar) and global selections (Jamon Iberico).


Charred Octopus

We tried:

  • Brazilian cheese bread with watercress and Kolrahbi, yogurt with spinach puree.($8) This was the first dish out of the gate. Being purveyors of Pão de Queijo, I think we were expecting too much with this one. This was a chewy, slightly tangy bread roll, but did not taste like a Pão de Queijo at all and the texture was a bit off. However, had we not had actual PDQ from Brazil as a cultural reference, we probably would have liked it much more.
  • Vietnamese fried trout topped with an herb salad, over glass noodles with a delicious peanut lime and chili sauce ($10) This was a real standout dish. The fried trout was delicate, and not greasy at all. It also contained one of our favorite food combinations: peanuts and lime, so how can you go too wrong?The sauce was strong and aromatic, without being overpowering, and there was a little kick.
  • Charred octopus with black beans and rice cake, oyster mushrooms and scallions ($10) M really liked this one, and even for those among us who are not big fans are octopus, this was a standout dish. The octopus was tender and crispy – not chewy at all.
Shortrib Stroganoff

Shortrib Stroganoff

  • Braised beef shortribs stroganoff with potato gnocchi and mustard greens ($12). This was a classic, hearty dish, with fork-tender shortribs. We appreciated the update of the classic Midwest dish, and the gnocchi were light and tender.
  • Aloo Gobi curried fired cauliflower with sweet corn yogurt, potato chips and tomato chutney ($8). Despite being fried, the cauliflower were surprisingly light and crispy. This was a good way to end the meal, though it also would have been a perfect “appetizer.”

Aloo Gobi

We really enjoyed the food at Odd Duck. The vibe was good, the menu was interesting and the price is right. We wish there were more of these types of places in Chicago (especially at this price point). We can’t wait to go back to see what is on the menu next time!

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Mole Poblano for Cinco de Mayo

Mexico FlagOften confused with Mexican Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo is actually a commemoration of the battle of Puebla, which was an unexpected victory over the larger French army in 1862, and preceded Mexican Independence by a few years. Though Cinco De Mayo is celebrated in the US as a drink-focused free-for-all, in Mexico, it is mostly only celebrated in Puebla as a regional holiday. So it only makes sense to celebrate with some authentic Poblano dishes, from a region with some of the best food in Mexico. Our personal favorite dish from Puebla is Mole Poblano – a rich, peppery and complex sauce (“mole” just refers to a type of sauce). Mole Poblano is one of the most beloved moles in Mexico and is also served throughout the US. However, it is a little complicated to make. Pati’s Mexican Table has a recipe that breaks down the laundry list of ingredients, including 4 varieties of pepper -Ancho, Mulato, Pasilla and Chipotle – tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, and much more! Mole Poblano is traditionally served over Chicken or Turkey, and is definitely worth the extra effort. Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Mole Poblano by Jay Galvin

Mole Poblano by Jay Galvin

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Macanese cuisine at Fat Rice in Chicago

MacauI jumped out of a moving car to get a table at Fat Rice (2957 W. Diversey Ave, Chicago, IL ). That is how crowded the place can be get, and how legendarily hard-to-get the tables are. But at 5pm on a Wednesday we need not have worried, as we easily got a table for 2 just when walking in (we were some of the first people there, and by the time we left at 7, it was still not full). The tables at Fat Rice are communal, and the decor is simultaneously sparse and kitschy, with golden pigs, Chinese pottery and a Portuguese rooster holding pride of place.


Fat Rice has received a slew of accolades, including being one of Bon Appetit’s top new restaurants in 2013. The menu features the cuisine of the former Portuguese colony of Macau, a history that lends it a unique fusion of Portuguese and Chinese cuisines. Short of taking a trip to the luxurious island, there aren’t many places to sample Macanese food. To help, the menu at Fat Rice is broken into several sections, small plates, noodles and entrees to share. There were also a rotating number of specials.


The squash special – those aren’t noodles – they are ribbons of squash!

We had a tough time deciding what to order, and we went with a few specials, since we hoped the other dishes would be there on our next visit! Some of the items that stood out (that we did not get) included the linguiça appetizer with ginger and olive ($8), the piri-piri chicken with spicy tomato and peanut sauce ($24) and the Malay vegetable curry with sweet potato and cashews ($16). However, when making our order, our waitress pushed us to order a vegetable dish, saying we had too many heavy foods (not sure if this was a personal thing or a management directive). In the end, she may have been right, but we were not super excited to be told multiple times we had ordered incorrectly. I think she was also a little crestfallen when we substituted vegetables for one of the more expensive meat dishes….

Rolled rice noodles

Rolled rice noodles

To start off with, we ordered a classic dish, the handmade hand-rolled rice noodles, which came either with XO sauce or mushroom and egg ($14). This was the first time we had tried XO sauce, the famous Hong Kong umami bomb, tempered with hot chilies. We absolutely loved it! At the nosy behest of the waitress, we did indeed prefer a vegetable: the special Summer Squash stir fry. The squash was cut into thin ribbons and dressed with a light sauce, tianjin (pickled cabbage) and basil. It was super light and delicious, while also being complex. Finally, we tried the special entree, the whole Branzino. This was definitely the star of the night, with an inexplicable combination of flavors: Thai lime, tamarind and cilantro.


Whole Branzino in foil

Another thing that really impressed us was the list of rare and unusual teas available, provided by the Rare Tea Cellar. We knew we had to get a pot of tea. Like wine, each of the teas had tasting notes to go along with them. We were intrigued by the “Freak of Nature Oolong” tea ($9) which boasted tasting notes of popcorn, shortbread and watermelon. The cute teapots came with unlimited refills and most cost between $5 and $10, which we felt was reasonable, because the servers do actually do come and refill the teapot.


Pigs, figurines and rooster keeping court at Fat Rice

By the end of our meal, the communal tables had begun to fill up. The people at the end of the table did in fact order the signature item at Fat Rice and its namesake, arroz gordo. There is a charming little illustration depicting all of the myriad ingredients that make up one order of fat rice: prawns, squid, mussels, rice and more ($48). It looked like it took about 3 people to truly handle the dish. We were actually really impressed by Fat Rice, one of the recent places where we felt the hype was warranted. We are excited to try brunch, where our favorite items in the world are featured: egg tarts!


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Tippaleivät fried cookies for May Day in Finland

finlandThough May 1st, “May Day” goes by pretty much unnoticed in the US, it is a major holiday in Europe, akin to Labor Day. Throughout Northern Europe, along with being a national holiday, it is celebrated as the arrival of Spring, complete with festivals, maypoles and an abundance of tasty foods. In Finland, May Day (called “Vappu” in Finnish) is celebrated with Tippaleivät, which are similar to mini funnel cakes. These simple treats are a perfect light and fluffy (fried!) treat for Spring. Unleash your inner Scandinavian and try making some.

May day celebration in with Finnish  tippaleivät (fried cookies) and sima (sparkling Finnish mead) by kahvikisu

May day celebration in with Finnish tippaleivät and sima (sparkling Finnish mead) by kahvikisu

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Paseo Catracho, authentic Honduran in Miami

Paseo Catracho
824 SW 8th St
Miami, FL 33130

flags_of_HondurasWhen we are in Miami, we feel spoiled for choice at all the Latin American options we have. We were especially happy to try some restaurants that make food from countries that aren’t really available in Chicago. One among these is Honduras. When we were searching for Honduran options in Miami, Paseo Catracho bubbled up as a favorite (the “Catracho” in the name is a nickname for people from Honduras). One of our good friends who lives in Miami who is of Honduran heritage said it was her favorite place to get Honduran food in the city. When we walked in, we were impressed by the bustling atmosphere, and the cute touches like straw hats hanging from the ceiling as lamps.


Hats as decor!

As we perused through the menu of this comfortable mom and pop place, we noticed that everything was a little cheese and carb heavy, just the way we like it! The specialty of the house was pupusas – which we know as El Salvadorean food – however, Honduras puts its own little spin on this as well. Of course we had to have the pupusas! (3 for $6.99). The pupusas came with a side of chismol (a cabbage slaw), and were filled with quesillo cheese. These were pretty similar to the Salvadoran pupusas. We also got a stuffed plaintain / maduro relleno: absolutely filled with beans,  cheese, and cream. This was a nice combination of salty and sweet. To finish we got a hot dip similar to a queso called anafres. At its most basic, anafres is a refried black bean and cheese fondue. The food at Paseo Catracho is definitely delicious, but by the end of the meal you could roll us home. If that weren’t enough they even have huge family platters with 10+ pupusas and toppings for your next family outing.


The elaborate anafres presentation.

The service was decent, if a little distracted, but we still had a pleasant time. We wished this place was closer so we could try some of the other unique Honduran options, many of which we had never heard of before. People also particularly rave about the baleadas, a tortilla filled with refried beans. Paseo Catracho is definitely not a place for those on a diet… but that’s not why you go there! However, it is a great place for good food at a reasonable price. Definitely a family kind of place.


Our favorite: Pupusas

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Encountering Egg Waffles in San Francisco’s Chinatown

wpid-wp-1430276183168.jpegHong KongMany years ago, I wrote about the Hong Kong Street food – the egg waffle (called gai daan jai in Cantonese). However, I had never really even tried one! The wait is over though – when I visited San Francisco – I was lucky enough to visit a cafe that had an egg waffle machine. The sight of the egg waffle maker in the window stopped me in my tracks, and drew me into the Sweetheart Cafe (909 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108). The waffle maker looked like the kind they often have at American hotels – heavy cast iron, with a handle that closes and flips over the waffle while cooking. There were circular depressions in the egg waffle maker, which eventually made a large sheet of waffle-like dough with spherical bubbles. After a few short minutes, the cook picked off the waffle with chopsticks, rolled it into a tube, and placed in a paper bag. One egg waffle was $4, and you could also get yours topped with chocolate or coconut (I went for the original). The egg waffle was good, and tasted like a light, sweet, airy…. waffle. So ok, it was pretty much what you would expect. It was definitely a fun snack, and easy to rip off an “egg” or two at at time while wandering around Chinatown. Where’s your favorite place to get egg waffles?


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A New Place for Thai: Rainbow Cuisine

thailandRainbow Thai (4825 North Western Avenue) is absolutely our favorite recent food find, and it totally changed the way we think about Thai food in the city. In fact, we like it so much, a part of us wants to delete this post and not add to the increasing number of Chicagoans who swear by Rainbow Thai. We have visited Rainbow Thai 5 or 6 times now, and the major change that we noticed on our last visit is that they have expanded into the storefront next door: what was previously only three very small tables is now a welcoming, cozy, tastefully decorated space perfect for eating some of the most unique, rewarding, and clear Thai cuisine in the city.


Rainbow Thai seating: Before


Rainbow Thai seating: After

We went to Rainbow two times in as many weeks, to try to get a flavor for what they had to offer. They have 2 menus: a standard American-friendly Thai menu with your classics like pad see eiw and pad thai, as well as a “Thai” menu of untranslated dishes. Last year, the good people at LTH Forum took the trouble of translating everything on the authentic Thai menu, and good thing they did because we could not get enough of the dishes off this menu. Clients like it so much that now seatings at Rainbow Thai come with three menus: the standard menu, the Thai menu, and a print-off of the LTH Forum page translating it! Clearly, Rainbow Thai approves of the translation and descriptions.


Pad see ew (front) , jungle curry and nam khao tod

This is a family operation, the son (or sometimes the dad) takes orders and mom cooks. Dishes may not come out right together or super quickly, but that’s ok. This is a place where patience is rewarded. Usually we end up over-ordering and they will say so.They also appeared to be doing a pretty brisk carryout business. Below are some of our favorites: items with an asterisk come from the Thai menu.


Vietnamese Crepes (Kanom Buang yuan)

  • *Kanom Buang yuan – Of Vietnamese origin (banh xeo), these Thai crepes are made of a crispy egg skin and then filled with fresh vegetables. Filling and tasty, we were impressed at how thin and delicate the crepe was.
  • *Nam khao tod – When Matt finished this dish for the first time, he immediately walked to the kitchen and said it was the best thing he had eaten in Chicago this year. Five visits later, he says it is still true. Tantalizing caramelized rice is fried together with fish sauce, lime, peanuts, and a special fermented Thai sausage to create a dish that is much more than the sum of these parts: a total exploration of Thai flavor profiles that we have never had in another dish. Just spectacular.
  • *Keang paa – Thai Jungle Curry, combining fresh vegetables in a soupy curry with a little heat. This dish is clean and crisp, served with rice on the side.
  • *Kao kluk ka pi – At first glance, the various aspects of this dish make no sense together. You receive a plate with a pile of fried rice topped with small dried shrimp, all cooked in shrimp paste; a small mound of pork in sweet/fermented sauce; shredded egg; and thin apple slices. And yet, it all makes sense together. Matt typically orders this alongside the nam khao tod, and it is always too much food. But together they showcase some of the best of what Rainbow Thai has to offer.
  • Pad Kra Prow – Basil chicken, a classic finished with spicy fermented sausage, a northern Thai specialty done very well here. 
  • Pad see eiw – The classic dish and L’s favorite, featuring well-cooked greens and a flavorful soy-based sauce. This version was subtle and delicious, and not as sweet as some versions – a definite winner.


    The inimitable nam khao tod

Of course Rainbow Thai also has all your Thai favorites (we’ve heard very good things about their green curry), as well as beverage classics like bubble tea and chaa yen (Thai iced tea). But really, do not come here for the standard menu. Get out of your comfort zone and try some amazing flavor combinations prepared by loving chefs who are genuinely concerned that you like everything you are served. Everything was top notch. Totally fresh and literally made to order. We would return to Rainbow Thai again and again for some old staples as well as new favorites, and you really must get the nam khao tod! Now that there is ample seating, you can even bring your friends.


Kao kluk ka pi

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Muracci’s Japanese Curry in San Francisco

JapanMuracci’s (307 Kearny Street, San Francisco, CA 94108)  was on our shortlist of places to try  in San Francsico for a long time, so when I had a work trip there, I jumped at the chance. We were intrigued by the concept of Japanese curry, a version we had never tried before, despite being extremely well-acquainted with Thai and Indian curries. Legend has it that the dish was introduced to Japan by the British in the 1800s (when India was still a British colony). It is definitely not an elegant or refined dish, and is generally seen as “home cuisine,” and is not commonly available in Chicago Japanese restaurants.


When we went to the counter to order we noticed the large 64-plus gallon vats of curry stacked on the side of the counter, which we took as a good sign. You can order 3 strengths of curry: mild, medium and hot.  There were several varieties of meat that could be topped with the ubiquitous crurry – and the chicken katsu ($10.25) and pork tonkatsu ($10.25) seemed to be favorites, though you could also get prawns, salmon, beefs and veggies. I went with the medium-spice chicken katsu, which was a chicken breast, pounded flat and breaded, served with choice of rice, slaw and pickles. Other non-curry options included chicken teriyaki, hot curry noodle soup and homemade mochi.wpid-0406152024.jpg

There is really nowhere to sit in the counter-only postage stamp-sized shop, and they did a brisk trade in takeout. I did particularly enjoy the miniature shrine with a cow they had set up right by the cash register. I took my meal back to the hotel, where I unpacked the little Styrofoam container, which had the curry in a separate tub – which was nice because you could add as much or little as you wanted. The curry was delicious and fragrant, with similar spaces to a mild Korma curry, heavy in garlic and onion. It was a perfect compliment to the juicy boneless fried chicken. This curry was a great, quick filling meal, and a new taste of Japan.  We are itching to try some Japanese curry in Chicago, and Time Out found a couple of spots that serve this rarer dish. Another option is to make it at home, using “curry roux” pre-formed blocks, or even from scratch.


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Teatime at The Allis in Soho House Chicago

united_kingdomAfter an extremely enjoyable teatime at The Langham, we were jonesing for another tea experience. We attempted to have tea at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee for their lauded holiday tea – but it was totally sold out for the entire season…. oh well! We decided to drown our sorrows in a more casual teatime at The Allis (113 – 125 North Green Street Chicago, IL 60607) in the Soho House, a new members-only hotel that is a London export. Even if you are not a member you can dine in the first-floor restaurants, including the Allis, the tearoom.

The Allis

The scene at The Allis

When you open the door from the street you are right in the lobby, which is unlike any other we had seen. The decor is a mix of shabby chic, glamour and modern elements, put together in an eclectic way that still manages to be quite refined. Bookshelves are placed in the center of the room and the chairs are a mishmash of wood and velvet, with exposed brick walls and crystal chandeliers. By day it is a tearoom/lunch spot/coffee shop (serving San Francisco’s famous Blue Bottle coffee), where people hang out and use wifi, and by night it turns into more of a bar/lounge. Tea is served from 3-5 (at a cost of $24), and it is a good idea to make recommendations (we did not, but it worked out anyway for us, thanks to a stroke of luck).

The Allis

Custom tea service

Pretty much everyone in the room had the afternoon tea service. We ordered a tea for 2, which came out in short order.The loose-leaf tea selection is modest, and we each got a teapot, one with mint and one with chai. Other options included Chamomile, Jade green, Rooibos and Earl Grey. Both the sweet and savory elements come out at once, on striking custom black and white china. For the savory items, we had standard crustless sandwiches: tuna, egg and salmon. These were tasty, but nothing to write home about.


Tea Service

The sweet selections were much more extensive, and on the three-tiered blue-and-white tray we received Chocolate mint macarons, a tiny lemon cream tart, 2 profiteroles, 2 mini red velvet cupcakes, a slice of chocolate cake, scones with jam and Devonshire creme, and a thick slice of poppy seed pound cake (aka a vehicle for the clotted cream). Not a bad spread, right? We liked all of the treats in the selection, but the macaron and mini cupcake were especially delectable. We especially liked how they got a bit outside of the box, from the typical scones and pound cake model. Though we were stuffed by the end, we managed to work our way through all of the desserts.

The Allis

The Sweets up close

The Allis had laid back service, and the servers were casual, and definitely not as polished as at other teatimes, but I think this is intentional. In their gray cardigans and skinny jeans, they are cool kids, not stuffy waitstaff. We definitely enjoyed our teatime at the Allis, and it was a completely different experience from the more refined tea times we had experienced elsewhere. This is tea for cool people, but you can bring your grandma too, she’ll probably like it.

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The Chinese food scene at the US / Mexico border

China flagMexico FlagI love learning about hybrid cuisines that are shaped by a convergence of languages, countries and cultures. One cultural exchange I had never considered was the influence of Mexican food and Chinese cuisine on the US border. This is not a new mash-up either, with cultural exchange going back as much as 100 years. Mexicali, Mexico, right across the US border, is home to as many as 200 Chinese restaurants. Fascinating!

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What are Ecuadorian Quesadillas / Quesadilla Salvadoreña?

ecuadorQuesadilla” is one of those words that tricks you into thinking you know what it means, but then you go somewhere new and turn out it means something totally different. We knew what quesadilla meant in the US, a tortilla with melty cheese, whereas in Mexico City it was a slightly different thing, often deep-fried! However, in Ecuador, “quesadilla” means yet a third thing: a pentagonal shaped pastry filled with a savory-sweet baked cheese feeling. It reminded us of the Portuguese pastry, the queijada, which also has a savory/sweet crumbly cheese filling. These quesadillas were brought to us direct from Quito by my cousin’s parents from the Panaderia y Pasteleria San Juan in Quito. The Quesadillas were really tasty – and we came to learn that they are one of the emblematic treats of Ecaudor – so we are really glad we got to have a taste from the source. Quesadillas have been made at the San Juan bakery since 1935, and are now an integral part of the cuisine of Quito. Here is a recipe for Ecaudorian quesadillas, using queso fresco (make sure to use an unsalted cheese). 

Ecuadorian Quesadilla

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The Birth of Saké

JapanWe are very excited to learn about the film “The Birth of Saké’,” a new documentary that explores how sake is handcrafted at a family-owned Japanese brewery named Tedorigawa. Erik Shirai funded the film through a Kickstarter, and it is now showing at the Tribeca Film Festival!

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