Category Archives: Reviews

Celebrate Victoria Day with a Victoria Sandwich

Today, May 22, is Victoria Day, a holiday to celebrate historical British monarch Queen Victoria’s birthday. Of all places, this is not a holiday in the UK, but in Canada! One classic treat to have on this date is Victoria Sandwich, named for the queen. Despite the name, this is not what North Americans would think of when they hear the word sandwich – it is actually a cake! Another name for this treat is Victoria sponge (as in sponge cake), and it consists of two sponge cakes filled with raspberry jam and cream in the middle. I first heard of this cake when it was referenced many times on the Great British Bake-Off! You can find a recipe for a classic Victoria Sandwich on BBC GoodFood, Jamie Oliver and Urban Hounds.

Victoria Sponge by Gordon Plant

 

 

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A great new butcher in Cleveland: Saucisson

When we left Chicago, one of the places we were saddest to say goodbye to was our favorite butcher shop: Homestead Meats in Evanston. When we got to Cleveland, we were super happy to find lots of great fresh meat purveyors at the West Side Market – however nothing quite fit the bill of a single location where we could get fresh meat, house-made sausage, charcuterie, prepared meals, and more. With a new addition to Slavic VillageSaucisson (5324 Fleet Ave, Cleveland, OH 44105) – we feel like we have found a Cleveland butcher replacement for our beloved Homestead Meats.

Saucisson is a fell-fledged butcher and you can see back into the kitchen where everything is made – we were also excited to learn that they are offering sausage-making classes – the next one is on Saturday, May 20 (call for details). Saucisson is a labor of love for founders and owners Penny Barend and Melissa Khoury, which started out as a pop-up at Farmer’s Markets, before opening their own bricks and mortar location. The new Saucisson space is clean and bright, with a fully-stocked cooler and freezer full of along with stock, soups, and lard. Saucisson had a variety of beef and pork cuts for sale, alongside a variety of pates, bacon, jerky, rilettes and esoteric sausages, all made/butchered in house. We sampled the German-style currywurst, the Oaxacan black mole sausage and the Filipino longganisa (a sweet breakfast sausage). Quite the spread  – though we think the Mole sausage was our favorite! Every week the selection rotates, so be sure to call ahead if you want something specific.

One of the other great features of Saucisson is that they have rotating food menu every day, which you can take out or eat in store (check out Facebook for the day’s menu). On the night we visited there was Italian chicken meatball soup ($5) and pulled pork tacos ($8). Though not a traditional taco, the super tender and flavorful pulled pork stole the show, smothered in green salsa, cotija cheese, slaw and pickled onions. Yum! Saucisson is only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m to 7 p.m so be sure to time your visit properly. When we visited on a Friday night at 6, we got the last of the food.

Even more promising – the Saucisson team was super excited to potentially help us out with some custom butchery – we of course wanted to see if they could make the Brazilian classic cut of beef, picanha. They assured us that with a little advance notification, they could pretty much make anything. This stretch of Slavic Village is just starting recover from the housing bubble and economic downtown, and Saucisson is a welcome addition to the neighborhood’s commercial center. But Saucisson would be a great addition to any Cleveland neighborhood. We look forward to becoming regulars!

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Brunch with a Brazilian Twist at La Sirena Clandestina

brazil It’s always a delicate balance finding somewhere to go out to eat on a weekend for lunch – note that I say lunch – not brunch! Fortunately La Sirena Clandestina (954 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL) strikes a nice balance between lunch and brunch dishes, and is sure to please people with all kinds of palates. La Sirena Clandestina has an eclectic menu with lots of Brazilian flourishes, based on Chef John Manion’s childhood in Brazil – they even have our favorite cheesy bread on the menu – Pão de Queijo – though it sadly wasn’t available when we visited.  We are always looking for new Brazilian tastes, so we were definitely looking forward to sampling La Sirena’s mix of Brazilian flavors and local ingredients.

SirenaSteak

The weekend daytime menu at La Sirena is a mix of sweet and savory, brunch and lunch. On the brunch side of things you can get their take on Eggs Benedict, with soft shell crab and Brazilian malagueta peppers ($18) or chilaquiles with plantains and salsa verde ($15). For those going more savory, you can get a grilled hanger steak with a fried yucca “tot” ($18) or the “El Che” (a take on the Cuban sandwich – $13) – achiote roasted pork loin with ham, Swiss cheese and pickles. There are also some nice, healthier vegetarian options including the Kale Salad ($9) and the white bean hash with avocado and chimichurri ($15) Among our group we ordered some options from each “type.”

SirenaEgg

One of our favorites, the hanger steak was perfectly tender and well-accented by the garlicky sauce – we also appreciated the whimsy of the yucca “tater tot.” Another hit was the Tapioca Nordestina ($12) – which was similar to a beachside dish that is popular in Brazil. This consisted of manioc flour crepes stuffed with cream cheese and topped with strawberry and rhubarb compote. This was a combination of flavors we didn’t expect – but worked really well together, and was not too sweet at all.

SirenaTapioca

As an added twist on brunch, instead of the typical mimosa, you can get a variety of mixed drinks with Brazilian cachaça, along with aguas frescas (the juice of the day was chamomile lemon) and teas from Rare Tea Cellar. The vibe inside the restaurant is relaxed and casual, with vintage Brazilian tunes playing in the background (think Os Mutantes and Elis Regina). The space is not very big – so reservations are recommended. We highly enjoyed our eclectic brunch at La Sirena Clandestina, and it was a great spot for the pro and anti brunch crowds alike.

LaSirena

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Karam Kitchen’s Catering Success Story

We are so happy to hear about stories of immigrants using food to make connections and find success in their new homes. We previously featured Honeydoe catering in Chicago, and we just learned of another successful venture by Syrian refugees in Hamilton, Ontario, Karam Kitchen. Karam Kitchen is run by Syrian female chefs Rawa’a Aloliwi, Dalal Al Zoubi, and Manahel Al Shareef, and two American/Canadian women, Brittani Farrington and Kim Kralt, who run the logistics of the business. Karam Kitchen was kicked off by a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016, and is now up and running and taking catering orders (and recently ran a second Kickstarter to get a delivery van). Saveur has a great feature about the start of Karam Kitchen and People of Hamilton focuses on the women involved in the project. Karam means generosity, and you can definitely see the generosity in the amazing spreads of Syrian foods that Karam Kitchen prepares.

Karam Kitchen by People of Hamilton

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Ramen Misoya, the original Ramen-ya in Chicago

We are happy that authentic Japanese ramen has exploded as a trend in the US, and now you can find great ramen in most US cities.  If you’re looking for the starting point of this wave of ramen in Chicago, you have to go out to the northwest suburbs, where Ramen Misoya (1584 S Busse Rd., Mount Prospect, IL 60056) was the first authentic Ramen-Ya (ramen restaurant) in the Chicago area, starting in 2013. Little did we know, but Ramen Misoya is actually a chain, with a few locations throughout the US and Japan, and now a downtown Chicago outpost (213 E. Ohio St.). Despite the influx of ramen restaurants in Chicago, one of our favorites is still Ramen Misoya.

Ramen Misoya is a tiny place with maybe only 8 tables, and a small amount of counter seating, so get there early. The menu may seem overwhelming at first, but there are 3 main varieties of broth to choose from, and you can get 5 versions of meat and vegetable toppings for each broth. The three miso-based broth options are Kome, Mame and Shiro: the Hokkaido-style kome ramen is made with a rice-and-soybean miso, and is the darkest and most full-bodied; the Nagoya-style mame is slightly bitter; and the Kyoto-style shiro is the lightest miso variety of the trio, and was described as having a fruity flavor. All ramen comes topped with ground pork, green onions, sprouts, and menma (fermented bamboo shoots), but with each broth you can can choose from assorted vegetables, Cha-Shu pork, spicy and kimchi varieties ($9-$13 depending on the toppings).

There are also a few special varieties of ramen including the creamier, richer Tokyo miso pork tonkatsu ($9.50) and the Kyoto miso tan-tan sesame ramen (above – $9.90). One of the best part of the ramen is that you get to customize your bowl with extra toppings including tonkotsu fried pork, extra noodles, nori sheets a, miso egg, or even a pat of butter (all for small extra charges). We like to start out with a small assortment of appetizers including a tasty gyoza dumplings ($4.5) and chicken kaarage (fried chicken, $3.50 small, $7 large).

We have tried all of the different broths, and each one has been delicious, though we think our favorite may be the special sesame broth, which you can not get at many other ramen places. Ramen Misoya excels at everything from start to finish: the noodles are also delicious – toothsome and springy – a perfect complement to the broth. The portion size is pretty big, too, and one bowl of ramen usually lasts us two meals. As an added plus, you can also get one of our favorite Japanese desserts there – taiyaki – a fish shaped waffle-like treat filled with sweet red bean paste. If you are looking for great ramen at the place that kicked off the ramen craze in Chicago, definitely visit Ramen Misoya.

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Taqueria El Mezquite: our go-to tacos in Pilsen

Mexico Flag Sometimes, we go to a place so often, we just start to assume we have written about it on ETW. This tends to happen with our most favorite restaurants, many of which do not end up getting a review until years after we first go there (thinking of you Greenbush Bar). In that vein, we are finally getting around to reviewing our favorite taqueria in Pilsen. We have eaten our way around Pilsen, and our favorite go-to place is still Taqueria El Mezquite (1756 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608).TacosMezquite

El Mezquite is a classic mom and pop place, with simple red booths and an expansive menu of Mexican favorites. Our classic order at El Mezquite is tacos. The tacos are a reasonable $2.25 and come on delicious corn tortillas with the classic onion and cilantro. The taco menu is huge and you can get chorizo, carne asada, chicken and all the typical varieties. But what also sets Mezquite apart is that you can get harder-to-find fillings like nopal (cactus), tripe, and specific types and cuts of beef like lomo encebolloado (ribeye with onions), suadero (flank steak) and cecina (dried beef). They also excel at our favorite taco variety: pork al pastor. Even though they don’t have a trompo for Al Pastor, these are some of Matt’s favorites – the flavor is good, with a nice char.

Enchilada

Though the tacos are our starting point, we have also eaten through a bit more of El Mezquite’s menu, and have liked everything we’ve tried so far. Other favorites include the huaraches $7.95 (thick corn tortillas with a variety of toppings – we like the squash blossoms), and the chicken mole enchiladas ($7.25).  On the weekends they also have the traditional stews like menudo (beef stomach stew) and pozole (pork and hominy stew) – which you can get by the plate or even by the gallon. We also recently tried their hearty migas soup, a pork bone soup with bread and epazote native to the Tepito neighborhood of Mexico City, something we have not seen on any other Chicago menus.

Migas

However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg – you can also get freshly squeezed juices (like the vampiro, with oranges, beet and carrot), milkshakes, great horchata and tepache. If you have your own favorites we haven’t mentioned, it is definitely worth checking out Mezquite’s full menu of burritos, tortas, and dinner specials. Everything we have ever tried at El Mezquite has been good, and the prices are so reasonable. If you are in the hood and looking for a good place for tacos (and some Mexico City specialties) definitely make your way to El Mezquite.

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The Classic Anzac Day Treat: Anzac Biscuits

New Zealand FlagAustraliaApril 25th is Anzac Day, one of the biggest holidays in Australia and New Zealand – and are best celebrated with Anzac biscuits. Anzac biscuits (what we would call a cookie in the US) are oatmeal cookies with dried coconut, with the special secret ingredient of golden syrup – popular in British commonwealth countries. So what is Anzac Day? Anzac Day is basically the equivalent of US Memorial Day, and honors Australian and New Zealander service people. It is held on the anniversary of Australia and New Zealand’s Entry into World War 1 at the Battle of Gallipoli. Popular mythology is that these biscuits got their name because they were sent overseas to the soldiers (since they contained no perishable ingredients), however the name itself is only recorded as going back to the 1920s. BBC Good food has a classic recipe, though Anzac cookies vary in texture from crispy to chewy (recipe seen below) to soft. Anzac biscuits are now such a beloved classic, that they have inspired other desserts with a similar flavor profiles, like cookie bars and ice cream sandwiches.

Anzac.jpg

Anzac Biscuits by Ruthy Stinkface

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Thai at Banana Blossom in Cleveland

One of our favorite things in Cleveland is the surprising proliferation of quality Southeast Asian food. We have tried over a dozen Thai places in the area, but we keep coming back to Cleveland stalwart Banana Blossom (2800 Clinton Ave, Cleveland, OH) – it is our favorite, consistently solid spot for Thai classics in the city. Banana Blossom has been holding down an unassuming corner in the Ohio City neighborhood for a while, before it was the artsy, bustling neighborhood it is today. Banana Blossom is bigger on the inside than you might think, with a peaceful ambiance.

You can get all of your favorite Thai dishes at Banana Blossom, but we feel they are all executed better than you would normally find. The menu has a wide selection of salads, soups, noodle dishes and curries. There are some more unusual dishes like Prik Khing Salmon (Deep-Fried Salmon with String Beans and Our Homemade Prik Khing Sauce – $15.95) and roasted tamarind duck ($18.95). Despite the broad offerings,  when we go to Banana Blossom we usually stick with our classics: Pad See Eiw (stir-fried wide rice noodles with chicken and shrimp, eggs, carrots and broccoli – $11.50), and Penang Curry (a medium-spicy curry with chiles, coriander, kaffir lime peel, galangal, bell pepper, string beans, baby corn, eggplant and basil leaves – $12.95). Sometimes we will also start out with a refreshing papaya Salad (with string beans, tomato and peanuts – $8.95), which is also pretty spicy!

The service is quick and efficient, and you are never left waiting too long, even when it is busy. M also likes that he can get a legitimately spicy Penang curry (you can specify a heat level of 1-5). The portions at Banana Blossom are generous, and there are a wide variety of proteins: Chicken, Duck, Beef, Pork, Shrimp, Salmon, Tofu or Vegetable. Banana Blossom even has a full bar, though we usually just stick to the Thai iced teas ($3)! We have never been disappointed at Banana Blossom, and if you are looking for some comforting, classic Thai food in Cleveland, definitely visit!

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Zoma Ethiopian Cuisine in Cleveland Heights

It seems like every day, a new restaurant is opening in Cleveland, news we are always glad to hear. Recently, Cleveland added a second Ethiopian restaurant to its burgeoning dining scene, Zoma (2240 Lee Rd, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118), a place we have been dying to try for months. Zoma was opened in late 2016 by Ethiopian expats Zeleke Belete and his wife, Betty Kassa. Zoma is small, and fills up pretty quickly, so it is best to call ahead and get a reservation. We were lucky enough to barely squeeze in on Friday evening, sitting around a small traditional table, or mesob. The menu at Zoma is compact, but hits all of the Ethiopian classics, with nine meat dishes ($13.99-17.99) and six vegetarian dishes ($ 11.99-12.99). We were happy to see some of our favorite dishes were there, including spicy chicken stew (Doro Wot – $15.99), with berbere spices and onions; mild beef stew (Alicha Wot – $14.75) with garlic, ginger and turmeric.

The best way to try a little bit of everything at Zoma is to get a sampler. You can get a veggie sampler with either 4 or 5 items ($14.99 or 15.99) or a combination platter ($18.75) with spicy beef stew, mild beef stew and two vegetarian menu items. Since we were 3 people, we upped the ante and got the Zoma Special combo ($32.99), a combination of beef tibs, spicy beef stew, mild beef stew, spicy chicken stew, homemade cottage cheese and 5 vegetarian menu items. Our vegetarian selections were the split red lentils with berbere, split yellow peas with onions, chickpeas, green peas and carrots with tomatoes, and cabbage and potatoes with garlic and ginger curry. We started off our dinner with vegetarian sambusas ($3.5), the East African version of samosas, filled with chickpeas and accompanied by a super-spicy plum hot sauce.

As you can see from the photo above, the injera flatbread came out fully loaded with our selections. Using the extra injera on the side, we sopped up all of the stews. All of the dishes were delicious: the meat was tender, and all of the dishes were expertly spiced. Nothing was too spicy, so this would be a great place for newcomers to Ethiopian food. We especially liked the spicy beef tibs and the split yellow peas, and we loved being able to try all of Zoma’s offerings. The only downside is that you have to pay for each refill of injera ($2), the spongy flatbread that serves as a utensil. I guess that keeps us injera fiends in check. Zoma also has a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony on Sunday afternoons, and you could preview the Jebena (coffee pot) setup in the dining room. We can’t wait to go back for the coffee ceremony and another crucial injera fix.

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A Taste of Ukraine at Veselka in NYC

The iconic, long-running Veselka (144 Second Avenue, NYC) has been on our list of “to visit” places in NYC since we started going there regularly in 2006, but somehow we never made it there until our last trip over the Winter. It is kind of hard to pin Veselka (which means “rainbow” in Ukrainian) down. On the face of it, Veselka is a 24-hour Ukrainian diner – but with slightly higher prices and a huge line of club kids waiting to get in every night after hours (or at pretty much any time). Still, on the menu you can get Americanized brunches and the waiters rush you through with an efficiency that will make your head spin – bringing it back to a diner feel. In any case, Veselka has been serving up comfort food in the East Village since 1954, so we figured they must be doing something right to still attract crowds after all these years.

There are no reservations – so we had to wait about a half an hour for our table of five. Fortunately it was an unseasonably warm day so we didn’t mind just people watching outside (a prime area for that activity). The menu at Veselka is extensive, and there are two basic genres of food available: American diner food and Ukrainian specialties. At our table we went with a little of each. On the Ukrainian side, the favorites were clearly the pierogies – or varenyky in Ukrainian – you can get them boiled or fried, with a myriad of fillings like cheese, sweet potato, mushroom, meat, and even the more esoteric goat cheese and spinach – all served with applesauce, onions and sour cream on the side. They also make a hearty borscht beet soup (either vegetarian or meat-filled- Pint $4.95 and Quart $8.95), and a classic Ukrainian “Hunter’s Stew” dish called Bigos with Kielbasa, roast pork and onions ($17.25). For even more Ukrainian flavor, you can also get kasha (buckwheat groats) and potato pancakes as side ($4 each). On the American side of the menu, you can get breakfast all day including waffles, omelettes, and pancakes with all of the trimmings. Burgers and other sandwiches like the Reuben and egg salad round out the offerings.

M got a Veselka signature sandwich: the Baczynski ($15)which was piled high with Polish ham, Ukrainian salami, Polish podlaski cheese, pickled vegetable relish on pumpernickel. M really enjoyed the sandwich – but it was too big to eat in one sitting – even for him. I ordered a platter of 7 varenyky ($11), which was also a popular order at our table – and with good reason. The varenyky were the stars of the show, and the mushroom and goat cheese and arugula varieties were deemed to be the favorites. Opinion was split on if fried or boiled varenyky are superior, though I think my personal preference is for fried. To finish off the meal, Veselka has a range of diner favorites  – you can order one of their ‘individual’ pies – which are really quite big! We got a New York staple – the black and white cookie – and a miniature banana cream pie ($7.50). Veselka serves up good, hearty comfort food with an Eastern-European flair – and we can’t think of a better place to get dumplings at 2 AM.

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Dangerously Delicious Pies for Pi Day

Happy Pi Day Everyone! In honor of this auspicious day, we are covering one of our favorite pie places, Dangerously Delicious Pies, which has few stores scattered across the US, including DC, Baltimore and Detroit. We visited the Washington DC store (1339 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002), which was pretty tiny, but had enough counter space for 4 people to eat in. Dangerously Delicious pies has an assortment of sweet pies, savory pies and quiches. At the DC store, you can choose from a selection of half a dozen or so pies by the slice, which are available in-store, but there are many more flavors available if you call ahead and order a whole pie for pick up. A whole sweet pie will run you $30, a whole quiche ($32)  and a whole savory ($35) pie; and if you are going by the slice, sweet slices are $6.50, quiche and savory slices are $7.50.

What we enjoyed most about DDP was the huge variety of different pie varieties (we are sweet pie purists). Among the dozens of pie flavors available, you can get typical varieties like Apple Mixed Berry and Key Lime. However, we were more intrigued by flavors like Chocolate peanut butter chess, Caramel Apple Crumb, Mobtown brown (pecan pie topped with a layer of melted chocolate ganache and caramel) and the Baltimore Bomb (Baltimore-native Berger cookies in a vanilla chess filling). When we visited, there was a tempting variety of seasonal winter sweet pies. We sampled the chocolate pecan pie and the winter berry pie (apples and mixed berries with winter spices like cinnamon and cardamom). Both were delicious! M also liked that you could order a glass of milk to wash down your pie (plus the heaping helping of whipped cream)!

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How to make St. Joseph’s Day Bread / Pane di San Giuseppe

One of our favorite – but lesser known in the US – food holidays is right around the corner: St. Joseph’s Day. St. Joseph’s Day is widely celebrated in Italy and the among the Italian diaspora in the US and elsewhere on March 19th. We have previously covered some St. Joseph’s Day sweet treats, including the perennial favorite zeppole. However, one of the showstoppers on St. Joseph’s Day is actually St. Joseph’s Bread (Pane di San Giuseppe). You can find recipes for Pane di San Giuseppe at Kitchen Link and Mangia Bene Pasta. It is a bit more of a complicated bread, but it also allows for it to be sculpted into equally complicated shapes, like staffs, carpentry tools, and wheat, which are a must on the St. Joseph’s Day table. This altar below, from Trapani in Sicily is probably as detailed as you can get!

Pane di San Giuseppe by Carlo Columba

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The best ceviche in Lima at El Mercado

peruM is a ceviche aficionado, so we did a lot of research to find the best ceviche in Lima, Peru before we arrived. In terms of Ceviche, anyone visiting Lima is absolutely spoiled for choice. Ceviche, which is basically an art form in its native Peru, is simply raw fish or seafood “cooked” in citrus juice and chiles (known as “tiger milk”). However, in our research, we found a few ceviche-centric picks that rose to the top, including El Mercado (Hipolito Unanue 203, Lima, Peru) in the trendy Miraflores neighborhood. Mercado is the brainchild of chef Rafael Osterling, and it is known for offering both traditional and nouveau takes on ceviche.

There are no reservations accepted  at El Mercado, so in order to get a table, people line up outside before opening time (maybe using the word “line up” is too strict) to get a table. We heard that lunch was an easier sell than dinner, so we waited outside for the restaurant to open for about 45 minutes. When the restaurant finally opened up at 12:30 we were among the first 20 to get in – and we were very happy to have secured a table (though, to be honest, the restaurant wasn’t full at that point, so we probably could have just arrived when it opened, but YMMV). The restaurant itself was partially open to the elements, and live trees grew straight through the floorboards. We enjoyed the woodsy, convivial environment, and it really felt like you were eating outside. We also liked that there was an open window to the kitchen where we saw a bevy of female chefs at work.

We were surprised by the sheer size of extensive menu of tiraditos, causas, ceviches, salads, sandwiches, sushi and more substantial wood-fired dishes like lobster and whole grouper. If your taste is not necessarily for ceviche, there will still be dozens of options for you. There are inventive starters including a suckling pig spring roll and scallops in spicy ceviche “tiger milk.” Despite all this choice, we were most intrigued by the two classic categories of Peruvian appetizers: tiraditios, thinly-sliced fish with citrus; and causas, Peruvian potatoes mixed with chilis and other fillings like fish and avocado. We decided to sample the Causa Tumbesina, with yellow Peruvian potatoes, shrimp, crab and avocado (42 Soles), which was a delicious mixture of textures and mild spiciness that we were not expecting.

However, the stars of the show are Mercado’s ceviches, of which there are 8 varieties, inspired by different areas of Peru, and the ingredients local to each region. In a dish with relatively few component, every element of the ceviche has to be absolutely perfect, and M certainly has a critical eye for ceviche.  Unique options included the “Galactic ceviche” with Lemon Sole, Bull Crab, and Scallops Cooked in Lime Juice and Sea Urchin “Galactic Milk.” We selected two different types of ceviche: the classic Lenguado (55 S): Lemon Sole in Lime Juice, Chili “Tiger Milk” Red Onion, Cilantro, Iceberg Lettuce, Sweet Potato & Corn and the more avant-garde Norte-Norte (54 S): Sea Grouper, Cockles, Shrimps, Green Banana Majado (fried mash) & Chili.

The seafood in both ceviches was super fresh and delicate, and was some of the best fish we had ever tried. Each was garnished simply with large Peruvian corn kernels- choclo– and mashed sweet potatoes or plantains. The flavors of each ceviche were clean, simple and not over-complicated. M admired the technical perfection of the Lengaudo ceviche, with its perfectly uniform slices of fish, and just the right amount of onions with a pungently citrus-y tiger milk that was not overpowering. Mercado’s rendition was basically a template for everything a classic ceviche ought to be. We were struck by the purple color of the Norte-Norte ceviche, and the tantalizingly smoky flavor of the chilies. Upon consideration, M deemed the Lenguado as his favorite ceviche of the trip. We would highly recommend Mercado for all things seafood, but if you are ceviche lover, it is a must-try!

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Pastry Post-Doc: Tee-Eva’s pies and pralines in New Orleans

NOLAFlagNew Orleans is one of our favorite food cities (heck, ANY type of city) in the US. Unfortunately, it seems like NOLA only enters the general public consciousness around Mardi Gras Time (which is right around the corner). We like to go to New Orleans on Super Sunday, the big Mardi Gras Indian parade day, and while there is a ton of street food available at the parade, the standout was sweet potato and pecan pies from Tee-Eva’s. When we were at Super Sunday in 2016, we happened upon the ebullient Miss Eva Perry herself, selling her homemade pralines and pies to the crowds, and chatting with everyone like they were old friends. And we have to say, this was the best pecan pie we have ever had! Fortunately we found out that Tee-Eva also has a long-standing bricks and mortar shop (5201 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70115), so you can sample some delicious treats (and full-sized pies) any time you are in NOLA. Definitely take some time to explore outside of the French Quarter and visit Tee-Eva’s! teeevas

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Wood-fired Baja Californian cuisine at Leña Brava

Mexico FlagBy now, it is pretty much common knowledge by now that Rick Bayless has something of a Mexican food empire in Chicago. In 2016, that empire grew by two more – Leña Brava (900 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL) and Cruz Blanca. These two restaurants are more modern, updated spots in the always-buzzing Randolph Street corridor in the West Loop. Cruz Blanca’s is a brewery with a taco bar, and Leña Brava is all about the wood-fire grilled seafood, Baja California-style. When choosing between the two we knew we had to go with the wood fire! In any case, they are basically connected, so you don’t necessarily have to choose -if you want to grab an after-dinner drink at one or the other.

laminado The interior of Leña Brava is sleek and stylish, and seems to draw a similar crowd, fitting with the location. The massive wood-fire grill is one of the features of the restaurant, and it is in full view of diners on the first floor. Not everything is wood-fired, though. The menu is divided into both hot and cold items – in sections called “ice” and “fire.” The cold menu is composed of oysters, ceviches, seafood cocktails, aguachiles (similar to a ceviche, but with a super-spicy broth) and laminados (raw sashimi-style fish – above). On the hot side of the menu, you can get grilled fish, pork belly, scallops or even roast chicken for two. We decided to sample items from both the hot and cold sides.lenapastor

From the cold side we knew we had to start with a ceviche – there were 3 versions ($15-16) – classic Lena with albacore, lime and ginger; spicy Verde with yellowtail and green chiles; and the Asian-inspired Maki with nori, sushi rice and avocado. We tried the verde version, we were also intrigued by the laminado, so we picked the Hiramasa, with yellowtail, chamoy and papaya ($15). From the hot side we tried the scallops in salsa macha, these were oven-grilled with pasilla-almond salsa and mashed plantains ($25). Finally, we couldn’t resist the wood oven-roasted black cod with “al pastor”-style marinade and a sweet pineapple salsa ($27), inspired by our favorite tacos al pastor with a bright-red chile and achiote marinade. The fish in each of the dishes was extremely fresh. The raw preparations highlighted the unique flavor combinations of sweet, sour, spicy and acidic really well, and we especially loved the unique flavor combinations of the laminado. We were also impressed by the surprisingly delicate “salsa macha” and we just may have to steal the idea of an almond-based salsa for ourselves. Both of the hot seafood dishes were cooked perfectly, and we felt that the wood fire definitely imparted a little extra flavor to the sear.

scallopslena

We also appreciated the variety of unique desserts (prickly pear ice cream with grilled pineapple, for example)  and the selection of teas from the Rare Tea Cellar (we sampled the hibiscus mango). On the beverage side, there are also a large amount of specialty cocktails, rarely-seen Mexican wines and over 100 Mezcals, one of the biggest lists anywhere. We finished our meal with creamy horchata custard topped with puffed hibiscus-scented rice and blueberry preserves – a flavor combo we never knew we needed in our lives. We really enjoyed our meal at Leña Brava – everything was fresh and the flavor combinations were memorably innovative. Leña Brava felt very different from the more buttoned-up Topolombampo and the more casual Frontera Grill, and was definitely modern and accessible. We can’t wait to go back and try more off of the menu. Maybe next time we will get a grill-side seat!

lenabrava

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Vintage Food Valentines

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, whether you are celebrating or not, I think you will get a kick out of these quirky, vintage food Valentines featuring anthropomorphized food – and a lot of puns…. breadvalentine cakevalentine eggvalentine kettlevalentine popcornvalentine teavalentine2

 

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Pastry Post-Doc: Chiacchiere for Carnevale in Italy

ItalyAs we enter mid-February, Carnevale / Mardi Gras / Carnival is right around the corner! It’s never too early to start planning some sweet treats for the festivities. In Italy, Carnevale is a big deal, and Mardi Gras (or Shrove Tuesday) is celebrated with sweet, fried dough fritters called Chiacchiere. The simple-to-make Chiacchiere is popular throughout Italy, and goes by many regional names including Frappe, Cenci, Guanti and Bugie. There is a tradition of serving fried dough or doughnuts on Mardi Gras (think beignets, paczki and malasadas), in order to use up all the sugar and fats in the house before the austerity of Lent sets in, and Chiacchiere is no exception. Here are a few traditional Chiacchiere recipes from Academia Barilla, Cooking with Rosetta and Napoli Unplugged.

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Chiacchiere by Chefpercaso

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Sampling Unique Turkish Food in Avon at Istanbul Grill

turkeyWe have had a lot of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food in our day, and to be honest, a lot of it tends to run together. So we are always glad to happen upon spots that serve more regional dishes beyond the ubiquitous kebabs and hummus. At an unassuming strip mall in Avon, we found a hidden Turkish gem doing just that: Istanbul Grill (35840 Chester Rd., Avon, OH). One thing that sets Istanbul Grill apart is that it serves some slightly more unusual (and authentic) Turkish dishes you won’t see elsewhere. For example you can get kebabs over diced bread, a serving style that is common in Turkey, but I haven’t really seen much in the US. They also serve Lahmacun ($13.49) on Sundays – a Turkish pizza-style flatbread topped with ground lamb. istanbulgrill

The decor at Istanbul Grill is simple but comfortable, with bright red walls and enlarged photos of Turkey hung throughout. We received a basket of fresh Turkish flatbread while we perused the substantial menu, with an assortment of meze, salads, kebabs (filet, lamb, chicken, shrimp and doner) and specialty meat dishes. Though there are some vegetarian options, the menu is very meat heavy. We started off with two distinctly Turkish starters: a riff on Tzatziki sauce – Cacik ($6.99) – which consists of yogurt with dill sauce, and Sigara Boregi ($7.99)- fried phyllo filled with cheese. Both were delicious and comforting, and we think we’d take Sigara Boregi over mozzarella sticks any day. For mains, we ordered the Iskander kebab – lamb and beef carved off a spit, like gyros, served over diced bread with a mild tomato sauce (seen below – $16.99); and the Hunkar Begendi (aka Sultan’s Delight – $17.99) – which was lamb with bell peppers in a tomato sauce, served over pureed eggplant and cheese. We haven’t seen either of these mains on a menu before – so we were excited to try something new.

iskanderkebab

For dessert we finished up with Kunefe ($6.99), a hot dessert with shredded wheat topped with cheese and sugar syrup, which goes perfectly with a hot cup of Turkish coffee. Both main courses were perfectly spiced, and we enjoyed the eggplant and bread as alternative sides to the more common rice. Though the prices seemed a little high, you make up for it in portions, and we were left with enough for the leftovers for the next day. A final plus, the service was friendly and attentive throughout. We highly enjoyed everything we sampled at Istanbul Grill and we look forward to working our way through the Turkish menu and coming back for some Lahmacun!

 

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The weird and wonderful world of Japanese Kit Kat Bars

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Green Tea Kit Kat by Smallbrainfield

JapanKit Kat, the chocolate-coated wafer candy from Nestle, is experience a bit of a publicity resurgence in the US, due to a popular series of quirky ads featuring Chance the Rapper. However, nowhere is Kit Kat more popular than in Japan, where the humble Kit Kat bar is only a jumping-off point for fanciful flavors and gourmet Kit Kat creations. Kit Kat was introduced to Japan in 1973, and has since become ubiquitous convenience store treat, as well as a popular gift for students and a present for friends and family when traveling. In Japan, the different flavor varieties of Kit Kat are seemingly endless – there are nearly 300 – including anything from strawberry cheesecake to plum to wasabi. Now there’e even a Sake-flavored KitKat. When we visited a candy store in Chicago’s Chinatown, we were able to sample the sweet potato and green tea Kit Kats. The sweet potato flavor basically tasted like white chocolate, but the green tea flavor was really excellent! If you are hankering for some unique Japanese-flavored Kit Kats, check out Amazon – you can get a variety pack, or pick up bags of esoteric flavors like Pumpkin Pudding. And just when you think it couldn’t get any weirder – enter Kit Kat sushi!

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Kit Kat display in Tokyo by jpellgen

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Chai and Momo at Chiya Chai Cafe

Nepal FlagWho would have thought that Logan Square in Chicago would be home to a cafe with amazing hommade Chai and Nepalese food? We wouldn’t have either, until we came across the eclectic Chiya Chai Cafe (2770 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL). The main draw for the Chiya is the amazing array of Chai teas. One of my pet peeves is when you go to cafe, order a chai, and they don’t even hide the fact that they are just pouring your drink out of a box of Oregon Chai concentrate…and then charging $4.50 for it. Not so at Chiya, the brainchild of longtime tea importers, where all of the chai is brewed in-house. Along with their signature masala and spicy masala chais, you can get a variety of interesting non-traditional chais in flavors like Salted Caramel, Vanilla & Nutmeg and Orange & Ginger. Each flavor profile I have tried has been delectable, but my favorite is Pistachio & Cardamon. It is also nice that you can choose between black, green and rooibos teas, though on my last visit, the server gave me black tea twice when I had asked for rooibos.

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The vibe at Chiya is bright and airy, with large windows overlooking Milwaukee Ave. Going with the coffeehouse vibe, Chiya also serves coffee and continental pastries like cookies, muffins and croissants if you happen to be in that mood. However, it was the mango lassi that most caught our eye for dessert. Though you will see people tapping away on laptops with mugs of tea while utilizing the free Wifi, don’t think it is just a coffeehouse. With a compact food menu alongside its teas, Chiya is actually a legitimate Nepalese restaurant. We are always glad to see Nepali food, which is only available at few places in Chicagoland, including Mt. Everest in Evanston.momoc

At Chiya, you can get a basket of steamed Nepali dumplings, momo, in a variety of flavors (pork, veggie and even bison, $8). There is also an interesting range of side dishes (many of which are gluten free, $3-6) including a green apple raita, samosas, and curry fries. For the bigger appetite, you can get curry bowls ($9 small, $12.50 large) and savory pie in flavors like chicken balti and spicy minced pork ($8.50). We ordered the vegetable momo and spicy pork vindaloo curry bowl. The momo dumplings were made in house, steamed to order, and came out perfectly formed. The kale, bell pepper and mushroom filling was delicious, as were the two spicy dipping sauces. The pork vindaloo had some nice heat, and a slightly different flavor with the addition of fenugreek and mustard seed.  Despite all this, the creamy, yougurt-y green apple raita just may have been our favorite dish of all. currycAt first glance, it may seem that Chiya Cafe is trying to be too many things at once. As if the current options were not enough, for dinner, they also open up the larger dining room in the back and serve more substantial meals and alcohol. However, somehow it all works. The Nepali small plates and the chai work well together, and we were happy with everything we sampled. If you are a tea fan, make sure you sample some of the real stuff at Chiya Chai cafe. You’ll never be able to drink boxed chai again.

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