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Sable Kitchen & Bar

November 19, 2014

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that for my husband and I, the enjoyment of good eats while on vacation is just as important as the sightseeing or the relaxation or the accomplishment of whatever other goals we may have during a trip.  A trip can be savored and remembered by amazing food experiences, or can be easily forgotten just the same with bad experiences.  That’s why, for us, it’s important to do research in advance of traveling anywhere and planning our itinerary around various food experiences that we want to have.  For our trip to Chicago, we wanted to make sure to experience a wide variety of various food offerings Chicago had in store for us.  We knew we’d be enjoying deep dish pizza, but I also said to my husband that I wanted to find a night where we went out to a nice restaurant and experienced something other than pizza.  I told my husband it was his mission to pick out a good restaurant that we could dine at, just the two of us, with good food and a good atmosphere.  After a little research, my husband made a suggestion to me.  When I looked at the restaurant’s website, I knew immediately what had drawn my husband to this particular restaurant, and when I saw items on the menu that I figured I could enjoy, I decided to indulge my husband and say yes, let’s make a reservation.  All the while, I thought to myself, my husband’s going to enjoy this so much more than I will.  Boy, could I have been more wrong?

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According to the restaurant’s website, which describes it as “Classic Era Atmosphere… where the glamour of 1940′s mingles effortlessly with modern industrial touches,” Sable Kitchen & Bar is Chef Heather Terhune’s ode to classic American dishes and flavors combined with inventive and artful cocktails in a mix that she calls New American social plates.  As a recent contest on one of Bravo’s most popular shows, Top Chef Texas, this inventive, and creative chef brings her love of local ingredients, classic dishes, and social plates to the forefront as executive Chef of Sable Kitchen & Bar.  The minute you step into the restaurant you feel almost as if you’ve been transported to a modern era with sleek, clean lines, dark colors, and a modern industrial touch.  The restaurant consists of a lively, and fully-stocked bar up front with bar tables surrounding the area which then opens up in the back to a more intimate restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining available.

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Since Sable Kitchen & Bar is known for its inventive cocktails as much as it is for wonderful food, my husband perused the cocktail menu looking for something different and interesting to try.  What he decided upon was one of the restaurant’s most popular drinks, the War of the Roses.  Made with Pimm’s, Ford’s gin, Chase Elderflower, mint, fresh lime and Peychaud’s bitters, the cocktail is served with a fresh mint leaf resting atop the amber-gold frothy concoction.  My husband said that he chose the drink because he really wanted to taste the bitters, something that he’s a fan of, but says that not everyone loves.  While he thought that the drink was good, he did think that there was just a bit too much lime juice in the cocktail which overpowered the flavor of the bitters, so for him that was a little disappointing.

As mentioned, the style of the restaurant is to serve social plates, almost in the style of Spanish tapas.  You get small servings on small plates which allows you to order a variety of different plates and sample all the flavors and textures without getting too filled up on any one item.  This is the part that I knew appealed to my husband when he selected the restaurant.  After perusing through the menu, my husband and I each chose a few items that we thought sounded good and figured that would be a good start to our meal.  We’d get a bunch of plates to sample and we’d see what we liked and what we didn’t like.

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Before any of our dishes started coming to our table, we were presented with an amuse bouche courtesy of the Chef.  The amuse bouche was two small services of prosciutto wrapped fig with a balsamic reduction and crushed pistachios.  Figs and prosciutto being a classic pairing of flavors.  Fresh, flavorful figs with the slightly salty cured meat.  For me, it was the balsamic reduction that really brought the dish together and tied the sweet figs with the salty prosciutto as the reduction had just a hint of sweetness to cut through the acidity of the balsamic.  The crushed pistachios added texture and just a hint of nutty flavor to pair with the prosciutto.  Just this simple amuse bouche held great promise for the rest of the meal to come.

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The first small plate to arrive at the table, which my husband was most excited about was Wisconsin fried cheese curds with spicy ketchup glaze.  Served in an adorable mini-fryer basket, these little breaded and lightly fried Wisconsin cheese curds were fantastic.  They were perfectly fried to the ooey-gooey stage where the cheese just begins to melt.  These little one bit puppies were small enough to just pop in your mouth, but good enough that they were addictive.  Pop in one or two cheese curds and then you just wanted to devour the whole thing.  My husband, who is the biggest fan of cheese curds that I know, and talks about cheese curds constantly was in love at first sight and first bite.  I could tell, every time I grabbed a cheese curd he was staring me down, willing me to stop before he chastised me for eating his whole dish, the dish he most wanted.  I was polite, I only had a few before I told him he could have the remaining cheese curds in the basket.

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The next dish that came to the table was my absolute favorite dish of the night.  To me, seeing this dish on the menu didn’t completely convince me that it was something we should order, but my husband and I had both heard that this was a terrific dish not to be missed.  Figuring that so many other people couldn’t be that wrong, we decided to try the bacon jam with brie cheese and toasted baguette.  Boy, I would have been annoyed, knowing what I know now, if we hadn’t ordered this dish.  Generally, I’m not a fan of onion marmalade or bacon jam or all those weird sauce-y things that people make from food.  Why can’t I just have the bacon, why does it need to be bacon jam?  But in this case?  This bacon jab was out-of-this-world-amazing.  I have no idea how it was made or what was in it, but it was finger-licking delicious.  My husband and I couldn’t get enough of it and were piling it on high on the toasted baguettes.  Served in a small cast iron skillet, the bacon jab with the melted brie on top with some watercress as garnish had the consistency of a thick jam or paste that you scooped up and smeared all over the baguette.  It had the flavor of sweet, salty goodness.  You could definitely taste the bacon, but there was so much more, there was a tangy, acidity tomato flavor and a sweet sugar flavor which all helped to balance out the salty bacon flavor.  It was one of the most perfect appetizers, or rather social plates, dishes I’ve ever had.

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Tuna tartare tostadas was my selection for our next dish.  Made with spicy tomato salsa and meyer lemon crema I was a little concerned that these might be a little spicy, but I didn’t have to worry.  Made on small homemade tostada shells and topped with fresh tuna tartare with just a little tomato salsa and a dollop of crema and served with a wedge of lime these were perfect one bite wonders.  The freshness of the tuna with the crunch of the tostada shell and the acidity of the spicy tomato salsa combined with the lime juice and the punch and creaminess of the crema made for a mouth-watering bite.  Too bad each plate only came with two servings, meaning only one for me and one for my husband.  Shame.

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One of the seasonal items on the menu the day we dined at Sable Kitchen & Bar was scallop ceviche.  Having enjoyed some fine fresh scallop dishes at other nice restaurants we’ve been to, my husband and I decided to give the scallop ceviche dish a whirl.  As the menu described it, the dish was made with fresh scallops, jalapeno, fresh peaches and served with homemade tortilla chips.  I was interested in how the combination of fresh scallops would work with fresh peaches.  I knew that the peach juice would help to tenderize the fresh scallops and I’m sure the jalapenos were meant to give it a slight kick.  I was a bit surprised that my husband even wanted to try this dish since I know that peaches aren’t something he particularly likes.  The ceviche was fantastic.  Using the homemade tortilla chips as a “spoon” of sorts to scoop out the ceviche was the perfect combination.  The crunchy, crispy tortilla chip with the incredibly tender, soft and flavorful scallop with the hint of citrus from the fresh peaches and just the slight touch of heat from the jalapeno made for a heady combination.  I never realized how incredibly tender the fresh scallops could be and served in this type of a presentation, they were perfect.

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Next up came baked mac-n-cheese.  If you know anything about my husband, you know how much he likes his cheese and mac ‘n cheese is a dish we always seem to come back to.  At Sable Kitchen & Bar, the baked mac-n-cheese is served in single serving cast iron pot and made using a combination of cheddar cheese, Gruyere, cream cheese and taleggio.  The whole thing is baked and then topped with some crunchy bread crumbs for added texture.  The combination of the 4 cheeses was interesting.  The cream cheese to added creaminess to the dish was something new for me.  And the taleggio was definitely different.  Taleggio has a distinctive aroma, at least to me, and not really the most pleasant.  That’s the one thing that hit me when the mac-n-cheese was brought to the table, the aroma of it, solely due to the use of taleggio cheese.  But the aroma of the cheese is much more pungent than the flavor of it, which is a good thing.  The dish may bombard your nostrils, but it coats your tastebuds.  The mac-n-cheese was definitely creamy and thick and rich and wonderfully delicious.  I probably would have preferred for it to be baked a little bit more so that it had a more burnt top and the cheese was a bit more burnt rather than everything being so soft, but the taste was wonderful.

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Finally, we ordered 2 more items that were a little heavier and heartier, but still just small plates.  The first was short rib sliders made with a root beer glaze and crispy onions.  The short ribs were incredibly tender, like fall-apart-in-your-mouth tender and flavorful.  The root beer glaze added that bit of sugar and caramelization to sweeten the tender short ribs.  The lightly toasted brioche bun and the addition of crispy onions as opposed to caramelized onions was the perfect contrast of texture and flavor for these 3-4 bite sliders.  The sliders were just the right size to whet your appetite as to how delicious and flavorful they were, but small enough that you weren’t going to get full off of them.

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Our final dish was hoisin glazed pork belly sliders.  Served with picked daikon, carrots, cilantro and sriracha.  I admit I was a bit worried about this dish because I don’t like sriracha at all.  I know that it’s all the rage these days, but it’s definitely not for me.  I was afraid that the sriracha would be mixed into the vegetables as a sort of sauce for a slaw, and if that was the case, I had told my husband that these pork belly sliders would be his as I wouldn’t touch it.  Luckily for me, the sirarcha was just spread lightly across the bottom of the brioche bun and I could scrap it off and still enjoy my slider.  Sitting atop the sriracha was the picked daikon, carrots and cilantro and atop that was a big chunk of hoisin glazed pork belly.  I loved the vegetables as pickled daikon with the combination of carrots and cilantro go so well together.  The crunch and tang of the picked daikon with the freshness of cilantro, which I love, and the crunchy carrots is perfect.  And to put those vegetables together with pork is just a terrific combination.  The pork belly was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.  The hoisin glazing was terrific and provided just the amount of sweet and tangy flavor for the wonderfully fatty pork belly.  What a terrific meal full of a bunch of different flavors and textures and ingredients.  A little bit of this, a little bit of that, this is exactly the type of restaurant that my husband was looking for.

When it came time for dessert, we were both kind of torn.  The meal we had was filling, but we didn’t want to pass up the chance for dessert.  So, we said that we’d split a dessert so we could get something.  But, once we looked at the dessert menu, the decision to split a dessert was thrown out the window entirely as we both immediately spotted something we each wanted, and it wasn’t the same dessert.  Since we were on vacation, we decided to throw caution to the wind and go ahead and each order our own dessert.

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My husband chose a dessert called a creamsicle pavlova.  It is definitely a dessert that is true to form for him.  I’ve seen him order and enjoy pavlovas before and I know that the citrusy flavor of a creamsicle is something my husband really enjoys.  At Sable Kitchen & Bar, the creamsicle pavlova is made with tangerine curd, baked meringue, orange gelee and whipped cream.  If you don’t know what a pavlova is, essentially it’s a meringue dessert that’s baked so it’s crispy on the outside and then filled with something soft and light, like whipped cream.  My husband was really impressed with this dessert.  While it looked large, because it was meringue-based, it was really light and airy and not at all heavy.  The flavors of the tangerine curd and the orange gelee were perfect, light and with a citrus touch without being too tangy.  It really did taste like a deconstructed creamsicle, especially when you combined the curd with the meringue, you could almost get the sensation of biting into a popsicle.  Needless to say, my husband devoured his dessert instantaneously.

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For my dessert, I ordered the dark chocolate soufflé cake.  Ok, I’m a sucker for anything that has the word soufflé in it.  While this wasn’t a true soufflé, all the you need to do is have the word soufflé and I’m there.  Though, it helps that the dessert also had chocolate in it.  Made with peanut butter sauce and served with salted caramel ice cream, the dessert kind of reminded me of a model of plants in a galaxy.  The dark chocolate soufflé cake being the sun in the center, and the scoop of salted caramel ice cream being a planet rotating around the sun with these rings circling the sun.  The dessert itself was fantastic.  The soufflé cake was nice and light with a warm chocolate ganache filling inside.  The dark chocolate was a perfect contrast to the peanut butter sauce on the plate and the crushed peanuts on the plate.  It gave the dessert a slight peanut flavor, but not overwhelming, which is more my style.  I’m not a huge fan of salted anything ice cream, but in this case, the saltiness in the salted caramel ice cream was minimal and actually complimented the slight salty flavor of the crushed peanuts and the peanut butter sauce, and also helped to offset some of the bitterness of the dark chocolate.  I was full by the time dessert came around, and was afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to finish my dessert, but I needn’t worry as the dessert was just too good to not finish.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when my husband and I walked into Sable Kitchen & Bar.  I figured that this would be a restaurant that my husband would enjoy more than I would.  Small plates, with dishes made from local and seasonal products, and a creative drink menu with drinks named after some famous literary works, definitely more to my husband’s style, than my picky food style.  By the time we finished our meal, I don’t know who enjoyed it more, myself or my husband.  This great restaurant really surprised me with its unique take on classic foods, the shareable social plates, and the great, relaxed atmosphere.  Sable Kitchen & Bar wasn’t necessarily the fancy, romantic restaurant I was hoping my husband would pick out for us when I told him to find us a good place for just the two of us in Chicago.  I was hoping for a more low-key, romantic restaurant.  The irony in all of this was that Sable Kitchen & Bar was exactly what I needed and my husband and I agree that it turned out to be the best dining experience for us during our long weekend in Chicago.

Yolk.

November 13, 2014

During our first full day in Chicago, my husband and I had a whole line up of sights we wanted to take in.  In the morning hours, my parents head out of the hotel with us and stuck around for the first part of our itinerary, but by mid morning we split up and they went one way and my husband and I went another way.  In the early afternoon I was texting with my mom to see how their day was going and where they were.  My mom started telling me about this eatery that she passed by and was curious about because it had a long line out the front door.  At some point, she started talking to some people who had just eaten at this eatery and they were raving over how good it was.  So good in fact that my mom went and grabbed a to go menu hoping to somehow convince my husband and I to join my parents at some point during the trip at this particular eatery.  It turns out that the eatery she was referring to was one that I had looked into dining at prior to our trip to Chicago, but I couldn’t quite work out how we’d fit it into our schedule, so I put it on the back burner.  But now that I knew that my parents were also interested in trying this place, I talked to my husband and we decided that the next morning for breakfast would be the perfect time to take the train from our hotel and head to this eatery, which while open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, is really known for its breakfast food.

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Yolk.  That’s the name of the eatery that I had heard about and that my mom had been intrigued by.  With its first location opened in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood in 2006, the concept of an upscale breakfast and lunch eatery with unique and creative dishes has grown from there.  Founded by a young entrepreneur who grew up in the restaurant business with his family having owned and operated 10 family owned eateries of their own, Taki Kastanis actually opened a couple of restaurants on his own in his early twenties before he finally refined his idea for the Yolk concept in 2006.  Today, Yolk consists of 5 Chicago-based restaurants and one in Indiana.  The concept of an upscale breakfast and lunch spot has appealed to locals ever since that Yolk now has quite the reputation as the best breakfast spot in Chicago.  Since breakfast is what they are known for, that’s what we were going to go and try out for ourselves.

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To start the morning off, I ordered a glass of the fresh squeezed strawberry-orange juice.  I’m such a sucker for fresh squeezed fruit juices and smoothies in the morning.  Having heard that the strawberry-orange juice was particular good at Yolk, I couldn’t resist.  You could definitely tell that the drink was fresh squeezed just by looking at the drink.  How else would you have that many strawberry seeds floating around in a drink.  And the taste?  It was fantastic.  So refreshing and thirst quenching it was the perfect morning pick-me-up drink.  I probably could have finished 3 glasses of this stuff on my own.

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After looking through the menu my husband’s breakfast of choice was the croque madame.  Described as grilled ham, turkey, melted Swiss cheese and Dijon sauce between 2 slices of challah French toast and topped with a sunny side up egg served with a side of diced red potatoes, I wasn’t at all surprised that this would be what my husband would zero in on.  It’s like the breakfast version of the monte cristo sandwich that he favors so much.  Cheese in any meal, breakfast, lunch or dinner is a plus for my husband.  Add in some meat, a couple of slices of delicious French toast made with heavenly challah bread and then a sunny side up egg that he could cut into and have the yolk run all throughout the sandwich, yeah, that screams my husband’s name all the way.  All I remember is my husband saying that the sandwich was really, really good, and next thing you know, the whole thing was gone.  He cleaned his plate off clean except for the red potatoes which I couldn’t help sampling a bunch off (and yes, the potatoes were really good). Yeah, I think he was pretty satisfied with his meal.

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My mom, even though we were there for breakfast went an entirely different route and chose to get soup for her meal.  No one ever accused her of being normal.  But, on Yolk’s seasonal menu was chicken tortilla soup, which she is generally a sucker for no matter where we go to eat.  Considering that my mom is more of a heavy meal, non-breakfast type of person to begin with, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that she chose to go with soup.  The nice thing about Yolk is that you can order off their whole menu during all hours, so you could get a burger for breakfast if you were so inclined or breakfast food for lunch.  Made with rotisserie shredded chicken and topped with fresh tortilla strips, my mom thought that the soup was homey, if not a little salty, but good enough to serve its purposes.  She ended up finishing the whole bowl, so that’s a good sign.

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My dad decided to order the two eggs and meat which really was tow eggs any style with a choice of hickory smoked bacon, sausage links, low-fat turkey sausage, Andouille sausage, Canadian bacon or ham, all served with a side of diced red potatoes and a choice of toast, pancakes or English muffin.  That’s a lot of food.  My dad chose to go with 2 eggs sunny side up with bacon and pancakes.  I thought they’d be silver dollar pancakes, not as-big-as-your-head-size pancakes.  The pancakes looked like a meal in and of themselves.  All in all, pretty standard breakfast fare, albeit a giant heaping of standard breakfast fare.  Certainly not a portion I could have finished.

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I was the only one in the group to try a little something different and unique for my choice of breakfast.  Granted, I’m not a big breakfast eater, so maybe this dish exists on other breakfast menus, but I’ve definitely never seen it before.  And since I’m a huge dessert person, I couldn’t possibly pass up this dessert-for-breakfast dish of red velvet French toast.  The menu says it’s three thick slices of red velvet cake with swirls of cream cheese, dipped in Yolk’s batter and grilled.  The whole thing is then topped with strawberries and whipped cream.  Ok, so it sounds like a heart attack in the making, but hey, I hardly ever have breakfast.  Having it once won’t kill me, right?  Sure enough, it really was red velvet cake turned into French toast.  Well, more like red velvet roll up battered on the top and bottom and then grilled.  So, it’s not like the whole slice of cake is battered and grilled, and in fact, just battering the ends and grilling them ended up better so that the dish wasn’t too heavy.  Having the fresh strawberries and the maple syrup helped to lighten up the dish as well and the strawberries were a great counterbalance of acidity to the very sweet red velvet cake.  It wasn’t so much the cake itself that was sweet but it was the swirls of cream cheese throughout the cake, the cake itself was just heavy.  I might have been hungry, but I couldn’t even finish the 3 slices of French toast, it was crazy how filling it was.  Eventually, my mother took a few bites and then my husband finished it off for me.  The breakfast was so unique and different and I’m definitely glad I ordered it, but it was also so heavy and sweet that it really did taste more like dessert than breakfast.

That breakfast filled us up for the day.  It was hearty, healthy and fun.  The dishes were unique, the flavors outstanding, and the setting perfect for a breakfast gathering.  It’s not hard to see why Yolk has been acclaimed as the top breakfast spot in Chicago.  No doubt, if my husband and I lived in Chicago, we’d probably find ourselves at Yolk for a lazy brunch on a weekend morning more times than we could count.  Seriously, where else could I get a red velvet French toast?  Or my husband a croque madame?  Stick-to-your-ribs and fill-up-your-tummy good food to help power us through a busy day seeing the sights of the Windy City that is Chicago.

Giordano’s Famous Chicago Pizza

November 11, 2014

Alright, so everyone knows that Chicago is known for several unique food specialties, the most well-known of those being the famous Chicago deep-dish pizza.  So, of course, there was no way my husband and I could go all the way to Chicago without having a taste of this famous Chicago pizza.  The better question actually was, how much pizza did we want and how much time did we have to enjoy it?  From what I learned from a co-worker who is from the Chicago suburbs, there are really the ” Big 4″ when it comes to Chicago deep dish pizza.  My husband and I knew we didn’t actually want pizza for every single meal in Chicago as we wanted to try out some other food, so that eliminated the possibility of being able to try all 4 of the famous Chicago pizza places.  After taking a look at our schedule, factoring in where our hotel was located, and trying to calculate how we could get to other places using public transportation, we decided we’d give 2 of the Big 4 a try, that should give us a decent sample size of Chicago deep-dish pizza.  So, on the night we arrived in Chicago, we decided to check out our first pizza joint, conveniently located 2 blocks down the street from our hotel.

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When we walked up to Giordano’s Famous Chicago Pizza, we could already see a crowd milling about the front entrance of the restaurant.  It was early on a Friday evening, but it was still Friday evening and we were prepared to wait for our food.  Good thing we weren’t starving.  It took 5 minutes or more just to get up to the front counter to put our name down for a table.  It was then that something happened that I’d never heard of before, ever.  Once we gave the hostess our name, she told us that it would be about a 45 minute wait for a table.  We were ok with that.  Then she told us to step off to the side and place our order.  I guess I wasn’t paying attention when she talked to the people in line in front of us because I couldn’t comprehend what she was saying.  She explained that since each deep-dish pizza is made to order, to make the whole process more efficient and so that you don’t spend too much time waiting for your pizza once you’ve sat down, that you should pre-order your pizza so that they can make it for you ahead of time.  Then, once you sit down, the pizza you ordered is thrown into the pizza oven and cooked to order.  It actually seemed like quite the ingenious idea. So, we were given a menu, and we stepped off to the side where we waited in another line to step up to some registers where pizza pre-orders were being taken. After deciding on a pizza, we gave our order to the lady behind the counter and were given a receipt with our name on it. This is the receipt you present to your server when you sit down so that the kitchen can find your pizza and throw it in the pizza oven.

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While waiting to pre-order our pizza, I got a chance to check out the interior design of the restaurant. I really liked the look, the feel, the atmosphere of Giordano’s.  It really reminded me of an old-school pizza joint, but on a much larger scale.  There was beautiful lighting fixtures, wood flooring, an open kitchen near the front where you could watch them make your pizza and put it into their pizza oven, and the walls were lined with old time sports memorabilia items.

After waiting about 45 minutes for a table, we were finally called and seated near the back of the restaurant.  As soon as the waiter came up to our table he asked us for our receipt from our pre-ordered pizza so that he could have the cooks put the pizza in the oven.  After all, this is deep dish pizza, it does take longer for the pizza to cook and come out of the oven.091

While we waited for our pizza, we ordered an appetizer of cheesy garlic bread.  It was made with toasted ciabatta bread topped with a melted mix of three cheeses and herbs and served alongside a side of marinara sauce.  I definitely loved this appetizer.  First off, it was probably the cheesiest cheesy bread I’ve had.  It was melting and oozing cheese off of every bite.  But the cheese didn’t weigh down the garlic bread as it was still crisp and crunchy.  Sometimes, when there’s too many toppings the bread ends up soggy in the middle and either isn’t cooked all the way through or overly cooked because it took forever for the cheese to melt.  In this case, they made their cheesy bread the right way and the bread was cooked perfectly while the cheese was all melted.  You could definitely taste the combination of the 3 cheeses and the herbs, but the flavor of the garlic still came through on the ciabatta bread.  I also thought that the semi-chunky marinara sauce was terrific.  The perfect tangy bite to compliment the cheesy garlic bread.  The only problem with having gotten cheesy garlic bread as an appetizer is that it’s bread, and couple that with the pizza dough, that’s a lot of carbs to be eating.

After about a 15-20 minute wait at our table our deep dish pizza was finally delivered to the table.  Mind you, you are warned in advance that it does take about 45 minutes to create your pizza masterpiece.  Hence, part of why pre-ordering your pizza is important.  Giordano’s is famous for their stuffed pizza pie, as they call it.  The recipe for this stuffed pizza comes from a 200-year-old family recipe from the Giordano family from a Northern Italian town near Torino.  Legend has it that Mama Girodano created this recipe which calls for a double pizza crust with cheese stuffed in between.  Mama Giordano was known all over this small town as being an exquisite cook and she would make this special pizza for Easter, so the locals called this pizza the “Italian Easter pie”.  In the 1970s, Italian immigrant brothers, and original owners of Girodano’s brought their family restaurant to Chicago and opened up the first Giordano’s in Chicago.  Today, more than 40 years later, people still flock to Giordano’s for their stuffed pizza pie or their “Italian Easter pie” that can be found on the menu every day of the year.

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My husband and I decided to order a Chicago favorite of deep dish pizza with pepperoni and sausage.  Mind you, I’m not a sausage fan at all, but I figure, when in Chicago, you have to enjoy it the Chicago way and that’s with meat and more meat.  We ordered a medium pizza and this 8-slice monstrosity was brought to our table.  The waiter starts out by scooping out one slice of pizza for each person at the table.  You can already start to see that there’s a layer of cheese that’s oozing and melting out between the layers of crust on the pizza.  While the pizza slices may not look huge, because they are deep dish, they are thick and way more filling than you’d ever imagine.  As advertised, there are 2 layers of crust with a ton of cheese stuffed in between.  Then there’s a layer of sauce, toppings and then the whole thing is covered by another layer of sauce.  So when you look at the pizza, you can’t really see the pepperoni or the sausage because they are basically covered up by the last layer of sauce.  There’s a reason that this is called a stuffed pizza pie.  You actually do feel like you’re eating a pie with all of the layers of flavors and ingredients.  In the end, my husband and I ended up eating 2 slices each and taking 2 slices of pizza to go as leftovers for my parents to enjoy.

The verdict on our first taste of deep dish pizza?  It was ok.  As I said, it was way more filling than I had anticipated it to be.  It’s different from any other type of pizza I’ve ever had.  It’s hard to even call this pizza because I guess I define pizza as more a thin-crust, crispy type of pizza, kind of like a New York style pizza.  But then again, I guess that’s where the age-old adage of Chicago vs. New York pizza comes from.  In the case of Giordano’s while I liked the crispy, buttery flavor of the crust, and I liked the cheese and the red sauce was amazing and the toppings were also good, the combination of them all together was just heavy.  It literally felt like I was eating a pie with all sorts of layers that I’m not sure melded together that well.  When the pizza isn’t hot out of the oven, the stuffed cheese layer gets to be too stretchy and a bit much.  The toppings, because they are under layers of sauce just end up being soggy rather than perhaps having well cooked crispier pepperoni.  There is none of that burnt crust, crispy flavor associated with this deep dish pizza.  Don’t get me wrong.  I still ate the pizza and I still liked it, I just didn’t love it the way I expected to.  I am always someone who things that bigger is better, double the pizza is better than less pizza, so I really expected to like the deep dish pizza because you get more cheese, more sauce, more toppings, more pizza, but somehow, it just didn’t live up to the hype I had expected it to have in my mind.

Silver Spoon Thai Restaurant

November 6, 2014

For years and years now, my mom has talked about wanting to go to Chicago.  My parents and I have been to most of the other major cities in the United States, but for some reason we’ve never been to Chicago before.  Sure, I’ve connected flights through O’Hare, but that’s definitely not saying you’ve been to Chicago.  So, this year, my husband decided he wanted to make that happen.  My husband has been wanting to visit Chicago for years as well, and towards the end of 2013, he kept telling me that he wanted to plan a weekend trip to Chicago for both ourselves and for my parents to join us.  Fast forward a few months and I realized suddenly that my parents had some airline miles, each of them enough miles for a one-way flight from Los Angeles to Chicago.  Essentially, half their airfare would be paid for.  These miles were set to expire soon and we made the decision at the last minute that we’d send my parents, using their miles off to Chicago.  My husband and I would fly to Chicago the next day and we’d meet up with my parents then.  We’d spend 3 nights in the city and then we’d all fly home together.  At long last, we’d be on our way to see what the Windy City has in store for us.

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Having flown the red-eye from Los Angeles to Minneapolis to Chicago, my husband and I were pretty tired by the time we made it to Chicago.  We met up with my parents at the airport and took the train into the city together.  We easily found our hotel right in downtown Chicago, just a block off the Magnificent Mile.  Since we knew we’d be arriving into the city around mid-day, and since we had flown a redeye, my husband knew me well enough to know I’d want food right away.  Since we had my parents with us, we had to find something that all four of us would enjoy.  Lucky us, my husband had discovered that our hotel wasn’t more than a couple of blocks away from the Thai Embassy, and connected to the embassy was a Thai restaurant that got pretty good reviews.  I knew this is a place my parents would agree to, we headed off in search of Silver Spoon Thai Restaurant.  Located right next door to the embassy, the restaurant had an awning outside its front door advertising the name of the restaurant.  Once you stepped inside, you discovered that there was actually a stairway leading downstairs to the restaurant’s front door.  The restaurant had an extensive menu filled with very eclectic Thai dishes, including some specialty Thai food that is hard to find these days, even in Thailand.

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Of course, my husband and I are suckers for Thai iced coffee, and we couldn’t dine at a Thai restaurant without having some Thai iced coffee to quench our thirst.  After having flown all through the night with barely little to no sleep, taking a train from the airport into the city, with only enough time to shower and change clothes before we hit the streets of Chicago, this Thai iced coffee was just the refreshing pick-me-up that I needed.  A little fuel to keep me going through the day.  A little refreshment on this warm Chicago day.  Is there a drink out there more flavorful, more addicting, and as completely refreshing as Thai iced coffee?  For me personally, there probably isn’t.

Going into lunch, we had all taken a look at the menu previously and had in mind a couple of items we each wanted to order.  However, to our surprise when we arrived, the restaurant had a lunch specials menu, and after perusing through the lunch specials, we realized that some of the items we wanted to order were on the specials and that it would be easier and simpler to each order a lunch special.  Each lunch special came with an appetizer and an entrée, and since there were four of us, we each decided to pick a different appetizer and a different entrée so that we could all share with one another, even though these lunch specials weren’t necessarily meant to be shared.

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With the idea that we would be sharing, we picked out 4 of the 5 appetizers that were offered with the lunch specials.  The first appetizer was spring rolls.  Described as fresh spring rolls stuffed with a combination of vegetables and tofu and topped with delicious plum sauce, I wasn’t quite sure from the description if we’d be getting deep-fried egg rolls, or Vietnamese-style spring rolls wrapped in rice paper.  Sure enough, it was actual spring rolls wrapped in rice paper, Vietnamese-style.  Actually, I shouldn’t say it’s Vietnamese-style because traditional Thai spring rolls are made the same way.  It’s just so unusual to see because in most restaurants these days you see the deep-fried variety.  But, I should have known because this restaurant had a lot of “old school” recipes that are hard to find these days, even in Thailand.  The little spring rolls were cut into bite-sized pieces and were stuffed with the right combination of tofu and vegetables.  However, it’s the plum sauce that brings it all together.  This dish reminded me of the old Thai-style spring rolls I enjoyed as a kid in Thailand, but haven’t had in so long.

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My mom really wanted to try the fried tofu, so that’s what she ordered.  Good thing everyone else, myself and my husband included are tofu fans.  Who would have thought?  The menu described these puppies as deep-fried tofu served with crushed peanuts over sweet & sour sauce with a touch of red pepper.  This has always been one of my mom’s favorite Thai foods, and again, not a dish commonly found any more these days in Thai restaurants.  There’s a theme developing here.  These weren’t so bad.  I think that the tofu probably could have been fried a bit crispier and longer as they seemed a little under fried and limp, but it still worked.  The sweet and sour dipping sauce with the crushed peanuts was terrific and really what my mom liked about the dish.

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As it was a warm Chicago day, I chose the cucumber salad with fresh cucumbers, onions and carrot in a mild sweet & sour dressing for my appetizer.  Most Thai people would recognize this more as a cucumber salad traditionally served with dishes such as satay so that you could dip your grilled meat skewer into the cucumber salad to add flavor, rather than this being a stand alone salad dish.  However, it was cool, refreshing and terrific with that hint of vinegar.  And in the end, my mom really liked this cucumber salad with her fried tofu.

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My husband saw crab Rangoon as an appetizer and decided that was for him, even though that was the least Thai of the dishes offered.  In fact, crab Rangoon isn’t a Thai dish at all.  Made with blended crab, cream cheese and water chestnuts wrapped with a wonton skin and deep-fried, it only took the combination of crab meat and deep-frying to get my husband interested.  While this could be a riff on a Thai crab wonton dish, you know it’s not Thai with the addition of cream cheese as I don’t even think cream cheese exists in Thailand.  Never the less, I liked the dish as did my husband.  My mom was a bit more skeptical about it.  But the combination of the creamy and sweet crab meat blended with the creamy and a little tangy cream cheese with the crispy deep-fried wonton skin and dipped into the accompanying sweet and sour sauce was pretty good.

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Again, for our entrees, we each ordered 4 different items so we could take a little taste of each of each others dishes.  My mom chose to order ground chicken stir fired with spicy Thai basil leaves, bell peppers and jalapenos.  This is a personal favorite dish of hers, and of my husband’s as well, and a very popular dish in Thailand.  Honestly, I don’t remember what my mom said about this dish and whether or not she liked it.  I think I was too busy eating my dish.  But, she finished her dish and still had a little bite of everyone else’s dish, so I’m going to say that it was good enough.

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My dad ordered the pad see ew.  This is normally the dish I would have ordered, but something else on the menu caught my eye.  This is also a very popular Thai dish, and extremely popular in the US because it’s probably the “safe” dish, full of flavor, but not a curry dish and not a spicy dish.  It’s made with stir fried noodles with meat, egg, Chinese broccoli and bean sprouts.  I’ve definitely seen this dish made regular broccoli, the kind that we find in the supermarket, instead of Chinese broccoli, which is traditionally what pad see ew should be made with, and it makes a difference.  Chinese broccoli fits this dish so much better as it’s full of a more bitter and earthy flavor than regular broccoli is.  Understandably though, you don’t see Chinese broccoli all of the time because it’s harder to find, less familiar to a lot of people in the US, and generally more expensive than regular broccoli.  My dad too liked his dish enough that he was able to finish the whole thing, although he’s as far from a picky eater as possible.  Put food in front of him and he’ll eat it without complaint.

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The dish on the menu that caught my eye was Thai pepper steak.  I’m a meat lover, so put steak in the title of anything and I’ll probably want to eat it.  In this case, the dish was made with stir fried tender beef with bell peppers, mushrooms, water chestnut, tomatoes and white onions in a special brown sauce, a gravy, if you will.  Ok, so I completely needed to overlook the mushrooms and the bell peppers in the dish because I don’t enough either, so I had to pick around it.  But what made it ok was the water chestnuts.  Again, not an ingredient you see in a lot of dishes, and besides bamboo, it’s one of those old school type of ingredients that I really like.  The crunch of the water chestnuts and the neutral flavor of it all, it’s just so good.  The special brown sauce really brought the flavors of the dish together and melded the pepper and the steak and the green onions and white tomatoes and the water chestnut together.  A great lunch plate.

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For my husband, he ordered the cashew chicken as his lunch entrée.  Made with stir fried cashew nuts, bell peppers, mushrooms, peapods, carrots and pineapples, I think he really liked the varying flavors in the dish.  Everything from the crunch of the cashews, to the sweetness of the pineapples, blended with the peapods and the chicken and the carrots and mushrooms.  I think it’s these types of varying flavors that come together that really is what my husband likes about Thai food.  There’s so many different textures and notes of flavor and somehow it all works.

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However, aside from just our lunch specials, there is one other item that my husband really wanted to order.  It’s the one item on the menu that really attracted my husband’s attention the first time he looked at the menu, before we had even decided to go to Silver Spoon Thai.  This is another of those really unique menu items that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen on a Thai restaurant menu here in the US.  Heck, you can hardly find it on restaurant menus in Thailand.  And the minute my husband mentioned it to me, I knew exactly what it was because it’s one of my most favorite Thai dishes, something I used to eat as a kid when I was in Thailand, and something I haven’t had in years now because most places just don’t make it anymore.  It’s a dish called kanom buang yuan.  Essentially, it’s a thin omelet that’s pan-fried until it’s crispy and almost like brittle paper consistency.  It’s then stuffed with shredded coconut, shrimp, bean sprouts and tofu.  It sounds like an interesting flavor profile with the tofu and the bean sprouts and then the shrimp and the shredded coconut.  But again, somehow all of the flavors just meld together.  Combine that with the crispy thin omelet “shell”, the dish is generally served alongside a vinegar-based cucumber salad, and when it combine everything together, it creates a magical bite with the 4 staples of Thai food – salty, sweet, sour, and just a hint of spice.  The reason you don’t see this dish very often anymore is that the batter for the crispy thin omelet is really hard to make just right, and finding someone who can create an omelet that is that thin, and that crispy, but that doesn’t fall apart when you “stuff” it is hard to do.  It’s an old school technique and a dying art.  My husband, who is the one that really wanted to try this was in love with it.  And taking a bite of it myself, I was reminded why I love this dish so much.  It’s so chock full of flavors and textures and is just so unique and special.  Days later, my husband was still talking about this particular dish and  how much he liked it.

For old school, delicious, Thai dishes, Silver Spoon Thai Restaurant really delivers.  This cute little restaurant, located right next door to the Thai Embassy, and only one block off of Chicago’s famous Magnificent Mile is a great standout for authentic Thai food.  The restaurant’s service was good and quick, and their food was flavorful and delicious.  And if you’re there for lunch time, their lunch specials with an appetizer and entrée can’t be beat.  Good Thai food in Chicago with old school flair, Silver Spoon certainly delivers.

 

Bottega Louie

November 4, 2014

Recently, on a Saturday morning, I had my yearly dentist appointment.  Though I like my dentist, and I knew this was just a routine appointment, I didn’t want to go by myself, so I tried to figure out a way to bribe my husband to go with me.  I told him that if he was willing to get up in the morning and go to the appointment with me, we could go out to brunch together afterward.  That bribe did the trick.  I had a specific restaurant in mind for breakfast, but before I could even voice my opinion, my husband mentioned to me that he wanted to go to the same place.  Bingo!  It was interesting to me that my husband mentioned this place because he’d never been before.  Located in Downtown LA, it was a place I was familiar with because when I used to work Downtown, I’d been to the patisserie a few times to pick up some sweets.  I had known that this place had a restaurant and a café as well, but I’d never lingered long enough to try them out.  And then eventually, I didn’t work in Downtown anymore, and never really thought about the place.  That is, until I remember seeing a friend of mine on Instagram post pictures from a brunch she had at the restaurant.  The food looked so good, and somehow that stuck with me.  So, when I was thinking about brunch and I knew we’d be in the area of Downtown LA, I immediately thought of this place.  My husband, well, I guess he had heard his co-worker talk about having been to this place to eat and how good the food was.  This friend of mine on Instagram, she’s also a friend of my husband’s, so my husband remembered seeing the same pictures as well and had been curious enough to want to try this place.

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Bottega Louie, a café, restaurant and patisserie located right in the heart of Downtown LA.  Not the type of swanky, hip place you’d expect in Downtown, in a neighborhood that hardly has any other restaurants or eateries quite like it.  Opened 7 or 8 years ago, Bottega Louie has been a hit since the day it opened.  The patisserie may be what draws in clients, but the café is always buzzing, always busy with people who grab their pastries and a cup of gourmet coffee and linger for a few minutes at the tables.  And the restaurant, it’s huge and spacious and open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  With an open kitchen, and serving a wide-away of homemade, handmade classics, it’s not hard to understand why Bottega Louie is so popular.

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As it was brunch, I found myself wanting to sample some of their gourmet coffee drinks.  However, their menu also offered a wide array of fresh squeezed fruit drinks which I wanted to try as well.  I warred with myself, but eventually, the need for some caffeine won over and I ordered a café latte.  Ok, so I snapped this photo a little too late as the frothy milk leaf design on the top of my latter isn’t quite so visible.  But the latte itself, that was terrific.  Strong, hot and definitely made from a gourmet coffee machine.

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To start our brunch, my husband wanted to get an order of beignets served with raspberry compote.  One order came with 4 beignets, so we figured we could split it and each have two of them.  The beignets came out looking like these white fluffy pillows all dusted in fine granulated sugar and served with a little bowl of fresh raspberry compote.  And pillows probably the most accurate word to describe these beignets.  Fresh, and hot out of the fryer, these were amazing.  The insides were so airy and soft and warm and yeasty.  And the outside was perfectly fried and crunchy with the sweetness added from the sugar.  The berry compote provided a refreshing contrast as it gave a nice tangy bite and you could tell it had been made with fresh raspberries.  My husband said that these were the best beignets he’d ever had.

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I debated what I should order for brunch, as I’m really more of a lunch person than a breakfast person.  But, when we were at the restaurant, it really was more breakfast time than lunch time, so I opted for a heavy breakfast of steak & eggs.  Center cut New York steak cooked to order with two eggs any way you want served with roasted potatoes and grilled tomatoes.  Everything about this plate calls out to me.  The steak was well cooked and flavorful.  I ordered my eggs over easy so that I could have all that runny egg yolk.  The eggs were perfectly cooked.  The roasted tomatoes added a nice touch of acidity, and the roasted potatoes with peppers and onions were so flavorful and terrific.  Needless to say, I loved this meal and ended up eating every last bit of food off of my plate.  What would have made this plate perfect would have been a piece of toast to help soak up all of the yummy egg yolk.

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No surprise to me, my husband ordered the eggs benedict for brunch.  Served with poached eggs, Canadian bacon, spinach and hollandaise sauce all atop an English muffin my husband fell in after the first bite.  My husband is a sucker for eggs benedict, but he particularly loved this eggs benedict as he said that Bottega Louie’s hollandaise sauce was the best hollandaise sauce he’d ever tasted.  He really liked the flavor combination of the eggs benedict and I swear he inhaled his breakfast.  Of course, I’m not sure he touched any of the fancy side salad that came with his meal at all.

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Alright, so this may have been brunch, but when our waitress asked us about dessert, we were so tempted we just had to get something to split between the two of us.  In the end, this was actually the only meal that we had on this day, so it was ok to have dessert with our brunch.  After a bit of a debate, my husband and I settled on the butterscotch budino with butterscotch custard, fleur de sel, candied almonds & Chantilly whipped cream all served with a salted caramel macaron.  First off, one of the things that Bottega Louie is known for is their macarons, and this salted caramel macaron did not disappoint.  It paired perfectly with the butterscotch budino, but even on it’s own, the macaron was heavenly.  It was crispy and light on the outside and the salted caramel filling on the inside had just the hint of salty that you want.  The butterscotch budino was out of this world good.  It’s probably the best butterscotch item I’ve ever tasted.  The custard wasn’t too sweet and hit the perfect butterscotch notes.  The fleur de sel sprinkled over the top was just the right touch.  The candied almonds added texture, crunch and a hint of sweet flavor and the Chantilly whipped cream combined with the custard was heavenly.  This is definitely one of those deserts that you remember for a long time, which for me was quite surprising because I never expected it to be this good!

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I mentioned at the beginning of this post that Bottega Louie is more than just a café & restaurant, it’s actually a patisserie as well.  It’s the patisserie that I always used to visit when I was working in Downtown LA.  And it’s the patisserie that enticed my husband and I to take home a few goodies before we walked out of the restaurant at the end of our brunch.  There was a wonderful selection of breads and cookies to choose from.  How can you resist items such as pain au formage, ham & cheese croissants, cookies, coconut rocher, demi baguettes, croissants, and my personal favorite, chocolate croissants.  But, having just had brunch, we refrained from the breads.

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The next display case had a gorgeous display of cakes to take home and enjoy.  Look at those!  Don’t they just make your mouth water.  There’s le dome, cheesecake, grand dacquoise, grand macaron and fruit tart.  The fresh fruit topping the fruit tart looked so spectacular that you just wanted to gobble up the whole thing.  And look at that vanilla grand macaron with the fresh raspberries.

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If large cakes weren’t your thing, there was also a selection of petite pastries to choose from.  There’s chocolate and vanilla petit grand macarons, petit le dome, peanut butter terrine, white chocolate princess cake, verrines, and pistache gelee.  These petite pastries and cakes made you just want to buy one of everything.  They were so colorful and looked so delicious.

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But there was more!  How about opera cake, or frangipane?  Or what about the chocolate and raspberry saint amour, that really caught my eye, and I’m not that big of a raspberry fan.  Admittedly, some of these names were a bit over the top and it was hard to tell what was what, though my eye didn’t have a problem distinguishing what it wanted and using the “point at what you want” method of ordering sweets!  But alas, we refrained from any pastries as well, because what we really wanted were some macarons!

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At the front of patisserie, right when you walk through the front door, you’re bombarded by a rainbow colors – a rainbow of macarons, actually.  Artfully arranged, these little 2-bite macarons just call out to you to take them home.  And with 14 different flavors to choose from, its hard not to be tempted.  Let’s run through the flavors.  There’s coconut made with Valrhona white chocolate & Thai coconut ganache, mango with Valrhona white chocolate & mango ganache, praline with praline buttercream with fresh Valencia orange zest, strawberry with strawberry buttercream & candied strawberries, vanilla with Tahitian vanilla infused with white chocolate, violet cassis with violet buttercream & cassis ganache, salted caramel with salted caramel & milk chocolate ganache, earl grey with early grey infused milk chocolate ganache, raspberry with dark chocolate ganache & raspberry jam, pistachio with Sicilian pistachios & white chocolate ganache, grand cru with dark chocolate ganache, lemon with citrus buttercream, espresso with coffee ganache, and finally rose with rose buttercream.  Tell me there isn’t a flavor out of those 14 that you don’t think you couldn’t fall in love with.  Exactly, there isn’t.  And because of that, ultimately, my husband and I walked a way with a box of 5 macarons.  Believe me, they were devoured shortly after we got home that day.

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As my husband and I were driving home, we said to each other that we couldn’t believe that we’d never been to Bottega Louie before, or that it had never come up before.  The fact that it took my husband and I both seeing Instagram pictures posted by a co-worker of his, and for him to hear her talking about Bottega Louie that it even came up as a thought in our minds that we should give it a try.  I guess it’s understandable in the fact that we don’t really find ourselves heading to Downtown LA to eat (read, never), so then why would we have ever thought to make a special trip out to Downtown LA?  But, now that we’ve been to Bottega Louie, I can see my husband and I coming up with “excuses” to head that way just so we can eat at Bottega Louie again, and maybe stop at the patisserie and come home with a box of macarons as well!

The Coolhaus Shop

October 30, 2014

One day while at work, my husband emailed me a link to a list called the “World’s 30 best ice cream parlors.”  You’ve all seen that I’m an ice cream fiend.  Morning, noon or night, or all three, I could eat ice cream.  100 degrees outside or -10 below and I could eat ice cream.  So, you know that I immediately had to start going through this list to see where these “world’s best” ice cream places would be.  To my dismay, though I’d been in numerous cities around the world where these various ice cream parlors were located, in places such as Florence, Seattle, San Francisco, Playa Del Carmen, Berlin and Copenhagen, I’d only ever tried one of these places before, and that was #22 – The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory in New York City’s Chinatown.  We’re going to have to rectify this problem.  It turns out that #8 on the list is a place that I had heard of many times, in fact, I’ve even seen their pre-packed ice cream sold at some eateries I’ve been to, but had never tried, despite the fact that one of their 2 Southern California locations is located no more than 4 miles down the road from where I live.  First thought that came to my mind, “we’ve got to check this place out!”

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Described on this particular website as “‘Architecturally-inspired’, Coolhaus lets customers design their own gourmet ice cream ‘sammies’ – one-layer, two-layer, or three-layer – by mixing and matching cookie and ice cream flavors for crazy-good combinations like chocolate molten lava cake ice cream sandwiched between two carrot cake cookies.”  And their ice cream sandwiches, with homemade cookies and cooky and crazy ice cream flavors is really what has put Coolhaus on the map.

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I remember hearing about Coolhaus years ago when they started out as a food truck.  During the height of the food truck craze in Los Angeles, they had a food truck out their on the streets pushing their crazy ice cream sandwich concoctions.  Soon, their name, and especially their product, became legendary and they moved from just being a food truck to selling and packaging pre-made frozen ice cream sandwiches to local retailers in the greater Los Angeles area and eventually opened up 2 brick-and-mortar ice cream shops – one of them being in the trendy and hip Culver City area.  So, on a cool, and drizzly Sunday afternoon, my husband and I decided to drive out to Coolhaus and check them out.

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The storefront itself is quiet and unassuming.  Unless you were specifically looking out for the shop, it’d be so easy to miss.  The inside is tiny as well with an ice cream counter featuring all of their current flavors of the day as well as a small freezer featuring pre-packaged goods and finally a few stools and small tables for those who choose to enjoy their ice cream creations at the store rather than taking them away.  Out front of the store is a handwritten board that lists the current day’s flavors of ice cream and cookies to help you make a decision as you wait in the almost, ever-present line found at the store.

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And when I say they make some really crazy, and weird flavors, believe me, they do.  Some combinations of flavors I’ve never heard of or ever seen together before, and yet, somehow they work.  Have you ever heard of Fried Chicken & Maple Waffle ice cream before?  Made with homemade fried chicken, caramel infused with organic chicken skins, all swirled in a brown butter base with maple syrup, cayenne pepper and black pepper and sage and topped with crunchy waffle bits.  It’s like savory food in an ice cream.  Not really my cup of tea, but supposedly the ice cream is outstanding.  When it’s your turn and you step up to the counter, you’re allowed a few samples of different flavors of your choosing.  Of course, it’s hard not to request a sample because some of the flavors are so off the wall that you’d really need to taste them before you decide on them.  However, I noticed that a lot of people who step up to the counter generally ended up asking the scooper behind the counter what their favorite flavors were or what the most popular flavors were.  I heard multiple times that the salted chocolate was really popular, and I saw a number of people order it.  Made with chocolate base and maldon salt with stone ground chocolate, it’s a favorite of those who like their sweet and salty all rolled into one.  Again, not completely my cup of tea, but who am I to argue?

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Brown butter candied bacon was also quite popular.  Another example of people who like their sweet and salty all in one bite.  The ice cream is made with a brown butter, maple syrup and a bacon base with candied bacon bits, it all sounded a bit too much for me.  I think one of the most unusual flavors that I saw, and one that I know interested my husband was the Maker’s Mark Manhattan made with a bourbon base swirled with Italian amarenna and sour cherries.  Really, it sounded more to me like it should be a dessert rather than ice cream, but maybe that’s why the flavors work so well together.  As one would expect red velvet was also another popular flavor, made with a red velvet and mascarpone base with chunks of red velvet cake pieces, I can only imagine how sweet that must have been.  If you were looking for something a little less sweet and with a bit more of a kick to it, why not try the chocolate chipotle?  Made with a dark chocolate base and spiced with cayenne pepper, I bet that would have provided a bit of a kick.  Of course, there were also more traditional flavors such as Tahitian vanilla bean made with real Tahitian vanilla beans.  Or Nutella almond made with a dark chocolate and hazelnut base with roasted almond pieces.  Peanut butter was also another flavor sure to be a hit with customers made with rich peanut butter with just a hint of salt.

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And of course, you can’t forget the cookies.  Can’t make an ice cream sandwich without cookies, after all.  The flavors available on the day we went were: maple flapjack, gluten-free coconut almond, red velvet, peanut butter captain crunch, chocolate chip and snickerdoodle.  Even some of their cookies have interesting flavor combinations.  I’ve never heard of a maple flapjack cookie before.  Peanut butter captain crunch was also new for me.  I’ve seen captain crunch ice cream before, but the combination of that with peanut butter in a cookie was different.  In the end, neither my husband nor I actually chose to get an ice cream sandwich made because we were more interested in the ice cream itself than the cookie, but we did each buy a red velvet cookie just to give it a try.  I’ve got to tell you the cookie was fantastic.  It was soft and chewy and moist and the red velvet cookie tasted just like a slice of red velvet cake and the little bit of cream cheese frosting drizzled over the top of the cookie was the perfect amount of sweetness for the cookie, any more and it would have been overkill.

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So what kind of ice cream did my husband and I end up choosing?  We each got 2 scoops of ice cream in a cup at the store to go with our cookie and in the end each of both loved one of our ice cream selections so much that we both took a pint of ice cream home.  For me, one of the flavors I chose was dirty mint chip.  This was a bit of a surprise as I am not really a mint kind of girl.  I’m a straight up chocolate chip kind of girl, but in this case, I couldn’t seem to resist the dirty mint chip.  So, why is it called dirty mint, you ask?  As you can see in the description dirty mint chip is made with fresh mint leaves and dark brown sugar, infused overnight, with dark chocolate chips.  Essentially, it’s straight up natural mint flavoring in the ice cream rather than artificial mint flavoring, which is the mint that I’m not fond of.  So, when you get a scoop of dirty mint chip, the ice cream is actually white, or off white, with dark chocolate chips swirled through it, it’s not that unnatural neon-alien green color generally associated with mint chip.  And the taste of the ice cream really has a natural mint flavor.  It’s strong, but not overpowering the way artificial flavoring can be.  For me, the ability to taste the hint of natural mint flavor, but have it overwhelm your taste buds was enough for me to ask for a scoop of dirty mint chip.

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My second flavor choice was Vietnamese ice coffee.  I’m a huge fan of ice coffee.  Heck, I’ve even done a blog post dedicated to various types of ice coffee, so when I see Vietnamese ice coffee on the menu, I’m not going to pass that up.  I’m already a fan of regular coffee ice cream, and Vietnamese ice coffee has to be that much better.  According to the description, its delicious coffee ice cream sweetened with condensed milk.  And I love condensed milk, so this is the perfect combination.  It’s the condensed milk, along with the extra strong French press coffee which makes Vietnamese ice coffee what it is.  If you like the drink, how can you resist the ice cream?  And obviously I couldn’t  And the ice cream lived up to its billing.  It was strong with coffee flavor, but also sweet from the condensed milk, which kept the bitterness out of the flavor profile.  Looking at it, it looks like your standard coffee ice cream, it’s only when you take a spoonful of it that you know it’s something entirely different all together.  For me the Vietnamese ice coffee was different and unique and something I totally fell in love with.

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For my husband, he went with flavors that were way off the charts, but ones he absolutely loved as well.  And neither were flavors I would have ever chosen.  First off, my husband had seen a flavor on the board outside that he really wanted to check out.  When we got inside, we didn’t see the flavor displayed behind the ice cream counter, so we had to ask the girl working there if they had it.  She had told us that this particular flavor was up on the board yet because she had just pulled it out of the freezer and it was frozen solid, but that if my husband really wanted it, she’d try to pull a scoop out of the carton for him.  Apparently, he really wanted it.  So what was the flavor?  Balsamic fig & mascarpone.  Mascarpone is a cheese technically, and to my husband’s way of thinking, anything with cheese in it has to be good.  The ice cream is creamy mascarpone-based ice cream with balsamic glazed California figs and a balsamic swirl.  It’s described by Coolhaus as being like a frozen cheese plate.  I think my husband said he wholeheartedly agreed with that description.  He loved the balsamic swirl and could definitely tasted the figs and enjoyed the creamy sweetness of the mascarpone.  That’s not really a flavor combination I would have chosen, but apparently, my husband likes things a bit more savory than I do.

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But for my husband, the real star of the day was the second ice cream flavor that he chose: whiskey & lucky charms.  Who thinks of flavor combos like this for an ice cream?  It is certainly one of the more unique flavors I’ve ever seen.  Accordingly to the description, the ice cream is spiked with Jameson and is sometimes referred to playfully as Irish breakfast.  My husband had a sample before he ordered it and liked it so he got a scoop of it.  He said that you could really taste the whiskey, but that it wasn’t so strong and overpowering that it dominated the whole ice cream.  The lucky charms cereal added texture to the ice cream and the marshmallow pieces added just the right touch of sweetness to compliment the whiskey.  According to my husband, he’d never tasted anything like this before and really enjoyed it more and more every spoonful he had.  Of course, that could have been the alcohol talking.  But my husband did mention that it might be one of his most favorite ice cream flavors he’s ever tasted.

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In the end, my husband liked the Whiskey & Lucky Charms enough that he decided to get a pint to go for our freezer at home.  And though it’s not obvious from the picture above, the packed pint to go actually came in a mason jar with the Coolhaus logo in the shape of a house etched on the side of the mason jar.  The idea is a cute one as this is a reusable mason jar which we can take back to Coolhaus to get refilled (at a better price) for more ice cream to bring home.

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Instead of asking the girl behind the counter to pack a new jar of ice cream for me, I saw in their freezer a pre-packed quart of Vietnamese ice coffee ice cream and my husband convinced me that I needed to have my own quart of ice cream to bring home since I wouldn’t be enjoying any of his ice cream.  That’s all the convincing it took me to bring home my own quart of ice cream.

My husband and I both walked away from Coolhaus happy customers that day.  Our tummy was full of interesting and creative ice cream and we each had some ice cream to go to put in our freezer for later.  Oh, let’s not forget the yummy cookie we each enjoyed as well.  It was fun and exciting to see, and try, some of the more unique and crazy ice cream flavors I’ve ever seen before.  And it was quite surprising that this unusual flavor combinations were actually quite good and something we would actually order.  Sometimes, it’s a good thing to step outside of the box of what is considered “normal” as the crazy, weird, and unique can be just as good.

Obika Mozzarella Bar

October 27, 2014

About three years ago, a new restaurant opened up at the mall nearby our house in Los Angeles.  When it opened, I had no idea that it was actually a restaurant.  The name of the restaurant didn’t exactly scream, sit down, dine in restaurant.  In fact, looking at the restaurant’s name, I wasn’t really sure what kind of shop it was.  Then I remember having a conversation with one of my husband’s co-workers and she was raving over the new restaurant that opened at the mall and how she and some of my husband’s other co-workers had just gone there for lunch and had a great meal.  Ah, so it was a restaurant.  However, for one reason or another, it never really appealed to either my husband or I as a place dine at.  Then, this year, as my husband and I were starting to feel like we were getting in a rut in terms food options around our area, we were reminded of this particular restaurant again, and as we’d never dined here before, we figured it was time to give it a try.

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Obika Mozzarella Bar is the brainchild of a native Neopolitan who wished to create a casual Italian restaurant, designed in the form of a traditional sushi bar, with dishes that are made in an open kitchen setting so that guests could watch their traditional Italian dishes, centering around fresh mozzarella, being made right in front of their eyes.  Located on the upper story of an outdoor shopping mall, the space is open and inviting with a wonderful outdoor seating area, and a modern, indoor dining area situated around a bar/countertop that is definitely reminiscent of a sushi bar.

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As the name of the restaurant would imply, and as the concept and idea of the restaurant suggests, this restaurant is focused on great Italian food centered around the art of mozzarella cheese.  The restaurant serves 3 different types of mozzarella de bufala.  As you can see from the picture there is classica, which is delicate in taste, affumicata, which is smoked and imported directly from Italy, and burrata, which is sweet and creamy and made in house.

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Of course, you can’t come to a mozzarella bar, which specializes in this delicious, delectable cheese and not order a tasting plate.  We had hoped for a tasting of all 3 of the different types of mozzarella, however, we were informed that they were out of the affumicata.  Of course, since it’s imported directly from Italy, when the restaurant runs out, they run out.  So the best we could do was a tasting of the fresh mozzarella and housemade burrata.  The mozzarella tasting is served with some cherry tomatoes, arugula and olives.

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In addition to the mozzarella tasting, we ordered a plate of cured meats to go along with it, the gran selezione di salumi plate.  The plate included 4 different types of cured meats which included: prosciutto crudo san daniele DOP, salame feline, mortadella al pistachio, speck affumicato della’Alto adige DOP.  What a better combination than amazing mozzarella cheese and perfectly cured meats.  The mozzarella was itself was amazing, so creamy and smooth and perfect.  The burrata was soft and creamy and slightly sweet with that hint of heavy cream that is used to make the burrata.  Combine that with the amazing cured meat and the combination is a bit irresistible.  The speck affumicato was my favorite.  You could really taste the smokiness of the speck which paired so well with the mozzarella.  My husband enjoyed the mortdella with the pistachio.  The prosciutto crudo was also delicious.  Salty and cured and a great combination with the sweeter burrata.  But then again, when is prosciutto not delicious.

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As starters, my husband and I each picked out a dish we wanted to try.  I ordered the bresaola, which is a cured beef carpaccio served with wild arugula, shaved parmigiano reggiano DOP and dressed with a citronette.  Add in a little bit more lemon juice over the top, and the dish was amazing.  The bresaola was incredibly flavorful and cut thinly that it paired perfectly with the citronette and lemon juice.  Combine it all with the peppery wild arugula and the salty parmigiano reggiano and this was one of the most flavorful plates of carpaccio I’ve ever had.  I loved that they didn’t skimp on the parmigano reggiano and the arugula really had a nice peppery bite to the dish.  But the cured bresaola was definitely the star here.

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My husband couldn’t resist ordering the mozzarella in carrozza for his starter.  Never mind that we already ordered the mozzarella tasting plate, my husband’s philosophy is that you can never have enough cheese in any format.  So, cheese for his starter after we already had a cheese tasting plate really shouldn’t have surprised me.  Mozzarella in carrozza is fried, breaded mozzarella di bufala served with a little bit of baby arugula and some homemade marinara sauce for dipping.  Unlike mozzarella sticks you get at other places where you wonder if it was really just string cheese breaded and fried, mozzarella in carrozza at Obika came out as flat triangle pieces.  When you cut into it with your fork, it just oozed our fresh, stringy, mozzarella that tasted so perfect, especially when paired with the marinara sauce.  This is probably the most authentic, and best fried mozzarella I’ve ever had.

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For my entrée, I chose to order the tagliata di Filetto.  Or in English, the sliced angus filet with oven roasted rosemary potatoes and tomatoes.   Um, for the steak and potatoes lover in me, this was the perfect dish!  The angus filet was so delicious, and perfectly cooked.  The meat was so tender and flavorful I couldn’t get enough of it.  Combine that with the rosemary potatoes and it was a match made in heaven.  Rosemary is just the perfect herb to match up with potatoes.  Throw in a roasted tomato for a bit of sweetness and acidity and some peppery arugula and I fell in love with this dish.  I know, it’s not a completely “Italian” dish when you think of going to an Italian restaurant, but this was the perfect dish for my taste buds.

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My husband, not surprisingly, did actually decide to order an Italian entrée.  His pick was tartufo di Norcia.  Pizza, handmade and tossed and baked in their large oven right in front of the restaurant.  But this wasn’t any old pizza, he chose the pizza made with mozzarella di bufala, ricotta, roasted ham, and black truffle from Norcia.  Truth be told, it didn’t really matter what was on the pizza, the minute he saw the words black truffle he was sold.  The fact that it came with 2 types of cheese, that was just icing on the cake, or the pizza, as it were.  Of course, one bite of food and the first thing out of my husband’s mouth was how terrific the black truffle was.  Ok, I’d hope so since that was the whole reason you ordered the pizza in the first place.  The ricotta added a nice creaminess and texture to the pizza to offset the mozzarella and the ham added that touch of saltiness.  But the star was definitely the black truffle and that’s all my husband needed.

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As if all of this food wasn’t enough, my husband and I couldn’t quite agree on dessert, and of course, we couldn’t pass up dessert, so we had to each order our own.  I went with the traditional tiramisu, which the menu described as being made from the traditional recipe.  And it definitely was traditional.  You could taste the strong espresso and how soft and light the lady fingers were that had soaked up all of this wonderful espresso.  The mascarpone was light and fluffy and that dusting of cocoa powder over the dish just completed it and added that touch of bittersweet flavor to the dish.  I loved that you could tell that the tiramisu was homemade and authentic.  It was made with just the right amount of espresso so that the dish wasn’t swimming in espresso at the bottom of the dish from extra liquid not soaked up by the lady fingers.  Even my husband, who isn’t the biggest fan of tiramisu, said that this was pretty darn good and actually helped me finish off my dessert.

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Of course, he probably needed some of my dessert since I pretty much devoured my share of his dessert.  He ordered the affogato al caffe.  Essentially, this was piping hot espresso poured over gelato.  Served in a beautiful martini glass with a scoop of wonderful gelato right in the middle alongside a small espresso cup freshly brewed and piping hot, the waitress poured the espresso right over the gelato into the martini glass.  You watch the reaction of the piping hot espresso as it comes into contact with the super creamy gelato and it creates this nice thick foamy head as the gelato slowly starts to melt.  One spoonful of the gelato and the espresso, the affogato, and how could you not be in love.  The contrast in your mouth of the strong, hot espresso, and the creamy foam, and the cold, luscious gelato and this definitely rocketed up my list of one of my favorite desserts ever.  My husband and I inhaled this in dessert in record time, having us wish that perhaps we had ordered 2 affogatos instead of trying to just share one order.

What a wonderful experience my husband and I had at Obika Mozzarella Bar.  I honestly walked in there not knowing what to expect and ended up with something completely different than I thought it would be.  I can’t believe I resisted the idea of indulging in this great restaurant for years.  Though, I’m glad I finally listened to my husband and we got a chance to experience this place together.  My husband would say that a restaurant centered around cheese could never be a bad thing, add in some cured meats, and black truffle and his night was complete.  For me, the bresaola opened my tastebuds and the affogato for dessert sealed the deal.  I know, when the time is right, my husband and I will be back at Obika again before long.