Getting accustomed

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Foreign cities are never easy to get accustomed to. The language barrier can only allow my simple responses to go so far. There is so much to say, ask and learn, but impossible of understanding it. “Ciao, grazie, prego” sums up my conversations the past two days in Parma. It’s almost as if I’m a helpless child again, where pointing is the basis of getting my simple needs across.
Nonetheless, I could spend the rest of my life here happily. It’s mid December, 9:30pm and I’m strolling back to the hotel from my dinner of local salumi, grilled vegetables and horse meat at a comfortable 45 degrees.
Jetlag is upon me. Waking up at 5:00 am again this morning will still feel as natural as 7:00 am in Chicago. The hilarity of seeing the drunken college students stumbling home from the birrierias and taverns makes my early rise worth it.

I’ve noticed a great difference in the quality of salumi in Parma compared to the US. Out here, the less seasoning, the better. The prosciutto is naturally sweet, and the salami’s bacteria gives the perfect sourness to accompany a generous pour of Barbaresco. At home, the pigs are usually not raised on heirloom pastures. Their processing restrictions by the USDA also inhibits the true potential of flavor enhancing bacterias. Luckily there are still some ways around this restriction, so there’s still hope for us all.

Ciao America, Ciao Italy

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Today marks the beginning of my life altering Journey. I’ve been to Italy before, but this time will be unlike the past. This will be a month of Salumi. A month of studying techniques carried on through generations, traditions and standards which I plan on taking back with me and sharing with Chicago at West Loop Salumi.

When I left the shop this morning, I took one look back at the unfinished project of bare drywall, dust and dark empty rooms holding a resemblance of my life as I see it today. Only to return completed and ready to advance.

So follow me as I travel on a long and tasteful excursion through the middle and northern regions of Italy. Along the way, we will be touring salumerias in Parma, San Daniele and Tuscany. A few trips to various local breweries, vineyards and restaurants will also be in the mix. Updates will be posted as frequent as my internet becomes available. Comments, suggestions and tips will help make the experience even better. Tweet, facebook or comment on the site. Hope you have fun. I know I will.

Update to this week’s schdeule

Experiments:

Making a variety of focaccia this week, using a variety of flours and enriching ingredients.  I’ll keep you informed on the best results.

Home made jerky will be in the plans as well.  Lamb, goat and turkey strips to come

Restaurants:

Quay, Bistro Voltaire and Hubbard Inn’s Barn and Company will soon be visited and recommendations will be given.

 

And then…Thailand

The ticket demand is so high at Next Restaurant, businesses blocked employees from logging on to their website.  Riots and riots of prospective diners refreshing the Next website until they can’t refresh anymore. Now dubbed by one facebooker as the term “nexting.”

Nexting(v)- To Continuously refresh a website until one breaks it

After 2 days of staring at this mesmerizing red website background, it started to mean more than just a meal. Arriving at Next was like reaching the end of a rainbow. Or in reality, defeating the other 78,000 organic users in a trigger clicking marathon.

The struggling community of Next Facebook followers kept everyone amused throughout the entire process.  Teasing, laughing and joking to pass the times.  Just for the sake of another mouse-clicking rush, I sort of wish Next would restructure their restaurant every month.

The first course sets you in the streets of Thailand to munch on small bites over a newspaper tablecloth while sipping on a carrot juice cocktail.  Traditional Chinese style steamed Baos stuffed with Beach Mushrooms and green curry. Grilled bananas topped with garlic, cilantro blooms, red chilis and pickeled shallots.  Crispy fried shrimp and prawn cakes.  Sauteed fermented pork sausage. To finish it, chilled sweet shrimp with mint, garlic and bird chilis.  Nothing too outrageous here.  All the bites held to the traditions, but kept the tone down from the usual spicy notes of Thai cuisine.  A great experience, and fully flavorful beginning.

The take on a Hot and sour soup was greatly appreciated.  Such a complex yet clean and subtle broth was perfectly executed and poured over the bowl of pork belly, mushrooms, kefir lime and tomato.

While waiting for the next dish, basmati rice was served with the following accoutrements.

A deglazing with Chili, garlic and shallots (favorite sauce of the meal)
Duck egg with green mango and white radish
Pickled fruits and vegetables with basil

The wild Louisiana Catfish was soon presented at the table in a platter perched over a hot ember.  A caramel sauce added savory elements to the dish, with a light contrast coming from the celery and coriander root.
Satiated from the Catfish course, there were three more servings to go.

Now the pot roast resembling braised beef cheek curry came out. So fragile from the braising, it could be cut with a spoon.  After trying this coconut peanut curry, I started to realize why the Chef was so timid with the heat.  There are so many flavors brought forward.  Masking these elements with heat would also ruin the experience coming from the proceeding courses.

A chilled palette cleansing clear juice shot of watermelon and lemongrass set us up for the remaining desserts.

In one half of our individual coconuts, we found liquid nitrogen elements of corn, licorice and egg.  I couldn’t quite figure out what the sour green caviar shaped gels were, but they really brought this course together.  In the other half was a coconut sorbet.  Each element in the first half was to be eaten by itself, then the coconut sorbet would instantly clear the palette.  Though not a traditional dessert, it was truly a highlight of the experience.

For the last dessert, we received a frozen dragonfruit with rose syrup.  A cap to end to the glutinous trip to Thailand.

While waiting for our valet to arrive, one last item was offered.  A sweet and heavy Rooibos Chai tea served in a plastic baggy, reminding me that I was already content 3 courses ago. A truck dolly would’ve been a decent gesture to help me to the car, better yet a rickshaw for authenticity.  Worth the two days of “nexting”? Certainly no regrets on this side of the table.

Roka Akor

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Details details details, they mean everything to everyone in the restaurant industry. From the drinks, to the food, service, décor and cleanliness, Roka Akor pays attention to all of this. Which is why they’re able to turn an Omakase meal into an Omakase experience.

Behind the scenes of this newly opened Japanese sushi and steak house, stands proven experienced veterans; Chefs Ce Bian and Jason Alford, former Double A mixologist now Mixology consultant Dante LoPresti, Former Mercadito manager Felipe Ospina and transferred Scottsdale Roka Akor manager Arthur Doloresco.   Without their shear pride and perfection in what they do, they may not be where they are today.

Rated by Bon Apetite Magazine as a top 10 sushi restaurant in the US, nothing less will be expected nor received.  To assure this, chef Ce Bian travels in his van to the airport and picks up the fish he knows will hold up to Roka Akor’s name.  This is pure dedication.

With a sake list of at least 75 deep and various in house shochu infusions, the late night River North crowd will be pouncing on the Izakaya in no time. Expect a lively chic late night scene filled with sake and cocktail enthusiasts packing the bar area.  Not a sake connoisseur, the menu is set up to allow even the first timer to make the right decision.  Or ask any of the staff for assistance, they’ll be sure to help you choose your favorite.  Cocktails not to miss includes the “Whiskey Plum Sour” and “The One.”

Adjacent to the bar area is the 200 seating dining area, which is centered around the action coming from the open kitchen and robata grill.  So sip on your bowl of red miso lobster soup and let your eyes assist your next decisions. Seafood, prime beef, lamb, pork, chicken, veggies… Ce Bian wouldn’t have it on the menu if the quality wasn’t there. So just close your eyes and point.

Photos above come from the Decadent Omakase menu.  If you leave hungry, it’s your own fault.  Let the chef know and the courses will continue beyond your satisfaction.

Roka Akor
312-477-7652
Dinner – Lounge
111 West Illinois Street
Chicago, IL 60654

DINNER
M-TH 5pm – 11pm
FR-SA 5pm – 12am
SU 5pm – 10pm

SAKE & SHOCHU LOUNGE
SU-W 4pm – 1am
TH-SA 4pm – 2am

A telegraph of Telegraph

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Wine bars. What are they? How do they differ from just another restaurant with a notable wine list?  Well, Telegraph may be the answer to this question.   With the owners coming from Webster’s wine bar and Bluebird, a clear perception was definitely in mind for this rustic Logan Square addition.

Straying away from it’s siblings’ global and biodynamic wine menus, Telegraph focuses on smaller European wineries who still hold up to their heirloom traditions.  When glasses are averaging in at $9, there shouldn’t be any issues when ordering 2 or 6 glasses during the course of your stay. Remember, these wines are all very unique, now is not the time for reservation.  Oh yeah, and they don’t take them!

Prepare your palate for the light, fresh sardine tartine by starting with the dry sparkling Wimmer-czerny blanc de Noirs.
Then onto the first course with Guy bossard’s muscadet and perfectly prepared sweetbreads with citrusy “mouse tail” pasta.  This is when you come to realize… that’s right, chef Anderes did come from Avec. Bring on the next course of Lamb saddle then the cheese plate, and might as well toss in the Gamay and aszu 6 putonyos from Hungary.  If there is one pairing you appreciate the most out of this meal, to your surprise, it’s the cheese and aszu 6.  Both the cheeses and wine contained deep earthy notes, ensuring you that this wasn’t just picked up at the local grocer and tossed onto a board.

The beer and liquor list should also be recognized.  Craft imports from Belgium and England, and hand selected liquors completes this short and thoughtful list.

As mentioned above, reservations are not accepted. Not to worry though, they’re open until at least 2am every night of the week.

Telegraph (2601 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-292-9463)

Hot openings and reviews to expect this month

July 8th:

Next Restaurant- Thai
West Loop (953 W. Fulton Ave)
Why it’s hot:  Grant Achatz’s ticket based Thai restaurant is only temporary.  With the talk of a lower priced menu, the demand will only get higher.

Telegraph - Wine bar
Logan Square (2601 N. Milwaukee Ave)
Why it’s hot: Besides that fact that their serving fried Burrata and ham hock mousse in their pasta, Telegraph is also run by the same crew as Webster’s Wine bar and Bluebird.

July 11th:

Roka Akor- Sushi and Robata
River North (111 W. Illinois St)
Why it’s hot: Bon Apetit Magazine rated Roka Akor’s Arizona location as “One of top 10 sushi spots in the US”.  With a prime location on Illinois St in River North, getting a reservation might be quite the challenge.

July 15th:

Quay Restaurant & bar- Contemporary American
gold coast (465 E. Illinois St)
Why it’s hot: A 2,000 sqft. dock and catering license allows Quay to stock up boats for their day out on the lake.   Quay also features a solarium which was inspired by a miami beach resort. This will ensure both sea and land goers can enjoy a relaxing afternoon in the sun.


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