Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Mamina Kuhinja

-Grubbing in Chicago
Serbian Food in Edgewater

I have another lesser known spot to share here. I'm not sure how I first found Mamina Kuhinja but I think I was stopped at a red light on Clark street and I saw it. As I always do when a place intrigues me I looked it up on google. Not to my surprise there are no reviews on Yelp. That said there's close to 30 on google. Further proof that yelp's best days are behind it. That said most of the reviews on google are as simple as "Great Serbian food" but it's the pictures on there that are valuable. I saw stuff like burek and cevapi and decided that the homemade Serbian food served there was worth a try.

 Locals Favorite in Edgewater 

Walking into Mamina Kuhinja is somewhat intimidating do to the fact you cant see inside from outside. They have drapes covering the windows. After walking in you'll get the sense that most people do takeout from here as there's only one or two tables. I noticed quite a few people had called in for pickup orders. All of them speaking in native tongue when they entered. After about a minute wait for someone to acknowledge me an older lady popped out from behind the closed doors to help me. She must've been the owner / cook bc she was the only person working there. I'm guessing she cooks up a few different Serbian specialties each day. No menu so she told me what was available that day. An order of Musaka was what she suggested. I said sure as I was aware of the Serbian take on the Greek classic known as Moussaka. The Serbs make theirs with potatoes instead of eggplant making it a real meat and potato type dish. Another sign all orders lead to carry out is that the food comes in plastic carryout containers. This version of musaka was slightly different than what I had envisioned do to the fact it was served loose rather than layered. Flavor wise I don't think this changed anything. It was still ground beef mixed with potatoes, onions, and probably eggs and some sort of cream and or cheese. It was an Eastern European version of Shepard's Pie. What's not to like?

Musaka at Mamina Kuhinja

Mamina Kuhinja
5910 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60660
(773) 863-2366

Monday, January 21, 2019

Umacamon Japanese Kitchen

-Grubbing in Chicago (land)
Regional Japanese Food in Da Burbs

With the sub-artic temperatures in town today seemed like a good day to spread the word on Champon Noodle soup. More on it in a minute bc first I have to introduce you to Umacamon Japanese Kitchen out in Rolling Meadows. I found this spot a year or two ago while searching for Japanese food in the area. We may not have as rich of a Japanese scene as NYC and parts of Southern California but if you head out to the NW suburbs you'll find a few gems. Umacamon is probably the least known of them all. To my knowledge they've never been featured in any articles or lists that I'm aware of. It's not frequented solely by Japanese people but they definitely make up for at least half of the customer base. The other half I assume is from the area and learned of it by things like yelping and driving by. The food here is an ode to Kyushu, the southwestern most of Japan’s main islands.

Locals Favorite in Rolling Meadows 

Umacamon has different menus for both lunch and dinner. Obviously some of it overlaps but at lunch you walk up and order from the counter from the lunch menu. Whereas at dinner you'll be seated and offered a dinner menu and then updated on any specials which at times can be by the handful. Umacamon is the baby of two locals who worked together in the food distribution business before deciding to live out their dreams of bringing even more Japanese food to the area. So in 2015 they set out to find a spot and did so in a strip mall just 5 minutes from Mitsuwa Market. I wont gauge a Japanese restaurant by the gyoza. To be honest you're lucky if they're just pretty good. Never great, which is the case here. Though pretty good is as good as I've had in a restaurant until I get to Japan.

 Gyoza at Umacamon 

One of the specials that's pretty popular with them Yelpers is the weekend fried tuna plate. We tried that one weekend night we made it out there. I guess I had forgot that fried tuna isn't one of my favorites. In fact I'm not much of a fan for cooked tuna at all. I think there's endless options of fish that are better for frying. Though this was better than all other variations I've tried bc they managed to keep the middle slightly raw which made for a nice surprise inside. Order this if your group is larger than 2-3 people. It's alot of fish so if it makes for a good appetizer for a group, but not a small one. 

 Fried Tuna at Umacamon

A better option if you want something fried is the pork tonkatsu. It's a very good example of the Japanese version of the breaded pork tenderloin. This too is good for a group as they slice it traditionally which allows for individual pieces to be passed around. Super solid with some Sapporo.

Tonkatsu at Umacamon 

They also have a yakitori grill. Though truth be told you're better off going to Yakitori Boogytori down the road. Still though what's nice about Umacamon is you can get a whole lot more other than just Yakitori. I liked the tail meat skewer alot but thought the thigh meat was average at best.

Yakitori at Umacamon

At this point you may be asking well what's so great about this place? One of the answers is a dish I don't have a good pic of though I highly recommend the omelette with beef gravy aka Omurice. It's an omelette stuffed with Japanese tomato rice and covered with a beefy demiglace. The other item here I would recommend is their signature bowl of Champon Noodle Soup seen below. As I learned from an old article in LA Weekly - "In 1899, a Chinese immigrant to Nagasaki, Japan, set up a noodle shop called Shikairo along the city’s harbor to feed his fellow expatriates. Heijun Chin, a native of China’s Fujian province, had created a variant of ramen in which ingredients are stir-fried in a wok, a chicken-pork broth is added, and finally noodles are cooked, all together in the wok. Its name, champon, is derived from the Hokkien phrase “to eat” or chiah png." - Link to that story HERE.

Champon Noodle Soup at Umacamon

This is why you drive out here. At least it's why I do. I love learning about regional dishes such as this. Champon Noodle soup is something anyone from Nagasaki has a favorite version of. Typically it's made as described by LA Weekly up above. Though of course exact recipes can vary. I feel like the team at Umacamon uses the seafood in the soup to make the broth itself. It's got delicious notes of shrimp, mussels, and squid. All of which are in the soup itself. Sometimes the pork can be too tough bc I think it's the same meat used to make the fantastic broth. Add in some noodles for slurping and some cabbage for some crunch and you got all of the elements that people want in a hearty bowl of soup. It's not quite ramen but it's better than most of the ramen found around town.

Closeup of the Champon Noodle Soup

Umacamon Japanese Kitchen
1673 W Algonquin Rd
Rolling Meadows, IL 60008
(224) 318-2489
Website

Friday, January 18, 2019

Two Lights Seafood & Oyster

-Grubbing in Chicago
New to the 'Scene'

There was a small flurry of restaurant openings near the end of the 2018 calendar. Some of them I got to before the year ended and some I still need to scope out. We stopped into Two Lights Seafood in Old Town a day or two before the year had ended. It's located on North avenue in Old Town where they could use some new blood. Two lights felt like so many other restaurants I've visited in the States. This isn't really to fault them as they all pretty much feel the same these days. You can expect much of the same with the menu which focuses on seafood. So of course they have an oyster bar, some crudo, and of course a cocktail menu. Two Lights is from owners of Tortoise Supper Club.

Newly Opened in Old Town 

Our visit to Two Lights was a tale of two categories of dishes. Delicious and just ok. Starting with some of the delicious is an order of excellent clam chowder. I consider myself a big time fan and experienced eater of the New England classic. It was my favorite food at some point in my youth. If they had some sort of takeout window creating easy access to this I'd get some to eat at home.

New England Clam Chowder at Two Lights Seafood & Oyster

Now for the just ok. While sitting at the bar we saw what looked like a really nice plate of onion rings. I guess they were something else bc we got a plate of something different. These were thinly cut and lightly breaded which is becoming pretty popular. The problem is that style is always extra greasy.

 Onion Rings at Two Lights Seafood & Oyster

Next up we have more just ok. On paper the idea of Tiradito was a good one. It always is as long as the Peruvian-Japanese favorite is done right. Tiradito is thinly sliced fresh fish that isn't sauced until it goes on the plate. The sauce of course can vary but like ceviche it's usually citrus dominated. Tiradito when done right should make your tongue tingle and want to dance. It's lighter than ceviche but in many ways much more fresh and flavorful. Except this was pretty bland compared to others I've tried.

Tiradito - Hamachi, Hearts of Palm, Avocado Creme, Red Finger Hot Chili, Passion Fruit, Macadamia

We did however get to end with a very nice plate of octopus. In fact it was one of my favorite plates of a two day span that saw us hit seven new spots. Described on the menu as grilled Spanish octopus it also had some fresh Greek flavors going when mixed with the salad made of tomato, cucumber, onion, and Feta. This was cooked perfectly to where a spoon easily broke pieces of the octopus off. I don't live anywhere near Old Town and parking is a bitch but if I had easier access to this dish I'd eat on the regular. The question is would it prove to be consistent? That's the tricky part. Until next time.

Grilled Spanish Octopus at Two Lights Seafood & Oyster

Two Lights Seafood & Oyster
227 W North Ave
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 929-3091
Website

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Buncha Hanoi

-Grubbing in Chicago(land)
Vietnamese Buncha in Glenview

While putting together my ‘Best of 2018’ post I got hungry for some SE Asian food. So I rolled out to Glenview to try this new Vietnamese buncha specialist on my hit list. Buncha Hanoi is located on Milwaukee avenue in the same strip mall as about four or five Korean chains. It opened late last year. It was featured low key by Nick Kindelsperger at the Tribune during a month long noodles celebration.

Newly Opened in Glenview

I’m guessing most people reading this have seen the video of Bourdain and Obama eating the regional Vietnamese dish in Hanoi. If not it’s basically a salad of grilled pork and rice noodles with a little bowl of fish sauce laced dipping sauce. Me and my wife had a chance to enjoy this signature Hanoi dish while there. We ate at the same place where Obama joined Bourdain. I talked to one of the young ladies working in Glenview and she said it was their intent to make Buncha as popular as Pho. While they do serve bowls of Pho that's about it as far as the menu goes. They're specialists.

 Buncha at Buncha Hanoi

Initial thoughts? Pretty legit. This version might not be as funky as some veterans of this dish might like but they offer two different fish sauces on the side for you to funk it up. I liked the addition of little slivered of fried garlic to the noodles which are always served room temp. The pork was way better than what I remember in Hanoi as far as quality goes. The skewered pork was yakitori like. They grilled it up really nice. Aside from the skewers Buncha also comes with pork patties (and an egg roll here) and they too were done well. Not dry at all. I love seeing a specialist like this pop up and wish them luck. With success others will follow the model of picking one thing and doing it really well. 

Close-Up of the Grilled Pork

Buncha Hanoi
1705 Milwaukee Ave
Glenview, IL 60025
(847) 813-9150
Website

Monday, January 14, 2019

Sazon Cubano

-Grubbing in Chicago
Cuban Food in Belmont-Cragin

There's been a little mini boom in Cuban restaurants opening up. One of the more low key spots is called Sazon Cubano on Fullerton across the street from Hanson Park. They opened maybe four months ago and aside from Cuban food they also have some Puerto Rican favorites likes jibaritos.

Newly Opened in Belmont-Cragin

Sazon Cubano has a fairly large menu with more than a handful of categories. One of the obvious ones would be sandwiches. Though I'm kind of past ordering Cuban sandwiches in restaurants. Unless I see something that lets me know this place is making them two steps above everyone else. That's bc it seems like everyone else is making them average at best. Instead I opted for a ropa vieja aka old clothes sandwich. The nickname is in reference to the beef that gets shredded in tomato sauce. Often times it's from a previous dinner. Sazon Cubano makes theirs fresh for both sandwiches and also dinner plates. It makes for a damn tasty sandwich although I felt like it was missing some crunch and thus either some shoestring potatoes or even better some giardiniera would make it great.

Ropa Vieja Sandwich

There's plenty of items on the menu that look worth a try. But it would be hard to be more satisfying than the Cuban fried rice. For under $10 you get a ginormous plate of fried rice made with traditional Cuban yellow rice. It's mixed with peppers, onions, plantains, and your choice of meat. The pork is little slivers of meat that get well browned in the wok. As far as bang for your buck goes this is easily two meals. I found it to be quite addicting. I've already had a few cravings for some more. Good spot.

Cuban Fried Rice at Sazon Cubano


Sazon Cubano
5422 W Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60639
(773) 237-3333
Website

Friday, January 11, 2019

Finom Coffee

-Grubbing in Chicago
New to the 'Scene'

There were alot of great low key neighborhood openings in 2018. I'm using January of 2019 to share all the spots I didn't get to post about last year. Finom Coffee opened towards the end of 2018. They did so in what was a vacant building that had historic status attached to it. The building was built in 1889 and for a while was a popular tavern called the Whistle Stop Inn. Finom has turned the building into a neighborhood coffee shop that doubles as a bookstore and also serves food. The cuisine of choice is Hungarian. Something that until now was pretty much extinct in these parts. Let's roll.

Newly Opened in Old Irving Park 

Walking into Finom feels like you're transporting yourself overseas. I could easily see this place in Budapest which I traveled to a couple years ago. They did a great job with the interior. It's a place you want to sit back and relax at. It almost has the feel of a nice hunting cabin with the taxidermy on the walls. I'd read in the Tribune that quite a few local businesses such as Marz Brewing and Kimski helped with some of the interior design. Finom is off to a hot start. Aside from being featured in the Trib they were also the second newest restaurant in the Fooditor 99. Hungry Hound also stopped by.

 a peek inside 

You probably don't recall any round-ups on coffee shops featured over here. That's bc I don't drink coffee. What you see below is the Choco spice which is a hot chocolate drink with a very floral taste.

 Choco Spice at Finom Coffee

What got me interested in Finom was the food. As I read in the Trib 'Finom' means delicious in the native Hungarian language. The menu is small with maybe 5 or 6 items making it up. I haven't had all of them but I've really enjoyed everything I've tried thus far. Particularly the Lecso which is a thick medley of tomatoes, gypsy peppers, paprika mixed with Hungarian sausage and topped with a fried egg with a soft yolk. It's served in a cute little Le Creuset pan with some slices of bread on the side. Though it's described as a stew this is more like a ratatouille. It was as if a recipe for gumbo stopped right after the andouille goes into the pot with the Holy Trinity and spices. I really liked this dish.

Lecso at Finom Coffee 

Another great snack if you're in there doing work is the Pick salami sandwich. This is made with some fantastic ciabatta bread, Hungarian Pick salami (a brand), housemade cultured butter, sliced gypsy pepper and Hungarian Swiss cheese. This one really hit the spot. I think it was the butter.

Pick Salami Sandwich 

Last of the dishes I've tried is the classic known as Goulash. Or Hungarian Goulash if you're located outside of Hungary. Except on the menu it's called Gulyásleves. Nonetheless when you read the description it's exactly what goulash is described as. The dominant flavor in this is paprika which is where the red color comes from. Tender pieces of beef are joined by parsnips, carrot, potatoes, gypsy peppers, onion, and dumplings. It's a pretty soupy rendition to the point where it almost tastes like a perfectly made beef and vegetable soup. I actually had this just recently during that mini cold streak and it was just what I wanted as far as lunch on a cold winter day. Count me amongst the early fans!

 Gulyásleves at Finom Coffee

Finom Coffee
4200 W Irving Park Rd
Chicago, IL 60641
(312) 620-5010
Website

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Los Buenos Diaz

-Eating like a Mayan King in the Windy City

Today we head out towards O'Hare. It's there where the tiny village of Bensenville rests. Hispanic and Latino people make up for almost 50% of the population and thus there's some good Mexican food to be found in town. I first found Los Buenos Diaz on Yelp. Pictures of what looked to be plates of modern Mexican food got me intrigued. I feel that places like Los Buenos Diaz are pretty common in the Chicagoland suburbs. Modern Mexican restaurants with nicely stocked bars that sit in strip malls. This is probably bc of Mexican foods boom here in the US over the last few decades.

Locals Favorite in Bensenville 

It doesn't take much to get me into your Mexican restaurant. A menu of tacos featuring housemade corn tortillas is always a good draw. Los Buenos Diaz lists their tacos as sets but the bartender had no problem letting us order as many individual ones as we pleased. I tried both a fried fish and also a cecina. I was very pleased with each of the tacos as they were anchored by the previously mentioned tortillas that were full of masa flavor. Overall I'd give both of these a solid 7/10 on the scorecard.

Tacos at Los Buenos Diaz 

Moving onto the entrees where most of the plates are in the $15-$20 range. The carne asada looked great in the pictures and came rec'd by a friend from the online food world. But they also do cochinita pibil which is one of my favorite regional Mexican dishes. The Yucatan style pulled pork is traditionally braised in lots of citrus and achiote paste. If you're following recipes to a core it's usually cooked in the ground but not many US restaurants practice that technique. You'll always find pickled red onions served atop cochinita pibil as well as black beans on the side. I liked the pibil from here but felt like it was missing something though I cant quite pinpoint what that was. That said when I made tacos out of the pbil and black beans with the tortillas supplied on the side they were delicious. They also give you two different housemade salsas that produce real deal heat. A very satisfying meal. #EatDaBurbs

Cochinita Pibil at Los Buenos Diaz

Los Buenos Diaz
224 W Green St B
Bensenville, IL 60106
(630) 594-4985
Website

Monday, January 7, 2019

Shan Shaan Taste

-Grubbing in Chicago
Shaanxi Noodles in Chinatown

In a recent survey issued by Eater Chicago I named Chinatown the best dining neighborhood of 2018. I couldn't think of another area where there seems to be an exciting opening every month. Towards the tail end of 2018 I was made aware of a new tenant in the Richland Center Basement. The dark and cold space is home to the city's best food incubator. Mike Sula of the Reader was first on the scene of this new stall featuring a plethora of handmade noodle dishes. It's called Shan Shaan Taste.

Newly Opened in the Richland Center Basement in Chinatown

One of the reasons I named Chinatown as the most exciting dining neighborhood is it's sudden boom of specialists. Places where they're specializing in a regional cuisine or even better singular dishes. As I learned in the Reader article by Mike Sula Shan Shaan Taste is run by a Chicago restaurant industry veteran named Richard Zhou. After many a stints at different Chicago area restaurants as well as a stand inside a Chinatown grocery shop Zhou has ventured off on his own into the damp Richland Center basement. He's the latest tenant bringing in the crowds of young locals who know some of the best food in the neighborhood is found in this food court. Zhou is hoping to hit it big with the cuisine of his homeland - the Shaanxi province in northwestern China. Food from Xi'an (the capitol city) is having a moment right now and Zhou is looking to further expand into regional chain status.

Liangpi Noodles and Roujiamo at Shan Shaan Taste

If you want to hit it big and then go the franchise route you need a signature offering. At Shan Shaan Taste that dish is a cold noodle salad called Liangpi. Also called cold skin noodles you can get the compete details on the making of this dish in the Reader article. It's not easy and thus it's probably not something you're familiar with unless you've ate alot of Shaanxi cuisine. The housemade noodles are the star of this dish which also includes "cucumber, sour black vinegar, raw garlic, sesame seeds, soy sauce, and a chile oil spiked with ten spices and herbs that he cooks at a gradually increasing temperature for an hour." I've had them twice and I really like the freshness of the dish as a whole. It's going to be a great snack on a hot summer day. The perfect lunch when paired with one of Zhou's housemade Chinese hamburgers aka Roujiamo. Some say this popular Xi'an snack is the original sandwich of the culinary world. The direct translation of Roujiamo is "meat in a bun" and that's pretty much what it is. I haven't ate a ton of these but Shan Shaan makes a fantastic one with some of the most succulent pork belly I can remember having. I loved the heavy sprinkle of green onion inside. You can get an order of the Liangpi and one Roujiamo of your choice for just $10.

Roujiamo at Shan Shaan Taste 

There's a handful of other offerings of fresh noodle dishes. One of them being a very nice bowl of beef noodle soup. While the broth itself is a very mild one, is this a thing in Shaanxi cooking? - The beef itself is full of flavor and tender enough to easily apart when poked with a chopstick. The housemade wavy noodles have a pretty good texture. Next time I think I'll try the noodles stir fried with some of that pork belly if it's an option. Bc Chinatown continues to grow with Chinese people and businesses there's specials on a board that are written in Chinese. As they're clearly catering to that type of clientele. If you've never heard of the WayGo app you may want to download it bc it will tell you what those specials are with a simple picture taken from your phone. I hope Shan Shaan Taste gets the traffic it takes to move out into it's own brick and mortar. It deserves good things for being the latest place to show just how deep China's regional cuisine goes. I wish them much success in 2019.

Beef Noodle Soup 

Shan Shaan Taste
2002 S Wentworth Ave Basement 10,
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 375-3122

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