Chicago Trip Recap, Part 4: Eataly

It’s been a while since my last post on Chicago, but there’s still a lot of stuff that I haven’t posted about yet! We had several wonderful Italian meals in the Windy City – there is certainly an Italian heritage to the city, and it’s reflected in the food.


One of the things that I was really excited about trying was Eataly, which is an Italian food market. The first one in the US was in New York, and the Chicago one followed soon after. Inside the market, they sell everything from cookware to sauces and pasta to fresh produce and meats.


There was a Nutella bar! We didn’t get anything from there, though – we chose something else for dessert (you’ll see later!). 





There’s a butcher shop, a seafood shop, a cheese counter, and more…



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Underbelly (North Park location)

Shortly after I posted about Underbelly in Little Italy, a new location opened in North Park! In addition to ramen, the NP location also serves yakitori, so of course we had to go check it out, and our friend A joined us for a late-night excursion.


The seating is on this outdoor patio pictured above. The ordering process is a bit confusing – you order food at the counter by the kitchen, which is indoors, and then you order beer at the bar which is outdoors.

One of the things that we were excited to try was the pork belly buns – they are supposed to be reminiscent of the Taiwanese dish, gua bao.

Pork Belly Buns: sous-vide pork belly, pickled cucumber, ginger hoisin mayo [$7]

Pork Belly Buns [$7]


These pork belly buns were quite good! The sous-vide pork belly was melt-in-your-mouth tender. I really enjoyed the flavor of the accompanying hoisin mayo, even though the flavor isn’t the same as the traditional Taiwanese buns. The buns were nice and fluffy, too.

We also wanted to try a couple of the skewers that were offered:

Pork Belly

Pork Belly [$4]

Beef Tongue

Chicken Heart [$3]

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Juniper & Ivy

Last month, S and I celebrated our six-year anniversary! We chose Juniper & Ivy, Richard Blais’ first restaurant in San Diego, as our celebration spot – both of us were big fans of Chef Blais on Top Chef and have been wanting to try J&I for quite some time.


We requested to be seated at the Chef’s table (or counter) when making the reservation, and we were lucky enough to get a spot there so that we could watch all the action going on in the kitchen!



We decided to get a cocktail since this was a special occasion, after all:

A Little R&R: rye, rum, citrus, maple, vanilla & clove [$12]

A Little R&R: rye, rum, citrus, maple, vanilla & clove [$12]

This was really interesting – the maple and vanilla in the drink made it pretty sweet, but it tasted pretty good. (Well, I’m not sure if it was too sweet for S, but I liked it a lot.)

The food menu is divided into sections such as “Snacks”, “Raw”, “Small Plates”, etc, and like many New American restaurants nowadays, everything is meant to be shared. We decided on a variety of smaller plates in addition to a couple of larger entrées.

Slow-Roasted Beets: Bartlett pear ricotta, marcona almond, miso honey vinaigrette, living kale [$12]

Slow-Roasted Beets: Bartlett pear ricotta, marcona almond, miso honey vinaigrette, living kale [$12]

I never knew that S was that into beets, but when he expressed interest in trying them, I immediately agreed. The beets were tender and really tasty, especially paired with the miso honey vinagrette. I remember wishing for a bit more ricotta, though, for some additional creaminess.

Swedish Meatballs: red kuri, McCart's preserves, pumpkin seed pesto [$12]

Swedish Meatballs: red kuri, McCart’s preserves, pumpkin seed pesto [$12]

We liked these house-made Swedish meatballs, but to be honest, the flavor wasn’t overly impressive. I was slightly disappointed that there wasn’t anything that made these stand out above the average meatball, even though the flavor combinations sounded so good.

Buttermilk Biscuit with Smoked Butter [$5]

Buttermilk Biscuit with Smoked Butter [$5]

I was looking forward to the biscuit after reading rave reviews, and this totally delivered. The buttermilk biscuit was warm and fluffy without being too crumbly, and the smoked butter and sea salt added a perfect depth of flavor. I would have been happy to eat another one!

Carne Crudo Asada: quail egg, cotija, jalapeno [$14]

Carne Crudo Asada: quail egg, cotija, jalapeno [$14]

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Butternut Squash Pesto Pasta

Today’s post is brought to you by Melissa’s Produce! I was sent a free box of produce from Melissa’s, and asked to create a recipe using ingredients in the box. The box consisted of classic “fall” produce: butternut squash, potatoes, cranberries, fava beans, garbanzo beans, black-eyed peas, pine nuts, cranberries, pearl onions, shallots… I’m relatively new to the world of cooking with beans, so I decided to set those aside for future recipes, and when I saw the pine nuts, I knew that I had to make a pesto. And then I thought… how would butternut squash pair with a pesto sauce? Well, there was only one way to find out.


I browned some Italian sausage, along with shallots that I received in the produce box, and used the rendered sausage fat to soften and cook the butternut squash. In the meantime, I also whipped up a quick pesto sauce with some fresh basil, plenty of the pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil.


The butternut squash’s sweetness offset the salty Italian sausage perfectly! I went easy on the pesto sauce so as to not overpower the flavors of the squash, and it was just enough to bring out an extra “fresh” flavor. I also tossed in some whole pine nuts, for some extra depth and to give this dish a more autumn-y feeling.


This was a super fun produce challenge for me, since I’m learning to come out of my comfort zone and try out some different flavor combinations. Did I mention that there are several other bloggers participating in this Melissa’s Produce Challenge, too? Check out all of their posts, linked below!

Disclaimer: I was sent a complimentary box of produce from Melissa’s to create my own recipe. All writings and opinions are my own.

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Shimbashi Izakaya

S and I were recently invited to check out Shimbashi Izakaya, located in Del Mar. We were quite excited since Japanese food is one of our favorite cuisines, and I’ve actually had Shimbashi on my list of places to visit for a while.


The restaurant is located in the Del Mar Plaza, same building as Del Mar Rendezvous and Pacifica.



The restaurant boasts an impressive sake list, and the menu features a large variety, from appetizers to grilled and deep fried items, to sushi and sashimi. We were recommended to try a sake flight – since neither of us have much experience with sake, we went with the basic sampler, which includes one each of three different sake varieties: nigori, honjozo, and junmai.

Basic Sake Sampler

Basic Sake Sampler

The three sakes that we sampled were, from front to back: Shochikubai, Yoshinogawa, and Oigame. They varied quite a bit in sweetness/dryness – the Shochikubai (nigori) was definitely the sweetest, while the Oigame (junmai) had the most distinct rice taste. In the end, both S and my favorite was the Yoshinogawa (honjozo), but we’re still noobs when it comes to sake, so there’s definitely room for us to learn!

Onto the food. Recently, they have been doing a new “Taste of Japan” – for two weeks at a time, there is a three-item set menu (priced at $28) that highlights a certain regional Japanese cuisine. We were there to preview the “Taste of Nagoya”, created by Chef Nohara – one of Shimbashi’s chefs. It will run from November 17-December 1.

Maguro Akamiso Nuta: fresh tuna and scallion with red miso sauce

Maguro Akamiso Nuta: fresh tuna and scallion with red miso sauce

This was the 1st course in Taste of Nagoya – it reminded me a bit of poke, actually. The tuna tasted really fresh and paired well with the savory miso sauce.

Ebi Fry: panko-fried shrimp

Ebi Fry: panko-fried shrimp

Second course in the tasting was this fried shrimp – according to our waitress, shrimp is a favorite in Nagoya, and they prepare it in all sorts of styles. Here, it was battered with panko and deep fried, and served with a wedge of lemon and mayonnaise for dipping. It was fried perfectly – the batter was crisp and golden brown, and the shrimp inside was cooked perfectly. And, since S doesn’t eat shrimp, I got both pieces to myself, hehe.

Hitsumabushi: grilled eel on rice with tea

Hitsumabushi: grilled eel on rice with tea

The last course in the tasting was the hitsumabushi – grilled eel over rice, served with a mini kettle of tea to pour over the rice.



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Snacks Series: Yogurt Round-Up, November Edition

Time for another edition of my yogurt round-up! S and I have definitely slowed down with trying new things… But then, I always say that and come up with plenty of things for these round-ups anyway, so I’m not sure if you believe me, haha.

Chobani Limited Edition

Chobani Limited Edition

The first thing that I wanted to highlight was Chobani’s limited fall edition flavors! There was a summer watermelon flavor, but I didn’t get around to posting about that one. So, when I got these fall flavor ones, I immediately snapped some pictures.


The two fall flavors are pumpkin spice and apple cinnamon. Yes… Chobani has jumped on the pumpkin wagon. While I love certain pumpkin-flavored things, I wasn’t particularly excited about yogurt because I didn’t think I would like the tangy yogurt with pumpkin… and turns out that I was right, haha. Oh well, at least I tried it. HOWEVER, the apple cinnamon was really good! My friend says that apple used to be a pretty common yogurt flavor years ago, and he was really excited to see it back since it’s one of his favorites. I really loved the flavor combination, and definitely hope to see more apple-flavored yogurts all year round!

Smari Icelandic Yogurt

Smari Organic Icelandic Yogurt

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Sushi Diner (revisit)

Sushi Diner is one of S’s and my favorite restaurants in San Diego – it’s famous for Americanized sushi rolls, but they’re way above average in terms of creativity and flavor. We’ve pretty much loved every roll that we’ve tried thus far, but recently one of S’s friends told him that the nigiri and sashimi here are quite good, too – and with a relatively affordable price tag. So, on a recent visit with a friend, we decided to try it out.

I’ve written a couple of posts on Sushi Diner already, so I’ll make this one short and sweet…

Sashimi Salad

Sashimi Salad

The sashimi salad is one of the specials on the board – unfortunately, I forgot the exact price, but I believe it was around $15. We were surprised to see the generous amount of raw fish in the salad, and of pretty decent variety – there was salmon, scallops, tuna, albacore, yellowtail… all atop a bed of cucumbers, lettuce, and tomatoes, with a very light sesame dressing with mentaiko (roe) scattered throughout.

Nigiri Sushi & Roll Combo: tuna, salmon, albacore, snapper, shrimp nigiri, spicy tuna roll [$10.95]

Nigiri Sushi & Roll Combo: tuna, salmon, albacore, snapper, shrimp nigiri, spicy tuna roll [$10.95]

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Vessel Restaurant at the Kona Kai Resort

Recently, S and I were invited to a Media Dinner to try out Vessel Restaurant, a newly renovated restaurant at the Kona Kai Resort on Shelter Island. We’ve never been to Shelter Island before and thought that it was quite a nice and pretty part of town!

Apparently, the renovations to the restaurant changed things up quite a bit from what it was like before. I thought that the centerpiece at the bar was really neat:


There was a good variety of spirits and drinks – S tried a Manhattan and really enjoyed it. There were also some punch bowls for the Media Dinner – “The Local”, which is made with gin, St. Germain, pressed lemon, and cucumber soda; their Mai Tai, made with spiced rum, pineapple, and orange, and a virgin Mojito. I got too excited with the drinks and didn’t take photos, oops…

The restaurant itself looked quite nice and cozy – here’s an example of one of the tables:


I really liked the colors of the restaurant – various shades of green, aqua, and blue. It fit well with the seaside theme and provided a relaxed yet classy atmosphere.

Here’s our menu for the evening!


First up, our amuse bouche:

Beef Carpaccio: popcorn shoots, preserved lemon, crispy capers

Beef Carpaccio: popcorn shoots, preserved lemon, crispy capers

I’ve only had beef carpaccio once before, more than four years ago. Carpaccio is thinly-sliced raw beef, and this was super tender. The dish had just enough flavor from the olive oil and popcorn shoots (the yellow shoot that you see), but wasn’t overpowering. I also adored the crispy capers that provided some textural contrast with the tender beef. What a delicious start to the meal! S and I gobbled this down in minutes. (We eat super fast, and I normally don’t notice until we go to a group dinner like this – our plates are empty and everyone around us is working on their second piece… Oh well.)

Heirloom Apple Salad: butter lettuce, Humboldt fog, granola, lemon olive oil, petite celery

Heirloom Apple Salad: butter lettuce, Humboldt fog, granola, lemon olive oil, petite celery

Our next course was an apple salad, which was perfect because it was just the start of apple season! Actually, Executive Chef Roy Hendrickson came out to speak to us, and he told us that apple season is actually delayed this year compared with before. There are several types of apples in this salad – Granny Smith, braeburn, and honey crisp – each of which contributed a unique flavor. I was also super happy that the salad was paired with Humboldt Fog, one of my favorite cheeses EVER. Even S, who always crinkles his nose at cheeses, loved it! I was actually quite surprised by that, but it made me happy, hehe. So, both of us really loved this salad, and I definitely recommend it if you’re visiting soon because I bet that the apples will taste even better.

Porcini Dusted Sea Bass: wild mushroom, Peruvian potato, smoked bacon dijon emulsion, avocado mousse, pistachio, upland cress

Porcini Dusted Sea Bass: wild mushroom, Peruvian potato, smoked bacon dijon emulsion, avocado mousse, pistachio, upland cress

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Buga Korean BBQ

In case you haven’t figured out yet, S and I really love Korean BBQ. Lately, we’ve been indulging in our cravings quite a bit, trying out several places around San Diego that we haven’t been to before – Buga was one of them!


Buga’s location isn’t super nice – it’s on Clairemont Mesa Blvd near I-805, and shares a parking lot with the Motel 6. The building exterior also looks to be under construction and basically looks unfinished. But anyway, once you get inside, the place is pretty nice. There’s a big TV on the wall, which got us excited since there’s now one more place for us to watch football, haha.

Unlike many of the Korean BBQ places that we visit, Buga is not all-you-can-eat. Instead, you order the meats à la carte (like Dae Jang Keum, which I posted about recently). There are also a couple of special combos, which we thought would be a good deal – we chose the Special A2, a combo for two that includes beef brisket, beef tongue, and pork belly, as well as a bean paste stew.



A variety of side dishes arrived pretty quickly. I thought that the peanuts with a sweet molasses glaze (bottom right) was really interesting, as well as the fried tofu (top right). The rest, including the kimchi, didn’t stand out to me, though.

We really wanted to try the steamed egg and asked our waitress if the bean paste stew in our A2 combo could be substituted with steamed egg instead. She was super nice about it and okay’ed the switch.

Steamed Egg

Steamed Egg

S and I have slightly different preferences for steamed eggs. His favorite is from Manna, which has a really soft and custardy egg cooked with chicken broth. I like the egg a bit firmer, the way Taegukgi makes it. This was sort of in between for texture, and the flavor was quite nice.

Finally, our platter of meat arrived:

Special A2

Special A2 [$38.95]

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Lofty Coffee Co.

A couple of weekends ago, I was in Encinitas with my friend A, and she recommended checking out Lofty Coffee Co., a very hipster coffee shop.

Lofty Coffee

It’s located by The Lofts apartments, which look really nice and overlook Moonlight Beach! I briefly daydreamed about living here… hehe.

As I said, this place has a total hipster vibe, which reminded me a lot of San Francisco and Berkeley.



From the looks of the menu, the speciality here is espresso – S and I were pretty big coffee drinkers/snobs in college, and we could talk to you all day about different beans, how many minutes you should steep, pour-over vs. French press, filter size, grind size, etc. And we would have scoffed at espresso drinks, haha. But after starting grad school, we’ve actually been drinking less coffee, and I started enjoying my occasional latte.

I did notice that they have Kyoto-style cold brew, which piqued my interest. Japanese cold brew is essentially using cold water to extract the flavors of coffee, with a really long steep time – often overnight. Lofty had a pretty elaborate set-up for their cold brew:


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