Chicago Trip Recap, Part 3: Topolobampo

As promised in my Chicago trip recap part 2, I will devote a whole post to my meal at Topolobampo, Rick Bayless’ fine-dining restaurant. S, his sister V, and I were really excited to visit, and yes, we still wanted Mexican food after eating a huge meal at Frontera Grill just a day before.

Topolobampo

Unlike most other fine-dining establishments that we’ve visited, one thing that we loved about Topolobampo was its lively atmosphere. There was music, plenty of lighting (do I hear a collective “yay!” from my fellow food bloggers?), and a nice, steady stream of chatter. It wasn’t noisy by any means, but there wasn’t a stifling quietness that often accompanies nice restaurants.

Cucumber-Lime Drink & Topolo Margarita

Cucumber-Lime Drink & Topolo Margarita

Couldn’t resist starting off with some drinks! V had a cucumber-lime drink (non-alcoholic), and I got a Topolo margarita – both were really nice and refreshing.

Their course system is very similar to that of Gary Danko – instead of separating the dishes into appetizers, entrées, and desserts, the items are separated into categories such as “Vibrant”, “Fresh”, “Complex”, etc. You can choose from any of the categories to make a 3, 5, or 7-course dinner. There’s also a Chef’s suggested “Perfect 7″. The three of us decided to each get a 5-course dinner, which is priced at $90, and share everything.

We got an amuse bouche to start… I wish I could remember what this all entailed, but I believe these were spiced melons.

Amuse bouche: spiced melons

Amuse bouche

Shortly after, we were presented with our first courses:

Summer Tomatoes, Yucatean Flavors: Leaning Shed farm baby tomato salad, modern sikil pak (fresh Lima beans, creamy pepitas, habanero, olive oil), clay baked torpea onions, habanero-lime dressing

Summer Tomatoes, Yucatean Flavors: Leaning Shed farm baby tomato salad, modern sikil pak (fresh Lima beans, creamy pepitas, habanero, olive oil), clay baked torpea onions, habanero-lime dressing

I had to look up what “sikil pak” was – apparently it’s a Mexican pumpkin-seed dip, and I loved it! It had a lightly spicy kick and was really nice and creamy. The summer tomatoes were also really fresh and delicious.

Halibut Escabeche: sashimi-style wild Alaskan halibut, nineteenth century escabeche (homemade pineapple vinegar, garlic, black pepper, cumin, lime pieces, guero chile, black olive oil), local baby carrots, crispy capers

Halibut Escabeche: sashimi-style wild Alaskan halibut, nineteenth century escabeche (homemade pineapple vinegar, garlic, black pepper, cumin, lime pieces, guero chile, black olive oil), local baby carrots, crispy capers

The halibut was quite fresh, but I felt that the marinade was starting overpower the delicate fish. The crispy capers were amazing, though.

Scallops in Aguachile Verde: Viking Villa sashimi-grade scallops, ripe Klug farm peaches, refreshing raw tomatillo salsa (Serrano chile, rooftap lemon verbana, mint), conpoy (dried scallop), shiso

Scallops in Aguachile Verde: Viking Villa sashimi-grade scallops, ripe Klug farm peaches, refreshing raw tomatillo salsa (Serrano chile, rooftap lemon verbana, mint), conpoy (dried scallop), shiso

Again, I felt that the scallops were being overpowered a bit by the tart tomatillo salsa. However, I thought that the combo of the dried scallop with the fresh worked really well.

Moving on to course 2…

Herb-Green Mushroom Pozole: crispy oyster mushrooms, pozole corn, roasted local ramps, herby-tangy-sweet pozole verde (tomatillo, pumpkin seeds, serrano, herbs), creamy nixtamal emulsion

Herb-Green Mushroom Pozole: crispy oyster mushrooms, pozole corn, roasted local ramps, herby-tangy-sweet pozole verde (tomatillo, pumpkin seeds, serrano, herbs), creamy nixtamal emulsion

This dish pretty much summed up all of my favorite vegetables: mushrooms, corn, pumpkin seeds, serrano peppers. So my reaction to this was basically, YES. It did not disappoint.

Goat Barbacoa: Kilgus Farm Boer goat two ways (classic slow-cooked barbacoa, modern "pancetta"), creamy garbanzos, red chile-infused braising juices, City Farm yuong radishes and other fresh garnishes

Goat Barbacoa: Kilgus Farm Boer goat two ways (classic slow-cooked barbacoa, modern “pancetta”), creamy garbanzos, red chile-infused braising juices, City Farm young radishes and other fresh garnishes

Goat barbacoa was one of the things that S’s labmate, who is from Mexico, recommended us to try if we had a chance. We really liked this – the goat had its characteristic gamey taste but just enough of it, the broth and flavors were rich and hearty. I’d never been a big fan of garbanzo beans, but these were actually quite good.

Chile en Nogada: roasted poblano chile, savory-sweet picadillo filling of trumpet mushrooms, local fruits and vegetables (tomato, apples, plums, pattypan squash), sweet spices & saffron, Nogada sauce (walnut, almond, sherry, crema, goat cheese)

Chile en Nogada: roasted poblano chile, savory-sweet picadillo filling of trumpet mushrooms, local fruits and vegetables (tomato, apples, plums, pattypan squash), sweet spices & saffron, Nogada sauce (walnut, almond, sherry, crema, goat cheese)

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Eureka! revisit

Eureka, located in the UTC Westfield mall, is one of our go-to restaurants when we’re in the mood for American food or need some place to catch a sports game. There’s a great selection of draft beers as well as whiskeys and bourbons, and the burgers are pretty decent, too.

One of the reasons that I’m doing this revisit post is that I got to play with my friend M’s nice camera and lenses last time we ate there! I’ve been thinking about upgrading my photography kit for some time, and he let me use his camera to get a feel for what it would be like.

Four Roses bourbon

Four Roses bourbon

All of the alcohol at Eureka is American-made. I recently tasted the Four Roses single-barrel Kentucky bourbon and really enjoyed it, so I recommended it to S. This is probably one of the smoothest bourbons that we’ve had so far, and I was happy to see it offered at Eureka.

Cowboy Burger [$11.25]

Cowboy Burger: shoestring onion rings, bacon, cheddar, house-made beer-barbeque sauce, signature handcut fries [$11.25]

The Cowboy Burger is one of S’s favorites here – the beer-BBQ sauce is quite good, and I like the shoestring fries a lot.

Fried Chicken Sliders [$11.50]

Fried Chicken Sliders: fried chicken, tomato jam, house pickles, honey cinnamon sweet potato fries [$11.50]

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Punjabi Tandoor (Sorrento Valley location)

Punjabi Tandoor is one of the most popular Indian restaurants in San Diego, and they recently opened a second location in Sorrento Valley!

Punjabi Tandoor

S and I were really happy to see that they took over a nice and large space – their previous store was really small, and it could get difficult to find seating!

Punjabi Tandoor

I didn’t get too many pictures of their interior, but look! They now have nice-looking tables and chairs! Haha.

The menu offerings are the same as the original location, which you can also find on their website. S ordered his usual, Combo #4, which gives you two meat curries, rice, naan, and kheer.

Combo #4

Combo #4 with chicken makhani and rogan josh, rice, naan, and kheer [$8.99]

Combo #4

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[Baking] Ice Cream Bread

A few weeks ago, I had a kitchen disaster.

And yes, it was mostly my fault. You see, I had failed to close our freezer door properly after putting away groceries one evening, and did not notice until the next morning that pretty much everything had thawed. (In case you’re wondering, yes, my fridge does have an alarm, but it was too quiet for me to hear from upstairs.) My first thought after discovering this disaster was actually, “NOOOOOOOO – my ice cream!!

Yes, I was sad to find that my precious, precious ice cream all melted – luckily (?), I only had two containers, but the ice cream was pretty much melted and ruined. *Cries* As I gathered my thoughts and started inspecting the rest of the things in the freezer, something I had seen on Pinterest suddenly came to my mind: ice cream bread.

If you think about it, ice cream’s components – milk, cream, sugar, eggs – are all ingredients used to make quick bread, and someone figured out that if you add self-rising flour to it all, you can make bread out of it – the easiest bread recipe ever. So, I decided to try it out myself! I used the melted Ben & Jerry’s Peanut Butter Fudge Core ice cream, added some flour, salt, and baking powder (DIY self-rising flour), and put it into the oven with a hopeful heart.

Ice Cream Bread

Ice Cream Bread

It worked!! The bread turned out nice and moist, with a hearty peanut butter and chocolate flavor. There was even the added bonus of mini peanut butter cups throughout the bread. I wish that the bread was a little “fluffier” – it was just a tad dense, and it could be due to a number of factors… possibly over-mixing, or the amount of flour that I used. I’ll be playing around with the recipe a bit (after all, I do have another container of melted ice cream… *Sobs*), but overall I’m really happy with how this ice cream bread turned out, especially given how easy it was!

So, while I sincerely wish that none of you ever suffer such a kitchen disaster like I did (well, it was more due to my carelessness), I do hope that you’ll try this ice cream bread anyway… even if it does mean that you’ll have to sacrifice some ice cream.

Ice Cream Bread

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Blind Lady Ale House revisit

I’ve raved about the pizzas at Blind Lady Ale House before already, but it’s been quite some time since my last visit. A couple of weeks ago, S and I attended a concert at Lestat’s West, and BLAH happens to be right down the street, so dinner choice was pretty much a no-brainer!

Blind Lady Ale House

Their menu changes seasonally, and their taps are constantly revolving. While we were there, it just so happened to be Los Angeles Beer Week, and they had a special flight featuring some of LA’s microbreweries!

Los Angeles Beer Week Flight

Los Angeles Beer Week Flight

LA Beer Week Flight menu

That was the best picture of the flight description that I could get… Anyway, S and I shared this flight – I’m a fan of sour beers, and I really enjoyed the Craftsman Brewing Mesa Verde (last one on the list), which is an oak barrel-aged sour with white wine grapes. (S, conveniently, isn’t a fan of sour beers, so I got to have that one, hehe.) He liked the El Segundo – Hyperion Stout – but it’s hard to find a stout around here that he doesn’t like.

With a great drinks start, we proceeded to order food!

Belgian Frites

Belgian Frites: house-cut Kennebec potatoes, served with seasonal dipping sauce [$6]

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Underbelly

Underbelly, a CH Projects restaurant, is a fusion-y Japanese ramen shop and bar located in Little Italy. S and I have been there once before, but I forgot to take pictures that time. We recently made another trip when our friend expressed interest in one of their beers made with sake yeast, so we headed over to check it out for late night dinner one day.

Underbelly

Underbelly

I thought that the design of their sign was really neat! The rest of the restaurant, unfortunately, was too dark to photograph, but basically, you grab a menu at the door, order at the counter, and take a seat at the bar or counter. There’s an upstairs seating area, but I’ve never been there – I assume there are tables there?

Unfortunately, the sake-yeast beer wasn’t available that night, so S and friend ordered other stuff from their selection… I know that S got something from Lost Abbey (I believe it was Ten Commandments?), but I can’t remember what was the other drink, haha. Oh well, I was more interested in the ramen anyway…

Underbelly Ramen

Underbelly Ramen: soft boiled egg, char-siu belly, applewood smoked bacon, kurobuta sausage [$10]

So, something interesting that they do here is not provide any spoons. I remember hearing an explanation once that it’s “how they do it in Japan” – as in, you just pick up the bowl and slurp the soup. I’m sure that happens, but I also am pretty sure that they give you spoons anyway in Japan. Oh well… Continue reading →

Chicago Trip Recap, Part 2: Frontera Grill & Xoco

S and I first learned about mole, the Mexican sauce, through Top Chef Masters, which was Rick Bayless’ winning dish in the season 1 finale (erm, spoiler alert). So, when we were planning our Chicago trip, S expressed that he wanted to go to Rick Bayless’ restaurant to try the mole. Later, when we found out that our hotel is basically right next to 3 of his restaurants, we ended up going to all of them, haha. Here, I’ll recap the visits to Frontera Grill and Xoco, the more casual eateries. (Topolobampo is his fine-dining establishment.)

Frontera Grill

The most famous of Rick Bayless’ restaurants is undoubtedly Frontera Grill, which has been around since 1987! We visited for lunch on Day 4 of our trip – we secured reservations about two weeks beforehand.

Frontera Grill

Loved the decor!

We ordered a lot of food for four people, by the way.

Summer Guacamole

Summer Guacamole: Michoacan avocados, spicy habanero chiles, local melon & cucumber, mint, lime zest, queso de cincho [$9.75]

S’s sister V really wanted guacamole, and we chose the “summer” one which had melon and cucumber – I ended up really liking this guac! Normally, S and I aren’t fans of avocados because it’s so heavy and creamy (I know, I know, we don’t deserve to live in California), but the melons really lightened it up and provided a nice sweetness. I’m going to try adding melons and cucumbers to guacamole next time!

Fresh Corn Tamales

Fresh Corn Tamales: banana-leaf steamed sweet corn tamales, homemade crema & fresh cheese, chile poblano [$7.50]

I love tamales and was really happy when S suggested that we order this, because it turned out to be super delicious. The tamale didn’t have any fillings – but it didn’t need any. The masa had plenty of flavor – it made me appreciate being in the Midwest, aka land of corn, and you can really taste how fresh it is. The crema and cheese simply added some creaminess and saltiness to balance out the sweet corn. This was the simplest yet best tamale I’ve ever had.

Big Wood-Grilled Tacos al Carbon Trio

Big Wood-Grilled Tacos al Carbon Trio: naturally raised skirt steak, Gunthorp chicken, pork, roasted poblanos, guacamole, grilled knob onions and shishito peppers [$34]

We couldn’t resist ordering the big build-it-yourself taco platter, which had steak, chicken, and pork – the steak was the best and cooked perfectly – as well as plenty of fixings and a big heap of guacamole (unfortunately, not the summer one, but it was still pretty good).

Finally, the last highlight from this meal:

Mole Trio

Mole Trio: mole poblano enchiladas, pork & beans in mole coloradito, roasted vegetables in green pumpkin seed mole [$23]

We couldn’t decide which mole to order, so we got the trio to taste a variety of them. Out of all of these, my favorite was actually the pumpkin seed mole, which was perfect with the roasted vegetables. But honestly, all three were delicious, complex, and hearty.

Can you believe that those were only about half of the food we ordered for our group of four? We also had garlicky mushrooms, pork in tinga poblana, and a trio of smoked chicken taquitas, ceviche tostadas, and cheese empanadas. Needless to say, we left stuffed and really happy.

Frontera Grill
445 N. Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654
http://www.rickbayless.com/restaurants/frontera-grill/ Continue reading →

Snacks Series: Yogurt Round-Up, October Edition

I’ve written so many Snacks Series on yogurts that I decided to make this a regular round-up. We have a few favorites, but every time I see new yogurts in the dairy section of grocery stores, I can’t resist the temptation to buy them, hehe.

Today’s round-up is an assortment of yogurts that I tried a while back, but never got the chance to post on them…

Fage Fruyo

Fage Fruyo

I have mixed feelings about Fage Greek yogurt… I like the thick and creamy texture, but there’s something about the taste – maybe a hint of saltiness, or bitterness? – that I just don’t enjoy. So, when I noticed these “fruyo” blends – basically, flavored yogurts – I was excited to try them out. The coconut one was quite good – the coconut flavor muted the saltiness that I don’t like, and the texture was just as good as the original Fage. However, the vanilla was not nearly as good – the flavor tasted very artificial. I still definitely want to try some of the other Fage Fruyo flavors, though, since the coconut was good.

Yoplait Greek

Yoplait Greek Blended

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Dae Jang Keum

S and I LOVE Korean BBQ – in San Diego, there are several all-you-can-eat KBBQ restaurants, our favorite being Manna. However, we’ve been wanting to try non AYCE, since the meat quality is supposed to be better, and we don’t like to stuff ourselves silly anymore. One weekend, we invited our friend along to try out Dae Jang Keum, which is a highly rated “a la carte” KBBQ restaurant.

Dae Jang Keum

We were seated promptly, and the first thing I noticed was that the grill is different from Manna’s.

DJK Grill

DJK Grill

It’s actually a charcoal grill instead of propane gas! And depending on the type of meat, they either put a flat pan or a wired rack on top for grilling… I have some pics later.

Salad

Salad

Banchan

Banchan

Thinly-sliced daikon

Thinly-sliced daikon

We were presented with an assortment of side dishes. Normally at AYCE Korean BBQ, I don’t eat too much of them since I try to save more room for meat. But here, I actually took the time to enjoy each of them… haha. I liked most of the banchan, but especially the lotus root and garlic stems! There’s complimentary refill on the banchan, too – we asked for a couple more helpings of the garlic stems and lotus.

Onto the meats! We started out with three meats: thinly-sliced pork belly, beef tongue, and beef rib finger meat (joo mool luck).

Hyuh Mit Gul - Beef Tongue [$18.99]

Hyuh Mit Gul – Beef Tongue [$18.99]

Remember how I mentioned earlier that they put a pan over the grill? Yup, this is what it looks like. One of the nice things about non-AYCE places is that there’s typically someone to cook the meat for you! I guess they’re worried that customers would mess up the good quality meat, haha. Our server was a really nice Korean lady who cooked everything wonderfully.

Beef Tongue & Pork Belly

Beef Tongue & Pork Belly

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Chicago Trip Recap, Part 1: Hot Dogs and Deep Dish

S and I, along with one of our friends, recently went to Chicago for the first time! We did all the touristy things, hung out with his sister V (who is attending culinary school!), and had a wonderful time. I really loved Chicago and definitely hope to go back for future visits. We ate a lot of yummy food on the trip – I carefully planned out the “food itinerary” – and just writing these recaps is going to make me drool onto the keyboard.

Our first stop after arriving in Chicago was Portillo’s, which V recommended to us. There are many locations, and luckily one of them was just a short walk from the hotel.

Portillo's

Portillo’s

We found out that it’s not really a restaurant, but instead a food court of some sort, and you order at the counter of your choice. We were there, of course, for the hot dogs.

Hot dog assembly 

Here they are, being assembled! I like that the little holders look sort of like the taco holders that we see so often here in San Diego, haha.

Hot Dog

Hot Dog with everything: mustard, relish, freshly chopped onions, sliced red ripe tomatoes, kosher pickle, sport peppers, piled onto a perfectly steamed poppy seed bun

This hot dog was amazing. The flavor was spot-on. I really loved all the accompaniments, especially the relish and peppers, and I even enjoyed the pickle a lot! (S and I normally don’t eat pickles because they’re either too salty or too sour.) I was actually kind of sad that I had to share this with two other people… and if it weren’t for the fact that we were about to have a real dinner in about an hour, I would have insisted that we get another hot dog.

Chili Cheese Dog

Chili Cheese Dog, served with onions

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