Thursday, June 23, 2011

Takashi or Noodle Oggling

The Slow and Savory Review

Variety is the spice of life is how the old saying goes, and it is one of the tenants Bunny and Brandy live their lives by.  Brunch is still by far their favorite meal, but even Our Ladies occasionally tire of the same old Eggs Benedict and French Toast, no matter how dressed up with caramelized pears or crab cakes they come.  So after seeing an article proclaiming to have the "Cure for the Average Brunch" Our Ladies suited up in their Sunday finest and headed out to Bucktown to sample the Noodle Lunch at Takashi.

Tastefully decorated in modern greys and pops of orange, Takashi is a very welcoming space with a lovely small patio out front and a cozy upstairs dining room.  Reservations were encouraged, but from what Bunny and Brandy observed (they were there at the first ring of the lunch bell at 11:30) it took just under an hour before the restaurant was filled with buzzing patrons.

The menu was definitely quite a change from their usual choices; a cornucopia of smaller tasting plates were joined by a myriad of noodle bowls, listed by the different types of noodles such as ramen, udon, and soba.  Their helpful server suggested they order a few of the smaller plates, and then share a noodle bowl, which was more than enough to feed two (he obviously was not aware of Brandy's past as a noodle eating champion). 

Our Ladies did start with a few of the smaller dishes; Duck Fat Fried Chicken, Pork Gyoza, and Eggplant Salad.  The chicken was amazingly moist and flavorful, rich from the duck fat with just a hint of spice, and an outer crust that crunched audibly when bitten into. 
The Eggplant salad was like a tour for the taste buds; sweet marinated eggplant, salty broth and mushrooms, slightly bitter Chinese broccoli, crunchy fried onions, and again just a little bit of heat. 
The Gyoza were very light, with a crispness from being pan fried.  The filling was soft and well balanced.

Next came the noodle bowls.  Bunny ordered the Miso Ramen, which came with assorted veggies and braised pork.  She seemed to think the broth was a bit salty, which Brandy scoffed at.  "Dear, it's miso, it's supposed to be salty," Brandy scolded her. Bunny wrinkled her nose and rolled her eyes.  Bunny reported the noodles were lovely, the broth very flavorful, and the pork very tender, though maybe a little on the fatty side.  Brandy, ever the know-it-all, suspected Bunny was mistaking the silky texture of high quality meat for fattiness.

Brandy went for the Rice Noodles, with slices of Rib Eye, bean sprouts, and baby bok choy.  At the behest of the waiter, Brandy also ordered a side of Tempura to dip into the broth.  The beef was mouth meltingly tender and the sprouts fresh and crisp.  The broth, she mentioned, had a slight liquorishy taste to it which made it unusual, and was greatly enhanced by the Japaneses spice mixture that was provided to the table.  The noodles were very tender and easily slipped from her chop sticks as she tried to raise them to her mouth.  Eventually the waiter took pity on Brandy and brought her a fork.  The tempura was wonderfully light and crispy, and did indeed taste delightful when dipped into the broth of her noodle bowl.  Brandy's only complaint was that she accidentally bit into a tempuraed jalapeno, thinking it to be fried okra.  After a minute of crying and coughing (and giggling from Bunny) all was well.

Since no decision could be made between the three delectable sounding desserts, Our Ladies decided to go for them all.  First came the Coconut Panacotta, which came served in a pool of passion fruit syrup.  Though the panacotta was nice and creamy, it didn't taste much of coconut, and the syrup was so strong and tangy that it overpowered everything else.
Next came the Green Tea Shortbread, which sandwiched a white chocolate mousse and came served with mango sorbet.  While the cookies had a nice texture, they didn't actually taste much of green tea, but the mango sorbet was flavorful enough to make up for it. 
Lastly, the Salted Caramel Cheesecake with shaved Mandarin Ice.  This was the obvious winner of the three for Our Ladies.  The Mandarin ice was perfect in its brightness and flavor, and the cheesecake, which came served with sweet red bean paste on top, was soft, creamy, and had just the right amount of sweetness.
Two starters, a noodle bowl, and a dessert for each of Our Ladies came out to about $35 a person before tip, a pretty good bargain for such a feast.  With their palates and their minds thoroughly refreshed, Bunny and Brandy are ready to once again venture into the land of savories and sweets that is Chicago's best brunch destinations.

The Short and Sweet Review

Takashi on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 17, 2011

Bakin' and Eggs or Classically Twisted

The Slow and Savory Review

Every restaurant needs a gimmick these days.  "Breakfast... with a twist!"  "Coffee...with a twist!"  "Ice Cream... with a twist!"  But there comes a point after all the twisting that one begins to wonder what the original idea was in the first place.  Of course, the whole reason for going out for a meal is to experience something you wouldn't be able to make at home, but sometimes its nice to find a dish that reminds you of home, in that the thought, "This is lovely.  I should try making this next time the in-laws are over," isn't such a bad thing.  Restaurants aren't just there to feed us when we don't want to wash our own dishes, they are also there to inspire us in our own cooking.  "I could make this at home," is supposed to be an insult, but there is nothing more flattering than, "I could make this at home, but I never thought of adding blue cheese!"

This weeks' destination for Bunny and Brandy was Bakin' and Eggs, a charming cafe and restaurant boasting home made everything.  Our Ladies were told it would be an hour wait for a table, but were pleased that there were plenty of benches upon which to alight, as well as coffee, tea, and pastries to nosh upon.  The hour wait turned out to be less than 30 minutes, as Our Ladies were whisked away to a table near the back.  Happy to see the tables were not crowded in together, Our Ladies took in the loveliness of the sunny and open space, which was painted with subtle cheery colors and not overly decorated with meaningless breakfast themed art.  The space was a tad loud, but they got used to slightly elevated conversation in time.

Drinks were ordered first; some Blood Orange Green Tea for Brandy (served in loose leaf form, which Brandy very much appreciated) and some iced coffee for Bunny.  Brandy indulged her sweet tooth with a Red Velvet Whoopie Pie (two red Velvet discs sandwiching cream cheese icing and a graham cracker center), which was soft, flavorful, and had the telltale tanginess of vinegar in the cake.  "That's how you know they've made it right!" she said through mouth fulls of cake and cream cheese filling.

Bunny's starter consisted of the Bacon Flight: five pieces of bacon in different guises, such as Cherry Wood, Mesquite, and Maple Pepper.  Our Ladies both agreed that the Jalapeno strip was the winner on flavor.

Brandy's entree of choice was the Sauteed Spinach Omelet, which included mushrooms and Gruyere Cheese, and came accompanied by bacon, toast, and cheese grits.  The omelet was a little watery once broken into, but the eggs were cooked nicely and the cheese perfectly melted.  The grits too were very pleasant, with a wonderful peppery note.  The real surprise was the home made raspberry jam, which Brandy slathered liberally onto her toast.

Bunny decided upon the Banana Bread French Toast, which came served with butter, banana rum sauce, and hazelnut ganache.  The banana bread itself was very light and moist, but didn't quite bring the French-toastiness one would expect.  Bunny did enjoy the various sauces that allowed one to customize each bite to their desired flavor.

Bakin' and Eggs shines with its simplicity; easy and accessible food done well is better than a plate with more twists than a roller coaster any day of the week.  Drinks, starters, and entrees came out to just about $20 a person, a particularly good value for the variety and portion size.  Service was friendly and informative, though it did take quite a while to get the check.  Brandy didn't mind, as she is a waiter's worst nightmare when it comes to "camping out" after a meal, but Bunny, who had a parking meter to pay, wasn't amused.  All told, Our Ladies left Bakin' and Eggs quite pleased, quite full, and quite full of ideas, none of which are ever a bad thing.  As Bunny heard a young lady say once on television, "Don't get it twisted."

The Short and Sweet Review

Bakin' & Eggs on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 9, 2011

From the Kitchens of Bunny and Brandy

Brandy's Choice

Presto Pesto Egg Sandwich & Truffled Home Fries

For Sandwich:
1 Extra Large Egg
1 tablespoon of store bought or home made pesto
1 round soft bread roll
4 thick slices of seedless cucumber
3 slices of fresh mozzarella
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a small skillet over medium heat (no need to grease the pan since the olive oil in the pesto will suffice).  Scramble the egg in a small bowl and mix in the pesto, salt, and pepper.  Place an egg ring in the middle of the skillet and pour the egg mixture into it and let cook for 3 minutes.  In the mean time, split the roll in two and layer the mozzarella on the bottom half, then place both halves in a toaster oven and toast until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden brown.  Remove the egg ring and flip the egg to cook the top for 1 minute.  Place the egg over the cheese, then place cucumber slices over the egg, top with the other half of the roll and enjoy!

For Potatoes:
4 Baby Yukon Gold Potatoes, cut into small chunks
1/2 a Vidallia Onion, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons of truffle oil
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a medium skillet over high heat.  Add truffle oil and turn heat down to medium.  After oil is heated, add potatoes and onions.  Thoroughly toss the contents in the oil so that they are completely covered a let cook over medium/low heat for 15 minutes or until potatoes are soft, tossing occasionally.  Add salt and pepper and serve immediately.  Makes 2 servings.

Bunny's Choice

Quick and Easy Muesli
1 lb. oats - rolled - regular (not instant)
¼ cup almond powder (grind them fine)
5 cups of assorted dried fruits, nuts, and seeds  (such as walnuts, apricots, raisins, sunflower seeds, or use your favorite trail mix)

Mix all together and store in a tightly-capped container.

When you put your portion in a bowl, eat with some agave, honey, milk, rice milk or yogurt.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Uncommon Ground or Uncommon Find

The Slow and Savory Review

Many have wondered whether or not Bunny and Brandy are baseball fans, and if they are, what side of the Great Chicago Divide they prefer.  Truth be told, while Bunny has a passing fancy for the game, Brandy is the real competitor, keeping a healthy stack of score cards in her purse at all times.  Bunny often teases her, claiming Brandy has become a Bob Hope, or in other words, someone British pretending to be American.  "On the contrary," Brandy will respond through gritted teeth whenever the subject is brought up, "Knowing a little about the native customs keeps one in good favor with the locals.  Imagine if England and the States were to suddenly go to war against each other.  They'd think twice about throwing me in the poky for being a spy, but you on the other hand..."  and Bunny would reply, "Yes, well, I'm married to an American, so that's all the blending in I need to do, thank you very much."

Brandy's determination to turn Bunny into a dedicated baseball fan like herself led her to arrange tickets to a Cubs game for the two of them and their every present American expert, Biscuit Brown.  Unfortunately, the weather had other plans, so Our Ladies and guest decided to take shelter from the storm at Uncommon Ground, up Clark just a few blocks from Wrigley Field.  A 45 minute wait was made much more pleasant by several places to sit in the meantime, including the spot they eventually settled on, a few arm chairs around a wood burning stove.  The interior of Uncommon Ground was very cozy and bright, with seating ranging from cushioned window seats to traditional tables.  Soon Our Ladies and guest were whisked away into a room lit with strands of Christmas lights strung through faux ivy vines.

First came the drinks: for Biscuit a rather spicy but lovely Blood Mary, for Bunny some Press Pot Coffee, and for Brandy a tea concoction called Blossom Tonic, which tasted brightly of blackberry.

For starters, they ordered some Sweet Potato Fries with Goat Cheese Fondue.  The fries were amazing; crispy outside, soft interior, and tasting of sweet sweet freshness.  The warm fondue was equally as scrumptious, having Our Ladies and guest running their fingers along the inside of the ramekin to get every last bit of it.

Brandy chose the Spring Scramble as her entree with a side of Banana Bread.  The potatoes on the side of the dish were spiced with paprika, lending them an unusual and unexpected sweetness.  The omelet was wonderfully made.  Not too fluffy and laden with asparagus, spinach, chicken sausage, and goat cheese, the result was wonderfully hearty, without being too filling.  The banana bread was also a nice surprise. Our Ladies were glad to see that such care had been taken with plating something so simple.

Biscuit chose a Canadian Bacon Torta, which consisted of refried beans, scrambled eggs, avocado, and the aforementioned bacon on a soft roll.  "It's the perfect combination of breakfast and lunch," Biscuit said cheerfully.  "Would you say its a home run?  Or a double play?" Brandy quipped.  Bunny shook her head while Biscuit scratched hers.

Bunny went for her old standby, the Benedict, but this time served with snow peas and spinach, which added an interesting texture to the well known dish.  Other than that, it was simply a well made Benedict; nicely poached eggs, good sauce, and perfect english muffins.  The only problem seemed to be that the cook forgot about Bunny's Canadian bacon, though the server soon remedied the situation.

Perfect service matched with an unbeatable friendly atmosphere definitely made Uncommon Ground memorable for Our Ladies and Guest.  And without having lightened their wallets too much, they were free to splurge on peanuts and cracked jacks at the old ball game, where Biscuit and Bunny soon realized the real reason behind Brandy's love of baseball; tight uniforms.

The Short and Sweet Review:

Uncommon Ground on Urbanspoon