Monthly Archives: July 2012

Sarah’s 32 Birthday–Part 2 and 3

Dinner at Home

In case you missed it, here is Part 1 of Sarah’s birthday celebration at Macku Sushi.  While it is always fun to go out, there is also something really fun about eating dinner at home and relaxing with your family.  That was the case on Sarah’s actual birthday.

I made fried and stuffed squash blossoms with a fresh tomato sauce exactly like I did in this post as an appetizer.

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After we each ate our share of squash blossoms, we moved onto the main entrée which was was fettuccini with pesto, peas and served with homemade Italian sausage (I will do another post on how I make this and why).

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I do have a good pesto sauce recipe, but for this low key Tuesday night (I moved last week so the theme of the week was no fuss), I used Costco’s premade pesto sauce, which I think is fabulous.  I usually keep it in the house because it lasts for a long time in the fridge and is a really good substitute for homemade pesto.

For dessert, we continued the theme of low maintenance and got French macaroons and watermelon frozen yogurt from Pinkberry, which is Sarah’s favorite.  I forgot to snap a picture, but it was a wonderful dessert!

Sarah’s Friday Night Birthday Party

Because I couldn’t prepare my own homemade food for Sarah’s party (because of the move), I relied on Costco for all of the food and drink for Sarah’s birthday.  We were planning on having about 20 people over for a casual finger food cocktail party.  On the menu – crudité platter, jalapeno artichoke dish with chips, a nut and chip mix, pepperoni and cheese pizza and white on white cake from Dominick’s.

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The wine you see in the background is Sarah’s favorite – Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc.  We also served red wine and beer.

I forgot to snap pictures of the pizza and cake, but I thought both were a big success.  We cut the pizza into small pieces and people nibbled on it throughout the night.  Overall, the party was a great success, much of which I credit to Sarah’s wonderful friends who came out and celebrated with us.IMG_4697

Me, Andrea and Sarah

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Matilda (Sarah and Ben’s puppy) and Niara (Andrea and our friend Ryan’s daughter).  Matilda parties a little too hard on nights were Sarah and Ben have people over and she just crashes.

Happy Birthday Sarah! So happy I got to celebrate with you.

Sarah’s 32nd Birthday–Part 1

My sister Sarah turned 32 on July 24th.  We were lucky enough to get to celebrate with her on three different occasions – once out to dinner the day before her actual Birthday at Macku, a casual dinner at her place on her actual birthday and finally a party with about 15 of her friends on Friday night.

Macku Sushi:

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Kate and Sarah (the bday girl!)

As I have written about before, my family loves Macku.  We particularly love their Signature Nigiri.  Nigiri just means fish on top of rice versus sashimi which is just raw fish without the rice.  Macku’s Signature Nigiri includes the freshest fish, atop rice, and finished with various toppings or sauces.  Although we each usually get 6-7 piece of Nigiri to ourselves, we also often start with appetizers that we share.

On this night, we ordered Macku’s tuna tartare (three orders of it it share amongst the six of us – it is that good!), the Mebachi signature sashimi dish and Hamachi signature sashimi dish.

The tuna tartare is something we typically always order and comes with a big portion of tuna and then two shrimp spring rolls.

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The idea behind this dish is to put the tuna on top of the spring rolls and eat both in one bite.  This works really well because of the contrast in textures – the crunchiness of the spring rolls combined with the creaminess of the tuna.  I also love Macku’s addition of the dill in their tuna.  It adds a wonderful freshness to the salty soy and rich sesame flavorings.

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The picture above is of the Mebachi signature sashimi.  Mebachi is big eye tuna and this dish included pickled onions, burdock root, chives, truffle oil and soy.  This dish is so rich with the truffle oil and it was perfectly seasoned.  This is not the type of dish to which you need to add soy sauce.  The other sashimi we got included Hamachi (which is yellowtail) and came with red and yellow beets, frisee, toasted pine nuts and a sweet arugula puree.  I forgot to snap a picture of it, but rest assured that it was amazing!

The next round of food is the Signature Nigiri that I mentioned above.  To start, I got five pieces of the same ones I got the last time I visited Macku.

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From left to right:

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1) Shiro Maguro (white tuna) with a banana wasabi puree

2) Nama Sake (salmon) with enoki mushrooms, truffle oil and chives

3) Ika (squid) with spicy tobiko puree and basil

4) Hamachi (yellowtail) with sautéed banana peppers and Japanese black pepper

5) Benitoro (sea trout), fried almond, wasabi sauce, pickled onions

Everyone of these were delicious and totally unique.  After we enjoyed the savory portion of the meal, Macku was nice enough to bring over a special dessert in honor of Sarah’s birthday.

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This dessert was absolutely delicious and I think that Sarah was very happy about what we ordered on her behalf!

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The center part of the dish was an asparagus pudding and it was surrounded by a strawberry puree, chocolate syrup and topped with Hennessey flavored cream and fresh berries.  Although it sounds a little bizarre that this dish was made with asparagus, it was actually really interesting and tasty.  It was not overwhelming in asparagus flavor but you could definitely taste it.  I have no idea how they got the asparagus flavor into a smooth pudding (maybe they juiced the asparagus stems?!), but I am glad they did! It was absolutely fabulous!

It was a great way to celebrate Sarah’s bday – part 1.  Up next – casual dinner at Sarah’s for celebrate part 2!

Dinner at Chilam Balam

Tommy and his brother, Johnny, were in Chicago this past weekend for a visit.  We had a great time swimming in Lake Michigan, walking around the Sheffield Garden Walk and eating at some great restaurants.  Among the great restaurants was Chilam Balam, located in the Lakeview area of Chicago.

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(photo source)

Chilam was started by chef, Chuy Valencia, a few years ago.  For years, Chuy worked under Rick Bayless, of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo fame.  He is young, only 26, and by the time he opened Chilam Balam already had a significant amount of cooking experience in upscale Mexican kitchens. 

The restaurant reminds me a lot of Frontera Grill in that it is not what most Americans consider Mexican cuisine.  You won’t find fajitas, enchiladas or taco salad on this menu.  Instead, the restaurant offers refined Mexican cuisine with complex sauces and unique pairings.

The only downside of Chilam, is that you can’t make reservations on the weekend.  Therefore, you often have to get to the restaurant early, put your name in and go to the bar next door and have some drinks while you wait.  I actually find this to be a fun part of the experience, because the bar next door has free popcorn and two dart boards – food to tide you over and entertainment while you wait.

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Tommy and I played against Kate and Johnny and I am sad to say they were able to edge us out and take the win.  After about 30 minutes of hanging out, we were able to get a table for four at Chilam.

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Chilam offers Mexican tapas so its best to go with people who like to share.  It is also BYOB so make sure to bring wine, beer or tequila to mix with Chilam’s house made “limeade.”  We brought tequila and ordered the $10.50 pitcher of limeade, which was enough for three of us (Tom was drinking beer).

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I will also note at this point, that you can’t go to Chilam and expect to have a lot of alcohol.  Because Chilam is very small, they want to be able to turn tables over as quickly as possible and they don’t want people hanging around drinking alcohol well after their food is finished.  I can totally appreciate this sentiment as Chilam isn’t making any money off alcohol.  With that said, I don’t think it is necessary to tell each table over and over that “there is a limit on alcohol consumption.”  We were told three times, once when we sat down, once when we ordered the limeade and once while we placed the first part of our order.

After eating at Chilam a few times, I have noticed that if you order all your food at once, it comes out very quickly (again in an effort to turn tables over) and you find you are done with your meal in 45 minutes.  I don’t mind a quick meal, but I also don’t like the feeling of being rushed.  While the waitress wasn’t too pleased about us pacing out our meal, we opted to do that and were still out of dinner before 8 PM (we sat at 6:45).

I forgot to take a picture of the first two things we ordered (which were the memelas – corn “pucks” of sorts topped with a black bean puree, goat cheese and micro-greens which is delicious and blossom and cheese quesadillas that we thought was just okay).

The next things we ordered were the chicken flautas and mussels.  The chicken flautas are a staple on the menu, but the mussels were a new addition (Chilam changes parts of their menu on a monthly basis).

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The flautas were stuffed with chicken thigh meat and were lightly fried.  They were topped with a chipotle sauce, fresh crunchy cabbage and tangy pickled onions.  I thought that veggies did a great job of cutting the richness of the fried flautas.

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The mussels were a huge portion! They were steamed in a tomato tortilla broth and topped with crunchy tortilla strips.  The mussels themselves were good – not the absolute freshest – but the sauce they were in was delicious.  After we polished off all the mussels, we each scooped big spoonful’s of the perfectly seasoned sauce that they sat in.

The next round of food we got was the pork ribs (always on the menu), the salpicon, and the skatewing tacos.

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The pork ribs at Chilam are a big portion (6-7 big ribs) and very hearty with lots of meat on them.  The come in a sweet/tangy sauce and are a staple on the Chilam menu – we get them every time we come.

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In Mexican cuisine, salpicon refers to a salad mixture containing thinly sliced or chopped steak that has been cooked with onion, oregano, serrano chili, avocado, tomatoes and vinegar (source).  While I loved the salad portion of this dish, the entire table thought that the beef needed more salt and seasoning.  The lime served on the side did make all the flavors come to life a little bit more.

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I loved the skatewing tacos.  Skatewing is often referred to as the “poor man’s scallop” because the texture is somewhat similar and it is thought that restaurants used to “punch” pieces of skatewing out in the shape of scallops and serve them to patrons as scallops.

The skatewing in these tacos was perfectly cooked in this, but I thought needed a bit more salt as well.  These were topped with a blueberry pico de gallo and arugula.  The blueberries added a great sweetness to this dish and I thought this was a really unique twist on a traditional fish taco.

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For our final dish, we ordered the pork tenderloin served over poblano corn sauce and a goat cheese stuffed chili.  The pork tenderloin also had a red quinoa “salsa” on top.  This dish was wonderful.  The chili was delicious (although could have been a little more tender), the sauce was tangy and tasty and the red quinoa salsa was a surprising and non traditional spin on this dish.

After we finished with the savory portion of the night, we moved onto dessert.  We were all pretty full so just opted to split the mousse, which was stuffed with goat cheese (a different take on chocolate mousse!) and served alongside a marshmallow sauce.

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This was a great way to end the meal.  We each got a bite of dessert that left us satiated but not overstuffed.

We found out just prior to coming to Chilam that the original owner/chef of the restaurant, Chuy, had sold his stake in the restaurant and had no association any longer as of three months ago (we actually found out from him, who strangely enough, was sitting at the bar next door, despite no longer “being interested in it at all.”).  This was the first time we had been there since he left the restaurant and I have to say that I think that the service and quality of the food went down just a little bit.  I will obviously still go back, because I do think the food is delicious and unique, but I hope that they step up their game a little bit because I used to think this was one of the best casual restaurants in the city.

Overall, we had a wonderful dinner with good food and great company.  I am actually headed back to Chilam next week to celebrate two of my girlfriends being finished with the bar exam.  Although this is alot of Chilam in a short time period, I am confident I will be able to to steer the girls in the right direction and that it will be another night of good eating!

The Last Days of Vacation–Back to Boston

After our five wonderful days in the cape together, Tommy and I headed back to Boston on Saturday night.  Again, its always sad to leave, but we were excited to get home and sleep in air conditioning and not be eaten alive by all the bugs in Chatham.

Our first stop when we got back into the city was a local favorite of ours called Local 149, which is located near the waterfront in South Boston.

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(photo source)

As the name implies, Local 149 specializes in local and sustainable produce, meats, fish and diary.  Tommy and I tried Local 149 about six months ago when they had a coupon through Travel Zoo.  I am so happy we gave the place a try, because we have been back probably five or six more times since then.

In addition to the food, that brings us back, Local also as an enormous beer list, many of which are local.  I also find myself trying something new when I go and I think I have really expanded my beer palate!

On this particular night, Tommy ordered a Crispin Cider and I ordered Hell or High Watermelon, which is a watermelon flavored wheat beer.

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Both drinks were delicious and complimented our dinners well.  As far as food was concerned, to start, we ordered the tater tot poutine.  Poutine is served in a lot of French bistro restaurants and traditionally consists of french fries with a fried egg and cheese sauce.  Local did a twist on tradition and served theirs like giant tater tots (with the cheesed mixed in) and topped with a fried quail egg.

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Given that this was essentially a fried potato dish with cheese, it was quite heavy but really delicious.  I was glad we tried something new.  We also ordered the fried macaroni balls to start as well, which is an old favorite.

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These are little balls filled with mac and cheese and served along side a spicy ketchup that is made in the restaurant.  Again, these were pretty heavy but we never regret getting them!

For our entrees, we kept it light and got shrimp tacos and a smallish pizza.  I realize now though that there was not really a vegetable in sight and much of this food looks brown – everything in moderation I guess!

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Underneath the shrimp was some cabbage and a habanero crème sauce.

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There were parts of this dish that were okay.  The cabbage was tasty and the crème was pretty good as well.  However, I generally thought the whole dish lacked some flavor.  Also, I think when I menu lists rock shrimp you are expecting really tasty big pieces of shrimp – these were not overly tasty or particularly cooked well.  I ate them all, but wouldn’t recommend them and wouldn’t order them again.

Tommy’s pizza on the other hand was fantastic!

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Although this looks like some ordinary pizza, looks can be deceiving!  Local 149 puts a really interesting spin on its pizza – namely they serve the pizza on a homemade “everything” crust.  Local takes the flavors from an everything bagel and puts it into the crust – including poppy and sesame seeds, garlic and the right amount of kosher salt.  Everything else about the pizza is pretty standard – cheese and pepperoni, but the crust is what puts it over the top and makes us order it again and again!

Overall, we were very happy with our dinner at Local 149.  Next time I will skip the shrimp tacos and maybe substitute in a salad or some sort of vegetable – this meal certainly wasn’t the picture of health!  However, paired with some tasty beer and a perfect date – I am not sure the meal could have been any better.

Cape Cod Trip Part 3–Breakfast in Chatham

After Tommy and I got back from Nantucket, we relaxed in Chatham for another couple of days to end our vacation.  We went on a couple of runs, enjoyed time on the boat and cooled off from the heat by going swimming.  We also got a chance to eat at one of our all time favorite restaurants – Hangar B.

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(photo source)

As I wrote about when I made Red Flannel Hash awhile back,Hangar B is a breakfast and lunch restaurant located at the airport in Chatham.  It is a small restaurant, with no more than 10 tables with a very small kitchen.  The restaurant is family owned (hubby is the chef, the wife the hostess and waitress) and never fails to deliver on quality and local food.  Tommy and I love it so much, we often go back multiple times a trip (for the record, we went twice during this visit).

Unless you get to Hangar B early, like 8 or earlier, there is typically going to be a small wait given the size of the restaurant and the ever increasing popularity.  On this morning, we were told by the owner that it would be about a 30 minute wait, which was totally fine with us because we weren’t starving.  During our wait, we watched various planes land and take off in the airport.

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(view from the balcony at Hangar B)

Although Chatham’s airport is small and private, you do see a fair amount of activity during a trip to Hangar B in the summer.  I think we saw a total of four landings and takeoffs during our trip.

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Although we were told our wait would be about 30 minutes it was actually closer to 45-50 minutes.  The owner was extremely apologetic when she seated us and gave us one of Hangar B’s homemade potato doughnuts as a consolation.

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The doughnut on its own was beyond good.  It was dense but somehow light at the same time and was covered in powdered sugar.  Served alongside Hangar B’s amazing jams (one strawberry one raspberry), the extra 20 minute wait didn’t seem so bad after all!

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It should be noted that Hangar B also offered an array of muffins (chocolate chip, lemon poppy seed, blueberry), made offsite at a local bakery, that are also extremely delicious.

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After we ate our doughnut, we had to get serious about what to order for brunch.  Tommy and I often can’t decide what to get while at Hangar B because everything sounds so delicious and everything we have tried has been so delicious.  In addition to the regular menu, Hangar B also offers a fair amount of breakfast and lunch specials that feature fresh local ingredients, which they write on a big chalkboard in the restaurant.

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Given that it was the holiday weekend, there were actually not as many specials as there usually are.  Despite this, the special omelet with balsamic roasted crimini mushrooms, arugula, gruyere cheese, home fries and sourdough caught my eye.  Tommy and I decided to order that and then also get our beloved red flannel hash to split.  Given that we already enjoyed a doughnut, we thought we would stick to the savory items on the menu.

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The special omelet was delicious.  The eggs were fluffy, the mushrooms had a bit of unadvertised truffle oil added to them, the arugula provided a peppery bite and the gruyere melted beautifully over everything.  The egg portion of the omelet was actually enormous and Tommy and I couldn’t finish all of it, but I would definitely order this again.  We each enjoyed half of this and then half of the Red Flannel Hash.

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This dish, per usual, did not disappoint.  Tommy and I decided that we think the hash must include a couple of mashed potatoes, in addition to the chunks of them, to help keep it together.  When I remake this dish, I am going to attempt to do this and get a firmer hash texture.  In addition the hash being wonderfully tasty, Hangar B always gets their poached eggs perfect every time.  I guess this should sort of be a given for a breakfast place, but I find that a lot of restaurants overcook them.  These are always the perfect amount of runniness, yet with solid white around the yolks.  Here I am perfectly content after my meal.

We enjoyed our dishes surrounded by the typical hustle and bustle at the restaurant.

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The waitresses are extremely hardworking at Hangar B and are constantly running around making sure everyone has what they need.  The kitchen is also a place of constant action.  The chef whips out one dish right after the next with very little rest – I guess this restaurant truly is a labor of love for everyone involved.

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(co-owners – the wife in the front and the husband in the back!)

Among the places I talked about in Nantucket, this is also a place that I can’t wait to take Kate to when she comes to visit the Cape in early September.  Maybe seeing how great this team works together, Kate and I will be convinced to open a similar spot in Chicago – a girl can dream at least!

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