March, It's A Wrap!

Chicago Oyster House

I attended a menu tasting at Oyster House the evening of the day I had returned from Hawaii.  Having just had such amazing seafood there, you can understand why the bar was set so high, when I arrived at tasting. I was also jet lagged and partly wondering if this was a good idea. But I knew that it would take very delicious food to have my attention and would be a good test anyways.  To paraphrase, I was so charged up for this meal, that I was ready to go clubbing afterwards.

Chicago Oyster House has been a South Loop favorite for all four years it has existed. And it helps that it is literally a few blocks away from my house.  Ranked among the nation’s top 20 oyster houses, the place boasts itself to also be the neighborhood raw fish specialist.Having gotten used to Mai Tais and Pina Coladas in Hawaii, I decided to continue the theme and ordered The Voodoo from their cocktail menu, which came with Myers Dark Rum, Malibu Rum, Bacardi Gold, Amaretto, pineapple juice, grenadine and lime. What a revitalizing concoction to jumpstart your appetite!

Onto the food, I started with the Salmon Royale, which was my favorite dish of the night.  Tender, sliced Scottish salmon doused in citrus soy, and topped with grated fresh ginger, scallions and caviar.  Basically crudo, the fish showcases really well in the myriad of flavors it is is marinated in.  All I can say is, go try it!

The next item that caught my attention from the Cold Section of the menu was the Lobster Claws Cocktail. Four jumbo claws, fully cooked were served for me to crack and thwack my way into the sweet meat. It would take a true lobster lover to know how amazing this dish was. Another favorite from the evening I’ll be reminiscing about!

The platter of Grilled Oysters was a must, and I tried 4 very differently prepared oysters such as the C.O.H., the classic Rockefeller, the Firecracker and the ICHI.  The latter being my most favorite because I had just discovered the outstanding potential of fresh oyster with jalapenos and zesty ginger soy.  The basil in the Firecracker was also a pleasant and delectable surprise.  The oysters themselves were fresh so the marinades only made everything better.

I was really intrigued by the Miso Seafood Soup so I asked to try a bowl.  I felt like I had arrived at the happiest medium of two favorite food groups, namely, seafood and Japanese food.  Soft clouds of miso broth mixed so well in taste with the mild sweetness of crab, shrimp, clams, calamari, scallops and mussels.  This can also be a very filling soup and serve as a meal in itself.  I very much enjoyed it and highly recommend it!

I had to try the Angry Crab roll, which has been the longest on the menu.  I mean, soft shell crab, tuna, yellowtail, jalapenos, avocado, cilantro, sesame oil and lime could do no wrong but a whole lotta right.  Wonderful flavors seemed entwined together in this maki, but with a spicy kick you can’t ignore!

The Butter Roasted Shrimp was divine, and came shell-on, brushed with butter and roasted with sea salt.  The shrimp supplied by Fortune Fish (their main supplier) was so tender that it melted in my mouth just as easily as the butter did.

The Cajun Seafood Boil, which I concluded with, as I was told was not your typical boil drenched in Cajun seasonings.  In fact Chef strays away from it.  Instead, this platter of jumbo prawns, snow crab legs, clams and mussels were boiled in beer and the mildly touched with Cajun spices.  A gentle touch to seafood boil that keeps the taste of the fish intact.

Seafood will now be synonymous with Chicago Oyster House for me, and Chef Ernesto Romero is one skilled chef. The menu is biased to pescetarians, so if you’re not a fish lover you shouldn’t be here.  The drink menu is also extensive so you can choose your poison to go with your fish.  I was also amazed at the number of specials the restaurant offers; $2 fresh oysters on Sunday, $8 Snow Crab legs on Tuesdays, $1.50 Blue Point oysters on Monday.  I foresee a lot of visits to this restaurant in my near future!

And although I didn’t go clubbing afterwards, I did go home to sleep and dream of all the delicious food. Thank you Chicago Oyster House for a great welcome back!

Mora Asian Fusion

I’ve had my fair share of tastings in the burbs lately and it’s been great because places like Mora Asian Fusion have challenged my notion that suburban restaurants don’t always keep up with culinary trends.  I haven’t been happier to be wrong, and first to proclaim that going forward, I will have no reservations driving to the suburbs for a good meal.

I was invited in to do a menu tasting at the year old Mora Asian Fusion restaurant located in Plainfield, by owner Jason Morales. And I got to bring a friend! Having read their amazing Yelp reviews and perused their delicious menu online, I couldn’t have been more excited to go in.

The menu, which is Asian food served Tapas style, offers an eclectic mix of sushi fusion and Robatayaki cuisine. The elegant décor is instantly relaxing to anyone who walks in, creating a comforting and harmonious atmosphere.  And Chef and Co-Owner Martin Balderas aims to create a menu that matches this harmony. 

A cool fact I learned later, that the building itself was originally Plainfield’s firehouse and then the police department, and the back half of the dining room was actually the jail with the original bars still in the restrooms. 100 years old; talk about historic!

We started with a drink from their extensive cocktail program, headed by Sherry Geslak of Sunda fame, who has carefully crafted some amazing drinks usinghousemade syrups and purees.  She calls them “culinary drinks” because they represent and utilize seasonal ingredients, and my response was, “sign me up!”

I ordered the Dog Daze, which had me at lavender vodka and agave, while my friend ordered the Jazmin , an Old Fashioned with summer notes, muddled lemon peel and bourbon sugar.  Both drinks you cannot miss while here.

For food, we started with their best seller, the Crunchy Brussels Sprout & Kale Salad, which came with this unbelievable Vietnamese sweet chili sauce called Nuok Cham apparently comprised of over 20 ingredients.  Must be, because it managed to diffuse sweet, spicy and sour flavors all at once. I must learn to make this sauce as I would happily eat it with EVERYTHING!

The Honey Shrimp Tempura with candied walnuts, slaw and creamy honey aioli. Was next.  These bad boys are coated and covered in the sauce so evenly that every bite had the combination of crispy and juicy.  Nicely executed Chef!

We were ready for the Robata, and Jason suggested we try the King Mushrooms, Shishito Peppers and Salmon.  All three were glazed in a delectable sweet soy sauce, and the Salmon for me was the favorite! Two skewers of fresh salmon cooked to produce fire and salt flavors that was simply unique.  

And for my meat-loving friend, they were kind enough to bring out the Adobo Pork Belly, cooked in an Adobo sauce with scallions and crispy shallots. I must say that watching her eat it, made me mildly jealous.

The Escolar Truffles were a dream.  Thats all I can say about these little bundles of joy as our server aptly described them.  Truffle shavings and potato chips nicely folded in together to make one beautiful looking dish. I didn’t even share these with my friend, but she understood.

Finally, the Mexican Standoff roll from their Signature Maki section rounded off the night perfectly.  This roll had blue crab, shrimp tempura, cilantro, and avocado and was topped with guacamole and pico de gallo.  Both my favorite cuisines together in one beautiful looking roll.  The exotic cilantro flavors combined especially well with the fish.  So many other, creative rolls I was too full to try.  Truly, I was impressed with the sushi selection at the restaurant.

We satisfied our sweet tooth with their Pineapple Coconut Cheesecake, which immediately transported me to a tropical island somewhere.  Everything was perfect and the only complaint I had from the evening, was driving back to the city in a solid food coma. 

Mora was fabulous!

A special mention to our server Lernard, who in addition to being extremely knowledgeable about the menu also had a great voice.  Rumor was that he is known for his patio piano skills in the summer and I believe it.  Not bad for a Tuesday night.

A memorable tasting that I will cherish for a long time.

Pizzeria Bebu

In celebration of National Pie Day, I got to visit Pizzeria Bebu which opened in Lincoln Park a little over a month ago.  Following a wonderful tasting, in one line, I’d describe Pizzeria Bebu as a chef driven pizza eatery that truly understands hospitality.  

A chat with owner Zach Smith gave me further insight into what this restaurant is all about and why it stands apart from other pizza parlors out there.

Pizzeria Bebu wasn’t an after thought, but a long time dream come true for Zach, who carefully conceptualized pizza that would be creative, yet aim to please.  At the restaurant, they’re all about customizing pizzas, incorporating seasonality, and making sure that everyone at the table is accommodated.  So if you want a half vegetarian- half pescetarian pizza, they can make it for you; like they did for me.

During my recent menu tasting I got to try some very fun pizzas.  But the restaurant also offers some hearty small plates and salads, which I couldn’t pass up.  The Kale salad was everyone’s recommendation and it was a good one! The kale was tossed in charred onion, Parmesan, breadcrumbs and creamy anchovy vinaigrette.  I was impressed at how evenly coated the salad was which allowed the greens to take on the flavors in the dressing.  

For appetizers we also had the Roasted Baby Carrots with house made ricotta, garam masala, aged balsamic and herb salad.  This was also a beautiful looking dish and I personally felt really good about the veggies I was getting in, before the pizza gluttony I knew was about to ensue.

By now Chef Jeff Lutzow  (of the Nico Osteria and The Publican fame) had started making our pizzas and it was fun to see the action! We were told to gear up our appetites, so I armed myself with a glass of their delicious Merlot.

The first pie presented was the Little Neck Clam with panna, garlic, parsley and lemon and the other half was the Free Agent with house brandade atopped with a salad of celery and radishes.  You give me seafood and pizza together and you’re my best friend, but this Clam Pizza ended up being my favorite from the tasting! It was simple, creamy and the freshly shucked clams and garlic were perfectly salty so that the cooked cream could balance the brine.  The Free Agent pizza was rich, but isn’t celery supposed to burn calories? Ok, good!

Next we had the Gravlax and Taleggio pizzas, also half and half.  Points to Chef just for bringing the right pizza combinations together, in each pie he sent out.  I was upset at how good the crust was because that meant I had to finish EVERY slice of pizza I ate.  Usually, I leave the crust so I don’t fill up fast, but no will power here.  So darn good and perfectly thick too!

The Gravalax was such a cool take on the Nordic dish and the house-smoked salmon was a treat! It came topped with fresh mozzarella, soft boiled egg, red onions, capers, dill and chives.  I was in heaven, eating fish on my pizza!

Guys, this one’s a must try!

The Taleggio was fantastic too and will also appease your sweet tooth.  It had pistachios and house-infused Calabrian honey, plus chives.  And last but not the least, was the Rubirosa with vodka sauce, fresh mozzarella and dollops of nutless pesto.  The red sauce was a welcome change and with pungent flavors so I’m glad it was reserved for the end.  Also beware, this pizza has a kick to it, which the  Indian in me was very happy about !

There was no need to stop at dessert, not when there’s a Nora’s Cookie on the menu which is a large house-made chocolate chip cookie a la mode!? Decadent and delightful, just as expected!

They’ve got it all covered here at Pizzeria Bebu.  The ambiance is relaxing, the service is great, the food is outstanding.  And the best part is, I’m writing this blog as I eat leftovers.  And the verdict is, it’s even better the next day!

You absolutely need to visit here soon!


Last April a little piece of Europe arrived to the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago, called Floriole Café & Bakery.  A market0driven, neighborhood café offering French pastries, bread and other small plates. Each month the café hosts a Sunday dinner featuring local and fresh ingredients, and I was lucky to attend the first of the Crepes dinner series.

The vibe at this restaurant is both rustic and spacious and will instantly transport you to France, especially with the music playing in the background. A window spans across the kitchen, allowing patrons to see husband-wife chef and owner duo Sandro Holl and Mathieu Holl busy at work.

We had a lovely Sunday night meal and had two courses of a delicious savory and sucrette crepe.  The crepes were paired with a phenomenal Cider Brut from Normandie.  The savory buckwheat crepe came filled with a creamy soft filling of crab and shallots in a mornay sauce and was topped with mixed greens and meyer lemon vinaigrette.  Easily the best seafood crepe I’ve had with its texture, not too chewy and not too thin and the sauce gave it that Bechamel French flavor I was looking for.

The sweet crèpe was obviously delicious, because what can’t be right about yuzu, tangerine butter, citrus salad and burnt orange caramel. More than being a nice change for me, it allowed me to consider replacing Nutella in my crepes for once, and trust me, that’s a big deal.

A nicely done French dinner will definitely leave you wanting more. Oh and they make their breads in house and grow a garden on their rooftop including maintaining their own beehive.  Check it out one of these Sundays!

Chef Luciano

Wow! 8 years in the South Loop and I’ve never visited this 35-year-old gem in my neighborhood, called Chef Luciano.  I got to do a menu tasting there on a Monday night and let me tell you, it was an incredible start to my week!

I got to meet and dine with owner Rocky Gupta, and get some insight into this family owned restaurant, which was buzzing with loyal patrons throughout the night.  A variety of dishes came out one by one, starting with one of Rocky’s favorite, the Salmon Fish Curry with their garlic and rosemary naan.  Took me right back to my days in Bombay! Rocky, who is part-Indian explained how his family wanted to make sure that their carefully designed recipes showcased both Indian and Cajun flavors. The goal was to keep it flavorful but not overtly spicy, and that’s exactly how the food tastes.

I grew up with Indian coastal eats,; fish curry being a staple.  So you can imagine the excitement when I got to relish tender, cooked salmon in a an aromatic curry sauce served on pilav rice.  

Later I actually got to go behind the scenes and see firsthand the creamy marinade that makes the curry so darn delicious! Of course, the secret blend of in-house ground spices probably helped too! What a self-made restaurant in every way possible.

The Pasta Luciano was one beautiful looking dish. Simple and fragrant with broccoli, spinach, sun dried tomatoes and seasoned shrimp.  The portion was big and I was loving  all of it.

I was lucky enough to taste their spring special (only offered for a limited time), the Beer Battered Shrimp Platter made with Chicago Pilsner which was also voted one of the 15 best craft beers by the Chicago Tribune, recently. I loved that the shrimp was lightly battered with a ‘pakora’ like consistency, and gave off a little zing to tantalize your senses.

The restaurant offers a plethora of sides such as the Fried Plantains in Jerk Sauce, which was tangy sweet and dangerously delicious.

From their lunch section, I got to try the pan roasted Cajun Catfish platter with stir-fried veggies and rice pilaf.  There was something warm and comforting about this dish too.

Oh did I mention, I had their famous Chef Luciano lemonade too? Worth the hype and symbolically refreshing for the first day of Spring.

I was most impressed that the restaurant offers a steady selection of vegetarian items such as the Veggie Platter and Quinoa, which are only cooked in a vegetable broth made in-house. The kitchen is spotless clean and everything is made to order.  There is a reason this restaurant has held its popularity over decades and it’s a good sign when you see patrons walking in and knowing exactly what they want to order because they have been there so much. In Gupta’s words,” I see some of them more than I see my family.”  I was way past impressed.

A majority of the restaurant’s business is delivery and you can find them on Grubhub too.  In June they celebrate and I hear they will divulge an exciting project they are involved in.  Like you, I am staying tuned!

If you like chicken or fish and want delicious, soulful food and fast, then you can’t miss Chef Luciano. You simply can’t!

Imperial Lamian

Wow, has it been a year already? Feels like just yesterday I was celebrating at the restaurant launch and a year later, the restaurant stands tall.  What a nice sight to see some familiar faces mingling and seeing how the restaurant has evolved as it continues to excel in authentic Chinese cuisine.

Dim Sum still being a favorite, the restaurant served $1 Shanghai Long Baos for the month of March, also named Chicagoland’s best by the Chicago Tribune. 

We had a fun variety of wok dishes such as Shrimp fried rice and lots of desserts. 

The buzz kept everyone thirsty so thank you to Imperial Lamian for keeping the champagne flowing. I had a blast!