Tekka Kama

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A very tasty item that is usually an off menu dish at Japanese restaurants is hamachi kama, which is the neck of the hamachi and usually served grilled.  The neck is saved after the sushi chef is done with the whole fish.  Asians are not deterred by the work one has to go through to get to the luscious meat, which hides in the nooks and crannies of the collar bones.  I know you can ask for it at Mizu.

I was intrigued by a listing for “tuna collar” at the Bristol, one of my favorite restaurants, and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was simply hamachi kama, but with tuna instead of hamachi.  Served with a soy glaze and grilled, the portion was huge, indicating just how much bigger tuna is than yellowtail.  The flavor was a bit richer than your average tuna steak, and better in my opinion.  You also had to pick at the bones to get to all the meat, but it is worth it.

Boka

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Part two of the Michelin star tour was a visit to Boka, the flagship restaurant of the Boka Restaurant Group.  I had already been to executive chef Giuseppe Trentori’s namesake restaurant, GT Fish and Oyster Bar in River North as well as The Girl & the Goat, but hadn’t yet made it to the original restaurant.

The menu looked tasty, and because it was my first time there, I decided to try the  tasting menu (they have  a 4, 6, or 9 course option).   The six-course prix fixe menu sounded about right, and I enjoyed everything.  There was a Bento box presentation of raw fish–my favorite was the Adobo-rubbed tuna.    The savory dishes included the salmon, lamb, and duck breast off of the regular menu.   The only thing that I would have liked to try was the pork “osso busco,” so that will have to wait until the next visit.

Hello, Moto

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Moto Restaurant has been open since 2004, but despite its many accolades, I have never made it there–until now.  It recently received a coveted Michelin star for 2012, and the news encouraged me to go.

Chef Cantu’s signature innovations were on display:  his custom-designed fork, with its corkscrew shape that held fresh sprigs of oregano, and his special “trade secret” printer that can print on edible menus.  As you can see in the pictures, the menu was printed using this technique.  The menu also served as a wrapper that the diner is supposed to make a maki roll with the included bamboo mat.  The fork accompanied a pasta made with freeze-dried chicken “dough.”

My reaction to the initial reviews when the restaurant first opened was that the menu was too gimmicky for me.  However, after experiencing it for myself, I have to say that I had fun while also enjoying the meal.  Other surprises included a dish that had oysters “smoked” at the table.  A mysterious smoke-filled globe is placed on the table with a small opening to let the smoke escape, revealing oysters in the shell inside.  Then there was the table candle that was poured onto another dish.  The fuel was apparently some kind of edible material.  My favorite dish was the cigar, made with collard green “tobacco.”

Pork shoulder

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While I enjoy a great steak (rib-eye medium rare, please), my mouth waters over slow cooked meat.  Lately, I have been experimenting with pork shoulder, the cut known as the picnic that has a bone in it.

I have braised it with nothing but Worcestershire sauce and a good dry rub in a slow cooker for 8 hours, and have tried different combinations of fruit and vinegar (which is how avec usually has it on their menu). 

Today, I tried smoking it in a Weber grill with hickory chips for about 7 hours, and it turned out perfectly flavorful and moist.  I had to keep adding coals and wood chips, and poured a mixture of cider vinegar and water over it every now and then (called a mop).

Smoking the meat in a kettle grill is tricky because you have to lift the grate to add the coals and the wood.  The temperature is harder to control.

In Hawaii, they call this Kahlua pig, except there they bury a whole pig in the sand and cover it with coals at luaus.  Next time I will try brining the meat overnight to make it jucier.

I like this cut because it has some nice fast to add flavor and keep the meat from drying out over the long cooking period.

Xiaolongbao

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Upon a friend’s recommendation, I have begun to search out what is commonly known as steamed soup dumplings or xiao long bao.

This is in addition to things like good won ton soup, short ribs, St. Louis style ribs, burritos, ramen noodles, wu tao kau yuk (Chinese braised pork belly with taro), and fried chicken.

And though I am an ambitious cook (my brother and I team up to make a turducken during the holidays), it might be awhile before I try making this myself.  The making of the gelatin soup is a bit lengthy according to this recipe.  Like many people, I like dumpling-like food, whether it be won tons, jiaozi/potstickers, gyoza, shiu mai.  It appears that xiao long bao is the most complex.  When you realize how much work goes into making it, you appreciate it more.

Just yesterday I had xiao long bao from Lao Shanghai, the only place I had ever had it.  When I heard that another friend craves them, I decided to look for other examples.  My friends that know their Chinese food say Tamarind makes good xiao long bao, and I agree.  The skin was slightly thinner or more delicate, and the pork had a better flavor, with a stronger hint of ginger.  I was also happy to see they have hamachi kama on the menu (also pictured).

Ed’s Potsticker House supposedly has good ones, and then so do places in New York (Joe’s Shanghai, Peking Duck House).  Of course, I will seek them out when I go to Shanghai.

Bohemian

I go to NYC once or twice a year to visit friends and hang out.  If my schedule allows, I will try a new restaurant.

My friend, Carl, is a reliable source of restaurant recommendations.  A couple of years ago, he told me about a Japanese restaurant called, Bohemian, located in NoHo (North of Houston–c.f. SoHo, which is South of Houston).  I have been recommending it ever since.

First, the food is excellent–and very reasonably priced.  A friend to whom I recommended the restaurant said that she went with a small group and they just about ordered everything on the menu.  I would have, too, if I had a bigger stomach.

The space is small, with seating for 0nly about 20 people, so very cozy.  The staff, as far as I can tell, is all Japanese.  The gimmick, if you want to call it that, is that the location and contact information for the restaurant is not public.  You can only go there by word of mouth.  There is no signage outside the restaurant.  It is hidden down the hall from a Japanese butcher shop.

So, you can do your research on the Internet, and let me know if you are interested.  Plan ahead, because they may be booked for a few weeks.

Tampopo

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One of my favorite foodie films is the 1985 film, Tampopo, a comedy borrowing themes from the Seven Samurai as a bunch of strangers who come together to help a woman build her ramen shop.  I get so hungry when I watch this movie.

While I grew up eating Cup o’ Noodles and ramen, I have been on the lookout for good ramen in Chicago.  Fresh noodles are key.  So far, my favorite is Noodles by Takashi on the 7th floor of Macy’s downtown.  I particularly like the miso ramen, which comes with slices of braised pork (like from the movie), and is chock full of corn, onions, bamboo slices, beanprouts.  The best part are the noodles, which are just chewy enough to be perfect.

I also had the chicken tatsuta age, which is Japanese fried chicken that is marinated in soy and ginger.  Very tender, moist and flavorful.

I haven’t been to the original Takashi’s, but I have tried various ramen around the city, including Bill Kim’s Urban Belly (the addition of braised pork belly is really good, though).  Noodles is still my favorite so far.