Modern Steakhouse done right @RPMsteakCHI

RPM Steak – 66 W Kinzie

When I first heard about RPM Italian’s opening a few years ago, a joint venture between the Melmans and the Rancics, I was dubious to say the least.  I expected the scene to attract a certain type of crowd and scene that’s not really my cup of tea, but I also didn’t expect the food to deliver either.  Surprisingly, though, RPM Italian has become one of our favorite go-to Italian joints – the scene is the scene, but the food is a great range of solidly done classics and interesting modern takes on Italian staples.

When RPM Steak was announced, for some reason, I was equally skeptical.  Maybe a bit less, but wasn’t sure what to expect.  We made it there a few weekends ago, and were again, pleasantly surprised, treated to a stellar meal, so much that we went back a week later when a friend of Sara’s came into town.

Over the two visits, we got a lot of food so I’ll be brief.

Parker House Rolls!!!

Parker House Rolls!!!

The Parker House Rolls are a must get.  They don’t do bread service, so if you want it, you’re stuck paying $8 for the bread.  It seems to be a trend now these days, between paying for bread and ice in drinks, restaurants seem to be nickel and diming us just like the airlines, but these definitely deliver and are worth paying the extra dollars for.  Stunning in presentation, warm, slightly toasty on the outside with a soft, buttery texture on the inside. Served with a slightly salted Nordic butter, these are a hit.

Coal Roasted Crab

Coal Roasted Crab

Charred Toro

Charred Toro

Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail

Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail

For appetizers, we got a good variety.  The slightly charred toro from the raw bar was alright, one of the more lackluster dishes of the night.  The shrimp cocktail was solid and *HUGE* – very meaty and with good flavor.  The coal-roasted crab is another highlight of our visits – nicely cooked and pre-sliced, making it easy to split.  It was gently sauced with a buttery sauce with hints of lime and coriander.  Fantastic.

On to the steaks…which usually is what makes or breaks a steakhouse for me.  Both times, we got pre-sliced steaks.

42oz Tomahawk Wagyu

42oz Tomahawk Wagyu

24 oz Dry Aged Cowboy Chop

24 oz Dry Aged Cowboy Chop

Both were bone-in ribeye – the first, a 42oz tomahawk Wagyu, and the second a 24 oz dry-aged cowboy chop. Now I’m usually a bit partial to the earthier flavor of the dry-aged cuts, so I thought the dry-aged ribeye had a deeper flavor.  I didn’t notice a significant difference in the quality of the meat with the Wagyu, so if you’re looking for an excuse to splurge, I would recommend sticking to the dry-aged cuts.  Precut, it’s easier to split between people, but I prefer to have an uncut steak that keeps the heat in a bit longer.

For sides, we got

The Millionaire's Potato

The Millionaire’s Potato

Hasselbeck Potato

Hasselbeck Potato

Cauliflower Mushroom

Cauliflower Mushroom

Roasted Corn

Roasted Corn

Highlights of the sides were the Hasselbeck potato and the roasted sweet corn.  The Hasselbeck was sliced to a perfect crispy thinness with an appealing presentation, the roasted corn topped with a chipotle lime butter – the lime gave it good hints of flavor without being overpowering.  FInally, the mushrooms were both solid – the first time we picked the hen o’ the woods (not pictured), the second trip the cauliflower mushrooms

Finally, for dessert

Hazelnut Souffle

Hazelnut Souffle

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Baked Alaska

Baked Alaska

For dessert, we got the Hazelnut Souffle – a wonderfully flavored souffle dish, a little thick, but well seasoned.  Unfortunately they removed it from the menu by the time our second visit rolled around, however, there are still a good selection of souffles on the menu.

The second dessert was a baked Alaska that we ordered on both trips.  Between our two visits they decided it would be a good idea to flambe the dessert, adding a nice touch.  Ice cream topped with caramelized merengue is a perfect mix to end the night.

RPm does everything extremely well top to bottom. THe apeetizers, sides, and desserts match up to anywhere in the city.  I felt like the steaks came up just short of my favorites, Mastro’s and David Burke’s Primehouse.  Still it’s a place that is worth checking out and/or going back to.  Get the Parker House Rolls and the Coal-Roasted Crab .  The dry-aged cuts were my preference, particularly the Tomahawk.  Cost is pricey, but not absurdly so.  It’s a steakhouse in River North – you should know what to expect…

Getting the family together @chefping

Chef Ping – 1755 Algonquin Road – Rolling Meadows, IL

If there’s a restaurant I remember going to on a regular basis from my earliest childhood memories – it’s Yu’s Mandarin in Schaumburg, a solid Chinese restaurant that my family has been frequenting since I was about 6 or 7 years old.  I don’t think I’ve had any dish more often than the rainbow fried rice and the kung pao shrimp there.  Alas, about 5 years ago, the owners sold Yu’s and a number of people felt the quality dropped.   I have such a soft spot in my heart for Yu’s that it’s hard for me to tell a huge difference, and I think for the most part the dishes I’ve come to know and love haven’t changed a whole lot.  But thankfully, the former owners opened up Chef Ping shortly after to provide another solid option with an extremely similar menu just right down the street in Rolling Meadows.

Shrimp Toast

Shrimp Toast

Yang Jang Pi

Yang Jang Pi

We started  the meal with an order of shrimp toast and Yang Jang Pi.  The shrimp toast was a bit greasy but had great shrimp flavor and great texture.   Yang Jang Pi is a nice mixture of veggies, egg, and rice noodles that were sharp and a bit chewy – all mixed with a mustard sauce that gives the whole dish a bit of bite.

Tang Soo Yuk

Tang Soo Yuk

Sesame Chicken

Sesame Chicken

Next up is Tang Soo Yuk and sesame chicken.  Tang Soo Yuk is a fried beef dish served in a gooey sweet and sour sauce, not unlike sweet and sour chicken, but served with a bed of fairly colorful and fresh vegetables.   The sesame chicken was a bit overcooked, but had a nice subtle sweet favor.

Jja Jjang Myun

Jja Jjang Myun

Jja Jjang Myun

Jja Jjang Myeun

Finally, a trip to Yu’s or Chef Ping or any similar Chinese/Korean restaurant wouldn’t be complete without Jja Jjang Myeun – a Chinese dish of thick noodles, similar to a thick spaghetti with a black bean sauce that has a great umami flavor – stirred in with some pork, zucchini, and onion, and a heavy dose of garlic.

While I think most people are of the mindset that Chef Ping continues the Yu’s tradition, I’ll always have a soft spot for the original Yu’s, even with the new ownership.  That being said, Chef Ping’s does a solid job providing the same dishes at a simliar quality.

 

 

 

 

Legit Chinese outside of Chinatown @Chengduimpression

Chengdu Impression – 2545 N Halsted Street, Chicago, IL

Outside of Chinatown, it’s tough to find really good, authentic Chinese food.  Shanghai Terrace does a pretty solid job, but given that it’s in the Peninsula, it’s quite overpriced.  Sun Wah is another classic, but much further north.   Other than those two, the Chinese selections around the city tend to be of the standard takeout variety – good in a pinch, but usually not great.  Enter Chengdu Impression, a fairly new Lincoln Park spot that we checked out just after our honeymoon (yes, my backlog is pretty long).

The menu is quite long, leaving some difficult decisions.   We kept it pretty simple – went with

Scallion Pancake

Scallion Pancake

The scallion pancakes were a bit of the weak point of the meal.  OK, nothing special….

Dry Chili Chicken

Dry Chili Chicken

Steamed veggies

Steamed veggies

For entrees, we got the dry chili chicken and the vegetable 12-delight.  The chicken was great here.  Not quite on par with the Tony Hu version, but very, very solid.  Lightly battered, great amount of spice, and a healthy portion, but solid.  The veggies were pretty standard steamed vegetables, but fresh and not oversaturated.

Soup Dumplings!!

Soup Dumplings!!

The meal ended with a plate of soup dumplings – they came out last, because they take a bit longer to cook, so if you want them, order early or maybe when you sit down, and wait a few minutes once they arrive to let the inside cool down a bit.  A bit sparse on the filling and the dumpling itself was a bit thick, but pretty good nevertheless.

Overall, Chengdu is not quite on the level as most Chinatown restaurants, but it’s a solid substitute if you don’t feel like making the trek out.  Haven’t gotten delivery from them yet, but it seems like their delivery area is pretty wide, making it an option if you’re feeling lazy too.

 

Solid Rustic Italian @balenachicago

Balena – 1633 N Halsted Street, Chicago

So, I’m trying desperately to catch up on my backlog of restaurants to write about.  Since May, most of free time has been spent wedding planning and in May and June we went out to eat *a lot* because of the wedding planning and finishing up our kitchen remodel.  Thankfully, since we’ve returned, Sara and I have been a bit better about staying in and cooking, and hopefully I’ll be writing a bit about my kitchen exploits as well.  But I digress….

The main reason I wanted to keep this blog is so I could remember details about our meals – not just what we ate, but why we liked or disliked certain dishes – unfortunately, that gets harder when you’re writing about a meal a month or more after eating it.  But that being said, the quick weeknight meal at Balena was a pretty solid and memorable one.

We ordered pretty simply, and the menu at Balena definitely has numerous more adventerous and interesting choices than a tuscan kale salad and a plate of cacio e pepe.

Tuscan Kale Caesar

Tuscan Kale Caesar

Cacio e pepe

Cacio e pepe

But that’s what we got and it was solid.  The kale was fresh and sharp with the right amount of bitterness, and topped with a healthy dollop of fresh parmesan.

The Cacio e pepe is simple, but incredible.   The spaghetti has that perfect al dente texture that you can only get with fresh handmade pasta, and the balance of parmesan and black pepper was absolutely dead-on.   Add on the crispy bread crumbs that crisped up the textural element of the dish, and you have a dish that is simple in its ingredients with a subtle underlying complexity.

Hangar steak with wild greens and grilled trumpet mushrooms

Hangar steak with wild greens and grilled trumpet mushrooms

For an entree, we got the hangar steak – solid, well cooked to an almost perfect medium rare, but overall nothing special.  Dishes like this remind me why I tend to stray towards fresh pasta at places like this.

Balena’s a tough place to order for two as the menu makeup seems to be designed for a party of four or six, but you can still make it work for a couple.  That being said, there are plenty of solid choices – the pastas are definitely the highlight, but the focus on fresh greens and fresh pasta make it a solid Italian option.

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Two Month Anniversary celebration at #katsuchicago

Katsu – 2651 Peterson Avenue – Chicago, IL

So Sara and I made it to 2 months!   And we’re still in love, after celebrating our real 2 month anniversary by cooking a wonderful meal of jja jjang myun and sous vide duck breast at home (yes, kind of all over the place), we decided to really kick it up and head up north to Katsu for some sushi.

Katsu may not be on your radar, and it’s sometimes hard to convince a city-dweller to head so far north for something that you can pretty much find every few blocks now – the first time we went, we are also dubiously skeptical.  But hands down, Katsu is the best sushi in Chicago. It’s been a staple up north for close to 30 years now, and chef Katsu himself, approaching 70 soon, fully admits he’s not slowing down – he’s a great personable guide to your sushi journey when you sit at the sushi bar.  Which we did, next to a nice gentleman who had just celebrated his 50th anniverssary – so Sara and I have a bit of work to do…

But back to the food, if you ask Zagat what the highest rated restaurant for food is in Chicago, Katsu is at the top, in the elite group of restaurants rated 29, such as the Achatz/Kokonas duo Alinea and Next, as well as Goosefoot (Vie and Bien Trucha are also 29’s but out in the burbs).   Having been to all four of those, I’d give Alinea the nod over Katsu, but I’d be willing to say that Katsu bests both Goosefoot and Next on the food-front.  The best way to describe it would be to see the movie “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” – now Katsu is probably no Jiro, and I’d be willing to bet that the sushi in Tokyo is a step above what we’re getting here, but it’s the closest thing you’ll get in Chicago to a sushi chef who cares about his craft as much as chef Katsu does.

If you go, I’d recommend getting a spot at the sushi bar – that’s what we did, getting the slightly cheaper (still $120) four course sushi omakase (there’s a similar priced sashimi omakase).  There is a $160 six course meal that adds in the chawanmushi dish that we split, along with both the sushi / sashimi plates.

Mackerel appetizer

Mackerel appetizer

We started with our waiter’s recommendation – a mackerel appetizer with unbelievably buttery, soft, finely chopped mackerel mixed with sliced scallions and minced ginger, a bunch of shredded daikon for a bit of refreshment.  A nice palate cleanser before the extravaganza set the stage for what was to come.  The presentation, like most dishes here, was stunning.

monkfish Liver

monkfish Liver

Tuna tartare

Tuna tartare

For the first course of the omakase, you get a choice of the tuna tartare or the monkfish liver – thankfully, since there’s two of us, we were able to split one of each.  The monkfish liver, soft and creamy in texture like a rich foie was served around beautiful rods of shiso jelly and topped with minced radish.  The tuna tartare is made from finely chopped toro, the mixed in quail egg just adding to the richness.

Lemony flounder!

Lemony flounder!

The next dish is Japanese comfort food at its best.  A perfectly soft almost poached flounder filet with a soft moist breadiness on the “crust”, served in a lightly lemon-tinged broth thick broth.  One of the more memorable dishes here – simple but perfeclty executed.

Tempura

Tempura

The tempura here is probably the least unique part of the meal here at Katsu, but it’s still a solid plate of lightly battered and fried vegetables.  What makes the tempura at Katsu different though is the choices and the freshness of the vegetables is clearly evident through the crispness.  Choices that night were enoki mushroom, lotus root, a fairly spicy shishito pepper, squash blossom(!), shiso leaf, purslane, and a filet of Japanese whitefish (accompanied by a nice little sheet explaining what purslane is and the proposed health benefits of it).

Chawanmushi...

Chawanmushi…

....with unagi inside

….with unagi inside

Back to Japanese comfort food, I felt like I had to try the chawanmushi here, and it did not disappoint.  A perfectly soft egg custard, nice texture, with a healthy portion of unagi cooked underneath, along with a few pieces of edamame and mushrooms, all mixing to give this dish a great mix of textures and flavors.

Sushi Plate!

Sushi Plate!

IMG_4958 IMG_4959 IMG_4960Finally, we get to the highlight of the meal – the nigiri course!   15 gorgeous pieces of a wide selection of the freshest fish you’ll probably find in the Chicagoland area and possibly the midwest.   Most of the pieces are garnished with an ingredient that complements the bite well and each piece is an extremely generous portion that makes it fairly difficult to take each down in one bite.

As instructed by Chef Katsu we started with the oyster, a kumamoto oyster from the Pacific Northwest, BC I believe.  After that we went straight from left to right.

Fresh yellowtail flown in directly from Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, King salmon from Boston, topped with salmon roe and gold leaf, crisp, refreshing super white toro from Maine, topped with winter truffle, a creamy buttery squid.

Then, Sara’s favorite – sweet shrimp, also from Boston, with a massive fried Shrimp head (not quite as meaty as the one we had a few weeks ago at Kai Zan).  More ground toro followed amazingly fresh uni from Seattle, leaving the scallop, and the finale, a mackerel with a thinly shaved piece of seaweed that tempered the fishiness of the mackerel perfectly.

Katsu’s a bit of a hike up in Lincolnwood for us folks that live downtown, but in the end, a half hour drive is not that far travel for exceptional sushi.  The cost is a bit steep, so it’s definitely more of a special occasion spot, but cost is on par with most of the non-Alinea finer restaurants in the city, and you could definitely have a reasonably sized smaller meal off the omakase for under $100.   A 5 star experience all around.