the purple pig

8:52 AM sians 1 Comments

"legend has it that if a pig drinks red wine, it will turn purple"

bon appétit's the restaurant issue recently named the purple pig as one of the top ten best new restaurants. the magazine explains the origins of this mediterranean - inspired restaurant's rather interesting and odd name: "the owners must have known they were going to sell a lot of pork and wine. legend has it that if a pig drinks red wine, it will turn purple." hence, the purple pig was born.

a friend of mine who also loves food recommended this place to me several weeks ago but it didn't really have a chance to go until very recently. i was super excited to go and couldn't wait for my first visit to this place. the time was a monday afternoon just minutes after they opened at 11:30am.

located at magnificient mile (at the intersection of north michigan and illinois ave), the purple pig has a very inviting and cozy atmosphere. it is tastefully decorated with the warm hue of beige and yellow, accented by wooden cabinets and floors adorned with blue patterned tiles and black&white photos on the wall. and of course the occasional pig statues you can find around the restaurant. communal tables filled the restaurant but there are some non communal ones that line the wall to the right as you enter the place.

there are also outdoor seating available where you can enjoy some of chicago's skyline.

we've had a pretty good idea of what we were going to get since we've done some research on yelp. similar to tapas restaurants, the whole idea is to share the small plates with your dining companion(s) hence more variety. our server was friendly and she suggested that we ordered two plates per person. there were some of the dishes that we wanted that weren't available but  purple pig has quite the selection of food to choose from. ryan also wanted a glass of red wine to go with the meal but didn't really know what to get so he asked our server a recommendation for a glass of full bodied red wine without the expensive price tag. and she managed to do a great job finding one.

we ordered two dishes from the fried items, one from antipasti and another from a la pancha category.

fried item | chorizo stuffed olives

crispy breadcrumbs encase warm green olives stuffed with a small amount of chorizo. ryan and i had somewhat different opinions about this dish. perhaps it's the way we ate it. i halved the olives and take a bite which allowed me to taste the brininess from the olives enhanced by the saltiness of the chorizo. this is  followed by the crispiness of the outer layer which came as a pleasant surprise coupled with the creaminess of the mayo (not sure what is in that) which cut the saltiness a tad.

A sharp hit of salt which was all ryan could taste whenever he pops a whole one in his mouth. but overall i guess it might have been a tad too salty for both of us (which i anticipated) but it was indeed an interesting combination.

fried item | pig's ear with crispy kale, pickled cherry peppers & fried egg

the one thing i was nervous about trying - pig's ear. i wasn't sure if i had pig's ear before but one thing i knew was ryan was quite nervous about trying too. when the plate came, i almost squealed with delight. it's a piggy bowllll - so cute! :) the triple fried threat - fried pig's ear, the sunny side up and crispy kale make this dish look so good. each of the strip of pig's ear was fried to crispy perfection without it being too oily and i loved it with the crispy kale with small amounts of the sliced pickled cherry peppers.

the sunny side up egg offered the textural difference that dish needed with some of the richness of the yolk. i have to admit that we could do a lot less of the pickled peppers. i am quite unsure what i think of this dish just because i haven't really had much of pig's ears to compare it with. i thought the fried strips of pig's ears could be anything though because it didn't have much of a distinct tastes of its own imo. but i did enjoy the combined flavors of the dishes.

a la plancha | milk braised pork shoulder with mashed potatoes

the pork shoulder was fork tender (literally) and so moist - cooked to perfection. one of our favorites. it sits on a bed of creamy and yummy mashed potatoes. the meat itself is flavorful and seasoned just right so each bite with or without the gravy still tasted divine. but it is the best when we have each element of in a single bite - the pork & the mashed potates coated with the gravy.

antipasti | salt-roasted beets with whipped goat cheese & pistachio vinaigrette

i was definitely saving the best for last. this was the biggest highlight of our lunch.  what i loved about it was the natural sweetness of the beets is kissed by the creaminess, tartness and slight saltiness of the whipped goat cheese and paired with the nuttiness and earthiness of the pistachio. an amazing flavor combination. on top of that, the textural difference of each ingredient entices your taste buds that make you want more with each bite you take. definitely a HUGE favorite of ours. to be honest, i would just go back to the purple pig just for this single dish. very much recommended.

we passed on dessert because we were pretty full but i've heard the buttersotch pudding is good. there's just so many more things i want to try here! there were a few people ordering a cheese and cured meats platter which we are very much interested trying sometime soon :) oh and if u wanted to get some bread to go with your small plates, just request your waiter for some.

and for those who would like to try a hand at cooking some of their dishes, the purple pig also feature a recipe of the month on their website on any one of their dishes that they serve and this month is the milk braised pork shoulder. <3

the purple pig lives up to its name : cheese, wine and swine. and they do an awesome job with all three categories. i just can't wait for my return visit.

disclaimer this is written based on my personal experience and opinion. experiences and taste buds may vary for others

The Purple Pig on Urbanspoon


project food blog 2: the classics

11:29 AM sians 16 Comments

i was very nervous when i checked my email last thursday cos i knew the results for project food blog (pfb) were announced that day. but boy, was i super happy and excited to know that i got through! :) a very big thank you <3 to those who voted for me. i am very glad that you liked my first post and i hope this next entry will not disappoint.

challenge #2 pick an ethnic classic that is outside your comfort zone or are not as familiar with.

first thought that came to mind, "omigosh, something japanese!"

above photo obtained from google image
in the past months, i've been very much interested in almost everything japanese - the culture, the language, the country itself and the cherry blossoms. hehe...i have even started saving money in my 'trip-to-japan-hopefully-sometime-in-the-near-future' fund and am planning to register for japanese language class next year.  i blame it on my fascination with manga (japanese comics) and the fact that i love japanese food because it's different from other asian food and yet familiar at the same time. i've always said that the best way to learn a country's culture is through its food and this is a great way to start.

typically the cuisine that people commonly associate with japanese food is sushi... but i wanted to make something different. something less common.

so i decided to make chawanmushi.


yup, chawanmushi...lemme share a short background of what this traditional japanese dish is.

chawanmushi is a savory egg custard flavored with dashi that contains small morsels of shiitake mushrooms, chicken, ginkgo nuts and seafood served in a teacup shaped, lidded dish. it is a dish native to japan that is most commonly served as a part of a traditional japanese multi-course haute cuisine called kaiseki ryori under the mushimono (steamed dish) category. traditionally, it is eaten hot in the winter and chilled in the summer as an appetizer or a side dish. surprisingly, chawanmushi is not a common dish served at japanese restaurants here in the US.

so, the story of coming up with the idea to make this dish goes like this. recently, my friend was telling me that her boyfriend made chawanmushi and i thought it would be a neat dish to make. coincidentally, i went shopping at the japanese grocery store last weekend and bought most of the ingredients i needed. (i raided and borrowed the rest of the ingredients including the teacup dishes from my friend's kitchen..thanks christina!) however, i think one of the biggest reasons why i chose chawanmushi is that my parents are not huge fans of japanese food mainly because of the raw fish (think sushi) but i figured this is a dish that my parents might enjoy. :) 

before we get started on the chawanmushi, there is one important ingredient to make - the dashi.

whoah... what's dashi?

it is a seaweed and fish flavored soup stock that is the base of many japanese dishes. it consists of three ingredients: kombu, katsuobushi and water.

kombu is an edible kelp that is harvested and dried in the sun. katsuobushi aka bonito flakes (you can sometimes watch chef morimoto use this on iron chef america) are made by shaving wispy thin flakes with a special tool from a dried, fermented and smoked skipjack tuna. it's pretty easy to make the dashi. it involves soaking the kombu in water for about three hours, then bringing it close to a boil, removing the kombu, then adding the bonito flakes to soak for about fifteen minutes, strain and there you have it: ichiban dashi or "first sea stock". you can find the recipe at the end of the entry...

tip | remove kombu immediately when small bubbles appear at the bottom or side because cooking it for too long discolors the dashi and makes it bitter.

an easier and quicker way to make dashi: use the instant dashi powder and add water. i decided to make it from scratch to make the overall dish as authentic as possible but instant dashi powder is always an option if you happen to feel a lil lazy.

next step was to make the main star of the day. the three eggs which are lightly beaten are combined with the cooled dashi, sugar, soy sauce and some salt. i left out the sake because i didn't have any :( the mixture is then strained through a mesh strainer to give a smoother custard.

the fun part is just beginning: layering the ingredients in the teacup shaped dishes (aren't they so adorable!) in whichever way you want to. the cool thing about making this dish is that you can add whatever ingredients to your egg custard. my choices were shiitake mushrooms, ginkgo nuts, and two types of japanese fish cakes - kamaboko and gobo tenpura.

next step is to fill the cups with the egg mixture up to three fourths of the dish without forming small bubbles. i had so much trouble to keep the bubble formation to a minimum but i did have fun bursting those bubbles..haha.

all i have to do is place them in a steamer at low to medium-low heat and wait patiently as it cooks. patience is key here. i did a test run with one just to make sure the temperature was right.

tip | wrap the lid of your steamer with paper towels so that the steam droplets do not get into your chawanmushi as you steam it.

tip | to check if your dish is done, use a bamboo stick to poke it and if the broth is clear, you're good to go.

i had two friends over at my apartment to be my guinea pigs for my first attempt at chawanmushi... christina who is half japanese (she's the one who suggested chawanmushi and let me borrow her stuff for this experiment) and her boyfriend :) i love how food brings people together! my first chawanmushi looks good but it has some small craters on the surface of the custard. and apparently i overcooked it a tad.. boo! (sad face) but good news is not only did it taste right, it tasted delish with the exception of the texture.

have no fear. i have two more filled cups ready to go. hence, attempt #2 at lower temperature and longer cook time.

verdict | much better than the first one. the egg custard is smooth on the surface and looks soo yummy. garnish the dish with cilantro to make it look pretty and it's ready to serve.

my first bite was warm and silky, savory egg custard. the subsequent bites are the layers of flavors: the earthiness of the shiitake mushroom with its umami echoing the dashi base flavors paired with the slight sweetness of the shrimp and the fish cakes. this is accompanied by the slight nuttiness of the ginkgo nuts coupled with their soft texture. i think i was being overly generous with the amount of filling i stuffed into the dish so it would probably be better to go easy on the ingredients to get a better egg custard and filling ratio. (and remind myself to cut them into bite size pieces!) although i could see the steam emerging as i dug deeper into the dish, every bite was at the right warm temprature. mmm... it felt so warm and comforting with every bite i took.

winter is just around the corner and i think i've found a perfect dish to warm up those chilly days. :) and yes, i think my parents will like this dish too!

if you are interested in making this tiny bundle of silky yumminess, the recipes are found as linked:

o-shokuji wo tanoshinde kudasai!*

*note | it means "please enjoy your meal!"
note2 | please send a vote my way here if you enjoyed this entry :) thanks <3


urban belly

11:28 AM sians 0 Comments

i've always wanted to try this petite restaurant located on north california avenue since last year: urban belly. i've heard a lot of good things about the food at this noodle shop owned by chef william kim namely for their ramen and their dumplings.

when urban belly was recently featured in bon appétit's restaurant issue magazine where they are listed as "delicious cheap eats in chicago", i was determined to go last weekend with ryan when he was here in chicago for a visit.  ryan was happy to comply and i was uber excited about our saturday night plan at urban belly :)

located in a residential area, one could miss the restaurant if they weren't paying attention. when we were driving to find the place, we drove past it and at a glance i thought it was closed because the outside was dimly lit. there were a small parking lot just outside the entrance and when we turned around, we saw that it was actually opened and had a considerable crowd on a saturday night. if you are wondering, urban belly is closed on mondays and open the other six days from 11am to 9pm.

walking into the shop, it wasn't quite what i expected. the decor was minimal and there were four large communal tables at each corner of the room with ample space to walk towards the counter at the back. there were some utensil and tap water stations around where you could get  yourself a drink of water. the way urban belly works is similar to corner bakery - you place your order at the counter, pay for your food, get your table tent/order number, and find a spot at the communal table and wait for the food to be served.

the menu at urban belly isn't extensive but is varied to keep most appetites satisfied. all their dishes are asian flavors with a twist. occasionally, they also offer a special dish that they would display on the board behind the counter if you wanted to try something else besides what they have in their regular menu.

seasonal kimchi ($4)
we started off with urban belly's take of kimchi. ryan and i are lovers of good kimchi and wanted to see how this fares against our favorite.

their seasonal kimchi was a mix of cucumbers and cabbage slices. my first bite of the cucumber was a hint of sesame oil and the chilli powder that was sprinkled over the top. then i slowly dug through the pile of cucumbers to get a piece of the cabbage which was at the bottom of the bowl which tasted more of the traditional kimchi.  when ryan had his first bite of cucumber, he was skeptical about the whole meal since it didn't taste anything like kimchi and gradually began to find the familiar flavors closer towards the bottom of the bowl. this mild kimchi is definitely a good introduction to kimchi for people who has never had kimchi before but has enough of the familiarity of flavors to satisfy some kimchi lovers.

urbanbelly ramen | pork belly, shiitake and pho broth ($13)

when the dish was served, my mouth started to water as i savor the aroma of the broth. when i took my first spoonful of the broth, i was taken aback by the deep, rich flavor of the soup which is accentuated by the shiitake flavor. it was warm, comforting and it felt homemade.. the pork belly was cooked right although i thought i could do with more meat in the dish. the slices of radish gives it the occasional bite that gives that difference in texture and keeps the dish interesting. the ramen was cooked well and was the right pairing for the soup... tasty :) 

rice noodle | hominy, kimchi and spicy pork broth ($12)

this dish reminded ryan of a good korean kimchi spicy soup that he would usually order at our usual korean restaurant but with a mexican twist from the hominy and the occasional chili flavor and spice. the broth itself wasn't very spicy but is delicious with occasional burst of kimchi flavor from the cabbage. the pork pieces which ryan wished had more of in the dish were moist and flavorful even on its own and has a distinct sweet flavor which added a sweet undertone to the broth itself. what i liked besides those elements were the slight doughiness of the rice cakes which i loved with the soup.

instead of fortune cookies at the end of our meal, they gave us complimentary chewy ginger candy which was quite different and i thought was yummy. it did saturate my mouth with ginger flavor which could be good or bad. hehe.

we both enjoyed our food immensely and wanted to return to urban belly again perhaps to try their other dishes. and that was exactly what we did the next evening for some dumplings and the wrinkle beans to go. there was a huge crowd and barely had space to sit when we got there at about 7:30pm. our order to go took about 12 minutes before it was ready which was a lil longer than i anticipated. 

duck & pho spices dumplings ($8)
we were deciding between this or the lamb&brandy dumplings but sadly they were out of the latter.

the dumplings were crispy on the outside and moist on the inside with ton of meat flavor and slight sweetness of the green onions. the accompanying sauce has a sharp tart and sweet flavor which went really well with the dumplings. liked it.

wrinkle beans ($4)
a huge favorite of mine. i am not quite sure why they call it wrinkle beans but it's probably a type of long beans but oh, they taste so good.

topped with fried sliced shallots, the long beans were all coated with flavor. although the beans were cooked down quite a bit, it still retained some of it's crunch. the flavors in this dish were reminiscent of some thai flavors paired with ginger, garlic and chopped sweet bell pepper. i also found some black bean paste somewhere in there. loved the combination of flavors. not quite sure how to describe it but it sure is very yummy -  a must try.

urban belly's philosophy: feed your belly from your heart. and they achieve that through seemingly simple asian dishes but with complex flavors, done right with their personal spin and yet somehow still manage to taste homemade :)

disclaimer this is written based on my personal experience and opinion. experiences and taste buds may vary for others

Urban Belly on Urbanspoon