café des architectes

6:14 PM sians 0 Comments

ryan and i kicked off chicago restaurant week 2011 with french food at café des architectes which is located a few blocks away from north michigan avenue. if you are looking for the restaurant, it is within sofitel chicago water tower and you can see the restaurant as you walk up towards the hotel's front entrance.

i was probably the most excited for this restaurant and it was one of the ones that i booked back in january even when didn't even have the full list of restaurants. their restaurant week menu looked so enticing that i had to call ryan in the middle of the day at work so i can make reservations as soon as i

the restaurant is to the left as you enter through the front doors of the hotel. café des architectes is tastefully decorated with simple elegant light fixtures which illuminates the lovely red walls and ceiling adorned with pictures. the other side of the restaurant is surrounded but ceiling high windows and there is a small semi separated room with a bar and illuminated with green and purple lights. i love their modern contemporary decor which was elegant yet oddly cozy. (p.s. i have pictures from my lunch and dinner dining experience hence the night and afternoon pictures all in one post)

dinner | saturday

ryan and i pretty much had our minds decided on what we were going to get for the appetizer and the entree but we still weren't sure what to get for dessert.

appetizer | bouillabaisse . saffron . mussels . lobster .

i've had other seafood stews (i.e. cioppino) before but this was definitely my first bouillabaisse in all its glory. since it was my first, i've nothing to compare to nor know what to expect. i was confused at first when they brought a bowl with just mussels, clams and lobster meat  to the table but they began pouring the thick, creamy soup into the bowl which i thought was a nice touch for presentation. literally serving at the table.

my first thought when i took a sip was very good depth of flavor and then came.."hmmm, the texture is grainy".  i wasn't sure if bouillabaisse is supposed to be grainy so i had to do some research online after dinner. if you are wondering, it is typically grainy but some people would strain the soup to give it a smoother consistency.  the soup itself was rich and tasted of seafood which i love and the shellfish as well as the lobster was fresh and cooked just right  :) overall, i liked it (minus the uncertainty of the texture that time) especially comforting for such a cold evening.

appetizer | stuffed and braised quail . winter vegetable . sauce verjus . prunes .

this was my second choice of appetizer and thank goodness ryan was happy to order this so i could try it too :) his first comment was that it was fork tender and the vegetable was cooked just enough to retain a slight crunch. i took a few bites of the quail and it was as he said, cooked well and had a subtle gamey flavor. i didn't really notice the prunes although i tasted the vegetables but based on the flavor profile of the rest of the plate, it would have complemented the quail very much so.

entree | veal tenderloin . red onions . truffle sauce . endives .

i was torn between the veal tenderloin or the roasted monkfish with lobster sauce. but there were two ingredients that tipped the scale for me was veal and truffle sauce. this entree was amazing and i will be raving about the veal tenderloin for a long time. i was so glad i decided to get this. the veal was seasoned well and cooked almost to medium/medium well but was still succulent. it came with a side of caramelized red onions which had a subtle citrus flavor and braised endives which ryan suspected was seasoned with a bit of pumpkin spice. and all this on top of the truffle sauce so you get savory, earthy and sweet all in one bite. it was really, really yummylicious! loveee! both ryan and i concur that this was the best dish of the night.

entree | filet of beef . sauce viande . béarnaise . winter vegetables .

a few things first. béarnaise is a sauce made of clarified butter emulsified in egg yolks and flavored with herbs. i had trouble finding what sauce viande is but the closest i could find was glace de viande.  glace de viande is simply brown stock reduced until it "coats a withdrawn spoon," to quote Escoffier, which is to say, reduced by half or more. (qouted from ochef)

ryan wasn't quite impressed with his dish like i was with mine. the beef had a decent sear but he thought that the edges were overcooked just a tad except the mid part of the beef was cooked to medium rare just like he likes it. i guess it doesn't help that it wasn't his favorite cut of beef either. even though it was medium rare (i usually go for medium) i loved the tenderness of the beef. the béarnaise sauce i thought was slightly underseasoned. the vegetables was probably what ryan liked the most about his plate. he definitely had a case of entree envy cos he was very much preferred mine than his.

dessert | chocolat moelleux . pears . formage blanc. valrhona chocolate .

interestingly, moelleux is defined as soft, mellow, tender, moist, sweet. it seems like a play of words which describe the different aspects of the dessert.

if u love chocolate, you would like this dessert. the stroke of chocolate on the plate is dark chocolate complemented by the almost pudding-like valrhona chocolate that had a soft crust on the bottom. and it comes with two pieces of poached pear. it is like the trio of chocolate with different levels of bitterness/sweetness that plays with your taste buds. i thought it was good and i liked it but not amazing.

dessert | pistachio cream . chocolate coulis . sicilian iranian pistachio . creme fraiche .

i have to say i liked ryan's choice of dessert better than mine. i sorta kept staring at his dessert while eating the consistency of the pistachio cream was kinda a mix of pudding and ice cream and it's topped with a dark chocolate coulis. for textural difference, they added chopped pistachios. the pistachio cream itself had a light pistachio flavor which paired quite well with the chocolate. it wasn't too sweet which i like.

lunch | thursday

since my discovery of café des architectes, i've been raving about this place. since my boss was up for trying something for restaurant week, she was most excited about this place since it was near our work place and the menu looked very appetizing. and i found two other co-workers would wanted to try some french food too.

in the afternoon, i loved the light streaming in through the windows which makes it even cozier than before.

their lunch menu options are different for the appetizer and the entrees but remained the same for dessert.

appetizer | celery root velouté . truffles . micro salad . fresh herbs .

my selection for their appetizer course. velouté is a white sauce or stock made by boiling down ham, veal, beef, fowl, bouillon, etc., then adding soup stock, seasoning, vegetables, and thickening, and again boiling and straining. i'll give you one guess why i chose this over the rest. (if you said truffles, yes you are right! hahaha)

it was like déjà vu when they served the thick soup in the manner they did for my bouillabaisse. this was perfect for the cold afternoon. the thick soup was comforting but at the same time with a touch of sophistication. it had a really good depth of flavor kissed by the earthiness of the truffles and the croutons gave it a nice crunch. one word: satisfying. my friend said it reminded him of cream of mushroom soup -.-" (which i don't think so) but i couldn't tell if he was joking... lol.

appetizer | artichoke salad . oven dried tomatoes . carrot mousse . lemon confit .

i was actually tempted to get this because i really liked artichokes. the presentation was vibrant. i had a small bite and it tasted pretty good but not enough to make a good assesment of it. my boss said that she loved the carrot mousse but thought the overall taste of the salad was okay.

appetizer | salmon rillette . chives . creme fraiche . baguette croutons .

rilette is a preparation of meat similar to pate. it had a very pretty presentation of a dish and the croutons reminded me of toasted bagels. it was almost sort of interpretation of lox and bagel. i didn't taste any of it but eric, my co-worker said that he liked it and it was tasty.

entree | braised lamb shank . ratatouille niçoise . winter spices . cardamom jus .

niçoise is a french phrase that means "as prepared in Nice", typifying the cuisine found in and around that french riviera city (as qouted in epicurious)

i was quite surprised when the dish arrived at our table. it wasn't how i expected / imagined it to be. was i disappointed? perhaps a lil bit. the lamb was shaped into medalions but oddly the lamb itself reminded me of meatloaf but a gamey one. the braised lamb was shredded and mixed with other ingredients served upon the jus. the ratatouille was probably my favorite aspect of the dish but i might be a bit bias since i've been known to favor vegetables over meat. overall, the meat packed a lot of flavor, sucullent and i would say a pretty well balanced entree.

entree | seared arctic char . dill . cider vinegar sabayon . spinach puree .

i think the entire table almost oooh-ed and aaah-ed when the fish entree was served since it was served with a flavored foam. lol. the dish looked really good and my boss was kind enough to share a piece of her fish for me to try. cafe des architectes definitely earned the right to call it seared arctic char because the fish was seared perfectly with the skin so crispy and seasoned so well. yeah that one bite was enough to make me entree envy. haha. my boss preferred a lil rareness in the middle of the fish but otherwise the fish was cooked perfectly. she said it was a very delicious dish overall.

dessert | pineapple soup . coconut sorbet . brunoise of exotic fruits . vanilla .

since i've already wrote about the other two desserts from my dinner, i decided to give their pineapple soup a try. it sounds a tad weird, i know but it works. brunoise is a culinary knife cut in which the food item is first julienned and then turn a quarter turn and diced again producing cubes of a side length of about 3mm or less on each side. the exotic fruits included a ton of pineapple (love!) and kiwi fruit which were swimming in a slightly sweetened "soup" and topped with a light coconut sorbet with sprinkles of toasted coconut. it was a light, refreshing dessert and the coconut did not overpower the whole dish which was very nicely done.

overall we were quite impress and happy with our meals. i personally think that their dinner menu topped their lunch selections. ryan said that he would love to come back to cafe des architectes just to try out their regular menu. sometimes i get nervous when i recommend a restaurant to friends but i guess this time it worked out awesome :) i guess i do have a good eye for restaurant occasionally, huh ? :p

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

Cafe Des Architectes on Urbanspoon


BOKA restaurant

5:16 PM sians 0 Comments

BOKA was the second restaurant we dined at last weekend for chicago restaurant week. first being cafe des architectes but that entry is postponed since i would be dining there for lunch tomorrow so i was gonna wait for that before writing it up.

taken from their website
i was quite excited about boka  since i recently found out that it is a michelin star recipient for 2011. i've never been to a restaurant to receive such an exclusive accolade where one star indicates "very good cuisine in its category". that is probably also the reason why i have extremely high expectations for the quality of the food.

from wikipedia | michelin guide reviews and rates top restaurants and world chefs with a rating system of one to three stars with the highest rated being three star chefs and restaurants.  the michelin star rating is the most recognized rating system in the culinary world for all of western europe. 

from boka's website

it was rainy and wasn't exactly the weather to dine out but not even rain was going to stop us. much to our amusement,  another fellow michelin guide three star recipient, alinea is located just right next door to boka (ryan was most excited to find it) we decided on valet parking ($11) since the weather was crappy and it was difficult to find a parking spot.

as we were driving past the restaurant the first time (sorta missed it), i thought i saw my friend's fiance waiting outside the restaurant so i texted him to confirm if he was in the area. andy said he just finished dinner at boka... what a surprise/coincidence! of all restaurants and of all nights. i told him ryan and i were at boka for our reservation and asked him how was their dinner.

his response was: "the dessert will blow your faces off."

now that is something to look forward to towards the end of the meal. btw, i assumed that he meant it in a good way. lol

the decor of the restaurant was a mix of modern contemporary and vintage chic. i like it a lot. it was dimly lit and cozy. it had some really interesting tent-like structures within their dining area.

their restaurant week three course menu offered four options for appetizers, three for entree and they have one for dessert. for our appetizer, it was really a no brainer for both of us when we saw diver scallop on the menu althought there i was momentarily tempted by the roasted beets but scallop won hands down.

appetizer | maine diver scallop . forbidden black rice. sweet & sour onions . brocolli sauce.

a diver scallop is a sea scallop that has been hand-picked off a rock by a scuba diver - hmm sounds delicious already. forbidden black rice is known as such because originally in china, it was considered the emperor's rice and it was forbidden for anyone else to eat it.

when the scallops arrived at our table, i couldn't wait to dig in but not before i savor the beauty of the plate. the scallops itself looked like it was given the right searing. the scallops were seasoned well - savory with a hint of its natural sweetness but didn't have a crust like i imagined it to have. the brocolli sauce was light and the forbidden rice was almost of risotto consistency and putting all the components into one bite gives a nice depth of rich flavors which is cut through by the sweet & sour onions. i thought the flavor of the scallop permeated the whole dish but ryan thought otherwise. overall, we were very happy with our choice to get a scallop each cos i wasn't gonna share this one with him..sorry! heheh.

entree | herb crusted lake superior whitefish . prawn brandade . grilled fennel . black garlic puree

i had to go searching to figure out what on earth is a brandade. according to brandade is 'a pounded combination of salted or smoked fish, olive oil, garlic, milk and cream.' the first time i encountered this word was at girl&the goat which came with my favorite scallops dish. (yes i am obsessed with scallops) but i don't think i tasted anything remotely close to fish-like. and neither is the one at boka. with further google-ing, i found that some countries add potatoes in their brandade - which is what the prawn brandade had. 

nonetheless, the delightful aroma that wafted through my nose was making my mouth drool. my first bite was somewhat anticlimatic, almost. i think it was all the expectation building up from the aroma that left me a lil disappointed. the fish was cooked perfectly but the dish itself was lacking a punch of herbacious flavor that i was hoping. the brandade reminded me of mashed potatoes with pieces of shrimp and that was delicious but i think the one that had most flavor was the black garlic puree that had shrimp flavor running throughout. grilled fennel tastes a whole lot different than raw fennel. it is sweeter and it lends a textural difference towards the dish. the overal dish was good but it wasn't as memorable as i hoped it would be.

entree | braided duroc pork belly . fried oyster . spicy bok choy . parsnip sauce . green tea soba noodles .

ryan opted for this entree instead of the grilled angus striploin since he had a filet of beef the night before at cafe des architectes. so he wanted to try something different. i have to say the fried oyster was probably a plus too. i requested for one for me since there were three on his plate. hehe

the first thing ryan commented was the spicy bok choy reminded him of kimchi which i thought was interesting. we exchanged plates so i could taste his dish and i thought that the braised pork belly while being fork tender was also lacking its own identity. the oysters were crispy and encased the natural savory flavor of the morsel but the cubed soba noodles didn't quite have a distinct green tea flavor. ryan had different opinions on the oyster which he thought was overfried a tad since he likes a lil rawness in oysters and he tasted the green tea flavor eventually with the noodles. we did agree on a few things though: we felt that the pork belly wasn't the main highlight of the dish and the parsnip puree was slightly too sweet for my liking for a savory dish.

sides| mac 'n' cheese . edamame ($7)

they asked us if we wanted to order sides to go with our three courses and ryan decided to try out their mac & cheese with four cheeses and edamame. it is topped with truffle bread crumbs to give it some crunch. i love the flavor of the truffle with the pasta although we were both trying to figure out what the function of the edamame in the dish since its flavor was overshadowed by the cheeses. to make it healthier? or maybe to add texture to the dish? whatever it is, the dish itself was delicious. cheesy but at the same time light.

dessert | ginger kulfi . chocolate . toasted meringue . tangerine .

the part of the meal that i was anticipating for the most. especially after my friend commented on how face mind-blowing it was. i envy chefs who can make their dish look so wonderful and this was like a work of art. btw, kulfi is a popular frozen milk-based dessert from india and pakistan which is often described as traditional indian ice cream in india.

the dessert comprised of ginger kulfi on top of graham cookie crumbs, flourless chocolate cake, toasted meringue and a segment of tangerine. boy, oh boy, this dessert was amazing. i love, love, love it! it wins hands down as the main highlight of our dinner and i thought 'whoah..what a way to end the meal'. the flourless chocolate cake was moist and packed with chocolate flavor, the toasted meringue was marshmallow-yand soft and the ginger kulfi had the perfect amount of ginger bite that worked as a palate cleanser as well. it was a very well thought out dessert - it's like a symphony for your taste buds. ryan even said that its one of the best desserts he's had at a restaurant. come to think about it, the components almost makes it like an adult version of deconstructed smores dessert.

BOKA was quite the experience. whilst the food exhibit extensive skills at cooking techniques, the entrees could use a lot more flavor punch that i always look for. one thing for sure is their dessert is uber awesome! :)

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

Boka Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon


drago's seafood restaurant

10:00 AM sians 0 Comments

some of you  might know that i am a food network fanatic. it is my go-to channel all the time and i think i watch it more than any other tv network. one of my favorite shows on the network is called "the best thing i ever ate" where the celebrity chefs or the big names in the food industry share the best thing they have ever had and tell viewers where to find them.


on the grilled edition of "the best thing i ever ate", adam gertler was raving about the grilled oysters at drago's seafood restaurant in metairie, lousiana. so basically, i researched a lil bit on to see what food places we could go try while i was in louisiana and stumbled upon this and i knew i wanted to get myself some grilled oysters.

drago's seafood restaurant is known to be the home of the original charbroiled oysters. it is a well known restaurant in new orleans which was started and owned by a croatian family. to be honest, i guess i've never really heard of this restaurant until i saw it on food network but it is definitely a huge hit with people in louisiana. when we got there, it was crowded and it was a ten minute wait for a table.

as we walked towards our table, i could see stacks and stacks of oysters pile on the counter waiting to be fired up on the very hot and blazing grill. it was actually quite a treat to see that. ryan's grandmother didn't think of anything special with the charbroiled oysters here in drago and added that she had better at another restaurant. but i was determined to try it out anyway.

the decor of the place was nice and simple with a bar on the right as you come in through the entrance. the back dining room was dimly lit but spacious. the staff were really friendly which i really like.

so just for ryan and myself, we ordered an appetizer and two entrees to share cos we couldn't make up my minds on just one entree.

firstly, the main reason why we were there: their famous original charbroiled oysters.

i was really excited to try some. although i am not (yet) a huge fan of raw oysters, i love slightly cooked oysters cos of its brininess and the freshness of the oysters which isn't cold and raw.

was it the best thing i ever ate? not exactly. it was very tasty but it didn't sweep me off my feet. i think the issue is that the garlic butter sorta overpowers the delicate flavors of the oyster that it almost masks it fully and it seems all i get from the oyster is the texture. i mean i love the savoriness of the cheese and the garlic with just a squeeze of lemon which makes it come together but i'd like to taste the oyster as well which i had difficulty picking up. for one or two oysters, it was somewhat gritty like there were some small bits of shell left which was a lil disappointing.

ryan thinks that it was hard to discern whether the oysters were fresh because of the other stuff that was on it (though his grandmother who had fresh raw oysters confirmed that the oysters were fresh and delicious). i asked him if he compared the oysters we got from girl&the goat or this was better, he said the former was his preference which i concur. although i 'd get this again just because i am such an oyster lover.

his mom and sister ordered crab meat au gratin dip | jumbo lump crabmeat served au gratin style with tortilla chips. i can't help but compare it to the one we had from parrain's.

a much bigger serving of melty cheesy goodness. the au gratin here is just as delicious as the one from parrain's but i have to say the edge goes to parrain's for their garlic toasts which paired very well with the dip. the amount of lump crab here was generous which is totally fine by me :)

one of our main entree was called shuckee duckee | blackened duck breast over linguini pasta with oysters and cream sauce. i just love the name! haha.

omg. i love this dish. i love the lightness of the cream sauce and OMG love the oysters! it's like eating a creamy but not overwhelmingly heavy pasta with small briny surprises with each bite from the oysters. even though it might seem it is like two completely separate dishes on  a plate but it's awesome when you combine both the flavors. the duck was moist, slightly gamey (which is good), succulent and seasoned very well.

there were a few downsides to the dish. while it is described as blackened which meant cooking in a hot cast iron skillet, the lack of good crust on the skin side meant it wasn't done properly. it was really quite a challenge to cut through the skin. other than that, i would totally recommend this dish.

the second entree was a grilled shrimp pasta | fresh gulf shrimp, lightly seasoned and grilled, with angel hair pasta and creole sauce. garnished with fresh parmesan and romano cheese.

this dish was also well executed. ryan thought that the pasta sauce tasted like store bought salsa in a bottle which i disagree although i can see why he might have felt so. the sauce had a combination of tomatoes, green bell peppers and onions cooked down and it was slightly sweet and savory but it didn't taste anything like salsa. i actually liked it. the shrimp was definitely the star of the dish. it was grilled to perfection and seasoned well to compliment the natural sweetness of the shrimp. the only problem i had with the dish was that the dish felt like it was disjointed instead of it being a single dish.

for drago's seafood restaurant to stay this popular among the locals and tourists in the midst of all the other great restaurants in new orleans has gotta mean they are doing something right. :)

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

p.s. i've got a lot of entry catching up to do. 3 restaurants in san francisco and a few more from restaurant week from this weekend. i'll be picking up restaurant week first since it is a lot more recent. watch out for it!

Drago's Seafood Restaurant on Urbanspoon