Friday, October 17, 2014


You know that moment when you're stuck in a mall, and can't find anything other than fast food? Yeah, I hate that and avoid it at all costs. So what I end up doing is organising any essential mall trips (and by essential, I mean there's stuff I need, but don't know where to get it from) around meal times. 

As was the case last Sunday, I organised to meet up with a few friends for lunch, then tackle the shopping list. For convenience sake, we ended up at a mall restaurant that was relatively well reviewed on Yelp, Villagio, that's tucked into a corner of the upper level of Fashion Outlets of Chicago. 

It's fairly obvious that the restaurant is part of the mall, but if you choose an inner table, it definitely doesn't feel quite so much like a food court.

The best thing by far at the restaurant was the bread baskets.

Not satisfied with just giving out slices of crusty, warm bread, they're also generous enough to provide flat bread with a delightful, vinegar and tomato-centric bruschetta topping. If you do happen to devour the basket and plate like we did, then they're happy to provide you with more. 

The menu is extensive and focuses on Italian cuisine. There are cold platters, warm appetizers, salads and soups kick the meal off, followed by the usual pasta, pizza and Italian-style meat mains like Parmigiana and Scaloppini, and paninis.

Seeing as I'd gorged  myself on the bread, I ended up ordering a seafood soup.

Zuppa Mare e Monti
With mixed fish, rice, calamari, shrimp, clam broth, tomato and zucchini, it really is a throw-whatever-you-can-find-into-the-pot kind of soup. While warming and flavoursome (the seafood and tomato combination just works), I was hoping that it would both be thicker in texture and larger in size. 

The dishes enjoyed by my companions were much more substantial:

Pizza Pepperoni
Linguine Nettuno
I  tried neither of the pizza or pasta dishes but what struck me most as they came out where how big the servings are. This is America after all, so I shouldn't be surprised. 

The pizza base was unfortunately soggy, but apart from that, both companions seemed to enjoy their meal enough. Both ended up with take-home boxes of food.

Dessert was somewhat disappointing.

While pretty enough to look at, the tiramisu was heavy on both liquor and cream, and lacking in substance and interesting flavours. What a shame in my eyes, because tiramisu isn't really that hard to get right.

Villagio does decent food for a decent price. Given its location in a food court, it certainly stands a class above the other options. The service was friendly, although somewhat haphazard (requests were frequently forgotten) and that seemed to be due to the inexperience of some of the servers. Regardless, we came out with our bellies full and happier than if we had eaten at the food court so I'd definitely recommend Villagio if you're in the mall. I'd skip dessert though. 

Fashion Outlets of Chicago
5220 Fashion Outlets Way, Rosemont, IL
Mon-Sun 1130am-11pm

Villagio on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Penang Malaysian Cuisine

Ever since moving to the USA, I've been struggling to find decent Malaysian cuisine. Coming from Melbourne, Australia, we have so many choices for cheap, cheerful and quality south-east Asian food that the dearth of anything that isn't generically just 'Asian' is somewhat depressing.

Luckily, after moving to the Chicago area, a friend introduced us to Penang Malaysian Cuisine.

The menu still reads slightly like a mish-mash of various cuisines, but given that Malaysian cuisine really is from a melting pot of different cultures I can forgive that. The dishes themselves also have the punch you'd expect, with customisable levels of spiciness to suit your taste.

I didn't take any photos from my first visit, but for the record the roti was perfectly oily and flaky. The wonton-mee was decent with plenty of juicy wontons and a mass of egg noodles in a heart-warming soup and was certainly better than any I've had recently, although not quite as satisfying as one from a street-side noodle shop in Hong Kong.

On my return visit however, we explored the menu a little more and were certainly rewarded for our efforts.

The highlight was the Curry Lamb Shank.

Curry Lamb Shank
A lamb shank cooked slowly in a coconut broth until it was melt-off the bone tender, the flavours of the dish were vibrant and absolutely spot on. The spiciness could have been greater for a chilli-lover like myself, but it was rich and satisfying.

Equally satisfying, although not 'quite' as impressive was the Curry Mee.

Curry Mee
The cooler weather really has brought out my noodle soup cravings, and what better way to warm up than with a slightly spicy and coconut-ty curry mee. Once again, with a generous amount of chicken and prawn, this was a delicious dish. 

After the richness of the first two dishes, we attempted to balance things out with an order of Clay Pot Seafood and Tofu.

Claypot Seafood & Tofu
My only annoyance at this dish were that the pieces of tofu we too large compared to the other elements of the dish. Otherwise it was a reasonably seasoned with a dash of soy sauce, made with ingredients that were fresh enough (although obviously not straight from the farmer's market or sea) and healthy enough to assuage the guilt. 

Overall we had a great time at Penang Malaysian Cuisine. The decor is nothing to rave about, but the servers are friendly and the food comes out quickly. For the price and especially for the food, it really is a great local restaurant. I'm definitely coming back again anytime the craving for authentic(ish) Malaysian food hits.

Penang Malaysian Cuisine
1720 W Algonquin Rd, Arlington Heights, IL 60005
Mon-Thu 11am-3pm, 430pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 11am-11pm, Sun 11am-9pm

Penang on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Update - September

Just a quick note to let you know I'm still alive. Between the move to Illinois and a hectic work travel schedule, I haven't really had a chance/motivation to blog. I have been keeping myself entertained making new (to me) recipes, but there's been no recipe development what-so-ever unless you count throwing random ingredients from the fridge and/or pantry in a bowl and calling it lunch 'development'.




No-Knead Bread

Braised Duck

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Krimper Cafe

You know when I said the my last post was final entry in my Melbourne series? Well, I lied. Not deliberately of course, but there was one more review hiding in my drafts.

It's a cliche, but one of things I miss most about Melbourne is the coffee culture. The little laneways, the hidden cafes, the great waft of fresh coffee as you walk through a heavy wooden door into a warehouse-like space. Sound familiar? This description could apply to every second cafe in Melbourne but that doesn't stop it from being impressive/comforting never the less.

Krimper Cafe
The menu is of course very different now to when I dined there with some wonderful friends, but at least one things stays the same: the coffee.

A delicious roast by Proud Mary. You just don't get that type of coffee here in the States!

The lunch options on the day we dined there were varied and could easily be classified as modern-comfort food. Taking a quick look at the current menu, at least that theme hasn't changed with hearty sandwiches, a duck-meat shephard's pie, green risotto and winter salad on offer.

We dined on a glorious rendition of salmon and eggs:

Salmon & Eggs
Crispy skinned salmon that was lightly seasoned, fresh greens, sweet grilled cherry tomatoes, a slice of potato (because you always need some sort of 'hash brown'), pickled onions and of course, a crumbed egg.

Yolk, Glorious Yolk
Not quite as perfect as a Scotch Egg (because meat mince makes it inevitably better) but delicious anyway. Look at the runny yolk and try to not be seduced by it. Well, younger me would have hated it but I was much picker in my teenage years after all. 

Also ordered was a board special (so you'll have to excuse my memory) featuring duck. 

Duck Dish
You can see that it's slightly pink, and I did find that the meat was slightly on the tough side, but where else can you get a generous serving of duck for <$25? Well, I could never go past half a roast duck from Chinatown but this is a little bit classier and had a much more refined taste. The salad was a refreshing counterpoint to the oiliness of the meat as well. 

Krimper is one of those cafes I could see being a regular haunt if I worked in the Melbourne CBD. With an interesting variety of dishes, friendly staff,  funky atmosphere and most importantly, great coffee, it's got a lot going for it. The location is a little hard to track down, but once you've found it, it's definitely worth a return trip. 

Krimper Cafe
20 Guildford Ln, Melbourne
Mon-Fri 7am-5pm, Sat-Sun 8am-4pm

Krimper on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Lake Chalet Seafood Bar & Grill

It feels like every week I'm in another place, and something always gets in the way of blog posts. So after trips to Australia, Brazil, the UK and a semi-permanent move to Illinois, I'm finally getting around to blogging about a celebratory Sunday brunch in April. Yes, four months ago.

Given the new circumstances as well, there's likely to be a bunch more cooking rather than restaurant reviews appearing in the blog which is both good (hooray practical) and bad (less impressive food). Without further ado though, let's recap a fun meal at the Lake Chalet Seafood Bar & Grill in sunny Oakland, CA.

Firstly, what a location right by/on Lake Merritt. No photos unfortunately, but ask for a table by the window for full effect. When we arrived for our reservation, we were promptly seated in a quiet two person table along one side of the restaurant, and settled in with a glass of sparkling while we peruse the menu.

On to the food. As the name suggests, there's a focus on seafood dishes. There are also non-seafood options for those that prefer steak, pasta, burgers or chicken.

Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs
Before getting into the taste of these, can I just say I love the presentation. I'm not sure I've ever seen seaweed as a purely decorative accent and even though the deviled eggs had nothing to do with the sea, it was still a fun dish to have arrive at the table. The eggs themselves were nothing to rave about although I did like the 'pop' of the roe. A restaurant meal is about taste and presentation, so this comes dish out about even.

Local Rock Cod Ceviche Verde
The cerviche was a much more interesting starter. With green herbs, shaved radish & cucumber, avocado, jalapeno and a bucket load of lime, this definitely delivered a kick of flavour. Unfortunately, the textures clashed and the tortillas were a little dry, so this dish still wasn't a winner.

The mains were fortunately an improvement on the starters.

Organic Chicken with Spring Asparagus & Truffles
I love truffles, so that probably biases my judgement of this dish but luxury ingredients aside, I thought this was a good dish; the chicken was tender and slightly sweet, and the asparagus was crisp and fresh. A great interpretation of spring in my opinion. Such a pity that spring was so long ago, and autumn is slowly creeping up.

Pan Roasted King Salmon
The salmon with clams had both good and bad; the shellfish-based broth was well flavoured, with an enjoyable kick of curry chilli, but the salmon was unfortunately dry. Once again, it was a decent dish, but nothing spectacular.

Bread Pudding with Lemon Sorbet
To end on a sweet note, we shared a bread pudding with lemon sorbet; a mix of indulgence and refreshment and which was definitely satisfying. Something to replicate at home perhaps?

Overall we had an enjoyable meal; the atmosphere was lively with beautiful views, with great service, but the food was only average. Nothing great, and nothing terrible. So if you're just after a fun meal at a reasonable price without caring too much about top-tier dishes, then the Lake Chalet is a decent option.

Lake Chalet Seafood Bar & Grill
1520 Lakeside Dr, Oakland
Mon-Thu 11am-10pm, Fri 11am-11pm, Sat 10am-11pm, Sun 10am-10pm

Lake Chalet Seafood Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Trust

So much time has passed since I was last in Melbourne that I'm now thinking about when I should head back next for a visit. Which just goes to show how overdue this post is.

Selecting a location for a dinner with colleagues is always a challenge; the restaurant has to be close enough to the office, the space has to accommodate at least 10 people, food should be reasonably priced, there must be enough vegetarian choices available, there should be a decent wine list, and the menu should appear tasty enough to some of the fusspots in our group (ahem, me).

After a bit of searching, we decided on The Trust which appeared to at least satisfy all these requirements. 

The Trust
Walking into the big front restaurant, there was certainly enough space to seat all of us. Apart from a few other patrons enjoying after-work drinks, we were the only diners. Which suited us just fine. 

The menu has an Italian spin to it and is quite extensive covering antipasto selections, pastas, and fish, lamb, chicken and vegetarian mains.

To kick things off, we ordered a few items from the antipasto bar.

Salumi Misti
It's hard to go wrong with thinly sliced, well cured meats. I can't remember the exact cost, but the menu says it's $20, which in hindsight was way to expensive for this, no matter how good it was. 

For the benefit of the vegetarians, we ordered some chickpea chips.

Chickpea Chips
These were nicely crunchy on the outside, and by contrast, soft on the inside. I found them to be a little bland and the sauce only helped to add a little flavour. Much better were the gooey aracini balls. 

Another vegetarian dish, these were stuffed full of cheese. Not a healthy choice by any stretch, but comfort food in small serves is always in fashion.

A beautiful demonstration in simplicity came in the form of a calamari entree.

Calamari Grigliati
With chilli, lemon, olives and parsley, in my mind this is a quintessential Mediterranean dish. I certainly can't vouch for the authenticity of this, but it was my favourite starter full of flavours and fresh-tasting seafood. 

We ended up getting almost all the mains available between us, however I only have shots that turned out well thanks to my colleague's camera (my iPhone failed to take decent photos in these lighting conditions). 

From memory, Agnello all Brace of 10 hour slow cooked lamb, chickpeas and mixed grains was rich and thick, with a generous portion of meat accompanied by a salty broth.  

I'd ordered the fish of the day, accompanied by roasted baby beetroot and potatoes, a lonely spear of broccolini, and a very odd tasting crab-quinoa concoction.

Fish of the Day
The fish was crisp and nicely salted, with a nice firm flesh, but really, I couldn't get over how jarring the crabby mousse thing was. Points for healthiness and creativity, but unfortunately no points for taste.  

Squid Ink Linguine
And for interest, the squid ink liguine was ordered. Because differently coloured pasta is always a hit (but of course it tasted like any other well-cooked pasta). Not as good as freshly home-made, but a decent dish. 

Overall, we had a good time at The Trust and would certainly recommend it for groups. The atmosphere is cosy but still professional (like an old library full of dark wooden furniture), the waitstaff are friendly and efficient, there's something for everyone on the menu and the food is satisfying and decently priced (average standard for a CBD restaurant). Nothing mind-blowing here, but sometimes that's not a requirement. 

The Trust
405 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Mon-Fri 9am-12am, Sat 5am-12am

The Trust on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Bella Vedere

Trips back to Australia are always such a gift and it's hard to believe that the visit to Bella Vedere in the Yarra Valley with M's family, on ANZAC day no less, happened so many moons ago.

Making full use of the wonderful local produce (from both his garden and the small businesses that populate the hills nearby), the lunch menu of starters, mains and desserts is extensive. I have been told that it changes every day based on what's fresh and what's available, so return visits are unlikely to get boring.

The space is large and airy with numerous rustically-classy wooden tables, and even a few situated outside where lunch can be enjoyed in the sunshine if desired. During our visit, a few of the tables were used when were arrived although the empty ones filled up as the day progressed. The most popular section of the restaurant actually appears to be the bakery. There was a constant stream of patrons buying loaves of fresh bread, and I must say that the smells wafting out were extremely enticing.

The day we were there, our lunch started beautifully with a bowl of fresh-baked bread.

Bread Basket
The bread comes to the table warm, almost like it's been taken straight from the oven (which it probably has) with a side of creamy butter. The olive bread is the pick of the basket and I made the rookie mistake of eating more slices than I should have.

Our next appetizer was a single tempura prawn each with a crispy and sweet apple slaw.

Tempura Prawn with Apple Slaw
The prawn was meaty, tender and slightly sweet, wrapped in a delicately thin rice-flour skin. This was a great example of tempura, and an unlikely hit from the menu.

From there, it was a bit of chaos. We had a large party, and some of us ordered a single main, while others ordered two entrees instead. The way it panned out was that those with two entrees had their first entree delivered (although which one was deemed 'first' seemed arbitrarily chosen) with their second entree delivered with mains.

Our wine order was forgotten, and our water glasses were left unfilled. Apart from those glitches in the service, our meal was great.

I ordered a very hearty plate with a combination of pork sausages and sauerkraut.

Pork Sausages and Sauerkraut
I'm not usually a fan or sausages, and in all honesty, I ordered this dish because of the sauerkraut. I was pleasantly surprised at how moreish the sausages were (must be because the pigs were happy), high proportion of meat, different takes on pork and the generous serving size. I also appreciated the beautifully cut vegetables that accompanied the meats and of course, the satisfaction that comes with taking a forkful of sauerkraut. 

I sampled a selection of the remaining dishes that were ordered, and all I found to be both rich in taste and freshness.
Goat Cheese Frittata with Zucchini
Riccotta Gnocchi
Fish Pie
Beef Cheeks with Pasta
Everyone was satisfied with their meals, and quite full, myself included. This was however yet another occasion where I was happy that I had a separate dessert stomach.

Red Wine & Apple Tart
These beautiful dishes were staring at us the entire meal and had us salivating the whole time.

Fig Frangipane Tart
We tried all three desserts on offer and they were all delicious in their own way. The red wine and apple tart was my favourite, full of rich apple, berry and vanilla flavours with a nice, light addition of sugar enhancing the sweetness. The softness of the fruit was perfectly decadent.

The Fig Frangipane tart was heavy on the nuts with a nice contrast between the slick texture of the fig, crunchiness of toasted nuts and crumbliness of the frangipane.

Lemon Curd Cheesecake
The Lemon Curd Cheesecake was balanced between tart and sweet, with a crispy base and an accent of icing sugar. As you'd expect, this was smooth and creamy and all the things a good lemon cheesecake should be.

Overall, we had a great time at the Yarra Valley institution of Bella Vedere. Open for both lunch and dinner, the food was honest, fresh and satisfying and fairly important in this day and age, local. The surroundings are charming and homely, and the atmosphere is relaxed. The only let-down was slightly patchy service but provided you're not afraid to ask (a few times) for what you require and aren't in a rush, it's nothing too off-putting.

Bella Vedere
874 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream
Mon-Sun 10am-11pm

Bella Vedere on Urbanspoon