Category Archives: Reviews

Why I Love Asian Food

When I was 7 or 8 or 9, I had one of my first gigantic allergic reactions after eating with my parents and extended family at an Italian resto downtown. After that I hardly had any restaurant food except for from Cross-Rhodes and The Wiener and Still Champion in Evanston, both trusted by my parents. If we did eat out at a restaurant, it was something American. Burger, no bun. Steak. Big hunks of USDA-approved beef were safe. McDonald’s was okay for a while (now their fries have dairy). And when I went on my college roadtrip, I found out I could eat Subway, wooo! But anything else – Asian, Mexican, French, and ESPECIALLY Italian – was suspicious, and thus avoided.

This changed when I went to college. Middletown, CT is not really a mecca of culture by any means, but there were solid Thai and Japanese restaurants that many students frequented. I went to Typhoon Thai and Mikado Sushi a couple of times with my group of friends during my first year, but I only ordered edamame or plain steamed rice out of caution. I was that girl that just ate rice. Whatevs.

I think I actually tried sushi my first year too, but it was the prepackaged kind they sold at the campus grocery store and the ingredients were all there. The first time I went to a sushi-proper restaurant I only had edamame. But I looked at the menu and asked some questions, discovering that sushi is essentially pretty simple: raw fish, rice, seaweed. Wasabi and ginger if you like. What could be easier to eat than that?

I’ve been a fan for life forever after.  I know to avoid anything “spicy” and anything with a tempura batter. Only once have I been to a sushi bar (Hama Matsu in Andersonville) that added random things to their rolls not disclosed on the menu, and I spotted it immediately.

Early in my Junior or Senior year of college I took another risk. I tried some Thai food from Typhoon. I worked for the student health office at the time and we were always ordering thai food for our events in order to entice people to come. There was a stir fry that we ordered – it looked fine, and according to the menu it had nothing I was allergic to. The only thing I was worried about was peanut contamination.

Don’t get me wrong, peanut contamination is a big issue. Peanuts are used in several Thai and Chinese dishes. See my previous post on this poor girl.

But when I was young, my parents and I developed a plan for new foods. Take a bite and wait 15 minutes. So that’s what I did.

And I was fine. And pretty much have been with Thai ever since, except for the time I tried curry (I have an oral allergy to coconut – it won’t cause anaphylaxis but makes my tongue itch like mad).

A few years ago I found I could also have the wide rice noodles in pad khee mao, drunken/crazy noodles and that has since become my absolute favorite Thai dish. The best that I’ve had in Chicago so far is at Thai Classic in Wrigleyville.

I eat from Asian restaurants frequently now, and not just Thai and sushi places. Bon Bon is a Vietnamese sandwich and noodle joint down the street that has delicious vegan tofu banh mi and vegan pho. We also live by Bill Kim’s uhh-mazing Belly Shack, which has a number of plates that I’m not allergic to. At this point, Asian cuisine is almost a go-to when we’re looking for a place to eat.

Except for Chinese food.

I will never eat Chinese food.

Part of my reliance on Asian food comes from the fact that it’s so traditional – 90% of the time a dish you see on one menu will be exactly the same on another. Even so, I always alert any restaurant about my allergies.

The culmination in my experience with Asian cuisine was on my most recent birthday, when I went to Union Sushi & BBQ Bar and sat at the chef’s table.

So how horrified would my mom be if she knew I went to a restaurant without a clue as to what I’d be eating? Extremely horrified, so let’s hope she never reads this. Given my allergies, I’ve understandably never experienced any sort of chef’s tasting or omakase before. But after looking at the chef’s table form on Union’s website (there’s an allergy section), I thought, “well maybe I could be accommodated.”
And accommodated I was, to my delight and everlasting gratitude. I went over my allergies with a couple of hostesses before we came in, and then again with Chef Chao. I think he may have been a little annoyed at how paranoid I was, but everything that he placed in front of me was perfectly fine for me to eat, even the fried stuff (they used tempura breading without the eggs). He also made some dishes separately and without alterations for Jeremy, so he could enjoy his oyster shooter with a quail egg.

We felt like royalty, dining on quail, kangaroo, fatty and super white tuna, and all sorts of fried crustacean delights, even fried oyster, which I have never had before and never thought I could have.
I literally left my life in Chao’s hands, and boy was I ever rewarded. I could not thank him enough for taking care of us, and I think at some point during the meal I almost cried.

I think it’s the characteristics of Asian cuisine that make it more easily adaptable to my dietary restrictions – except for Chinese, the fast food nature of which I’ve never trusted. Italian? Cheese and eggs abound. Mexican? Cheese or sour cream in many dishes, unless you go out of your way to find a less “gringo” joint. French? Butter butter butter. And  American? Cheese, sour cream, ranch, eggs, butter, mayo…etc. Asian? Rice, chilies, lime, soy, and some form of fish are the hallmarks  of most dishes. Peanuts and eggs are usually more of a topping or a part of a sauce rather than a main element. It’s spicy, salty, sour, simple and delicious.

And that’s why I love Asian food.

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Viva Mexico!

And we’re back! Unhappily. We had a wonderful little tropical vacation in Cabo San Lucas the past few days. Despite leaving on the day after Osama got kill’t, nothing ever went wrong on the planes. And the closest thing I had to an allergic reaction was acid reflux.

Our hotel, Villa Del Arco was cheesy, but nice. Probably the best thing about it was that it was in a compound with two other hotels in the Villa group, one with a mercadito where we could buy groceries, alcohol and souvenirs. They had SILK SOYMILK which meant I wouldn’t have to eat dry cereal with black coffee for breakfast. We also bought some sandwich and drinky stuff there, so it was very useful to us. You could trolley over to the other hotels any time. For breakfast, there was a buffet where I could eat the aforementioned cereal (Kellogg’s, in a box with Spanish ingredients) and fruit. For lunch I could make myself a sandwich or have some chips and guac from the FAKE BOAT IN THE POOL. For dinner, I could again make myself a sandwich, or there was El Faro, the sushi and oyster bar which was also in the All-Inclusive package. Once, I thought it would be a good idea to check out dinner at one of the included theme nights (BBQ) at the neighbor hotel. In reality, had I been by myself I  wouldn’t have eaten anything but dry salad and fruit, but the chef was able to talk with the staff and the chef (all in easy, conversational Spanish), and get them to cook me a plain burger.

I was extremely grateful (UPDATE: 2 years later, still am, despite everything) for being there with me. Even if I didn’t have allergies, when a majority of the people you are around speak Spanish, it’s nice not just to know the language, but to be able to speak it smoothly and conversationally. It put the staff at ease, even when most of them knew English. I was practicing some myself: Muy serioso. Allergico MUERTE de leche, de queso y mantequilla y crema, huevos, cacahuates…

Anyway, here are some pictures!

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Flying Saucer

Occasionally, Jeremy wakes up craving pancakes. When that happens, we usually go off to Earwax Cafe for their vegan and non-vegan breakfast items. Earwax recently closed though, for a brief period, and we haven’t been back since it’s re-opened with a new chef and new menu with half the breakfast items.

For a change, we decided to hit up Flying Saucer (Inc?), a casual breakfast spot in Humboldt. Jeremy was very excited because the place has a lot more options with meat than Earwax does. I was excited to try some different vegan pancakes.

Neither of us ended up getting the pancakes. Jeremy jumped on the breakfast burrito and I went for this kale, tofu and sweet potato hash with toast. The hash came out more like a sautee, but whatever, it was good. Flavored very well, not to salty or sweet. The home fries were excellent too. Jeremy said his burrito was good and so were his spiced apples (breakfast side choices are home fries, the apples or an unassuming bowl of mixed greens).

I enjoyed the decor too, exposed duct-work and brick, with a few paintings scattered around. BUT, by far the best part of the meal were the vegan brownies we purchased from the counter. These things are devoid of dairy, eggs, tree nuts and peanuts and GARGANTUAN hunks of deliciousness. Seriously, they are like half a pound. Too much, maybe? I don’t know, I couldn’t stop eating mine. So good.

All in all, this may become our new favorite breakfast place. At the very least, we need to go back and try the pancakes. 😉

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Takashi

We went to Takashi for my birthday tonight. Very good! The chef and waitstaff were great with the allergies– actually none of the things I ordered had to be modified in the slightest. It was a nice vibe. Good decor, soft ambient techno jazz oriental streamlined feel and although the tables were close together, that wasn’t necessary a bad thing.

We started with the ceviche, oysters and beef tartare plates, and some ginger lime and honey pomegranate martinis. The ceviche was delicious. I loved the combination of seafood they use, big hunks of squid and shrimp and octopus and slices of scallop. The flavor on the dressing was good, similar to what was on the oysters – julienned vegetables in a citrus vinaigrette. The chef enjoyed the beef tartare with the quail egg on top.

We both ate pretty fast. I don’t know if it’s because we were hungry or because the food was so delicious. I had roasted duck and confit of leg with some similarly citrus-tanged beets, and chef dived into some pheasant with chestnut and mushroom risotto.The portions aren’t that big, but you can always ask for more bread. It’s all tasty.

The proximity of the tables actually led to me overhearing a dude at the table next to us talk about being allergic to tree nuts. For some reason I felt compelled to flash him my epi-pen in benadryl – a moment of empathy and common understanding!

In truth, I went to ER last week. Takashi is a restaurant that naturally has a lot of dairy, egg and nut free dishes, but last week I was honestly just really silly – I went to a bar and grill I’d been to before and did not ask what the pineapple I wanted on top of my burger (ordered with no bun) was grilled in.

I ended up in the ER 30 minutes later.

I’m still pissed about that experience, but I guess any experience you learn from is worth something.  Ambulance rides are expensive though. And sucky. It felt good to eat somewhere that had dishes that were totally fine for me to begin with.

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