Category Archives: restaurant review

Chaihana Continued…

Ok, as promised, now to the food….

Lagman

Lagman

My dad ordered Lagman. I love lagman (pronounced: lah-g-mahn, with emphasis on the last syllable). I subconsciously tried making it when I was adding my own twist on a chili recipe I read on the back of a can of beans. And I’ve made it myself quite a few times and you can check out my version. It has carrots and celery (though I don’t know how authentic the celery is and I never use it) and noodles and red bell peppers and lamb. Dad liked it.  And it had scallions as a garnish.

Mastava - Uzbek soup

Mastava

This time around, I ordered Mastava (I think that’s how that soup is called and spelled and if I’m wrong, please let me know). It was delicious. The lamb was very well prepared, so tender it melted in your mouth as you ate it. No need to chew, really. Just inhale…. It had rice, lamb, carrots and other stuff I forgot about. And specks of emerald cilantro garnished the soup. Really good. Authentic. Notice how my sentences tend to shrink when the food is really fabulous. Probably because that’s all my mind is capable of at that moment and all the other mental powers are reserved to fully experiencing the decadence of the food. Love the flecks of cilantro garnishing most dishes. Just try it…Very yummy. I might have to try to make this at home one of these days. I wonder if I have a recipe somewhere… Hmmm. Oh, and this is a half-portion. Notice the difference between the full portion of Lagman and the half portion here. Not a whole lot of difference.

Manti - Uzbek food

Manti

Then we ordered manti. I’ve been wanting to try them here and so we did. There are several kinds on the menu, but we got the ones with lamb. Notice how huge these are; they were about the size of my fist, not like the ones we typically make. Also, notice that they’re served with sour cream and vinegar (the bottle behind the dish). You typically don’t mix the vinegar and sour cream, it’s either or. These were so right. I can’t say that about many places, but not many places claim to have Uzbek food. But these were sooooo good! And huge… The dough was a tad thick, but barely noticeable, and the meat was all good. The spices, meat to fat ratio, and all other aspects of manti were nearly perfect. I’d definitely recommend that dish to anyone.

Liver Shashlik - shish-kebab

Liver Shashlik - shish-kebab

We also ordered liver shashlik (shish-kebab). I think this specific type is called “djigar”, but I could be wrong. Someone correct me on this please. I don’t understand why it was served with the veggies. But ok. The onion is the authentic part of how it’s typically served. None of us liked this dish. It was too dry.

Liver Shashlik - shish-kebab

Liver Shashlik - shish-kebab

See in the picture how dry it was? It should be a lot more pink in the middle. It was like rubber; a workout for our knives and teeth. I hope they improve this. When it’s right, it melts in your mouth and has a very nice mouth feel, like pate. When it’s right even a baby/toddler could eat it.

Shashlik - shish-kebab

Shashlik - shish-kebab

Next, we tried “regular” shashlik. I must say that this is made from beef and not lamb, that’s why it’s in quotes. It’s as “regular” as you can have there. This is a hit or miss dish. The first time I had it I didn’t like because it had some weird spices. The server must have heard me describe that and had the kitchen leave it off this time so it was actually pretty good this time. It was seasoned and marinated properly and was very soft. Each skewer had plenty of meat and a serving is more than plenty.

Samsa - Uzbek dish

Samsa - Uzbek dish

The first time I was at this restaurant I also tried samsa. It was pretty good, but not how I remember, but then again, it’s been more than 20 years since I’ve had an authentic samsa. And this one was also very huge. These portions are very filling.
So let’s start at the beginning.

Samsa - inside view

Samsa - inside view

A samsa is a minced meat, fat, spices, and onion mixture that’s wrapped in dough and baked in a tandoori oven (tandyr). There are several kinds: rounds ones made from regular dough and triangular ones made of layered dough and not quite as tall as this one though they do puff up. This sucker was the size of my head! Not quite, but nearly. It also had more than onions for veggies but I couldn’t discern what all comprised the mixture. Still, it was very good. When made in a tandyr, the crust that forms on the bottom is very crunchy and the top is soft and when you bite into it, the juices run down your chin and the steam that escapes is like a sigh of contentment. I actually have a recipe that I’ve been thinking of trying for this.

Plov - Uzbek dish

Plov

And finally, what I always crave. Plov! This is definitely not for the weight-watching crowd. This thing is packed with most delicious calories. You got beef, fat, oil, rice, carrots, and other yummies. Don’t get me wrong, plov is worth it! This is my “holy grail”, something I really want to learn to make; I don’t have the correct pot for this (it’s cooked in a “kazan“, a cast-iron pot much like a dutch oven that’s not enameled). So if you know where I can get my hands on a kazan, PLEASE LET ME KNOW!
This dish alone is worth the trip (because I can’t make it home at the moment, not because it’s legendarily good). It’s the only consistently good dish I’ve had here (but I’ve only been here twice…) and I would go there just for it again, even if the meat was just a tad dry.  That they use beef instead of lamb is not authentic but that substitution is made often enough. It’s good, but don’t get me wrong, any competent home cook can make something far better. My grandma’s plov is hands-down a thousand times better; it’s legendarily good.  And I can’t even learn it (no kazan)!  Grrrr!  I tried a few times in an enameled cast iron pot, but everything sticks, so there’s burned rice on the bottom affecting the taste of everything else. But it was still edible.

Note: if you’re familiar with Indian cuisine, some things might look/taste familiar (like the use of lamb, rice, and spices).  Uzbek food is delicately spiced, but not spicy-hot; it’s heavy on the meat and very filling. (With all that we ordered, we had a lot of leftovers.)

Bring an empty stomach and an open mind if you’ve never tried these dishes before.

Chaihana

With my all-encompassing love of Uzbek food, I try to find every opportunity to sample it.  But sometimes, I have to make these opportunities.  So, a while back, the folks and I drove to the Botanical Gardens in Chicago and for lunch/dinner went to the Uzbek restaurant not too far from there.  The restaurant is called Chaihana (19 West Dundee Road Buffalo Grove, IL; 847-215-5044) and is in a strip-mall next to Rogan Shoes. Don’t let the location fool you, it’s an oasis where your hunger for scrumptious food and delicious drink will be fulfilled.  There were several articles written about it, and this one is probably one of the better ones.

Chaihana

Chaihana

This was my second trip to this restaurant and I wish it were closer to where I live. Not that absolutely everything was always fantastic, but it’s pretty great. Of course it differs from how we make this kind of food at home and how it was made in Tashkent, but it’s pretty close given the limitations (the lamb species here is different from the lamb in Tashkent, so it’s missing the proper fat, and there are no tandyr (tandoori) ovens).

Chaihana interior

Chaihana interior

The decor is surprisingly  nice. I like that there are crisp, clean, white table cloths and napkins; I like the little fountain, the murals, and the suzaneh (pronounced: soo-za-neh with the accent on the last syllable in this case) hanging on the wall. My grandma has one that was made especially for her at her work as a sign of respect and appreciation. It was given to her at her retirement party.

Suzaneh

Suzaneh

Here is a close-up of the suzaneh.
Seeing it in this restaurant just reminded me so much more of where I came from, made it feel more authentic, and I’m sure made the food taste all that much better.  Though our waiter was not an Uzbek, we learned that the owners have lived in Andijon (a city in Uzbekistan) for many years.  And no, I don’t have a suzaneh hanging on my walls, nor does anyone else in my family. It’s stored in some dusty suitcase somewhere…

But back to the food….

Tea in Piala

Tea in Piala

First things first…. We ordered hot tea. Remember that it was the middle if winter and cold and there’s nothing better than a steaming cup of real black tea. By real I mean loose leaf, not in a tea bag. See, you can even see the leaf floating in the cup. Oh, and these cups are called piala or pialushka (pronounced: pee-a-loosh-ka, with the emphasis on the “loo” part; with pialushki being the plural). The tea was good, so totally hit the spot. Ahhhh, bliss… And it helped that it was served in the traditional tableware. We have that same set at home, it’s what helped fill our crates when we came here (and if you know where we can get more, please let me know!) and the atmosphere was therefore so much more comfortable and homier.

Salad

Salad

Then we ordered food. It felt like we ordered half the menu, but the portions were very generous and we had plenty to take home.
We ordered salad (“achichuk“), like the one we typically make at home. But we (I) typically leave the cucumbers off. It was pretty good, and I was surprised since it was the middle of winter and the tomatoes were pretty good. You know me and tomatoes…  If you search online for this restaurant you’ll see other reviews and sometimes incorrect descriptions.  This salad is not pickled as others claim, and you can see that from the picture.

Lepyoshka - Uzbek bread)

Lepyoshka - Uzbek bread

We also ordered bread. It’s called a lepyoshka (pronounced: le-pyo-shka), and should generally be made in a tandyr, but this was done in a regular oven. It was pretty good, but of course, not like what you’d get in Tashkent pretty much at any bazaar, even the little sidewalk ones. The open fire really adds quite a bit of flavor and puts it over the top. I really like the sesame seeds on it; just adds a really nice hint of nutty-ness and changes the flavor profile of the whole thing. These are made from scratch daily and are served warm. YUM!

This post is getting pretty long, and I haven’t even gotten to the main course. So please stay tuned to the next post.

Tea (Rishi) and Anaba Tea Room

Anaba Tea Room

Anaba Tea Room

I really wasn’t planning on writing a review about this tea tasting. When I got there, I was greeted at the door by two lovely women who offered me ice tea. I’m not a huge fan of cold drinks, especially tea, and seeing just the one table with two varieties, I was rather disappointed that I wouldn’t get to try more teas. But was also confident in my decision not to blog about it.
But then I tried the tea. Amazing. Even for a cold tea. Good thing I try to carry my camera with me at all times.  Never know when it might be useful.  They also told me that there are tea demonstrations on the rooftop as well as in the tea room. (When you first walk into the building, it looks like a garden shop and the tea room is on the level below.) So I went downstairs and found the place to be rather charming. The skylight lets light into the tea room even though it’s in the basement and you feel like you’re outside, with the fountain adding to the feeling.

Tea Tasting

Tea Tasting

Walking around, I realized there were two areas where representatives from Rishi were offering teas for tasting as well as a plethora of information. I found both representatives to be incredibly knowledgeable and approachable.
Then I started tasting the teas. I tried the Jade Oolong in both cold brew and hot and liked it enough to purchase a sample. I also tried a few other varieties and ended up settling on Silver Needle as another sample purchase. These teas are not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re so good and so worth it. The different profiles of the teas are evident depending on how it’s brewed.
For this event, the appetizers/finger food was provided by the Anaba Tea Room. When I looked at the menu, nothing looked like something I would want to order. I was actually surprised at how good the food was and how well it went with the different teas. One of the representatives talked about tea in terms of wine, and I think that metaphor worked well not only for the food pairings, but also for our general comprehension.

After spending ample time in the tea room, I decided to make my way up to the roof garden.

Rooftop Garden at Anaba Tea Room

Rooftop Garden at Anaba Tea Room

Rooftop Garden at Anaba Tea Room

Rooftop Garden at Anaba Tea Room

It’s a wonderful urban oasis. You sit on the top of the roof, in this gorgeous garden, drinking the most delectable tea, enjoying life. It’s perfectly chic and urban without being a cliche. The teas served on the roof were interesting. One of them had a very strong citrus flavor and I could pick out grapefruit. This is the only tea I didn’t like, but I didn’t like it because I don’t like grapefruit. I’m sure if there was no grapefruit, I’d have a different reaction. The other tea served on the roof was with a hint of peach. It was so refreshing. As a cold brew, it would be wonderful, almost like a peach bellini but better, in my opinion.

I also didn’t know that Rishi is a local company and was glad to find out that it is.  The representatives also told us that Rishi just won first place for one of their teas at the World Tea Championships.

A few hours later when I was doing grocery shopping, I did pick up another canister of Rishi tea to try.  Sendik’s stores have a really wide selection, so why not try something new.   As a side note, I’ve been drinking Jade Oolong all day today and I love it.  What a wonderful find.  I wish Rishi would do these tastings every weekend so I can try all their teas.  😉  But for now, here is their events schedule.

Restaurant Review: Shiraz

I know it looks like I haven’t cooked for months, but that’s not entirely true.  I have cooked things I already blogged about, eaten home-cooked food at other family members’ houses,  and have also visited a few restaurants.  I have also managed to snag a few recipes I’m waiting to try out, so stay tuned for those.  But for now, here is a review of Shiraz.

Shiraz Persian Grill

Shiraz Persian Grill

I’m sure you have noticed my penchant for Central Asian cuisine.  Middle-eastern food is a close approximation, though it’s not exactly the same thing, but I like it nonetheless.  So this time, a friend and I tried out Shiraz Persian Grill.  The atmosphere was perfectly “college town” and it fits well on the East Side of Milwaukee.  I was pleasantly surprised by the selection available, though I do wish they’d have lamb kabobs.  The long case you see in the picture carries several kinds of meat, rice, salads, toppings, and other things I can’t even remember.

I had the Beef Koobideh with raisin rice, hummus, and baba ganoush.  My friend had Spicy Chicken with rice as well as hummus and baba ganoush.  What can I say, we both like eggplant and chickpea dishes.

Beef Koobideh

Beef Koobideh

The Beef Koobideh wasn’t as tasty as I would have hoped.  I didn’t have any preconcieved notions about what it’s supposed to be, but it was a little cold and a little tough.  The rice was really good and I think I’ll try to make something similar at home, but the rice seemed to have been a tad overcooked (the rice grains were split down the middle).  The pita bread you see in the corner seemed a touch stale/tough.

Spicy Chicken

Spicy Chicken

I did take a piece of the Spicy Chicken to try and have to admit that it was really good.  I think this would be the dish I order the next time I go there.

The hummus was a hit, but the baba ganoush tasted a bit too sour to both of us.  Little garnishes of pickles and olives did little to mask the taste of the baba ganoush but worked really well with the hummus.  Maybe we were there just at the wrong time.  Maybe the food is better (hot and yummy all around) when there are more people.  I will certainly give this place another try, but will probably stay away from the beef koobideh.

Restaurant Review: La Dolce Vita

Interior of La Dolce Vita

Interior of La Dolce Vita

On our last “Girls Day Out” we were short one girl. It was her husband’s birthday and a good enough reason not to hang out with the girls. But she was definitely missed. We went to the Museum After Dark event, but before that, we checked out a restaurant.

The restaurant we tried out is La Dolce Vita. This is a small, cute, charming restaurant that served us delicious food.  The service was prompt, the server was courteous, and the bathroom was clean.  When added to yummy food, you have a winning combination.  I am definitely looking forward to returning and trying other things on the menu.

Appetizer

Appetizer - Zaalo

We shared an appetizer of Zaalo which is an eggplant dish. We both happen to love eggplant, and I detected a hint of cumin.
Then for dinner, my friend had Salad Nicoise and I had the Merguez Panini. The french fries threw me off since I don’t think of them as Mediterranean, but the sandwich was lip-smackingly delicious. It was great even the next day. C’mon, you don’t really think I could eat the whole sandwich in one sitting? It was definitely tempting, but way too much food. Which makes it a great bargain.

**UPDATE:  I forgot to mention in my original post that the first time I ate the sandwich, I ended up looking for the restroom the rest of the evening.  I don’t know if it had anything to do with the food itself, since the other half of the sandwich didn’t give me any trouble the next day, unlike the first half of the sandwich.  Just thought I’d mention it, in case you will not have the opportunity to be near a bathroom or have a weak stomach for new things.

Merguez

Merguez

Salad Nicose

Salad Nicose