Sunday Morning Soliloquy - Musings of an Urbanite: October 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

It's Later Than You Think

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I love that statement “It’s Later Than You Think” because regardless of the when, the statement is always correct. I think about it all the time because I feel as though I am always trying to make something happen, whether it is work related or personal, and I also feel as though I am always falling behind. It is always later than I thought, always.

Sunday night in late October, I cannot believe it is late October. I was watching the movie Frida over the weekend and came to the realization that the movie was nine years old. What the hell happened to the ‘00s? I feel like I took a short nap and woke up in another time. What’s even more confusing is that everyone seems to be wearing my clothes from 1987. I walk down the street and I see them wearing my clothes from 7th grade mixed in with my clothes from 5th grade and mis-matched with something I would have worn freshman year in college. It is frustrating. I am excited to see my garments of yesteryear and angry all at the same time.

I loved the fashion of the 80s. Loved it. The 80s were probably the best time for fashion, so I am pleased to see that everything old is new again. But then I am angry because I realize that everything old is new again and that the old includes me. I love the movie Closer with Clive Owen and Natalie Portman. Clive Owen’s character has my favorite line in the movie, he says, “Everything is a version of something else.” And that is the truth. I don’t care who or what it is, it is a version of something that already existed. Especially that Lady Gaga, she is a version of everything that existed before her all wrapped up into one. I added the advertisement below just in case someone reading this was ridiculous enough to purchase those terrible "officially licensed" glasses. I should be able to profit from that sort of non-sense, don't you think that is only fair?

I was thinking earlier tonight, without reproducing a human, without continuing the cycle of life, are you just waiting for another summer, another Christmas, another birthday? I dread winter in Chicago and I am always left thinking about how I will make it through another Chicago winter. Even more than I hate winter, I hate that I must have that thought, why don’t I just live somewhere else? But then, where would I go? Although Chicago is not the best city in the world, it is far better than any city in the United States that has mild winters. Please, don't leave comments with all the wonderful cities that I could consider, I don't care how awesome you think Charlotte is, it's not awesome. It's the opposite of awesome.

I wonder if people with children find themselves waiting for winter to be over? Do they live for landmarks, the holidays, the birthdays just like I do? Or, do their lives have a meaning that transcends the waiting for spring. I can’t know for sure, because if I asked, I’m certain I’d get an answer that I likely wouldn’t believe.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Upcoming Trip to Exclusive Resorts in Cabo San Lucas

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Last week I wrote about my amazing meal at Graham Elliot and now I am going to tell you about my upcoming trip to Exclusive Resorts in Los Cabos.

On November 16th, I will be off to Cabo for a three day trip at Punta Ballena Residences, a tranquil paradise for the discerning traveler. Myself, along with the six other ladies who moderate #luxurychat the third Wednesday of each month at 5:30 EST, will be live-tweeting from the residences for a special two hour #luxurychat. You can follow us on Twitter by searching #luxurychat (don't forget to use the hashtag).


More About Exclusive Resorts

Exclusive Resorts was founded in 2002, Steve Case, the co-founder of AOL, is their Chairman and they have residences in 37 destinations. Exclusive Resorts has a portfolio of nearly 400 multi-million dollar luxurious, private residences and 3000+ members. The concept is to create a more rewarding vacation experience for their members.

How Does Club Membership Work?

Exclusive Resorts membership requires a one-time Membership Fee, 75% of which is refundable, and Annual Dues. Membership plans range from 10 to 60 vacation days per year, let members send their extended family on their own club vacations, and include simultaneous use of two homes to make large gatherings a reality. All members have access to the club's entire portfolio of residences, services and amenities.

Members can take advantage of vacationing in various desired locations, the amenities are top-notch and the personalized services that Exclusive Resorts offers are unparalleled. Each residence averages $3 million in value and each comes with its own special touch - such as private pools, personal chefs and personal concierges. Some amenities are included in the price of membership and dues and some special services have fees associated with them. For example: Private chefs are certainly available, but not complimentary. However, the breakfast service made by the housekeepers in the morning is complimentary (minus the cost of groceries).


More about the Residences in Los Cabos

The residences at Punta Ballena embrace the beauty of the environment that surrounds it. The residences are designed in an authentic Mexican style and have features like the private courtyards with outdoor fireplaces, covered dining palapas, detached casitas, and colorful interiors inspired by traditional Mexican décor. They are well known for the ocean views, the wide open layouts of the residences, and their stellar spa services. I will be staying in a private, four bedroom residence and sharing a private chef with my housemates - the moderators for #luxurychat. Exclusive Resorts is taking great care of us and I cannot WAIT to experience every inch of this property and you can be certain that I will share every detail with you!


Thursday, October 14, 2010

10 Course Dinner at Graham Elliot in Chicago - The New Fall Menu

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10 Course Dinner at Graham Elliot in Chicago

On Tuesday @GrahamElliot tweeted that he was giving away a dinner to a blogger on Twitter. There were new items on the menu for fall and @GrahamElliot wanted the blogger to take photos of the meal and tweet and blog about the meal. Well guess what?!? I was chosen as that one lucky winner!

Graham Elliot Tweets

I am not a food blogger, I am a Leyla Blogger, I write about my life, but I do love food and I like taking pictures of food and I L-O-V-E @GrahamElliot. I loved him at Avenues and I love him now and I plan to love him when he turns into a Grahamwich too. In fact, I once ate Head Cheese because of @GrahamElliot at a pig event in Chicago - and I don't eat pig.

I arrived at 7:15 p.m. and was greeted by a friendly hostess. I wasn't sure what to say to her, so I said, "Hi. I am the, uh, Twitter girl, winner, person" in an unsure voice. I was relieved when she knew what I was talking about. My dad, who was my date for the evening, was already there. He had gone home after work and put on his sport coat. I tweeted the fact that he was going home to change and @GrahamElliot quipped back.

Graham Elliot Tweet

Enough babble, on with the meal!

We were seated and the lovely and talented Sarah was our server. They started us off with two glasses of champagne and the foie gras lolli pops. The reaction on my dad's face was great when the pop rocks started to crackle in his mouth.

Started with a glass of champagne and a foie gras lolli pop each

So serious

Next up was the fig brulet with whipped balsamic and house made ricotta along with crumbled marzipan and micro-arugula and arugula puree.

Fig brulet with whipped balsamic

Onto the baby caesar salad with gem lettuce (which is a hybrid lettuce of butter and bib), white Spanish anchovy, parmesan fluff and marzipan stuffed twinkie. Though the menu changes frequently, because the caesar is a favorite, the caesar never comes off the menu.

tiny, baby cesar salad

We were still on the cold dishes but headed into the savory section of the evening.
Venison tartar with juniper aioli, huckleberries, savory granola and yogurt ice cream with pine essence.

My dad made an observation. He loved the venison, loved the yogurt ice cream but he did not feel that the granola "matched" - it was too much for him, he felt it was a bit unnecessary.

Venison tartare with savory granola and yogurt ice cream

To be paired with our next dish, the buttercup soup, the beverage director, Michael Simon, paired an interesting concoction. Coconut water & ginger syrup mixed with Two Brothers Ebel's Weiss.

Delish beer cocktail with ginger and coconut water

The buttercup soup is a bisque style soup - compressed buttercup squash with toasted coconut, pumpkin seeds, yellow curry marshmallow and kefir lime.

Buttercup Soup Presented in a Beaker
Buttercup squash soup before it is served

Buttercup squash soup

It just kept coming and coming, each dish was just as lovely as the one before. We were next presented with pheasant sausage with Wisconsin cheddar risotto. Grapes & apples with a fried cheese curd & pheasant confit. It was shoot me now good! It makes you feel sorry for people who are not eating it, it is that good. Just thinking about it now, I can almost TASTE the cheddar risotto.

Pheasant sausage

Pan seared white fish with a cous cous cake, red pepper coulis, Cuban oregano (it is fresh oregano), fairy tale eggplant, finished with lemon bubbles

Pan seared white fish with lemon bubbles

My dad's favorite dish was next, the seared scallop. Under the scallop is persimmon puree, salsify and enoki mushrooms. Italian endive (braised) walnut pudding, gooseberry salad (in tomatillo family) on top of the scallop. Vanilla coffee gastric au jus. If you look in the picture, you will see a little walnut colored dollop - that is the walnut pudding. I would eat a bowl of that walnut pudding right now given the opportunity.

Hello delicious scallop

The third seafood dish was the arctic char. It was served with mustard spaetzle, carraway vinaigrette, pickled beets, dill creme fraiche and pumpernickel.

Arctic Char

One of my favorite dishes of the evening was the seared chicken breast with root vegetable and black truffle. The chicken came from JIDORI farm, which is a Buddhist farm that raises their chickens in the most humane way. The chickens are shipped no more than 24 hours after being slaughtered. They won't even sell their chickens to just any restaurant, they have to be approved by the farm.

Seared Chicken breast with black truffle

We had finally progressed to the red meat portion of the menu, skipping the suckling pig because I don't eat pig. The Korean short rib with house made kimchee, pureed kimchee, fermented black bean barbeque sauce, pickled enoki mushrooms, watermelon radish scallion crepe and micro cilantro.

What did we think about this unusual dish? I loved it, my dad not as much. I loved this dish because of the multitude of contrasting flavors, how they all stood up and danced on my tongue. My dad, who is not a big meat eater, was not a huge fan and couldn't really describe why.

Look at these colors!!!
Korean Short Rib BBQ

It was almost a relief to move onto the dessert portion of the evening. We were very full at this point, everything was delicious, but it time for dessert as we were almost on hour number four of our sensational dining experience.

We received another drink, this amazing shocu and black plum and agave cocktail with black currant and lemon.

Delish shochu cocktail

Poached pear with caramel and cider. Served with maple ginger ice cream, brown butter hazelnut chai cake with caramel syrup.

Poached pear dessert

Pistachio Panne cotta with coco nibs, morello cherries and morello cherry gelato (gelato made in-house), butter tweel (butter cookie shaped like a lemon rind) blood orange gel and fresh pistachio and pearl sugar.

Pistacio Panne Cotta

Indoor smore with dark chocolate ganache, house made vanilla marshmallow house made graham cracker peanut butter ice cream and salted milk chocolate foam. You heard me, I said, PEANUT BUTTER ICE CREAM.

Indoor S'more

Our Overall Impression?
We loved it. The service was impeccable. Sarah, our server, was sweet and tremendously hospitable, the beverage director, Michael Simon, he was a joy and his pairings were unique and recommendations were spot on. And finally, Merlin Verrier the chef de cuisine was a gentleman and his food was magic. He came out to our table three times and asked us about our meal, he seemed interested in our genuine opinion, he was humble and a true professional.

We enjoyed our meal so much that my dad extended an invitation to chef, our server Sarah, to Michael the beverage director to come to his home where he will make them and up to 12 of their staff a Turkish style dinner - traditional and contemporary cuisine. Now, we just need to find a date where we can accommodate all of them.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sushi and Sake 101 at SUSHISAMBA rio in Chicago

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Sushi and Sake 101 at SUSHISAMBA

What is Sushi & Sake 101?
Sushi and Sake 101 is one of my favorite events that SUSHISAMBA offers; five pairings of sake and a course from the kitchen to correspond with each pairing. Sushi and Sake 101 is a great event for couples and equally so for a corporate event. The class is taught once a month at Sushi Samba rio and usually takes place the second Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. Make sure to check for the latest updates.

Sushi and Sake 101 usually lasts about two to two and a half hours. The beverage manager, Adam Feichter, leads the sake portion of the class. Adam starts the class with a cheer – in Japanese called “Kompai” and then introduces the students to five different varieties of sake, it’s history, food pairings, differences in production and more. Once the beverage manager completes his segment, the class is turned over to Master Sushi Chef Shige Kitano. Shige starts with the introduction and goes into further detail: explaining the purpose of the numerous knives he uses, the importance of the rice, the types of fish, how to slice the fish and the varying styles of sushi.

The sake portion of the class.
Adam gave a five to ten minute overview of the origin of sake, he explained that sake is over 1000 years old and that it was originally called something along the lines of “virgin spit” (the actual term doesn’t translate to English properly but it was a crowd pleaser). The four main ingredients of sake are Water – Rice – Koji - Yeast. One question that was brought up in my class was the calorie count of sake, sake has about 180 to 220 calories per 5.5 oz. serving.

Sushi and Sake 101 at SUSHISAMBA

We tried five different sakes that evening. As we progressed through the sake pairings, each grade of sake got higher. A higher-graded sake will have more rice grain polished. A simple rule to follow with sake is: high acidity sakes are best to pair with high protein food such as duck, a heartier fish or red meat. Sakes with lower acidity are best paired with chicken or lighter fish. If you’d like to know more about sake in general, you can read my blog post on Sake Fever here.

  • Started with a Junmai, the Tsukasabotan a dry, everyday sake – a sake that one might liken to a table wine. The group agreed that this one had the strongest “rice” taste of all the others we tried.
  • Next up was the Kaori a Junmai Ginjo, polished to 60%, it was a bit more sophisticated than the first, more flavorful and fuller bodied – a more aged taste.
  • The third sake was Momokawa another Junmai Ginjo. This one had a very clean taste and was probably my favorite. Very medium bodied and balanced.
  • We started to progress to the highest-grade sake Yonetsuru which was a Junmai Daiginjo, polished to 50%. Adam expressed that a higher-grade sake will not necessarily mean you personally will like it better. In fact, for me, I preferred the Kaori and the Momokawa over the Yonetsuru.
  • The last sake was very unique because it was the only one that is made in the United States. Rock Sake was an unfiltered Nigori Daigingo, or cloudy sake, from Forest Grove, Oregon. Generally speaking, unfiltered sakes are my favorite but the Rock Sake was sweeter than other unfiltered sakes I’ve had so I still preferred the Momokawa or the Kaori. The group loved the Rock Sake, it was probably the most popular choice.

During the sake portion of the event, we also received edamame for the table, our first course was shrimp and sweet potato tempura and our second course was the miso marinated sea bass anticucho. The hot appetizers are a fair amount of food to hold you over until the sushi portion of the class begins.

SUSHI & SAKE 101 @sushisambachi

The sushi portion of the class.
After the sake segment, the class gets up and stands around Shige-san’s demonstration table as he starts his portion of the class. Shige starts by explaining the purpose and history of each of his knives. A side-note, Shige is probably the most respected and modest sushi chefs in Chicago, he is an extreme talent, recognized within the Japanese community in Chicago, and (very few people know this) he is also really funny and fashionable. I have been a fan of Shige-san since the day I started working at SUSHISAMBA in 2004, he is a consummate professional and a great sushi chef….and…I love him.

Sushi and Sake 101 at SUSHISAMBA

Shige took us through his knives, his English is good, but not great, I just wrote down what exactly he said in my notes. I thought it would be best to literally translate below exactly what Shige said in regards to each knife. This should give you a picture of the way Shige’s portion of the class goes.
  • Jutto – Chop Everything.
  • Deba – Very Strong. Cut bones.
  • Tako Biki – For Sashimi. Very expensive.
  • Sushi Biki – Peel skin. Very soft.

Shige then showed us a tiny knife. It was his original Jutto knife he started with 25 years ago. The knife had been whittled down to a fraction of its original size from years of sharpening. Another interesting fact that Shige shared with the group, when he first started as a sushi chef in Japan, he spent three years simply preparing the rice before he was promoted from rice cooker. The rice is a tremendously important aspect of making sushi.

Sushi and Sake 101 at SUSHISAMBA
Shige-san cutting a huge piece of yellowtail @sushisambachi during the Sushi & Sake 101 Class

Sushi, sashimi and rolls
  • Sushi is cut differently than sashimi because a small divot must be cut into the fish in order to capture the soy sauce
  • Salmon is cut against the grain, similar to beef
  • Tokyo style – or “traditional” rolls are rolled with the nori paper (seaweed) on the outside
  • The rolls with the rice on the outside, Shige referred to as “American” style
  • Hand rolls have a piece of sashimi sized piece of fish and rice wrapped in a piece of nori, hand rolls are cone shaped


SUSHI & SAKE 101 @sushisambachi

We each had the opportunity to select our fish: Salmon, tuna or king crab and make a roll. I chose to make a traditional roll with tuna and avocado because I prefer traditional rolls. One thing I learned was, very little pressure is used to roll a sushi roll. I think my roll looked more like a burrito than a sushi roll but I was proud of my burrito-sushi roll.

As everyone is making their amateur rolls, the sushi bar is preparing our professionally made rolls. In addition to the roll that I made, I also received half of am Unagi Tamago roll (eel with tuna wrapped in an egg crepe paper instead of nori) and four pieces of sushi (nigiri).

Questions I asked the other participants.
It was very obvious that I was taking notes during the event and I divulged to my classmates that I was going to be writing a blog post on behalf of the restaurant for my personal blog. They were very happy to answer some questions for me. I wanted to know what they thought of the price point $75 per person, why they wanted to take the class and how they heard about the class. Each couple thought the price was good, fair or appropriate for a high-end cooking class. The reasons for wanting to take the class varied. Some said they took the class because they love sake, they love SUSHISAMBA, they wanted to try something new and they wanted to learn more. Most everyone had heard about the class from either dining in the restaurant or looking at the SUSHISAMBA website.

Why should you take the Sushi and Sake 101 class at SUSHISAMBA?

It’s really fun but if you’re not a social person it may not be right for you. There is some downtime during the class where you interact with the other "classmates" and talk about what you like, who you are, etc. It is a very social and fun class. If you have a small group of six to 20 people, this is a great class to book privately. Sushi and sake 101 is a great idea for an upscale bachelorette party, a birthday, team building event or a holiday party for a small office.

Disclosure: I am an independent contractor in the marketing department for SUSHISAMBA in Chicago.

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