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for inspection, branding, or shipping." In other words, it's "a systematic gathering together of people or things." Well, that's what this post is all about.
Somewhere along the way, I broke bad: I got behind - way behind - on publishing the accounts of my dining experiences. I must apologive to you, dear reader, for leaving you hanging! It's not that I've been extraordinarily busy, or that I've been sick: I have simply been dragging my feet in pushing through write-ups. Maybe you can sympathize with me: I wish I had a clone who could do my work for me! (While I do nothing and chill, that is!)
Included in this roundup are a number of local eats and the highlights of my short trip to Milwaukee. So here goes the recap of what I've been eating the past few months or so.
First up is Hayashi Japanese Restaurant in Gurnee, IL.
At some point during my time here at Great Lakes, I grew tired of having to ride the train for an hour and a half to Chicago just to go eat. Therefore, I decided to give some more of the local restaurants a try, to see if there would be any surprises for a discerning eater such as myself. I saw that a Japanese restaurant in Gurnee got a number of good reviews online, so I headed on over with my pal, "D".
What I ate:
1. Assorted nigiri sushi (2.50-2.75 USD): Hamachi (yellowtail), sake (salmon), white tuna. The nigiri were fine as far as nigiri go, however, there was a crucial deficiency. The problem I had with the sushi was the price point and number of sushi provided. Usually, most sushiya will serve you two pieces of common nigiri for about 3 USD, maybe 4 USD. Hayashi provided only one piece at almost the same price for two. It was a ripoff.
2. Soft Shell Crab Roll (7.95 USD). Hayashi's soft shell crab roll was the worst I ever encountered. As a whole, the roll seemed woefully undersized. The crab was strangely prepared: it had a weird spiciness to it and it lacked real form or shape, not having enough body to fill out the roll.
Hayashi was insanely overstaffed for a restaurant of its size and turnover. There were about ten to fifteen tables including a small sushi bar that were manned by about five or six people (excluding the itamae). Even if the restaurant was hoppingly busy, two people working the tables would've been enough to handle the needs of its guests. I don't know if the owner was putting his or her relatives to work or something but it didn't seem like it.
The Bill: 17.03 USD.
My Rating: No star out of four stars (poor). Unfortunately, Hayashi reinforced the notion that the only place to find decent sushi is in the city, not out here in the sticks of Illinois. Call for hours of operation. Credit cards accepted.
Next up is C.Y.O.C. - Create Your Own Cheesecake.
While my friends and I went grocery shopping at the NEX Commissary here at Great Lakes, we stopped by Burger King for some Whoppers, which we missed eating. While crusing through the drive-thru, I couldn't help notice that next door was a small restaurant which advertised an unusual duo: cheesesteaks and cheesecake. I thought of the possibilities and, as a result, I made a mental note to check the place out in the future.
I didn't have to wait long for an opportunity to drop by the place. After "D" and I ate at Hayashi Japanese Restaurant, which was on the same day, I suggested that we stop by C.Y.O.C. for dessert.
Basically, C.Y.O.C. is a cheesecake version of Cold Stone Creamery. Instead of ice cream, the server scoops up cheesecake filling from refrigerated hotel pans and works it on a cutting board, mixing in the toppings of your choice. When ready, the server makes a deconstructed cheesecake in a cup: crumbled graham cracker crust on the bottom and mixed cheesecake on top.
What I ate:
Strawberry Cheesecake with Kit Kat pieces (4.63 USD). I think I put together a nice combination - strawberry and chocolate along with a crunch element from the wafers. The cheesecake had good flavor and it's texture was relaxed after having undergone work on a cutting board. I think the end product would have been even better had they used a chilled stone instead of a cheap, flimsy, plastic cutting board.
There is ample parking for those drivers out there.
The Bill: 4.63 USD.
My Rating: out of four stars (good). I really liked the concept, however, the execution could use a bit more refinement. Open every day, 11 AM to 9 PM. Visa, MC, and Discover accepted. www.cyocinc.com
Third in the lineup: St. Paul Fish Company at the Milwaukee Public Market.
My pals from many outings here at Great Lakes, "D" and "H", joined me for a short road trip to Milwaukee. Milwaukee is just as far from Great Lakes as Chicago is and is a major city worth seeing. The reason why we waited so long to visit was the lack of easy transportation to points north. Unlike Chicago, which is easily accessible by low-cost train service, we had to rent a car and drive ourselves to Milwaukee.
Once we arrived, "D", "H", and I drove around a bit to take in some of the sights. We drove around the downtown area and made our first stop at Potawatomi Casino. After a fast (losing) game of craps, the three of us drove over to the Milwaukee Public Market.
The Milwaukee Public Market is a fair-sized market full of vendors selling food, produce, and other goods:
I bought a scoop of ice cream from Kehr's Candies:
I forget what flavor it was - strawberry something - but I do remember that it was creamy, rich, and delicious! There's something about dairy in Wisconsin - it's high quality special!
After our usual hemming and hawing, "D", "H", and I settled on dining at St. Paul Fish Company.
What I ate:
1. Shrimp & Sausage Gumbo (cup = 3 USD, bowl = 4.50 USD). This gumbo was tasty and satisfying. Although I can't say it was nearly as good as the gumbo I had at Big Jones, nevertheless, the flavor and ingredients were on point.
2. Fried Oysters (8.95 USD). My buddy "D" ordered this basket of fried oysters. The batter was light and crispy and the oysters were hot - moreish as hell! You can't ask for more!
3. Oysters (market price). I can't recall the provenance of each oyster for you, however, I can tell you that each one was pleasantly briny and brought to a state of perfection with a squeeze of lemon.
4. Live Maine Lobster Dinner (13.95 USD): One pound steamed Maine lobster served with fries and coleslaw. What a deal on lobster - fourteen bucks! The lobster was absolutely delicious and wholly satisfying. The French fries were fine, on the other hand, the coleslaw was lackluster.
The Bill: 18.87 USD.
My Rating: out of four stars (very good). I hope I can make another trip to Milwaukee just to eat here again. Open Monday through Friday, 10 AM to 8 PM, Saturday, 8 AM to 6 PM, and Sunday, 10 AM to 6 PM. Credit cards accepted. www.stpaulfish.com
After church one Sunday, "D" and I didn't have a plan for lunch in Chi-town. After exchanging blank looks, I asked "D" for his iPhone so I could look for something interesting. Once I received some input from "D", I locked onto a Korean-Korean fusion joint called Crisp, which is near Wrigley Field on the north side of Chicago.
At Crisp, the star is the Korean fried chicken. In addition to Korean fried chicken, there are rice bowls - bibimbap - sandwiches, and burritos.
What I ate:
1. Seoul Sensation (7.95): Bulgogi, steamed white rice, lettuce, tomato, corn, white & green onion, seasoned carrot. Overall, I liked the burrito. It was very filling and when dressed with Allison's Atomic Sauce - a creamy mayo-based spicy squeeze bottle sauce - the Sensation tasted great. I would make a few changes to the burrito, however. For instance, I would change the lettuce to something else, like kimchi.
2. Crisp BBQ and Seoul Sassy (8.95 USD). These wings were huge! The Crisp BBQ wings were sweet, slightly spicy, and a little smoky with a nutty factor from the sesame seeds on top. The Seoul Sassy wings were drenched in a salty, sweet, ginger-soy-garlic sauce and garnished with green onion. These wings were so good, I experienced intense orgasmic pleasure akin to having you-know-what. Had I not stuffed myself with the Seoul Sensation burrito, I would've definitely ordered more.
The Bill: 18.59 USD.
My Rating: out of four stars (very good to excellent). OMG, that chicken ... off the hook, man, off the hook! Open every day, 11:30 AM to 9 PM. Credit cards accepted. www.crisponline.com
Before attending church one Sunday, "D" and I looked around Chinatown for a place to have breakfast. We felt like trying something new and Chi Cafe fit the bill. At first, I didn't have a good feeling about Chi Cafe because it didn't look like a place where you could get a good meal: the interior/exterior design seemed faddish. My initial fear was allayed by the tasty food that came out of the kitchen and the poco dinero that came out of my wallet in exchange.
What I ate:
I had the Sunrise Breakfast "C" (4.95 USD):
a. Iced Milo. Very nice. Milo is one of my all-time favorite chocolatey beverages.
b. Pork Pickled Vegetable Thin Egg Noodle. I love chow mein. These noodles in particular were ultra thin and crisp - almost like uncooked instant ramen noodles. The pickled veg and pork were ideal ingredients for this noodle dish.
c. Salted Pork Bone Congee. Hot, substantial, well seasoned, and comforting. There are few things in this world that can beat a bowl of rice porridge in the morning. The salty pork bones were a pleasure to suck on. The little bits of meat from the bones and their salty flavor contributed a great deal to each spoonful.
Chi Cafe plays old Hong Kong television programs on its widescreens which customers seem to enjoy.
The Bill: For two meals (I also paid for "D"s meal), 11.80 USD. What a deal!
My Rating: out of four stars (good to very good). Open Sunday to Thursday, 8 AM to 2 AM, and Friday and Saturday, 8 AM to 5 AM. Credit cards accepted. www.chicafeonline.com
I've returned to Chi Cafe multiple times since the meal depicted above.
On my second visit, I opted for a bowl of Thin Egg Noodle Soup with Pickled Vegetable & Shredded Pork (Sunrise Breakfast "A", 4.25 USD). Noodle soup is wonderful in the morning as well. Although I enjoyed this bowl of noodles and soup, next time, I think I would order different ingredients instead of the pickled veg and pork (like shrimp wonton or shredded roasted duck).
On my last visit, I had the Home Style Breakfast (4.50 USD), which consisted of a dish of Fried Glutinous Rice (photo above) and a bowl of Salted Pork Bone Congee. Tasty.
Let's keep going: Pret A Manger.
On the same day that "D" and I breakfasted at Chi Cafe, "D" and I visited the new Target in the Loop. I absolutely love Target, therefore, I was ecstatic to tour the clean, sleek, brand-spanking-new store. Inside was an outlet of a growing chain of casual eateries called Pret A Manger.
What I ate:
1. Chocolate Chunk Cookie (0.99 USD). This cookie was guuuuud! Served warm, it had a sugary and dark flavor to it.
2. Pain au Chocolat (1.99 USD). Pain au Chocolat is one of my favorite pastries and this version of it was pretty remarkable. The dough was flaky, buttery, and moist.
The Bill: 3.30 USD. You can't beat that price!
My Rating: out of four stars (good). Open Monday to Friday, 7 AM to 10 PM, Saturday, 8 AM to 10 PM, and Sunday, 8 AM to 8 PM. Credit cards accepted. www.pret.com/us
One Saturday, "D" took me and his friend "W" to Chicago's New Chinatown on the north side to eat dinner at a restaurant where he had a memorable bowl of bun bo hue just the evening before.
What I ate:
1. Ca phe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk). This is a terrible picture, I know: it doesn't show off the coffee right. Ca phe sua da and Thai iced tea are the go-to beverages for most everyone when dining at Vietnamese restaurants here in the States. Ca phe sua da is dark roast and sweet.
2. Banh beo (Vietnamese steamed rice cake garnished with dried shrimp, mung bean paste, and green onion). Banh beo is a dish that originates from Hue in Central Vietnam. You eat the rice cakes with fish sauce. A nice appetizer.
3. Pho dac biet (no photo, around 7 or 8 USD). The prevailing opinion is that Le's pho is one of the best in Chicago. I won't argue the point, it was pretty good.
I found the folks running the restaurant to be pretty friendly. This just added to the overall enjoyment of the meal.
The Bill: My portion of the bill came out to be around 15 USD, but I don't faithfully remember the exact cost because "W" covered our meal. Thanks, "W"!
My Rating: out of four stars (good). Le's is where I'll go for my pho fix in Chicagoland. Open Monday to Friday, 8 AM to 9 PM, and Saturday and Sunday, 7:30 AM to 9 PM. Credit cards accepted.
After dinner at Le's Pho, "D", "W", and I got dessert at Forever Yogurt.
Forever Yogurt is a growing chain of froyo stores, primarily found on the eastern seaboard and in the Midwest.
I had the Euro Tart flavored yogurt along with blueberries and raspberries. Nice. Not as good as Pinkberry, though!
The Bill: 10.76 USD for three bodacious cups of yogurt (0.45 USD per oz).
My Rating: No star out of four stars (satisfactory). Open Sunday to Thursday, 11 AM to 11 PM, and Friday and Saturday, 11 AM to midnight. Credit cards accepted. www.foreveryogurt.com
And, finally ... Joe's Crab Shack in Gurnee, IL!
What I ate:
1. Mussels Diablo (9.49 USD): "Flavorful garlicky tomato sauce with cilantro, andouille sausage, and a hint of spice." These mussels were okay. I liked the spicy heat of the mussels, however, I thought they were unnaturally sweet and slightly overdone. Included were several unopened mussels - a no no.
2. Sunset Fire-Grilled Steampot (23.49 USD): "It's the classic, but it's spicy - Snow crab, Dungeness crab, shrimp, and smoked sausage." I think the seasoning was Old Bay blend. There was a lot of food, too much for one meal, so I packed a crab leg or two to go. The steampot was okay.
Rather unique to Joe's Crab Shack was its festive, party atmosphere. Every so often, the house music turned up and staff members commenced dancing in the dining room. Also, it seemed like the FOH staff were singing "Happy Birthday" to someone every fifteen minutes.
Based on the food and vibe, I don't think I would return for another meal.
The Bill: 31.45 USD.
My Rating: No star out of four stars (satisfactory). Open every day, 11 AM to midnight. Credit cards accepted. www.joescrabshack.com
P.S. At one point during the last few months, I stopped going out altogether. After several weekends of being cooped up on base, I finally left to have dinner with my former roommate and enemy, "J", at Outback Steakhouse in Gurnee, IL. It's not a destination restaurant by any measure, however, it's an easy place to get a serviceable steak fix.
"J" and I shared a Bloomin' Onion:
I have never had a steak that I didn't like at Outback Steakhouse, and the Porterhouse I ordered for my entree was no exception.
Boy, the FOH staff were all just kids! I swear, they must've all still been in high school! Maybe this is why the service was pretty terrible :( "J" and I weren't even served the complimentary bread that I like so much.
The Bill: 40.12 USD for a drink, Bloomin' Onion, and a steak.
My Rating: I'll give Outback a generous out of four stars (satisfactory to good) even though they don't really deserve it, ha ha. The Gurnee location is open Monday to Thursday, 4 PM to 10 PM, Friday, 4 PM to 11 PM, Saturday, 11 AM to 11 PM, and Sunday, 11 AM to 9 PM. Credit cards accepted. www.outback.com
Last Word: Phew! That was long! Thanks for making it to the end. I hope I never get this far behind on blog posts again. No guarantees, though! Happy Thanksgiving!
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