October 30, 2008

Hana Asian Bistro: A Scrambled CAKE restaurant review

Hana Asian Bistro
Fashion Square Shopping Center
9434 Skokie, Boulevard
Skokie, IL 60077
847-677-hana (4262)
Entrées are $10-$15.
Kids bento box meals $7-$8: choice of chicken teriyaki, dumplings, tempura, cooked sushi

A guest post by DH.

We may have found our new go-to Chinese joint at Hana Asian Bistro, just south of Old Orchard Mall (Westfield Shoppingtown, if you must).

Hana joins Kim's yearning for fresh sushi with a kitchen that can cook me fresh hot and sour soup.

The co-owner, Ray, said his architect partner painted the ceilings black, hung rice paper lanterns and built the dark hardwood paneled half-walls, which are topped with a faux oversize brick stucco pattern. Linen napkins lay atop dark hardwood tables with matching chairs that direct your focus to the centerpiece, an aquarium-style chest-high gas fireplace strewn with zen-like stones. Décor alone distinguishes Hana from our favorite Thai place, strip-mall neighbor Ruby of Siam, which simply nailed up some ethnic artifacts on the generic drywall. The boys loved their dragon roll (above), a sushi delicacy they've been waiting to eat again since our summer trip to DC. The beef and broccoli entree was several steps above a typical Chinese stir fry in a generic brown sauce. The beef was the most tender we've seen in ages, and the scallions and mushrooms rounded the dish off. The jalapeño tofu hit an ideal spicy note, but again, was a bit salty and was one of many misspellings on the menu. As a former menu designer, I'm saddened when a classy eatery like Hana slips menus into cheap plastic sleeves.

We were disappointed when this 2-day-old restaurant wouldn't accommodate our kids' special request for shrimp tempura. It didn't seem like a good way to build a loyal following.
Our chosen substitute, honey-sesame shrimp, was extremely sweet and a big hit with the boys, already stuffed from potstickers, vegetable tempura and spinach gomae. Kim had a problem with the shrimp dish in that she found several small pieces of hard, crystalized honey in her food, but no one else at the table had this problem. She's just lucky that way sometimes.

To apologize for the problem with the dish, the waiter offered us free dessert. I was alone in liking the green tea ice cream encased in rice flour cake, but I'm lactose intolerant, so it went largely uneaten. Kim said the green tea ice cream looked the food she prepared for the silkworms she raised two years ago for Pikachu's science fair project.

Our water glasses were constantly replenished. The floors, silverware and dishes were un-chipped. The bathrooms were clean and upscale as the front of the house. The boys were intrigued by the sink, a stand-alone metal basin (like a basket); the metal faucet looks like a hand pump with a bamboo chute to channel water. Kim notes a baby changing station is about to be installed in the ladies' room. The hand-cut cucumber, carrot and lemon garnishes (above with fresh potsticker) intrigued the boys and kept the plates interesting. The fusion bistro seems out of place in an run-of-the-mill strip mall. But Tyler Cowen in Discover Your Inner Economist (if you liked Freakonomics, check this out) argues that food sold away from bustling city centers offers a better value because what the owner saves on rent is often spent on better ingredients and chef's wages. Point well made.

Though we experienced a few bumps, we understand it's a brand-new establishment and Ray and his staff are working out the kinks. We are definitely taking to the road to Hana next time our Asian cravings strike, which should be in about a week.

October 25, 2008

Family Farmed Expo returns to Chicago November 21-23

Here's what I had to say after attending the Family Farmed Expo two years ago.

What a bounty of information! A bumper crop of delicious food samples and a cornucopia of pamphlets, brochures, and business cards!

I'm so glad I attended, but equally glad that I did not have my children in tow. The children's area was a bit small and the crowd was large, meaning things were cramped at times. I would not have wanted to negotiate that kind of crowd with my kids. Then again, we Moldofskys are a crowd-averse and early rising bunch.

I can't possibly distill everything I learned into a simple post, so you have to make do with the highlights below.

Hot Stuff
Jerry Jimenez retired to Southern Illinois to start a chili pepper farm. Yeah, I know, Illinois isn't exactly known for its specialty hot peppers, but Jerry’s out to change this. At his downstate Rancho Bella Vista he grows two acres of specialty peppers and turns them into salsas, powders, jellies, and jams. I sampled a mild salsa that offered just enough heat for my timid taste buds, but provided a more complex flavor than your typical grocery store variety. I bought DH a jar of the hot stuff. Learn more here.

I met Shelly, mom and co-owner of Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks. Think: Peapod meets Whole Foods. A great choice for a mom like me who loves the idea of feeding her crew organic produce grown at local farms, but fears wasting much of CSA box of veggies. While her prices are competitive with Whole Foods, you're saving not only a trip to the store, but all the impulse purchases you're likely to make there. (Or is DH the only one who needs a chaperon at Whole Foods?)

Speaking of unique cheeses
I was delighted to meet Gaylon Emerizian producer of the James Beard Award-nominated documentary about artisan cheese makers in Wisconsin, Living on the Wedge. BTW, James Beard Awards are the Oscars of the food world. And yes, I said a documentary about artisan cheese makers. I purchased a copy and watched it with my family. It was fascinating! I totally want to have a cheese tasting party.

Gaylon is probably better know for her other James Beard-nominated production, Spatulatta. Spatulatta is a fun by-kids, for-kids webcast featuring two girls from nearby Evanston.

For schools
Equal Exchange, a 20 year-old fair trade organization, offers a fundraising program for schools.

You can bring Envirokidz certified organic snacks and cereals (like Gorilla Munch and Panda Puffs) to your school by contacting Elaine in their foodservice division, phone 909-648-4234 or see www.naturespath.com to learn more.

Eco-gastro what??
Here are a few interesting websites connected with the organic food and sustainable farming movements:

Slow Food Movement, an eco-gastronomic non-profit dedicated to educating the public about local and seasonal foods that are grown according to sustainable principles, advocating for artisans who grow, produce, market, prepare and serve wholesome foods and more. Note: they also have a program for schools.

Find healthy food wherever you are with the Eat Well Guide and its twin, the Sustainable Table, celebrating the sustainable food movement. These sites will help you find some interesting, good-quality restaurants when you're traveling around the US and Canada.

More help for the gastro-traveler who seeks agriculinary adventures, tours, retreats, or culinary travels at LearnGreatFoods.

Find a local farms at Farm Direct. Choose your commodity (i.e. eggs or honey) punch in your ZIP code and see what’s in your area. Of course, if you live in the heart of the metro area near Chicago, “in your area” probably means 20-50 miles away.

Find a farmer's market in the Chicago or learn about the greenest, most organic one of all, the Green City Market. There's also City Farm @North Clybourn and Division and Growing Home, a job training and Employment for homeless people through organic agriculture plus a new urban farm in Englewood.

And to end on a sweet note, check out Chicago Honey Co-op.


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