Feb 242014
Chawanmushi Kitchensurfing

Japanese sweet potato soup starts the meal.

To celebrate Valentine’s Day, the ever fabulous Gourmet Rambler held a giveaway via her site for a KitchenSurfing dinner. I entered and was the lucky winner of a 6 course meal for two!

The idea behind Kitchensurfing is simple. Local chefs list their profiles, and people schedule them for gourmet meals prepared in the home. Chefs have varying specialties, of course, and you can research based on dietary restrictions or type of cuisine. The only thing needed is a little space in the fridge, dishes, and room for the chef to work magic.

Ebi Kitchensurfing

My dishes look fancy with Black Tiger Shrimp and pea shoots on top.

After some back and forth with dates, I picked an Asian influenced menu by Chef Ervin Guinto. We modified it a bit, working out details like my boyfriend’s dislike for nuts, mine for chocolate, and please, no chicken. Alcohol wasn’t included, but Chef suggested craft beers for each course. We stocked up and waited for the day.

I was worried that it would be weird to have someone else cooking in my kitchen, and not just because I use mine for dining experiments and Diet Coke storage. I spent the day tidying up and rearranging my fridge. And then I worried about how awkward the dynamic would be. Date night in my condo with someone else in the kitchen? It gave me pause.

Hara KitchenSurfing

The entree balances sweet and savory in one delicious orgy of porkbelly.

I shouldn’t have been concerned. Chef Ervin was a total pro and the evening was perfect. As it turned out, this meal was his first for two as well as his first suggested craft beer pairing. We were on an adventure together.

My boyfriend and I dressed up a little for date night, put on the USA vs. Canada women’s hockey game, and paused the television each time Chef brought out a dish. Imagine the perfect mix of a great sit-down meal at a fancy restaurant; impeccable table service where everything is explained and the glass is never empty; a great sporting event; a nice buzz from a carefully curated list of beer; and a dash of romance. All from the comfort of home.

Bonus? Chef did the dishes after he was finished.

Chef Erwin Guinto

I now have proof that gourmet meals can be made in my kitchen.

Chef’s years of experience at Arami and Japanois shined through each dish. Every course was garnished and plated perfectly, and tasted better than some prix fixe menus I’ve ordered in high-end restaurants. I loved the meal so much that I’m concerned that I won’t be able to find my favorite dishes from the menu. I hope Chef understands if I stalk him around town.

There are chefs and menus available for a range of prices on the site, but my prize retailed for $200 per person. I compare this particular meal to an evening at a two star restaurant or a splurge at Goosefoot or Graham Elliot. Even though $200 is a lot to spend on a meal, I’m trying very hard to justify another evening of decadent food. I’ll save up and try KitchenSurfing again because this was a worthwhile culinary adventure and a great experience. Try them for your next special evening!

I’d like to give a huge shout-out to KitchenSurfing and Gourmet Rambler for the prize. They didn’t ask me to write up a review — this is my Valentine to them and Chef Ervin Guinto. Thank you so much! Eating at home has seldom been this much fun.

 Japanese  Comments Off on An Evening with KitchenSurfing
Feb 112013
Lemongrass Tea Embeya

The perfect cuppa

One of the fun things about Restaurant Week is trying new places. Embeya was on my list, but I probably wouldn’t have gotten to it as soon as I did if it weren’t on the list.

Wow. So good.

Embeya is a beautiful restaurant. Lattice work and temple bell light fixtures accent a very posh, modern space. It got a little loud as it filled up, but that’s the only complaint I had. Service was great.

Things were cold and sleeting the night I went, so I started things off with some Lemongrass Tea. I don’t know where they get their blend, but I must find out because this went down so well.

Tofu Embeya

All tofu should be this tasty

My friend and I perused the R.W. menu, but truthfully the regular menu of authentic Japanese comfort food looked more intriguing. We skipped the R.W. choices and went straight for the Tofu. Though they make their silken tofu, the firmer tofu in the appetizer isn’t made in-house. It was still an amazing vehicle for the sweet pepper and Szechuan peppercorn sauce. The bit of roasted chestnuts were a nutty counterpoint, and taken together, it was a perfect bite of heaven.

Noodles Embeya

Highly slurpable

The dishes are served family style. I’m not really sure what that means in terms of the serving size because the entrees weren’t appreciably larger than what I’d expect in any other Asian restaurant. The Noodles we ordered were delicious with a meaty mushroom sauce dotted with Chinese celery and bay scallops. I have been craving this dish ever since.

The Sazuki, a light fleshed Japanese sea bass, was served atop a banana leaf and swimming in a delicate ginger sauce. It was addicting, too. I kept dishing the sauce onto the side order of short-grained fried rice. We rounded out the meal with a side order of bok choy that wasn’t too spicy despite the sprinkle of candied jalapeno.

Green Tea Puff Embeya

Japanese desserts tend to be light, and to my American palette, rather bland. Found that to be true, here, too. We ordered the tapioca topped with toasted almonds, dates and dried logan. In theory it should have been enough sweet, but the flavor didn’t penetrate the tapioca. The creme puff top was filled with a delicious matcha (green tea) cream filling surrounded by a bland profiterole. It was a bit of a let down after the rest of the meal.

Would I go back? Yes! I may skip the desserts, but I’m eager to try the rest of the menu.

564 W Randolph Street
(312) 612-5640