Category Archives: Chicago

April in Chicago in April

My pen pal, April, and her partner Geof were in town this month for a visit. They live in New Zealand and April is a huge fan of Presley so she stops in to see her when she’s in town. And, we always go to Greer when she visits. It’s so fun to shop in Greer with someone else who loooooves stationery and fancy office supplies as much as I do. We were the only customers in the shop while we were there, but you’d never know it as much as we were chattering about Mr. Boddington’s great style, vintage pencils, the many, many notebooks we have in our stashes, and the great variety of greeting cards at Greer. mr. boddington's stationery, pencil case, vintage pencil, Mr. Boddington's pencil stationery Naoto gave me a gift card to Greer for Christmas and this was the first chance I had to spend it. I still have some money left to spend again, but I this time I chose some Mr. Boddington’s pencil-themed stationery, a vintage pencil, and a new pencil bag. (Neither the vintage pencil nor the pencil bag are available online.)We also went to Quimby’s to look at zines and take pictures in the photo booth. (I can never pass up a photo booth.)April and Geof were in town for Record Store Day and they shopped a lot of the record stores in Chicago, so we took them to Val’s Halla and Old School Records in our neighborhood. Val’s had live music which really put me in the mood to shop. On their last day in Chicago, it snowed six inches, so our plans were adjusted. We ended up going shopping and to Portillo’s for Chicago-style hot dogs and Italian beefs. Weirdly, we didn’t write any letters together this time, but there’s always next year!

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Naoberly’s Noodle Tour: Ramen Takeya

The day we went to the taping of the Very Serious Crafts Podcast was cold and snowy, so we decided to stop in the West Loop for some ramen. We went to Ramen Takeya, a sister restaurant of one of the best rated ramen shops in the city, Wasabi. We haven’t been able to get up to Wasabi yet, but Ramen Takeya specializes in chicken broth ramen, which seemed interesting. Plus we have quite a few friends who don’t eat pork, so we figured we’d do some ramen research for them!

We got to the restaurant a little before they opened, so we had a chance to scope out the menu outside in the snow. When we got inside, we were barely greeted and I just had a bad feeling about the whole thing. (Basically, the host–who also was our server–tossed our menus on a table and walked away while we were still at the front of the restaurant.) The shop was decorated with old metal Japanese signs and advertisements, including an old Japan Post sign. I just loved the “old Japan” feeling of the place! We ordered drinks, a beer for Naoto and a lychee cocktail for me. The drinks were good, and so were the buns (pictured above.) But the service continued to be…cold. I got the Osaka Shio ramen, which has both pork and chicken broth. It was good. I enjoyed most of the toppings and the noodles, but I felt like the pork was extra fatty (which I know some people love, I’m just not one of them.) I also got buttered corn as an add-on, which would have been delicious if it didn’t come freezing cold. Naoto ordered the Chicken Paitan Ramen with fried garlic as an add-on topping. He really enjoyed his bowl (and half of mine!)

At the end of our meal, we weren’t offered another cocktail, or water, or dessert, or any sort of friendliness, so we just paid our check and left…which seems like all they wanted anyway. I feel bad writing a negative post, but man, customer service is important…especially when there are so many ramen restaurants in Chicago. And I think our experience was just so shocking for us because the West Loop has so many great places to eat and we’ve always had stellar service in that neighborhood.  On the way home, I checked Yelp and all of the negative reviews mentioned the service and most of those people had our server, so…apparently no one at Ramen Takeya cares enough to give this dude some feedback. So, all-in-all, we’re glad we tried it, but a second visit isn’t in our plans. (Sorry to be a Debbie Downer today!)

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Very Serious Crafts Podcast

serious crafts podcast live taping, harold washington libraryMollie is the first “internet friend” I ever met. I went to a little stitching meet-up for her Wild Olive blog readers back in 2011 and we’ve seen each other a few other times over the years and obviously have kept up over social media. She and two other professional crafters (Haley Pierson-Cox and Heidi Gustad) host the Very Serious Crafts Podcast. I’m an occasional listener, so when they announced a live taping at Chicago’s Harold Washington Library, I signed up to go.During the podcast, the hosts talked about vintage crafts and what books got them started in crafting. They each passed around vintage crafts and supplies, including this kooky hairy couple and weirdly sweet kitty. There was also a terrifying clown made out of fabric yo-yos (sorry Mollie!) and some vintage needle books.

At the end, we each made a coffee cup sleeve using various techniques. I embroidered for the first time in a long time and it was pretty fun, even though my stitches were uneven and imperfect. I think I need to find my embroidery supplies and start making again!

They tape the podcasts in advance so I’ll let you know when it is live in case you want to listen in! Do you have any podcasts you listen to regularly?

 

P.S. Speaking of podcasts…Naoto still hasn’t posted his…

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Snow Mail, No Mail

The weather has been insane in Chicago lately. After a very snowy weekend, we had sub-zero temperatures on Wednesday with wind chills of 45 below. It was colder here than it was in Alaska. It was so cold, the entire area was pretty much shut down. No school, no work for many people, no Metra trains, even no Trader Joe’s and no mail service since Tuesday! (Update: mail arrived Saturday night!) It was almost as cold on Thursday and it snowed some more Thursday night, but now this weekend it’s warm and rainy. Now every thing is a mess of slush and dirty snow. (Dirty snow is my least favorite part of winter.)

I took some inspiration from the weather and used some of my wintry Japanese stationery to kick off the Month of Letters. The snowflakes are an old Midori set I bought a few years ago and the polar bears are from Maruzen. And the washi tape is old mt and I was kicking myself because I have other snow washi, but I packed it away with the Christmas stuff…

I sat under a blanket right next to my space heater while I wrote the letters…a cup of hot tea and a warm kitty nearby. It was a cozy to kick off the month.

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Naoberly’s Noodle Tour: Ramen-San

I’ve been fighting a losing battle with a cold since the new year, so Naoto’s birthday was a little bit neglected this year. But I think I made up for it by making reservations at Ramen-San, a ramen shop in Chicago. It was a pretty warm night in Chicago (for January) and it felt good to get out of the house for awhile and a hot, salty ramen was very good for my cold. First things first…the drinks! Naoto had a very cold Asahi in a frosty mug. He actually had three of them. The draft beer is run though a specialized chiller to make it extra cold. A super-cold beer is the perfect thing to drink with ramen, (or so they tell me…I don’t drink beer.) I had the Cilantro-Lime Margarita, which also has yuzu in it and you know how much I love yuzu! It was amazing, and also really nice with the ramen. Ramen-San also offers a yuzu lemonade which I will have to try next time.For our starter, we ordered the raw tuna on sesame crisps which were just enough to enjoy without spoiling our giant ramen dinner. I ordered their special for the night: a roasted garlic ramen. I have to say, this is the least photogenic bowl of ramen I’ve ever had, but it was so, so tasty. (I know it would have been more photogenic with more add-on toppings, but I can never finish an entire bowl of ramen, and really, I’m just here for the broth and the noodles.) It came with an egg, scallions, and shredded pork. The pork was so tender and flavorful. The broth was made with a garlic and miso and it would have made your Italian grandmother cry tears of joy. It was so garlicky, I honestly felt like it could have cured my cold right then and there…but really, that’s asking a lot from a bowl of ramen.Naoto ordered the kimchi and fried chicken ramen, which again, sorry for the terrible food photography, but he loved it. He even got a second helping of noodles to finish off his broth. For dessert, we shared this giant bun filled with matcha cream and coated in matcha sugar. It was incredible.

We’re already planning our next ramen outing so hopefully I’ll have another Noodle Tour update for you soon. In the meantime, catch up on previous Naoberly Noodle Tour adventures here.

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Gyu-kaku

Gyu-kaku Japanese BBQ, west loop restaurantsNaoto and I celebrated our 12th anniversary last Saturday! We had plans to go to a new cocktail bar called Prairie School, but it unexpectedly closed for good the week before our anniversary. (It wasn’t even open a year!) I was super bummed. But then I read about Gyu-Kaku, a Japanese BBQ chain that came to Chicago a couple years ago. I knew Naoto would be into it–he remembers going in Japan–and I figured it would be something different and fun. It’s definitely not really a romantic place…it’s pretty bright and loud and open and you’re working together to cook your food, so if you’d rather have a more traditional special occasion with your partner, maybe this isn’t your place. That being said, a group dinner here would be a blast. (And of course it was perfect for us since we’re not really white tablecloth kind of people.) Gyu-kaku Japanese BBQ, west loop restaurants, lychee cocktail, Asahi beerWe started with an Asahi beer and a lychee martini while we pursued the menu for the best options for the two of us. You can order a la cart, or you can do different levels of prix fixe options. Gyu-kaku Japanese BBQ, west loop restaurants, Gyu-kaku saladWe opted for the “samurai” menu that included starters of miso soup, salad (pictured above,) spicy tuna volcanoes, and beef bibimbap. And for grilling, Kalbi beef, miso skirt steak, rib eye, garlic shrimp, chicken, and vegetables. Oh and mochi ice cream for dessert. It was plenty of food for both of us. Gyu-kaku Japanese BBQ, west loop restaurants, grilling meatsThe servers give pretty good instructions about placement and timing for the various meats. No one wants to eat raw chicken.  Naoto did most of the grilling, but I helped with the vegetables. Gyu-kaku Japanese BBQ, west loop restaurants, grilling meatsThere are three sauces to accent the food, sweet, sour, and spicy. The meats are marinated but the sauces are perfect little accents to balance the richness of the meal. Gyu-kaku Japanese BBQ, west loop restaurants, mochi ice creamOur dessert was green tea and strawberry mochi ice cream. A few bites of each was a perfect ending to our dinner.

Next time, I think we will probably order a la cart, mainly because there are different sides and meats we’d like to try in place of the prescribed choices with the prix fixe menus. They even have some summer specials that look really fresh and tasty. Gyu-kaku Japanese BBQ, west loop restaurants, cherry blossom cocktail, asahi beer Cheers to the next twelve.

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