Saturday was so beautiful, the drinking I had done at Gallery Cabaret the night before could not keep me in bed. I wanted to walk in the sunshine, see a bit of the neighborhood, get a cup of coffee, and maybe grab a dose of greasy Mexican diner food.
Sadly, the only Mexican restaurant that fit the bill didn’t seem to be open at the time. A stroll down a few blocks back toward my hostel brought me another quick breakfast option.
I have been in other businesses, mostly bakeries, that have a specific cultural cuisine focus, but they’re usually spare, family owned places with white walls and floors, spare shelves, and a strange sense of permanent temporariness. Austrian Bakery was warm and welcoming, filled with what seemed to be a good mix of locals and both stateside and international travelers. The small seating area was completely cramped with people, with just a little open seating at the counter in the window. My walk, however, had gone on a little too long and I wanted to get back to the hostel to rouse my partner from his slumber, so I ordered a coffee and cheese pocket pastry to go.
My mouth is watering just for the thought of it. The sweet pastry gave way to a surprisingly mild cheese filling that perfectly coated the inside layers. It was present in every bite, but not overwhelming and not too sweet. The only minor detractor was the abundant powdered sugar, which didn’t add anything necessary to the pastry and made it messier than it could have been.
But, like I said, that was a minor complaint. I gobbled the pastry down minutes after bringing it back to the hostel. For as leisurely as our trip was, I probably should have taken more time to savor its deliciousness.
Because Friday’s weather had been so crappy, we had stayed fairly close to Lincoln Park. Saturday’s gorgeous weather afforded us the conditions to stray a bit farther into the city. We took advantage of our three-day CTA passes and hopped on a train to Chinatown.
This area of Chicago has been heavily settled by Chinese immigrants since 1867, when the Transcontinental Railroad brought in travelers from the west coast. Its residents and business owners are predominantly Chinese, but a large percentage of the architecture was designed by non-Asian architects working in the style of Chinese design. These structures include the archway you see in the picture above, and the one below, of Chinatown’s oldest restaurant, Won Kow:
Back in Lake View, we took our friend Anna Sophia’s advice and tried out Yummy Yummy for lunch.
Many Asian restaurants offer vegetarian/vegan options, but I always jump at the chance to try a place that specifically caters to the veggie crowd. The options tend to be a bit more diverse and inventive than the typical offerings. Dedicated vegetarian menus offer a better selection, and Yummy Yummy was no exception.
First, a little word on the decor. If you’ve got a tiny space in which to fill out your small restaurant, this is one of the best ways to do it. Bright green walls with orange accents made the place open and light, and the simple wooden tables and chairs kept things simple and cafe-like. It didn’t feel wholly put together, but bits-and-pieces feel was charming, rather than ramshackle. A very pleasant setting for what turned out to be a fairly pleasant meal.
James ordered the orange soy gluten, which came in little fried nugget form, almost like popcorn shrimp. The sauce was heavy and sweet, with a distinct citrus tang. James was pleased with the soy gluten, but would have preferred a few more vegetables, especially bell pepper and onion. I thought the amount of broccoli was sufficient, but I found the soy gluten a little too heavy on the breading. The actual soy gluten seemed to get lost in the thick coating. We both agreed that the sauce was teetering on the line between orange brown sauce and a dark sweet and sour.
A tasty dish, to be sure, but in need of a few tweaks.
The Mongolian seitan that I ordered, however, needed nothing, except maybe another order that I could take home with me. When seitan is that… meaty, it’s almost disconcerting. Biting something that chewy, that smokey, that texturally akin to beef is unnerving.
But it’s easy to get over a feeling like that when what you’re eating tastes so fantastic. Not just the seitan, either, but the mushrooms and onions accompanying it. Everything had just a slight cloaking of sauce, but surprisingly, there was little flavor lost when adding the neutral white rice into each bite.
And so hearty! I ate just enough that carrying out the extra would have been more bother than I cared to see to, but luckily for me, my partner was more than happy to help.
I really liked Yummy Yummy. It wasn’t the mind blowing, stomach-consciousness-altering experience that Chicago Diner was, but it was delicious and inexpensive, and definitely the kind of place that I would be visiting regularly if I lived in the area.
Above is another picture taken from Grant Park. One of the numerous benefits of a flat landscape is the infinite amount of things you can work into the foreground while retaining the city skyline as a consistent backdrop. Makes for unusually expansive photography. Expansive photographs for an expansive city.
The third, and final, day coming up soon!