One of the actual reasons for our visit to Chambana was to visit our good friend Brian Wong, who is now the head chef at Radio Maria. Brian, Jared and I have a long and not so sordid past. Many years ago, the three of us ran a tiny little catering company that we called Kuu (which is Japanese slang for "to eat"). Brian was the talented head chef, Jared the sous-chef/head butler/self-proclaimed image consultant and I the beauty and business brains behind it all (hahaha!). Though we have long parted ways from Kuu, Jared and I always knew big things were going to be in store for Brian.
So when we heard that Brian had become the head chef at Radio Maria, we couldn't wait to head back to Champaign and sample Brian's interpretation of Radio Maria. When we got to the restaurant we took a quick peek at the Tapas side of the restaurant which is set up as a bar. We found out that the entire restaurant decor is the resulting artwork/construction of the owners, which I found so fascinating. They used so many recycled materials such as the hanging pendant lights over the bar (old mail chute containers from the university), the actual bar is made of recycled material (the slate step at the bottom of the bar is from a VA hospital in Danville, and there is red velvet lining on the step that is from a local grade school stage, the edge is made from an old escalator handrail from Bergner's), and many of the table tops are old doors from the university as well. The back of the bar's stained glass windows are from Collegiate Cap and Gown. There are so many hidden gems that I'm sure we missed. But seriously, who doesn't respect a restaurant with a material recycling philosophy like that?
The watermelon salad offered a nice balance of flavor and texture. What surprised us the most was the mint leaf hidden in the greens. The burst of mint flavor matched perfectly with the sweetness of the watermelon. And the tartness of the balsamic and lemon oil dressing meshed well together.
We really liked this dish. I mean what can go wrong with perfectly seasoned and cooked shrimp over a bed of sweet corn and bacon. The smoky bacon and sweet corn cooked in a cream sauce is a classic combination, but what surprised us were the popcorn shoots. We've never had this shoot from a baby corn. It tasted like mild corn with a bitter note at the end. We wanted to tell the Brian to send out more shrimp, but we knew we had more surprises ahead of us.
By looking at the picture, you can tell the filet was cooked perfectly. The wasabi sauce was Brian's play on the classic steak served with horseradish. But the real surprise of this dish was the sauteed spring onion and shitake mushrooms. The spring onions were so young, tender and sweet. The steak by itself was really good, but eaten together with the spring onion and mushroom made this dish outstanding.
The short ribs were really tender and grilled prior to serving to give it the bbq taste. The smoked paprika orange sauce was a little on the sweet side, but matched well with the short ribs
I finished the meal feeling much like what I imagine a mother feels when she sees that her son has grown into a fine young man. (haha!) A little amazed at how far he's coming along, yet absolutely cogniscent that this was always in him, and more. I'd tell you that this brought a tear to my eye. But to tell you the truth the next day, as we were saying our goodbyes, I heard him bark orders during the brunch rush. I instead had a knowing and proud smirk on my face as I walked away.