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Buffalo Joe’s Fo’ Sho

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Nothing says, “Fall is here!” better than pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks, football, and chicken wings, right?  Well, actually that last one is always good year round, but it could make the terrible Bears season we’re experiencing a bit less sucktacular.  Am I right?  So today I’d like to recommend a little slice of comfort food heaven in Evanston called Buffalo Joe’s.

We went to this small eatery on a balmy summer night, and it was simply furnished inside and outside.  IMG_4227This no-frills diner translated to a walk up and order type of restaurant.  IMG_4226Their menu consists of plenty of bar food even though it’s not a bar per se, so expect plenty of burgers, hot dogs, Italian beef sammiches, salads, gourmet baked potatoes, chili, and of course, the wings.  I love my chicken in general and the spicier the better.  So, we got a double order of wings ($14.59), half tossed in mild sauce and the other half in the suicide sauce.  We also got an order of the Buffalo Chips ($2.89).IMG_4223  After a bit of waiting, they shouted our order was ready, so we grabbed the grub and found an open booth.  It was like a fast food restaurant that somehow wasn’t one since they had the signature mid-90’s Burger King seats made with thick slats of wood, but there wasn’t a paper crown in sight.  Buffalo Joe’s made up for the decor with the Simpsons on the tv along with some delectable looking food.  I started on my wings which I got at least 10 to my order. IMG_4224 While they were neither as enormous as the wings at Hooters nor as hellish as the ones at Jake Melnick’s, they were good pieces of chicken.  There was ample meat on bony wings that could have had next to nothing, but I thought they had a fair amount of meat for the price.  As for the “suicide” sauce, I think it might have been hazardous to most diners’ health, but my taste buds and stomach are far from new to consuming fiery meals.  Ergo, I found their suicide sauce to be almost like a typical buffalo sauce with a vinegar kick and a bit more spice than normal that was amped up with the sauce-slathered jalapeno pepper slices.  I think the mild wings were a bit better since the vinegar tinged flames gave way to a more buttery/savory/smoky flavor that was enhanced with the ranch dressing on the side.  Then there were the buffalo chips.  Even though their name means something a bit more repugnant than some fried potatoes (buffalo poo), the flavor and appearance were much more appeasing to the senses.  I can never say no to waffle fries, and the super fake nacho cheese were the icing on the cake (or perhaps the dairy on the tater). There were only two downsides to this side.  First, there was the soggy factor that happens in any sort of nacho cheese situation.  While the top chips were crisp and coated, but bottom ones were drowned beneath the yellow waves.  That was the other bad part of the side was the cheese itself.  I think that they overdid it a bit because I felt like I was swimming in a squeeze cheese pool by the end of of the meal.

So if you’re tired of scantily clad waitresses or ten billion tvs blaring sports stats at you STAT!, check out the laid back atmosphere of Buffalo Joe’s!
Buffalo Joe's on Urbanspoon

Everything’s Coming Up Roses

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Well, the weeks in October are just flying by.  I can’t believe that October is almost finished, and Halloween is a week away.  My Game of Thrones costume idea has hit a snag, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out in time.  If not, I’m really in for a scare.  However, one eatery that is anything but scary is Rose Angelis in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago.10542851_686606968094365_102258942_n

Chicago has a mountain of Italian eateries that run the gamut from bare bones like Bombacigno’s to high end dining like at RPM, so choosing one is an easy task.  However, finding one with high quality food at low low prices is often times a difficult task.  Enter the aforementioned Rose Angelis.  I had never heard of this place before I was being whisked away to it with my girlfriend for her bday din din with her girlfriends.  The outside was simple yet elegant, and the inside was just the same.  As we walked through the establishment, it was furnished with paintings of Italian landscapes and small white lights.  The Christmas light motif was continued outside on the patio which set the scene for the perfect date night if you’re looking to do one next year (let’s be real, there’s nothing romantic about eating outside in the middle of a Chicago winter).  They were strewn overhead from one end to the other as we took in the atmosphere and the menu.  After ordering a bottle of rose and chianti, we got an order of antipasti in the form of the melanzane miniature alla parmigiana ($7.95) and the caprese roll. IMG_4229 The former translated to inglese is just eggplant Parmigiana or bascially baked slices of eggplant topped with marinara sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese.  While there was plenty to go around, I personally wasn’t wowed by this dish.  It was mostly well done aside from the eggplant which I thought was kind of on the mushy side instead of being firm yet tender. IMG_4230 I was more of a fan of the caprese roll since it combined fresh and slightly chewy buffalo mozzarella that then contained molto thin pieces of salty prosciutto and topped with basil leaves and a tart vinaigrette.  Then for my entree I ordered the pollo Florentino (chicken Florentine) ($19.95).  This dish was the embodiment of the abbondanza Italian food culture, i.e. lots of food=lots of love. IMG_4231 The two hulking panko-coated chicken breasts were napping on a puffy bed of risotto surrounded by semi-spicy marinara sauce.  When I cut into these giant piece of poultry, the provolone and spinach flowed forth like a rich artery-clogging river of deliciousness.IMG_4232  It was quite decadent, and if you aren’t super hungry, don’t expect to finish this meal in one sitting.  You will need a doggie bag…or two.  However, even though it was a giant plate, that doesn’t mean that the quality suffered.  The chicken was high quality and the risotto was delectable when combined with the marinara that had more of a smoky flavor than spicy.  As if that wasn’t enough, since it was my girlfriend’s birthday, they brought out a slice of cheesecake to celebrate.IMG_4234  I had a tiny forkful, but it was molto bene, i.e. just the right amount of creamy and cool cheese with crumbly but firm cinnamon infused crust.

In closing, Rose Angelis is one of those small Italian restaurants you’ve never heard of but with plenty of larger than life flavors and portions for great prices.  I highly recommend Rose Anglelis to anyone who loves Italian food and/or is looking for a romantic dinner date place.
Rose Angelis on Urbanspoon

The Cellar: It’s Goin’ Down!

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Happy Fall to all with this newest edition of the funkiest and freshest food blog in Chicago, Mastication Monologues.  Today’s entry takes us north of the City to the university town of Evanston, home of the Northwestern Wildcats and the American fusion diner known as The Cellar.

IMG_4175It seems that it is located next to a wine and tapas bar that is called the Stained Glass, but we went to the restaurant for a dinner date earlier this summer.  IMG_4178Even though it wasn’t the actual tapas bar, I was informed that most of the dishes were designed like tapas, i.e. smaller portions that are meant to be shared (as oxymoronic as that sounds).  I started with a cold brew in the form of a Headless Man Amber Ale from Tyranena Brewing in Wisconsin. IMG_4164 It definitely was an aromatic choice that had a slightly hoppy aftertaste with hints of caramel throughout the beer.  It was light though to compliment the first dish of the night:  the butter and salt flight with a warm loaf of sliced French bread ($6.50). IMG_4167 If you blinked, you would have missed it being set on the table since we devoured every morsel.  This dairy-palooza sported three different types of butter:  Parmigiano Reggiano butter with fleur de sel, goat’s milk butter with pink Himalayan salt, and truffle butter with truffle sea salt.  The Parmigiano butter with the fancy French sea salt obviously tasted nice and cheesy but not obnoxiously so.  It was personally my favorite since the goat’s milk butter wasn’t as pungent and strong as I would expect from a butter that should have had the soul of a good Feta.  With the truffle butter, I was somewhat surprised that it didn’t possess the aromatic potency I’d expect from the world famous and ludicrously expensive fungi that I sampled firsthand at London’s Borough Market.   I still would recommend this appetizer though.  Our second round consisted of the elotes callejeros ($4.75) and the smoked salmon flatbread ($12.50).  The former was a nod to the Mexican street food scene (calle meaning “street” in Spanish), and it shown through with the fusion of smoked paprika and grilled corn. IMG_4166 The mayonnaise was a more savory choice over the typical butter one can find at any picnic in ‘Murika.  It was a more decadent partner to the more understated smoked salmon flatbread.  IMG_4168This bite of more Northern Europe cuisine with the cold salmon and greens reminded me of the Swedish flatbreads common to smorgasboards.  Instead of a white cream, they utilized a more Mediterranean flavor with the pesto sauce and goat cheese. IMG_4169 It all kind of overpowered the salmon itself, but I enjoyed the herbal pesto along the creamy, potent goat cheese.  It was delicious, but if you’re looking for a great salmon meal, look elsewhere.  Our main dishes finally came.  I got the shrimp tacos ($13), and Janice got the empanadas ($9.50).  The latter consisted of the ubiquitous, fried Latin turnovers filled with roasted poblano peppers, sweet corn, Oaxaca cheese, and avocado-tomatillo salsa on the side.IMG_4170  The flaky yet crunchy crust was bursting with the spicy peppers and were countered with the creamy cheese and sweet corn.  Plenty of textural and flavor contrasts that worked together in harmony. IMG_4174 As for my tacos, I felt that the tortillas were a bit too small for the fried pieces of seafood that were resting on a kale citrus slaw and topped with grilled sweet red onions. IMG_4172 IMG_4171Once I piled all of these ingredients into the flatbread with a dollop of the semi-spicy aioli for good measure on top, I got a mouthful of quality food from beginning to end.  IMG_4173The breading was buttery and golden brown, but the shrimp was just ok.  However, the citrus slaw and semi-sweet onions provided the zest to the seafood that gave the taco a punch of ceviche flavor.  Even though we were chowing down for a good while, we managed to find room for dessert which took the form of the creme brulee sampler ($7.75).  IMG_4176It was three small cups of high quality burnt sugar and egg custard with different kinds of flavor infusions.  The Mexican chocolate one had a bit of a spicy kick in the form of cinnamon and a little hint of chili pepper.  I’ll just say up front that this was my favorite, but the french vanilla was a close second.  The chai one was my least favorite since it was a bit too subtle for my liking, but maybe you’ll enjoy it more than I did.  It was a sweet flourish to a light but filling dinner.

So if you are in the Evanston area and looking for a fusion restaurant that I could liken to a more affordable Girl and the Goat, check out The Cellar!
The Cellar Beer and Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

The Bomb Diggity Delight

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If there is one culture in the world that is known for being in love with food, I would say that the Italian or French would have to duke it out.  The elegance of fine French dining versus the rustic simplicity of a hearty Italian festa di alimento.  Personally, I love both, but if I had to pick a winner in my heart, it would be the land of pizza and pannettone.  This might be down to my love for Chicago Italian food staples like Italian beef and giardiniera, but they just make food that makes my heart and stomach sing arias.  Thankfully, Chicago has plenty of eateries to cater to my tastes, but my girlfriend told me about one I had never heard about before.  It is called Bombacigno’s or J and C Inn (or Bambolobambo as my girlfriend says in perfect Italian).  It’s located right by Union Station which makes it a great place to get a first taste of Chicago’s Italian American community beyond just Little Italy.

Their lunch hours are quite short (11 am to 3 pm), so the rush is quite intense if you don’t time it just right like we did.  The outside was very nondescript.IMG_4152  However, when we walked in, we were greeted with an interior straight out of one of the Little Italy delis I used to hit up when I was in grad school at UIC, i.e. old school with linoleum floors, a dark wood bar, and the daily specials handwritten on the board in chalk.IMG_4154IMG_4153  Plus, there was enough nostalgic knick-knacks on the walls of times long past in Holllywood and Chicago to make it seem like an amateur museum of the Italian-American experience in Chicago and classic B movies.IMG_4159IMG_4160

Classic repartee

Classic repartee

Looking over the menu, we could eventually decipher that they had a mix of cold sandwiches, salads, soups, hot sandwiches, and grilled sandwiches.  NOTE:  They do not take credit cards.  Cash only!  I wanted something with roots in Italy, so I went for a foccacia sub ($7.25) and a side of cottage fries ($2.75).  Janice got a caprese sandwich ($8.75) which came with a cold pasta salad on the side.  Contrary to what other reviewers say, the staff was friendly and helpful, not rude and obnoxious.  You have to wait to hear them shout out your order, and then you can take your order to your table or to go.  I couldn’t wait to eat mine when they called out our names.  It all looked as fantastic as a Lamborghini on an open Tuscan road with no speed limit.  First, I just got to say that these were some of the best looking and tasting sandwiches I’ve tried. IMG_4157 From the fresh tomatoes atop the fresh and chewy focaccia bread to the expertly layered ham, capicola (gobbagool  or Capicola ham for those gavones out there), salami, and provolone cheese, it was a true Italian masterpiece. IMG_4158 The key ingredient that set this meal apart from other sandwiches was the Italian vinaigrette that provided a semi-sweet and sour splash of flavor that cut through the mostly salty and mild ingredients.  It kept me wanting more and more until it was all gone before I knew it.  I highly recommend this sandwich, and the cottage fries satiated me greatly as well.  IMG_4161They aren’t fries in the traditional potato spear form but rather like irregular, hand-cut potato disks (cottage fries takes less time to say I guess).  I really enjoyed them because they ranged from small and extremely crispy to as big as my face and soft.IMG_4163  Plus, they weren’t super greasy which is a big factor for me when judging the quality of fries.  I had a bite of Janice’s sandwich which was basically a caprese salad between two slices of Italian sliced white bread.IMG_4162  It had the same tart, dark vinaigrette that was on my focaccia, and the ingredients (buffalo mozzarella cheese, basil leaves, and sliced tomatoes) were all in harmony.

If you’re looking for a quality Italian restaurant that goes beyond Little Italy or  is more subtle than the over-the-top presentation of Italian Village, check out Bambacigno’s!

Bombacigno's J & C Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Little Bucharest: All the Meat That’s Fit to Eat!

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Romania.  A linguistic anomaly in Eastern Europe along with mostly being known for gypsies and the Prince of the Night, Dracula.  However, a trip to Romania back when I was studying in Spain left me with a different impression of the nation.  It was a bit off the beaten path in terms of the tourist trails of Europe, but it had plenty of character, friendly people, and great food.  So, when my girlfriend said that she had a Groupon for a Romanian eatery in Chicago called Little Bucharest, I was more than excited.

It was a cold and rainy night, similar to the weather I experienced while traveling between Bucharest and Sighisoara, so I was having a serious case of deja vu minus the feral dogs running around in the street and the airport.  It had a charming exterior with a patio that obviously wasn’t being used that night along with a fountain.  IMG_4589IMG_4570IMG_4569Upon setting foot in the establishment, we were warmly welcomed by the staff and led quickly to a table.  IMG_4571The cheerful music and clean interior put me at ease since other Eastern European restaurants are a bit more rustic in terms of their setup.  To drink, Janice got a sweet red Romanian wine, and I got a beer from Timisoara.  It seems the alcohol content was a bit much for her along with its sugary aftertaste, but it was still enjoyable.  As for my beer, it was a light lager that could be comparable to Heineken.IMG_4574  We also destroyed a basket of fresh baked bread that wasn’t warm, but they said they baked it in the morning.  IMG_4573This definitely showed in the overall quality of the sliced loaf.  It was chewy but slightly crispy on the outside while the inside was fluffy and white.  We demolished it so fast that the owner came over to say that our healthy appetites for his bread were quite the compliment.  For our appetizer, we got an order of the Mititei ($10).  These little sausages were served with a side of salad, fried polenta, and mustard.IMG_4577  These chubby meat nuggets were quite heavenly and juicy with a heavy emphasis on the garlic, and it seemed to have more beef than pork in the meat blend that jived well with the sour mustard.    The fried polenta (corn meal) was warm but not piping hot.  It also had an enjoyable butter flavor that had overtones of French fries.  As for our entrees, Janice got the sarmale ($18) and I got the chicken paprikash ($20).  The sarmale are similar to Poland’s golabki or stuffed cabbage rolls.IMG_4580  These wee bundles were stewed in tomato sauce which led the cabbage to be extra soft but firm enough to keep all of the pork, ground beef, and rice from bursting forth.  It was a bit more sour than the Polish version of the dish, but it still had the Slavic heartiness common to both meals.  As for my meal, the chicken paprikash was essentially half a chicken in a paprika infused gravy along with green beans and pearl onions. IMG_4581 The sauce was the boss for this dish, and the chicken was falling off the bone.  Beware of the small bones in the chicken though!  For both the sarmale and chicken paprikash, there was mamaliga or soft polenta served on the side.  This was my favorite food I tried in Romania, and it was like going into a culinary time machine for me from the first bite.  IMG_4582From the smooth, golden polenta to the cool sour cream and strong Feta cheese, I was in heaven.  The only differences between Little Bucharest and the real Bucharest was that the mamaliga in the Motherland was served in a bowl and with a fried egg on top.  Aside from that, it was the perfect comfort food to combat the terrible weather outside.  I couldn’t finish my meal since my stomach was about to burst from all of the polenta and grilled meats, but I didn’t feel bloated like I did with other meals where I ate a lot.  At the end of the meal, we were walking out, and the owner wished us well and told us to check them out on Facebook.  I then told him that I write a food blog, and he was so overjoyed that he hugged me and gave me a bottle of Romanian dry red wine on the spot.IMG_4587  I’ve never experienced such generosity from a restaurant in Chicago or perhaps anywhere else in the world.  Thanks, Branko!

So in closing, we walked away from Little Bucharest greatly satisfied with the friendly service, great prices for huge portions of delicious Romanian fare, and a memory of one of my many distant travels around the world.  This is the real deal if you want to try Romanian food, and they even run their own limo service if you want to experience it in style.  IMG_4590
Little Bucharest Bistro on Urbanspoon

Bearing the Grunt of Good Food

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Welcome to the 220th post on Mastication Monologues!  It has been quite a trip, but what better way to celebrate another small milestone than going to the first ever Lettuce Entertain You restaurant:  R.J. Grunts.  It still is as funky as it was back in the 1970s, and the food is as unpretentious as their self-deprecating menu humor.

This food adventure was prefaced by an enchanting time at the zoo with my girlfriend Janice at the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Adult Night.  After enjoying seeing the animals chilling at night in their habitats sans shrieking urchins scurrying about, we stumbled upon the mythical establishment.  IMG_4093We walked in on a Saturday night, and it was packed.  However, we were able to get a table for two right away.  We walked past happy, chatting diners along with an epic salad bar that seemed to have every condiment under the sun along with some interesting sides like various neon colored Jellos. IMG_4107 When we sat down, I surveyed the walls that were coated with pictures of random people who I never really found out who they were.  However, the menu was a work of art, and it was gigantic as shown by my semi-hidden boo. IMG_4094

Hide and Seek at our own table

Hide and Seek at our own table

Not only was it hulking in terms of size, but also food and drink options.  One of the most interesting items on the menu was the temperature soup.  What it consists of is the soup of the day that costs the same temperature based on what it says on the lakeside thermometer, i.e. if it’s 32 degrees, you pay $0.32 for your soup.  It can be added to your entree with the following three conditions:  1.  The salad bar doesn’t come with it, 2.  They won’t pay you if it’s -0 F, and 3.  It’s only valid with purchase of an entree.  While it was intriguing, I was much hungrier and looking for something more substantial.  Thus, I came to the burger part of the menu.  After looking it over, I decided to get the Yowza Burger (a common phrase used as an exclamation of excitement during the 70s like in Happy Days) for $12.95 and a hand-dipped creamy caramel shake ($6).  Janice got the Grunt Burger ($11.95) but no shake.  They came out after a bit, and they didn’t look spectacular.IMG_4111  However, I made the mistake of judging a burger by its bun. It was stacked with enough spicy things to make someone yell its name, but with someone who has dead tastebuds after years of heat challenges, it wouldn’t trouble many chiliheads.IMG_4112  Normal people, maybe.  I really liked the pepper jack, spicy ketchup, and peppercorns that were coating the burger.  It was different kinds of spice that activated different parts of the palate along with the crunch from the smoked bacon and occasional peppercorn lodged in the juicy patty.  I personally preferred my girlfriend’s Grunt burger because there were a ton of fried onion strings and crumbly/melted blue cheese chunks on the Angus patty.  IMG_4125Two great, strong flavors and differing textures that would make me happy but sorely needing a breath mint by the end of the meal.  Then there were the fries that were more like potato chips but not really.  I really enjoyed them since they were unique, exquisitely fried, and were just the right amount of crispy leaning more toward the softer end of things.  The piece de resistance was the  milkshake I had there.IMG_4105  I’ve had my fair share of ice cream treats, both good and disgusting, but this was one of my top three milk shakes I’ve ever tried.  The butterfat of the ice cream mixing with the rich milk and sweet caramel created a cool ambrosia that washed over my palate with wave upon wave of dulcet notes that made me happy until there was none left.  I had no shame when taking it down in public like a sweet fiend.  It was a creative, classic all American meal for a fun date night.

Short hair, don't care

Short hair, don’t care

So if you’re looking for a restaurant with plenty of history, character, innovative dishes, and moderate prices, look no further than the blast from the past, R.J. Grunts.  Dy-no-mite!!

R.J. Grunts on Urbanspoon

Food Convention Post: Taste Talks in Chicago

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In Memoriam:  This post is dedicated to the dear memory of beloved Chicago institution, Hot Doug’s (2001-2014).  May you continue to make unique and memorable sausage creations in food Valhalla.  Check out my visit to the now defunct land of wondrous tube steaks.

Today’s post on Mastication Monologues is a unique one since it is about my first visit to a food festival that focused more on the craft and industry than purely the art of gorging oneself on grilled meats and throwing money away buying tickets for beers with skewed prices.  The festival in question is called Taste Talks, and it took place from October 3rd to October 5th.  With two events in Brooklyn in NYC and Chicago, it originally was the brainchild of the carrot-topped, Croc-rockin’ chef, Mario Batali.  However, you’re probably wondering how a small blogger like me could attend such a festival?  I actually was emailed by Paulina from OpenTable offering me a spot on the guest list.  I’d like to thank her once again for the opportunity along with OpenTable for reaching out to me.  Not only that, but I was able to get a pass for my girlfriend as well since I wanted her to share in the glory that was Taste Talks.IMG_4359IMG_4478

While we couldn’t attend the Friday kick-off event with the oyster and champagne dinner at the Kinmont Restaurant, we had essentially free reign over what we could see on Saturday.  It was a cold and drizzly day, but the first meeting we went to at the elegant Soho house.IMG_4394  While it used to be  a tannery at the turn of the 20th Century, in the 21st it is a chic and hip hotel.  We marveled at the lobby as we quickly moved to the elevators to get to the first food meeting. IMG_4392 Even the elevators were swanky as the walls were upholstered like a fine leather couch.  Thankfully we didn’t fall asleep leaning on the walls and quickly moved to the Free-Styling with Ice Cream Desserts talk.  Our panel consisted of Jeni Britton Bauer (Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams), Dana Cree (Blackbird), and Jessie Oloroso (Black Dog Gelato).

Left to Right (Jessie, Jeni, Dana)

Left to Right (Jessie, Jeni, Dana)

During the talk, they were all quite gracious and humorous when interacting with each other and the audience, but I could tell that they knew their stuff based on the emphasis they placed on making their ice cream and gelato from scratch.  While they said most ice cream places throughout America claim to create their ice cream by hand, in reality they just use a dairy base, throw in some sugar and flavorings, and add some toppings.  What they’re selling us is just an image of it being artisanal.  What these ladies do instead is actually break down the ingredients and balance them just right in order to get the right texture, flavor, and melting point.  The choice to do what these ladies do isn’t the cheap route in comparison to the easy peasy ice cream base method, and in reality, the government is against them.  The FDA is very meticulous when evaluating their franchises, and the big dairies are favored in the ice cream industry since they offer an easy way out for people who want to go the traditional route when making the cold treat.  The speakers even made some revealing statements like it turns out the soft serve cones at McDonalds are actually just cold, whipped, leftover animal fats, and ice cream was originally derived from excess butter at dairies.  Ice cream normally is around 10% fat, but McDonald’s, as always, manages to do it bigger than anyone else.  They also explained the differences between gelato and ice cream:  gelato has a lower fat content than ice cream, it’s smoother than ice cream due to the lack of ice crystals, and gelato is served at a higher temperature than traditional American ice cream.  Once they got tired of just talking, each chef did an ice cream demo.  First, there was Jeni Britton Bauer’s ice cream punch.

I knew we were in for a good time when there were bottles of Hennessy on deck right next to the punch bowls. IMG_4364 However, she started instead by struggling to open a bottle of Prosecco, but she eventually opened two and dumped the bubbly into the bowl. IMG_4475 Jeni followed that up with a cup of the smooth brown cognac.  Then, she proceeded to throw a bunch of scoops of different types of sorbet like lemon, strawberry, and raspberry.IMG_4369  Those neon orbs were bobbing in the brew like an extremely adult version of bobbing for apples as she ladled cup upon cup of the crimson mixture.  Janice and I sampled the beverage, and it was quite refreshing. IMG_4373 It tasted like a bubbly, adult Italian soda with rich pieces of ice cream sliding over our palates every other sip.  Next up was Jessie from Black Dog Gelato.

Jessie operated the only ice cream parlor I knew out of the three, and I have heard a lot of buzz about it.  So, I was curious to see what this wizard of cream and sugar could come up with.  She did not disappoint with her chocolate coated pumpkin ice ream pops.  First, she did a simple popsicle using her pumpkin infused gelato, but then melted chocolate using a hot plate on the side.  The pumpkin pops were lovingly caressed in the sweet elixir and then rubbed with a coating of dried coconut and strudel crumbles. IMG_4469 We could sample smaller versions of the pops, and we definitely took advantage of the offer.IMG_4383 IMG_4466 While the crunchy, milk chocolate interior gave way to a more subtle pumpkin gelato that was creamy and understated, it was quite difficult to eat as the slivers of chocolate were flying everywhere.IMG_4465IMG_4385  They probably thought it was my first time eating a cold treat based on how overjoyed I was.  The final creation came from Dana Cree which was a lemon and elderflower infused frozen yogurt that was based on a recipe that used unsweetened Greek yogurt. IMG_4388 This gave it a real tang when combined with the lemon and fragrant notes from the elderflowers.IMG_4390IMG_4389 Out of the three, my favorite was the chocolate and pumpkin pops, and I later found out how creative Jessie could be when Janice and I visited her Black Dog Gelato.  While we would have loved to talk to them for longer, we had to rush to the Art of Salted and Dried Charcuterie.

This lecture took place at Kaiser Tiger at 1415 W. Randolph Street.  IMG_4404IMG_4395It was an eclectic place in terms of decor, but we were there to sample some sausages.  We arrived a bit late and soaked from the drizzle, but it was a very different vibe from the ice cream meeting.  While the ice cream baronesses were approachable and humorous, the speakers were not interested in chewing the fat.  Plus, the people there looked more of the hipster persuasion which gave it an air of pretentiousness that I wasn’t digging.IMG_4403  We just went to town on the sausage sample platter at the back of the room. IMG_4396IMG_4400 It was like a time machine for me for my time living in Barcelona.  Not only did they have the same sliced, orange-red, peppery chorizo I used to make sandwiches with during my siestas, but they also had super fatty pieces of Catalan fuet sausage that contained chewy pieces of meaty flavor.

Chorizo on the left and fuet on the right

Chorizo on the left and fuet on the right

I used to gnaw on a piece of the super rich sausage while working on my homework since it gave me the energy to keep my focused, and I really liked the texture contrast between the fat granules, the melt-in-your-mouth meat, and semi tough casing.

Memories

Memories

After eating our fill of artery-clogging meat, we decided to peace out early for the biggest fireside chat of fireside chats with Rick Bayless.

We boogied on back to Soho House, and we made sure to get a front row seat to see Rick Bayless who is now one of the biggest and most respected chefs in the culinary world thanks to his contributions to the Mexican food scene (he was awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle due to his promotion of Mexican culture and food).  Even with all of his accolades and awards, it was unreal to be so close to someone who seemed so down to earth when talking with the audience.IMG_4406  It’s an effect that happens when you see someone on tv for so long that they take on an almost mythical status, and you expect them to be more imposing in real life like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.  Instead, you just find out that they are human just like you and me.  During his talk, I found out he had similar life to mine with focusing to study Spanish in college along with linguistics in graduate school.  However, cooking and food proved to be his true passion.  Perhaps I could parlay my love into a new career path like Rick.  He went on to talk about the importance of the connection between culture and food which is what I try to achieve here on Mastication Monologues, so his words really resonated with me.  Rick also highlighted the shifting perception of chefs from blue collar workers to veritable rock stars today, and he has provided culinary students with a tempered vision of the future that to get to the top:  hard work and mastery of the craft is crucial to becoming famous.  There aren’t any chefs who open Michelin 3 star restaurants right out of cooking schools.  After talking a bit about his connection to Mexican history and food with his changing menus at Topolobampo (including his 1491 menu that used no ingredients the Europeans brought over like chicken, beef, pork, cilantro, and limes), I got to ask a question during the Q and A session about the shifting demographics in the USA especially with the Latino population.  I asked if he noticed more Latino diners in his restaurants recently , and he said that he saw a lot of younger Latino diners eating his food on date nights as a way to get a taste of their ancestors and learn more about their culture.  Rick graciously thanked everyone, and I was the first person to just thank him for coming out.  IMG_4456Plus, I plugged my blog a little bit, and he seemed really interested in it.  When I said goodbye, I was still amazed that I was less than five feet away from someone I’ve seen for decades on PBS and gracing the covers of cookbooks everywhere.  Janice and I went out on a high note as we walked away from Taste Talks with a new perspective on the food industry and an excitement for the future of dining.  Also, it was a wonderful way to celebrate five happy months together : )IMG_4453

 

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