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Once You Go Black, You Don’t Go Back

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December in Chicago.  Perfect time for some ice cream, right? Absolutely!  Especially when the creamery in question is as creative as Black Dog Gelato.  A few months ago I went to this establishment with my lovely girlfriend after a long day of listening and sampling some delicious treats as a lucky participant in the Taste Talks Convention in Chicago.  It was the perfect compliment to the savory tour de force that is Green Street Smoked Meats.

As I previously mentioned, we managed to score tickets to Taste Talks, and one of the meetings we went to was all about the future of ice cream.  Who was there?  Jenny Oloroso, the owner and founder of Black Dog Gelato.  We learned so much from her like how much care, creativity, and gastronomic chemistry goes into creating quality gelato from scratch.  What this means for the consumer is they get to enjoy a light but ultra-rich product that is churned out in limited size batches each day which is how Black Dog Gelato is operated.  Once they run out of a flavor, tough luck!  However, with flavors such as white chocolate banana curry, cucumber rosewater sorbet, and sesame fig chocolate chip, get in quick to get the pick of the litter. IMG_4433 When we arrived, it wasn’t too hopping in the middle of the cold and rainy afternoon. IMG_4431 The warm interior beckoned us to peruse the selection in front of us in the glass case and pick some winners.  IMG_4430Janice got a cup of goat cheese cashew caramel and butterscotch bourbon pecan while I got a cup of Mexican hot chocolate and maple cayenne bacon ($4.50 approximately each).

Left:  goat cheese caramel cashew and butterscotch bourbon pecan Right:  Mexican hot chocolate and cayenne maple bacon

Left: goat cheese caramel cashew and butterscotch bourbon pecan
Right: Mexican hot chocolate and cayenne maple bacon

All of it tasted like a million bucks though.  The goat cheese cashew caramel was an interesting blend that was quite enjoyable even though one would think that the strong flavor profile of the goat cheese would overwhelm the other elements.  On the contrary, it was tempered by the sweet caramel and salty cashews to form the perfect blend of savory and sweet.  As for the butterscotch bourbon pecan, it was a lot less crazy than the first entry since it tasted like a more decadent butter pecan with a slightly boozy kick with each spoonful.  Janice loves her bourbon, so she was in heaven.  I was satisfied with it as well.  Then there were my crazy gelati.  The Mexican hot chocolate was your typical chocolate ice cream; a chocolate ice cream that also happened to be full of chili pepper.  It was exactly what I wanted.  This homage to its Aztec forefathers was both sweet with a slightly spicy kick that slowly but surely engulfed my tongue with a smoldering, but not overwhelming, kiss.  As for the maple cayenne bacon gelato, it wasn’t as good as the ones Janice picked or the Mexican hot chocolate.  True, I could taste each individual ingredient like the sweet maple syrup or the fiery cayenne, whose sibling I had already visited in the hot chocolate, but the bacon proved to be this selection’s undoing.  I’ve always loved bacon (tooting my meat product hipster horn) before the entire bacon craze hit the nation, but this gelato was an example of the fine line between madness and genius leaning towards the former.  The bacon was hogging the spotlight and left a greasy residue in my mouth.  Not a good look.  This didn’t sour my experience overall though.

Overall, I’d recommend Black Dog Gelato due to its high quality gelato and creative cornucopia of flavors for a reasonable price.

Black Dog Gelato on Urbanspoon

OpenTable: A Land of Delicious Opportunities

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Chicago. The Windy City. The City of Broad Shoulders. Whatever you’d like to call it, I just call it home. It is a city known for its skyline, architecture, and especially the food. The dining culture in Chicago is unique due to a variety of factors, but I plan on highlighting the cultural diversity that contributes greatly to the food scene throughout our great metropolis. Although there are numerous communities scattered throughout Chicago, I only have room for five ethnic groups, so get ready for some great Italian, Polish, Chinese, German, and Mexican dishes.  You can find most of them online on OpenTable’s Chicago restaurants  page where you can then make reservations to enjoy all the great meals they have to offer.

1.  Al’s Beef

IMG 3211 150x150: Top Five Ethnic Eats in Chicago   Food and TravelWhen most people think of Italian food, they think of pasta or pizza, but how about beef? Italian beef is a Chicago invention that originated in the Little Italy neighborhood on the Near West Side on Taylor Street. Like many great dishes, it was born out of necessity in hard times. During the Great Depression, Italian families had to make the most out of the cheap cuts of beef they were able to afford. Therefore, they first soaked it in spiced broth to soften up the tough pieces of meat, and then they cut it into razor thin pieces to be eaten on a roll. Thus the Italian beef sandwich was born.

Today, there are many Italian beef sandwiches throughout Chicago and the Chicagoland area, but Al’s Beef on Taylor Street is the original sandwich stand starting all the way back in 1938. It has been featured on the Today show, Man Vs. Food, the History Channel, and even Good Morning America as one of the best sandwiches and restaurants in America. Al’s Beef may have a big reputation, but it is an extremely simple establishment. It’s a modestly sized building with a small parking lot alongside it. Upon walking in, you’ll be greeted with a simple menu that includes not only Italian beef sandwiches but also other Chicago specialties like Chicago Polish sausage, Chicago style hot dogs, and Italian sausage. I always go for the Italian beef sandwich since that is Al’s specialty, and it’s prepared the same way they did back in 1938.

You can order it depending on what kind of toppings you like: plain, sweet (grilled mild green peppers), hot (giardiniera or pickled vegetables), or cheese for an extra charge. Once you’ve picked your topping, then you have the option of how much of the seasoned beef broth you’d like on your sandwich. It ranges from dry (obviously with none) to wet (a little bit on top of the sandwich) to dipped (the authentic Chicago experience with the whole sandwich dipped in the broth). Once you have your sandwich, you can either order a soda or water to drink. Not much selection here, folks.

When it comes to actually consuming the meal, Al’s Beef is interesting in the sense that there are no traditional tables to sit at. Instead, there are only chest high counters that go around the inside of the establishment. Therefore, you must master the Italian stance. What this consists of is putting your forearms on the edge of the counter and moving your feet back about two feet. This provides stability and avoids getting any of the sandwich on your clothes. If you have room, I’d recommend walking across Taylor Street to Mario’s Italian Lemonade for dessert to taste another relic of Italian American pride in Chicago. So, if you want a one of a kind piece of Chicago Italian culture for a great price, check out Al’s Beef.

 1079 W Taylor St, Chicago, Illinois
(312)226-4017
http://www.alsbeef.com/ 
 
2. Podhalanka

IMG 3789 150x150: Top Five Ethnic Eats in Chicago   Food and TravelI stumbled upon an intriguing infographic that showed the top language, excluding English and Spanish, in all 50 states in the United States. Illinois’ third biggest language and ethnic group is people of Polish descent. At one time, there were more Polish people in Chicago than the Polish capital of Warsaw. While this is no longer true, Polish cuisine and culture is extremely strong throughout the city. I am one of the millions of people of Polish descent in Chicago, so I only felt it necessary to highlight a restaurant representing this community.

While there are tons of Polish restaurants I’ve tried around my grandparents’ neighborhood surrounding Midway Airport, I’d like to tell you more about a hidden gem on the North Side called Podhalanka. It is located in the Polonia Triangle, considered the oldest and most prominent of Chicago’s Polish enclaves. Therefore, Podhalanka is the real deal when it comes to no-frills Polish food for a great price. If you’ve never tried Polish food, this would be the most authentic you could get without hopping on a plane and landing in Krakow. This restaurant may have never been on the Food Channel or on Good Morning America, and frankly, Podhalanka doesn’t really care. They just care about providing scrumptious food with plenty of love to their customers.

While the inside and outside of the restaurant might lack of cutting edge design, it more than makes up for it through the food that is spectacular and the overall atmosphere. Podhalanka is filled with plenty of local flavor as the walls are festooned with various artifacts of Polish culture, and the bar is often occupied by old timers taking down some soup with a beer. The wait staff is also colorful as they are gruffer than your average American waiter, but they aren’t mean spirited.

Looking over the menu, they have a variety of soups, salads, and meat dishes. The wait staff might also just tell you what to get if you’re overwhelmed with the selection of foreign dishes. I’d highly recommend the Kotlet Schabowy which is a breaded pork cutlet that is huge and has a perfect, golden-brown bread crumb crust around a tender piece of pork.

Another great dish would be the żurek or sour rye soup. It’s not as gross as it sounds. Rather it’s more like a creamy soup filled with large chunks of hearty Polish kielbasa and a slightly sour aftertaste to offer a little zing with every spoonful. I had for my entree the Sztuka Miesa W Sosie Chrzanowym or boiled beef with horseradish sauce when I visited Podhalanka, and if you like cleaning out your sinuses while chowing down on a stick-to-your-ribs type of meal, I’d highly recommend it. So if you’re looking for a great Polish diner with giant plates for tiny prices, checkout Podhalanka.

 1549 W Division St, Chicago, Illinois
(773)486-6655
http://chicago.menupages.com/restaurants/podhalanka/menu

3. Cemitas Puebla

IMG 3559 150x150: Top Five Ethnic Eats in Chicago   Food and TravelThe Mexican community in Chicago has steadily been growing in the past couple of decades, and now one can find tacos, burritos, and quesadillas in restaurantes throughout the ciudad (city, for those of you who don’t habla espanol). However, there is one Mexican restaurant in a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood, Humboldt Park, that really took me by surprise. I’m talking about Cemitas Puebla.

I originally saw it on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and I vowed that I had to visit it after seeing these mouthwatering sandwiches being made. They’ve also been featured on the local ABC News Chicago branch’s “Hungry Hound” segment and PBS.

So why choose Cemita Puebla over all the other Mexican taquerias in Chicago? Because they offer a unique dish from Puebla, Mexico that I have not seen anywhere else in the country. There is only street parking for this establishment, so make sure to get there before the lunch crowd rushes in. The outside of the restaurant is simple and advertises their appearance on the Food Network, and the inside operates on a typical line up and “Can I take your order?” system. The clientele are mostly families and locals from nearby businesses.

Their menu has a range of different cemitas along with other Mexican staples like tacos, burritos, and chalupas. However, I went for the signature cemita atomica or “atomic cemita” along with a cup of agua de jamaica or “hibiscus water”, a popular drink throughout Latin America that is kind of like sweet, red Kool-aid. The cemita I ordered consisted of a grilled, sesame topped bun piled high with breaded pork, roasted pork, and plain ham along with queso fresco, fresh avocado, and two complimentary bottles of mild and spicy tomatillo sauce on the side. I was living in hog heaven south of the border with this pig-tacular sandwich. It is a great place for lunch or dinner that is a bit out of the way, but it is a piece of Mexico that isn’t often represented in the Chicago culinary landscape.

 
3619 W. North Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
http://www.cemitaspuebla.com/
 
4. The Berghoff

berg 150x150: Top Five Ethnic Eats in Chicago   Food and TravelI chose the Berghoff since it is a pillar of Chicago’s ethnic and culinary background. Germans have resided in Chicago since the 1800s. Although their presence isn’t as large as it once was, the German community’s identity still remains strong especially during Oktoberfest when everyone is a little German to celebrate the harvest and that delicious beer that Deutchland makes.

What makes the Berghoff so unique is that it is a purely Chicago institution that opened in 1898 as a men’s only saloon that served free corned beef with the purchase of a stein of beer. Their beer sales were severely affected during the era of Prohibition, but when the ban was repealed in 1933, the City of Chicago issued the Berghoff liquor license number 1.

This tradition continues even today along with still being run by the Berhoff family in the form of the great-granddaughter of the Berghoff’s founder, Herman Berghoff. While they maintain many of their traditions, the menu has expanded to feature more contemporary favorites, including gluten-free dishes, which are side by side with typical German meals.

The interior is amazing with the rich, dark wood carvings and stained glass windows. It is a slightly more formal place, so I’d recommend not walking in with torn jeans or tank tops. They also do group events in their cafe and even cater for parties if you want to host a large party.

When I was there, I got and highly recommend the seasonal ox joint with pumpkin gnocchi. It was large, hearty, and had fall-off the bone meat. I haven’t tried their other plates, but if you’re a beer lover, they have a wide range of lagers, pilsners, and seasonals to quench your thirst. I’d also suggest visiting this German restaurant for their Oktoberfest celebration that is one of the best in Chicago. For the kids, The Berghoff makes their own root beer which became popular at The Berghoff during Prohibition, and there are other non-alcoholic drinks for those who would rather not imbibe while dining. So if you’re looking to raise a stein of beer with a friend or go out with a special someone while sampling some Old World fare, I’d highly recommend The Berghoff.

 
17 West Adams, Chicago, Illinois
(312)427-3170
http://www.theberghoff.com
 
5. Three Happiness

img 0800 150x150: Top Five Ethnic Eats in Chicago   Food and TravelChinese food is a cuisine of fusion and variety due the presence of numerous ethnic groups within the country along with traders from other lands over centuries bringing their own ingredients from their homelands to the Middle Kingdom. In the United States, we are used to the American Chinese classics like orange chicken, sweet and sour pork, and various fried rices. These dishes have their roots in Cantonese cuisine since most of the Chinese immigrants who emigrated to the USA during 1800s came from this southern region of China. However, there is much more to Chinese food than just fried meats covered in sweet sauce and cookies containing often cryptic fortunes.

I’d like to talk more about the Chinese tradition of dim sum which can be found throughout Chicago’s Chinatown. Although it is not as big as San Francisco’s Chinatown, Chicago’s Chinatown is the second oldest in America after Chinese laborers fled violent clashes with white settlers on the West Coast. It has plenty of great sights to enjoy like the Chinatown mural, the square, and the Chinese New Year celebrations. However, I’d like to highlight Three Happiness as a great restaurant for both traditional American Chinese fare and delicious dim sum.

There are two Three Happineses: the original next to the Chinatown gate or the new one next to the Chicago fire department. I’ll be talking about the new Three Happiness. I’ve been going there since I was little, and they have plenty of space for big parties or just a table for two. It gets pretty loud inside during peak hours, so it wouldn’t be the best spot for a romantic, candlelit dinner.

When it comes to the typical American Chinese dishes, I’d recommend their shrimp fried rice since it isn’t very greasy and the shrimp are plentiful and large. Their sweet and sour pork is great too because of the slightly spicy kick to the thick sauce that coats every piece.

I also would suggest trying dim sum which is like Chinese tapas where you have to order a few small dishes and then share them with everyone. How it works is that you’re given a list with pictures of the small plates, and you check off what you want. The server then takes it, and your plates come out to you in waves. Out of all the dim sum plates I’ve tried I’d recommend the sesame buns which are small pieces of fried, rice dough coated in sesame seeds. Inside there is a slight dab of red bean paste that isn’t overwhelming like how other places do these sesame balls. I’d also get the pork bao which are fluffy, white buns that are steamed and filled with barbecue pork. Watch out for these because they are addictive!

The last dim sum plate I’d recommend are the chicken feet just because they are not for the faint of heart and quite unique. While there isn’t a lot of meat on these poultry tootsies, it is entertaining to eat them while trying to strip the meat off the cartilage while savoring the sweet, orange marinade. Brush up on those chopstick skills! (seriously though, they have forks). So, if you want to taste a bit of authentic Chinese culture and take a walk on the wild side beyond Panda Express, check out Three Happiness and Chicago’s Chinatown.

 
2130 S. Wentworth Ave, Chicago, Illinois
(312)791-1228
http://chicago.menupages.com/restaurants/new-three-happiness/

VizEat: Bringing People Together Through Food

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Hello to one and all to a very special edition of Mastication Monologues!  ‘Why is it so special?’ you might be thinking.  Well, while each post I put on here is special in its own unique way in terms of me trying a cuisine you may have never heard of or perhaps taking down a plate that might make you lose your appetite, today’s entry I would like to introduce you to an online foodie meetup group called VizEat.

Logo+tagline à côté

A month or so, I was contacted by the cofounder of VizEat, Camille Rumani, saying that she loved my blog, and after explaining to me what their company did, I had to spread the word.  They are a small but quickly growing company that currently operates in the following countries/cities:  France, Italy, Spain, Berlin, Bangkok, Hong-Kong, United Kingdom, Tunisia, Belgium, Israel, New York, Boston, Morocco, India, China, Switzerland, Ukraine, Romania, and the Cook Islands.  While it is clear that they have worldwide appeal, let me explain briefly what exactly VizEat does.

What Does VizEat Do?

Basically, VizEat is an online community that reaches out to a variety of people.  Whether you are a master chef, a pastry perfectionist, king of the grill, a brewmeister, someone who loves trying new food and drinks, or just want to make new friends, VizEat is the place for you. Marie-Claude's dinner, Their aim is to turn meals into experiences for people who otherwise may have never met their neighbors or tried a new dish if it hadn’t been for this social networking website.  It could also be useful in another country if you want to experience a bit of local culture through a sit down meal with natives. VizEat-Values What better way to facilitate and lubricate first impressions better than a delicious meal and a refreshing beverage?  If you are champing at the bit to know more, here is how VizEat works.

How VizEat Works

Meet-people-from-all-over-the-world

First, you have to register on their website as a host or a guest or both.

Hosts

Marie-Claude, VizEat host- Crédits Adélie Vernhes

Marie-Claude, a real VizEat host

As a host, you will post information about your meal, i.e. the price, the date of the meetup, how many seats are available, and what is on the menu.  You can also post pictures of the meal and/or yourself, so that your guests have a better idea of who they might be spending time with.  If guests are interested in your meal, you will receive reservation requests, and you are free to accept or reject them as you see fit.  The day after hosting the most amazing meal you have ever thrown, you will receive your meal payment directly on VizEat.  So, everyone in Chicago and the Chicagoland area, sign up to be hosts!  I know there are some great cooks and bakers out there, so why not share your creations with the world, make some new friends, and earn a little money on the side.  Everyone wins!

Marie-Claude interacting with her guests.

Marie-Claude interacting with her guests.

Guests

As for the guests, you can browse the hosts in any of the aforementioned locations in the “What Does VizEat Do?” section.  Once you find a host that is serving a meal you want to be a part of, you can put in your reservation.  You will only have to pay for the meal through PayPal when the host confirms it on the VizEat website.  Once confirmed, you will be able to message with your host in case you have any preferences for the food they will be serving, if you might have some food allergies, or even directions so that you don’t miss out on all the good times with new friends!

A VizEat get together in France

A VizEat dinner in France

So if this seems like something that you would enjoy, sign up by clicking on the “VizEat” picture below the different cuisines at the top of my blog and bon appetite!Magali's wine&cheese 2- Crédits Adélie Vernhes

Off Cue

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Welcome to Mastication Monologues, one and all!  If you’re new to this site, I am a world traveler and eater who posts about my adventures in restaurants and life through witty and delectable anecdotes.  If you’re a returning fan, thank you for keeping up with my blog even though it has been on pause again.  This time it’s due to the Thanksgiving holiday season and transition to another university teaching gig, but that doesn’t mean that my food forays have ceased by any stretch of the imagination.  Today’s post is about Q-BBQ, a relatively new kid on the block when it comes to the smoked and savory stuff.

There are lots of different branches for this barbecue joint throughout the Chicagoland area, but I went to the La Grange location.  It is quite pleasant in the summer since they have the patio open for diners along with seating inside if the sun and the Q-Style sauces get too hot to handle. q-bbq-lagrange-il-537x489 Looking over the menu, they boasted a wide variety of meats ranging from pulled pork to wings which are prepared with a 13 spice blend and smoked up to 22 hours over hickory and apple wood.  So I could see that they talked the talk, but could they walk the walk?  My mom eventually settled on a basic pulled pork sandwich with a side of mashed potatoes and the complimentary hushpuppies ($7.99).  As for me, I got a brisket sandwich Q-style which meant that in addition to the sauce and meat, I got a helping of Q slaw and blue cheese crumbles on top, and for the side I had cornbread.

We took our seat outside on the patio since it was still a warm and enjoyable late summer day in Chicagoland which seems like a pleasant, distant memory now that the freeze of winter has set in.  Eventually, our food was brought out to us, and it looked delicious.  However, I wasn’t that impressed.  I’ve had barbecue in the Carolinas and Memphis, and this was a pale comparison to those respective grilling styles.  I felt that Green Street Smoked Meats in the West Loop in Chicago even did a better job.  Why did Q BBQ not measure up to my other barbecue experiences?  Easy, the meat. IMG_4251 I felt like my brisket was rubbery, semi-tasty but not bursting with flavor, and covered up by the cole slaw and blue cheese crumbles.  I even had a bite of my mom’s pulled pork sandwich, and it was a shrug of the shoulders from my stomach. IMG_4249 It had a supposed North Carolina vinegar sauce slathered all over its porky interior, but I didn’t taste one bit of the sour tang from this Southern thang.  As for the sides, the mashed potatoes were admirable with their beef based gravy with a bit of spice to liven up an average meal. IMG_4248 The cornbread was dry and uninspiring, and the hushpuppies were mediocre.

Even the mustard sauce couldn't cut it

Even the mustard sauce couldn’t cut it

Instead of being light balls of fried dough, they were dry and crumbly which left my big dog of a stomach woofing for something tastier.   I don’t think the taste of each item fully justified the price they charged.

So if you’re looking for some delicious barbecue, I would look elsewhere in the Chicagoland area.  Q BBQ will just leave you with more Qs than As.

Q BBQ on Urbanspoon

Un-Ba-Le-Vable Flavors

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Welcome one and all to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Things on my blog have been picking up as of late since I’ve survived my first semester teaching in upper academia, so these posts are keeping me sane in the flurry of bureaucracy and final exam writing.  I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I like writing them!  Today’s post once again brings me to Chicago’s Uptown Little Vietnam neighborhood.  It’s a diverse enclave of Chicago’s ethnic rainbow which boasts a plethora of eateries serving a wide variety of foods from Far East and Southeast Asia.  However, the Vietnamese community is the largest; ergo, I’ve sampled just the tip of the pho iceberg when it comes to fully exploring their culinary representatives.  Ba Le Sandwich shop is one of the best and most popular eateries in the area, and my first visit there was fantastic.

Ba Le’s storefront is at the heart of Little Vietnam at the intersection of Argyle and Broadway and opposite the iconic Tank Noodle where you can get some hot pho soup to chase this newly arrived cold weather away.IMG_4846  Walking into the establishment, past the small Buddhist shrine at the entrance, I was greeted with a sleek and modern interior that boasted a full wall of treats like freshly cut coconuts, Vietnamese head cheese or giò thủ , and a large vareity of chè or sweet pudding/jello treats.  IMG_4217IMG_4212 IMG_4214 IMG_4213On the right hand side of the shop, there were sushi roll packs next to a mini French bakery that was bursting at the seams with macaron mini-mountains.  IMG_4216Delectable remnants of the French colonization of Indochina as they were, I was interested in something more substantial and what Ba Le is known for:  banh mi.  If you want a historical explanation of the sandwich, hit up my Portland food truck adventure here.  Looking over the menu, they also offered side dishes like the famous gỏi cuốn translucent shrimp rolls, noodle salads, fried rice, and egg rolls.  As for the banh mi sandwiches, I went for the Chinese Pork or xá xíu ($4.95), and they do cater to vegetarians with banh mi, btw!   The sandwich was quite big for the price as I took it to one of Ba Le’s window counters you can eat at while watching the locals go about their daily business.  I wasn’t doing much people watching because I was severely distracted and gobsmacked at how delicious this sandwich was.IMG_4218  It was the culinary equivalent of Saul, future St. Paul, being knocked off his horse and converting to Christianity after hearing the voice of God. Oh_Lawd___by_deadprez132001 I don’t know what it was that made this sandwich stand out from the thousands of other sandwiches I tried.  Perhaps it was the extremely fresh French baguette that was just the right ratio of crispness to softness.  IMG_4220Maybe my weakness for mayonnaise combined with the fresh-from-the-garden cilantro, jalapeno peppers, daikon radish, onions, and carrots.  I think the pork helped as well since it was served in the char siu (叉燒) style which originates in China.  It is basically barbecued pork that is roasted while being coated with honey, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and five spice powder.  What you get is a tender cut of pork that is both sweet and slightly salty, a perfect fauna compliment to the unspoiled flora of my unwrapped Garden of Eden.  Long story short, it was ecstasy in my mouth, and it wasn’t very heavy compared to many Western sub sandwiches.

So if you want a heavenly bite of Vietnamese culture for hellishly low prices, check out Ba Le Sandwich Shop in Chicago!
Ba Le Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

Woosah at Yeowoosai

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Fried chicken.  Is there any other food that is more quintessentially ‘Murikan?  Actually, I’ll have to stop you right there.  Fried chicken actually has its roots in Scotland where they coated their chicken and made it so much tastier than the boiled and baked versions of the poultry dish down south in England.  They carry on the tradition even today of consuming everything fried including Mars bars and cookies.  There is also evidence that West African cuisine utilized fried chicken for ceremonial meals.  Ergo, when both European immigrants from Scotland and African slaves arrived in the American South, the culinary traditions of both groups became woven into the fabric of the multi-colored patchwork that is our country’s food history.  However, what many people wouldn’t associate with fried chicken is Korea.  In fact, during my time in the Land of the Morning Calm, I sampled some of their fried delights that were an extra-greazy reminder of home in an otherwise kimchi-laden environment.  However, Yeowoosai in Chicago’s Koreatown manages to combine both American and Korean cuisine with a sports bar atmosphere that conveniently has a noraebang (or karaoke) attached.

It’s located in a small strip mall, but little did I know that my tastebuds and my world were about to be rocked into submission.IMG_4333  It was quite empty when we went, but I’m sure it gets quite bumping on the weekend.  IMG_4334We didn’t look at the menu since Janice ordered for me since she gets the same thing every time she goes there:  the 닭디겜 (daktigem or popcorn chicken).  We also got  김치볶음밥 (kimchi bokkeumbap or kimchi fried rice).  However, they do offer plenty of Korean classics like 비빔밥 (bibimbap or a rice bowl with meat and veggies), 김치찌개 (kimchi jjigae or kimchi soup), and  갈비 and 불고기 (galbi or grilled ribs and bulgogi or marinated beef).  The entire time we were waiting, Janice was building up this food, but I didn’t believe how good it really was going to be.  It’s not like I haven’t seen popcorn chicken or fried rice before.  How severely mistaken I was.  First the popcorn chicken came out.  It was literally the size of a wash basin and my potential food baby was lying in it.  It was served with a side of “yellow sauce” and a pickled jalapeno and radish mix.  IMG_4339This was hands-down the best popcorn chicken I’ve ever tried in my life.  From the smooth, buttery, yet light breading to the juicy all white meat nuggets that were quickly filling my stomach, I couldn’t get enough.  Then when I dipped them into the yellow sauce which I figured must be some type of mayonnaise and horseradish concoction with a hint of pepper, a dash of crack, and a soupçon of meth mixed in (seriously though, no drugs were involved in the making of this delicious meal), it finally happened.  I was and still am addicted to Yeowoosai’s popcorn chicken and yellow sauce complete with meat sweats and shakes.  As for the jalapeno and radish salad, I thought it was a refreshing, cool, tangy, and slightly spicy way to cleanse your palate between mouthfuls of chicken.  Then there was the kimchi fried rice.  We just got the original with Spam and eggs.  Why put Spam in a meal when you have a choice not to?  Why not use beef, chicken, or pork?  Well, Spam in Korean cuisine is actually a carry over from the Korean War period where food was scarce, but the American military ate Spam.  So, that’s what the local populace scavenged from the GI army bases to make meals.  While South Korea has made great advances since then, Spam still is seen as a luxury gift.  This often bewilders Americans and other Westerners when Korean shoppers are clamoring to buy Spam giftsets for loved ones at Christmas and Chuseok or Thanksgiving Day.   The American armed forces has also made Spam popular in other places like the Philippines and Hawaii.  Hooray for spreading terrible quasi-meat around the world!  Anyway, the fried rice.  IMG_4340Once again, portion-wise it was gigantic like the popcorn chicken and for a great price.  It was also a quality choice.IMG_4341  Compared to the kimchi fried rice back in the Motherland, it was even better.  It was rich, spicy, but not too spicy.  The pieces of kimchi thrown in provided a texture contrast that popped up now and then between spoonfuls.  I was having multiple moments of being overwhelmed by the large amount of mind-blowingly amazing food in front of me, but eventually my wild ride came to an end as I threw in the towel..er napkin and woosahed .

Long story short, go to Yeowoosai if you want to try a Korean sports bar with plenty of dishes your average ajumma (Korean old woman) would recognize.  Plus, these huge and reasonably priced portions of food will leave both your wallet and stomach stuffed.  Not a bad deal at all.

Yeowoosai on Urbanspoon
 

Smoking the Competition

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Howdy, partners!  I’d like to welcome y’all to Mastication Monologues where you’ll read some of the most unique and creative restaurant reviews in the world.  I’ve been around the world and eaten many interesting meals, but I have to say that American barbecue is one of the most comforting foods I’ve tried and enjoyed.  The word “barbecue” originates from the Taino Indian word “barabicu” that was adopted by the Spanish as “barbacoa” and eventually made it to English as the form we have now.  As for the origin of the cooking method, it was a Colombian exchange moment to thank for it.  First, the Spanish introduced the pig, the staple of American barbecue, to the Americas, and the Native Americans showed European settlers how to smoke the meat and slow roast it over different types of wood to get different flavors.  All of this slowly evolved as the barbecue we know today. However, if you go to different parts of the United States and ask for barbecue, you will encounter regional specialties that highlight the resources local cooks can utilize.  For example, Hawaiian barbecue does have pork, but it is served in a luau style with a full pig roast and tropical fruit based sauces.  While Midwestern sauces are tomato based and much sweeter than the spicier sauces from Texas.  The list goes on and on, but today’s restaurant, Green Street Smoked Meats, falls into the Texas category of barbecue.

We ended up at Green Street in the middle of the day of all days for a foodie:  Taste Talks.  While we were still reeling from meeting the famous and friendly Rick Bayless, we really were fading from hunger after talking about so much delicious food.  So we decided to go to Green Street Smoked Meats.  It was set back in a charming alley that would be hopping during the summer but not during our drizzly gray afternoon. IMG_4429IMG_4428 Upon walking in, we were greeted with the jazzy baseline of Jerry Lee Lewis and sawdust on the floor.IMG_4410  It was set up like a quirky Texas bbq roadhouse like you might find in the Lone Star state.  There were beers in old sinks filled with ice you could pick up before wandering up to the food board that was hanging in front of the all wood smoker.IMG_4414  We perused the menu as the chefs were expertly slicing ribs, pork belly, and this sweet sweet brisket.

A thing of beauty

A brisket beauty

IMG_4412 IMG_4413 IMG_4408  Eventually we decided on getting a half pound of pork belly ($12.50), a Frito pie ($6), spicy pickles ($4.95), and potato salad ($4.95).  Once they served it all to us on a tray, cafeteria style, we got a seat at one of the communal bench seats in the main dining area.  We also needed something to drink, so I bellied up to the bar to get Janice a beer she noticed at the bar due to its, shall we say, “distinctive” draft handle.

One of these things is not like the other...

One of these things is not like the other…

IMG_4409 IMG_4425I later found out that this beer was called a Morning Wood that was brewed in Chicago and was a lip-smacking, mildly malty red ale ($9). IMG_4422 As for me, I got a cheaper Lone Star beer ($4) which dates all the way back to 1884. IMG_4421 The price justified the flavor.  It was your typical American lager with roots in German pilsner traditions, i.e. light on taste and body.  However, it was clean and refreshing while sampling all of our food. IMG_4451 First, all of it was the perfect amount of food for the two of us.IMG_4452  Second, the pork belly was a meaty masterpiece.  IMG_4418Not only was it sliced to an ideal thickness to let it melt on your tongue, but the peppercorn crust combined with the smoke gave it a real bold flavor with a spicy afterbite that kicked its spurs into your palate.  The Frito pie has made many appearances on King of the Hill, including an episode where a Bostonian client’s wife was taken aback by this spicy Southern treat.  I think the best way to describe this unique Texan side would be corn chip nachos.IMG_4417  It was served up in the Frito bag, and the chips were covered with cheese, ground beef, beans, and jalapenos.  Unfortunately, taste-wise it wasn’t as big as the state it hails from.  The Fritos were too soggy due to the massive amount of toppings, so it just tasted more like a chili with a couple jalapenos on top with the occasional crunch.  The spicy pickles were not as disappointing but not spectacular. IMG_4419 True, they were sour and provided a fresh alternative to the heavier meat dishes, but I didn’t really understand where the “spicy” element was.  I just tasted a lot of vinegar and pickling brine coursing over the onions and pickles.  Finally, there was the potato salad that was actually the better of the two veggie sides.IMG_4420  It utilized small red potato segments coated in a semi-thick slathering of cumin-infused mayo that gave the tubers a funky zest with each forkful.

Overall, our trip to Green Street Smoked Meats was an enjoyable visit during a day all about food.  While I’m sure it doesn’t truly recreate the true Texas flavor like the home of the Cowboys and the Bush family, I’d recommend it as a fun and finger-licking good time and one of the best barbecue joints in Chicago.  Just remember to bring your wallet, buckaroo!
Green St Smoked Meats on Urbanspoon

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