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Pane and Pleasure

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There’s nothing I love more than a perfectly made sandwich.  From the crunchy bread to the random assortment of ingredients that reside between the foundation layers, it is a meal that can be customized for anyone from any walk of life.  Ergo, there are a plethora of different sandwich shops throughout the Chicagoland area, and I’d like to tell you today about Panes Bread Cafe.IMG_3895

I had never heard of this establishment prior to a random visit there with my girlfriend.  I didn’t really know what to expect from a place called a “bread cafe”.  I’m sure there would be coffee involved, but then what?  Random slices of bread to go with your espresso?  Anyway, we walked in and were greeted by a brightly painted interior decorated with an eclectic mix of Latin American artifacts, Italian movie posters, and colorful murals.   IMG_3894We walked up to the order counter and looked over the menu. IMG_3890 Panes offers everything from soups, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, and pastas, but I was eventually swayed to the bread side as I looked over the sandwiches.  While they had more tame options like a ham and cheese or a B.L.T., I went for the devilish pollo diablo ($5.95).  My girlfriend got the pompazo sandwich ($5.95).

They both came out about 10 minutes later as they constructed and pressed each fresh panini sandwich to perfection.  They both looked great with the golden potato chips on the side. IMG_3891 I wouldn’t consider my sandwich anything that would render Satan a hot mess due to the spicyness, but it had a slight kick due to the spicy mayo and peppery spice rub on the juicy, all white chicken breast. IMG_3892IMG_3893 I personally thought that the bread really brought the sandwich to the next level.  The pompazo was ok, but I felt that the rich and verdant pesto overshadowed the chicken, tomatoes, and cheese.  Pesto-avalanche aside, I was impressed by their fresh ingredients on perfect bread that was hefty enough to deal with me tearing through it like Pac Man in the labyrinth of white dots.  As for the potato chips, I really liked them because they were crisp but not too salty.

I highly recommend Panes Bread Cafe if you’re looking for a cozy cafe that offers plenty of fresh sandwiches that won’t cost you that much bread.

Panes Bread Cafe on Urbanspoon

Taste Trekkers’ Publication

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Hey everyone!  Sorry for the long wait with the posts, but I just got a new job teaching.  It’s really hectic at the moment, so my food adventures are on temporary hiatus at the moment.  However, one of my articles I wrote before all of the madness struck just got published on a food blogger site called Taste Trekkers.  If you want to check out my article involving 5 of the best restaurants representing different ethnic groups in Chicago, click right here.

Nacho Average Restaurant

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Hoo doggy!  It’s heating up in Chicagoland right at the end of summer, and today’s Mastication Monologues post is a real firecracker.  If you’re looking for a fun new bar that has a giant photobooth to document a crazy night or a beer pong table to relive old glory days in college, then check out D.S. Tequila Company!

It is a restaurant that has plenty of attitude in terms of its decor and events that are held every weekend that range from trivia to bingo.  The inside is quite modern in design with mostly metal, exposed brick, and dark wood accents.  However, my favorite part of the restaurant is the patio.  1bec1e9e3d9e3d7cfe86cc15ce343653.640x427Both times I’ve been there, it was nice weather, so it was packed with partiers and diners.  In this post, I’ll just be talking about my second time there when I went with my girlfriend for lunch.  She had been raving about their nachos there, so I couldn’t say no to a Tex-Mex and personal favorite.  We sat on the patio on the oddly humid/on and off drizzing day around noon.  Due to the precipitation, we got to see their retractable roof on the patio in action, so no worries if it’s raining.  You can still get your groove on outside.  This lunch experience  was the complete opposite of the first time I went there on a rowdy Saturday night.  There were patrons calmly talking over their meals, and we proceeded to do follow suit when the menus were placed in front of us.  We started with ordering drinks.  D.S. Tequila lives up to its name with their own homemade brew ranging from blanco to anejo which you can purchase in the restaurant if you are completamente loco for the Mexican mezcals.  I ended up getting one of their frozen mug drinks ($8 for a glass/$32 a pitcher): the black and green.  It was an intriguing drink since it came out in a large beer mug, but it looked like a root beer slushy. IMG_3879 Turns out that the darker liquid was the Negra Modelo Mexican beer, and the slush was D.S. Tequila’s original margarita.  It was like an inversion of a margarita I had at Gusto Taco in Seoul.  However, I think I preferred this inverted beergarita since the full bodied lager enveloped the sugary slush, but the citrus zest made each sip really pop.  While imbibing this innovative icy beverage, Janice ordered the regular sized Texas Trash Nachos ($9.89).  I was confused why she thought that this would suffice for someone like me with a giant appetite.  I was looking at the other options on the menu like their tacos, burgers, salads, or soups, but she assured me that this would demolish even the biggest of stomachs.  She was totally right.  The nacho equivalent of Mount Doom was placed in front of us with an ominous, heavy clunk on the tabletop.IMG_3881 I didn’t know where to start.

Guess which one of us is intimidated?

Guess which one of us is intimidated?

Dive headfirst into the ingredient-rich top layer or play it safe with the unadorned chips around the borders of the plate?  I took the bull by the horns, and rode that toro through chunks of succulent steak, chunky guacamole, cool sour cream, two layers of cheese, pickled jalapeno slices, and acidic pico de gallo.   Needless to say, that they all came together in one of the best nacho platters I’ve had.  The only problem, as with most nacho platters, is the refried beans foundation that often times results in soggy chips towards the end of the meal.  That would be my only complaint with the dish, but at that point, I didn’t really care because I was really hungry.  We ended up finished the entire thing, and it was a great bargain for less than five bucks a person.  I’m scared to think how big the “family size” nachos would be.

Overall, I’d recommend D.S. Tequila for a great patio experience or just a rocking good time on a weekend.  Their drinks are strong, and their portions are huge.  What more could you ask for?

D.S. Tequila Company on Urbanspoon

Throwback Post: Chocolatería San Ginés in Madrid

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Bienvenidos y welcome to Mastication Monologues!  If you’re reading this, you’ve finally reached the end of my throwback Europe series.  We’re touching down in the heart of the Iberian peninsula in the ageless city of Madrid.

Home to the Spanish government and monarchy, Madrid is the imposing and more regal version of Spain’s more laid back second city, Barcelona.  Everywhere my friend Kevin and I turned, we were confronted with another piece of history.  Royal palace?  Check.1930504_1100433668123_5085_n  El Prado Art Museum?  Check.  El Parque de Buen Retiro?  Double check. 10400831_1100124860403_5015_n 10400831_1100124220387_9578_n 10400831_1100124380391_983_nI especially enjoyed the park because it offered a bit of relaxation in a city that is mostly business-minded.  Not only are there plenty of open lawns and large trees, but the main fountain in the middle of the park was the best because you can rent rowboats for an hourly fee.  It was nice to just sit on a bench and take in the more leisurely pace of life in Spain where families were out on paseos (after meal walks) and the old timers were arguing about the superiority of Los Colchoneros vs Los Merengues over some coffee.  One of the best places outside of the city that I’d recommend visiting is El Escorial. n1145100159_31215923_1194 It was commissioned by Felipe II to be a royal palace and a symbol of Catholic strength in the face of the rising wave of Protestantism.  The palace’s design is particularly interesting  since it was designed with a grid floor plan to pay homage to the red hot griddle that Saint Lawrence was burned to death on.  From the halls gilded with gold mined from New World mines to the exquisitely carved statues in the Court of Kings, it was a royal palace without equal.n1145100159_31215937_5529  While I did try some delicious tapas throughout my stay in the city, the star of the food show took the form of churros at Chocolatería San Ginés located at Pasadizo de San Gines, 5, 28013, Madrid.san-gines chocolateria-san-gines-_328091 What are churros?  Churros are basically pieces of fried dough that are often long and thin.  From there, chefs have given their own twist on them which have included:  plain, coated with cinnamon-sugar, coated in chocolate, coated in chocolate and filled with caramel, or coated in chocolate and filled with custard.  At Chocolatería San Ginés the churros are served plain with a cup of chocolate on the side for dipping. Chocolate_con_churros_-_San_Ginés_-_Madrid This churro shop has been open since 1894, and it has been a favorite hangout for night owls and club goers who want something sweet and greasy to fill them up before going home.  I just stumbled upon it through pure chance during a normal night after dinner, and I never forgot the first time I bit into one of the golden wands of magical fried dough.  They were substantial, light, and fresh out of the fryer.  I could have eaten them without the chocolate due to their subtle buttery base common to many fried dough treats, but the warm melted milk chocolate took this dessert to another level.  I was communing with San Lorenzo, San Gines, and the rest of the culinary saints by the end of the heavenly plate.  It was a perfect end to my visit to the Spanish capital, and a heavenly denouement to this throwback series.10400831_1100123420367_3194_n  I hope you enjoyed reading this European adventure as much as I had writing it.

Throwback Post: Île Flottante in Paris

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Bonjour a tout le monde!  Today’s Mastication Monologues post is the penultimate installation in my throwback Europe series.  It has spanned the Old World from Romania to Scotland and even Slovakia.  Today we are continuing our march westward to France.

I have visited Paris twice along with Marseilles once, but I’m just going to be focusing on the former since it was where I tried a unique dessert that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world.  Paris truly is one of the most beautiful cities that I have visited throughout my travels.  I was amazed to finally be face to face with so many iconic landmarks that I only saw on posters and postcards. HPIM1920 Climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower was an epic trek that was helped at the end with a little elevator ride.HPIM1911  From the top, I could absorb the broad boulevards and mid-18th century buildings that made up a majority of the city center.HPIM1912  Once safely back on the ground, I also visited the signature Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe that were stately yet highly congested with traffic.DSCN0652  The famed, ultra-sexy Moulin Rouge was also highly congested with foot traffic as well-monied patrons lined up to see the cabaret shows advertised outside.HPIM1812  One of my favorite Paris memories was actually outside of the city of Paris in the form of the Palace of Versailles. HPIM2248 This was hands down one of the most impressive man-made structures I’ve ever laid my eyes upon.HPIM2295  No wonder this life of luxury and Marie Antoinette’s contempt for the common man enraged and caused the French people to rise up in arms against the aristocracy.  Still, it was amazing to walk the same halls that Louis XVI did before being captured and beheaded in the capital.  All of this sightseeing made me hungry, and what better place to find something to snack on than Paris?  From their crepe stands to their pastisseries (pastry shops), one could eat something delicious and different for everyday of the year.  The perfect storm for me to indulge my sweet tooth.  Enter the île flottante.  I had it in a restaurant, and this dessert meaning “floating island” in French lived up to its name.  First, there was a crème anglaise or “English creme” that served as the vanilla flavored base to the dish.  It consisted of egg whites, sugar, and milk, and was a watery custard that was sweet but not overwhelmingly so.HPIM1801  It was also served cold. Then there was the island in the middle of my vanilla flavored sea.  It was a perfect example of how French are able to combine both artistry and innovation through the culinary arts.  The egg whites were whipped with sugar into a fluffy meringue island that was substantial enough to be almost like a large, slightly melted marshmallow yet light enough to bob in the vanilla sea.  It was all jazzed up with a light drizzling of caramel sauce.  I’ve heard that this old-school French dessert is disappearing quickly, so set sail for Paris and find your own hidden island.

Throwback Post: Drop and Rijstaffel in Amsterdam

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Howdy, Mastication Monologues readers!  I’ve been finding it harder as of late to keep up with my posts due to all of the fun happenings with the girlfriend and the job hunt.  It seems like my inbox has been filling up with new places to write about, and I’m not even done with this throwback Europe series.  It is nearing the end though, so I will have plenty of new restaurants to talk about in the near future.  Anyway, back to the throwback vein of things.  Today’s post brings us to the old but vibrant port city of Amsterdam.

I visited this city twice while living in Spain, but I found the second time around a lot more enjoyable.  The first time I went there, for my birthday, it was deathly cold and windy.  Northern Europe in the beginning of winter, go figure.

So. cold.

So. cold.

As we walked around the city, we were almost run over by the prodigious hordes of bikes that are all over the city.  If you go there, keep your wits about you because you will get cracked if you’re too engrossed in a guide book or your smart phone.  I found Amsterdam to be a quaint city that would have been more enchanting in the summer since I was more focused on not having my hands and nose fall off due to the chilly arctic winds. HPIM2076 HPIM2072The canals and narrow houses harken back to the golden era of trade for the Dutch trading companies in global trade led by their innovated flat bottom barges that were useful in the canals of the city and the rest of the Netherlands.  We managed to see the Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, and the infamous Red Light District and a few coffeehouses while we were there.

Rijksmuseum

Oude Kerk (Old Church)

The latter two are the most notorious parts of Amsterdam for different reasons.  The Red Light District since the canals are lined with full sized glass doors with each one sporting a lady one could spend time with for a fee.  However, contrary to popular belief that an area filled with prostitutes is extremely dangerous, it was one of the safest places in Amsterdam we walked in as there were men, women, and even old couples strolling past the sex shops.

I don't think sex AIDS would be easy to sell

I don’t think sex AIDS would be easy to sell

There were even police on almost every corner, taking pictures of any of the working girls is prohibited in the Red Light District (you will get your camera confiscated by the authorities), and CCTV cameras watch out for troublemakers.  The Dutch government, being liberal leaning since the 1400s, deems these window sex workers legal, collect taxes from them, and even require the girls to get regular medical exams to identify and prevent the spread of communicable diseases.  As for the coffeehouses, not only do they serve caffeine-laden beverages but also marijuana if they have the proper license.  The smell is inescapable if you walk down the street in some areas, but it is nothing that is out of control in terms of people overindulging in public.  The Dutch government is also cracking down on foreigners coming into the coffeehouses due to drug tourism and gangs attempting to sell hard drugs to coffeehouse customers.  While these two aspects of Amsterdam seem to be the most popular in the collective imagination, I’d like to talk about two unique Dutch foods I tried while there:  drop and rijstaffel.

My meeting with drop or licorice in English came in the train station under Shiphol Airport as we were waiting for our train to the main train station in Amsterdam.  I had heard that drop was the most popular Dutch candy, and lo and behold I found some in a vending machine.  Turns out that the Dutch consume the most licorice in the world, but I heard that this drop was definitely an acquired taste.  This particular variety was half and half nibs where one half of the piece was fruit flavored while the other was the signature black drop. Dutch-drop The first bite of this Dutch candy left me greatly puzzled since it didn’t taste like normal black licorice.  After a bit of research, it turns out that it is flavored with ammonium chloride which gave it a salty yet stinging flavor.  Out of my group of friends, I was the only one who enjoyed the chewy, mystery chemical licorice.  Later on during our trip, we tried a Dutch specialty known as rijstaffel.  The word “rijstaffel” in Dutch literally means “rice table” since it is a style of dining that originated in Indonesia during the Dutch colonial period in the 1600s and continued through to 1945.  The Dutch traders wanted to eat elaborate meals that encompassed all of the interesting Indonesian dishes that existed throughout the archipelago, so the rijstaffel was born.

Land o' Pleny

Land o’ Plenty

First, the servers would bring out a large plate of rice, and put it in the middle of the table.  Then, anywhere from 10 to 100 smaller dishes, depending on how many diners there were, were brought out and combined with the rice.  Indonesia has done away mostly with the rijstaffel since their independence in 1945, but this Dutch colonial tradition still is going on strong in Amsterdam as we experienced a slice of history.tumblr_m16qwm2bCe1qczjobo1_500  I remember the chicken satay served with sambal kacang (peanut sauce) was particularly delicious along with the bebek betutu (duck roasted in banana leaves) that was extremely tender with an essence of banana baked into the meat.  Some of the other common dishes include nasi kuning (Indonesian yellow rice), nasi goreng (fried rice), lumpia (spring rolls), and babi kecap (pork belly in sweet soy sauce).  I could go on forever with the other small plates since we had about 20 different dishes for about 30 Euros, but I highly recommend the rijstaffel if you want a unique Amsterdam dining experience.

Throwback Post: Haggis and Irn Bru in Scotland

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Hello and welcome to another throwback edition of Mastication Monologues!  I’ve finally made it out of the Eastern European leg of posts (Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Hungary), and now time to focus on Western Europe.  Where better to start than the land that has given us Sean Connery, the Loch Ness Monster, and Groundskeeper Willie among many other great cultural exports:  mighty mighty Scotland!

Blending in with the locals.

Blending in with the locals.

My first and only visit to Scotland was during the summer following my graduation from undergrad in 2010.  It seems like forever ago, but it was an enchanting place to explore.  We started first in Edinburgh which is often mispronounced by Americans as “Eh din burg” instead of how the locals say it “Eh din burra”.  Luckily, I learned my best Scottish accent from the previously mentioned surly yet totally hilarious Groundskeeper Willie who we aren’t quite sure where he hails from.  Aberdeen?  North Kilt Town?  Who knows?  Either way, I at least didn’t get made fun of by any of the locals or when out on the town with my friend, Sandy, and his sister’s friends.  Linguistic differences aside, the Scots are wonderful people and very proud of their heritage, especially in Edinburgh.  My parents and I walked along the Royal Mile, the Edinburgh Castle, and gazed at Arthur’s Seat from afar among many other famous sights.

Royal Mile

Royal Mile

DSC01747DSC01757 DSC01767We also took a trip to Glasgow, the knife crime capital of Europe, but I found it to be the rougher, more realistic Scotland compared to the neat and shiny Edinburgh.  While there, we visited both Rangers and Celtic Football Clubs a.k.a. The Old Firm.  This is one of the fiercest sporting rivalries in the world which makes Bears vs. Packers look like a day in the Brady Bunch House.  What makes the relationship between these two clubs particularly tense is that they were traditionally divided along political and religious lines.  Rangers being pro-Union with England and Protestant while Celtic is pro-Scottish independence and Catholic.DSC01784DSC01792  The clashes of Protestant versus Catholic left the battlefields of Europe and were transferred to soccer rivalries.  Hundreds of people have died or been victims of violence caused by the tension between the warring tribes.  Even back in 2011, then manager and former Celtic player Neil Lennon received packages containing bullets and death threats from Protestant supporters.  Luckily, my visits were much more peaceful minus the fierce winds.  Along with the futbol, we sampled a bit of the local flavor in the form of haggis.  Now, if you’ve never heard of this quintessentially Scottish dish, brace yourself for this description.  It is a sheep’s stomach stuffed with hearts, lungs, liver, onions, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt.  It is all then boiled for around three hours and then sliced or minced.  This organ rich dish even has its own special dinner and poem dedicated to the memory of Scottish poet Robert Burns.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t any fanfare when this meat dish was placed in front of me along with the naughty sounding neeps and tatties on the side (those are turnips and potatoes, respectively, in Scottish English, pervs). DSC01774 I started with the haggis and was pleasantly surprised.

tatties, haggis in the middle, and orange neeps

tatties, haggis in the middle, and orange neeps

It was rich, beefy, yet slightly nutty, but it wasn’t heavy at all.  It was almost like a meat granola in texture which I could imagine was due to the oatmeal.  The oat crackers on the side didn’t help it at all since they tasted like eating cardboard coasters.  The neeps were ok.  They were lightly salted with more of a neutral flavor.  The tatties tasted like standard mashed potatoes.  After finishing off my haggis, I should have washed it down with a warm glass of Glenfiddich, but I found something that was both eye-catching and super Scottish.  It was a drink called Irn Bru or Iron Brew pronounced with a thick Scottish burr.DSC01817  Not only was this soda radioactive orange, but it was so sweet I could feel the enamel being stripped off my teeth with every sip. DSC01818 Totally worth it to cap off my visit to the North.

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